Are Retractable Dog Leashes Safe?

Updated on August 5, 2019
alexadry profile image

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, former veterinary assistant, and the author of "Brain Training for Dogs."

At a first glance, a retractable dog leash looks like a great tool for dog owners willing to give their dogs a glimpse of freedom while still being able to have a certain amount of control. Indeed a retractable leash consists of a plastic handle that releases a cord ( or a tape for larger dogs) that allows a dog to wander up to a certain point (sometimes up to 40 feet away) thanks to a special locking system .

While this may seem like a great idea crafted by an astute inventor with owners of dogs in mind, in reality, a retractable dog leash may result in unbelievable dangers.

The Dangers of Retractable Leashes

  • There have been indeed reports of dog owners getting quite serious injuries as far as having their fingers amputated or even losing their eyesight.
  • Most accidents appear to happen when the cord wraps itself around fingers or when it snaps out and hits the eye or other body parts. While most reputable retractable dog leashes come with instructions and warnings, accidents still do and will happen. Is it worth to keep taking chances?
  • Trouble appears to start when the cord runs against the skin causing abrasions and rope burns. This however, can really happen with any normal leash and a vigorous dog. However, the main issues start when the leash gets tangled around fingers or other body parts with such a thin cord.
  • Another risk is if the dog's collar breaks apart or the leash disconnects allowing its hook to snap in an eye or in the face.This is what happened according to ABC news a while back, when a 12 year girl's retractable leash broke snapping into her eye. For this reason, some retractable leashes enclose now an extra safety collar to prevent this from happening.
  • Another danger of using a retractable leash is that the dog may face dangers before the dog owner is able to react. There have been reports of dogs getting hit by cars or slamming into kids roller-blading right behind a corner. A dog is not ''street-smart'' enough and cannot predict accidents as well as an owner can, therefore the privilege of walking ahead with little control should not be granted as a safety caution.
  • Flexi-leash, a major producer of retractable leashes, also puts a disclaimer to not use it with a disobedient or uncontrollable dog. Yet, one must consider that even the most calm and obedient dogs may go through some ''exuberant moments'' upon seeing a squirrel or getting startled from a sudden noise or in an encounter with another dog.

Retractable Leashes Don't Teach Dog Polite Leash Walking

When people drop dogs off to board with me and they tell me they use retractable leashes, I tell them I won't use it. Then, they are amazed at how well their dogs walk once they're weaned off it.

When they board their dogs later, I can immediately tell if they continued using the retractable leash or followed my advice and used a regular leash. The "modus operandi" of a dog on a retractable is undeniable evidence. My 6-foot-long leather leash has always been my best friend that has accompanied me uneventfully to this day even with the strongest pullers.

My Personal Story

I had a personal issues with a retractable leash when a client for board and training showed up early while we were walking our Rotties and dropped his dog off mid-walk because he had a family emergency. I had no better leash than the retractable he handed to me since I was unprepared.

I knew this dog had "issues" with other dogs so walked from a distance from our dogs, but her reaction to three Dobermans and two German Shepherds in a yard barking mad made her go crazy and the cord tangled on me.

As I walked home, I was able to better understand the happening: not only the cord injured me but so did the plastic handle which moved as the dog pulled and dug forcibly into the skin where my knuckles were. The few deep cuts were caused by exposure to the cord.

That was a learning lesson for all: I abandoned the retractable leash, my client didn't want it back, and for future reference I made sure I always carried a regular leash with me and I would refuse to walk any dog on such as leash even if for a brief walk.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2009 Adrienne Farricelli


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    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Farricelli 

      7 years ago

      Indeed, they are dangerous! Even a lawyer contacted me one day asking me if he could use my article and pictures for a case he had involving a retractable leash injury. Feel free to share; awareness is important. I always tell my clients not to use them!

    • Natashalh profile image


      7 years ago from Hawaii

      A close friend of mine had the end ripped off his finger by a retractable leash. Literally. He had to get it stitched back in place. Every time I see someone using one of those leashes, I want to tell them how dangerous they can be. Now I know I can tell them to look you up on HP!

    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 

      8 years ago from USA

      That looks painful! I have a retractable leash and a regular one, and I do use the retractable leash when we go to parks where he can roam farther. We have had to learn some rules of using them though. One is to never use the leash itself to pull the dog back. There is a lock that you can use and it is much better to use that. By pulling on the cord or tape, you are sure to get rope burns, and they are very painful.

      The other issue we have is when we are walking with a group of people. Zeus is used to walking back and forth whichever side he prefers, and when we walk with a group, he winds up getting the tape tangled around all the people. I have learned not to use the retractable one when I am walking with a group of people.

      Of course, switching back and forth causes its own problems as he has to readjust to the length.

    • climberjames profile image


      10 years ago from Steel City



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