When it comes to buying a dog leash, there are countless choices on the market in every shape, color, and function imaginable. These range from simple rope leads to designer brand leashes with matching collars.
One type of dog leash to beware of, though, is retractable leashes. Trainers, veterinarians, and pet care experts have all expressed concerns about retractable leashes. In honor of National Walk Your Dog Month, let’s look at the risk posed by walking your dog with a retractable leash and explore safer alternatives.
What is a Retractable Leash?
A retractable leash is a kind of leash that lets you feed out and/or retract the lead that’s attached to your dog. They usually have a plastic grip with a brake-and-release mechanism, and a spring-loaded housing to store the coiled-up leash. The end of the lead has a normal clip that attaches to your dog’s collar, though the leads on retractable leashes tend to be thin cords so they can be stored inside the housing.
Retractable leashes are manufactured under multiple brand names and vary in price from $15 to $50 and up depending on specific features.
Why Should You Avoid Them?
Dog experts in several fields have voiced alarm about retractable leashes for several reasons. Most boil down to the harm they can cause to either the dog or the owner. Here’s why retractable leashes can be problematic at best and dangerous at worst:
Injury to Your Dog
The motion of your dog pulling on a retractable leash can harm their neck and throat, leading to long-term health problems. These injuries can cause your dog to cough or even have breathing issues. Likewise, getting tangled in the cord of a retractable leash can result in burns and cuts. In the most severe cases, the cords can cut off blood circulation and even amputate limbs!
Injury to You
Dogs aren’t the only ones at risk from retractable leashes — humans can get hurt too. Retractable leash cords can cause severe burns and cuts, especially to the hands. Consumer Reports has even fielded complaints from people whose fingers have been amputated by retractable leashes. In addition, the length of these leashes can be a trip hazard to you and others, which can lead to cuts, bruises, or broken bones.
Prone to Breaking
Since retractable leashes have more components and/or moving parts than a simple lead, there are more opportunities for product failure. A large dog can break the cord on a retractable leash, potentially putting the dog in a dangerous situation. Additionally, the spring-loaded housing for the leash can wear out or break over time, which can disable the feed-and-retract mechanism. In 2008, about 223,000 SlyDog brand retractable leashes were recalled for faulty clasps after five people suffered serious injuries.
Lack of Control
Letting your dog roam farther ahead of you may sound attractive, but it’s not appropriate in the majority of situations. If you’re by yourself in an open field with no other animal or environmental hazards, then a retractable leash would certainly be perfect. Unfortunately, the real world rarely operates this way. Even on a routine walk, you have the opportunity to meet other people, animals, and vehicles. If you run into a potential emergency, it’s rarely possible to retract the leash fast enough to avoid a dangerous encounter. Likewise, using a retractable leash in a small area, like the lobby of a vet’s office, allows for aggression between dogs already in a stressful and unfamiliar environment.
Reinforcing Undesirable Behavior
Finally, retractable leashes can reinforce undesirable behavior and be a detriment to your dog’s training.
“There are a few reasons why these leashes are not conducive to learning for dogs, but the most important is that they are confusing,” says Laurie Lawless, CDBC, owner of Dogs Rock! Vermont. “Since the length of the leash changes constantly, and owners can lock it at random, the dog never truly knows if they have four feet or ten. So they never really learn where they are supposed to be: fifteen feet in front of you or at your side.”
Lawless goes on to add that because retractable leashes work on a pulley system, they teach dogs to apply their body weight to move forward. Constant tension on the leash means that the dog is being trained to pull against tension to get what they want.
“When the dog is switched back to a normal lead, the dog practices the same behavior, which is to pull against the leash,” adds Lawless. “Not only is this poor training, but it is also abusive to the dog physically and psychologically.”
Safer Alternatives to a Retractable Leash
Given the dangers we’ve explored with retractable leashes, you may be wondering about the alternative. The fact is, sometimes a low-tech option is best. Basic leads and leashes made of a strong material like nylon or leather at an unchanging length are often best in terms of training and safety for you and your dog.
Classic leashes come in a variety of materials and lengths. What you choose is best guided by the kind of dog you have, their temperament, and the activity you’re doing. Above all, your dog’s leash should be sturdy and comfortable to use. When hiring a trainer or dog walker, be sure to ask what kind of equipment they use when walking your dog.
Sure, a basic leash isn’t fancy, and it’s certainly not much different than the kind of leads we’ve been using since man’s best friend was first domesticated. But for safety, security, and ease of use, nothing beats a good old fashioned leash.
At RCO Pet Care, we supply our team of professional pet sitters and dog walkers with a leather leash for the safety of all humans and pets. To learn how RCO Pet Care Care can safely help you with your dog walking, check out our services, contact us or call us at (203) 641-2428. If you’re outside of our service area we’re happy to help you find a reputable, professional pet care provider. We’ve got your tail!