How the Best Retractable Dog Leash Healed my Relationship with My Dog

I brought my Alaskan shepherd, Eira, home the week of my birthday. Even though my toddler hated it when she howled, we all loved our half German shepherd, half Alaska malamute puppy. I started training her right away and was shocked by how quickly she picked up “sit” and “down” and even, sometimes, “stay.” But she had a terrible time heeling, or even staying remotely near my side when she was on the leash (or off of it). Keeping in mind that malamutes were originally used as sled dogs and thus love to pull, I decided to buy her a 16-foot Flexi Classic retractable dog leash when she was about three months old, hoping it would allow her more freedom and keep me sane.

Little Eira with her first Flexi leash.

We fell in love with the Flexi leash immediately. Its inventor, German pet owner Manfred Boghdan, got frustrated by the limitations of short leashes back in 1972 and created the first-ever retractable leash using the “pull starter of a chain saw,” according to Boghdan. Almost 50 years later, the Flexi leash remains a top-rated retractable leash on the market.

Our First Experience With a Retractable Dog Leash Ended in Disaster

That first hour with our new Flexi leash, Eira roamed snowy fields and forests while I watched, enchanted with the way I never had to hold on to extra leash. The handle fit comfortably in my hand. I texted my husband that I adored the leash, and it was worth every dollar we’d spent on it.

Eira exploring the woods with her brand-new Flexi leash.

And then an hour later, Eira and I met with the vet for some shots. Afterward, the vet and I were discussing Eira’s eating, sleeping, and eliminating habits. After literally thirty seconds of chatting, I looked down at Eira. She was happily chewing on the Flexi leash I’d purchased an hour before.

Her tiny puppy teeth had chewed the tape in half. It was completely ruined. The people at Petco, where I’d purchased the leash, graciously allowed me to return it even though it was my puppy’s fault for chomping it in two. I scoured the Internet for a more puppy-proof retractable leash, but I found nothing. The tape material needed for a retractable leash can’t be thick, or it won’t retract.

Tension Between Eira and Me

Disheartened, I purchased a durable, non-retractable, 15-foot training leash instead. It cost less, but using it to go on walks with Eira annoyed me. I had to walk with my toddler strapped to my back and hold Eira on this long, saggy leash, and the awkwardness of the leash made our walks difficult. One time, Eira ran in a circle around me and sprinted away; the leash had wrapped around my heavy winter boots, and I fell hard on the icy ground with my son on my back.

An adorably blurry photo of Eira with her more durable leash—note the sagginess.

The fall hurt, and I felt angry with Eira. I knew I needed to teach her how to stay close to me, how to stop tugging on the leash. She seemed to gain five pounds of muscle every week, and she got harder and harder to handle on walks. Especially on the ice and snow.

So I tried to teach her. I fed her tasty, meaty treats in an attempt to positively train her to stay near. It would work for maybe five minutes, and then she’d lose interest in heeling and want to explore instead. Our daily walks became a source of frustration—and when Eira once again caused me to topple over backward with my son in a carrier on my back, rage.

I knew I couldn’t take my anger out on her. She was a puppy, trying to learn something that’s unnatural to dogs. At the time, I was reading Patricia McConnell’s book, The Other End of the Leash: Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs. Early in the book, the author blows off teaching dogs to heel, saying that heeling goes against a dog’s need and desire to explore. I thought back to my German Shepherd dog, Bella, who’d died at only eight years old the year before.

Bella had never completely learned how to heel. For her entire life, she tugged on the rope just a little bit, and I spent a lot of time on our walks trying to coax her into heeling. When she died of bladder cancer, I felt awful for focusing on that one aspect of her “misbehavior” for so many years. Why didn’t I just let her be a dog?

Why didn’t I just get her a Flexi leash?

Giving the Retractable Dog Leash Another Try

Because here’s the thing: Eira, now eight months old, is out of the chewing stage. She leaves shoes, boots, and my son’s toys alone and only chews her own toys. So a couple weeks ago, after a frustrating time going jogging with her on a regular leash, I decided to give the Flexi leash another try.

This time, I ordered a 26-foot Flexi Giant leash, meant for dogs up to 110 pounds.

The day it came in the mail, I decided to take Eira for a run with her new leash. We set out in the evening on the gravel road by our house, and instead of straining against her leash, Eira happily trotted in the ditch next to the road. She didn’t tug at all because she had 26 feet of tape to explore with, and I started to relax and enjoy myself. A car turned onto the road, and I easily called Eira back and locked the leash into a shorter length until it passed.

Our amazing Flexi leash.

We passed two homes with loose dogs, and Eira’s leash allowed her to safely sniff and then play with them for a moment. By the time we got home, I couldn’t stop smiling. Eira hadn’t heeled once, but she didn’t need to. The leash did all the work for me. It struck a perfect balance between complete freedom (which would mean Eira running off to explore some distant woodland or neighborhood) and complete restriction.

Eira, free to explore while I walk or jog.

A couple days later, I decided to bring Eira to the park with my son. The last time we’d tried to bring her, I’d tied her to the bench with her non-retractable long leash. She lunged and yowled and barked so much that we had to leave the park after five minutes and go home.

But not with the Flexi. That day, I took Eira to the top of a small sledding hill and let her roam on her leash while my son enjoyed the slide and swings.

I took this photo from the top of the hill. Eira’s happily watching my toddler on the swings.

Then I got a big surprise when Eira tried going up the steps that lead to the slide. Below is a video of her attempting to go up the steps. In the video, you get an idea of how the Flexi leash works.

“Do you want to try the slide?” I asked her after taking the video, and she seemed to smile. I shortened the Flexi so that she wouldn’t get tangled, and then we went up.

She watched my toddler zoom down the slide and then looked back at me. “Go ahead, girl!” I said.

And so she went. I released the yellow button on the leash to let it stretch out all the way. My son clapped, gleeful that his puppy had joined him in one of his favorite activities.

Watch Eira go down the slide with her Flexi leash in this video:

Eira loved the slide so much that she went down it about ten times. Each time, the Flexi made getting her up into the structure and down the slide easy and safe.

I love this photo of both my babies on the double slide at our local park!

When we left the park that day, I felt content. My toddler had gotten to play, and so had my dog. Instead of feeling frustrated and abandoned, tied to a bench, she got to participate in our fun. Which, in turn, took away my frustration at hearing her bark and yelp.

Every Dog Needs a Retractable Dog Leash

I would’ve enjoyed walking and jogging with my German shepherd, Bella, so much more if I’d had a Flexi leash. I can’t go back in time, but I can do better with Eira. I believe every dog should have a Flexi leash so they can explore the world around their owner, but if your pup’s still in a chewing stage, you might need to wait. Either until she stops chewing, or Flexi comes out with a puppy-proof leash.

Even if your dog is in a chewing stage, you might still be able to use a Flexi if you keep a careful eye on your dog and don’t allow any chewing at all.

Just make sure you keep the receipt, and if disaster strikes, wait a few months and try again.

I promise you that every penny you spend on a high-quality retractable dog leash will be worth it.