As a dog parent, it can sometimes seem there are endless decisions to make. What type of food is healthiest? Which bed provides the most comfortable support? And how should I train my pet?

A decision that often gets overlooked is which type of leash to use. Long lines, adjustable leashes and fixed-length leashes all have pros and cons, so it can be hard to know which to choose.

There’s one type of leash that needs extra caution though: the retractable leash. In this article, I’ll explain why these leashes can be a dangerous choice.

Retractable Leashes Don’t Provide Full Control

It’s true that there are several benefits to walking your dog on a retractable leash. Your dog has more freedom to explore without you needing to constantly stop. And, if your pet has poor recall, this type of leash provides more exercise without worrying about him disappearing.

The problem is that it’s impossible to control a dog at the end of a long leash. If your pet suddenly meets another dog or other distraction, there’s no way to quickly shorten the cord.

I’ve seen owners frantically trying to “reel in” their pet while he lunges at another dog. Not only is this dangerous for the dog, but it can cause injury to the owner.

Many dogs also become defensive when restricted – particularly if they can feel a leash preventing them from escaping. This means a retractable leash provides the worst of both worlds: a dog that feels restrained, but still has freedom to move around.

Retractable Leashes Allow Your Dog to Build Momentum

Momentum is a combination of speed and weight. So, the faster your dog is running, the more difficult he is to stop.

You might be able to control a 70lbs Labrador on a short leash. But if he’s on a long line and builds up speed before you can control him, you’re likely to be dragged along the floor or drop the leash.

As you might imagine, this can be very dangerous – especially if you’re near a road.

There’s also the risk of mechanical failure in these situations. While a retractable leash might stop a small breed, the clips and other components can snap when restraining larger dogs.

Retractable Leashes Can Amputate Fingers

A quick Google search brings up stories of horrific injuries caused by retractable leashes. If the cord gets wrapped around a finger, it doesn’t take much of a pull from your dog to sever it.

While these severe injuries are rare, burns and cuts are common.

If your dog runs around your legs before getting distracted by a squirrel, for example, it could cause a nasty burn to the back of the legs. Children are also at risk, as they may instinctively grab the cord without realising the danger.

For this reason, you should only ever use retractable leashes with thick bands – not thin string. This won’t stop all injuries, but makes them less likely.

Retractable Leashes Reinforce Bad Habits

Many dog owners release the “brake” on a retractable leash when their pet pulls. This reinforces that pulling is how to get somewhere faster.

When the dog is put back on a short line, he naturally continues to pull. And, once this behaviour has become a habit, it takes a lot more time and effort to re-train.

If you’re training your dog, it’s best to avoid retractable leashes altogether. In fact, you’ll never see a professional dog trainer using a retractable leash for exactly this reason.

Retractable Leashes Can Injure a Dog’s Neck

Retractable leashes aren’t just dangerous for humans. They can also cause severe injury to your dog – especially if he’s jerked back at speed.

This often happens when the owner doesn’t react fast enough to their dog starting to run. If the brake is applied to a running dog, the sudden impact can cause neck, tracheal and spinal injuries.

The danger is greatest if the leash is attached to a neck collar. A harness is a safer option, as it spreads force across the dog’s chest, rather than focusing on the neck and windpipe.

Are Retractable Leashes Always Bad?

The retractable leash has received a lot of negative press in recent years. Much of the criticism is justified, but I wouldn’t say this type of leash should never be used.

There are some genuine benefits to a retractable leash. Your dog can explore at his own pace without being completely free to roam. The “brake” function also allows you to keep your pet close when near roads or other dangers.

If you have a small dog who’s generally well-behaved, a retractable leash may be an option to consider – but only in wilderness settings where you can see potential dangers before your dog reaches them. You should also only buy models with a ribbon-style leash, attach the leash to a harness rather than collar, and never grab the cord.

Even with these safety precautions, I don’t recommend them for strong or excitable dogs. In these situations, a fixed length lead is much safer. Retractable leashes should also be avoided in areas with lots of dogs, as they simply don’t provide enough control.

Summary

Retractable leashes can be a convenient way to give your dog more freedom on a walk. Many owners also like them because they can walk at their own pace, while still allowing the dog to explore.

There are a number of safety and training concerns associated with these leashes though. If you decide to use one, make sure you understand the risks and take precautions to avoid them.