There has long been a debate between dog owners, trainers and walkers as to whether or not retractable leashes are better, worse or the same has the classic leash. The main consensus from trainers is that retractable leashes were designed for certain types of tracking and recall training, and if owners do not know what those types of training are, then they really have no reason to own a retractable leash.
The reason trainers take this stance is simple: retractable leashes cause more injuries to the walker and the dog then the standard leash. In 2007 there were nearly 17,000 hospital treated injuries that were caused by the misuse of leashes. Ten percent of these injuries involved children, and 23% of the injuries involved finger injuries with burns and cuts among the most reported injuries. Fingers can be become entangled in the cord, cutting off circulation an causing lacerations to the point of amputation.
The primary reason behind these injuries is the public’s lack of information. Retractables are composed of a spool of thin nylon or plastic cord that is wrapped around a spring loaded device that is stored inside a plastic handle and have locking button so the handler can control how much lead the dog is allowed. First introduced on the market in the early 1900s as a convenient way to walk a dog without having to adjust the leash length, these devices can give dogs up to 30 extra feet of freedom to run ahead or stay behind to check out a smell.
The problem with this, especially in a densely populated city like Chicago, is that the handler has much less control of their dog because they are 10 to 20 feet behind their companion. And this is where many of the horror stories begin, stories of dogs who are perfectly fine on their retractable leash until they see another dog or a squirrel, then one good lunge and that thin nylon cord has snapped in half.
There are also stories of dogs being walked on retractable leashes where the dog, several feet in front of their handler, walks into traffic and gets injured. Despite the assumption that these dogs are getting hit by cars, the overwhelming accounts include the owner yanking the retractable back, ripping open the dog’s trachea by sheer force.
Even when not being jerked back by the handler, a dog that spends its walking career pulling at the end of the retractable lead can put strain on the chord. People have been completely knocked over when the dog reaches the end of the lead while running, causing bruises, road rash and even broken bones. If the handler happens to drop the retractable leash, it’s loud, it’s scary and it chases down the dog as it retracts back into itself. This can cause the dog to run away from the handler while trying escape the loud scary plastic thing chasing it from behind, and in that panic can cause them to run out into a busy street.
Beyond the sheer injuries caused by the leash itself, dog fights are also more likely to occur when using a retractable leash. Considering most dogs pull at the end of this type of thin tether, it can make their walking posture appear aggressive to other dogs walking by. Should a situation arise, the cord then makes it difficult for pet parents to break up fights because they cannot get enough leverage and end up getting tangled in the cord.
To combat the endless horror stories caused by retractable leashes, they are now banned in over 50 percent of the United States and Canada. There are also many vet offices that do not allow clients inside if their dog is on a retractable leash because they do not want to absorb the liability of ignorant dog owners who are not versed on the harmful results of these leashes.
With all of that said, retractable leashes do have their place. They are great for teaching dogs how to come when called, known as recall training. This type of training should take place in a fenced-in yard or a large open field where there are no pedestrians or busy streets nearby. Outside of that, there is no reason to own one of these leashes.
As professional dog walkers, we meet several owners who favor retractable leashes. Should pet parents decide to overlook the harmful results of owning one of these, we will always ask that they keep a regular six- to eight-foot leash for us to use. Parents may feel comfortable putting their dog’s lives in danger, but we will always opt for the most secure tools to walk someone’s canine companion.
For more information, take a look at a few recent headlines in the news:
The Danger of Retractable Leashes
Why Retractable Leashes Are Dangerous
Retractable Leashes: Dangerous And Deadly For Dogs and Humans
Why I Don’t Recommend Retractable Leashes
Pros And Cons of Retractable Dog Leashes