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Retractable dog leashes have been a popular choice for pet owners for decades. Unlike standard, fixed-length leashes, retractable leads add plenty of extra length – upwards of thirty feet or more in front of the handler, allowing Rover more freedom to roam during walks. Retractable leads allow the walker to carry on at a leisurely pace, while allowing their pooch to sniff and explore everything within radius. They’re also handy for quickly adjusting leash length depending on what the situation calls for. Additionally, many pet owners use retractable leads (instead of a dedicated tieout) to let their dog out for bathroom breaks in bad weather while they stand in the comfort of the front porch. 

It is widely recommended to only use a retractable leash once both dog and handler have established proper leash control, as the temptation to pull excessively can make walk time a frustrating experience. However, many pet owners use retractable leashes precisely because they have difficulty walking their dog with a standard fixed leash. 

Let’s look into this a little more and evaluate the pros and cons of retractable leashes for dogs. 

Are Retractable Dog Leashes Safe?

There has been no shortage of controversy surrounding the use of retractable dog leashes. Over the last decade, thousands of reports have connected retractable dog leads to the harm of pets and owners alike due to misuse and leash malfunctions. 

For dogs lacking proper on-leash training, a retractable leash can become a hazard very quickly. It only takes a moment for an excited dog to get wrapped around a tree, tangled around legs, or even to dart onto a busy street unexpectedly before their handler has time to react. This may result in cuts, abrasions, or being struck by a vehicle. Veterinarians regularly treat dogs for injuries to the throat and neck area, as enthusiastic dogs burst ahead at full speed (ie: squirrel chasing), only to absorb the impact of a fully extended leash. 

When a dog runs full-tilt on a retractable leash, it is possible (and common) for the handler to get their finger or hand caught up in the nylon leash, resulting in friction burn. Earlier this year, a 66-year old woman from the United Kingdom her her middle finger de-gloved from an incident involving a retractable leash. 

It is also fairly common for pet owners to walk dogs on retractable leashes that are too small for their size. A strong dog, or a leash that is strained beyond it’s design limits may result in the leash snapping. 

When a retractable leash snaps, several things can happen, and none of them are good. Firstly, dogs are highly likely to run away due to the excitement of suddenly becoming untethered. This may result in a car accident, a confrontation with an aggressive/reactive dog, or becoming lost, very quickly. Unfortunately, these scenarios rarely end well, especially for dogs with poor off-leash recall. Secondly, the energy dispersed from a snapped leash will shoot backwards, similar to when a tape measure is let go. This can result in the metal buckle flying back and hitting the walker. There have been hundreds of reports of severe damage to the eyes, face, and body as a result. Sadly, the demographic that gets injured the most is young children, who are not experienced enough to handle these leashes properly. 

How To Safely Use a Retractable Leash

While there are risks associated with retractable leashes, they can easily be mitigated. Do not let children use them, as just one small mistake can result in serious injury. Ensure the leash is the correct size for your dog; there are extra small retractable leashes that give very little resistance, and are designed for teacup sized dogs. On the other end of the spectrum, there are extra large retractable leashes, that give a greater amount of resistance and are strong enough to handle strong, larger breeds.

The quality of your leash is exceptionally important, too. Cheaply made retractable dog leashes are easy to find in dollar stores, discount stores, and even many big-box stores. They’re often made with inexpensive parts, and have little-to-no durability testing. This means they’re more likely to snap, and may not be adequate for your dog’s weight, either. A high quality, durable brand like Flexi that meets the highest safety standards is your best option to ensure the safety of both dog and handler. While top-quality brands come at a premium price, you truly can’t put a price on safety.

Proper training is imperative when using a retractable leash. Not all dogs are suited for retractable leashes, due to lack of training, poor recall, or over excitement. If your dog can’t walk reasonably calmly on a retractable leash, then it may not be the best option for you. 

Ultimately, if you have a dog, and you chose to use a retractable leash, it may be worth working with a qualified dog trainer to learn the essential skills needed to enjoy many safe and enjoyable walks together.

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