This post will likely make me enemies.
Why? Because I am not anti-flexi leads. In fact, I use them – and regularly – for my two dogs.
Recently there has been a flurry of anti-retractable leads articles and posts. I’ve heard that they are ‘evil,’ ‘killers,’ and ‘should be banned.’ Even Karen Becker, DVM is against using them. It almost feels as if it’s a public service to jump on the ‘we hate flexis’ wagon, and spread dire warnings against their use.
Before getting into a frenzy about how I am wrong, bad, (‘evil’) and uniformed (if not outright stupid), read on.
Leashes – of all lengths and types – are tools. It’s how the handler uses the leash, and the careful training required to use the lead that makes its use a success. Or not.
The average person whose dog pulls like a tank and who does not engage with the person on the other end of the lead is not a good candidate for using a flexi. Those with limited hand movement, or dogs that are bigger and more powerful than they are should also use discretion. If your dog can walk on a loose leash, checks in with you frequently, and responds quickly to cues, you have a greater likelihood of success.
I use retractable leads for working my dogs in nose work. They’re deaf, and the slight tension in the line offers me a way to provide gentle guidance to them if I need them to change direction.
And yes, I walk my dogs on flexis. As of this date, over 10,000 miles of hiking and strolling around the neighborhood, accident free. My pups spend most of their day doing what I want when I want. Walking them on a retractable leads gives them a chance to safely approximate an off-leash walk where they can have more autonomy.
The flexis I use are the tape kind, not the cheap cord kind. I purchase the best brand I can, and do not use the discount dog-store type. My experience and what I’ve learned from others is that cheaper models don’t last. Cords break, the retracting mechanisms quit, as do the stoppers. In addition, when using mine, at the slightest hint of malfunction, I swap to new ones. I also carry spare 6 foot leads, just in case.
Here’s my argument: People who have taken the time to train their dogs, and who live in areas where there is little to no traffic and few hazards (in the form of off leash dogs) are can safely walk their dogs on retractable leads.
That’s us. We live in such a quiet area, if three cars go by during an hour’s walk, that’s a traffic jam during rush hour. The roads are wide, with wide shoulders, and we rarely see even one other person walking or running over the course of a week’s hikes. A benefit to flexis: I can keep strolling along while my dogs take an extra second or two to sniff something enticing.
I’ll take the argument even further. Keeping a well trained dog on a flexi is safer than letting a dog run off leash.
It is important to keep a dog on leash for those times when human judgement is required. E.g., keeping dogs out of algal blooms or areas where pesticides or herbicides have been used, away from rabid animals, and in rural areas away from barbed wire fences.
Leashes of any sort also provide human control when lack of doggy impulse control would otherwise launch them into danger…such as over cliffs or into storm swollen river currents. These situations not only endanger the dogs, but the trained rescuers or good Samaritans who try to help.
Then there is the heartbreak of a lost dog. I personally know of four dogs who have gone missing in the past couple of years. Only one was located – after having spent a cold, miserable, scary night at the bottom of a cliff.
Another dog was found dead (identified by his collar) having been hit by a car miles from home, months after he left his person’s side.
The other two dogs were never found, despite hundreds of hours spent searching, making phone calls, posting flyers, emailing shelters. That does not factor in the anguish and despair of the owners.
Oh, yes, it’s the law in our county to have dogs leashed. Everyone who lets their dogs run off leash break that law.
Last, think ‘common courtesy.’ What owners who let their dogs run off leash selfishly forget is this: Not everyone likes dogs. So when an off leash dog comes running up to them as they bike or walk or jog, the dog appears to be charging at them. Fear inducing indeed, especially to a child.
As a corollary: a friend was badly bitten by a dog, She was knocked to the ground and had her face so severely bitten it required extensive plastic surgery. Even though she has dogs, the sight of an unleashed dog rushing up to her – even in greeting – triggers PTSD. Yet another rationale for using a retractable leash rather than letting dogs run off leash.
When using a flexi leash, the dog should be well-trained and the owner vigilant. The person should also use common sense in deciding whether the flexi is even appropriate. I don’t use flexis in public areas — downtown, or in popular parks or at sporting events. Nor do I use them during hunting season (when we drive to a local park to take our walks in safety). These are all examples of using the flexi as a tool – at appropriate times in appropriate scenarios.
As per Karen Becker, “If your dog is well trained, gentle mannered and smart enough to master a regular leash and a retractable leash without being confused, you could be one of the rare guardians that can walk your pooch on any kind of leash without increasing risks to either one of you.” *