By Josh Abrams, Certified Professional Dog Trainer

 EGRR does not condone the use of retractable leashes.  As a matter of fact, we had an article in our July ’07 newsletter discussing the dangers of these leashes.  We specifically asked that dogs be on leads no longer than 6 ft at our recent Expo, yet several dogs showed up with Flexi-Leads.  In light of the fact that these leashes are not going to “go away”, the following training tip from Josh Abrams will help those of you insistent on using them, to use them in the safest manner possible.

At a recent dog event, the retractable leash attached to the distracted Golden steadily wrapped around my legs as its owner carried on a cellphone conversation, his back to the proceedings. I forced a smile and tapped him on the shoulder…”Excuse me, sir?”

Let’s examine the Flexi-Lead, probably the most well-known of the retractable leash brands. The inventor wanted to give his own dogs the freedom to move while still under the control of a leash. An alternative has always been what’s called a long line.  A long line is any cotton web leash over 10 feet long, though for some this can be a lot of leash to maneuver when walking the dog.

In theory, retractables indeed present a convenient way to allow dogs more freedom to explore, while giving the dog owner the peace of mind that he can reel his dog in whenever he feels the need.  But be advised: There are some true stories out there of people who have gotten hurt by the fast retraction of the Flexi resulting in serious injuries. On the Flexi website (www.flexiusa.com) there are very specific directions for its use and a list of warnings almost as dire as those from an Al Gore global warming speech.

In all seriousness, a regular cotton leash has fewer risks, and dogs don’t REALLY need a lot of space in order to be happy on a walk. But if retractable leashes are around to stay (although in Albuquerque all leashes over 8-feet are banned,) it is extremely important that their use becomes second nature.   Here are a few important things to keep in mind:

DON’T TOUCH: While in use, imagine the cord is a hot stove. If you’ll recall sliding down barehanded on a rope in gym class, the feeling will be worse if you grab the cord while it retracts.

USE THE BRAKE BUTTON. 26 feet of freedom need not be modus operandi. Practice recalling your dog while pressing and holding the big button closest to your thumb and pulling backwards with your arm. Then release the button to allow normal retraction (not doing so and you may end up entangled in cord). When your dog returns to you, praise him like he just saved Timmy from the well! Also, if your dog unexpectedly takes off, press the brake button, plant your feet and prepare for a jolt, depending on dog size, of course.

AVOID THE MAYPOLE: When greeting other dogs or people, keep the leash short and your dog at your side, using the lock button (next to the brake) if necessary. To allow dogs to interact with these leashes fully extended is a recipe for a disaster of entanglement and a loss of control. When in crowds with lots of dogs and people present, it might be better to just keep your dog on a 4-6-foot leash instead.

USE THE INCLUDED SAFETY LOOP: Attaching it to your dog’s collar, will leave it attached to your dog in case the collar breaks and will prevent a rapid leash retraction.

EXAMINATION: Inspect the leash cord for damage or fraying.  Discontinue use if you notice either.

These are but a few reminders for proper use of the Flexi-Lead. I strongly recommend reading the Easy to Use and Warnings links on the company website, and make your next outing a safe one!

Josh Abrams is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, member of International Association of Canine Professionals and owns Top Spot Canine Academy, LLC. At Top Spot Josh uses his background in training service dogs and applicants for Canine Companions for Independence to help dog owners achieve their obedience and behavior goals. You can learn about Top Spot Canine Academy at www.topspotcanine.com reach Josh directly at 561.496.5045 or josh@topspotcanine.com.