The majority of people I see walking their dogs use a flexi or retractable (as they are also known) leash, and I’ve seen a lot of accidents waiting to happen.
The best leash depends on your senior dog. If yours is anxious when on walks, a standard 5′ or 6′ nylon leash is a good and safe choice. If your dog is calm and just meanders, enjoying a sniff along the way, a flexi leash may be okay to use but we’ll talk more about that later.
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What is a Retractable or Flexi Leash?
If you’re a new dog parent or just aren’t familiar with this device, a flexi leash is a long thin cord with a clip at one end that hooks onto your dog’s collar, with a spring loaded device in a plastic casing that also forms the handle. There is a button on the casing that controls how long the cord can be extended. The further away from you your dog goes, the more the cord will extend, when he gets closer to you, the cord will spring back into its’ casing. The button can also be locked in place to keep the length constant. There are various sizes of flexi leashes to accommodate any dog, which affects the size of the casing and the width and sturdiness of the cord. Some can extend up to 26′!
Why So Many Dog Parents Use a Flexi Leash
In my experience, people use them for two reasons:
♦ It prevents/reduces the chances of their untrained dog yanking the walker’s arm out of its’ socket, because they pull too much on a regular leash.
♦ It gives their dog freedom to walk and explore wherever they want, yet not as free as off leash so they’re safer.
Are Flexi Leashes Good for Puppies?
Even though this is about senior dogs, it’s a safety issue so I’m adding this paragraph for those who also have a puppy, or know someone who does.
Part of training a dog to walk nicely on a leash involves having them walk next to you. If your pup can take off 10, 12 (or more!) feet in front of you, he’ll never learn. There is a button on the handle that prevents the cord from extending, so theoretically you can keep it short enough so he will be next to you. It’s still not a good idea because the handle itself is too awkward to hold, so it is a safer and more comfortable option to use a nylon 4′, 5′ or 6′ leash.
Are Flexi Leashes Good for Senior Dogs?
It depends…and here’s why. Let me first give you two examples from my own life.
My heart dog Red (RIP) was obese and blind when I adopted her. She was a slow walker, calm and good natured so from day one I felt comfortable using a flexi leash. We stuck to quieter areas, and this type of leash enabled her to take her time, sniff where she wanted and have a leisurely stroll. If we knew we were going to a busier area, she wore a harness and a 4′ or 5′ nylon leash for safety.
Jack, on the other hand, came from an abusive situation and was very aggressive (due to fear) when on a walk. He would lunge after everyone and everything, and I needed to keep a close eye on him at all times. He wore a harness and nylon leash no matter where we were. A flexi leash would have presented too much of a challenge, and to be honest, would have been irresponsible of me to use. I would have had very little control, I could not have done the training with him that was needed, and I’m sure some of our encounters could have had less than positive outcomes as a result.
This brings us back to the question, are flexi leashes safe for senior dogs?
You’ll have to make this judgemental call, because you know your dog best. Think about the two scenarios above, and think about what’s going on with your dog. Have you always used a flexi leash and nothing in terms of behavior or health issues have changed? Perhaps your dog did well on one, but as he or she has gotten older has developed anxiety. It’s not uncommon for that to happen, especially if loss of hearing and/or vision are an issue. If that’s the case, you can no longer be sure how your dog will react in certain situations, so I would say a 4, 5 or 6 foot leash would be safer as it would give you the control you need should your dog react.
Close Calls I’ve Witnessed
Living so close to the beach and a massive park means I see tons of dogs and their humans every day, and that means a lot of people struggling with retractable dog leashes. I have seen too many dogs try, with some succeeding, to get into the road or go after another dog, and the person at the end of that leash is grabbing onto the cord, trying to control them.
That is bad on so many levels. First of all, have you ever tried to grab the cord? Ever heard of rope burns? Never mind the fact that when your dog is lunging or running off the sidewalk into the road from 10’, 16’ or even 26’ in front of you, you have no hope, only luck, of preventing a tragedy.
A neighbor of mine has a dog she never trained properly and she goes crazy when she sees a bird. I have watched countless times when she would yank her owner’s arm, hard, when she saw one.
A few months ago I was watching a man with a flexi leash running like a lunatic to keep up with his dog, who was so far ahead of him there was no more cord left. When we chatted later, he tried to convince me he was running with his dog. First of all I didn’t need convincing, but that was so far from “going for a run” and more like a man who never trained his dog, trying to keep up.
He did admit he hadn’t done any training, didn’t see the need, so my kind offer to help (I’m a trainer) was declined. No surprise there!
A Very Sad Freak Accident
Many years ago, an older woman I knew was taking care of her friend’s puppy. The leash was extended quite a bit because the puppy was busy exploring. The woman didn’t have her hand fully grasping the handle (your fingers need to be curled around it for added safety) and it dropped, retracted, smashed into the puppy’s head and killed her. It was such a tragic accident and I certainly didn’t write this to scare you, only to drive home the importance of keeping a firm grip on the handle.
8 Reasons Why a Flexi Leash is a Bad Idea
1. You have no control with the leash extended
I’m sure your dog is well behaved, would never chase a squirrel or fox, loves every dog and child and has never run into the road to chase or say hi. What if something happens to change all that? If that leash is extended and your pup is several feet ahead of you, do you honestly believe you have any control over your dog taking two steps to the side and ending up in front of a car? Impossible.
You cannot yank a dog out of harm’s way quickly enough with a flexi leash that is extended, even partially.
2. You could fall
A couple of weeks ago I was coming out of the park with my dog Jack and saw this small dog being walked on a retractable leash. He was running back and forth from one side of the pavement to the other, sniffing this and that, crossing in front of and behind the woman walking him. I literally stopped, fascinated with watching her constantly switching the leash from one hand to the other. That would have driven me mad!!
I wondered why that didn’t drive her crazy, especially given how many times she almost ended up flat on her face.
3. Not a good idea for a new rescue
You have no idea how well trained your new dog is, if he goes after kids, bikes, cats, or how nicely he walks on a leash. Even if he or she came from a foster environment and was well trained, you cannot assume he will react the same way with you, and certainly not at the beginning in a new environment. Are you sure there are no vision issues that could scare him while out?
If you adopted a puppy mill rescue, a harness plus a 4’, 5’ or 6′ leash attached to the harness is best. If he’s very nervous, a second leash on the collar makes it even safer. I speak from experience!
4. It should not (but sadly often does) take the place of leash training
When your untrained dog runs to chase a bird, whose arm is nearly ripped out of their socket, and how many times is the leash dropped when it’s pulled from your hand?
Here is an all too common scenario…
You have a dog that hasn’t been leash trained. The pet parent didn’t think it was necessary because they have this wonderful retractable leash, so off they go. Time passes, the dog gets bigger, stronger or just more unruly. Walking him becomes a bigger nightmare with each passing day, because every time you go out he’s pulling more and more.
Your dog gets older, anxiety starts kicking in and the unpredictability is unnerving. Who knows how your dog will react and if you’ll be able to respond in a way that keeps him safe.
Walks get shorter, then more infrequent, until one day they stop and your dog ends up spending his time alone in the garden.
He’s bored out of his mind because he gets no physical exercise or mental stimulation, and he turns destructive. He chews through fences, digs holes in the yard, and terrorizes neighbors and their children by trying to jump over, what should be, a too high fence.
What happens next? He’s badly behaved inside the house and drives everyone crazy. People stop coming to visit because he’s impossible to be around, and when the family can’t take it anymore the dog is dropped off at the local shelter, where the chances are not good he will leave there alive, particularly a senior dog!
I have no doubt many of you reading this article will be shaking your head, thinking I’m being overly dramatic, or exaggerating. Well, I can assure you this is a very common occurrence, and yes, it is very sad because it is entirely preventable.
5. Too easy to drop the leash when distracted
You’re walking down the road and bump into someone you know, so of course you’re going to have a bit of a catch up. How easy is it to get distracted and drop the leash! The handle can be quite big and it is difficult to keep a tight hold on it in the best of times. I’ve experienced this, and it can be frightening.
There are 2 neighbors whose dogs I sometimes walk to help out, both of them use flexi leashes, and both chase birds/foxes and or cats. I have to really focus when out to make sure I have a good grip, so they don’t catch me off guard and pull my arm out of its socket!
6. Not safe when walking an aggressive or fearful dog
If your senior dog has become a bit aggressive due to pain or fearful because of vision/hearing loss for example, allowing the leash to extend in front of you isn’t safe for your dog, or anyone walking towards you. Someone may suddenly appear from around a corner and your pup is too far ahead to reign him in. You don’t want to think what could happen in a situation like that, especially when your dog could bite someone and then the trouble really begins.
7. The cord can break
If a dog pulls long enough and hard enough, over time the leash can break and your dog will be loose.
I used to walk a lovely beagle who was left alone more than was fair, because his humans worked very long hours. This dog obviously needed a lot of exercise, and being a beagle was always guided by his nose. He must have pulled long and hard on that leash over time because one day I was walking him and the cord just broke out of the handle. Luckily he didn’t take off and I was able to tie it so we could get home safely. Not every one will have that same fortunate outcome.
8. It’s not you it’s them!
All this time I’ve been focusing on what your dog could do, but how about someone else’s? Plenty of people don’t give much thought to training, and there are aggressive dogs out there (through no fault of the dog I might add!), that are nasty encounters waiting to happen. If your dog is walking far ahead of you, how could you get your dog out of the way in time to avoid a potentially dangerous confrontation? That dog could grab hold of yours and at the very least cause some injury, and in the worst case cause so much damage your dog won’t survive.
Do I think this is a common scenario with that type of danger lurking around the corner? No, definitely not. I do think it’s better to take the precautions you can to protect your dog against those who don’t seem to care.
Are Retractable Leashes Ever a Good Idea?
Absolutely. There are times when a flexi leash does come in handy.
♦ Walking an old dog with mobility issues who’s staying close to home but wants the chance to sniff
♦ A well-trained dog in a quiet area where you have a firm grip on the handle and are paying attention to what’s going on around you
♦ A dog parent who is in tune with their dog and knows him well enough to see when things are about to change
♦ You’ve been training your dog to walk nicely on a leash, but you’re in the park away from everyone and you want to give him some freedom. If you’re walking to the park use your 4′, 5′ or 6′ leash and switch to the retractable once you arrive.
What is the Best Type of Dog Leash to Use?
- Easy to wrap around your hand for better control
- Comfortable to grip
- Available in different widths to suit the size of your dog
- Lots of styles and colors
When I Use a Flexi Leash
Given all the reasons you’ve just read as to why I think flexi leashes are not safe, you may be surprised to learn I have used one for many years, but let me explain.
I foster and adopt small old dogs with health issues. None of them are going anywhere too quickly, so a flexi leash is the perfect way to take them for walks in quiet areas and give them some freedom. Notice even though they’re old, I still only use this type of leash where it’s quiet!
When we first adopted Red, the love of my life who sadly gained her wings, I used a standard 4’ or 5’ nylon leash. She was blind and walked very slowly and it worked for us, but when we adopted another dog who walked even slower than she did, I found she would be pulling against the leash. Although it was just a gentle tug, I wasn’t willing to take any chances of her injuring her neck so I bought a flexi leash. It made walk time much more pleasant for everyone.
I kept using it even after my other dog died because Red got used to it and it worked well for us. In busier areas she always wore a harness with my 4’ or 5’ leash, or we used her pet stroller to be extra safe.
Never With my Current Dog Jack
I’ve only ever used a 5’ nylon leash for Jack, and here are my reasons…
♦ I keep him on my left while on walks, no running in front or side to side, and a regular leash allows me to do that. I wrap the excess around my hand, and unravel it when he needs more room to sniff!
♦ Coming from an abusive background he does react at times when out walking. Although he’s 1000 times better than he was and doing incredibly well, there are some dogs he gets scared or nervous around, so keeping him walking nicely by my side is safest for everyone. I want to create as many scenarios as possible that will set him up for success, not failure.
It’s crazy to think one little device has the potential to wreak so much havoc, because it shouldn’t be that way. Unfortunately there are a lot of untrained dogs, being walked by people having a difficult time controlling them on a retractable leash. I fear these are close calls or worse waiting to happen.
Do you use a flexi leash? What do you love about it? Do you have any concerns about using one? Sharing helps others so please leave your comments below.
I’m a dog trainer specialising in working with senior dogs. Whether you have health & wellness concerns, or you’ve just rescued an older dog and need training tips, I can help! Sessions are conducted via Zoom and I offer a FREE 15 minute no obligation chat. To book, email email@example.com or visit my website.