Why I Hate Flexi-Leads

July 25, 2008 at 12:32 am 29 comments

Thanks to my friend Jill who inspired this.

The flexi-lead or retractable leash, is a tool that is enormously popular with dog owners — and hated by many dog trainers.

When a client shows up at my place with one, I tell them that they’ll have to give it up while they’re working with me.  When they ask why, I give them a few of the top eight reasons why I hate flexi-leads:


Because of the dozens of times I’ve been in big box pet stores and seen Fido in aisle two urinating on products, ‘shop-lifting’ treats or snarking at customers and their dogs – while his owner stands utterly clueless in aisle three chatting with a friend. Or the hundreds of times I’ve been accosted in parks and on sidewalks by a lunging beast who’s owner either grins inanely at me (as if I think this is fun) or pointedly avoids eye contact (after all, she can’t interfere with her dog’s fun).

Flexi-leads lend many owners a false sense of security. They assume that simply being attached to their dog is an adequate substitute for paying attention to it. This typically leads to a pattern where the owner (securely attached to his dog) ignores the dog as it repeatedly engages in inappropriate, self-rewarding behavior thereby allowing the dog to train himself to behave badly in nearly every situation when he is out in public.


Because the flexi-lead appears to have been specifically – and nearly perfectly – designed to teach dogs to pull. Dog pulls – dog gets REWARDED with more space and freedom. Dog stops pulling and dog gets PUNISHED by leash and collar pulling back on him.

This represents the most nearly flawless schedule of reward and punishment seen in the dog training world as the leash is NEVER loose in between the dog pulling on the leash/owner and the leash pulling back on the dog.Unless you are a skilled dog trainer (or [gasp!]) use an electronic training collar), it is impossible to teach a dog to walk politely on a loose leash using a flexi-lead.


Because freedom is something that should be earned, not given. Would you give your car keys to a 14-year-old child so he could ‘enjoy his freedom’?  Would you let the same child go “say hi” to the stranger he met on an interweb chat room because the stranger (or the guy with him) assured you that, “It’s OK, I’m friendly”?  Of course not (I hope).

There’s a reason toddlers stay in play pens, young children play outdoors when supervised and preteens get their first tastes of freedom only when their parents have a very good idea of where they’ll be, who they’ll be with and what they’ll be doing. — It gives them a chance to learn rules and boundaries while they mature so that they can make good decisions on their own when the proper time comes.

Letting a dog that hasn’t yet been given proper guidance and training on the rules and boundaries for the society it lives in doesn’t make sense either – and it’s confusing for the dog.


Because it puts the handler in a position of constantly being reactive instead of proactive on the walk. The dog is given nearly unlimited freedom – until he annoys or worries the owner – then the owner reacts to the dog by taking space back from him (or trying to).  If the dog is regularly allowed to take all the initiative on the walk and never has to earn the freedom of space to explore, he’ll never appreciate it.  He’ll see it as his God-given right.

A dog that thinks that he makes decisions AND that he is entitled to unlimited space and freedom is a dog that will never recognize his owner as a leader. He is therefore much more likely to challenge the owner for freedom (and other resources) and to resent the owner when he doesn’t get it.


And we haven’t even gotten to the safety issues yet.  Dog owners don’t seem to be aware that there is danger associated with the use of this tool — even though the manufacturer makes a point of informing uses of this in the packaging and on their website.

Dangers include burns on human and canine body parts when the cord or webbing of the lead gets wrapped around body parts.  When this happens (and it happens a lot), at best you have a nasty tangle of line wrapped around an excited dog.  In a less fortunate situation a two- or four-legger will trip and fall or the line or get a rope burn.  The worse case scenario is amputation or strangulation.  Not things any sane person wants to risk.

In Which Zip tries (unsuccessfully) to kill Audie


Other dangers include potential hazards to a dog who has moved ten to twenty-five feet beyond an unattentive owner.  Being hit by a car, attacked by another dog, smacked or pepper-sprayed by a person who doesn’t welcome his advances or eating something toxic without his owner realizing it are just a few of the ugly possibilities.


And then there are those pesky leash laws.  Most of them specify that a dog be on a leash that is six-feet or less in length.  Most flexi-leads, when fully extended (as they usually are) won’t comply. Leash laws also typically require that the dog be “under control” and, all too often, this is not the case when an owner substitutes physical attachment for control (see number 1).


Then there are those gawd-awful, awkward handles on the dratted things.  Even if you are a conscientious dog owner who pays attention to your dog, it can be darn near impossible to take control of him with a hand brake from 15-feet away.  And – if you drop the handle as your dog bolts away, he may run even faster as he is startled by the sound of the hard plastic handle bouncing along behind him.

For more information on flexi-leads see: Glock or Flexi – Which Would You Rather Carry

Entry filed under: cynicism, dog obedience, dog training, dogs.

And They Weren’t Even Drunk… Summer Safety Links

29 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Caveat  |  July 25, 2008 at 4:13 am

    Thanks! I have nothing to add except that the whirring and clicking sound, especially on an early morning walk, is extremely irritating..

    I say ban them! (<–joke)

  • 2. Audie's Gramma  |  July 25, 2008 at 2:06 pm

    Don’t forget two of my favorite reasons to hates ’em:

    9) Not one human in fifty has the coordination and timing to “reel in” an excited dog using the “push-lock-pull-release-push-lock-pull” sequence required by these gizmos. If you are that good, then you won’t need or want a flexi leash. And you’ll realize that it’s too slow for a genuine emergency, no matter how good you are.

    10) The gizmo promotes the illusion of freedom for the dog, and the illusion of control for the human. Actually, it’s an illusion of freedom+control for the human, as the dog isn’t fooled. When the human gets mired in this illusion, he will never come out of it and train for true control, which will gift the dog with genuine freedom — the freedom to live off-leash, and manage his own behavior, and go places and be welcomed there.

  • 3. Steev  |  April 28, 2009 at 4:55 pm

    Good points and for the average person sure makes sence. But I am a good dog trainer not the best still have lots to learn, but I would rather you put up both sides of the arguement. You know Pros and Cons.

  • 4. SmartDogs  |  April 28, 2009 at 7:53 pm

    I don’t really see any pros. As it states in the title of this post “I hate Flexi-leads.”

    I don’t know anyone else that I respect as a trainer who uses or recommends them.

  • 5. Steve  |  April 28, 2009 at 8:56 pm

    Chance are we will never meet so whether you will respect me or not I guess will also never be given a chance, to bad I think.
    All I said was it deserved a fair pro’s and cons type article. When I use a flexi I don’t do any of the things you talk about in this article ever. I also don’t use the flexi if I feel that I will encounter any of your points. I also tell anyone that is thinking about getting a Flexi that this leash must be used correctly very much like your post.

    I used the flexi to help with training weaves, recalls, potty training, go outs, and I am sure more. I don’t live where leash laws are quit so restrictive and my dog has earned more freedom, with the help of the flexi.

    Have a good day

  • 6. SmartDogs  |  April 28, 2009 at 10:18 pm

    They can be used that way – but I really prefer just to use a long (8, 12 or 15 foot) leash for those things. The brakes on the flexis are very awkward and not terribly reliable. They catch when they shouldn’t and don’t catch when they should. Because of I want to take advantage of fast timing, I found that when I did use a flexi, I tended just to reel out the number of feet I thought I needed and hold the line – instead of the handle. Then the handle became a big, heavy, useless obstacle in my hands.

    In my opinion a long line, lunge line, drag line, light line or whatever you want to call it is a much cheaper and more versatile tool. I recommend them to my clients instead of flexis.

    There are plenty of pro-con flexi articles on the internet. This article represents my opinions. You’re free to disagree, and as you can see – I’m happy to post dissenting opinions.

  • 7. Steve  |  April 28, 2009 at 11:45 pm

    So I got you to say they “can” be used that way.lol

    Ok I bought my flexi back in 1989 and used it with four different dogs over the years maybe I got a good one. Like I said I use it for special purposes and it is not my everyday leash it is for teaching and if I do use it in place of a leash I set the stop at about 4 feet to heel with. That way no fumbling with buttons or too much line. I find with a long line I need it knotted and I must wear gloves and it can tangle even more easily as in weave poles I never want my dog to think he is being corrected in the weaves.

    As for dissenting opinions I just like to see fair articles on dog training you put a lot of effort into this article, good job now make it better. Always room for improvement.

  • 8. SmartDogs  |  April 29, 2009 at 9:09 pm

    Well Steve (or Steev or whoever you are with a different, probably fake email addy for each comment) – thank you for that wonderfully condescending note. Of course I have nothing better to do than write posts for my blog geared toward your point of view.

    I’ll hop to it right away. (-not…)

  • 9. Steve  |  April 29, 2009 at 9:31 pm

    Sorry it is Steve just a typo and nothing is fake . I didn’t mean to ruin your day really I didn’t and I did not mean to be taken in a condescending way. Please erase everything and please accept my appology if you feel hurt by anything I said. Life is too short to get angry

  • 10. Ookami  |  June 20, 2009 at 10:33 pm

    I have to say you did good with this. Just saying. You would not belive all the stupid owners who use these then get upset when you tell them that in that quick of time their dog would be dead. Or maybe you know. I may print this off and post it at our local shelter. Lord knows those people need to read this.

  • 11. Carole Raisbeck  |  October 13, 2009 at 8:43 pm

    The flexi leash is extremely dangerous when the owner stands on one side of the road and her dog has stretched its lead allowing him to walk on opposite side of road (as I’ve often witnessed), and then a child on bicycle comes down the road, cannot see the thin lead, and gets violently tripped. We saw this happen and the result: Cyclist fell so hard to pavement that we had had to call an ambulance and paramedics to staunch the bleeding.

    Our trainer says NO to flexi leads and if owner is too lazy to use the 15′ nylon training lead correctly the owner doesn’t deserve the dog.

  • 12. SmartDogs  |  October 13, 2009 at 9:20 pm

    Smart trainer!

  • 13. Mongo  |  October 14, 2009 at 12:03 am

    We also have a bright and shining hatred of flexi-leads.
    I’ve bicycled with my dogs around our small town for the last ten years. Nothing fancy, an over the shoulder leash with the dog at a loose HEEL beside me on the bike, at an easy trot.
    In the half light of evening, many times we have seen (usually small) dogs appear out of nowhere around corners. And then behold, 15 feet behind is some jerk holding a flexi who has no idea why his dog is is not coming back….. or flipping out.
    There are TWO uses of flexi-leads as close as we can figure- one use is to keep humans from taking ONE extra step while pretending to walk (re: interact) their dog. The other use is to allow dogs to crap in flower beds while the humans stand on the sidewalk pretending not to notice.

  • […] Why I Hate Flexi-Leads from SmartDog’s Weblog […]

  • 15. Richard  |  March 22, 2011 at 9:11 am

    Flexi leashes, what else can I say.
    Not much, except that they are dangerous in many ways.
    I might use one ONLY for recall training in certain situations where handling a long line is too hawkward. Dog should be kept close to handler all the time when in public and handler should keep a good eye on dog all the time. Let’s train our firends properly so they learn to behave. That is impossible with such a tool as a flexi leash.

  • 16. Which Harness? - Page 3 - Pet Forums Community  |  April 14, 2011 at 5:57 am

    […] […]

  • 17. The Issue of “Under Control” - DogProblems.com  |  July 29, 2011 at 5:39 pm

    […] Janeen McMurtrie’s lovely expose on her strong dislike towards the much-overused retractable string leashes brought up a compelling point right at the get-go in number one. […]

  • 18. The Issue of "Getting Your Dog Under Control"  |  August 29, 2011 at 12:17 am

    […] Janeen McMurtrie’s lovely expose on her strong dislike towards the much-overused retractable string leashes brought up a compelling point right at the get-go in number one. […]

  • […] your dog is to you, the less chance there is of him pulling you to the point of injury. Here is a blog that explains lots of other reasons not to use these […]

  • 20. Paul  |  June 19, 2012 at 4:36 pm

    Quite honestly, This blog is about how dangerous an untrained dog is. Not how dangerous a flexi is. I have a well trained Akita who behaves perfectly on a flexi, of course when walking along the bicycle trail at the local forest preserve he is TRAINED (Key Point) to not cross the path. The flexi allows him the freedom to run ahead of me then come back then run ahead then come back (I don’t know about you but my dog will never get any exercise at my pace), he will take a perfect heel in seconds at command and NEVER crosses the trail or interferes with any other users of the trail. He does not do his business in anyone’s flowers, that’s what the “out of the flowers” command is for. The flexi is a tool and like any other tool can be properly used or abused. I came across this blog while searching for a short flexi as I am getting a second Akita and would rather have the convenience of the recoil over trying to hand over hand the leads of two dogs when I recall them to a heel. Of course I suppose I could use 2 standard 6 foot leads and while trying to gather up the slack let my dogs trip over it.

    You are right that your blog is about YOUR hatred of the flexi but please try to refrain from calling everyone that uses one a moron. Rather than lament the fact that they are improperly used how about teaching the owners to use them properly…..Training if you will.

  • 21. kee  |  January 16, 2013 at 5:56 am

    Stop hating on Flexi leads already … work great for our little dog and I can control her perfectly.

  • 22. Sarah Regan Snavely » What I’m reading…  |  July 4, 2013 at 3:13 pm

    […] Why I hate Flexi-Leads from Smart Dogs […]

  • 23. Phrain  |  July 9, 2013 at 12:46 am

    Totally agree with the author, especially on the safety issue!!!! Flexi has serious safety issues. I have deep cuts on both of my legs and had to go to see a doctor. My husband had cuts on his arm. Basically, the design of this product is just fraud! We wish we had found so many negative opinions about Flexi before we bought one and before both of us and our friends were injured!

  • 24. Burn Song  |  January 1, 2014 at 11:09 am

    I have used flexileads in controlled circumstances for 30 years, I still have the first ones I purchased. They are used if I need to get my dogs out for a pee in a motorway service station, or similar when I am travelling. They have a very useful place in the care of my dogs, and now my old spaniel is deaf, it allows her to range a little but not get too far away to stop with a command. I have never been cut, my dogs do not misbehave on a flexi and mostly I exercise them in open country, off the lead, but I won’t give up my flexis for anyone!

  • 25. Brenda  |  January 19, 2014 at 6:25 pm

    I hate Flexi because I have to replace mine every 3-4 months. It’s a MONEY PIT and my dogs are small, weighing only 9-10 lbs. The cord inevitably wears where the metal latch is attached to the cord, and eventually breaks. I’ve often thought, “wouldn’t it be great if someone could invent one that had a lifetime guarantee.”

  • 26. bluescitygirl  |  March 29, 2014 at 2:32 pm

    I live in the middle of a large city with my family of pups…..all of them are primarily inside dogs….my back yard is fenced in but it is only with a chain link fence. One of my pups is a Catahoula who is intent on hopping my chain link fence. A wooden or invisible fence is out of my budget. I go out with them and me calling her works unless she sees another animal and then that fails and I don’t want something to happen. I don’t wish to tie her out because I find this is just a fundamentally wrong thing to do to a dog..a short leash gives her zero room to run…and I would only be using this in my back yard as a means of keeping her inside the fence unless y’all have another idea? I would love to take her to obedience school but money is tight so I need a fix that is reasonable…good for her and good for me…and this was all I could think of but I’m open to suggestions!

  • 27. Tony Stemberger  |  April 13, 2014 at 3:45 pm

    I have Wheaten Terriers… Very prey driven at that! When we are in an open area, not a lot of people around, the flexi lead allows them the freedom and room to run and play, without having me in an all out sprint. They get GREAT exercise with them. Now, not to be a hypocrite…One must take the good with the bad. I will admit, I have gotten in trouble with the long leads. A couple of leg burns, one of the furs getting into a dead critter, a broken lead or two, etc. I am always aware of my surroundings and am careful and respectful of others. You made some generalized statements about owners here. Not all are true. The final point is that my dogs sleep great!! And are not overly naughty. It’s because they get great exercise. A tired dog is a good dog.

  • 28. helen webb  |  May 12, 2014 at 10:30 am

    I agree with Tony. My terriers would have no freedom without flexi leads unless all the cats, deer and badgers which we come across every day in the countryside were removed. They have been taught not to pull and to walk at heel when required on the flexi leads (as long as there are no prey items near by). The leads do not work in an urban environment however, only countryside. With 2 dogs snuffling amongst the bushes it would be impossible using long lines.

  • 29. fiona  |  May 25, 2014 at 10:32 am

    I am disabled as a result I can not use a long line so I use the widest tape flexi in bright red on to my dogs harness with the first meter covers in a padded kevlar tube but I do not hold the other end I clip it to my waist harness that has a quick release I hold the tape in gloved hands so i control the line not it it just hold what I am not using during the activity I am training. I never would walk any dog on one of these and I feel that the thin line flexis should be band on safty grounds I hate them for dog walking for all the reasons above and more to many times I have had to spray a charging dog on the end of a flexi to protect my self and my trainee scervice dog puppys
    And before you say how horrendous I am I add My spray is just highly compressed air. If the dog stops it lives if it bites my or my dog animal control will decide It’s fate. Because of a dumb human who chose a flexi because they where to ignorant and or lazy to train their dog and use an appropriate method of control.

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