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Danger on a string: The lure of retractable leashes

While out the other morning returning from a trip to the grocery store, a scenario caught my eye that had the potential for disaster and heartbreak. Driving past an apartment complex, a middle-aged man was out on a walk with his small terrier mix dog. Ok, everyday occurrence, nothing scary to see here at first glance. However, as I was passing I heard the loud sound of a car speeding up behind me just as I noticed the little dog, trotting along, happily pulling at least ten feet ahead of his owner in the parking lot driveway of the apartments, on a retractable leash.My first thought was one of concern, that the person behind me would peel into the driveway impatiently and not notice the small dog who was hard to distinguish because of their coloring and size. So I slowed down in order to cause the other driver to slow down as well, and the man and his dog continued their walk down the street, unaware, as the driver behind me noisily screeched into the apartment parking lot. As I continued on my way, I wondered what would have happened if I was not there to cause a delay and force the other driver to slow down. I wondered what would have happened if the other driver only saw the man and not the eight pound dog 10 feet in front of him almost blending into the landscaping. That day really emphasized to me the unforeseen dangers of an accident waiting to happen all because of the so-called convenience of a retractable leash.

What is a retractable leash? A retractable leash is a thin, long woven fabric cord that is spooled inside of a lightweight colorful plastic handled case, controlled by a spring loaded device. Sometimes up to 26 feet in length, the cord is in general much thinner than a conventional dog lead or leash. At this length, it allows your dog to be on average two car lengths away from you, out of your reach and ultimately,out of your control. This has the potential to cause danger to your dog, and danger to you as well.

Danger to Puppy:

Puppy can get easily tangled or wrapped around a pole, tree or other object and cause themselves harm while you are trying to catch up and reach them. 

Finding or ingesting questionable objects before you can stop them- from a nuisance (kitty roca) to poisons, hazardous materials or broken glass or needles. Even finding rotting leftovers can introduce disease and parasites into your household that will require chemical or medical intervention to clear up the infection or infestation. (More about parasites in our upcoming post). 

Encounters with skunks, snakes, lizards or other wildlife. I know personally of a chihuahua who decided to run under a deck while on a retractable leash after a raccoon, and obtained severe injuries and nearly died as a result. 

Encounters with unknown or aggressive dogs. With a retractable leash, you are merely holding a piece of plastic, not the cord that controls the dog. In the event of your dog running up to an unknown dog, or them running up on yours, you could be far away and unable to control the conditions and interactions in a timely manner, which could end badly.

Unexpectedly running into the street into oncoming traffic and the paths of bikes, motorcycles, or cars/trucks. Remember, there is no quick way to “reel” the leash back to you. You need to run to catch up with your dog to prevent an accident. 


The “best” of these worst case scenarios is puppy running full speed, pulling the retractable leash so hard it falls, the handle now “chasing” the dog, spooking the dog to run even faster and potentially causing permanent fear of not only the leash, but of being walked outside. 

Dangers to you include:


Burns from rapidly moving cord, cuts and even in extreme cases, amputation, as well as falls and fractures from being “clotheslined” by a tangled long leash. 


Retractable leashes were developed for use by a disciplined team of professionals in the search and rescue field in a controlled environment, and the original intent was not for use with the general public. The bottom line is that retractable leashes are just not worth the risk! Retractable leashes in effect TRAIN the dog to pull or drag you to get to where it wants to go, instead of staying by your side. All your work to establish your role as pack leader is undermined with the regular use of this type of leash. Honor your investment and your pup with either a regular 6ft leash, or as our Super Star Trainer Emily recommends, a Gentle Leader Dog Lead. Do you have questions or need advice on the use of a Gentle Leader dog lead? 
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