Changing Your Mind on Retractable Leashes

Written on May 16, 2017 by Leigh Slavin, Veterinary Technician Hospital: Bulger Veterinary Hospital

Leashes come in every variety and style you can think up – options include the straight leash in a variety of lengths ranging from 4 to 30 feet.  This is the most versatile leash and the most frequently recommended; 4’ and 30’ for training, 6’ for walks – you can never go wrong with a selection of straight leashes in your car and home.  Beyond this classic, there are also bungee leashes, harnesses, both for the body and the muzzle, double strand, double clasp leashes for dogs who pull (usually associated with specific harnesses), leashes for multiple dogs, seatbelt leashes, martingale leashes (for the escape artists), and then of course there is the much debated, deeply polarizing, retractable leash.

All of these leashes have pros and cons, so why is the retractable leash so contentious in the veterinary industry? The main reason, is that in many cases, they are being used without an understanding of their potential hazards.

Retractable leashes were first designed for training purposes like tracking and recall. For a variety of reasons, these leashes may not be the best for the everyday dog walk.The long extendable cord is used to recall the dog to the handler when training. The thin cord, with time and use, can become weaker every time it is retracted into the handle, causing it to fray, lose strength and eventually snap; usually at the most inappropriate times.

Dangers for Dogs

There have been cases where retractable leases being used as an everyday leash have caused harm to dogs. For example, when a dog running full speed hits the end of the cord and is snapped back, he or she often ends up falling to the ground. This can cause tracheal lacerations, neck strains and injuries to their spines. Other reports have shown dogs getting their legs hogtied in the thin cord, causing lacerations to their legs, or to other dogs they may have been playing with.  IMG_5045

The retractable leash has also been responsible for dogs being hit by cars when they are too far out on the leash and bolt into the street to go after something that has caught their eye. The retractable leash allows them to get too far ahead of you, and does not allow you to retract fast enough to pull them out of harm’s way.

There are times in the reception area of the veterinary hospital where we see dogs exploring the length of their leash. Although they may be loving and friendly themselves, other dogs in the room may not be too thrilled about the intrusion into their space, and fights can ensue. In this case, once again, the retractable leash provides very little in the way of a quick response time, and grants only a minimal amount of control to the owner.

Dangers for Humans

Not only are retractable leashes dangerous for the dogs, but many owners have themselves ended up in the ER for superficial rope burns on their legs and fingers. Some reports have even shown fingers being severed while trying to grab at the cord.


Ultimately, regardless of which leash you use, the job of a leash is to provide you some amount of control in otherwise uncontrollable situations (in traffic, in veterinary hospital waiting rooms, on walks, and generally anywhere you take your pup). So long as you keep this in mind, and so long as your leash is in good condition, not frayed, rusted, otherwise compromised, you should be fine.

If you decide the retractable leash is what is best for your pup, here are a few things to remember when picking out your leash:

  • Find a leash with a strong locking system and reasonable cord length.
  • Keep your dog at a close distance when around other dogs, humans, or on busy streets. Until you can assess the situation, keep the leash locked at a short, manageable length.
  • Don’t allow your dog to run full speed while on an unlocked retractable leash.
  • Never wrap your hands or fingers in the cord for any reason, ever; especially if it is extending or retracting.

Many people find the retractable leash useful, like a swiss army knife of leashes. Some come with a built in lights or poop bag holders, and you can find them in all different colors and cool patterns. We are often asked what is the big deal, why can’t I let my dog have a little freedom? And that’s fine, you can. Retractable leashes work for well trained dogs who walk well on a loose leash. They work well in a variety of situations and can become your favorite go-to leash.  The important thing, no matter what your preference in a leash, is to always be aware of your surroundings and use caution for both you and your pet so your visit or walk can be a happy experience.


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