The Ugly Side to Retractable Leashes
Submitted by Lisa A. Yackel, CVPM, PHR
Hospital Administrator at Case Veterinary Hospital
It is funny how you slowly change your view on things over time. In our twenty years of raising Great Danes, my husband and I never thought once about using a retractable leash. We really needed to feel in control of these giants and, quite frankly didnâ€™t think their thin line would hold one of our 180 lb dogs. All that changed when we added an 18 pound Cairn terrier to our family. She was well behaved on a leash and we loved the idea of allowing her to exercise two fold to our normal pace. She was always running ahead and feeling her freedom and we didnâ€™t have to really worry about her getting distracted or getting into trouble. The thought process really changed when we became parents of an unruly 9 month old stray who was hyper and misbehaved. In desperation, I took him to obedience school, and, the first thing I was told was to get him off that leash. I have to say that I knew better professionally but my husband was really bonded to the retractable and took some convincing. While retractable leashes are very convenient, they just arenâ€™t safe and the trainer confirmed this. She convinced us to use a short, 6 foot, cotton leash for contained training walks and then give him a 20 foot line to use when he was out in open fields and needed to run. It did get some use to but now I just use the 20 foot almost all the time on our daily walks and just bundle it in my hand when we are walking on the sidewalk on the way to the open area.
My second elevation in awareness was the almost daily near missed disasters in our veterinary reception area. Clients are talking to other clients or the receptionist as their dogs wander off; frequently getting entangled in our display racks or meeting up with another, not so friendly dog. Often, the client thinks he had the brake locked on the leash but they tend to malfunction or not be totally in the locked mode. I would venture to say that over Â½ of our patients come in to our hospital on a retractable leash. At one time, they were one of our best sellers, but we have recently remodeled our reception area, narrowing down our retail items, and have discontinued this style leash due to our concerns and advice of our referral trainer. We certainly donâ€™t want to contribute to any injuries!
My final awareness elevation (and the prompting of this blog) was hearing about the death of a Golden Retriever at another hospital. The owners had always walked this dog on a retractable and that day, for some unknown reason, the dog took off after a squirrel and ran right into the path of a car. Unfortunately, until something awful happens â€” or almost happens â€” we're consumed only with the notion that our dog has more freedom, that it can sniff at will and cover more ground than on a six--foot leash. We don't always think ahead to how bad things can get when a dog has a head start of three seconds and 15 feet. We also canâ€™t predict what will be around the corner- a bicyclist, a toddler, another dog, or something he can eat or pick up before we have realized it. If your dog is close to you and sees a squirrel or rabbit and decides to chase it, there is a potential for disaster. The best case scenario is that you see the distraction before your dog, and lock the leash. The worst case is one of you may get seriously hurt as your dog takes off and reaches the end of the flexi leash. Owners have been pulled off their feet and dogs have had their necks snapped around causing injury.
Flexi leads are very popular. They come in great colors; some have flashlights attached to them; some have a place to store your disposable poop scoop bags, etc. I am not going to convince many dog owners to switch. Just keep these safety issues in mind if you use one:
Â· They should be used away from roads, traffic, or hazards of any kind.
Â· They should be locked in a 4 foot length when in a building like a pet store or veterinary hospital
Â· Walk your dog to the park using a regular non-retractable leash. When you arrive at the park or other place that will safely allow more running space, then you can change over to the retractable leash.
Â· When changing leashes, never remove one leash until the other leash is safely in place.
Â· Remember that Consumer Reports found there were 16,564 hospital-treated leash-related injuries in 2007, including cord burns, falls and even finger amputations (though it's unknown how many were from conventional leashes or retractables). Those thin cords can really do some damage.
We all love our pets. As a pet advocate, it is my job to inform and educate. Whatever collar or leash you choose for your pet, please be aware of the hazards and the pros and cons of each.