Ask the RV Vet
With Dr. Deanna Tolliver, M.S., DVM
For those of you who aren’t familiar with them, a retractable leash has a molded plastic handle; inside is a length of thin cord or nylon tape wrapped around a spring-loaded “axle.” On the other end of the cord is a snap that attaches to your dog’s collar. A button on the handle releases the cord.
So what’s wrong with that? A lot, it turns out. But let’s look at both sides of the story.
1. The handler can decide how much cord (I have trouble calling this a leash) to let out, so the dog can be up to 16 feet away. This allows the dog to make its own decisions as to where to go in that 16-f00t circle.
2. There is no number two. I can’t think of another reason why some may think these are great leashes. And even number one is really a con.
Because the dog decides where it wants to go in that large circle, it can get into all kinds of trouble. I can think of dozens of bad things, but to keep it short, I’ll include: going in the brush and encountering snakes, skunks and other critters; broken glass, nails and other sharp objects to step on; foxtails, stickers and other penetrable plant parts.
But the number one reason why I think these “leashes” are dangerous?
You have no control over your dog.
Scenario: You’re walking your dog with a retractable leash, set to release about 10 feet of cord. Another dog is walking towards you and suddenly runs at your dog. What do you do?
You won’t be able to quickly retract the leash. So you grab the cord with your free hand. Your dog runs around behind you to hide, and now your hand is caught in the cord, and it’s quickly getting too tight and it hurts. So you drop the handle to use your now-free hand to untangle the cord, and by now the dogs are fighting. Your dog manages to get free and runs away. The sound of the plastic handle hitting the ground makes him think something is chasing him, and that scares him even more.
Or, same scenario, only this time it’s a small child that appears out of nowhere and runs gleefully toward your dog, who just happens to not like small children. Again, you might not be able to gain control over your dog until after it bites the child.
One more: You’re walking your dog on a sidewalk next to a busy street. Your dog spies a squirrel on the other side and makes a mad dash to chase it. Because the leashes are generally cheaply made, when you try to set the lock mechanism, it breaks and your dog gets hit by a car.
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• Some leashes have a warning on the handle: “Fingers have been amputated when entangled in these leashes.” Some people have been hurt when the cord gets wrapped around their legs and they fall.
• Dogs have been hurt either when the cord reached its full length or the handler pulled back forcefully and the dog literally reaches “the end of the rope.” It can be jerked so hard that injuries to the neck and throat are not uncommon.
• Veterinarians who specialize in dog behavior and training warn that using a retractable leash can actually train the dog to pull. And, it’s much more difficult to train a dog when it’s so far away.
Okay. I already know there will be many of you who insist on using your retractable leash. Here’s some advice.
—Use one that has flat nylon tape instead thin cord.
—Restrict the length of the tape to eight feet.
—Make sure your dog is thoroughly leash-trained on a regular six-foot leash before using a retractable.
—Don’t use the retractable in areas crowded with either people or dogs.
—Never grab the cord or tape with your bare hands.
Dr. Deanna welcomes your questions. Email her at YourRVvet@gmail.com
Dr. Deanna Tolliver has been a full-time RVer for over 3 years, although she has been an RVer for several more. She travels with a fifth wheel and a 1-ton dually truck. Her travel companions include 4 small dogs and a 36-year-old Yellow-Naped Amazon Parrot. She has a BS and MS in biology and zoology, respectively, and a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from the University of Missouri, Columbia. She owned a veterinary hospital for many years and recently handed over the reins to a new owner.