Why Retractable Leashes Are a Bad Choice

Before I rescued her, my dog Mayzie spent the first two years of her life tethered on a six-foot rope in someone’s backyard. As a result, when we adopted her, she was scared of a myriad of things. One of those things was going for walks. Before her rescue, her world had been small — big, open spaces were almost incomprehensible to her.

To help ease her into what most dogs consider “the very best thing in the whole world,” my husband and I walked her on a quiet trail not far from our house. One day my husband leashed up her and our other dog, Ranger, and headed out the door. About halfway into the walk, my husband accidentally dropped the handle to Mayzie’s retractable leash. Not only did it make a loud noise as it hit the ground, the darn thing began to retract, clattering at a fast clip toward our already fearful dog. This quickly had become a matter of health and safety.

More from Dogster Magazine: Let’s Talk: Do You Use Retractable Leashes, or Do You Think They’re Completely Lame and Dangerous?

Not knowing what to make of this “thing” that was obviously trying to kill her, Mayzie sprinted down the trail with the leash bouncing and banging loudly behind her. My husband took off after Mayzie, yelling her name which, since we had only had her a short time, she probably didn’t even know at that point. Ranger ran alongside my husband undoubtedly thinking this was a fun, albeit strange, game.

Mayzie darted off the trail and my husband lost sight of her. Following what he hoped was the direction she had taken, he finally caught up to her. The leash had wrapped around a bush and stopped her flight. As he reached to untangle her, Mayzie cowered and her body shook so violently that her teeth chattered.

When they returned to the house, my husband made a beeline to the trash can and threw away the leash. No way was he ever going to take a chance of something like that happening again. Dropping a traditional leash is one thing. Dropping a retractable leash is something entirely different.

More from Dogster Magazine: 5 Rules I Follow When It Comes to Controversial Retractable Leashes

Luckily Mayzie (and my husband) recovered from this scare and five years later, there’s nothing that she loves more than a walk. But we have never bought another retractable leash and never will. I realize that Mayzie’s reaction was extreme and if this happened today, it probably wouldn’t be as big of a deal. But there are other problems I see with retractable leashes that make me wary of them.

Lack of Control

Because they conveniently reel themselves back in, many people choose to get extra long retractable leashes. In theory, this is great. Your dog can explore a good distance in front of you and you don’t have to worry about tripping over the leash. But what about when that loose dog comes around the corner? Or you encounter that neighbor who’s afraid of dogs? Or that exuberant child wants to hug your not-so-child-friendly dog? With a traditional 4- or 6-foot leash, it’s easy to pull your dog close and control the situation. But if your dog is 10 feet in front of you at the end of what is essentially a thin string, it’s much more difficult.

More from Dogster Magazine: Have You Ever Met a Dog Who Is Terrified of Leashes?

They Pose a Danger to Dogs

This same lack of control can lead to dogs being injured or killed. Undoubtedly, one of the great things about retractable leashes is that dogs can sniff, pee and explore more freely. It’s one of the reasons I enjoyed using one with our first dog Ranger. But that same freedom can put a dog in danger by allowing them to chase a rabbit or squirrel into the street in front of an oncoming car. As dog owners, we always need to keep in mind that no matter how well they’re trained, our dogs still have their own impulses. I personally just feel more comfortable knowing that if my dog temporarily loses his or her mind in pursuit of a small furry animal, I can quickly pull them back to safety.

They Pose a Danger to Humans

Recently, Columbia Animal Hospital in Illinois posted a gruesome photo of a deeply cut finger.

According to the accompanying post, their client “called about her little dog being attacked while on a walk. We made the appointment and found that except for some bruises and painful areas, her dog would be fine. The injury to our client was worse. You see, she had her dog on a retractable leash and when the attack happened, her dog was too far away from her to ‘reel’ him in fast enough and she instinctively grabbed the cord with her hand. The rope quite effectively sawed through her finger, nearly down to the tendons.”

And this woman is not alone. Serious injuries, including amputations, have been reported in connection with retractable leashes. While any type of leash has the potential to cause harm, grabbing a traditional nylon leash with one’s hands is far less likely to cause the same type of damage seen above.

More from Dogster Magazine: The Konalu City Lead Is a Fantastic Alternative to the Retractable Leash

Now, I’m not suggesting that everyone who uses a retractable leash should throw theirs in the trash. Like any other tool or piece of equipment, they can be used safely and responsibly in certain situations. But for me, the risks far outweigh the rewards.

Your turn: How do you feel about retractable leashes? Tell us in the comments.

Photo: Black retractable tape leash on the white background by Shutterstock

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This post was written by Amber Carlton, regular contributor to Dogster Magazine.


Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

stacey wallace
stacey wallace4 years ago

When used PROPERLY and you stay aware of exactly what your dog is doing and where these issues do NOT arrise. If somebody is approaching reel your dog close to you to normal lead length. I can't believe anyone would use a lead in such a shocking out of control manner as described. Dropping the lead is also the owners fault not the fault of the lead itself. Given I can walk three huskies on flexi leads at the same time without incident I can't help but blame the owners in this case for incorrect use and lack of responsibility.

Sandra A.
Sandra A4 years ago

It is important to learn how to use retractable leashes PROPERLY and in proper areas.
AND to practice common sense.

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson4 years ago

we loved ours but actually kept it locked at the length we preferred.. we also had a big dog which some people say they had issues with.. we did not have issues bc before we ever used a retractable leash we TRAINED our dogs.. a dog who won't obey or listen is a dog that is dangerous on ANY type of leash. big dogs should be properly trained and socialized. period

Vicky P.
Vicky P4 years ago


Connie O.
Connie O4 years ago

good information...ty

Amanda M.
Amanda M4 years ago

Another thing I don't like about retractable leashes is that when you're dealing with a god dog (as in any breed over a 50-pound weight), those things will NOT retract. A little retractable leash reel vs. the pull strength of a big dog...you do the math. Another big argument against them is the lack of control you have over the dog, to say nothing of that big-ass plastic handle that NEVER fits my small hand! I like one of those sturdy nylon leashes that I can wrap around my wrist and grip with my fingers tighter, and the dog knows who's in charge.

And my husband and I used to have a German Shepherd, so I know what I'm talking about!

Sue H.
Sue H4 years ago

Good to know, thanks.

Carol P.
Carol P4 years ago

Good thoughts to share to keep others from becoming victims.

Teddy G.
Teddy G4 years ago

Another reason for not using them: I'm a mail carrier in a mildly busy residential area. Way too many people using them on sidewalks next to heavily travelled streets. Can't count the number of times I have seen dogs run out in front of cars because the people were too busy talking to pay attention to their dogs.