The Dangers of Retractable Leashes

Oct 29, 2018   Tracey Aston   Training

Few pet products are as heavily debated as retractable leashes. Some will argue these leashes can be used safely with proper knowledge, and while that may be partly true for the well trained pet, the potential risks far outweigh the positives. Retractable leashes –if a piece of thin nylon can be called a leash – can pose serious dangers to both pet and pet parent.  

The most dangerous risk with retractable leashes is the risk of severe burns and cuts, and in extreme instances, digit amputation. This is due to the string-thin, rope-type cord used in retractable leashes. These types of injuries can happen to both human and pet when the cord is pulled over skin, usually legs and hands, while the leash is extending out.  

I have personally witnessed a situation with a retractable leash that could have resulted in very serious consequences.  A young mother and her small son were walking their medium sized dog on a retractable leash. The dog was to the mother's left side, by the street, and the son was to her right, by the curb. With no warning, the dog bolts in front of both of them to get to a nearby telephone pole. While doing so, the leash pulled out, crossed the mother's body and because of his small stature, started to go across the young boy's neck. Thankfully, the young mother was paying attention and reached out and grabbed the cord before it could harm her son. However, the mother sustained minor burns on her hands in doing so.  This situation ended fairly well for all involved, but if the mother had moved just a split second later, that cord could have cut into her son's neck! 

In addition to the threat of rope burn and cuts, if two dogs get tangled together, or the pet is scared by a loud noise or other pet, they are now more fearful and anxious, and are more likely pull, causing an even higher risk of potential injury.  In other worrisome cases, if the leash is attached to a flat lead collar, a pet has sustained a serious neck injury, including neck burns and tracheal collapse, from the leashes abruptly ending while they are running at full speed.  Large and strong dogs have been known to pull their human right off their feet when the cord reaches its end with a harsh snap.

The thin cord of a retractable leash can snap without warning, and if your pet is the maximum length of 26 feet away, you will have a much harder time catching up to them and risk them getting lost or running into traffic.  If you're lucky enough for the cord not to break retractable leashes still have a higher chance of malfunctioning from extending and retracting, causing the spool to lock or quit retracting. Normally, these malfunctions will happen with no warning, and if your pet is far out in front of you, it's a situation could turn dangerous quickly. This is especially true if another dog or human approaches and you can't catch up to your pet fast enough.  It's much easier to gain control of an animal close to you than it is to have to run after it. 

The handles of retractable leashes have to be big and clunky to allow space for the spool. This results in handles easily being pulled out of the human's hands.  If your dog is easily frightened, anxious or fearful, the sound of the heavy handle could send them running. Unfortunately, they are now attached to a large, handle banging on the ground behind them as they run, causing them to keep running in an attempt to avoid what is ‘chasing' them.  Even if you're fortunately able to catch your pet after this, it could make your pet very anxious on future walks. 

Retractable leashes encourage pulling. They should never be used to train a pet, as they reward the pet for pulling on the leash. Even well trained pets will get used to be able to lean forward to extend their reach, and will again try this when walking on a standard leash, resulting in pulling and possible injury. 

Cuts, burns, neck injury, fall risk and possible leash malfunction all make this leash much more dangerous than a standard typical leash.  You can't keep your pet safe when they are 10-26 feet away from you – they can run into traffic, get into something toxic or come upon a loose dog. We recommend 5-6 foot leashes; they keep your dog next to you and are sturdier and show obvious signs of wear if they are fraying and at the risk of breaking.  Even having a well-trained pet won't stop retractable leash malfunction and wear. Always be safe for the safety of your pets and use a leash that offers the control to be able to do so. We are Comfort at Home do NOT use retractable leashes while carrying for pets due to the potential these risks. 

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