One thing leads to another……..

We watched in horror as Olivia bolted down the road, retractable lead clattering after her. I remember her turning her head around to try to catch sight of the demon device that was chasing her, and then she disappeared around the bend in the road, and was gone. Fast forward 24 hours and we found her tangled in shrubbery, with the cord of the lead fully extended and wrapped around her legs and multiple tree branches. Thankfully she was alive and with no major injuries. Luckily for us a dog alerted his owner to her presence by constantly barking at the bushes where she was trapped. 

Resting up after her ordeal

Olivia is a podenco who was rescued from the streets so we don’t know her history. We knew when we adopted her from APROP she was petrified of people and many other things. Sometimes it’s suggested that a retractable lead is a way for a dog to choose a safe distance between them and scary people or other stimuli, so we bought one for Olivia. Other people use them to give their dog a sense of freedom on their walks.

Unfortunately on this fateful walk she startled and put her brakes on. Even though she was on a relatively short lead length at the time and it was “locked” she pulled back hard enough to tug the lead out of my hand. If it had been a conventional lead it wouldn’t have clattered to the ground so she would have stayed close by. If it had been a conventional lead I would have had the hand loop around my wrist so it wouldn’t have been pulled out of my hand. If it had been a conventional lead it’s more unlikely she would have got caught in shrubbery so could have made her way home. So many “if’s’ went through our heads. It was a stressful 24 hours trying everything we could think of to locate her or help her find her way back to us. We are very lucky it turned out okay and so thankful to everyone who helped us.

One of our sweatshirts tied around a lamppost where she fled. This along with parking your car with the boot open are recommended techniques to help a lost dog find its way home

Hindsight is a wonderful thing but it didn’t occur to us at the time that these leads have a number of design flaws and risks so should probably only be used in very specific and controlled training circumstances. Having thought about it since, and heard other people’s stories, I wish I’d thought about these type of leads more before selecting one as our primary lead 

  • The handle on these leads are bulky, making it hard to do things that need two hands while you are out on walks like tie a poo bag, do up a zip or tie a shoe lace
  • The bulkiness of these handles makes it very easy to be pulled out of your hand – as I found out. 
  • Dogs can get up a lot of speed in a few metres. If it gets to the end of the line there is a strong jerk on the dogs neck that can cause injury to the neck or back 
  • It’s very hard to get control of a dog when the lead is extended to keep them safe and out of trouble. Imagine here cats, cars, bikes, eating unsavoury things! 
  • The cord on these type of leads are usually very thin. If you grab it you are likely to get friction burns. If it tangles around the dog they can get burns, cuts or worse. 
  • It can encourage a dog to pull on the lead. The lead applies a constant pressure and dogs learn to pull against this to get closer to the things that interest them on their walk
  • If you text, take photos or chat on your walks you don’t have your full attention on your dog and can quickly get into dangerous situations 
  • We’ve all experienced dogs greeting other dogs and leads getting tangled. Imagine the consequences of this when a long lead under tension gets wound around a couple of dogs…….. 

Maybe retractable leads have a place for specific stages in training recall but other than that it’s hard to identify the benefits to dogs, owners or the wider public. We certainly won’t be picking one up again! We now use a 2m lead for normal walks and a 10 m flat lead when we want to give extra freedom or space – it’s a bit more fiddly to loop up and keep untangled but well worth it in our opinion. 

You can still have fun on a conventional lead

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Natasha Cooper


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