Retractable, or belt leash?

Barkley walking big brother Cooper 🙂

“Use whatever you feel most comfortable holding,” recommends the ASPCA Animal Behavior Center’s Kristen Collins, CPDT.  That is all fine and good, but how do you know?  I have used both types of leashes in my years as a pet sitter and dog walker.  I have had pros and cons associated with both, so I thought I would reach out and get a better idea on what is used regularly.  I was not prepared for the emotional response I got from some of my clients and peers.

Here are the pros that are repeated time and time again about the belt leashes–control, control, control.  There are others, like the cute little leash/collar sets a person can buy to match their mood or their outfits, but the biggest one I heard and read about was control.  Mike Walsh, dog trainer and co-owner of Dog Tales–Adventures in Grooming and Pet Care said, “…the way to have the best control by far is a belt leash.” Another client said that when he was training his therapy dogs, retractable leashes were forbidden.   But you aren’t training your dog when you take them for a walk, right?

Actually, you are.  Dogs, like people, learn through repetition.  Just like you can’t tell a toddler not to go in the back of the house 5 times, then the 6th time let them, and expect the 7th time that they will know what to do; the same is true with a dog.  If control is an issue, if you need or want your dog to walk near you and that is why you use a belt leash, you can’t expect them to ignore the fact that they have so much “run” with a retractable leash and just walk beside you.  Training tends to “stick” longer with a dog, but if you only have the dog do what you have trained them to do (for instance walk near you) some of the time it will eventually be forgotten.

Another thing that was said was the breaking point on the retractable leash.  Belt leashes can break, especially if you have a hound that likes to chew on it!  But it seems like every day wear and tear is all that is needed to break a retractable leash.  Everything breaks down eventually but these leashes seem to have a shorter shelf life than most.  I can’t tell you how many times I have had a leash go out as far as it can go and then stick.  Not a lot of control when the leash doesn’t retract!  And those retractable leashes that have a belt in the beginning but cord all the rest of the way are always snapping.  The stories I could tell of the retractable leashes that are riddled with knots where they have been tied back together.  I actually carry a retractable leash to use in those instances because it is an accident waiting to happen.  Oh, and how many people have gotten a “rope burn” when their dog has run behind them and the cord portion of the leash rubbed against the back of their leg?  You can’t see me, but my hand is raised high!

But what about when you are walking in the woods or in the park and it is okay for your dog to explore a bit?  You aren’t going to expect your pal to walk beside you like you would on a busy street.  This is definitely a situation where a retractable leash would be welcome.  Taking your dog to one of these places is a treat for them and they should be allowed to explore a bit.  You are still in control but your pooch can go under bushes and sniff those leaf piles in the corner that are calling them.  A word of caution, even in this kind of situation, is this.  Two people mentioned the fact that if a dog gets into a good run on a retractable leash it can end badly.  Either the dog gets choked by the “jerk” they receive when they reach the end of the rope, or the handle of the leash gets ripped out of the hand of the person holding it.  Not a good ending to what should be a happy experience.  For anyone.

So it seems as though the belt type leashes win in the survey I put out about what people prefer.  I would like to say I prefer belt leashes, but I can’t.  I had a bad experience with a belt leash, a dog, and a squirrel that ended with me breaking a finger.  I was very new in the pet sitting scene and I was not really aware of my surroundings, but I still blamed the leash for a while.  Okay, for a long while 🙂

As my years progress as a professional dog walker and pet sitter, I am beginning to see the use for both types of leashes.  As I stated above, picking a leash is not a one size fits all proposition.  Being comfortable is first and foremost in the decision, but second should be where you will be and what you are expecting of you fur-friend.  After all, to quote Mike Walsh again, “Each type has its benefits as well as its hazards.” Use whichever leash works in the situation and works for you. There really isn’t any better answer!

***This post is meant to provoke thought and discussion but by no means is the author trying to change anyone’s opinion 🙂