Are Retractable Leashes Safe?

Pet care & safety
bulldogs walking on leash

I’ve been that person on the other end of a retractable leash offering my dog “freedom” and a chance to explore. But as they say, “know better, do better.” And once you realize how annoying, and even dangerous, a retractable leash can be, you’ll be ready for an upgrade too.

A couple of weeks ago I saw a woman with her toy-breed dog on their evening walk. It was kinda cute, the dog zooming on the long retractable line in front of her, happy to be outside. But the pet parent didn’t see a jogger approaching and was unable to retract the long leash length in time. The jogger went up into a yard to avoid the dog, but the little dog wasn’t having it. She lunged at the jogger and tangled her ankles in the cording, tripping her. Everyone was okay. No harm was done. But I seriously hoped that pet parent thought twice about using that leash again. Not only is it allowing her dog to be a nuisance, but she was lucky her dog hadn’t bitten someone or caused a serious fall.

If you’re a religious retractable user, you might be thinking, “I only let the slack out when we’re away from anyone else,” or “She should have been more careful.” But, it’s not just the risk to others. I once got a pretty nasty rope burn from my retractable leash after trying to grab the slack when I thought it was locked shut. And in a worse accident, my dog suffered a pretty bad injury. He pulled the slack all the way, then turned to run back to me. I’d locked the slack out to the full 25 or so feet, and when he turned and was dragging the slack I unlocked it and tried to let it recoil. But in the process I accidentally hog tied my dog and the force of having all four feet suddenly tied together slammed my dog onto the concrete. After seeing my poor guy stunned and in pain I threw that leash in the garbage.

A Better Solution

First, take a look at your end of the line. Find a pet supply store that has several leash styles and try them out. Test out leather leashes or nylon leashes with padded handles. I think you’ll find they’re not only lighter to carry, but much easier on your hand, plus you can put them up around your wrist, freeing up both hands if needed.

Secondly, your dog’s end of the leash might need some upgrades too. If your dog has been used to pulling on a retractable leash, they’re likely to be pulling you on a standard leash instead. Switch to using a force-free harness or collar that will encourage your dog to walk without pulling. I’ve had great luck with a Sporn model, though I currently use a PetSafe Easy Walk based on recommendation from trainers. Admittedly, it’s an extra step before you start your walk, but both cut down on the pulling and took the strain off my dog’s neck and throat so they weren’t pulling me and gagging themselves in the process. But if a good harness isn’t enough to help keep your dog close by, consult a force-free dog trainer. It’s possible that a couple of lessons and some practice will have your dog sticking by your side in no time. With some time, you might even be able to ditch the harness.

It’s nice to treat yourself to some new pet gear, but the best part is that you might be saving yourself medical or veterinary bills by switching to a safer system. Consider the money spent on a good leash and comfortable harness an investment into a much more relaxing and enjoyable walk for both of you, and something you will get use out of daily. I promise, once you get the hang of your new walk routine, you’ll never miss that heavy old retractable leash.