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Are Retractable Dog Leashes Dangerous?

The Internet is full of articles expressing opinions about the safety of retractable dog leashes, with many of those articles claiming that retractable leashes are bad for dogs, but the reality is that retractables aren't just every bit as safe as traditional, fixed-length leashes, retractable dog leashes are BETTER!

But if that's the case, then why do retractables get such a bad rap? One of the big problems with retractable leashes is that they aren’t for everyone, but they also shouldn’t be used under certain conditions.

Perhaps the real reason why they’re considered “more dangerous” than a fixed-length leash is that they CAN cause bigger problems than a static leash, when used incorrectly, with dogs that are aggressive, or by irresponsible dog walkers.

The reality is that under many circumstances and typical, normal walking conditions, retractable leashes can actually be safer than fixed-length leashes, since they offer greater flexibility to the dog and the dog’s owner.

What Are the Common Safety Concerns Regarding Retractable Leashes?

There are several typical concerns people have about retractable leashes; you’ll find these listed in each of the articles claiming that they’re bad for dogs, dangerous, or at least, more dangerous than traditional leashes.

But like we already mentioned above, these concerns only apply to certain circumstances and situations. Responsible pet owners walking their dogs under ordinary conditions, and using their retractable leashes safely, shouldn’t have to worry about these issues.

Let’s look at them in detail to alleviate any concerns YOU might hold about retractable dog leashes.

Concern 1: Retractable Leashes Can Hurt the Dog’s Neck

We’ve read those articles too, and yes, we agree that in certain situations, dogs have been hurt by retractable leashes.

How does this happen? If an owner holding a retractable leash isn’t paying attention to their dog, and that dog takes off at full tilt, then hits the “end of the rope” at maximum speed, then they certainly could get hurt.

This brings up the most important part about ensuring your dog’s safety when using a retractable leash; these are not the type of leash you want to use if you aren’t going to pay attention to your dog’s movements!

As long as you’re managing the leash’s length, adjusting it per the conditions you’re experiencing on the walk, and setting the brake responsibly, you won’t have to worry about this situation.

And the same issue would apply to a traditional fixed length leash anyway; a dog running full tilt that hits the length limit of a static leash is also likely to get hurt.

Concern 2: Retractable Leashes Don’t Provide Enough Control

Another concern commonly cited about retractables is that they don’t offer you enough control to keep your dog from getting into dangerous situations, but like the issue above, this really only applies to those owners who aren’t paying attention to what their dog is doing.

Sure, if you let your dog roam around on a crowded street, or in an environment with lots of obstacles, giving them 10 feet, 15 feet, or even a longer roaming length, then of course that dog is likely to run into trouble. They could get wrapped up around a person, another dog, or an object, and then yes, they would be in danger of being hurt.

But the great thing about a retractable leash is that you can avoid this situation entirely by simply setting the brake and only giving your dog as much room to roam as is safe for your current environment and situation. You could set that to 3 feet, 6 feet, 10 feet, or whatever distance is safe!

Remember, the retractable leash is only as safe (or as dangerous) as you choose to make it. And it could be every bit as safe as the traditional leash, as long as you’re using is responsibly, setting the length based on the conditions of your environment, and paying attention to what your dog is doing.

Concern 3: Retractable Leashes Are More Prone to Breaking

This is a completely unfounded concern, especially if you pay attention to our advice about How to Pick the Best Retractable Dog Leash, which explains two rules for picking the right retractable:

  1. That you should never use one that utilizes a single cord, but should instead purchase one with a tape, or ribbon-style leash
  2. That you should pick a leash which is rated for the size and strength of your dog

First, what is a tape or ribbon-style leash? It’s one that looks more like a measuring tape, which tends to be much stronger than the single-cord style leashes.

Those single cord leashes look like a piece of rope, and are more likely to snapping, whereas the ribbon or tape-style leashes have a “flat” appearance to them, since they’re made of many layers of fibers, which makes them far stronger and much less prone to snapping.

Second, you need to review the weight ratings for any leashes you’re considering purchasing, as some are perfect for small dogs, but would be put under too much pressure by medium or large dogs, and really could snap.

As long as you opt for a retractable that uses the ribbon or tape-style leash, and you pick one that’s rated to the weight of your dog, you shouldn’t run into any potential issues with the leash snapping.

Concern 4: Retractable Dog Leashes Are Dangerous for Puppies

On this concern, we actually agree, and we definitely do not suggest using a retractable leash (with its retractable features!) for puppies!

Why? Because puppies aren’t just more fragile than adult dogs, but they also haven’t been trained to walk properly, which makes them far more likely to get injured when walking, in general.

Remember, the whole point of using a retractable dog leash is to give your dog more freedom and more flexibility, so that they can enjoy their walk more, but with a puppy who hasn’t learned how to walk in the first place, more freedom simply leads to more confusion, and more danger.

There’s no reason to offer a puppy more room to roam, especially if you’re walking them in public, in a situation with lots of traffic, people, or other dogs, as this is just asking for trouble.

If you do opt to use a retractable dog leash for walking your puppy, our suggestion is to operate it like a fixed-length leash, keeping the puppy limited to a specific maximum distance, and keeping them close like you would with a traditional leash.

And if you're still on the fence about using a retractable, then please make sure to take a look through our guide to the Pros & Cons of Retractable Dog Leashes.

How to Pick the Best Retractable Dog Leash

Once you've determined that you should use a retractable leash, the next decision becomes which one you should buy.

And like any other tool, there’s a proper process for choosing the right leash, which depends entirely on how you plan on using it.

First, you do need to consider all of the safety tips outlined above, making sure that you choose  leash strong enough to handle your dog without snapping, tearing or otherwise breaking, so before you even consider any other features, be sure to look at the weight rating on any potential leashes.

Next, we suggest reviewing the options based on the following considerations, and picking the leash that checks the most boxes:

  • Clip Type – Make sure to pick a leash that comes with a strong, yet appropriately sized clip which attaches to your dogs harness or collar. And while you’re at it, be certain to pick one that has a swivel on the end of the clip, otherwise you’re likely to end up with a tangled mess when you try to walk your dog, which will lead to all sorts of safety concerns, making your walks unnecessarily dangerous
  • Leash Type – Please don’t buy a retractable dog leash with a single cord connecting your dog to your hand, as this is asking for trouble. Instead, make sure to purchase one with a ribbon or tape-style leash, which will resemble a tape measure, being made up of many different fibers, so that if one or even a few of them DO snap, you won’t lose all control and will at least have a chance to retrieve your dog safely
  • Durability – Don’t buy a cheap, knock-off leash that isn’t going to last. Look at reviews for the leash you’re considering, consider what it’s made out of, and make sure that you pick something which will hold up to ordinary usage. Plus, if your leash does start showing signs of wear, make sure to replace it immediately. Any sort of fraying on the tape or ribbon means it’s time for a new leash, as that’s the first thing you’ll see in a leash that may end up breaking
  • Length – Retractable dog leashes are so much more convenient than fixed-length leashes, but how much room do you really want to offer your dog? Some of us may never be able to use more than 6 feet or 10 feet responsibly (if walking in a busy city, on a high-traffic sidewalk, etc.), while those of us walking in open fields may want to offer our dogs 15+ feet of room to roam! Think about your typical usage, and then pick the length that best suits your normal walking conditions

We suggest getting your next leash from Pet & Cuddle, as our retractable dog leashes are reliable, affordable and entirely safe!