What are the potential concerns with retractable dog leads?

What are the potential concerns with retractable dog leads?

September 04, 2023

Why we don't sell retractable leads


Whether using a long line or retractable lead - either should be attached to a backclip harness!

Taking our dogs out on walks is part of our day to day lives together - promoting exercise, socialisation, and mental stimulation. Choosing the right equipment for those walks can make all the difference.

Retractable dog leads have been popular among dog parents for their convenience, but they do come with their own set of pros and cons. In this article, we will explore the advantages and disadvantages of retractable leads and recommend the use of long lines as a safer alternative for walking our canine companions.

The Pros of Retractable Dog Leads:

1. Increased Freedom: Retractable leads allow dogs to explore their surroundings with more freedom. Depending on the lead they can extend about 5-8 metres, enabling dogs to roam and sniff while still being tethered to their guardian.

2. Control over Lead Length: Dog walkers have the ability to adjust the lead's length, depending on the situation and the dog's behaviour. This feature can be useful when transitioning between open spaces and crowded areas.

3. Ease of Use: Retractable leads typically feature a one-hand operation, making it convenient for dog parents to manage both the lead and their dog effortlessly. This can be especially beneficial for someone that is physically less able or is needing to manage other things like prams.

The Cons of Retractable Dog Leads:

1. Limited Control: The very feature that grants dogs freedom also compromises the guardian's control. In emergency situations, retractable leads may not provide sufficient restraint, leading to potential accidents or confrontations. A huge factor is the part where you can't easily shorten a retractable lead if the dog is pulling on the end, but those are the exact situations where control would be required.

2. Potential Injuries: The thin cord of retractable leads can cause injuries to both the dog and the owner. If the cord gets tangled around a limb, it may result in cuts, burns, or even broken bones.

3. Encourages Pulling: Dogs may develop a habit of pulling when on retractable leads, as they learn that pulling extends their range. This can lead to difficulties when transitioning back to a standard leash.

4. Safety Hazards: Retractable leads may pose safety hazards to both dogs and humans. The extended length can cause tripping accidents, especially in crowded areas, and the thin cord may become entangled with objects or other dogs.

5. Gear Safety Checks: With all gear (collars, harnesses, leads, etc.) it is crucial to perform regular checks to ensure that all clips and materials are still in good condition and not about to fail. With a retractable lead we cannot look inside the handle, so it remains a mystery if there is fraying or similar happening at the attachment point inside.

6. Not Helpful For Teaching Off-Leash Recall: When our dogs are feeling pressure on lead in order to stay within a certain distance from us, they are not learning how to be off leash completely as they relying on the pressure for information. Freedom and recall on a retractable lead does not translate to understanding how to respond when off-lead.

7. Can't Let Go Of It: Sometimes dog guardians face with situations where it may be the better option to let go of their dog's lead (if legal and appropriate to do so in the environment they are in) such as when a dog is rushing their dog or when facilitating a friendly greeting amongst dogs without tension or even in the process of their recall training. This is not possible with a retractable lead due to the handle and the retraction mechanism. In fact, it's dangerous if they let go accidentally as the dog is then being chased by a big handle.


If you do use a retractable dog lead, only do so in these scenarios:

1. Open and Safe Areas: In spacious, open areas like parks, fields, or beaches, where there is minimal traffic or potential hazards, retractable leads can provide dogs with the freedom to explore while still being under control.

2. Well-Trained and Relaxed Dogs: For dogs with reliable leash manners and training, retractable leads can offer a bit more freedom to enjoy walks while maintaining control over their movements.

And ensure that the retractable lead you have chosen is appropriate for your dog's size and weight. Understand how to lock and release the lead and how to adjust its length.
Inspect the Lead Regularly: Before each use, check the retractable lead for signs of wear, damage, or fraying. Replace it immediately if you notice any issues. Always stay vigilant and prepared for any situation. Be prepared to lock it quickly if needed.
Be Mindful of Other People and Dogs: Be considerate of others around you. Keep your dog on a short lead when approaching people, other dogs, or wildlife. Don't have children handle the retractable lead.


Inappropriate Use of Retractable Dog Leads:

1. High-Traffic Areas: Using retractable leads in busy streets, crowded parks, or areas with heavy foot traffic and vehicular movement is dangerous. The extended length can lead to accidents and entanglements with passersby or other animals.

2. Reactive or Aggressive Dogs: Dogs with a history of reactivity or aggression towards people or other animals should not be walked on retractable leads. These leads do not provide enough control to manage potential confrontations and there is a serious risk of them breaking in the wrong moment.

3. Untrained Dogs: Dogs that have not been properly leash trained should not be walked on retractable leads. The freedom offered by these leads may encourage pulling and erratic behaviour.

4. Near Cliffs or Water Bodies: Using retractable leads near cliffs, steep drops, or water bodies can be risky. The lack of instant control may lead to a dangerous situation where the dog could fall or get into difficulty.

5. In Close Quarters: In tight spaces like elevators, staircases, or busy sidewalks, retractable leads can cause tripping hazards for both the dog owner and others.

6. Public Facilities: Retractable leads should not be used in places like restaurants, stores, or public transport, as they can be disruptive and pose risks to others.


Long Lines as a Safer Alternative

Long lines are an excellent alternative to retractable leads, providing several benefits:

1. Superior Control: Long lines are typically made of strong materials like polyester or biothane, offering better control over dogs, even at a distance. This enhanced control reduces the risk of accidents or unwanted encounters.

2. Enhanced Safety: With a consistent length and thickness, long lines are less prone to tangling or causing injuries compared to retractable leads.

3. Training Aid: Long lines can be a valuable tool for dog training and recall exercises. They allow guardians to maintain control while gradually teaching the dog to respond to cues at a distance. By handling a long line correctly you can simulate the feeling of being off the lead while facilitating greetings, practising recall, explicitly you are avoiding the dog feeling the pressure of the lead as you're going through the practise steps.

4. Suitable for All Dogs: Long lines are suitable for dogs of all sizes and breeds. They are particularly helpful for dogs in training, those with behavioural issues, or in environments where off-leash walking is not recommended.


Be Prepared

Whether you use a long line or a retractable lead, practise for you and your dog are key. Practice Emergency Drills: Train yourself when there is no emergency how to quickly get close to your dog when they are pulling at the end, so you are prepared in case of an emergency or potential hazards.

While retractable dog leads offer convenience and freedom, their potential risks usually outweigh the benefits. For a safer and more controlled walking experience, long lines are highly recommended for those guardians that are physically able to use them.
Long lines provide dog guardians with the ability to maintain control over their dogs while allowing them the necessary freedom to explore and exercise. By choosing long lines over retractable leads, dog owners can ensure the safety and well-being of both their pets and themselves during walks and outdoor adventures. Please note though that in high-traffic areas or public facilities a leash length of up to 2m will be the better option.