Retractable leashes – easier and safer dog walking

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Everything you need to know about retractable dog leads

If you’re thinking of getting a retractable dog lead, this article is a good place to start. As well as sharing my story and experiences, I look at things you need to consider before buying one.

If you want to buy one – you know you do, really – click here for the best retractable leashes available today. But you still might want to read this article first.

Do you need a retractable dog leash?

Maybe you’ve always used a normal leash and you’re quite happy. That’s fine. Click here.

Me and Henry and the normal lead

Personally, I’ve found several problems with normal dog leads. Mainly, they don’t allow your dog to wander very far, to sniff at doggy things and do what dogs do. You’re with them all the way – or at least within a couple of feet.

For my very first dog, Henry, a Golden Labrador, I bought a normal lead because that’s what you did. It was around 6ft long and it sort of worked.

One problem was when he pulled to get to a scent; I was jerked along with him. I think every dog owner’s been there.

At the other extreme, when we were close together, the lead would droop, lie on the ground and sometimes my feet or his paws would get tangled in it. And it got muddy.

The normal lead solution

My solution was to hold the handle in one hand and feed the lead through my other hand so I could pull it in or let it out according to how far apart we were. The hand that was holding it also acted as a sort of shock absorber when he took off after a scent.

That worked, but it was hard work and when the lead was fully extended I had to let go with my ‘feeder’ hand then catch the lead again when it loosened off.

In all, not a good experience for either of us.

I did this for years. And then I discovered the retractable lead.

The retractable dog leash

This totally transformed our walks. Henry could go on ahead or lag behind and the lead would extend. When he came back, the lead retracted. No tangles, no jerks. Result!

Plus, the brake button on top of the leash handle meant I could stop him immediately if necessary, if he was heading somewhere he shouldn’t have been heading. And the lock function meant I could shorten the lead when he was walking to heel. Which he did occasionally 🙂

Cord leash or tape leash?

There are a couple of things to consider before buying a retractable lead which we’ll look at now.

The lead part of a retractable lead can be either cord or tape (sometimes called a belted lead). Which is best?

You’ll find dog-walking advocates on both sides of the fence.

The advantage of a tape lead

I’ve always had cord leads and never had any problems but one of the main advantages of tape leads is that they don’t cut into you (so much!) if it gets wrapped around you or burn (so much!) if your dog wraps it around you and runs. Even worse is if this happens to a nearby stranger.

My comment here is that if you are using the lead correctly, this shouldn’t happen. The whole idea is that the lead is only as long as it needs to be so if your dog starts circling you, you put on the brake. And, well, a little training might help. Not judging, just saying…  🙂

However, I do appreciate it may not always be so easy particularly if you have an excitable or active dog.

The ties that bind

I’ve always had medium-size dogs and while all were active, none tied me in knots. Although some tried!

As with all things dog, you need to keep an eye on them and make sure you are in control at all times. If they look like they’re about to ‘investigate’ a person or another dog, shorten the lead and approach together.

Having said that, accidents do happen and you’ll probably do less damage with tape than cord.

Walking with a tape leash

Tape is easier to see, particularly for strangers who aren’t familiar with retractable leads.

If you walk over fields, a farmer is more likely to see a tape and if you do field walking you’ll know a disgruntled farmer might take action if he thinks your dog is a threat to his livestock. This is a complicated issue and a topic to Google but something to bear in mind.

Benefits of a cord leash

Some tape users have said that the tape can tangle on its way back into the handle although it’s usually easily fixed. Cord never twists.

If you walk through woods or by grass the chances are the lead will get dirty or muddy. It’s a lot easier to clean a cord lead than a tape one.

To clean it, or if the lead gets wet, fully extend the lead, lock it, wipe it and leave it extended to dray overnight or till you next use it. I must admit I didn’t always dry mine.

If your dog likes chewing, he or she has ‘more to go at’ with tape than with cord, although owners have reported that their dogs have chewed both types of lead.

Repairing a retractable lead

If the lead breaks (or is chewed through) and snaps back into the handle, there’s a helpful video on YouTube showing how to open and repair a retractable lead.

This is something I’ve had to do a couple of times with two separate leads and that was before YouTube.

Selecting the right leash size

Retractable leads come in various sizes and lengths so there is definitely one to suit you and your dog.

Leash sizes are typically given in terms of dog size and weight. This is Flexi‘s recommendations:

XS < 12kg (26lbs)
S < 15kg (33lbs)
M < 25kg (55lbs)
L < 60kg (132lbs)
XL > 50kg (110lbs)

You’ll notice that the L and XL weights overlap. Use it as a guide, not a dictatorial edict, and check the manufacturer’s recommendations for their own leads.

I would certainly recommend Going Large if your dog is anywhere near the border between the two sizes. Murphy Dog. was around 70lbs (32Kg) and I used a Large cord and it was perfect.

Small dog strong dog

Some users have reported a problem with some smaller leads when their tiny 12lb dog has run off full pelt fully extending the lead and jerking it to a stop at its full extension.

This shouldn’t cause a problem but some units have locked, presumably jamming the catch mechanism inside. Some users fixed it by tapping the unit to release the mechanism, others declared it broken.

Now this obviously depends on the quality of the build but it also shows that even small dogs can exert a substantial force and smaller leads are likely to be less robust than larger ones.

Getting a handle on it

One other thing to consider regarding lead size is that some smaller retractable leads have proportionally smaller handles so you may only be able to fit two or three fingers through. Given that you’re only controlling a small dog, this shouldn’t be a problem but it may not be comfortable for long periods.

However, if you have large hands and the size is borderline, you might find going up a size to be more comfortable. I’d say I have average-size hands (I can just span 9 notes on a piano keyboard if that’s guide) and large leads are quite comfortable.

Selecting the right leash length

You will usually find that larger-size leads offer longer lead lengths. My preference has always been to give my dog the greatest amount of freedom as possible so I have always gone for the longest available length but that’s a decision for you and your dog.

Different manufacturers may offer different length in different weight categories and some lengths may only be available in either tape or cord.

Retractable leashes – final words

Finally, please read the manual and watch any instruction videos if available. Here’s one by Flexi which shows exactly how to use a retractable lead.

Retractable leads are not at all difficult to use but you do need to balance freedom and control, and make sure you can prevent your dog – or lead – injuring yourself or another person or animal.

To further protect yourself, do not grab the cord or tape with your other hand as it could cause injury. There should be no need. If your dog starts running or pulling, just flip on the brake.

Heck, that sounds like a Government Information Broadcast. I’m just saying to be sensible and keep everyone safe.

If you found this useful or interesting, check our review of Flexi Retractable Leads.

If you have any questions about this article or any thoughts on the subject, please leave a Comment below and I’ll reply as soon as possible.

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4 comments on “Retractable leashes – easier and safer dog walking

  1. Thanks for the info. I know exactly what you mean. When we had our first dog if was not safe to let him off. We would always use a retractable lead. It gave him the freedom he desired and we had the relief of still having our arms in their sockets after the walk 🙂

    Our pack has now grown to 3 so unfortunately we are having to adopt the short leash when they are not able to come off lead. On a plus note, it’s a good work out for me.

    Loving the site keep up the great work!

    • Thanks, Martin. Sounds like you knew how to use a retractable lead. It’s not difficult but if you don’t follow the bascis, it can cause problems.

      Hope your pack are well behaved! If you need a few tips, take a look at this – Worry Free Walks.


  2. I have this problem with my dog but wasn’t sure about a retractable leash because of reported problems but I’d like one so he can move freely and do his dog thing, while I can also move at my own pace.

    Thanks for the post it is really helpful to learn the pros and cons of retractable leashes. If you learn to use one they will be fine.

    Please where can I get a good retractable leash?

    • Glad you found it useful. Many people are wary but the ones who have problems are the ones who don’t use them correctly 🙂 You just need to be sinsible.

      As for buying one, most pet stores should stock them although they are unlikely to have the range that you can find online. It’s important to get the size and length you need to suit you and your dog.

      I’ve used Flexi leads for years and you can find all the models and all the sizes at Amazon. Here’s an in-depth review of Flexi retractable leashes which gives more information.


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