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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Maria

Retractable Leash Dangers. Is the risk worth it?

Updated: Aug 1, 2023

Are retractables safe?

A few days ago we were sent this scary tale from one of our clients: “We are switching leashes permanently. I have been using a retractable leash, and yesterday we had a very scary incident where Zorra could of been severely injured after darting into a very bust street of South Philly. She got loose from my grip because she got spooked by a loud noise, the sound of the retractable leash handle hitting the ground freaked her out so bad that she darted and the vicious cycle began of her running, and the leash banging on the ground.”

Retractables are sold to us as a user-friendly way to give dogs more freedom, while keeping them “on-leash.” But have you thought about the dangers of this type of device? We would wager that if you polled dog walkers, the vast majority of professional dog walkers would tell you they do not like using retractable leashes.

Injuries to Humans:
  • Amputation of fingers or deep lacerations on hands, arms and legs (see below)

  • Broken teeth, facial injuries, eye injuries. (Think about it: If collar breaks or leash clip fails and cord retracts at maximum speed there is the potential for it to whip you in the face.)

  • Serious falls or trips for people walking dogs or others in their vicinity. You’re basically walking a your dog on a trip wire. Anyone who doesn’t spot the leash could be tripped. Or if your dog changes directions suddenly, anyone in the area could be at risk. Bicyclists are also endangered by the cords.

Injury to Pooches:
  • Amputation of legs or tail due to lacerations or entanglements.

  • Fear-based bolting and running if the handle is dropped on the ground. The noise will “chase” them ENDLESSLY, and many dogs WILL run. (This is the repeated story we’ve heard more than a few times.) If a dog is suddenly off-leash, the LAST thing you need is another trigger to elevate the panic even more.

  • Hit-by-car injuries if they dart into the road, either due to user error or mechanism malfunction. (The braking mechanisms DO wear out and break eventually. What if your dog saw something across the street, darted for it, and the brake mechanism failed?)

  • Injury if another dog approaches while out on a long-lead. (What if it is an aggressive off-leash dog? How would you reel your dog back in?)

Talk to any vet and they will tell you horror stories about retractable leashes. Dr. Majeska over at Companion Pet Hospital had this to say about retractables: “Retractable leashes are inappropriate for close quarter settings such as Philadelphia. There are countless stories of hit-by-cars, dog attacks, and other incidents that can be avoided by keeping your dog on a closer leash. Also, when a dog gets loose from an owner while on a retractable leash, they are more likely to continue to spook because the handle chases after them loudly as they run.” (Sound like the story above?)

The above story is one we’ve heard not once, but a few times from clients. Dropping the leash causes a chain reaction of fear, noise and more fear and more noise. We’ve heard about humans being tripped by them, brake mechanisms failing and dogs ending up in traffic, and they even carry an amputation warning in the box! As a service, we do not recommend the use of them in the City. The ASPCA and Consumer Reports even weighs in on the issue with numerous warnings.

A photo of a finger injury sustained by a dog walker using a retractable leash
This woman’s dog was attacked by another dog while on a retractable. She could not “reel” him in without grabbing the cord. She sustained this injury. (Photo Credit

Philly has a six-food leash law anyway. Why risk it? Sure, retractable leashes can be useful for open areas if you’d like your dog to run without fear of running away (say in an empty field.) But we just do not believe they are safe in an urban environment like Philadelphia. As dog owners, we contending with traffic, joggers, toddlers, cyclists, chicken bones, other dogs, stray cats, etc.

As urban dog walkers, we never know what could be waiting for us around the next corner. And we think the good ol’ six foot nylon leash is the safest option for urban adventures in Philadelphia.

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