At some point when working with a client we discuss the retractable lead. There is a common perception that they are a clumsy tool, sometimes even dangerous, and that the general advice is to avoid them.
My experience of this lead though is very different. In the right hands this lead has a number of positive uses. Here are the main ones I would consider:
Dogs that are not able to be off the lead due to behavioural reasons (if recall isn’t yet good enough to be trusted, or if your dog is aggressive and therefore can never be off lead) can be given freedom to run around, without the risk of anything bad happening. Used correctly, they can be a wonderful tool for teaching your dog recall in a controlled manner, without your dog learning how easy and fun it is to ignore you and run off.
There are some places where you are not allowed to let your dog off lead (Blenheim Palace here in Oxfordshire, UK, being one). On these leads your dog can still have a good run around
So why the bad reputation? The problem people experience with this lead is tangling – either you get your dog tangled in the lead, or another dog, or you and another dog walker get your leads tangled together.
The solution is pretty simple, and is also what you should be practicing on every dog walk already – vigilance. If your dog is on a long lead, short lead or no lead we should all be constantly observing, and therefore in control, of everything our dog does anyway.
So, on a retractable lead simply call your dog back, and then lock it to make it short, every time there is a situation ahead that could cause tangling. This way every interaction can happen safely. Not only do you get to practice recall in front of distractions, you get to show your dog you are in charge of all interactions, and you both get to enjoy the versatility of a retractable lead.
As a canine behaviourist of many years, and owner (past and present) of 10 dogs, my lead of choice most days is the retractable lead, as I can give my dogs every type of walk (short lead, long lead, off lead) with one device. Heeling is a little harder to teach on a retractable, so you may want to take a short lead with you as well until your dog has mastered the art of walking by your side.