The Great Flexi Debate

Today, I published a new blog for my friends over at dogster about “Four Awesome Things for Dogs that Some People Think are Cruel.”  Go ahead, check it out…I’ll wait.

OK, now that you’re back, did you notice that little Jack Russell Terrier on the “Flexi” (retractable) leash at the bottom of the page, or those who left comments disparaging the use of these tools?  Flexi leashes are the only tool I know of that may be more hotly debated than shock collars for dogs, and discussions of their use are generally comprised of individuals falling into one of two camps – “Flexi leashes are awesome!” (FLA) and “Flexi leashes are horrible” (FLH) folks.  Who’s right?  Who’s wrong?

Both.  Flexis can be downright dangerous for the wrong dogs, in the wrong situations, with the wrong training.  For the right dogs, in the right situations, with the right training, they can be fantastic!



Whew, what a relief to get that off my chest!  I do have, use, and love my flexi leashes.  When I use them, I wouldn’t be surprised to find that my dogs walk three miles for every one I walk, sniffing and exploring. But when I’m using a Flexi leash, I’m AlWAYS FULLY WITH MY DOG (giving them my undivided attention, NOT texting or chatting on my cell phone) and mindful that my favorite creature is at the other end of the leash, craving guidance and reinforcement, craving training!  The single biggest problem with Flexi use is that people just don’t pay attention – you need to be proactive about responding to challenges in the environment while out on your Flexi walk.

There are definitely do’s and don’ts of Flexi use – let’s review them. (APOLOGIES IN ADVANCE – I have never claimed to be a formatting guru, so sorry that the columns in the table are uneven in width – this is a new skill for me and obviously, I still need further training!)



DO only use Flexi’s on dogs that are already taught to walk reliably and politely on a loose leash. If you don’t do so, you may inadvertently encourage pulling (via the opposition reflex). Also, flexi leashes on untrained dogs present safety risks to dogs and their people. DON’T wait until your dog reaches the end of the Flexi to call her back. Hitting the end of a Flexi leash at full speed on any equipment (collar/harness) can cause injury to a dog. Watch your dog closely, and call her AS she approaches the end of the line to help her stay safe.
DO desensitize your dog to having the leash dropped and to dragging behind them. If you drop a Flexi leash (easy to do, those big plastic handles are unwieldy!) and your dog is not desensitized to the movement of something chasing her butt, she may run away unpredictably, trying to escape that crazy scary thing!

Also teach your dog to sit and stay while the Flexi is dropped to make poop-scooping easier.

DON’T use flexi leashes:

  • in urban or very busy public places like parks
  • in places where you are likely to run into off leash dogs or dogs in close proximity on-leash
  • in places where there is heavy traffic
  • in places where there is a high likelihood for prey distractions
DO take the time to practice using the locking mechanism, quickly and well, before you even begin using this tool. DON’T attach the flexi leash to a prong collar, choke collar, or head halter.
DO teach your dog to hand target to your side so you can shorten the leash without yanking on him in case of emergencies – proof this behavior well to reliability around distractions. DON’T allow your dog to greet other dogs or people while on a retracted Flexi leash, even if he is friendly. It’s too easy for the leash to get tangled in legs and injure someone, human or canine. If you want to allow polite greeting, lock the leash first at a suitable length (6 feet).
DO make sure that you pull the leash all the way out and allow it to dry before placing it back in the housing after using it to take your dog swimming. Left wet inside, it can get moldy or even weakened. DON’T allow your dog to have the full length of the leash when you are walking within leash distance of a road.
DO choose the version with the tape-type leash instead of the rope-type leash version. The tape-type is safer and stronger. DON’T hold the leash portion of the Flexi in your hand or allow it to wrap around your finger. One of the hallmarks of a fine walk is coming home with as many phalanges as you left with.
DO restrict Flexi use to environments that are relatively non-distracting. DON’T forget to keep a flat buckle collar on your dog with I.D. tags in case anything goes wrong.
DO attach your flexi leash to halter or collar that is not used for teaching loose leash walking – this can be an “equipment cue” to your dog that they are free to sniff and explore, and enjoy more lax criteria for walking manners than when hooked to their regular leash and collar/harness.

My dogs both wear Freedom harnesses – when a leash is clipped to the chest, we are loose leash walking.  Flexis get attached at the back, as on a traditional harness.

DON’T forget that long lines are a great alternative! For most dogs, a long length of clothesline with a leash clip attached is a great alternative that can be safer and easier to manage (supplies can usually be purchased for less than $10 at your local home improvement store).
DO train while your dog is wearing the Flexi, every time. Reward auto check-ins, eye contact, hand targeting, “leave its,” coming when called, etc. Engage with your dog! DON’T walk multiple dogs on flexis. If you are going for a group walk, each dog should have his or her own four or six foot leash.
DO have a regular leash with you, in case you need it. DON’T be lazy. A Flexi leash is never a good substitute for poor or non-existent training for leash manners.
DO consider doing a training walk or playing some fetch or tug with your dog off-leash in a safe environment or on a regular leash before your Flexi walk, to tire her out a bit. DON’T forget to examine your Flexi frequently (the leash clip, leash itself, and function of the “break” button) for damage and replace it IMMEDIATELY if any damage is noticed on any of these parts.


I don’t think it is as easy as saying “Flexis are horrible” or “Flexis are great.”  Like so many tools, both can apply depending on the time invested in training the dog to an appropriate level of behavior.  So, friends…

  • Do you own a Flexi?
  • What training did you use to acclimate your dog to the Flexi and ensure good behavior?
  • What environments do you use it in?  What environments DON’T you use it in?

Until next time, happy training!



5 comments on “The Great Flexi Debate
  1. I would give up my right to use Flexi leads if it meant that no one would be using them unsafely anymore, but like many other things, it’s not the tool that causes issues.

    I use Flexis all the time with dogs that I can’t take places off leash safely- fosters, my birdy setter that has selective hearing when he smells freedom, my deaf dog… I use them in environments where we may run into other people, because the retractable feature is perfect for getting the dog back to position without having to grab a bunch of lead. I would not use them near a road, in populated areas, or with dogs that I haven’t already gotten some basic and desensitization training and socialization in with. No skittish dogs.

    I always have a utility leash with me that hooks around my waist with a four-foot section that is free. I will take this four foot section and loop it through the handle and clip it in place so that if my hand slips off the leash I am still attached to my dog (though this hasn’t happened yet.)

  2. admin says:

    Crystal, what a great idea with the short leash attached to the Flexi! I love it!

  3. Wendy says:

    Flexi leash owners should also not assume that every dog they meet is friendly or that everyone wants to greet the dog. There is nothing worse than owners assuming that because someone is walking past with their own dogs they should greet. I have seen too many dogs get snapped at that this is a pet peeve of mine.

  4. Christi says:

    They make flexis now with very cheap materials for cheap prices and in very small sizes for the hand. This encourages children to use them as adults feel the size is for the child. DON’T allow children to use a flexi unless they are VERY WELL TRAINED as is the dog. Safety first for all in my opinion.

  5. Me says:

    I followed you over from the great Dogster debate, Casey. I’ll just cut and paste what I said there:

    Flexi leashes are another thing that requires common sense. They should not be used as a means of control or communication. They are for dogs who can heel and loose leash walk via voice direction alone. They are for dogs that already have learned how to walk on a standard leash so they can know the difference in the slight tension from a flexi versus no tension on a standard leash. They are not for dogs who are reactive, dogs who give chase, or prone to flight when scared. The dogs have to be conditioned to the experience of the handle dropping. They should not be used on collars, only on harnesses. They are fine for urban use, when all the above criteria is met, when in the locked position as an extra precaution. They are even better for use out of the city, especially on hikes and when you’re testing your dog to see if they can handle being off leash where the law allows.

    I love my flexis but not on every dog. And no, I wouldn’t trust most people with them.

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