This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first retractable leash being offered for sale to consumers. According to petage.com the flexi retractable leash was introduced on April 1, 1973 but sales took off after Interzoo in 1974. Flexi-leads or retractable leashes are now seen everywhere; everywhere except in the hands of dog trainers.
Consumers seem to like flexi-leads/retractable leashes because they allow their dog to wander around at different distances. A dog can pull on the lead, get some distance and then either the pet parent can lock the leash into place or the dog will simply pull out all the lead. At first glance everyone wins; pet parent doesn’t have to walk everywhere with the dog and dog can wander about. But what about at second or third glance?
Flex-leads/retractable leashes reward a dog for pulling on the lead. Dog pulls, lead lengthens, dog has more fun. This behavior – reward cycle encourages a dog to pull on a lead. Pulling on a lead is the opposite of what most people train their dog to do, yet that is precisely what your dog is being rewarded for doing.
Flexi-leads/retractable leashes allow a pet parent to “lock” the lead. This means that the pet parent can lock the lead before attaching it to a dog or lock the lead once attached. This lock can be set at almost any distance. One minute your dog is on a 6-foot lead and the next on a 20 foot lead. How is a dog to know from moment to moment how long its lead is going to be? How will it know if the pet parent is going to let it pull out the lead or lock it into place? Given this uncertainty, training a dog to successfully walk on a lead becomes way more complicated.
Most dog trainers recommend a simple 6-foot lead for training and walking purposes. It is not very exciting, but your dog can quickly learn that pulling is not rewarded. When you dog pulls in a certain direction, don’t pull/yank the lead back – simply stop walking and wait for your dog to look at back or circle back to you and continue on your way. Your dog will quickly learn that pulling on the lead slows them down rather than speeds them up. A 6-foot lead also lets your dog know the distance from you they are expected to stay.
Lastly, a standard 6-foot lead means that you and your dog are less likely to trip someone, for you to get rope burn, or have your dog get tangled up on someone or something. Really, maybe there was a reason flexi-leads/retractable leashes were introduced on April Fool’s Day.