Are Retractable Leashes Safe For Your Dog?

Poking around in the bushes, your leashed dog is exploring, sniffing every fragrant nook and cranny, and having the time of his life. Except he's more than 25 feet away from you. Consequently, he's overjoyed for the sense of freedom he feels, and you want him to enjoy himself, so you're happy, too. This is the good side of the retractable leash for dogs and their owners.

Strong healthy happy black Staffordshire Bull Terrier wearing a red harness on a long retractable leash on green grass in front of beach huts going for a walk at the seaside in Whtistable
credit: CBCK-Christine/iStock/GettyImages

But retractable leashes have significant downsides. Eschewed by many dog trainers and veterinarians for an assortment of compelling reasons, retractable leashes' good features are often outweighed by then negative outcomes of using them incorrectly, irresponsibly, or when the unexpected occurs.

Choose the right leash for you and your dog

From time immemorial, humans have controlled dogs with leashes, which not surprisingly helped people to domesticate them thousands of years ago. Katherine Grier, author of ​Pets in America: A History​ writes, "leashes are the oldest pieces of material culture to be associated with dogs."

What began as a simple way to connect the dog to the owner has not only become the norm, today it's mandated by law in most municipalities throughout America. So, of course, you want to put a lead on your dog whenever you're out and about in public. From training and socialization as a puppy to leisurely strolls through the park with your senior dog, a leash is one of the most important tools you'll ever use in your dog's lifetime.

But choosing the right leash for you and your dog is essential. From the standard 4- to 8-footer, to a harness, halter, martingale, or retractable leash, there are plenty of choices. Each style has its proponents and detractors, but none is as controversial as the retractable leash, which was patented in 1908, but did not become popular until the 1970s. Proclaimed by inventor Mary Delaney as a form of humane constraint, she imagined her invention offering owners increased control while their pups were permitted a degree of self-expression.

But if you're thinking a retractable leash is a good choice for you and your dog, you should also be well aware of its drawbacks before you purchase one.

Cute playful beagle puppy running next to its owner
credit: Olena Kurashova/iStock/GettyImages

What's good about retractable leashes?

The retractable leash has many fans—otherwise, it wouldn't be on the market. Freely allowed to explore their environment seemingly unencumbered, dogs love it. Dog owners like it because they like giving their dog some freedom, while they visualize themselves in total control, able to reel their dog in at will.

But when a dog reaches the end of that long, retractable leash, in reality, the person at the other end of the leash has less control than they think.

Reasons not to use retractable leashes

Countless situations may arise where a retractable leash puts you and your dog at risk. Here are a few good reasons to not use one:

  • Even a walk around your own, familiar block can quickly turn dangerous when an unknown dog approaches looking for a fight, or a truck comes barreling down the road out of nowhere

 and your dog is at the end of her retractable leash and you cannot get her back quickly. Full-out, the long length allows your dog to run into the street, get tangled up with another dog, people, or an object because extended to its limit, the leash does not automatically retract. Now, in a panic, you have to lock to prevent your dog from getting farther away, [release to retract, lock, release, lock, release](https://www.whole-dog-journal.com/blog/reel-it-in-why-i-dont-like-retractable-leashes/?MailingID=99&utm%5fsource=ActiveCampaign&utm%5fmedium=email&utm%5fcontent=Reel+it+in+-+why+I+don+t+like+retractable+leashes&utm%5fcampaign=BL20190725-CollarsLeashes) -- exceedingly difficult in an emergency situation. ​**Retractable leashes actually don't retract when it's most crucial they do.**​
  • Retractable leashes, like most retractable devices, often malfunction. The cord can break and your dog runs into danger or the cord snaps back at you, possibly causing injury, or it fails to extend or respool, or respools on its own.
  • Out of control, lightening-fast retracting leashes can take out an eye, burn skin, cause deep lacerations, and even amputate body parts of the walker and dog, as well.
  • A heavy dog at the end of a fully extended retractable leash can pull the owner down and drag him, causing "road rash," broken bones, and worse.
  • A retractable leash teaches a dog to pull against tension, hence, it's a hindrance in training a dog to walk politely on-leash.

Is there an appropriate environment to use a retractable leash?

With all the good reasons ​not​ to use a retractable leash, you may wonder, is there an appropriate environment in which a retractable leash has the least negative consequences? Well, if you have a large, park-like property, but it's not fenced, there's nothing quite like taking a walk with your dog in this idyllic, controlled environment on a retractable leash.

While he's less likely to have a chance to run out on the road and there may be no strange dogs or people lurking about, you still need to watch out for those squirrels and chipmunks and the nasty backlash of a retracting cord. Perhaps, this is the only place though, where a retractable leash offers the least risk. And just maybe sharing quality time with your dog in nature is what Mary had in mind when she concocted the idea for such a device.

Young girl is walking with her dog on a retractable leash on asphalt sidewalk. Little white puppy Husky 2 months old in summer park.
credit: Yolya/iStock/GettyImages

However, you must be careful, and stay aware at all times, keeping in mind the good, but also, potentially, the bad and the ugly of the tool you hold in your hand. Alternatively, you might consider using a long, non-retracting 20- or even 30-foot leash, also known as a "check cord," like the ones used in tracking-dog exercises.

Always consider where you and your dog are walking, the potential hazards, and choose the best leash that will keep you both safe in that environment.