I can totally understand why people like retractable leashes. As someone with a short dog with even shorter legs, it’s not uncommon for her to step over the leash. In fact, it happens so often, that I taught her to lift her foot up on cue so that I could untangle her without having to bend over. Since Flexis retract into the handle, there is no slack for the dog to get tangled in.
I also really liked the length. The model I tested was 16 feet long (and they come up to 26 feet long). This meant my dog could move around more than a regular leash would allow her. When combined with the retractable feature, the result is something far more manageable to use than a long line, making Flexis an easy way to give significantly more freedom to dogs who aren’t reliable off-leash.
Maisy didn’t like the Flexi. Since it’s a retractable leash, the dog does need to pull a bit to extend the length, something Maisy refused to do. While she usually roams and explores on her regular six-foot leash, with the Flexi, she ended up next to me, her movements slow and hesitant. The moment I put her regular leash back on, her normal behavior returned. I think this was because the Flexi puts a fair amount of pressure on the dog’s neck, which I assume she found uncomfortable. Take a look at these pictures to see just how much tension was put on her collar:
On the Flexi, her collar pulled away from her neck due to
the pressure of the leash. Click to enlarge.
On the six-foot leash, you can barely see her collar
because there's no tension in the leash.
because there's no tension in the leash.
This tension in the leash actually increased Maisy’s reactivity on walks- not surprising considering that trainers often discuss how tightening up on the leash can cause a reactive outburst. Maisy was able to walk past a barking, snarling dog with barely a second glance while on her six-foot leash, but when on the Flexi, her body language became tighter and quicker. She fixated on some people she saw in the distance, her tail was high and tight, and she got taller and leaned forward- all signs that she’s about to react imminently.
Worse, I had far less control over her while she was on the Flexi. Although I was able to verbally call Maisy back, the increased freedom meant she could have gotten closer to the trigger than I would have liked. The Flexi does come with a braking mechanism, and I found it easy to use, but frankly my dog is much faster than I am. I would not have been able to use the brake fast enough to keep her within six feet of me. And if she’d hit the end of the leash, she would have had enough increased force that I could have either fallen or dropped the leash (and then retracting towards her, which would probably scare her, making the problem worse).
Is a Flexi Right for You?
Since many of my readers have reactive dogs, the answer is probably no. Although there may be some reactive dogs who do okay on a retractable leash, I would advise extreme caution. If you have a stable dog, the answer is maybe. The Flexi company itself recommends they only be used with obedient, controllable dogs.
If you choose to try one out, you need to be thoughtful about when and where you use it. I do not think they are appropriate for crowded or busy areas. Pet stores, popular walking paths, and crowded city streets all call for a six-foot leash; there are plenty of people and dogs alike that do not want your dog to approach them, and while the Flexi does have a braking mechanism, it’s not foolproof. Instead, use it only low-traffic areas where you expect to see very few (if any!) dogs and people.
As an aside, before using the brake on the Flexi, I really think you should give your dog a warning. With a regular leash, your dog knows how much room he has before he hits the end of the leash, and can avoid the collar pressure if he wants. With a retractable, your dog has no idea where the end of the leash is because it keeps changing. This seems unfair to me.
I would also recommend attaching the Flexi to a back-attach harness in order to minimize any discomfort on the neck. It should go without saying that you shouldn’t use a prong or slip/choke collar, a head halter, or a front-attach harness with a Flexi. These devices are meant to stop a dog from pulling, and using a leash that by its very design requires the dog to pull seems counter-productive. The dog will also essentially self-correct with every step, running the risk that you will desensitize him to the collar/harness, making it less effective even when the dog is on a regular leash.
Some Notes on the Company
Despite the fact that the Flexi was not right for me or Maisy, I have nothing bad to say about the company itself. While there are some dangers inherent in the use of retractable leashes, the company is very upfront about this. Every leash comes with a safety guide (which is also available online by clicking here), and they have a very nice instructional video (available here).
Flexi also has a new product called the MyFlexi, which is a personalized retractable leash. You can choose the size and color, as well as a picture of your own for the housing. This was very easy to do, although it does require a high speed connection. You can even add words or phrases! I ended up choosing a stock design because I wasn’t sure if I would keep the leash (I won't- I plan to donate it). The result is very pretty, and while I haven’t used it enough to know for sure, it seems very durable. My leash also came very fast- within a week, which was impressive. I very much enjoyed the experience, even if I didn’t enjoy the product.
Finally, I do need to give the following FTC disclosure: I did receive a free product from Flexi in order to facilitate this review, but was not otherwise compensated for this review. My opinions are mine alone, and were not influenced by the company.