Retractable leashes are popular because they allow dogs more freedom to explore their surroundings while on walks. However, they can pose significant dangers to you, your dog and innocent bypassers. While many retractable leash risks can be reduced with responsible and conscientious usage, they are still more likely to cause accidents and injuries than a traditional six-foot leash. Here are nine reasons many dog-care experts advise against retractable leashes.
1. They teach dogs to pull
Dogs have to be taught to walk politely on a leash without pulling ahead or lagging behind. According to the ASPCA: “To teach your dog to walk without pulling, it’s critical that you never allow him to pull. If you’re inconsistent, your dog will continue to try pulling because sometimes it pays off.” Retractable leashes train dogs to pull because pulling extends the lead. When they see or smell something interesting, they’ll be apt to follow their instincts and take off at full speed.
2. They can harm your dog’s neck
A retractable leash will quickly stretch to its full length then stop. If a dog is running while their owner lets out the leash, the sudden jerk to their neck when the cord runs out can injure the cervical spine. At the same time, the strong pull on the dog’s collar can cause neck wounds or a lacerated trachea. One study involving 400 dogs found that 91% of those with neck injuries had experienced harsh jerks on the leash or were serious leash strainers.
3. They can cause leash burns
If the cord of a retractable leash comes into contact with your skin as it is quickly pulled out of the handle, the result is a nasty friction abrasion known as ‘leash burn’. These injuries most frequently occur on a hand when an owner grabs the cord in an attempt to reel in their dog. If the dog runs in a circle and tangles the owner in the cord, they can occur on other parts of the body. Dogs can also get their legs or tails caught in the cord and suffer similar injuries.
4. They can malfunction
Retractable leashes consist of many parts and can break or develop faults. If the cord comes loose from the handle or locking mechanism fails, you could lose control of your dog. Worse still, a broken part could harm you or your dog. In 2008 Dereka Williams had to undergo emergency eye surgery after a retractable dog leash broke and the metal clasp snapped her in the face.
5. They’re inconsiderate
Every dog owner has a responsibility to ensure that their pet does not cause a nuisance to others. The length of a retractable leash can allow your dog enough leeway to run up to people and dogs uninvited. By the time you get your pet under control it may have scared a child, put its muddy paws on someone or caused another dog to feel threatened. (The posture dogs adopt when pulling at the end of a retractable lead may appear to other dogs as a sign of aggression.)
6. They’re a trip hazard
If you’re walking your dog in a public place with the long retractable leash outstretched, it can be difficult for others to get past you and your dog without tripping over the cord. If your dog suddenly moves to the left or the right of a path or sidewalk, the cord will span it, creating an instant wire trap for unwary walkers, joggers or cyclists.
7. They can cause serious injury
In 2005, Heather Todd was walking her Labrador on a retractable leash. The dog bolted and her finger got caught in the cord, which amputated it. Her case isn’t that unusual. The Consumer Union reports that there were 16,564 hospital-treated injuries associated with leashes in 2007. They included burns, cuts, bites (while trying to untangle dogs), broken bones, eye injuries and amputations. The SlyDog brand of retractable leash was recalled due to injuries including facial cuts, broken teeth, eye injuries and a broken collarbone.
8. They can put your dog in danger
Many retractable leads extend up to 26 feet. At that distance, it’s not possible to protect your dog from potential threats. If your dog is walking 20 feet ahead of you and spots a squirrel across the street, he might dart into the road before you have a chance to react. If an aggressive dog approaches and starts a fight, you can’t immediately intervene.
9. The handle is hazardous
Retractable leash handles are bulky and can be easily pulled away from your hand. The resulting lack of tension could send the heavy handle hurdling toward your dog. To make matters worse, dogs can be frightened by the noise the handle makes when it falls and the constant clunking as it is pulled along the ground behind them. If the leash is retracting, your dog may feel that something scary is chasing them as the handle gets closer. The result could be a lingering fear of leashes.