‘Extending’ the summer safety message

As summer officially begins, dog lovers spread the important message ‘Dogs Die in Hot Cars’. It is one of the few campaigns that is supported by both the Countryside Alliance and the RSPCA, and every welfare organisation and animal charity in between. Police issue warnings and posters can be seen in shop windows across town. But there is another danger to dogs that becomes even more widespread during summer and is one that is not widely discussed or often prioritised; extendable leads.

Extendable leads can be purchased for as little as £5

Extendable leads can be purchased for as little as £5

We’ve all seen it. A dog so far in front of its owner that from a distance it appears to be walking freely, yet on closer inspection the thin cable attached to a plastic handle becomes visible. In an open field or park location this is not usually a problem, unless of course the dog in question is being kept ‘under control’ for reasons such as aggression (how can you possibly control a reactive dog if it is miles in front of you?). If the dog is on an extendable lead simply because it has an unreliable recall and the owner is concerned that their pet would disappear into the undergrowth if it was running free, then there is no real issue with the use of an extendable lead. What is definitely an issue, however, is the use of these devices when walking on footpaths, particularly those adjacent to busy main roads. This is a surprisingly common sight. About a week ago I witnessed what was nearly a horrific accident when a Staffie on an extendable lead strolled out, cool as you like, straight out into the path of an oncoming car. Its owner didn’t react quickly enough to press the ‘stop’ button function on the lead, and if the driver of the vehicle had been distracted for whatever reason, she wouldn’t have been able to react quickly enough either. Thankfully her eyes were on the road and she managed to brake in time. Worryingly the owner didn’t seem at all bothered that his pet had almost become roadkill and he continued on his walk without so much as a pat of his dog. This isn’t the first time that I’ve seen first hand the dangers that extendable leads present; I was once a passenger in a car when a Labrador decided it fancied a change from the footpath and walked out into the road, its owner helplessly clutching the extendable lead to which it was attached. Again the driver, my mum, managed to avoid hitting the dog, but only by a fraction. The incident left us both quite shaken and certainly angry. Most people wouldn’t think twice about having their dog off the lead next to a main road, so why is it acceptable to have them on an extendable lead, which offers such little control?

It isn’t always a happy ending. Earlier this month reports of the death of a Jack Russell, which ran into the road when the ‘lock’ mechanism failed on her lead, were included in local papers in Hampshire. Yet this is a message that needs to reach the public on a national scale. There have been instances of whiplash and broken bones linked to the use of extendable leads. Owner injuries have also been documented, including burns and sliced fingers from the cable. From my own, admittedly little, experience with these leads (we have never used one with our own dogs), it appears impossible that, should the need arise, you would be able to regain complete control over your dog. Our own reactions are just not quick enough, and once the dog is in a potentially dangerous situation, it is too late.

So here’s another doggy safety message for this summer – If you’re going to use an extendable lead, make sure it’s in a safe, open area, and always keep your dog under close control at the side of a road. Just like not leaving a dog in a hot car, it’s common sense, yet worryingly this is not always applied.

Do you agree? Have you had a similar experience with extendable leads? Comment below!



  1. Richard Taylor (@rjayt)

    Quite right. Yes, I used one in the distant past, until, after learning to walk with my dog on a slack lead it dawned: what on earth is the use of an extra six feet or so? Leaving aside the safety aspects you’ve mentioned, if locked they tangle with everything in sight, if left retractable they simply encourage your dog to pull. Walking with a dog happily close, on a conventional, slack lead is the equivalent of walking off lead anyway, yet infinitely safer.

  2. David Hegarty

    Actually we use them a lot of the time. But be ultra careful on the street. Get it short and locked before you’re in traffic, and only play around with it once you’re in the park or wherever. Also get your dogs used to being warned with a call of ‘easy’ or similar to warn them to slow down if they’re bolting at full pelt to the end of the lead!

  3. scarlybobs

    The only dog I grew up with in my family was always walked on an extendable lead, so naturally when we adopted Kasper we got one for him too. I’ve seen a few incidents with them:

    1) This wasn’t actually our extendable lead, but a Westie was being walked on one, Kasper was on a standard 4ft lead. The Westie was crazy excited, and both dogs ended up badly tangled. We had to unclip both leads and hold the dogs by their collars / harness, then use our other hand to try get the cord from around them. Dangerous and not pleasant for Kasper, who’d only been with us a month and was still nervy!

    2) Using an extendable lead designed for dogs up to 30kg (Kasper was 19kg at the time), we were walking in a churchyard and he was reeled out as it was empty. The cord snapped, for no reason. He wasn’t pulling, it wasn’t frayed, it just snapped! We’d had Kasper for less than a month, the lead was new, and he was running like a crazed (but very happy!) dog all around this churchyard, right in the centre of Stoke!! I really thought for sure he was gonna run onto a road and get hit, his recall wasn’t brilliant (hence the extendable lead) and back then I didn’t carry spares with me on walks. Nightmare…luckily my partner was about 15 minutes away picking up some shopping, so I rang him and he bought a spare lead!

    3) Didn’t happen to our dog again, but when I was younger me and a friend were walking her neighbour’s dog. The dog saw a rabbit and began running full speed, on an extendable lead. Reached the end, my friend was catapulted into the air, landed hard and slid a good 5 feet on the ground. The dog took all the impact on his neck and did a somersault, but was thankfully not injured. Yikes.

    These leads seem to be more popular in certain areas. The villages where I grew up in Yorkshire, they were so common. When we lived in Morecambe 99% of dogs we saw were walked on extendable leads (a lot of them were aggressive too). Here, and the last place we lived, I don’t remember even seeing one.

    I cringe whenever I see a dog being walked on a long / extendable lead by the road. There was a Collie being walked off lead the other day; took a fancy to a dog on the other side and strolled in front of all the cars on a main road. So lucky s/he wasn’t hit!

    Great blog btw 🙂

    • ghclarke2013

      Thanks for taking the time to write such a detailed comment! We’ve also experienced what you have with our own dog being tangled up in someone else’s extendable lead, it’s not a pleasant experience for anyone involved. Hope Kasper and Zoey are doing well 🙂

  4. Kim Burdick

    I am a wheelchair user and use the flexible leads to walk my service puppy in training. This being said, I have control of my animal and will use the button that controls the length of the leash if I see other people/animals near us. My Finnegan is never far enough away from me on his lead that I don’t have control over him. I’ve been bothered by other owners who let their animals get way far away from them and then have little to no control over their animals. The main reason I use these leads for my animal is so I can stay safely on a surface like a sidewalk while letting Finnegan have freedom. which he had to earn.

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