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Retractable Leashes – Useful or Harmful?

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Updated: September 17, 2020

On any given day you’re likely to see lots of retractable leashes in use. You may use one yourself, or might even be considering getting one?

What you may not appreciate is they are dangerous and can cause harm to both dogs and to people.

Here’s just a sample of injuries that retractable leashes have caused…

  • Burns and cuts on the fingers, legs, and other body parts of people when the cords or bands of the leash quickly brush by or become wrapped around them. Handlers and passers-by have suffered these types of injuries.

  • Similar injuries have happened to dogs, too. Both dogs that were being walked with a retractable leash and those who weren’t but got entangled by one who was.

  • Finger amputations on people when the band or cord of the leash gets wrapped around the digit.

  • Eye and facial injuries when the plastic handle or the metal clip of the leash breaks or recoils out of control.Girl-Walking-Dog-Retractable-Leash-Dangers.jpg

  • Neck injuries to dogs – and not just causing them, but also making them worse! These leashes provide a long “runway” and an opportunity for your dog to get a running start when seeing another dog, person, squirrel, bird or ANYTHING else your dog wants to chase or run to. These scenarios often end in one of two different ways.
    1) They get a huge jolt when they reach the end of the leash – putting an extremely high amount of stress on their neck – worsening any existing neck pain (pinched disc, etc.) and potentially causing serious damage; or 2) You let go of the leash to avoid snapping their neck (and possibly your shoulder, as well). Now your dog is running loose and dragging his retractable leash through the park or streets. This is never a good situation.

  • Hit-by-car traumas to dogs who have run off after having been spooked by the loud noise the heavy, plastic handle of these leashes make when accidentally dropped. Bang!

Does this mean retractable leashes are ALWAYS bad? 

If used at all, retractable leashes should be reserved for use only on well-trained, reliable dogs and in settings and situations (see below) where the likelihood of encountering another person, dog, or other distraction is very low. In all other situations, it’s best to opt for a fixed-lead leash and never let a child use a retractable leash (like in the inset photo), it's just too dangerous and not worth the risk.

When used responsibly, and in the right environment, retractable leashes can be a good way, to allow your dog to have a greater sense of freedom and get a bit more exercise, while still staying attached to you.

Places that might be OK to use a retractable leash include:

  • Beaches
  • Open fields or meadows
  • Open trail paths

And even in these locations, extreme caution should always be used, like with cliffs, bluffs and wildlife.


You should never use these leashes if:

  • Other dogs or children are around (really, if there's anyone around)
  • You are within reach of traffic, cliffs, or other hazards
  • You are in busy locations such as street fairs, crowded sidewalks, bike trails, or dog parks
  • Your dog has had any prior neck or back injury
  • Your dog is more powerful than you are
  • Your dog is in training, or has any type of behavioral issues
  • You are a child under the age of 14

All these circumstances can lead to danger and/or injury – for both you AND your pup.

Here's a short video I took awhile ago. There are several things going on here that shouldn't be.

If you want to teach your dog how to comfortably walk on a regular "loose" leash try out these training tips, and check out this article for tips and advice on choosing the best leash for your dog. Transitioning your dog to a better and safer leash from a retractable leash (if you've already been using one) isn't difficult.

Topics: Dog Walking, Retractable Leash

Please do not ask emergency or other specific medical questions about your pets in the blog comments. As an online informational resource, Preventive Vet is unable to and does not provide specific medical advice or counseling. A thorough physical exam, patient history, and an established veterinary-patient-client relationship is required to provide specific medical advice. If you are worried that your pet is having an emergency or if you have specific medical questions related to your pet’s current or chronic medical conditions, please contact or visit your veterinarian, an animal-specific poison control hotline, or your local emergency veterinary care center.

Please share your experiences and stories, your opinions and feedback about this blog, or what you've learned that you'd like to share with others.