< Back to posts

'Lead'ership skills

Written By: Jane Davidson RVN

As a dog owner and vet nurse I’m often caught between the two worlds. I know there are things I do as a dog owner that I wouldn’t advise as a vet nurse, and vice versa - for now I’ll save the really juicy ones for another time but today I’m pondering the practical issues around the retractable dog lead. In fact I’ll go as far to say I’m speaking out as a dog owner in defence of the retractable lead.

You see, it’s a widely held view by dog walkers, trainers and and many vets and vet nurses that the retractable lead should be banned.

Should retractable leads be banned?

To give this group their due there are a number of issues to support their view:

There is the possibility of injury to the dog with this incident almost costing the dog its life, and financially costing the owners as well as the emotional impact of an awful accident.

There are reports of injuries to people and in this case the injured person sued the dog owner for quite a substantial sum.

What does the law say on controlling your dog?

 There have been numerous laws on controlling your dog in public (the Control of Dogs Order from the 1930s was one of the first and has been updated since then), so clearly dogs being out of control is an ongoing issue. The current advice from the government website is:

Out of control

Your dog is considered dangerously out of control if it:

  • injures someone
  • makes someone worried that it might injure them


This then raises the issue of when we think we’re in control of our dog and when we’re not, and I think this is the real issue with retractable leads.

Your dog CAN be out of control while on a lead, any lead. They can lunge at people and other animals, they can bite and cause damage to others. Being on a lead does not equal control.

However, with a standard lead your dog is likely to be close enough to you that you can react quickly and stop the situation escalating. With a retractable lead your dog may be 3-10 metres away – yes a quick check of retractable leads for dogs shows even ‘mini’ leads for small dogs extend up to 3 metres – that’s 9 feet in old money!

That’s a lot of space between you and your dog, as a 3 metre lead will give your dog the opportunity to cover 28 square meters without tugging on the lead. That increases the space you need to be surveying for potential issues – does your dog scavenge, react to cyclists, joggers or other dogs?

I also feel many people use these leads as an alternative to their dog having good recall, or to finding a safe space to allow off lead exercise.

What a retractable lead isn’t is an alternative to good recall or a way to stop poor behaviour due to lack of exercise. Many dogs just NEED the freedom of off lead time and as an owner you need to be able to facilitate that properly – not just pay it lip-service with a frustrating time on a retractable lead.

But with all this, why do I like them?

The defence

This is all pretty damning evidence about why you shouldn’t use one, so why am I in favour? I have used a retractable lead over the years because of limits with my mobility and Hollie’s. Between us we have multiple slipped discs and so have at times had very limited mobility.

I have used the retractable lead so that we can each shuffle at our own pace and not have to stand and wait on each other, me while she sniffs everything, her while I do some gentle stretching. The length of lead we’ve used has only been a little longer than a standard lead but the ability to retract has saved the repetitive hand movements to keep the lead at the right tension. For Hollie and I they work really well, she has no desire to ever be very far from me, be off lead or go exploring. I haven’t used the retractable lead for its length, just for the movement of the lead.

Yet, clearly there is a market for long leads – most I can see on sale are around 5 meters – that’s pretty long and provides almost 80 square meters of space for your dog to run around in – are you really in control of your dog within that space?

With that in mind let’s consider:

When is it safe to use the full extent of your lead and where is best to put the lead lock on and treat it like a normal lead?

 Where is it safe to use one?

  • Large open spaces
  • Where you see your dog at all times
  • Where you are confident the distractions or stressors for your dog are limited

Where is not safe to use one?

  • Beside a road or path
  • Where it is busy with people or animals
  • Where there are multiple distractions or stressors for your dog
  • Where your dog might be able to disappear from view

What can you do?

If you currently use a retractable lead then you aren’t necessarily a social pariah but you might want to think through why you use one. The short lists above cover basics of when to use them to their full ability and when to use them like a normal lead, but you might want to think about your reasons for using them, and could your training be improved?


This can be a hard thing to achieve, but getting absolute recall is so important to allow off lead exercise in as many places as possible.

Is it worth heading to a training class to re-visit this area and improve it?

Safe space

If you’ve had a scary incident with your dog you might not feel confident in letting them off lead so try to find a safe space – there are some websites and social media groups that share where you can access safe, enclosed spaces for training and exercising your dog.


Sometimes we like to keep our dog on a lead because they react to things commonly found in a park – cyclists, joggers, children or other dogs – they all like a park as much as us dog walkers!

Seeing a good behaviour may help tone down some of your dogs reactions and make you feel more confident about off lead time. I’ve used a behaviourist for Hollies fears and it’s really helped us both.

All in all, for Hollie and I a retractable lead works well, but they do have their issues. I definitely won’t say they should be banned, but they do need to be used properly and I hope I’ve helped you understand how you can achieve this and have safe and enjoyable dog walks.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published.

    Find local vets by town Find vets by region or country Referral and Specialist Vets

    Find local vets by town.

    Please select your preferred town:

    Find local vets by region or county.

    How would you like to search?

    Please select your preferred region:

    Find local vets by speciality.

    Please select your preferred speciality:

    Note: Your changes will not be published unless you have clicked
    'Make Live'.

    If you leave the page now, all unsaved data will be lost. Are you sure?