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Considerations When using Flexible/Retractible Leashes with Your Service Dog

Thoughtful use of a retractible leash is required to keep your service dog safe, healthy and trauma free. Some handlers use them as a way to give their dog freedom if they are not able to let the dog off leash or don’t have the mobility to move quickly with their dog.

What Are the Specific Situations We DO Recommend Them for Service Dogs?

  • In an open area for general sniffing where you are not running into other people, dogs or objects the leash will get tangled around.
  • You can lock the leash and give your dog the length of the leash she needs and only use the retractible action at the end of the walk after your dog is already near you.
  • The retractible leash is attached to the back clip on a harness, never a collar.
  • If you can secure the leash to the wheelchair or other solid object that moves with you or you can brace the whole housing against your stomach.
  • If the retractible leash is well-made. The cheap ones break often. Avoid the ones that have a cord.
When you are ready to get your dog back into working mode, remove the retractible leash and attach your regular working leash.

Three Top Reasons Not to Use Retractible Leashes with Service Dogs 

  1. The handle is very awkward to hold. They are not ergonomic. Anyone with weak arms or hands should not use them. Need large hands to hold the medium and large handles. Need strong arms to hold the leash and a second hand to release or apply the lock.
  2.  Locks fail often. You think it is locked and it’s not and your dog runs out to greet another dog, or onto the road. Or you think it’s not locked and your dog hits the end as he runs away from you to sniff something.
  3. Puts constant pressure on the leash/harness if not locked. This undermines loose leash walking. This is especially true if the spring is designed for a dog that is heavier than your dog. They pull smaller dogs in like a winch. 

There are many other reasons that handlers have cited to not use a retractible leash but these are the big three reasons that lead to safety and training issues for service dogs. One alternative to give your dog some freedom are a long line. Be aware that some jurisdictions have a limit to the length of leash allowable in city limits. Check your local bylaws before using them.