a warning against retractable leashes
Retractable leashes are very popular. In case you aren’t familiar with them, they are leashes that consist of a long, thin cord on a reel. The leashes range in length, but their selling point is that they are very long (some up to 26 feet!), allowing your dog to roam and exercise but still be under “control”.
Then, theoretically, with the click of a button, you can reign in your pet, however, dogs who are 10 feet away from you are NOT under control, even when leashed. With the retractable leash, you have to essentially reel them in, and a lot can happen in that time.
Why retractable leashes are bad for pets
Veterinarians do not recommend the use of retractable leashes. They have sent many individuals (both pets and humans!) to the hospital. Sure, they allow your dog to stop and smell the roses without hindering your walk, but they also contribute to bad behavior and injury.
In reality, retractable leashes almost always teach a dog to pull. Think about it—you’re on a walk and your dog wants to walk faster than you. He pulls on the leash, and you let out a foot or two of line to let him walk ahead. BAM! You just rewarded him for an undesirable behavior (pulling on the lead). When you reward behaviors, they are repeated.
We veterinarians have seen many injuries due to the use of retractable leashes. Dogs on long leads can dart into traffic, get into fights, or get tangled in their own leash cord, resulting in injuries to the limbs. They also can tangle YOU in their cord, causing you to fall or be dragged.
Components of a retractable leash
Let’s break down the components: the fast-moving retractable cord commonly causes friction burns (“rope burns”) and more severe injuries to both human and dog appendages. The reel and handle are heavy, making the unit easy to drop.
For example, imagine this scenario: you and your dog are out on a walk. She’s walking about 10 feet in front of you and while you both are daydreaming, she sees a squirrel (or other distraction) and bolts. You weren’t expecting this and you drop the leash. Now the retractable leash is retracting - getting further away from you and IT’S CHASING HER! This can be terrifying to dogs and will encourage them to continue running (despite dangers like oncoming traffic) and ignore your commands to return. When this scenario happens, dogs can get lost or worse can happen.
A well-trained dog (and human) is paramount whether you’re taking a pleasure stroll or training for a doggie 5K, but getting the right leash will take you the extra mile. Have a discussion with your veterinarian or veterinary behaviorist about the best leash and collar for your pet and your lifestyle.
Updated March 18, 2019 by Dr. Aliya McCullough and Dr. Jennifer Maniet