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Are Retractable Leashes Bad For Dogs? Vet-Verified Pros & Cons

Written by: Ed Malaker

Last Updated on March 8, 2024 by Dogster Team

person running with beagle with retractable leash

Are Retractable Leashes Bad For Dogs? Vet-Verified Pros & Cons


Dr. Amanda Charles Photo


Dr. Amanda Charles

BVSc MRCVS (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Retractable leashes sound like a great idea because they allow your pet to have more freedom when out on a walk, and you don’t need to manage a long leash. However, many people wonder if they are as safe as the old-fashioned variety. Unfortunately, retractable leashes are not considered safe for dogs for various reasons. Keep reading as we take a closer look at these modern devices, discuss their pros and cons, and go over what you can do to keep your pet safe.

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Pros of Using a Retractable Leash

1. Increased Freedom of Movement

One of the biggest benefits of using a retractable leash is that it gives your pet more freedom of movement. While the typical leash is about 6 feet long, many retractable leashes will allow your dog to roam 20 feet away or more. They can sniff around, walk ahead, or lag behind without constant tugging on the leash, which can be beneficial for their mental and physical health.

2. Adjustable Length

Retractable leashes have an adjustable length that with the press of a button, enables you to give your pet more room in open areas but keep them close when you get into a crowded or dangerous area. You will no longer need to carry multiple leashes with you for different situations.

schnauzer puppy with retractable leash waiting to go walk
Image Credit: Maximilian100, Shutterstock

3. Convenience for Owners

Retractable leashes can also make the walking experience more fun for you because you can keep walking while your pet marks their territory. You won’t have to stop every few seconds to try to convince them to move along.

dogster face divider Cons of Using a Retractable Leash

1. Lack of Control

One of the biggest problems with using a retractable leash is the lack of control that you have over your pet, especially if they’re prone to running off or if you need to pull them away from danger quickly. It can take much too long for the leash to retract in an emergency, giving your dog plenty of time to run into traffic or get into a scuffle with another dog, possibly leading to harm to your pet or another animal.

2. Injury Risk

The thin cord can easily lead to rope burns if you need to pull on it suddenly. It can also trip or wrap around you or your dog, and the stopping mechanism can jerk your dog back or cause you to drop the device.

Image Credit: ©smrm1977, Getty Images

3. Fright Risk

If you suddenly drop the retractable leash handle by accident while you are out on your walk, it will start retracting toward your pet, which can scare them and even cause them to run in fear, which might put them in danger.

4. Durability

While most companies at least try to make their retractable leash durable, constant use will quickly wear out even the best brands, especially if you have a larger or more active dog. In many cases, the first problem is that the mechanism inside the handle breaks, rendering the retractable feature useless and potentially putting your dog at risk.

5. False Sense of Security

Retractable leashes can give owners a false sense of security, thinking that they can control their dogs at a distance. However, if a dog decides to run or misbehave, it can be challenging to reel them back in quickly, especially if the lock mechanism fails.

man walking his Staffordshire Bull Terrier dog with retractable leash
Image Credit: Christine Bird, Shutterstock

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Tips and Tricks for Using a Retractable Leash

While retractable leashes are not recommended over a standard one, there are ways to use one safely:

  • If you’re new to retractable leashes, begin in areas where there are fewer risks, like open fields or parks without nearby traffic or crowds, to help you and your dog get used to using the new leash.
  • Familiarize yourself with the leash’s locking mechanism, and practice using it until you are an expert.
  • Always keep the leash at a manageable length near busy streets or when encountering other animals or unfamiliar people.
  • Keep your dog within your line of sight at all times to prevent them from getting too far away and encountering danger.
  • Teach your dog commands like “come,” “stay,” and “sit” to use in conjunction with the retractable leash to help keep your pet safe.
  • Never grab the cord of a retractable leash with your bare hands if your dog runs away suddenly, as it can cause rope burns. Instead, use the locking mechanism to prevent your dog from getting farther.
  • Check the leash before each use for signs of damage, and replace it if you notice any.
  • Ensure that the retractable leash that you choose is suitable for your dog’s size and strength. There is usually a size limit printed on the packaging.
  • Always use a standard leash near traffic due to the potential for them to run if they hear a loud noise and the difficulty of reeling in a retractable leash quickly.
  • Attaching the retractable leash to a harness instead of a collar can provide more control and take the strain off your pet’s neck.

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Unfortunately, due to the limitations of the device, a retractable leash can expose your pet to many dangers due to the increased freedom that it provides your pet and the slow speed at which you can gain control of them in an emergency. The thin leash can also break or cause rope burns, and the mechanical device often wears out quickly. If you want to use one of these devices, we recommend doing so only in open areas, far away from any danger, after selecting a high-quality device rated for your pet’s weight.

Featured Image Credit: Olena Kurashova, Shutterstock

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