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Dog owners have to worry about so many things related to keeping their pets safe: Keep 'em away from raisins and chocolate; make sure latches on doors and gates are effective; watch out for pools of sweetly irresistible but lethal anti-freeze; unplug paper shredders when not in use so probing noses and tongues won't activate them.

I'm adding another potential peril to the list: retractable leashes, those long-cord gadgets with plastic handles that allow the dog to roam 20 or 30 feet from the owner. I've seen way too many tragedies and near-misses befall dogs at the end of those leashes. Not one of these, it's important to point out, was equipment failure. All were human/user failures, the result of their being used in settings (mostly urban) and in a way (extended to the full length) that was inappropriate for the amount of chaos or possible calamity inherent in the situation.

•A deaf dog that didn't notice a car backing out of a shrub-obscured driveway (as the oblivious owner, 20 feet behind, yapped on a cellphone).

•Dogs darting into the street, owners unable to jerk them back from afar.

•A young dog mangled by another dog when the two met at a blind corner and the pup, far from its owner and unable to be kept restrained, leapt goofily atop the old dog and suffered the consequences.

•A well-mannered dog that, at a blind corner, was slammed into by a kid on a speeding bicycle.

Unfortunately, until something awful happens — or almost happens — we're consumed only with the notion that the dog has more freedom, that it can sniff at will and cover more ground than on a four-foot leash. We don't always think ahead to how bad things can get when a dog has a head start of three seconds and 15 feet.

And, by the way, many humans are injured by retractables every year, too. Consumer Reports found there were 16,564 hospital-treated leash-related injuries in 2007, including cord burns, falls and even finger amputations (though it's unknown how many were from conventional leashes or retractables).

I was one who didn't consider the potential risks for years. Back when I was living in Kentucky, and most of my dog walking with my late, great Labrador mix Buck took place in fields and on quiet, small-town streets, the retractable — extended to its fullest so he could walk two miles to my one — was a favorite. When I moved to an urban environment, though, I eventually realized I had to keep the leash locked at a three- or four-foot length. Although Buck was perfectly leash-trained, he was sometimes moved to unexpected squirrel chases that could have ended badly in traffic. More often, though, the danger arrived in the form of some ill-mannered dog on a 30-foot retractable yanking its owner on a weaving path down the sidewalk toward us, something that sometimes wound up with dogs and owners becoming entangled and dogs acting hostile because they felt trapped and vulnerable.

Happily, I learned my lesson before anything horrible happened.

Other owners haven't been so lucky.

I'm no dog trainer, of course, and I wanted to see what an expert would say about all this. I was willing to hear I'm a safety Nazi who has been the unfortunate witness to an uncommonly high number of leash accidents largely because I live in a city with a high dog-to-human ratio.

I spoke with Steve Appelbaum, noted dog trainer who trains trainers at the Animal Behavior College.

"When you buy an electronic device, you have to read the instructions to figure out how to use it," he offered, "but not so with leashes. People think they know everything they need to know." They toss aside the instructions/warnings that foretell danger points.

That said, he loves retractables. He uses them all the time. He is, in fact, spokesman for Flexi Leash, a brand owned by millions of people.

Appelbaum likes the flexibility the leash gives owners to react to various situations: In parks, fields and rural areas, "you can give the dog the freedom to wander," and use it as a training tool so you can "proof" the dog to be responsive even at a distance. But in other situations, you can and should pull them in closer.

"The owner," he says, "has to decide when each length is appropriate."

Simple, obvious words. But ones we can hope increasing numbers will take to heart.
 

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Ugh, I once got BAD cord burn from a retractable, and I can't be around them now without feeling a twinge around my ankles. They make me nervous :p . I recognize that they do have legitimate uses, but you have to be really careful, especially in town.
 

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I've never used a retractable. I guess I've just never had a need too. We have a 4ft. nylon for going out to stores and such and then a 6 ft. nylon for walking. :)
 

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Retractables are a tool and can have an appropriate time and place for usage. The problem is, there are too many people using them improperly and in inappropriate situations. Generally speaking, you'd never use one on a greyhound because they can be at top speed (35+/- mph) by the time they reach the end of that flexi...good luck hanging on to that leash!

BUT, I do use them our back yard with pups recovering from surgery (like we have now) because it gives them a bit of extra potty room and privacy. I also use them at my parents' house because they don't have a fenced yard and it just makes it easier to potty a dog when I'm feeling lazy and don't want to walk 6 feet behind them. BUT, I *only* use it on certain dogs...some don't have the temperament for it.

eta: We only have flexis that use the webbing for the entire length...that cord can be really dangerous if you or the dog gets tangled in it. I've had rope burns in the past from OTHER people's flexis when their out of control fluffy-poo decides to run up to one of my reys who thinks fluffy-poo would be an excellent snack.
 

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Retractable leashes are becoming a mainstay in formal obedience. They're used in many exercises like the Recall, Directed retrieve, Go outs, Scent articles, etc. where precise control is desired.
 

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I won't use one. I HATE the way those handles feel in my hand. no grip at all.

and I can't stand it when people let their dogs act like idiots just because they are on a retractable.

just...not a fan.
 

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Zoey has a 6ft leash and a 16ft retractable leash. When we go out for our walks during the day, she is on her 6ft leash all the way. I actually wrap it around my hand three or four times so she has to stay closer to me.. She has a nasty habit of wanting to chase after leaves blowing around. I have never and will never let her be on her flexi leash any where near the road. I don't trust myself to be quick enough to lock it and pull her back if she were to race off into the street after a leaf. That and I'm always nervous that something will go wrong with it and the locking mechanism will jam or the leash would break off from inside the thing (I don't really know how well they are built inside) The only time she gets to be on her Flexi leash is after we get to the park. There she can have some freedom to roam around and smell the grass and sticks and chase leaves if she wants to. I like using the leash up there because it gives me a chance to work on recall with her in a distracting environment.
 

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They are useless for Guide dog work, but those in wheelchairs tend to like them because the service dog is able to open the door, retreive dropped items, and have a little room to do the tasks needed by their disabled handler while still (technically) being leashed.
My wife has a "convertible" leash for her Guide that goes from 3 feet to 6 feet just by moving a bolt snap to a ring set in the leather lead. Very useful.

I personally do not like the retractables due to the fact my wife has been tripped by them while using her Guide because the other dog owner wasnt paying attention to what their dog was doing 15 feet out in front of them.
 

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I don't like when people use them to walk their dogs in the city, or into stores. I could see how they would be useful at a park or if you want to let your dog out to potty without having to actually leaving the doorway, but not when you are right next to a road or going to be walking around a bunch of people.
 

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They should never be used to walk a dog in the city, I just hate being attacked by another Yorkshire that turns the corner 5 minutes before the owner does because the leash is fully extendend.

I never use a leash longer than 6 feet and my 6 feet is usually rolled around my hand, in the city it's just better for everyone to keep your dog close.
 

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I live in an apartment so retractables are pretty handy for taking your dog out to go potty. However, I'll never use them to walk my dog, especially in town. When Joey goes for a walk he likes to actually walk. He's not one to wander and sniff things so he doesn't need the extra space. A regular leash is perfect for him and I like having the control.
 

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I have never like them. I don't feel like I have enough control of the dog with them. I prefer my plain 6 ft nylon
 

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I have never used them, we always use 6 ft nylon or leather leashes for walks. I have a 25ft leash (actually its a lunge line for horses :) ) for Tiberius. I only use it when we are going to be in the back yard or in the field across the road. My mom has an 80lb Aussie Shepard/Springer Spaniel mix and she walks that dang thing on a retracable. He has broken 3 of them (killed the locking mechanism lunging after something) and she still hasn't gotten the hint.
 
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