Retractable Leash Dangers and Etiquette

Retractable leashes are sort of the bane of my existence. I work at a small pet store, and we have incidents at least once a week. Usually it’s an owner who is distracted and the dog ends up halfway across the store, out the door or wrapped around a display or another customer. But, beyond my own personal annoyances there are some very real concerns regarding both safety and etiquette I think we should all work to address.

Retractable Leash EtiquetteLeash Retracted | Flickr - Photo Sharing!noricum Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic / CC BY-SA 2.0 M


  • Retractable leashes can cause serious injury to not only your dog, but you as well. If your dog starts to run or pull, your first instinct is probably going to be to grab the cord like you would on a regular leash, leading to burns, cuts or even amputation. Just check out the precautions page on Flexi Lead. There is a whole section on amputations. Enough people have had their fingers cut off by the retractable leash cord to warrant a warning!
  • There are a number of safety issues for your dog as well. Dogs on an unlocked retractable leash tend to take off running because they don’t feel tethered; yay freedom! The problem is when they reach the end of their cord they can receive injuries to their neck when they’re forcibly pulled to a stop. Sure, dogs can pull on any type of leash, but they aren’t able to work up nearly as much momentum. source: Consumer Reports 
Broken Retractable LeashLeash Retracted | Flickr - Photo Sharing!noricum Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic / CC BY-SA 2.0
  • The thin cord of the retractable leash can snap, causing injury to you or your dog, and allowing them to run free. The lock can also break allowing them the full 20 feet of cord and because you can cut yourself on it, you can’t grab it to shorten it. source: Dr. Karen Becker
  • If you drop the bulky handle of a retractable leash, it ends up loudly “chasing” your dog, causing them to keep running. source: ASPCA
  • The biggest safety concern I run in to regularly is people often get distracted and before they know it their dog is 10-20 feet away and approaching other dogs that may not be friendly. If a fight broke out, you would have no control to pull your dog away because of all the slack on the lead.
  • It may seem like common sense, but I’ve been at large events with thousands of people and hundreds of dogs, and people still allow their dogs to wander 10-20 feet in front of them through crowds with absolutely no ability to rein them in or even see what they are approaching. You often have to treat a dog on these leashes like you would a loose dog.

Training Problems:

  • Retractable leashes teach your dog to pull while on a leash, because they think they should be able to gain more ground whenever they want. source: Rice Village Animal Hospital 
  • You have no real control while using a retractable leash because you have to catch up to your dog any time you want to take control rather than the other way around. source: Rice Village Animal Hospital


These are issues that are less about safety but no less important to good dog etiquette.

Tangled Retractable LeashLeash Retracted | Flickr - Photo Sharing!noricum Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic / CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Retractable leashes allow your dog to confront other dogs and people without being able to stop them. Besides being a safety issue this is just rude. You might freak out a shy dog or a person that is afraid of dogs.
  • Dogs allowed to wander on their retractable lead can wrap themselves around displays or other people. I’ve also seen dogs walk right out the door while their owner is still at the cash register!

What You Can Do:

If you must use a retractable leash (and I really suggest you don’t) here are ways which you can be more polite:

  • Only use retractable leashes when you’re in large open areas like a field, away from roads and other animals.
  • Always keep your thumb near the lock button so you can stop your dog from going any further when necessary.
  • If you’re in a public space, store or near a road, keep the leash locked at a safe distance of 6 ft or less.

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