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Retractable Dog Leashes: Tackling a Genuinely Controversial Problem

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When you set out to walk your dog, you need a few key items. First, your dog (obviously). Then you need either a collar or harness. It’s always important to bring poop bags with you, so you meet your local curbing laws. And, finally, you need a leash. The leash allows you and your dog to follow leash laws. It also provides a safety net between the two of you. There are plenty of leashes out there to choose from. And, unfortunately, retractable dog leashes are often popular options. But these controversial leash choices come with a long list of problems. If you’re considering one, please read through the risks first. Forewarned is forearmed, as they say.

Retractable Dog Leashes

Retractable dog leashes may look different, but they work on the same idea. You get a LONG length of nylon cord wound up inside of a plastic housing. On the housing, you have a button that has different set points. One spools the cable out, allowing your dog to pull forward. Another setting locks the cord. And a final setting spools the line back into the case.

The idea is that dogs have more room to explore and move around on their walk than they do with a traditional leash. You’ll find cord lengths that extend anywhere from 15 feet up to approximately 30 feet. And you can hold the plastic housing with one hand. So, the illusion is you have easier control AND more freedom on the walk. (For instance, you have one hand free to use the phone, drink coffee, etc.)

The Pros

Plenty of owners use retractable dog leashes. And you’ll see pet sites that rave over how wonderful they are. They list the potential positives behind the design, making them superior to traditional leashes:

  • Great for small, friendly pups
  • Prevents tangling
  • Allows dogs to get more exercise
  • Best option for joggers

The arguments sound persuasive. Unfortunately, they’re not grounded in fact. Because people don’t understand how to use them properly. So dogs – AND humans – end up hurt.

The Cons

I won’t lie: I dislike retractable dog leashes. I’ve seen the results of these devices up-close and personal. For every cheerful argument made, I’ve seen the truth of what REALLY happens, and it’s not pretty:

  • With insane lengths of cord, dogs get too far from their owners. They run into the street, encounter aggressive dogs or even horrible strangers. And you are HOW far away and unable to intercede?
  • The cords DO tangle. They also snap. People grab for the nylon and end up with horrific burns, cuts, and even amputations.
  • Boisterous dogs pull retractable dog leashes right out of their owner’s hands. The dog then escapes – and often runs from the threat of the plastic casing “chasing” after them.
  • Retractable dog leashes ENCOURAGE dogs to pull. They learn that the more they pull, the more distance they get. This is disastrous for runners – or anyone! Running leashes are the best option for joggers, and they have a completely different design.

I’ve helped treat dogs that were struck by cars, attacked by other dogs, and even caught up in the nylon cord. In every case, the pup was over 15 feet away from their owner at the time.

"Since the length of the leash changes constantly, and owners can lock it at random, the dog never truly knows if they have four feet or ten. So they never really learn where they are supposed to be: fifteen feet in front of you or at your side."

~Laurie Lawless, CDBC, Dogs Rock! Vermont

Proper Use of Retractable Dog Leashes

Does this mean you can’t use retractable dog leashes? No. Plenty of people continue to do so. And if you follow reasonable precautions and behave appropriately, you lessen your risks of problems.

If you’re going to opt for one of these spooling devices, you need to start your leash-training with one. You’ll set clear boundaries for your dog – and yourself. Because when it comes to most of the significant issues with retractable dog leashes, they’re on the HUMAN. And that means observing careful “rules of the road:”

  • Practice Makes Perfect. Would you operate a car without instruction? (Hopefully not) Read your instruction manual and practice using the buttons – WITHOUT your dog attached. In an emergency, it’ll mean the difference between hitting the lock and hitting the release.
  • Mind the Distance. Okay, so the retractable dog leash extends to 30 feet. No dog needs to be THAT far away from you. Your dog should never cross the street, turn corners, or go over hills without you. If you can’t get there within a few steps, your pup’s too far away.
  • DON’T Cut the Slack. As your dog gets further away, you end up with excess cord. Is it dragging the ground? Say, where it’ll become a trip hazard? Reel the line in to prevent accidents.
  • Hook Me. NEVER unhook the metal clip unless you have fully retracted the leash. You’ll end up with an injury as it flies back at YOU.
  • High and Dry. Nylon IS weather-resistant – up to a point. But if you spool up a wet leash, it’s going to start causing problems inside the casing. Pull the entire leash out and allow it to dry. Your retractable dog leash will last longer.

Choosing a Retractable Dog Leash

You’re ready for the responsibility of a retractable dog leash. Your dog ISN’T a puller, and you understand the potential risks involved. You also promise NEVER to take your eyes away from the area around you and your dog. Fantastic! Unhappily, not all retractable dog leashes are created equal. You want to keep a few key features in mind.

  • Cord Type: While most retractable dog leashes feature a nylon cord, you can find braided rope, thin line, or flat tape. No one is better than the other, but you need to consider which might work best for you.
  • Leash Length: Where are you going to walk your dog? Crowds mean your dog needs to respect other people’s personal space. And out in nature…do you REALLY need 30 feet when you don’t know what’s around the corner?
  • Size: Retractable dog leashes come in different sizes based on your dog’s weight. Follow the guidelines carefully to avoid injuries and breakage.
  • Controls: You’ll always get that button to control the cord. Some are easier to manipulate than others, and a few leashes have multiple controls. Make sure you choose an option you understand.
  • Tangle-Free: Retractable dog leashes may SAY they’re tangle-free, but there’s no such thing. However, some have sturdier designs than others to prevent knots from forming and locking up the recoil.
  • Accessories: Do you want something extra? You can find flashlights, poop bags, or belt clips with your retractable dog leash.

The Best Retractable Dog Leashes

You need to remain careful when you use retractable dog leashes. You don’t want your dog to get away from you by pulling and pulling and PULLING to the full extent of the leash. Nor do you want to drop the plastic housing accidentally. The recoil is FAST, and it’ll zip away from you and “chase” your dog. If it catches up, it can inflict injury on their back or neck. (Not to mention frightening them away from the device for the near future)

If you accept the responsibility that comes with the device, though, they can work. You need to train carefully with your dog. You don’t want to mislead them. And you’ll need to put the coffee and phone down, so you remain alert and responsive at all times. But it IS possible.

CLEEBOURG offers an ergonomic grip, keeping you comfortable on all of your walks. The handle features a non-slip grip, too, so you’re less likely to drop it at any point. A single button slides back and forth along the top, making it easy to shift between the pause, lock, and recoil settings. And you get 16 feet of nylon tape in a 360-degree pivot to cut down on entanglement.

Downsides? Dogs need to weigh under 88 pounds to use this retractable dog leash. And while the tape is wider (preventing nastier cuts), it won’t hold up against chewers. The recoil mechanism also isn’t powerful. NEVER rely on that to save your dog from a bad situation!

The Good

The Bad

Are you looking for a little variability for your retractable dog leash? EC TEAK comes in both a 16-foot and 26-foot length, and they work with dogs weighing up to 110 pounds. You still get an ergonomic handle with an anti-slip grip to keep your hand firm. And the button only has two positions: locked and unlocked. That keeps the controls as simple as you could ask for. The nylon tape is equivalent to seatbelt material, increasing the durability.

The downsides? With only the two settings, you DO have to pull on the leash to shorten the slack. That isn’t fair to your dog OR proper leash-training. And while the tape might share durability with your average seatbelt, it won’t hold up to chewers. It’s also prone to snapping (probably because you have to put a lot of tension on it to recoil).

The Good

The Bad

Fida offers a compact but helpful retractable dog leash. You have four sizes to choose from, allowing you to match any dog breed, and there are eight different colors. It’s small, but you still get an ergonomic handle and non-slip grip for comfortable walks. The 10-foot nylon tape with reflective borders stretches, and it swings within a 360-degree opening that helps prevent tangles. A single button controls everything from locking to braking to recoiling, all within a quick thumb-reach.

So what are the downsides? With that one button, you have to do EVERYTHING, and it can get complicated. You need to make sure you’re pressing down (or up) properly. The recoil button also likes to get stuck (which you may not want). Dogs also like to chew on this particular model, and it’s not designed to hold up to the abuse – nor is the nylon tape.

The Good

The Bad

A lot of retractable dog leash fans recognize the Flexi Neon Leash. The standard 16-foot nylon tape is a vibrant shade that heightens your and your dog’s visibility on walks. The sides are highway-grade reflective sheeting, so you know they’ll keep you safe, even in low lighting conditions. You have three sizes to choose from, working for dogs up to 110 pounds. The plastic housing is lightweight, keeping things easy for you to manage – especially combined with one button to operate the controls.

Downsides? The button gets harder to manage the more you use it. And on TOP of that, the stop button gives people trouble in the first place. (You don’t need to fight with that one) And while you need to choose the right size for your dog, the small and medium leashes ended up challenging for owners with larger hands.

The Good

The Bad

Do you want that little something extra with your retractable dog leash? Happy & Polly include a flashlight so you can keep an eye on things when the ambient light starts to go down. You also get a poop dispenser bag (and 15 free bags). There’s even a nifty hook on the bottom to hold a poop bag (or whatever else you may want to carry). You can remove the flashlight if you want to take a closer look at something. The 16-foot leash consists of high-elastic bungee material, with a strong fishing line seam on either side. The grip has a leather feel to it, but the rubber feels soft under your fingers.

The downsides? While designed sturdier than the average nylon tape, chewers can still destroy the tape (something even the company acknowledges). And don’t get attached to the flashlights because they fall off – and then they fall apart.

The Good

The Bad

Hertzko focuses on the larger dogs out there, zeroing in on pups weighing up to 110 pounds. The lightweight handle won’t exhaust your hand, and there’s a comfortable non-slip grip. You get 16-feet of nylon tape controlled with a single button that slides back and forth in the lock and unlock position. Best of all, you get a 30-day money-back guarantee!

So what are the downsides? Once again, you have to PULL to recoil this leash. That goes against the “safe” on their ribbon’s label. And while it’s a heavy-duty design for the bigger pups, the handle isn’t meant for owners who may have bigger hands. Some people found it a tight grip and uncomfortable.

The Good

The Bad

Do YOU want to do something extra with your retractable dog leash? Then you want to take a look at Pet & Cuddle. You won’t see any new designs, but you’ll get two colors and two sizes to choose from. What sets Pet & Cuddle apart is that they donate 3% of their profits to Best Friends Animal Society. It’s not a bad deal, considering you’re getting a 16-foot nylon tape leash in a heavy-duty casing!

Downsides? Despite the two different sizes available – which should cover dogs up to 110 pounds – these retractable dog leashes are intended for small and medium dogs. Also, locking and unlocking gets tricky.

The Good

The Bad

Peteast is another retractable dog leash that adds reflective piping to their 16-foot nylon tape edges for easy visibility. You have two buttons (in the same location) for control, but there’s also an automatic lock in place every time you release or recoil the leash. You get a non-slip grip to make sure your hand stays steady at all times. And they even throw in the bonus of a poop bag dispenser with one free roll of bags.

The downsides? Unfortunately, your dog doesn’t even need to chew this leash for problems to show up. If they pull too hard, it’ll start fraying and come apart. And while that automatic lock is nice to have around, the recoil is on the slow side. Make sure you’re not relying on that in an emergency.

The Good

The Bad

Extras are always nice, and QiMH adds on a collar, collapsible water bowl, poop bag dispenser, AND a roll of poop bags with their retractable dog leash. You can also choose from five color options, all suiting dogs up to 110 pounds. The 16-foot nylon tape includes a reflective tape border to help you stand out on those early morning or late night walks. And you have easy access to the single button control. The entire casing is shock-proof just in case you drop it (please don’t).

So what are the downsides? While the housing is built to handle abuse, it doesn’t hold up well to USE. People found their retractable dog leash falling apart after a few trips around the block. And others struggled with the controls not responding.

The Good

The Bad

URPOWER recently upgraded its retractable dog leash, improving the single button control for easier access and use. It now sits at the top of their ergonomic grip, and they added in a quick-lock to hold the leash in place. The 16-foot nylon tape moves around in a 360-degree housing that cuts down on the tangles. And they also reinforced the casing to prevent breakages.

Downsides? With the extra work done, it’s now on the heavy side. You may find yourself developing pressure sores if you take long or frequent walks. Also, even the company cautions against allowing pulling – it causes the tape to tighten inside the housing.

The Good

The Bad

What happens if you have two dogs you need to walk at the same time? You turn to Wigzi, of course. The two separate nylon leashes extend 10 feet away, with reflective seams. The single housing features color-coded buttons, so you know which dog your working with (a single button each). Both sides have 360-degree openings to prevent tangling of the individual tapes. And you won’t find your arm dragged down with any more weight than a standard retractable dog leash!

The downsides? Both of your dogs need to weigh less than 50 pounds for the system to work. As the mechanism is juggling two sets of nylon tape, it recoils slowly. You’ll need to have some patience. And it’s not the most durable retractable dog leash out there. Some people were also upset at the 10-foot length. Realistically, though, if you’re keeping an eye on TWO dogs, 10 feet is PLENTY.

The Good

The Bad

With Great Responsibility

There’s a lot of controversy surrounding retractable dog leashes. Both people and dogs have suffered trauma and injuries from the design. And those problems continue to surface in the product reviews when you look through them. If you’re planning to add one of these devices to your home, you need to prepare for the responsibility they require.

Your dog needs to remain within your sight – and reach – at all times. You shouldn’t let your attention waver. And you need to understand the importance of a firm grip on that housing. It’s what will keep you and your dog as safe as possible.

With that knowledge tucked at the front of your mind, there’s no reason you can’t use a retractable dog leash – safely.

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Andria Kennedy

Andria Kennedy

Andria Kennedy worked as a Licensed Veterinary Technician for 10 years, focusing on Emergency/ICU and later Cardiology, as well as volunteering at both the Philadelphia Zoo and Virginia Living Museum for over six years. She's now a freelance writer, but she gravitates toward writing projects with a focus on animals (once an animal-lover, always an animal-lover). She lives in Virginia with her husband, three cats (one "works" as her personal assistant), and a Greyhound who thinks she's a big cat — all of them rescues.

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