Retractable Leashes: Dangerous And Deadly For Dogs And Humans

A small dog on a sidewalk pulls on a retractable leash being held by a human in black clothes.

(Picture Credit: Getty Images)

Consumer Reports first sounded the alarm, “Retractable leashes pose problems for people and their pets,” and it’s no exaggeration. Retractable leashes are wildly popular and are sold at every pet store or available online. People often choose them thinking it will give their dog a little extra freedom to sniff and poke around on walks. Unfortunately, the upside to this type of leash is far outweighed by the risks they pose. 

A retractable leash is a length of thin cord wrapped around a spring-loaded device housed inside a plastic handle that fits comfortably in a human hand. A button on the handle controls the amount of cord that’s extended. As that cord plays out, the dog is less confined to walking beside you. Some cords extend up to 26 feet.

A large dog pulls on a leash while a human hand holds the handle with a thumb on the button.

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A dog at the end of a retractable leash can get far enough away from their human to get into trouble–able to run into the street or to make uninvited contact with other dogs and people. If your dog is on a retractable leash and approached by an aggressive dog, it’s hard to get control of the situation. It’s easier to protect an animal on a standard leash than one 20 feet away at the end of a thin cord. Too often, that cord can snap from the pull of a powerful dog. 

When a retractable leash cord breaks, it can cause injury – often to the human at the other end. If the human grabs the cord in an attempt to reel in their dog, serious injuries can follow. People who have instinctively grabbed the cord have suffered burns, cuts, and even immediate amputation of a finger. Many people have been pulled off of their feet by a dog that reaches the end of the cord and keeps going. When this happens, or if you get tangled up in the leash, it frequently means a fall and “road rash” scrapes, bumps, bruises, broken bones, or worse.

A dog on a retractable leash goes off the sidewalk to sniff a tree.

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Dogs have also been seriously injured by retractable leashes. When the leash runs out of line there is a sudden jerk on the animal’s neck that may cause neck wounds or burns, lacerated tracheas, or spinal injury. Dogs have been hit by cars darting into the road at the end of a retractable leash – still on their lead, but dead. Others have been injured getting tangled up with other dogs and bicycles. There have been cases of dogs getting twisted in the cord and having a tail or leg amputated by the deep cut made when the cord retracts. These things happen quickly, often too fast for the handler to react. 

The bulky handle of a retractable leash can be pulled out of the hand by a dog intent on going his own way. That can mean a runaway dog. As if that in itself isn’t dangerous enough, the sound of the handle dropping scares many dogs and signals them to run. If the leash is retracting as the dog bolts, the handle is gaining on the frightened animal and can strike and injure it. You and your dog may be lucky enough to get through this scenario without an injury, but it could also create a lingering fear in the animal – not only of the leash, but of being walked. Who could blame them?

A woman holds a retractable leash handle in one hand and grabs the cord in the other. A Pomeranian stands next to her on the leash.

(Picture Credit: Getty Images)

By their very nature, retractable leashes teach a dog to pull when on a leash because dogs quickly learn that pulling extends the lead. Dogs should learn to walk politely on a regular leash, and to stay close enough to their human to be safe.

These leashes have a tendency to wear out and over time will malfunction. The leash may refuse to extend or retract, or could unspool at will.

Renowned dog-training expert Cesar Millan has a strong opinion on use of retractable leashes, and says “Retractable leashes have a specific purpose. They were designed for certain types of tracking and recall training with dogs. You should NEVER use such a lead for just walking your dog.”

For your own safety, and that of your best canine friend, please dispose of that retractable leash and switch to a conventional one.

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