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Are retractable dog leashes dangerous?

Are retractable dog leashes dangerous?

Used in the wrong way in the wrong setting, a retractable dog leash can injure or potentially kill a dog. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

The bad side of retractable dog leashes

Foes of these leashes argue that they:

  • Don’t keep a dog under control. With up to a 26-foot extension, some retractable dog leashes will let a dog can easily chase a squirrel into the street or confront another dog before the owner realizes what’s happening.
  • Can wrap around a dog’s legs, tail or neck and injure them. Most retractable leashes are thin like wire.
  • Are hard to see and can tangle up joggers or cyclists using the same path.

The good side of retractable dog leashes

Fans of these leashes say they let a dog roam, sniff and — well, just be a dog. They like them because they:

  • Let a dog get more exercise because he or she can roam back and forth trailing smells without you having to follow their path.
  • Give an off-leash experience without the risk of losing your dog.
  • Keep the leash above the dog instead of tangling around his feet the way a standard, fixed-length leash can.

Safety tips

At the end of a day, a retractable leash is just a tool. Whether it is good or bad depends on how, when and where it’s used. Here are five tips for a safe walk with a retractable dog leash:

  1. Use it in open areas such as parks where you have a clear view and there aren’t a lot of runners or cyclists. These leashes are bad choices for walking where crowds are thick or hiking the Santa Monica Mountains where rattlesnakes are a year-round threat.  Don’t use these leashes when going to the vet’s office.
  2. Pick the right retractable leash. If you want to use a retractable leash for daily walking, consider a shorter leash — six- to 10-feet is a good length for walking. The longer the leash, the more likely problems are. At 26-feet, a dog can get into trouble with other dogs or people before you can do anything about it. Be sure that it is sturdy, high quality and suitable for the size of your dog.
  3. Practice using the leash.  This means being able to quickly and confidently move the leash handle from hand-to-hand in front and behind your body; using the controls — free run, pause and a hard stop; and knowing how to reel your dog back from an extension. These maneuvers must be second nature when you need them.
  4. Make sure your dog has a solid obedience training. There are always times when a good recall trumps reeling a dog back 26-feet. Commands like “leave it,” “sit” or “stay” are invaluable to avoid confrontations with unwelcoming people or dogs.
  5. Be watchful. Walking a dog on a retractable leash is the wrong time for day dreaming or having an engrossing conversation with a friend. Your attention is all that stands between your dog and any dangers heading his way. With a standard leash short leash, you might hang on to at least peripheral awareness, but not with a 26-foot retractable.


There are good points and bad points to any leash. Which is best for you and your dog depends on  your dog’s size and personality, where you walk, who you walk with and how much training your dog has.

The two elements that divide safety and hazardous with a retractable dog leash are your vigilance and ability to control of your dog.