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Retractable Leashes are Dangerous. Should You Use One?

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In This Post:

Dustin with a tape style Flexi brand retractable leash

I’ll admit it, I have a been keeping a big secret. Ok, here it goes – I sometimes walk my dog on a retractable leash. Gasp! I know, how could I?

Retractable leashes can be a bit of a controversial topic. Some people love them, some people hate them. Unfortunately, they are often misused and it frustrates me to see dogs on retractable leashes posing a danger to themselves, and to other dogs and people. Retractable leashes should not be your everyday leash that sits by the door and is clipped on at every walk. It should be your special occasion leash. The once and a while, when the feeling is right, leash.

Above, Dustin with his tape style, Flexi brand, retractable leash.

Dangers of retractable leashes

The people who say that they hate retractable leashes often sight safety concerns. And I agree, those concerns are totally valid! Before you use a retractable leash with your dog consider the dangers that they can pose.

  1. Retractable leashes can cause serious injury. People and animals have suffered falls, lacerations, burns, and even lost pieces of fingers or tails. According to Consumer Reports, there were 16,564 hospital-treated injuries associated with leashes in 2007 alone (I’ll spare you the gruesome pictures).[1]
  2. When dropped, the loud sound of your retractable leash hitting the pavement scares many dogs. These scared dogs then try to run away from the loud sound, but because it is the leash handle itself they are unable to escape it, and continue running. One dog in Pennsylvania was so scared of his retractable leash chasing him that he ran onto and off of an apartment building’s roof. [2]
  3. People do not always pay attention to their dog when walking them. If your dog is attached to you with a 4-foot leash this is less of an issue. But, when your dog is 10-20 feet away and you are not paying attention things can go seriously wrong.
  • You have no way to reel your dog in quickly: If your dog is 20 feet ahead of you and all of a sudden something bad happens, you have no way of getting your dog back to you. If you grab the cord you risk injuring yourself very badly but if you leave your dog 20 feet ahead he could potentially be injured. It’s a no-win situation.[3]
  • An example of this is your dog could be hit by a car: A dog in Pennsylvania was walking on a retractable leash with his owner when he ran into traffic and was hit by a motorcycle. He was rushed to the vet with a tear in his trachea. The vet concluded that the tear in his trachea was not from the trauma of hitting the motorcycle, it was from his owner trying to yank the leash back as he darted into the street.[4]
How to use a retractable leash safely

Now you’ve heard all the warning and you still want to bring Fluffy out on a walk with a retractable leash once in a while. What can you do to ensure that Fluffy and everyone else around you are safe?

Consider your dog’s temperament

If Fluffy is reactive to dogs, people, kids, loud noises, or anything else, a retractable leash is not a safe choice. If Fluffy is a social butterfly who approaches every man, woman, child, and dog he sees, a retractable leash is not a safe choice.


Above, Dustin comes when called while on his retractable leash.

Train your dog before using a retractable leash

  1. Come. No dog should be on a retractable leash until they have a PERFECT recall in all situations.
  2. Your dog should, under no circumstances, be stepping into the street/off the curb, without permission.
  3. Your dog should not be hitting the end of the retractable leash at full or even half speed. If your dog does sometimes get to the end of his leash that should be a signal for your dog to stop and stay, or return to you.
  4. You should desensitize your dog to the sound of a dropping leash so that he/she is not scared of it, and teach your dog that when the leash is dropped they should remain still (in a stay) until you come get them.

Pick the Right Equipment

  1. I am repeating myself here, and that is ok, this is important. Do not use your retractable leash all the time. Only once in a while.
  2. Never use the retractable leashes with a cord, only use the ones with tape (top picture).
  3. Make sure that whatever leash you buy supports your dog’s weight. If your dog is near the top of the weight capacity for one leash, go up a size.
  4. Use a retractable leash in combination with a well fitted, back clip harness. Do not use the retractable leash with any type of collar or head halter.

Using your Retractable Leash

You should only use your retractable leash in an environment where dogs and people are scarce. Do not use your retractable leash in a busy park, a vet’s office, a pet store, a training space, in a stairwell, on the subway, or any other confined space.


Overall, my advice to clients is to not use a retractable leash. I understand that this might not work for everyone, and sometimes it’s a great way to give your well-trained dog some extra freedom on walks. Keep in mind though, they can pose a significant danger to you, your dog, and others. I would advise you to thoughtfully consider whether or not to use a retractable leash and if you do decide to use one, follow the checklist (right) to make sure you and your dog are ready for the responsibility.

© Leash and Learn 2018


[1]Retractable leashes pose problems for people and their pets. (2009, March 5). Retrieved from https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2009/03/retractable-leashes-pose-problems-for-people-and-their-pets/index.htm

[2]DeGioia, P. (2014, March 27). Injuries, behavioral problems linked to retractable leashes. Retrieved from http://news.vin.com/VINNews.aspx?articleId=31352

[3]Kerns, N. (2017, November 08). Reel It In – Why I Don’t Like Retractable Leashes. Retrieved from https://www.whole-dog-journal.com/blog/Retractable-leashes-in-dog-training-21740-1.html

[4]DeGioia, P. (2014, March 27). Injuries, behavioral problems linked to retractable leashes. Retrieved from http://news.vin.com/VINNews.aspx?articleId=31352

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