Updated: Sep 12, 2020
As a balanced trainer, I use tools that people want banned. But in those tool's defense, there is right way and a wrong way to use them. In the case of the Flexi-Lead, there is no right way; not for average dog owners or professionals. Take yesterday as an example: I was working a client dog who is boarding with me at Petco. We come around a corner and see a dog, at the very end of its Flexi-Lead, owners arm stretched behind her but looking at something on the shelf. She only looked up when I said "Come Bailey, let's go around the other way". You hope dogs who are in stores are friendly and well mannered, but I know first hand that is not always the case. When we came around the corner our dogs were very close together, despite my girl being on about two to three feet of her four foot leash. What if something had happened? That lady would not have seen it coming, and would have no real way to react. Having a leash on your dog is not an excuse to check out on them. It is your responsibility to be paying attention to your dog, no matter how well behaved they may be.
That was an annoyance, but as I was watching I was able to avoid the situation. Here's where it becomes dangerous. It may feel like it, but when you are holding a Flexi-Leash handle you do not have much grip. If your dog runs to the end or is locked into a length, one good thrust and they can pull it right out of your hand (especially if you weren't expecting it). When this happens, the handle now "chases" your dog, either by sucking up the slack if it was not locked or just following the dog if it was. This causes most dogs to keep running to get away from "the thing", which of course they can't as it's attached to them. Cue chasing your dog, maybe into an unsafe situation such as a busy road. If your dog does get into a fight, the Flexi-Lead can then wrap around the dogs with no way to safely untangle it. With a proper leash, you can drop your end, and most of the time the extra then just falls to the ground and once the dogs are separated will walk out of any tangle it had. Then there's the fact that you or your dog can get burns or cuts from the "leash" itself when it retracts quickly or gets wrapped up. (If you don't believe me google it, there are countless pictures)
From a training stand point you are also not properly teaching your dog leash work with a Flexi-Lead. If unlocked, you are teaching them pulling ahead gets them more space to run. As a pet dog owner, there is not really an instance where you want your dog to self reward by pulling ahead of you. "But, I keep mine locked!" Then you are better off with a standard leash anyway as it defeats the purpose of a long leash to have it locked short. A much better option is a long line, however these have a proper way to use them. You do not let your dog pull the line out at their leisure. When you want to give them more space, YOU feed the line out. If they start acting a fool, you reel them back in until they learn you control the amount of line they get and it is good behavior that gets them more freedom, not simply because they pulled. There are wonderful YouTube videos by my favorite trainer Tyler Muto that will show you two handed long line work. It takes a little getting used to, but you will be so much better off as will your dog!
My top recommendation is bio-thane leashes, and collars for that matter. They will not get soaking wet and smelly (living in the PNW this was a huge plus for us!), and you can run a towel over them to dry them off. They do get a little slippery in the rain, so I wear gloves for a better grip, tie knots in my long lines (10' and over, 8' and under all have handles for my personal lines), and carry a small towel in my pocket if it's really coming down. The other advantage to them is they are soft, so if they do get tangled you are not going to run the risk of cuts, though they are synthetic leather so if a dog wraps around you and takes off quick enough you can get a burn from that. Trust me, I know. However this is still a rare occurrence. You can also take Lysol wipes to them (since I work with many dogs in a day I do these between dogs to cut down on germ sharing) For city walking, four to six feet is plenty long. For hiking and more fun where they get some freedom, I like eight to ten feet. They also come much longer for long distance training work.
All in all, i deeply wish these retractable "leashes" would go away. Though they get sold every day, so it's highly unlikely. Now you know some reasons to stay away from them, as well as avoid owners whose dogs are on them. Good luck out there! As always call us if you need help with leash communication.
For the Dogs,