It’s Not the Leash; It’s the Relationship

If I see one more online argument about Flexi-Leashes, I’m going to scream.

Honey the Golden Retriever plays during a walk.

I’m willing to walk on a Flexi-Leash. But not if it makes it harder to play like this.

I understand the problem with extendable leashes. They can

  • injure people when the cord wraps around a finger or leg
  • frighten a dog if dropped
  • allow a dog to get into trouble before their person knows it.

But the argument devolves into bickering over whether extendable leashes can be used properly by some people. And everyone  misses the point.

It isn’t whether equipment is good or bad. It isn’t whether it is used properly or improperly. It’s about the relationship.

Everything is about the relationship.

I know how to use an extendable leash appropriately.

  • use it only in open spaces where we’re less likely to meet off-leash dogs, playing children, or other distractions
  • lock it before approaching corners or intersections
  • keep my hands free so I don’t drop it or lose control

But I have no intention of  buying one. Because it wouldn’t improve my relationship with my dog.

Walking Honey on a six-foot leash or walking her off-leash keeps me connected to her.

I don’t want to be pulled down the street or have her choke so we continually work together on training. I want her to choose me over squirrels, stinky trash, and other people. So our off-leash walks are full of snacks and games.

Both walking on a regular leash and walking off-leash build our bond.

Honey the Golden Retriever rolls in the grass.

And this would be a lot less fun if I was getting slapped in the face by a hard plastic thing when I roll in the grass.

If I had an extendable leash, I’d get careless. I’d pay less attention to Honey than the mechanism of the leash. I’d miss some of the things she stopped to sniff. And it wouldn’t build our relationship.

So why bother?

The interesting thing about asking the relationship question is that you might answer differently than me. And that’s fine. Because we’re all different. But we’re all putting the most important thing at the center—our relationship with our dogs.

You, dear reader, are elites in the world of dog lovers. I’d like you to help me change the conversation.

When considering using a piece of equipment with your dog, choosing an activity, or picking a place to go, ask yourself: Will this strengthen our relationship? Or weaken it?

It’s a much better question than

  • is it 100% safe (nothing worth doing is without risks)
  • does it work (efficiency is a boring and reductionist life philosophy).

How different would debates about extendable leashes, dog parks, or taking our dogs to public events be if we asked ourselves first, will this improve our relationship?

After all, isn’t that why we have dogs? For the relationship?


Your Turn: What question to you ask yourself when you’re making decisions about your dog? Does thinking about your relationship make the right choice clearer?

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  1. Yay to that!! And the other question to ask yourself is – What is my point in taking the dog with me today? Is it for me or the dog? exercise, training, socialization, as an accessory?

  2. Sue @ The Golden Life says:

    Excellent questions — from both you and Rhythm — to ask ourselves. Personally, I have a different reason for not using a “flexi” leash … it is just too uncomfortable for my hand. I have 2 of them from when Callie and Shadow were adolescents. I liked being able to lock the leash at certain lengths, as needed. But, as I got a little older, the thickness of the handle got to be too uncomfortable for my hands. And my relationship with the girls has grown to where they will walk nicely by my side when circumstances require it. Ducky is still learning, but she will get there.

  3. I think as long as you use a leash correctly they are all good for certain things. If your dog can’t be off leash the flexi leash is wonderful in the right place and when used correctly. There are all kinds of bonding activities. We mix it all up, use a regular leash, a flex leash, go to dog parks sometimes, etc., it just all depends on what works for the owner and the dog. What is not good is people that don’t use common sense with dogs off or on leash, no matter what type of leash. Be respectful and have your dog under control and everyone is happy. The main thing is do things with your dog! Dogs aren’t a couch decoration or lawn ornament, they want to get out and experience the world with you, so take them and show them as much as you can!

  4. I’m with Emma – I use it in the right places. We use both a flexi and a 4ft lead depending on where we are walking/running. It’s a challenge because I walk the two dogs together and Maggie is reliable and jack isn’t…so with the flexi lead, Jack gets some quality sniffing while Maggie is allowed off lead. It’s a little harder to stay engaged when you have two…as soon as you call to one, the other comes, so I try to do separate walks with each of them a couple of times a week. The bottomline of your post though is that everyone has different preferences and just as I wouldn’t fault you for NOT using a flexi-lead…we shouldn’t fault those that do…as long as they use it wisely.

  5. Very good point! Although I am not a fan of the retractable leash, I like your take on the argument. Whenever I consider taking my dogs anywhere, I always ask myself if they will enjoy themselves. When they are happy, I am a happy mom. When we are all happy, it is a great outing away from home. :)

  6. I highly enjoy retractable leashes. As a matter of fact, I was just given one that had been chewed by a puppy.

    Yay for me!

    The dad knew I’ve begun biking with my Beagle Grunt due to our mailbox meets and greets, and he saved it for me to see if it would work- yes! A quick sit-down with a screwdriver, safety pin, and my sewing machine has the leash fully repaired- but 5 feet long instead of 16 or whatever. It is a Kong palm retractable tape leash with reflective stitching- even better!

    Now, Grunt can have the length I want him to have in order to comfortably trot next to me on the bike, but the slack will be taken up when he isn’t at max range. This means that the leash won’t get run over by the trailer wheel and wrapped up in it. Also, this particular odd model of leash has a wrist strap instead of a handle- and that means it can be attached to the bike trailer in a better manner.

    I have both kinds of leashes- I enjoy letting Grunt sniff around at further range now that he’s alone. We will linger outside a little bit- he doesn’t have a yard here.
    When I had both dogs I NEVER used retractable leashes- it only took one trip outside for me the realize the drawbacks of having one very old that loved to go in circles, and the Beagle following his nose in circles, and me having to juggle two stupid over-sized handle things. But I love having one for Grunt alone. I talk to him a lot when we’re out and about. He has never received actual proper leash training, but I hardly ever have to get pushy with my end of a leash, retractable or otherwise, to get him to listen.

  7. Zora came with a six-foot leather leash and a Flexi. I use the Flexi when we’re in the backyard, so she can explore and sniff. She is not trained to be off-leash and at 10 years-old, I don’t see that happening. The Flexi gives her room to explore her turf and learn her boundaries. It provides me with enough control to keep her from taking off if she sees a squirrel or a kid. When I take her for a walk – either around the neighborhood or at the park – I use the leather leash. It keeps her close enough that I feel in control if we see other people and/or dogs. But I still have to be careful – I have on occasion dropped the leash. I also put it on the ground when we’re sitting. More than once I’ve had to chase her because *I* wasn’t paying attention!

  8. Back in the day of Maggie and Toby, I had one of these leashes and used it for a while. Sage stays so close to me when we walk, that there’s no need to use this type of leash. She happily trots along beside me and knows she can’t chase that elusive squirrel or cat anyway.

  9. I absolutely agree with you concerning the extendable leashes. They may be convenient under some circumstances they are dangerous for both dogs and people.

    I used the extendable for BJ when we were in the park. Dogs must be put on leash at 9AM. The extendable allowed me to let him run a little further than his regular 4 ft. leash after 9.

    When an owner holding one end of the extendable and the dog is attached to the other, it’s a good idea to keep the leash short and the dog close. A 20-something was so engrossed in talking on her cell phone, let the leash out and was so busy on her cell phone she didn’t even know that her dog was across the sidewalk. It was dark and I didn’t see the black cord and walked into the cord nearly fell and landed face first on the cement sidewalk.

  10. This was a nice, refreshing article to read about the highly controversial leash. If more folks shared their views as open and eloquent as you did i would be more open to read them. Well done Pamela :)

  11. Really fantastic article and I definitely appreciate your perspective and I completely agree with the questions that you ask, they really get to the heart of things. When I thought about your questions, I changed my own perspective. The problem I’ve always had with flexi leashes is that oftentimes when I’m walking with Kayo and we approach another dog on a flexi leash, the owners allow their dogs to approach Kayo without permission and they take very little control over what their dogs are doing. But looked at from the perspective of your questions, that could happen with any leash. I’ll have to work at not having such a strong negative opinion about those leashes. The relationship is key!

  12. The relationship, trust and bond has always been an important part of every decision. Second only to safety and physical well-being.

  13. Very good point. We tend to criticize others for not doing it our way (which we, of course, think is the best way). Or when we see one person using certain equipment wrong, we assume everyone who uses that same equipment does it wrong. Or we make judgments about a person and their relationship with their dog based on how they train or what training equipment they use. I say ‘we’ because I’m sure we’ve all done it at one time or another. I know I have. Thanks for bringing this up. It is important that we see different perspectives without judgment.

  14. My first question when I’m looking at new equipment is “Is it safe for me and my dog?” If I have reservations or doubts, then some research is happening first. I also want to know other people’s experiences with it.

    I’ve heard enough horror stories to know that a retractable leash isn’t for us. We do have one that we got for review, and we did use one during the winter when Kuster was a puppy for potty training, and it was great when he was little. Now, the only thing I use one for is occasional pictures outside if my husband is available to hold the leash while I use the camera. I had thought it might be nice for hiking, but holding on to that handle while you’re trying to climb up and down hills and over obstacles is not handy or convenient at all. My own personal experience without having something bad happen is enough to know about that subject. I’m not going to tar and feather people who use one (unless their dog does something to us) but I also don’t recommend them to people, and I usually use the argument that you presented here. I can’t “feel” my dog on the end of a retractable leash and I doubt that she can feel me, either.

  15. Mike Webster says:

    From the Husband:
    My only reason for having a dog is the tax benefits. Will the leash improve my tax benefits?

  16. A lot of people use extendable leashes here in Australia. I like the idea of them, but when I actually used them, I found that I had very little control over my dog. I think your dog would have to be very well trained and you’d have to be a pretty experienced pet owner to use it safely, and I wasn’t at the time when I tried it. I do completely agree that it should be more about the relationship than the tool used. For pulling on the leash, I used to spend a fortune on fancy tools like harnesses, but in the end, focusing on improving the relationship and having consistent and humane leadership with my dogs actually worked better than any of the tools we tried.

  17. Obviously a flexi leash isn’t any good with a Greyhound as they can reach top speed in 3 strides! I used to use one with Frankie when I first got him and we were at the park and it worked quite well. But I’d never use one walking the streets, a normal length lead is plenty long enough for a relaxed walk. Although I don’t think I ever had a relaxed walk around the streets with Frankie! He should have been a Malmute X Beagle. He’s very strong for his size and can pull and sniff at the same time! Things are much better now he doesn’t have to be on lead and he’s much more aware of me when he’s free to do what he wants. Now he chooses to be with me much more often :)

  18. Amen! No leash can solve the problems created when people don’t pay attention to their dog when walking. The relationship is important too, even more than the type of leash you choose. I do tend to be anti-Flexi, but I think it’s because I rarely see them used properly.

    And if Mike figures out how to get some tax benefits out of all of this, please share with the rest of us. 😉

  19. I agree with you Pamela. Each pet owner is the best decision maker for what is right for their pet. Hopefully they are making decisions that improve the dog’s confidence, health and strengthen the bond between them and their human. Most people are very intrigued and supportive of our hiking adventures. However, on occasion, someone has said or implied that I am being irresponsible for taking them such places. I know the signs of what Chester and Gretel can handle and what they cant and the hiking improves our fitness and bond. Each case is unique as with the flexi-leads.

    However, I was a bit horrified to see a “dual” flexi-leash the other day. The handle has TWO flexi leashes coming out of it. I don’t care who you are, it just seems unreasonable to have solid control of either dog attached.

  20. MysticsMama says:

    I used 2 Flexi’s to walk my 2 dogs in many cities in Europe and the USA. Augra was a curious, busy, 11-pound Schnauhuahua old lady with short legs. Mystic was a young, well-proportioned, 50-pound Whoknowswhat alpha mutt. Two (well, three) very different gaits, interests, and exercise tolerances. Mystic was the bold, focused, lead dog out at the full, 16-foot length. Augra went side to side, sniffing, and marking, everything at the 8-foot or so length. She’d stop to do her thing, I’d walk past her, and by the time she was 7 feet behind, she’d be done and would run to catch up to her 7 foot lead. I tried to walk fast enough to keep Mystic trotting happily. Both dogs would stop if I dropped a handle, and watch as it caught up with them. Then they’d look up at me, like, “Well, come on, mom. We’ve got places to go, things to sniff!” They always chose to stay with me whenever I dropped a handle. They ignored other dogs and people, but for a quick glance and maybe a sniff. It was all about the mileage, apparently. If I’d had them heel, all three of us would fit side-by-side on the average city sidewalk, but passing people might’ve been intimidated. As it was, oncoming pedestrians would smile at the disparate crew as they passed each of us. It was dog-weaving at its best some days, but we couldn’t have enjoyed all those kilometers on a couple of 6-foot leashes. I acknowledge that we were an unusual team enabled by the Flexi-leashes. Now, I have another disparate crew: an 8-pound Pom mix, 30-pound Border collie/blue heeler mix, and an 85-pound Lab mix. Lots of recalls, treats and releases for all. Thankfully, we live out in the country, so only the headstrong Pom always needs to be on a leash. Otherwise, too much swearing on my end of the leashes, and/or advanced degree in dog-weaving!
    I completely agree, it’s all about your relationship with each dog, and each pair of you has to find and develop your own ‘best practices.’