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  • Molly Weinfurter

Retractable Dog Leash: Why Are Retractable Leashes Bad?

Updated: Jun 12

At first glance, a retractable dog leash might seem like a convenient dog product, but unfortunately, these leashes are widely known for being dangerous. There have been many incidents of these leashes putting humans and dogs at risk, so most vets and dog trainers advise against using them. So, why are retractable leashes bad? And can you ever safely use them?

When I first adopted my dog, I used a retractable leash for her because it seemed easier. But I kept having so many issues with that leash. When I finally learned about how dangerous these leashes can be and how they're not allowed in many places, I switched to a traditional leash.

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What is a Retractable Dog Leash?

A retractable dog leash is a long cord rolled up into a spring-loaded device inside a bulky plastic handle. The leash extends the further the dog walks, but most retractable leashes have a locking mechanism to control the length.

The retractable leash was invented as a way for dog parents to more easily adjust the length of the leash. Mary A. Delaney, the inventor of the retractable leash, noticed that dog parents often dropped traditional leashes when trying to adjust the length. She believed retractable leashes would prevent that and lead to fewer tangles.

Retractable dog leash close up

Are Retractable Leashes Safe?

Despite their popularity, retractable leashes are typically considered unsafe. While they make it easy to adjust the leash length, they can be dangerous in public settings. The cord has been known to harm humans and dogs, so most vets and trainers do not recommend using them, especially in crowded areas.

Why Are Retractable Leashes Bad?

There are lots of reasons why retractable leashes are best avoided, such as the following.

They Don’t Offer Control

With a retractable leash, your dog could wander over fifteen feet ahead of you. If a dog, human, or hazard appears in front of your dog when they’re so far ahead, you can’t reel them back in. That could result in your dog or someone else getting hurt.

Even if you have the leash locked shorter, the cord is still much harder to control than a traditional leash. Thus, using a retractable leash in public is just asking for trouble.

They Can Damage Your Dog’s Neck

If your dog runs while on a retractable leash, they’ll come to an abrupt stop when they reach the end of the cord. Doing so could injure their neck, spine, and trachea. Even if the leash is attached to a harness instead of a collar, it could still hurt them and cause damage because the stop is much harsher than pulling on a regular leash.

The Cord Can Cut or Burn Humans and Dogs

If the leash’s cord moves quickly while against someone’s skin, it could leave a cut, burn, or laceration. Look up retractable leash injuries to see the damage the cord can cause, but if you’re squeamish, it’ll likely be too upsetting to look at.

The Cord Could Snap or Fray

The cord of retractable leashes needs to be thin enough to fit in the handle, so it’s nowhere near as dense and durable as a traditional leash. Thus, retractable leashes are more likely to fray or snap than other types of leashes. They definitely shouldn’t be used if your dog likes to chew on their leash. If the leash breaks, it could snap back toward you, leaving a painful mark.

Dog walking on retractable leash

They’re Tripping Hazards

Retractable leash cords are thin, so when they’re extended, it can be difficult to see them. From a distance, it might look like the dog is walking without a leash. So, it’s common for people and pets to trip over these leashes when not paying attention, especially since you can’t reel in your dog if they get too far. The cord could also get tangled around angles in busy areas, causing more wounds.

The Handle is Hard to Hold Onto

Retractable leash handles are bulky. Even though they’re designed with a convenient handle, many dog parents struggle to get a good grip on the leash. If you’re not paying attention or if your dog suddenly runs, the handle could easily get pulled out of your hand. Since the handle is so bulky, it typically makes a loud sound when it hits the ground, which could spook your dog and cause them to run off into a dangerous situation. This happened to my dog a lot with her retractable leash.

The Locks Can Malfunction

With a traditional leash, you can shorten the length simply by holding it in a different spot. But with a retractable leash, the lock is the only thing holding your dog back. If that lock malfunctions, you’ll have no control over the leash length, and holding onto the leash will only hurt your hands. So, while the locks seem beneficial in theory, they’re not as trustworthy as they should be.

They Encourage Bad Walking Habits

Retractable leashes do not help with training and leash manners. With a retractable leash, a dog has the freedom to walk wherever they want, making it harder to establish good walking habits. If your dog doesn’t behave how they’re supposed to on a walk, there’s no way to correct them or pull them back toward you. Because of this, dogs who only walk on retractable leashes are often less behaved when walking.

When is it Okay to Use a Retractable Dog Leash?

Retractable leashes aren’t ever recommended due to their many risks. However, if you already have one and want to put it to good use, there are some situations where it’s less hazardous. For example, if you walk your dog in a wide, open area that doesn’t have other pets and people around, a retractable leash is unlikely to do any harm. Just make sure you’re never using it in crowded public spaces because that’s an accident waiting to happen.

Retractable dog leash on forest trail

Traditional Leashes I Recommend

If you're looking to make the switch from a retractable leash to a standard leash, it can be overwhelming. There are a lot of dog leashes out there. So, here are a few options that I've either personally used or heard good things about:

Frequently Asked Questions

How Long are Retractable Leashes?

Retractable leashes come in several sizes, typically between 15 and 25 feet long. You can adjust the length of the leash using the locking mechanism.

Can You Fix a Retractable Leash?

If a retractable leash stops retracting, you can take apart the handle to see if the leash is tangled or broken inside. However, if the leash snaps, there’s no easy way to fix it.

Are There Alternatives to Retractable Dog Leashes?

The best alternative to a retractable leash is a standard nylon leash. To change the length of a standard leash, you can wrap part of it around your wrist or grip it closer to your dog. Traditional leashes provide much better control over your dog than retractable ones.

Can Retractable Leashes Be Used for Training?

No, retractable leashes don’t help with training. They make it difficult to control your dog, making it harder to get them to behave. Many trainers recommend a traditional leash with a martingale collar.

Are Retractable Leashes Illegal?

Retractable leashes aren’t illegal in most places, however, some businesses such as vets, daycares, and training facilities restrict them. Yet, just because they’re legal doesn’t mean they’re safe.

Nervous dog on retractable leash

Safety Comes First

Safety should always come before convenience when it comes to pet ownership. So, if you’re struggling to decide which leash to get for your dog, settle on a standard leash because it won’t pose as many health risks as a retractable leash. Avoiding retractable leashes is safer for you, your dog, and all the people and pets around you.


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