Why I Refuse to Use a Retractable Dog Leash

Retractable leashes might have their uses, but I feel I have legitimate reasons for opting out.


My dog Mayzie spent the first two years of her life at the end of a six-foot rope in someone’s backyard. So when we adopted her, there were countless things she was afraid of. One of those was going for walks. Before she was rescued, her world had been tiny. She had no idea what to do with the concept of big, open spaces.

To help ease her into what most dogs consider “the very best thing in the whole world,” my husband and I walked her on a quiet trail not far from our house. One day my husband leashed up her and our other dog, Ranger, and headed out the door. About halfway into the walk, my husband accidentally dropped the handle to Mayzie’s retractable leash. Not only did it make a loud noise as it hit the ground, the darn thing began to retract, clattering at a fast clip toward our already fearful dog. This quickly had become a matter of health and safety.

Not knowing what to make of this “thing” that was obviously trying to kill her, Mayzie sprinted down the trail with the leash bouncing and banging loudly behind her. My husband took off after Mayzie, yelling her name which, since we had only had her a short time, she probably didn’t even know at that point. Ranger ran alongside my husband undoubtedly thinking this was a fun, albeit strange, game.

Mayzie darted off the trail and my husband lost sight of her. Following what he hoped was the direction she had taken, he finally caught up to her. The leash had wrapped around a bush and stopped her flight. As he reached to untangle her, Mayzie cowered and her body shook so violently that her teeth chattered.

When they returned to the house, my husband made a beeline to the trash can and threw away the leash. No way was he ever going to take a chance of something like that happening again. Dropping a traditional leash is one thing. Dropping a retractable leash is something entirely different.

Luckily Mayzie (and my husband) recovered from this scare and five years later, there’s nothing that she loves more than a walk. But we have never bought another retractable leash and never will. I realize that Mayzie’s reaction was extreme and if this happened today, it probably wouldn’t be as big of a deal. But there are other problems I see with retractable leashes that make me wary of them.

Lack of Control

Because they conveniently reel themselves back in, many people choose to get extra long retractable leashes. In theory, this is great. Your dog can explore a good distance in front of you and you don’t have to worry about tripping over the leash. But what about when that loose dog comes around the corner? Or you encounter that neighbor who’s afraid of dogs? Or that exuberant child wants to hug your not-so-child-friendly dog? With a traditional 4- or 6-foot leash, it’s easy to pull your dog close and control the situation. But if your dog is 10 feet in front of you at the end of what is essentially a thin string, it’s much more difficult.

They Pose a Danger to Dogs

This same lack of control can lead to dogs being injured or killed. Undoubtedly, one of the great things about retractable leashes is that dogs can sniff, pee and explore more freely. It’s one of the reasons I enjoyed using one with our first dog Ranger. But that same freedom can put a dog in danger by allowing them to chase a rabbit or squirrel into the street in front of an oncoming car. As dog owners, we always need to keep in mind that no matter how well they’re trained, our dogs still have their own impulses. I personally just feel more comfortable knowing that if my dog temporarily loses his or her mind in pursuit of a small furry animal, I can quickly pull them back to safety.

They Pose a Danger to Humans

Recently, Columbia Animal Hospital* in Illinois posted this picture on their Facebook page:

According to the accompanying post, their client “called about her little dog being attacked while on a walk. We made the appointment and found that except for some bruises and painful areas, her dog would be fine. The injury to our client was worse. You see, she had her dog on a retractable leash and when the attack happened, her dog was too far away from her to ‘reel’ him in fast enough and she instinctively grabbed the cord with her hand. The rope quite effectively sawed through her finger, nearly down to the tendons.”

And this woman is not alone. Serious injuries, including amputations, have been reported in connection with retractable leashes. While any type of leash has the potential to cause harm, grabbing a traditional nylon leash with one’s hands is far less likely to cause the same type of damage seen above.

Now, I’m not suggesting that everyone who uses a retractable leash should throw theirs in the trash. Like any other tool or piece of equipment, they can be used safely and responsibly in certain situations. But for me, the risks far outweigh the rewards.

Your turn: How do you feel about retractable leashes? Tell us in the comments.

*Special thanks to Columbia Animal Hospital and their client for permission to use this photo and story.

More about leash choices on Dogster:

About the Author: Amber Carlton is owned by two cats and two dogs (all rescues), and is affectionately (?) known as the crazy pet lady amongst her friends and family. She and her husband (the crazy pet man) live in colorful Colorado where they enjoy hiking, biking and camping. Amber owns Comma Hound Copywriting and also acts as typist and assistant for Mayzie’s Dog Blog. She encourages other crazy pet people to connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.

2 thoughts on “Why I Refuse to Use a Retractable Dog Leash”

  1. The retractable dog leash does have some safety hazards during use, but only if you don’t follow the correct method of operation. Or your dog is not suitable for this type of dog leash.

    In fact, if the pet lover and the dog both receive some training, they adapt to the dog leash. I think those security risks will be minimized. This reminds me of the car. For a person without a driver’s license, the car is very dangerous. But if you have it, you will be safe.

  2. Not a single comment sjnce 2013? Wow. Anyway. If you can’t handle a retractable, I’m glad you don’t have one either. Some people suck at them that’s for sure, and sometimes injure themselves and others. I admit I had a learning period in the beginning. Particularly difficult if I have more than one (used to walk house mates dog too). 2 is the max with skillz lol. If your dog is at least fairly well trained, and you PAY ATTENTION (there goes 90% of people’s retractable license lol)…. They are fantastic. In fact the only reason I found this site is I am currently looking for the longest available. Unfortunately that seems to be only 33 feet currently, and you pay over twice as much from a 26 for it. Bummer.

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