Are retractable leads safe?

by PetCloud / Pet Owner Advice / 17 Sep 2020

Retractable leash

Do you rely on a retractable leash when you walk your dog?  You'll probably notice several in use almost anywhere you go. They normally feature plastic casing that contains a skinny, flexible cord. This cord can extend to various lengths, letting canines ramble multiple feet in any direction.  Retractable leash fans often point out that the cord length can be easily withdrawn, just as the name implies. They may also mention that most designs feature a lock, so curious dogs can only wander so far. It seems like a pretty smart concept: control without total confinement.

But have you ever had a retractable leash wrap around your arm, leg or waist? If so, a few tiny warning bells may have gone off in your head. Standing in that position -- with an unpredictable pet attached to the lead itself -- you become keenly aware that a single abrupt movement could cause serious injury.  

That's only one of the potential hazards highlighted by a 2009 Consumer Reports article entitled, "Retractable Leashes Pose Problems for People and Their Pets." Various concerns have also been shared by the Humane Society of the United States. So before you go the retractable route, consider 6 potential difficulties that could be caused by their distinctive design:

1. Lost Sensation of Distance

When the holding clamp button on the leash is not applied to a set distance, retractable leash leads will extend out, allowing the dog to be metres away from the owner, and they lose the sensation of being able to tell how near or far the dog is without looking as there is no pull. Lifts have an automatic open and close time of about 6 seconds.  If a Dog Walker or Owner enters a lift (and accidentally assuming the dog is behind them) without looking and does not retract the leash, the dog may be metres away from the lift, and when the doors close will leave the dog behind and will end up choking the dog as the lift takes the Owner upwards or downwards.

News Article: The moment hero bystander saves dog after leash gets caught in elevator door

2. Disobedience

Retractable leashes tend to teach dogs that lead length will increase whenever they pull. Unfortunately, canines can't tell the difference between retractable and standard leashes. That means persistent pulling behavior may become habitual during every walk -- even if you switch leash designs later. This undesirable habit is often difficult to discourage without targeted re-training.

3. Tangles

Sure, that super-thin cord could wrap itself around you. But it may also ensnare your pet, another animal, or another dog walker. Imagine the cuts and abrasions that could result from a retractable cord whooshing rapidly over exposed skin or fur. In at least one instance, amputation has actually occurred. The 2009 Consumer Reports piece described this situation in rather distressing detail.

News Article: Dog walker, 66, has her middle finger 'degloved' when her pet pulls on its extendable lead

4. Malfunction

One mighty yank from an especially stressed-out mutt could potentially cause that skinny, retractable cord to snap. Similarly, the locking mechanism could seize or break while the cord was fully extended. In the case of breakage, flying parts could quickly become perilous projectiles. For example, approximately 223,000 "Slydog" brand retractable leashes were recalled in 2008 when the Consumer Product Safety Commission noted a glitch with the metal clip. The agency cited some gruesome injuries that included a displaced eye lens. While that particular model was eventually redesigned, there are numerous other options on the market.

5. Skirmishes

Picture a large, hostile animal snapping, charging or lunging at your beloved pet. Your immediate reaction would be to pull Rover out of harm's way, right? But if he's at the end of an extended retractable leash, that may prove tough to accomplish. Remember, it only takes a few tense seconds for an all-out fight to occur.

6. Pursuit

If you dropped the end of a standard leash, you'd probably try to grab it before your pup scampered away. But imagine dropping your retractable leash. That hard plastic casing would clatter abruptly on the pavement, and the cord may even begin retracting on its own. Anxious pets may become spooked by the sound, then perceive themselves being "followed" by the casing. A frantically retreating dog could race down the sidewalk, or even scramble into busy traffic.

Alternatives to a Retractable Leash

Depending on your personal risk tolerance, you may ultimately decide it's best to reconsider retractables altogether. If you really want to give your canine some expanded leeway, consider an extra-long standard leash or an elasticized "roamer" leash. Both varieties are made with thick nylon, reinforced webbing, or other durable materials. You can easily hold the leash handle in one hand and take up any slack with your opposite hand. Your dog can enjoy some added freedom while you enjoy some added peace of mind.   


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