Since man began to domesticate dogs, he has used a variety of restraining devices, not least to prevent the dog from injuring itself by coming into contact with man-made dangers. A plain lead and collar with the addition of a long line is essential in keeping dogs under control and safe and is sufficient for most needs with the right training.
There are many opinions as to the efficacy or otherwise of Haltis, GenCons, choke chains, spike collars and various harnesses to name but a few, but the truth is that they are all devices that enable handlers to abrogate the responsibility for using non-aversive training methods to enable their dog to walk on a loose lead. The use of restraining devices often hinders rather than helps dogs to walk safely and comfortably. Whilst a well-fitting harness means that the dog won’t be choked when it pulls (and is advisable for long-backed or injured dogs), very few harnesses fit properly so simply add discomfort elsewhere.
The use of retractable leads, be they webbing or cord, is never acceptable: they should be banned.
A brief glance at the images and testimonials below or a short trawl of the internet produce enough evidence to convince detractors. There can be no reason why a dog should be on a retractable lead as there are really only three alternatives, outside of sports or working situations, all of which are more effective and safer:
- The dog is on a short lead and walking close to the owner – for use in most situations when the dog is outdoors
- The dog is off lead and under control in a safe/permitted area – effective recall has been trained and generalised and is reinforced continually
- The dog is being worked on a long line – useful for recall training and in instances where off-lead exercise is not possible.
There can be few dog owners who have not been involved in an incident with a retractable lead, either becoming entangled themselves or having to extract their dog from entanglement. Caught dogs often panic and redirect their fear into aggression, putting handlers and the dog with which they have becoming enmeshed at risk from a dog-on-dog attack if not injury from the lead itself. Many owners pay scant attention to their dogs while out, especially with the advent of the mobile telephone and similar devices; the addition of the retractable lead makes daily dog walks fraught with potential harm for man and dog. It is not uncommon to see a dog charge around a corner with the owner out of sight at the other end of six foot or more of lead which is rarely retracted fast enough (if at all) to prevent problems occurring and can be very difficult to see. A dog can achieve a huge amount of momentum at the other end of the lead to the detriment of all concerned.
There is an excellent blog here, demonstrating that this is not a national problem:
‘Manufacturers warn that if used improperly, a suddenly yanked retractable leash can cause people to fall or sustain friction burns. An owner might even lose a finger if it’s caught in the loop of a cord that’s jerked abruptly.’
So even the manufacturers admit that they need to be issued with a safety warning:
“Do not use the flexi leash to tie your dog [just count the number that you see daily tied this way]
Never use the flexi leash other than with your hand [the mind boggles!]
Do not grasp the cord or tape, you could get injured [people can and do get injured without the need to grasp it]
Do not wind the tape or cord around parts of your body, you may injure yourself [same applies to other leads but people still do it]
Safety loop: In addition to the dog collar, always use the safety loop provided. Should the collar snap, the safety loop avoids the cord or the tape rebounding, which may result in injury [can’t remember ever seeing a dog on a safety loop]
Therefore, regularly check the collar of your dog [often come across dogs with loose or damaged collars]
Walk the dog to heel when other persons or animals approach [that’ll be the day]
Only use the permanent stop function when walking your dog to heel on the short leash [so, why not use a plain lead and swap it for a long line when needed?]
Children should not be allowed to use the flexi leash [but so many of them are – many are not capable of walking the dog safely under any circumstances]
Please never open the casing – there is the risk of injury because of the recoil spring mechanism which is under tension [this happens anyway as failures are not uncommon and owners don’t check for damage]
Examine your flexi leash before each use. Even high quality materials are subject to wear and tear. Strong abrasion or damages – often caused by bites – can harm cord or tape. Please do not continue to use a flexi leash in such a case. Remove adherent dirt from tape/cord and casing. Should the cord/tape become wet, please dry it by pulling it to its full length out of the casing.” [yeah, right – count the number of frayed, dirty, chewed flexi leads on your next walk]
They go on to say: “Despite a long leash you always remain in control of the dog. With flexi leashes you solve this apparent contradiction in an easy way. Flexi retractable leashes never slacken as they are always subject to slight tension.”
Precisely. This is not only one of the causes of horrific injuries to dogs and people, it means that the dog is effectively trained to keep pulling, thereby putting strain on the owner’s body and potentially causing damage to its trachea.
Owners use flexible leads because they do not bother to train the dog to be under control, and the number and frequency of injuries proves that they cannot be retracted quickly or effectively enough to avoid incidents. They also rarely bother to lock them. How many times has an unsocialised dog rushed into your dog’s face, snarling and barking as you walk past with your dog on a lead? On one occassion this happened to me as I walked past a cafe. My dog was only saved from injury by the lead catching on a spare chair but this caused the spare chair, the chair on which the handler was sitting and the table to topple. The owner crashed to the ground, narrowly avoiding landing on her small dog and was scalded by her spilled coffee. I couldn’t even help as her dog was flailing aggressively at the end of the lead, still trying to get to my (remarkably calm under the circumstances) dog.
The Consumer Union in the USA analysed statistics collected by the Consumer Product Safety Commission in 2007 and reported 16,564 hospital-treated injuries associated with retractable leads. Of those, about 10.5% involved children 10 years old and younger and 23.5% involved injuries to the finger, including amputations. The most common injuries reported were burns and cuts, usually sustained when the cord came in contact with skin as it paid out at speed from the handle of a lead. Others injuries occurred when the cord got wrapped around the owner or the dog.
The British Society for Surgery of the Hand has reported on 30 incidents where surgery was required following extendable lead incidents in 2018 in Cornwall alone, following the latest case that caused permanent, life-changing injuries and where the handler described the lead as acting like a “filleting knife”.
Here are a few testimonials to the injury that these leads can cause: please be warned that they are graphic.
‘Heather Todd didn’t bring a leash with her the day she took her pooch Penny to a pond near Boston in 2005. So she borrowed a retractable dog leash to help keep her Labrador retriever in check. But it didn’t. The 90-pound dog suddenly took off running and dragged Todd across the sand. When she came to a stop and recovered her wits, she spotted something lying on the sand. With horror, she realised it was a human index finger; with greater horror, she realised it was her own. The cord of the retractable leash had looped around her finger and pulled taut when Penny bolted.
“It just cut it off like a sharp knife,” Todd says.
She wrapped her hand in a towel, grabbed the finger and headed to the hospital; but doctors were unable to re-attach it. Todd, who’s now in nursing school, says there are times when her missing finger causes problems. “I get by. You just adjust,” she says. Todd’s story may sound like a freak accident, but retractable leashes are responsible for a surprising number of injuries each year, including amputations.”
‘A dog on a retractable leash bolted into traffic and was hit by a motorcycle before the owner could retract the cord. It was in severe respiratory distress upon arriving at the Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Centre in Levittown, Pa. While there were no external wounds, a tear in the dog’s trachea was found and repaired. Dr. Garret Pachtinger, a critical care specialist, was part of a team of emergency personnel who treated the dog. He suspects the dog was hurt more by the yanked leash than the motorcycle collision.
“We believe the tracheal tear was not from a direct impact from the motorcycle — i.e. blunt trauma — rather likely a pulling injury of the collar/leash on the cervical neck/trachea,” Pachtinger said by e-mail.
Experts say such injuries are hardly a fluke and complaints about retractable leashes causing injury aren’t new.’
‘the extension of a retractable leash goes beyond the reach of owners and allows dogs to fight with other animals…’
‘…cases where the cords wrap around a dog’s leg, often cause harm… two types of injury are most common. The first is muscular, such as a neck strain or sprain; the other is a cervical intervertebral disc herniation, which can be more severe.’
This is just a small sample. Please don’t risk it. Find an ethical trainer and teach your dog to walk comfortably and safely on a lead, use a long line to train recall or allow your dog more freedom in an area where it might be unsafe off lead and ditch the retractable.