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At our first consultation regarding her yellow lab, Momo’s mama explained why she’d called me. “This is what happened earlier this week when a squirrel ran across the street. I managed to hang on to the leash but she literally dragged me along the pavement to chase it!” She rolled up her pant legs and sleeves, revealing red road rash on her knees and elbows.
I knew immediately, without Momo’s mom having to tell me, that she’d been using a retractable leash. This injury, skinned knees and elbows, is a common danger of retractable leashes. Unable to anticipate the squirrel, Momo’s mom hadn’t locked the retractable leash, so Momo was able to run 20 feet at top speed before the leash ran out. When it did, her momentum was so strong that she just kept going, pulling mom to the ground and dragging her along on the hunt.
The Truth About Retractable Leashes
They may look handy, but the truth is that retractable leashes are dangerous. Even the most vigilant dog owners can end up with injuries that would be avoided by using a classic “tape” leash.
And then there’s the danger the retractable leash poses for your dog. When the leash is fully extended, it can be nearly impossible to prevent them from being hit by an oncoming car the next time they see a squirrel in the middle of the street.
Still not convinced? In addition to skinned knees and elbows and the threat of cars, using a retractable leash can result in:
- Finger injuries. If the leash accidentally wraps around your index finger as your dog pulls forward, it can not only cut off your circulation but cut or even sever your finger altogether.
- Danger from unfriendly dogs. If your pup is 15-20 feet away from you and an unfriendly dog approaches, you can’t pull them to safety. In the few seconds it takes you to reel in your dog, both dogs could be facing serious injury in a quick-moving dog fight.
- Your dog bolting when you accidentally drop your end of the leash. That big plastic retractable leash handle makes a lot of noise when it hits the ground then begins sliding towards your pup at high speed. For noise sensitive or anxious dogs, this can be a trigger that causes them to bolt.
- Unexpected consequences when you can’t get the retractable leash to lock properly. Locks on retractable leashes are far from foolproof. If they temporarily get stuck at the wrong time (for example, when a toddler is walking by), you may be putting your dog, or someone else, at risk.
- Cuts and burns resulting from the leash pulling out or retracting too quickly. If your dog suddenly begins running towards something interesting and the leash cord is resting against your skin or theirs, it can slice through causing a painful burn.
- Your dog will keep pulling FOREVER. Retractable leashes actually teach your dog to keep their distance from their human on walks and, because the retractable leash never slackens, it essentially encourages them to pull. It may not be as serious as some of the other reasons on this list but a dog constantly pulling on leash makes walking kind of a chore.
Alternatives to the Retractable Leash
There’s a better way to walk your dog than with a retractable leash! Whether you’re looking for simple equipment for taking walks or jogs, for a tool to help train your dog not to pull, or for a way to allow your recall-challenged dog to explore the world, there’s a safer option out there for you.
The Classic Leash
The Hands-Free Leash
Hands-free leashes like this one (i.e. leashes that are worn around the waist like a belt) are ideal for two types of folks. The first is working on improving their dog’s loose leash walking skills. Tethered to your core, the hands-free leash gives your dog less leverage to pull while leaving your hands open to reach for rewards.
The second is anyone who enjoys jogging with their dog. Using a hands-free leash can make your run feel more natural while still keeping your dog safe.
The Two-Point Leash
If your dog pulls on walks, a “two-point” leash can help give you better control by simultaneously attaching to a harness at the front of the chest and at the spine. Most two-point leashes can also be converted into a classic leash when you don’t need additional control.
The Long Line
A long line is a useful leash for giving dogs with limited recall the chance to safely sniff around a park or beach on their own. Long lines come in lengths between 20 feet and 50 feet and, while that extra material can be unwieldy, they’re generally safer than retractable leashes. Be sure to use your long line only in wide open spaces, ideally at quiet times where unsuspecting people won’t accidentally trip over it.
As a professional dog trainer who has seen too many accidents with retractable leashes, take it from me: you and your dog are better off using one of the alternatives listed above.