Pitfalls of Retractable Leashes

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I know it’s low-hanging fruit to criticize people for misuse of retractable leashes – but there are an awful lot of first-time dog owners out there who may have been tempted by the highly convenient devices and who don’t know their pitfalls. And because I’m traveling at the moment and just saw a near-disaster out my hotel window involving one of these products, allow me to explain. And then, for those of you who have been around a while, why don’t you tell us your favorite “Never use a retractable leash!” story in the comments?

I heard some hubbub and glanced out the window to see what was up. There was a moving van towing a trailer with a car on it, and an SUV towing a trailer with a small  car on that, and a group of people all getting ready to hit the road for another fun day of (apparently) moving their household in the summer heat. A number of adults were milling around, putting their bags in the various vehicles. The fact that they had dogs held my eye: A pretty Golden Retriever and a tall and young-looking Great Dane who was wearing a harness, both attached to young women who were holding retractable leashes. As I watched, another person came out of the hotel with two metal bowls full of water and offered them to the dogs: drink up, dogs, it’s your last chance for a bit!

I was just about to leave the window when the action of one of the young women held my eye: She put the handle of the leash that was attached to the Great Dane on the fender of the trailer, and walked around the moving van to do something else. Oh no! I said helplessly from my third-floor window, and sure enough, it happened. The dog turned her head, which pulled the handle of the leash off the fender so that it fell toward the dog’s head, spooking her and making her bolt.

HOW MANY TIMES have I seen a dog running in a panic, being “chased” by a rattling plastic retractable leash handle that was bouncing along the ground and bumping the dog’s heels? (Answer: Too many to count.)

Thank dog, the Dane only ran backward a few feet before the other young woman yelled and the dog stopped, shaking with fright. Thank dog again, because this hotel is within a few hundred yards of a busy intersection and a highway.

I get that these devices are great for what we like to call “sniff walks,” where you allow the dog to stop and start and wander at will. But most trainers hate them because they also condition a dog to pull against the pressure of the spring-loaded leash to reach what they want to smell or see. When the holy grail for most dog walkers is walking with a dog who doesn’t pull and drag you around, this is counter-productive.

Also, if the dog suddenly pulls toward something, unless the owner is paying absolute attention, is ready with the button that operates the brake, and the brake actually works (the “bargain” models tend to break down), the dog can bolt into the street (we’ve heard stories of dogs getting hit and killed by a car while on  one of these leashes), bolt toward a frightened person or a person with a fearful dog (starting a dog fight, making a person fall, etc.), or “clothesline” a person who might be jogging, skateboarding, or riding a bike.

The biggest problem is that there is not a good way to reel the dog back in, if he’s already out at the end of the leash. The models that have a cord inside can get wrapped around dog or people legs and can cut deeply; if you grab one, trying to control the dog, the cord can slice your hand open. The ones with a “tape” or flat line inside are safer, but there is still no good way to shorten the leash quickly if the dog is pulling away, only if he comes back toward you or if you can catch quickly up to him.

And, of course, if someone lets go of the handle, an inexperienced dog tends to panic and run blindly with the leash handle chasing it.

Some of you may defend them. I must say I find them to be very helpful for walking smallish dogs out in the areas where my dogs can safely walk off-leash (no other people, no roads nearby, they have great recall). But, in my opinion, they should never be used with a big dog (they don’t give you enough control), and never never never around other dog walkers, pedestrians, cyclists, etc. They are just an accident waiting to happen in crowded environments.

What’s your favorite cautionary tale about these leashes? What circumstances do you think they are perfect for?

84 COMMENTS

  1. I don’t let my dog off a lead so I use the retractable lead when we are playing with a ball. Unfortunately I have to run with him after the ball when I have thrown it, but he’s still on the lead. It’s a great workout.

  2. Unfortunately there have been incidents where people have lost their finger or two ! I find them unsafe for the previously expressed reasons as well

    In a safe environment using them with a small dog can work however caution must be exercised

  3. There is, unfortunately, a drama playing out right now with a galgo who was rescued and then adopted. The rescue sent him with a three point harness and prohbitions to keep that harness on him as well as not to use a flexi-lead. Of course, they immediately changed his harness and used a flexi-lead. He got loose, the noise scared the heck out of him and now he’s gone. They found the harness and lead wrapped tightly around a tree (he chewed his way out of the harness but it could have ended much worse with the galgo strangled to death). A huge contingent of people are out searching for him but there have been no sightings in 5 days. It isn’t looking good for this poor boy. These adopters chose not to believe the rescue and now the poor galgo is paying for it.

  4. any piece of equipment, tool, aid, etc. if not properly used by a trained/experienced operator has the potential to cause harm… if not worse.
    as my old ‘Cow Vet’ told me … ” If it ain’t done right, it’s wrong.”

    • Thank you Kathryn and DITTO! Cheap and inexpensive ‘”knock-offs” of this product are probably responsible for many sad stories, like everything else in life, sometimes you do get what you pay for. I’ve used mine for 11 years with nary a problem. BTW its made in Germany, which is known for its quality craftsmanship. Happy Trails!

    • I have had retractable leashes break as well. I still use one when its a “exploring walk”, but if using them you must have the proper size and quality. A dog with great recall and training makes it less worrysome, but giving a dog a little roaming room is ok with the right equipment and training.

  5. I 100% love my retractable leads and you can pry them out of my cold, dead hands. I am, quite honestly, tired of beating this dead horse. We get it, some people are STUPID. Some people don’t pay attention. I’ve seen dogs jerk a 6 foot leash out of their owner’s hand and come running. I’ve seen dogs get out of their harness so it didn’t even matter WHAT leash was on it. And worse, I’ve seen plenty of “my dog is friendly why bother with a leash” types. I’d rather they be on a retractable.

    I used one for years with my 50 lb mutt. She didn’t learn to pull (in fact, all of my dogs have pulled HARDER on the 6 foot leash than the retractable). It was awesome because I easily reeled it in by locking it down, stepping forward faster than she was moving and retracting it.

    My biggest cautionary tale? Be careful of long lines, which people always suggest in place of retractables. I fell into that. I got a long line. My dog bolted when she saw another dog, and it caused a serious rope burn on my hand and damaged some tendons because I was not paying attention to my dog..I was trying to untangle and wind up the stupid long line. I switched back to a retractable and never had that problem. I could watch HER and keep it locked down when near traffic, people or other dogs.

    • Spot on Michelle! The most important “fact” in the article was “unless the owner is paying absolute attention”,
      s…tuff can happen! Cellphones are apparently more important during a dogs walks than whatever the dog is
      getting into. Have used one for 11 years with nary a problem. TEACHING your dogs proper behaviour
      while on a lease is the key. People forget….it’s his/her WALK!

    • Very well said! I use my retractable leash while out on the trail in wildlife areas and it works great! No dragging lines and tangling. One still needs to teach a dog to have some manners and as with any tool you use, the user still has to be aware of hazards! Don’t blame the tool, just learn to use it properly!

    • I like them as well, but used them only once my dogs were trained. I agree with some that we humans need to know when and how to use them.

    • Michelle, you said you had an accident with a long line because you weren’t paying attention. The same thing could happen with a retractable, right?

      The retractable ones give the illusion of greater control, whereas you need to pay at least as much attention while using them.

      A lot of people are just unaware of this problem, so getting the message out is indeed important. Not everyone is on dog-centric websites. If retractable leashes were not available in chain pet stores but instead only online, that could save dogs’ lives (and humans’ fingers).

      • I wasn’t paying attention because I had to spend way too much time untangling a leash. A retractable saves me from having to untangle a mess every single time, which allows me to pay attention to something other than the leash. Long lines are a hazard no one talks about oddly enough. Just retractable ones. And they’re available in every pet store too.

    • Great post! I use a regular leash most of the time, but on hikes where there’s water my dogs love to swim in, I’ll take the retractables. I have three dogs, so a standard leash wouldn’t work for 3 big dogs swimming in opposite directions.
      I get that some people don’t use them properly, and they can be a hazard, yeah, yeah, yeah…but tell me one tool that is exempt from that?

    • I can understand that you are tired of reading this if you have read it already and decided that it was advised it didn’t work for you. However the whole dog journal is a periodical and it would be a disservice to new readers to not warn them about these dangers. I hope you’ll be generous and patient with articles like this as Whole Dog Journal helps other people come up to your level of experience.

  6. My husband was riding his bike on a shared path and saw a dog on one side of the path and its person on the other. He couldn’t see the line until it was too late and it had lodged between the front and rear tires. Fortunately, nobody was inured but it was a dangerous situation.

  7. iA retractable leash caused me to have a bloody head injury. I was I walking a little seemingly calm dog who was right by my side. Suddenly he ran out into the street in front of an speeding truck. The leash became totally extended in the blink of an eye. To save the dog’s life, I had to pull the leash so hard that I fell backwards onto my head., lying stunned on the sidewalk. I had to go to the emergency room and get a CT scan of my brain. I will never again use a retractable leash.

    • Unfortunately, some people don’t stop using a retractable leash until a horrible accident happens and only then they learn never to use one again, sometimes it can happen in the first couple days of using a retractable leash and sometimes years but you never want it to happen period and having a regular leash in your own hands indeed gives you more control. You’d rather the horrible accident happen to you than to your beloved soul mate that relies on you for protecting them, controlling them and keeping them safe. Hopefully when you have a horrible accident it happens to you and not your beloved soul mate that depends on you and hopefully you make it out alive and without permanent damage.

  8. I use a retractable leash as described in the article. There are a couple of places we walk, where there is no traffic, etc. and it allows him a bit more freedom. But I did have a scare with a cheap one, which was a gift, where the brake did not work. when trying to cross the street. I threw it out.

    • I made the mistake of using one of these with my first puppy. We didn’t have a fenced yard at the time so I would use it in our backyard to let her roam more freely. One day the handle slipped out of my hand and went flying into her and caused her to panic. It was extremely fortunate that we had just worked heavily on a recall in her training class that morning and it was fresh enough in her mind that I got her back. Never again. I cringe when I see others using them; especially with large dogs.

  9. I agree. I hate those retractables. I used to use them but for all of these reasons stated I stopped. I’ve wrapped those lines around my fingers and legs and nearly lost fingers. I was lucky. So many people can’t control their dogs with them. I’ve seen many more dogs yank the handle out of their owner’s hands than I have a leash.

  10. I Think these retractable leashes should be banned ! I had one with a 27 lb. rescue before I knew any better. There were several times that I became tangled in it, the dog and another dog became tangled up and yes, the dog pulled it out of my hand when I wasn’t paying attention. There was no directional control of the dog at all.
    Now I use the Gentle Leader with a standard 6 foot leash. Much better !

    • We love Gentle Leaders. I’m not sure what we’d do without them. We get in 200 pound adult male Danes into rescue and Wolfhounds that have never even been on a leash, much less taught to walk calmly on a leash. We teach them to LOVE the Gentle Leaders and use those to take them for walks, take them in public, etc. Without the Gentler Leader, we’d be going where the DOG wants, not where WE want. A large adult Dane or Wolfhound can outweigh many humans and are much stronger than most humans. In the meantime, we teach the dog to walk nicely on a leash and then transfer to a harness. We use Gentle Leaders all the time. They will not harm the dog, they won’t harm people, and they won’t cause “near misses” like retractable leashes can.

  11. We have always loved our Flexis in the National Forest or now in open areas and the Conservation nature park where we like to walk them occasionally. Our dogs are less than 30 lbs. No idea how a really large dog would do. The ordinary 6 ft. lead just doesn’t give enough freedom to move around without us having to follow close by. I have seen Flexis used inappropriately inside vets’ waiting rooms and other tight spaces. The problem mainly is that people don’t seem to know HOW TO LOCK IT. There is no reason it couldn’t be made short and still used indoors. That’s no reason for all the negative press this handy device is getting. You can’t fix stupid but that’s no reason to ban an item like I see mentioned on other sites. A lot of people are misusing devices of many kinds and if we started banning them all we would deprive ourselves of useful or fun items. Personally, I never saw a reason for a Flexi in tight areas where you can’t get the plus of the 20+ ft. extension ours have.

    • One problem is that many are of such low quality that you cannot lock it.

      I organized a charity fun run/walk for the local humane society with dogs invited, and we took the opportunity to help people better use their retractable leashes. MOST of them did not have a locking mechanism or it was so weak it was useless.

      Pet stores should only sell high quality ones or not at all.

  12. There is no doubt…toss them out. Wish they would ban them. Thank you for writing this article. Hope many people read this and get rid of those dangerous retractable leashes. They truly are an accident waiting to happen.

  13. I use a retractable leash for my smaller dog, but I see the potential disasters. I think the biggest problem is people not knowing how to use them. I do keep my finger near the “trigger” and it’s become a reflex to lock it when I need to. I disagree that “reeling” them back in is a problem, but again, I really think the issue is (mostly) operator error.

  14. I live in downtown NYC, Manhattan. I have a greyhound and a terrier. They both get walked on standard 5 foot leashes. There are a lot of new dog owners with their pandemic puppies….most on flexi leashes. They like it, I get it. But they don’t know what they’re doing so as We walk near them, I ask them to please lock their leash.
    I’m always worried that one of those flexi ropes or tapes will wrap around my greyhound’s long skinny legs. So we never say hi! to anyone walking their dog on a flexi. We keep our distance.
    I wish they were banned.

  15. Like Michelle, I have had good results over the years, with retractables. I really liked them. I even liked them after I got a nasty slice in my calf from one (my fault — I was not paying close attention) — I also have had burns from a regular leash. What with decades of dogs in my life, i can easily say I have had everything go wrong and right with both.
    My current little rescue does not like the retractable tension at all so I have gone back to a regular leash. I don’t miss the retractables, especially the risk of another bad slice and the bouncing and frightening effects of a dropped one. I was almost swayed into retractable disapproval but recalled all those 100’s of quiet walks and sniff-arounds. The retractables did give them some freedoms in our overgrown, semi-wild urban alleys. I don’t know if I will ever go back to them or not. In my old age, perhaps the regular leashes are easier and less risky.

    • That’s one of the problems (as I see it) with retractable leashes. You have to pay attention! Some people simply can’t be “bothered” to pay attention to what their dog is doing (and I am NOT accusing you of being one of those kinds of people!). For those of us who do pay attention, it’s very easy to get temporarily distracted by something and an instant later, you’ve got a disaster on your hands.

      • It’s impossible to be completely non-distracted all the time, both for human and dog! There could be a sudden child screaming, a delicious-looking squirrel, anything. Boom, leash disaster.

        When I dogsit I use a belt leash, I could never forgive myself if something happened to a friend’s dog.

      • Honestly? You have to pay attention with EVERYTHING. I’ve seen dogs almost hit on 6-foot leashes, including my own in the beginning. Standing near the road, ready to cross with my new rescue dog. I had NO idea that the UPS truck that would trundle by would be such a THING but she tried to run out in front of it. I had to yank her back hard to stop her from getting hit.

        My husband had a nasty fall when she bolted on a 6-foot leash suddenly and he tripped over a part of the sidewalk that was uneven. Couldn’t play his fiddle for over a year due to tendon injuries. Again, not paying attention.

        I’ve seen people on cell phones get pulled over or drop the leash when their dog suddenly bolted. I’ve seen dogs hurt their necks when suddenly bolting with a head collar on because the person didn’t notice something (dog, squirrel, whatever).

        Paying attention is necessary no matter WHAT you use. The issue is not the leash. The issue is people are so distracted by their phones these days that they aren’t watching around them.

      • I’m not a fan of retractable leashes, for all of the reasons already stated by others. I have one that I haven’t used in years, and when I did use it, I had my waist belt strung through the handle, with the leash locked at about 6 feet most of the time. I found it useful to unlock it to practice stays and recalls during a walk, but that’s about it. For most walks, I prefer a 6 foot leash on the waist belt.

        Regarding people not paying attention, it can happen to any of us… and is the reason I like the hands-free waist belt arrangement – but even that can be hazardous if the dog is big and strong enough to unbalance the person and pull him or her off their feet (mine is a 17-pound puffball – not a problem).

  16. Basically the handler has NO control with a retractable leash. If your dog doesn’t have a good recall and isn’t trained to walk on a loose lead then if anything unplanned for happens such as the dog being frightened or stimulated to chase that retractable leash is going to break. Never use them with a large dog or untrained dog. I hope the owners on here saying they use them never experience the sadness of losing their dog to accident. A very elderly dog that can’t move fast and doesn’t care about much might possibly be ok on one in a safe area.

    • Agree completely! Working with rescues, we absolutely HATE retractable leashes because dogs come around the corner with no owner in sight and reacts with aggression toward our rescues. We have Danes and Wolfhounds and they could easily kill a very small dog by simply defending themselves against that aggression. Too often, people are completely clueless, put their dogs on a retractable leash, go on their way and then forget they’ve got a live dog on the other end. They pay NO attention to what the dog is doing. It can be a NIGHTMARE for other people and other dogs. And if you use a retractable leash properly and you love it, I’m sorry, but there are enough idiots out there who haven’t the foggiest idea of what they’re doing and those people can cause serious injury to other people, other dogs, and they can even get their own dog killed. Is it really worth it when you have good alternatives?

  17. Totally agree.
    They are the.most dangerous way of walking a dog. I have seen multiple dogs walked one retracting lead each by one person!!! How they hold more than two at a time I have no idea. Awful things. I have also seen calves sliced with these terrible things.

  18. When I was new to dogs, I tried a flexi but did not care for it. Now, I use either a 6 ft. leash or a 12′ long line for my 14# dog. I reel out the long line for sniff stops and loop it back to continue walking. I learned how to safely use a long line from a Grisha Stewart online class some years ago. I practiced in my living room as she suggested. Works well for us when I want my dog to have a bit more freedom and yet I can loop it to 6 ft. in a matter of seconds. Don’t know if she is still teaching this but it was well worth the money. Otherwise, I stay aware of our surroundings and keep careful control of my dog no matter which leash we are using.

  19. I fully agree & understand the issues but I have always had good experiences with using the retractable with my min schnauzer (19 lbs) on her harness. I use Two hands when walking in tight situations. I do not live in a heavy NY urban street environment but in a open suburban style neighborhood. It allows my little girl to walk thru yards & run a bit in parks but I am always looking around & behind to see if any impending dangers. The other hand is always on the line to walk across streets & close to people or bicycles. I have good control over her but agree some owners seem oblivious when walking – leash or retractable- distracted by text & cell. That is Far more dangerous than just using a retractable.

    • Perhaps people don’t mind a 19 pound dog, but I’ve found that some people (certainly not all) don’t appreciate me letting my dogs run through their yards. Now I’m talking Great Danes and Irish Wolfhounds, who weigh just a tad more than 19 pounds! But are you sure the owners of the yards your dog can run through are okay with your dog running through their yard? What if they take exception and shoot your dog? It probably won’t happen, but stranger things HAVE happened.

  20. Shared your article on my Facebook page as we are firm anti-retractable leash people. I included this story:
    “I know some of you will find this hard to believe, but Harley T Wonderdog gets very protective of his parents when other dogs are around (some humans as well). Because of this, we have him on a stout 4 foot leash that we control.
    The picture illustrating this story reflects an experience we had at Cape Hatteras. The owner had their dog on a retractable leash and said his dog was friendly and would like to approach Harley. We warned him that Harley was a protective dog and to please do not let your dog approach. This gentleman did not listen and let his dog approach. Luckily for him and his dog, I had Harley’s leash and was quickly wrapping it around my wrist when Harley reacted. The guy, who would not listen to the other dog owner, found he had another problem. He could not pull his dog back because he let out too much lead. Thankfully, Harley listens and fell back to a safe distance with me, while I verbally scolded the other dog owner for not listening to us.
    Best advice to all dog owners is: know YOUR dog; Presume the other dog is not friendly especially in an unfamiliar place, like the beach; and invest in a good NON-retractable leash.”

    • How would this story have changed really if he was on a shorter leash? Let’s face it…the guy still would have brought his dog to yours. Maybe he could have pulled him back sooner, but he was still an idiot. Frankly, you can easily pull the dog back on a 12-foot leash by just backing up and pulling. All he had to do was back up quickly and pull. So this was a case of a jerk being a jerk.

      AND…these types of people? The alternative is no leash. Because that’s what they’re going to choose. I would much rather a dog be on SOME leash than running around willy nilly on no leash. Because then you have ZERO control.

  21. I think these leashes are great for specific tasks and environments, but a poor choice for typical leash-walks. Handlers have almost no way control a dog’s movements (vs using a 6’ leash).

    I’ve used the 26-30’ leashes to train dogs for off-leash hikes in open areas and on defined trails. I also think they’re great for exploratory or “sniff” walks in very low traffic or open areas for dogs that are responsive to recalls but being off-leash is prohibited by law.

    Even in these circumstances there’s a real risk of injury to owners and dogs if a dog takes off full speed and hits the end of the leash because the brake fails.

    Because of the tension on the leash, I think it’s inappropriate to use them with any type of collar. I’ve found that training dogs to walk on a slack leash on flat a collar and using a retractable leash with a harness doesn’t undo leash manners training.

  22. I would like to see courses in retractable leashes that:
    1) taught the dog what to do when the leash handle gets dropped (ignore it!)
    2) taught the owner when to lock it, and how to not keep jerking the dog around by pushing the lock randomly.
    3) advocated for certain brands (as well as appropriate harnesses to use with them) and mentioned the problems with the cheap brands and cheap, inappropriate harnesses
    4) taught the owner not to wrap the (regular) leash handle around his/her wrist!!!
    5) taught the owner where an unlocked flexi is appropriate, and where it should be locked at 6 ft. or less!
    6) allowed the owner to practice on other owners things such as reeling the ‘dog’ in.
    …and the list goes on….

    As others have mentioned, a flexi is a tool, just as a regular leash is, and a chain saw is. Regular leashes have fewer requirements in order to keep dogs and people safe, but they aren’t entirely without peril (I had one wrapped around my legs and got bit by another dog while my dog tried her best to avoid the other dog). Chain saws can be nasty beasts if you don’t know anything about chain saw safety. Flexi leashes are highly convenient in certain situations, and people will continue to use them. Giving them the option of learning how to use them properly could go a long way towards avoiding the perils that I, too, have been subject to.

    • That would be great–but (unfortunately), you can’t force people to take the class. I’d bet you a dozen Krispy Kreme donuts that we’d find that responsible owners who have every intention of using the retractable leash properly would sign up for the class, while the people who clip it on and then go on about their business and ignore the fact that they have a real, live dog at the end of the retractable leash wouldn’t take it.

  23. Retractable leashes should be taken off the market. I don’t know how many times my mother or spouse have dropped the handle of these types of leashes, especially when my spouse walks 2 dogs at the same time. A lot of people don’t know how to put the break on and it’s difficult to reel back. I haven’t used a retractable leash in years because of the danger to my pets, others or self. A regular leash is much safer.

  24. I got a scar on my ankle from a wire flexi-lead many years ago; thankfully the scar faded after two or three years. I had my dog on a regular leather leash; and he started to play with another young dog who was on a flexi; they became very bouncy, and the other dog pulled his wire flexi loosely around my leg as they were playing; and then the other dog tried to run, and the owner pulled the lead tight, causing the wire to tighten around my ankle; I can still remember the pain. Also, I did some dog walking and a few of the dogs had flexi-leads; I remember not feeling that I had good control over them; not enough traction as in a leash (especially a leather leash). Nowadays, I link two or three leather leads together and can easily pull in and let out as the situation demands; and when my dog pulls, a leather leash does not burn; it is easier to handle.

  25. I have been using retractable leashes with great success on large dogs for over 40 years. I also have a variety of other leashes and choose the appropriate leash for the event/occasion. I use retractable leashes daily walking or jogging with two large dogs on the trails in a nearby state park. I am courteous on the trails. Whenever someone is approaching, I shorten the line and move off the trail and let others pass. I also have a short 1 ft lead with me that I can quickly add to the harness to give me better control if a crazy situation evolves. I do not use retractable leashes on streets or around people or anytime that I cannot be 100% focused on my dogs and the surrounding environment. Just in places where many people illegally let their dogs off leash. I put in the time to make sure my dogs are trained to politely walk on all leashes. I find retractable leashes to be an indispensable tool allowing my dogs greater freedom to be dogs and get more exercise. Any tool can be dangerous if misused.

    • You need to teach a course on proper handling! Unfortunately, you seem to be in the minority. I am one of those dorky users who got injured, as explained below. I also had an incident where a tiny dog wrapped itself all around my 70-lb dog’s back legs.

  26. My senior Cocker Spaniel LIVES for his daily outings so he can re-up his neighborhood to his presence. I use a retractable (replaced because of worn gear mechanisms 3-4 times a year) lead. I have it locked in my right hand but give a good 12″ or so of a leeway hold with my left hand so I can gently motion my intent beforehand, and also have an extra secure hold for unexpected events.

  27. I used to use a retractable leash when walking my lab so he could have more freedom of movement. Even keeping a close eye on him, I missed a rabbit that he saw, and when he bolted I fell and ended up with severely skinned knees and palms. Maybe ok to use with a very small dog but not with a large one.
    Recently I saw a woman walking a large dog with the retractable leash while she was looking at her phone, an accident waiting to happen.

    • Agree completely! Would I clip a retractable leash to a Great Dane or Irish Wolfhound? Absolutely NOT. Even if that dog walked well on a leash. Too many bad things can happen. Jeez, Irish Wolfhounds are SIGHT hounds. They see a furry little critter running and instinct takes over and they give chase. You got 180+ pounds pulling on that retractable leash? I wish you lots of luck. You’re going to need it.

  28. I can think of several stories, but the three that impacted my decision of how dangerous retractable leashes are for most owners:

    My boss’s wife was walking their Lab pup at night. It saw something, bolted and she ended up having back surgery for ruptured discs.

    Our back yard fence was down in one place, so I decided to use the retractable leash that I had for a prior dog (for some dumb reason) to take my pittie-mix pup to potty on New Year’s Day. She took off running over the edge of our flagstone patio, downhill and my feet flew out from under me. I got a huge hematoma on my thigh, resulting in a trip to the doctor. It was so painful, I thought for sure I had broken something.

    At our local humane society annual event, where there are tons of dogs, I was walking my other pit bull on a break from the Pet Partners therapy dog booth. A little dog ran under my dog, and then behind him, totally wrapping his back legs up and entangling the two of them. Thank goodness I have such an affable boy; otherwise that little 8-lb dog might be dead as that would have freaked out many otherwise gentle dogs I know. Ironically, at the booth we had just been talking about the need to ban extension leashes and especially at events where so many dogs come together.

  29. I fully agree that retractable leashes can be problematic. That said I use a 20’ retractable lead to walk my two hounds in tandem and let them walk at to the end of the leash. I have the retractable leash attached to a special belt around my waist and the other end attached to a cross piece attached to their individual harnesses. If they try to pull I just stop. We hike on old unused rail beds that are used by ATV’s and snowmobiles. When I hear or see an approaching vehicle
    I have them stop and I walk up to them and lock the leash in place. I then hold on to their respective harness handles and wait for the vehicle to pass. So far this has been the best solution for me but as I said before this type of leash definitely has some cons.

  30. As someone involved with rescue, I can’t stand retractable leashes! I work with Great Dane and Irish Wolfhound rescue–so not little dogs! I can’t tell you the number of times we’ve been at a Meet and Greet (pre-pandemic) when around the corner sashays itty-bitty dog who isn’t well socialized to larger dogs. Itty bitty sees the “monsters” and starts to bark, growl, lung, snap. We have always been very lucky–none of our Danes or Wolfhounds reacted with anything more than a “What’s YOUR problem” look. We’ve always hustled to return itty-bitty to owner, who is on a completely different aisle or area and has no idea what itty-bitty is into. Some itty-bitty owners then have the gall to bless US out for having “aggressive” dogs on the site. Some have complained to management about the Danes and Wolfhounds. To a one, every single manager has looked at itty-bitty on a retractable leash, seen that itty-bitty isn’t hurt in the least, listens carefully to complaining owner and then comes and apologizes to us. Itty-bitty’s owner doesn’t know that had our “aggressive” dogs been truly aggressive (or had decided to defend themselves from the aggressive itty-bitty), their itty-bitty would be either severely injured or dead (simply due to size differences). So please people! If you have an itty-bitty (and we have one now ourselves), please socialize them to other dogs, including larger ones so that itty-bitty isn’t fearful and feels the need to act aggressively to the “scary monsters”. If you have ANY sized dog, please keep an eye on your dog when you’re in public. Don’t allow your dog out of your sight. Retractable leashes can be a nightmare for a lot of people and a lot of dogs. Don’t use them unless you really know what you’re doing. Instead of putting the retractable lead on the dog and going on your way, spend a little time training your dog to be polite on a leash and to be polite with other dogs and people. You’ll be happier and so will your dog. And so will all of us sitting with the large dogs. It would be nice just to worry about finding a terrific home for the dogs, and not having to worry about your itty-bitty, not having to worry that a manager will actually believe itty bitty’s owner and throw US out, and not having to worry that one time we’ll take in a dog that does the unexpected and defends him- or herself against itty-bitty and badly hurts or (heaven forbid) kills itty-bitty.

  31. People have to remember to that the ones of us commenting here, who read whole dog journal, take their dogs to obedience classes, read anything they can get their hands on regarding dogs etc. know the ins and outs regarding retractable leashes. We either like them or don’t, but understand the possible consequences of using them. We think 3 steps ahead. We are above average dog owners…The majority of people who own dogs are just average dog owners. They feed and water it…maybe it gets daily walks. And since the invention of cell phones, you see so many being walked and the owner looking at their phone while the dog is either eating something it shouldn’t, crossing the street before the owner catches up,etc…they aren’t paying attention.

    • That’s part of my point. People need to pay attention to their dogs–at all times, particularly if you’re using a retractable leash (that can pose a danger not only to your own dog, but to other dogs, other people, and yourself). Too many people DON’T pay attention and they ruin it for the “good” owners who do. And even if you’re a responsible owner, it’s way too easy to get distracted and lose sight of the fact that you need to be paying attention to your own dog. That’s why I prefer to teach my dogs to walk politely on a leash and sit beside me if I stop. That way I know where my dog is and if I get distracted, I know where my dog is. And, no, I don’t make my dogs “heel” during their morning walks–that’s their time to sniff, exercise, get some enrichment, etc. But in a crowded area, yes my dogs are asked to “heel” and stay close to my side.

  32. I HATE those leashes! I bicycle to work along a shared pedestrian/bike path for about 10 miles. It is TERRIFYING when I encounter an owner using a retractable leash, owner on one side of the trail, dog on the other, me barreling towards them on a bicycle with limited ability to stop quickly. I have almost hit so many dogs. Or when the dog sees me and bolts towards my bike, with their owner trying to reel them in using one of those horrid things. It is so dangerous for the dogs and the cyclists.

    • I hate bicyclists who come barreling by us and don’t slow down at all. And that’s on short leashes too. Most of the paths I’m on are narrow enough that I have to reel a dog in close to me to let bicyclists pass and I’ve had WAY too many come flying by without so much as slowing down.

      Maybe we should ALL be considerate of others.

  33. I’ve used name brand Flexis since they first came out, but never ever with a harness, never in stores or vet clinics or at dog training or competition. They are just for walking dogs where there is plenty of space and I am constantly on the alert. They are handy when I am short on time and the dogs really need exercise, and wonderful in large open areas. We alternate Flexis and 6-footers and always use the latter when there are other people and dogs. My dogs have good recalls, so as long as I am paying attention, I can call them in and shorten up the Flexi when needed. There is a lot of responsibility involved in dog ownership – controlling your dog on whatever kind of lead you are using is important. That being said, I particularly hate to see dogs in stores and at the vet clinic wearing a retractable lead – it tells me that that dog probably has a clueless owner.

  34. My Dog became reactive on a retractable lead Since switching to a regular lead I’ve been able to fix it as I can make her pay attention to me and she knows if an off lead dog comes at her I will protect her My other dog would simply chew through the lead at a moments inattention and off she would go Thank goodness she had an amazing recall Stopped using retractable leash’s ages ago

  35. As one who works with rescues, I totally support the rescue discussed earlier in this thread who clearly instructed the new owners how to manage their dog. Flexible leases with rescues in particular are very problematic until the dog is fully trained and leash knowledgeable. I said earlier that I have used flexible leashes with success but my dogs had gone through basic and into intermediate obedience classes.
    The horror story that I have used in working with new parents of rescues is one where the human was not paying really good attention to their dog, on a busy street, dog went out between two cars. Owner had them on a flexible leash that was the rope/string style and the dog almost got hit by a car. In the process of all of that excitement the leash wound around the dog’s neck and basically garrotted the dog. I totally agree and tell people that if they get to a point where the dog is well trained and they go for a Flexi leash that they need to use the one that is a flat tape strip instead.

    Training, awareness and appropriate use IS KEY!! Humans and dogs

  36. There is a time and a place for everything! We use both your standard 7’ lead and the retractable. It’s also called education and being aware. It’s the dogs walk not ours and we are responsible for the safety of our dogs. Vigilance!

  37. Hate them. Working for my vet and dealing with owners who let the dog in the door first with the flexi lead all the way out, we’ve had dog fights in the waiting room BEFORE THE OWNER EVEN GOT IN THE DOOR ALL THE WAY!. I threw my flexi lead away shortly after my dog bolted in a parking lot and pulled it out of my hand. I see people walking two dogs with two flexis and being dragged down the street. And I’ve seen the damage done when they wrap around someone’s leg or hand. Use them on little dogs, but pay attention! And I’m also in awe at the use of harnesses on big dogs and people wondering why they’re being dragged down the street.

  38. My uncle’s dog was killed by a car while on a retractable leash. His neighbor was taking him on a walk and he went out behind a parked car and was hit. I heard about it third-hand so I don’t know the details but I know that his friend didn’t know how far out the dog was because of my uncle’s dang retractable leash.

    I’ve had ropeburn using them, I’ve been smacked by them, I’ve seen others’ dogs “chased” by them (a friend’s dog got lost in the forest that way, was eventually found tangled in a bush), I’ve seen the mechanism break and let the whole length of the leash out at once.

    I wish pet stores would stop selling them!!

  39. I’ve never used one and never will. I have a 6 ft lead for walking and a 10 ft lead for scent work. I don’t even want Diana pawPrints to do scentwork off leash. Not even in a secure room. Unfortunately my Dad has started to use a motorized scooter on dog walks and he has switched to a retractable lead as Dolly pulled him over once. But I doubt it’s a good brand and I doubt he uses it properly. Sometimes he walk her off leash. He claims she always comes when he calls her but I know better. All she needs to be is spooked or distracted by a particularly interesting something (rabbit perhaps?) and she’ll be off and not coming back. She will think nothing of bolting into the street. He loves her but has some sort of thing about being able to walk her off leash. I’ve warned him but he always knows better. I told him if she is hit by a car I will never bring Diana over to visit again. Nothing I can say will dissuade him.

  40. The retractable leash, and the gigantic, oversized pinch collar are the two most misused pieces of dog equipment sold at pet superstores (for the most profit). The retractable leash was invented to solve the training problem of a dog dragging a long line behind, while learning to consistently come when called – the recall exercise! It was never invented to be used for walking a dog, for sniffing walks, to give the dog some freedom, or any of the other excuse. At our training school, the very first thing we tell any brand new handler, is that those retractable are forbidden even in the parking lot.

    The only time I have ever used one is for training the Utility Directed Retrieve and Moving Stand exercises, when working outdoors. Otherwise, it’s a standard leash for us. I can protect my dogs when they are within 3 feet of me – certainly not when they could be 16 feet away.

  41. No where did I see mentioned what a dog may find while “out there” sniffing. On walks we have encountered broken glass, dead creatures, fast food scraps and snakes. You name it, a dog’s nose will find it. I want my dog safely by my side -not 15 feet out-so I can scope our path.

  42. I have a Yorkie, the love of my life and my first dog. But this love will eat anything and everything. There is no way in this world that I would be able to use a retractable leash with her. I need to be VERY close to her when we walk and pay attention every single thing she does. There is a woman where I live that has a giant Yorkie (28 lbs.) and she uses one, but he is totally different than my dog. She controls him very well on the leash and only walks him around our building. I, on the other hand, walk my dog everywhere and for her, life is a smorgasbord hence my need to have her basically at my side and NEVER more than that when we walk. Plus she was attacked by a Pitbull (I am not bashing Pitbulls, just this one) when she was 4 and since then she is terrified of dogs. I could never allow her to be many, many feet away from me and take the risk of a dog coming around the corner as she would go at the dog and that would be the end of her.

    So, I just rely on the good, old 6 ft. leash and wrap it around my hand in a death grip when I walk her.

    I think that retractable leashes are appropriate for some dog owners, but not for me.

    • You very much so should have just said a “bigger dog”, instead of stating pitbull and thus ignorantly feeding into the wrongful stigma and prejudice of pitbulls and other large breed and power breeds. Maybe you should look at what you the owner did wrong as well as what your own dog did wrong to have gotten into a situation like that instead of bashing a cetrain breed (which is what you did) or a certain dog which you so desperately find the need to label and ignorantly discriminate against. You stated your dog goes at other dogs, well there you go no wonder you got yourselves in that situation, so don’t blame the other dog especially the other dogs breed, the breed has nothing to do with anything especially when youve already stated how your dog misbehaves. Also, you’re not supposed to wrap a leash around your hand or wrist, but keep doing you and your hand will get ripped off!
      (By your love of your life garbage disposal eats any cr@p on the ground dog)

  43. I would never use a retractable leash, not just dangerous but bulky, awkward things.
    Another problem is that IF you don’t ‘lock it’ you are teaching your dot to walk on a tight lead 🙁

    So long as the leash is made from some flexible material it is so easy to just loop it up in your hand to shorten it (if needed) or the lengthen it so the dog can set its own pace, and stop to sniff what and where it wants.

  44. I only use them when I take my dogs to the lake or the beach, so they can swim out farther than they usually can on a 6ft leash without dragging me in with them.
    Like any tool, used properly, they are great for certain activities.

    • You can still buy a lunge lead (or even make your own ‘long lead’
      from cotton sash-cord. Far far easier to manage, and not as dangerous for the handler.

  45. Unfortunately, some people don’t stop using a retractable leash until a horrible accident happens and only then they learn never to use one again, sometimes it can happen in the first couple days of using a retractable leash and sometimes years but you never want it to happen period and having a regular leash in your own hands indeed gives you more control. You’d rather the horrible accident happen to you than to your beloved soul mate that relies on you for protecting them, controlling them and keeping them safe. Hopefully when you have a horrible accident it happens to you and not your beloved soul mate that depends on you and hopefully you make it out alive and without permanent damage.

  46. The only time I have used a retractable leash is if it is raining and I walk to the edge of the garage to let the dogs potty. My cautionary tale is: There was an outdoor park seminar where several holistic vets from around the country set up tables to ask questions. Across the park came 2 Scotties with a man on retractable leashes. The dogs saw a small toy dog, bolted and the handles came right out of the man’s hands. I’ve seen this often…much easier to drop/lose control of than a leather leash. The dogs attacked the small dog to everyone’s horror. It was all ok, but potentially dangerous.

  47. If you have to use a retractable please tie a knot in it at about 3 ft so if it falls it doesnt spring back and hit the pup.

  48. I was taking my elderly mom to her favorite deli for lunch. In the parking lot was a van, with a dog attached to a retractable leash that was attached inside of the open side sliding door. We had a hard time passing the vehicle without getting tangled in leash. Fortunately the dog was friendly, because the owner was no where to be seen. My mom had already had one hip replacement and I was envisioning another fall and replacement as we tried to maneuver our way past that dog and vehicle. Never did see the person who owned vehicle and dog…or I would have tried to have a conversation with then about the multiple hazards their set up presented.

  49. I was once at our local park riding my bike on a trail that is shared by cyclists, walkers, and runners. I noticed ahead of me a woman walking with two small dogs on retractable leads. One dog was out several feet to her left and the other dog several feet to her right. I’m not a fast rider, but I slowed down even further and called out “Passing on your left,” which is the signal that you are supposed to get over to the right so that the person can pass. She made no attempt to reel her dogs in. By the time I realized that she wasn’t going to pull over, there was no time for me to stop. I had to crash my bike in the grass in order to avoid running over one of her dogs. Fortunately, I was not injured, but I well could have been and at least one of her dogs could easily have been injured.

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