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Retractable Leashes. Good or Bad?

Updated: Feb 7, 2021


Growing up animals were always something that pulled on my heartstrings. I have learned so much from animals throughout my years working at the veterinarian practice, kennels, and pet-sitting. Although each animal is unique, my experience in pet-sitting has taught me what worked and what did not. One thing I noticed right away was I did not like retractable leashes. Walkers must be in in control of the dogs when walking and the use of retractable leashes costs us such control. The retractable leashes can go as far as 30 feet. No matter how well trained the dogs are, or how capable the dog’s walker, it could only a moment’s distraction for something terrible to happen. The dog can pull, break free the locking mechanism or even snap the leash away from the housing in your hand. With such an enormous distance between walker and dog, the animal could snap the leash and take off. The dog can attack someone, another dog, or even get hit by a car.


There is more than the possibility of the dog being hurt; the walker or pet-owner holding the leash can also come to harm. Fingers caught up in the leashes, and rope burn can also occur. Working at the veterinarian’s office, there was a noticeably higher number of dogs injured by fighting cases involving retractable leashes; again, this occurs through a lack of control on the leash. Dogs with tighter leashes are more easily controlled, pulled in and redirected at the first signs of aggression. Retractable leashes can wrap around the dog’s legs and cause more injury than with a traditional leash. If your dog sees something and takes off, naturally we want to retract the leash back as quickly as possible. Pulling the dog back in that instinct can cause a severe injury to their neck, throat, or back because of such a sharp shift in the dog’s momentum, a problem far less likely with a traditional leash.


I am also a firm believer that retractable leashes encourage the dog to pull and not listen to commands. This is the opposite of what leash training is about. If one loses control and drops the leash, especially when the dog gets scared, it will take off in fear. The Dog will also become more afraid with a leash dragging behind them. Distractions are all around us on a walk, both for dog and pet-walker. We get text messages and phone calls; we see friends in the street, squirrels startle dogs who are eager to give chase. Car Horns sound and powerful scents are everywhere. If you insist on using a retractable leash, be mindful and extra careful, because on a retractable leash, you do not control your dog like you think you do. This is not to shame anyone who uses them, this is just to educate.

There is a myth about retractable leashes being kinder to dogs because they get the freedom of movement. I would like to dismiss this myth with a few simple facts about dogs. First, a dog is a pack animal. A dog who feels they are in a pack with a leader they can trust will walk happily on a leash. They will thrive on your positive energy and enjoy your leadership. Second, when a dog is on a walk, happily walking along at your side, they are getting constant stimulation. Dogs love to be out in the world, investigating the sights, scents and sounds of the world around them. To feel they are sharing the experience with their pack leader on the daily migration, a dog is receiving all the reward he or she needs for the day in just getting to exercise.


I have also learned that music will influence a dog’s behavior. Studies have shown Classical music to have a positive effect on canine behavior. When I am doing doggy day care at Envi Pet Care or pet sitting, I have Alexa play classical music to calm the dogs after they have been out at play. I have noticed music works especially well with anxious dogs. It really helps them to relax and find the calm submissive state in which dogs thrive. Rock music causes dogs to be more anxious and agitated with also having signs of nervousness. Pop music does not noticeably influence the dogs at all. Some music can even create a response in dogs to even encourage them to speak. Music can benefit our dogs and help with training and keeping them calm. I will put jazz music on when I know fireworks or thunderstorms are going to be happening, and it seems to work and keep the dogs calm. It works like a charm. It helps to play classical music as well if your dog seems to be anxious in the car.


Victoria Williams


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