Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, former veterinary assistant, and author
of the online dog training course “Brain Training for Dogs.”

Did you know that your retractable leash—although very convenient and easy
to use—poses a potential danger to your dog?

Did you know that your retractable leash—although very convenient and easy to
use—poses a potential danger to your dog?

Retractable Leashes and Why We Love Them

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 it 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-old 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 calmest and most 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 them. 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 issue 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 I 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 did
the cord injure me, but so did the plastic handle that 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.

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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It
is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription,
or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional.
Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a
veterinarian immediately.

© 2009 Adrienne Farricelli


Adrienne Farricelli (author) on July 10, 2012:

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!

Natasha from Hawaii on July 10, 2012:

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!

Shasta Matova from USA on April 15, 2012:

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

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

climberjames from Steel City on November 14, 2009: