Retractable leashes gained popularity quickly in the 80’s and 90’s and are still prominently used today; primarily because they allow dogs more freedom to sniff and explore the environment during walks. This all sounds great until you consider the pitfalls. I tried these leashes out myself years ago. After experiencing a couple of broken retractables, luckily without injury or incident, I quickly realized the dangers, as well as the bad habits it was instilling in my dogs. Though they seem convenient, there are many downsides to this type of leash; many of which can pose a danger to your dog, you and others.
1. Length puts your dog out of reach: The length of many retractable leashes (up to 26 feet in some) allows your dog to get far away from you where they can run unexpectedly into the street or encounter other dogs or people.
2. Dangerous encounters: It is virtually impossible to protect your dog from uninvited encounters with potentially aggressive dogs, when your dog is 20 or more feet away from you at the end of a thin cord.
3. Leash burns: The thin nylon cord can sometimes get wrapped around your hand, legs, or ankles when your dog inadvertently races by you to explore something. This can cause serious burns, painful lacerations, or even amputations. The flatter style cords, though not as dangerous, can still cause burns and lacerations.
4. Entanglement: Not only can retractable leashes burn us, they can also get twisted around a dog’s neck or legs, causing injury, or even becoming life-threatening if your dog panics and tries to pull away.
5. Neck injuries: There have been many cases of dogs receiving serious neck injuries after suddenly taking off and then abruptly coming to a halt as they run out of leash; including wounds to the neck, lacerated tracheas, and even spinal injuries.
6. Cords can break: The thin cords on a retractable leash are not designed to withstand sudden strong force and can snap. This can result in the dog running off, or the cord snapping back and injuring the owner. By design, retractable leashes have a tendency to fail or malfunction. They can fail to extend/retract, become un-spooled, or even snap.
7. Dropping the leash: Retractable leash handles are bulky and can easily be jerked out of hand if the dog suddenly lunges forward at something (squirrel for example). If this happens, the dog can get away from you pretty fast. Worse yet, the sound of the handle hitting the ground and subsequent recoiling of the leash behind them, could cause them to panic and run even further away. This can also cause a fear of the leash or even of walks in general.
8. Encourages pulling behavior: Retractable leashes train dogs to pull while on leash, because dogs quickly learn that pulling extends the lead. When the dog feels the pressure on their collar or harness, this should mean yield, but on a retractable leash, there is always pressure, so they learn that this pressure is normal and continuing to pull forward allows them to get where they want to go. This can cause lifelong habits, especially if a dog has not been properly trained on leash.
9. Teaches your dog poor walking etiquette: If you watch those dogs on retractable leashes you will notice an important distinction between them and a dog being walked on a standard 4-6 foot leash. The dog is in charge; the dog is leading the walk and controlling the situation. Other dogs can also sense this and see it as a sign of dominance or aggression and may respond negatively.
10. Retractable leashes impede proper leash training: It is important to properly train your dog to walk on a leash. You will be taking your dog on many walks in their life, so making it a fun and stress-free experience for both of you is very important. Dogs that are properly leash-trained should not pull their owner, but rather walk comfortably at a steady pace with a little leash slack. Retractable leashes impede this by allowing the dog to pull you in the direction they want to go.
It is very important to create a good working relationship with your dog so that walks are fun experiences for both. There are many options out there for leashes, collars, halters, etc. You may need to try a few choices before finding the right fit for you and your dog. I have a small dog and a large dog and tried several options before finding the perfect solution for each of my dogs. I have found that the perfect length for my small dog is a 4 foot leash with a body harness. For my large dog, I recently went to a body harness with a 2 foot leash; this allows for maximum control and comfort. Find what works best for you and your dog and you will have many safe and enjoyable walks together.