Get Rid of Your Retractable Dog Leash, Stat!

retractable leash
Retractable leashes seem like they'd be great, but in reality they're dangerous for dogs and dog walkers. Boris Zhitkov

I went to go buy cat food one day in June and I came home with a rescue puppy. I couldn't take her home unless I had a leash. Since I wasn't planning on bringing home a puppy that day (totally forgot the Meow Mix, by the way), I didn't have a leash in the truck. Instead, I walked back into the pet store to see what they had.

"Do you want a retractable one?" the clerk asked. "No," I said. "They're dangerous." I've had a few dogs in my life, and not once have I purchased a retractable leash. While others swear by them, the dog trainer hammered it into my head years ago that all dogs in her class had to be on regular leashes. She then gave a litany of reasons why, the least of which is that retractable leashes can snap, break or shatter, causing injury to dog and person.


Dereka Williams found that out the hard way. As reported by ABC News in 2009, Dereka, a 12-year-old at the time, was walking her dog on a retractable leash, when the leash broke shooting a piece of metal into her eye. She has since undergone three surgeries to her eye and will likely have permanent damage.

Retractable leashes allow dogs to walk a good 20 to 30 feet (6 to 9 meters) ahead of a person. They typically feature a plastic handle with a button that locks and retracts the cord, so dog owners can regulate how far their pup can roam. Yet, horror stories abound as to what can happen if the cord breaks or malfunctions. A person can get facial cuts, broken teeth, eye injuries and broken bones. They can also get caught up in the wire cord, resulting in a number of horrific injuries, including skin lacerations and even amputations.

In 2007, Consumer Reports and the Consumer Union analyzed dog leash injuries and found 16,564 people went to the hospital to get treated for injuries sustained with pet leashes, although the magazine did not define which types of leashes, though it did say about 10.5 percent of those injuries involved children 10 and younger. However, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled 223,000 retractable leashes sold between 2007 and 2008 under the name SlyDog because the metal clasps connecting the leash to a dog's collar was susceptible to breaking while in use. (This was the brand of leash 12-year-old Dereka Williams was using when she was injured.)

And nearly a quarter of those leash injuries involved fingers. One woman lost a finger when her dog's retractable leash exploded after her 90-pound (40 kilogram) Labrador retriever bolted and the cord wrapped around her finger, essentially ripping it off.

Retractable leashes can be problematic for dogs, too. Because there is so much cord, dogs can walk into the road very quickly and get hit by a car before their owners can even react. The cord can also snap in two or get pulled out of the handle if a dog decides to chase something. In addition, dogs can hurt their necks if they run and hit the limit of the cord. Not to mention, retractable leashes encourage dogs to pull because they learn over time that pulling rewards them with more leash.