Tool: Retractable Dog Leash, $10.95–$39.95

Jeff Steinbrink
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  • Rope
  • Chain
  • Obedience School

Seems simple enough. You hold onto the business end of the Flexi Classic, clip the other to your dog’s collar, and the two of you are good to go, you at your speed, Ajax at his. What puts the flex in the Flexi Classic is its retractable leash, or “lead,” a cable that plays out from the handle as Ajax trots away and rewinds (without any help from you) when he comes back. Your walk together becomes a series of partings and remeetings, and if Ajax knows his John Donne he’s likely to shoot you a look that says,

Thy firmness makes my circle just,
And makes me end where I begun. 

That’s the concept, anyway: you at the center of your dog’s world, he, your little Magellan, and the Flexi Classic, a spring-loaded reminder of the tie that binds.

In practice, though, this scheme, this very Order of Things, is likely to fall apart. It’s clear that the Flexi Classic was designed with the well-behaved dog in mind, the mannerly, picturesque, well-adjusted dog who regards you as he might a god and who trots gladly at your side, drifting briefly away to sport with a butterfly, pee on a hydrant, or scratch where it itches. The Flexi Classic’s whipcord winds out easily as he does, winds back noiselessly as he returns, rests as naturally in your grip as a scepter might. You are a champion, my friend.

Maybe all dogs in Germany, where the Flexi Classic is made, are this way: docile, businesslike, orderly. In other parts of the world the Flexi Classic may have a hard time coping with, let’s say, less conventional dogs. A lazy dog, for instance, will give the Classic fits. Mine is a lazy dog. As we walk I’ll feel his inertia building as he begins ever so gradually taking line with him, from behind. If I slow, so does he. The Flexi Classic is no match for him. He’s no more likely to speed up and allow it to reclaim lead than he is to flutter his saddle-bag ears and leave the ground. If I don’t resort to yanking and tugging (accomplished by holding down the brake button on the Flexi Classic’s handle) I’ll soon be at the end of my tether and Ajax will be lying down, his head between his paws.

Or take a belligerent dog, an ornery dog, especially a big ornery dog. The largest Flexi product, the Flexi All Belt 3, claims to restrain dogs who weigh up to 150 pounds. Except for my little brother, I’ve never had anything to do with an animal of that size, but I have walked my neighbor’s 75-pound collie mix, a sociopath named Mikey. For Mikey the Flexi All Belt 3 is a dream come true, a way to bring down two victims in one fluid motion. He’ll begin a walk as innocently as a choirboy, prancing along as if with a clear conscience. But at the sight of a neighborhood cat, rat, ferret, hamster, or guinea pig he’ll bolt, every ounce of his 75 pounds developing momentum like a round shot from a chamber. By the time he arrives at the full sixteen-foot limit of the All Belt he will be traveling in excess of 120 mph and approaching his prey with the effective mass of a small planet. Your options are to allow the Flexi to be torn from your hand or to hang on (some models come with a Comfort Soft Grip) and kiss your rotator cuff goodbye.

From the dog’s point of view these retractable leashes must reinforce the conviction that their people are fools—lovable fools, but fools. The Flexi line, after all, allows us to be flown like kites. The Mikeys of the world take off running and try to hurl us into space, while the Ajaxes allow us gently to float away as they hold their ground. For the Flexi to function as its (human?) developers intended, it may be necessary to secure a particularly agreeable dog, a cooperative and philosophic dog. A German dog.

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