Sarah Wilson

Dog Expert

Retractable Dog Leash Dangers: Do You Know the Risks?


retractable dog leashYou think you’re buying a fun thing for your dog – a leash that will give your dog a little extra freedom. The retractable dog leash is sold at nearly every pet supply store – on and off line. It comes in cute colors and you see them everywhere. You have no idea you are buying something that could cause injury (or worse) to your kids, your dog, yourself or some innocent passerby.


Am I exaggerating?
Being alarmist?

Sadly, I am not.

Retractable Leash Warnings ImageBrenda Conlan, one of our readers, knows too well: “I have avoided using them [retractable leashes] or even being near them since the cord literally opened my leg when my dog ran around behind me to chase a squirrel. I still have the scar…

Such moments happen in seconds. Everything is fine then you’re seriously injured – or a passerby or a child or the dog. Literally, in a blink.

Consumer Reports sounded the alarm in Retractable leashes pose problems for people and their pets. “…With horror, she realized it was a human index finger; with greater horror, she realized it was her own. The cord of the retractable leash had looped around her finger.

But did you know about those risks?

Clearly the girl pictured above does not. She stands, grinning, grasping the tape lead of a retractable firmly in her left hand (the #1 no-no of this leash – do not EVER hold the cord or tape parts of a retractable). If her labrador suddenly takes off she will, very probably and at best, be lacerated.

If she does what humans instinctively do when their dogs are out of control, grab the leash hard in an attempt to manage them, she could well need medical treatment.

If she lets go of the plastic handle, and who could blame her, that handle, bouncing along after the dog could send him into a panic. One dog I know died that way, bolting in fear over the wall of a parking garage.

Injury to You, Your Children or Others

  • Amputation of fingers
  • Cuts, burns and deep Lacerations on hands, arms and legs
  • Broken teeth (if collar breaks or leash clip fails and cord retracts at maximum speed to smack you in the face.)
  • Eye injuries/blindness (same)
  • Serious falls (when full speed dog hits end of 20+ foot leash or when bicyclist tangles with leash).
  • Think I’m kidding? Read their own warnings – scroll down – or watch their Video (listen to the content, don’t get thrown off by the calm delivery or jaunty music).

Injury to Your Dog or Other Dogs

  • Amputation of legs or tail.
  • Getting lost (when plastic handle “chases” them).
  • Hit by car when they dart into the road (know several dogs, personally, who died that way. Still on leash but dead.)
  • Injured when they get tangled with other dogs or bicycles.

There is more, but you get the idea.

Do I ever use these in my work? Rarely and briefly with certain house training issues and for some heading-toward-off-leash work with my advanced teams. But as a casual tool for general walking use? No. I do not. And I wish others would not as well. I have way too many stories in my head about what can happen and happen fast.

Now you know.

If you like my blogs, you’ll love my books: How to Train Your Dog to ComeMy Smart PuppyChildproofing Your DogDogologyTails from the Barkside.


  1. I totally agree with your assessment. On a training note it teaches the dog to pull on the leash rather than being respectful. I especially like (NOT) when I see a dog wearing a prong collar and a flexi lead.

    • You’re exactly right, Barbara. It totally rewards pulling. Prong and flexi? No. I know some pros who recommend head halters and retractables! And know of one dog who snapped his neck racing to the end of the leash. Low-to-the-ground dog at top speed – you can imagine the moment. So sad. 🙁

    • Prong and flexi-leash? What is the possible rationale for that combo?

      • There is nothing wrong with using a pinch collar and a Flexi. A quick training so the dog knows the pinch is there and if it chooses to barrel to the end of the leash it self corrects. It doesn’t take a dog long to figure out I can go just so far on this leash and enjoy myself.
        Most people don’t understand the Flexi has a lock feature for a reason and that it should be used.

  2. I use retractables once in awhile, but never in an area where there are lots of dogs or people. I like them at a longer dog show (like the Nationals, which go on for a week), as a means of getting away from everyone else with just my dog, in a quiet area where we can both stretch our legs and heads a bit. Otherwise, the dogs are on short leads.

    • You’re a great example of an experienced dog person who knows the risks and uses them with awareness. That is good use.

      It’s all the people who have no idea what they are risking that I worry about. And their dogs.

      • Why can’t you accomplish that with a light line why do you still need a Flexi ?

        • Hi Becky – Yup, you can. Think people have a hard time managing the line and dislike handling the wet/dirty line so the retractable looks like a better choice. Not. I encourage people to use 10-15′ lines max and show them how to handle them properly with gloves. That helps.

  3. Excellent blog! I wish more people would dispense of the flexi leash and learn to walk their dogs properly. Dogs enjoy walking at any time…allowing them to run rampant is not any more enjoyable than walking with you!

  4. I never use them for client dogs for many reasons, besides the fact that they are dangerous. I have my own leashes I use when the client provides a Flexi.

    I do use one on Sweetsie at the farmhouse when we’re walking in the 5-acre woods. She’s a quiet dog, and I’m aware of the risks. I like letting her wander since there isn’t a fenced yard up there.

    • Exactly, Allison. Well said.

      • I used to use a very small one on my chihuahua. Until I realized that when I would retract the leash, it would snap up at a violent pace and sometimes whip her right in the face! I threw it in the trash and opted for a regular leash. NOT WORTH IT! Thanks for a great article!

    • I use Flexi leads at my kennel for walks up my road. The dogs get to go into the woods and sniff around and enjoy being a dog. Most do not pull once they understand what we are doing.

  5. I used one when I was socializing a dachshund I had adopted. He was on a six foot fixed lead and the lead trained and very social mini dachshund I owned at the time was on the flexi. I kept it locked until we met someone who wanted to pet the dogs. Since my male was fearful and reactive, but my female was social and loving, I would unlock the flexi and let her visit, giving warning that the cord was dangerous and to not let her wrap around them, then real her in and let the male sniff their scent on her. In less than six months my male offered to greet people and we switched to two fixed leads for them. The period where she could show him meeting people was safe and still keep him under threshold and show him I would protect him gave him a huge boost in his confidence and reduced his fear. He now enjoys meeting new people and the flexi has been retired for 9 years.

  6. Thank you. I’ve been saying this for a while, but nobody listens! I used to love my retractable, and found it fun that my Cocker Spaniel would come and go happily, rather than at my side. Until one day, as I’m cleaning up after him he decided to run to greet some neighbors. Instinctively, I held on to the handle until he got to the end of it, and it snapped my finger. No, really. Broken in 5 pieces. Surgery and all. Metal pin, and 3 months recovery. No more retractable leashes in my house!

  7. i am glad to read this. i own and rescue doxies. i always use a harness as doxies are notorious for pulling and hurting their necks on any leash. i had no idea that the flexi could be dangerous…my dogs are older and don’t generally bolt, and i’ve been glad i had the harness on when they did. my biggest fear has always been that the retractor would fail near traffic, and my dog would end up dead in the street, so i’ve never used one near a road…always at the lake so she can swim or walk around in the muck…my doxie girl was a pig in a former life, she loves the mud so much…i think that unless we are at the lake, i will be sure to use a fixed lead from now on even to walk down our quiet street where there is little traffic. i didn’t fully trust them before, and your article has shown me that there are other dangers there as well. into the bin they go! thank you.

  8. I am a groomer and do pet adoptions. I caution new owners to use a regular leash, because most will go out and buy a retractable. If the dog is startled and they drop that handle, it hits the ground , scares the dog and off they go! One has better control with a regular lead.

    • Good for you, Megan.

      Watched with horror a new-to-the-dog family sit on the ground in a circle as their large, fresh-off-the-transport-truck dog raced around, between and up to them. A nightmare in a minute potential there. 🙁

  9. I cringe every time a customer comes into my shop with a retractable leash on their dog. I absolutely hate them! and do not sell them! We try to educate people to the dangers of retractables; often they just look at me like I’m the nut.

  10. I knew that it could get wrapped around the dog and that was hugely dangerous; I never considered it getting wrapped around me. Why are they still selling them?

    • Great question, Kimberly. My guess? Because they are popular and profitable.

      I am getting so many comments from people sharing their nightmares or those of friends. Horrible.

      I hope this helps people and dogs stay safer. Thanks for your read and your comment.

  11. I hate the things, always have. However on long trips I do have one for bathroom breaks. The leash is locked at its shortest until we get to a secluded piece of grass then I let her out until she does her business, the leash is retracted and latched at it’s shortest again and we return to the car. I have tried to just use our 6 foot leash but she just wants to be everywhere and I don’t like the idea of walking in grass where other animals have obviously done their business. She pulls some but doesn’t run around me, I am aware of the dangers and would never use it for a normal walk. Bathroom breaks on really long trips just wear me out!

  12. OMG!!! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! In addition to all of your stated reasons, I abhor retractable leashes because people have NO control over their dogs with them. I cringe when I see someone being LED on a walk by their dog the full 10-25 feet in front of them. Forget the fact that you are being your dog’s follower and not their pack leader. But, what if the dog sees something it wants to chase and it runs into traffic? Or, your coming up on another dog that’s dog aggressive? There is NO WAY that the dog handler will be able to get their dog under control! I have a policy PROHIBITING my dog walkers and sitters from using them. We carry our own leashes in case the only leash the owner has available is a retractable.

  13. Fantastic blog! I attend many dog related events and it makes me crazy to see dogs on flexi leads. Especially when they allow their young child to control the other end. I have seen the dog not only get away from the child because they didn’t have the lead locked, but into a fight with another dog. That was wrong on so many levels!

  14. I personally have never had a problem with mine.Except it did have the habit of coming unlocked.I always had the good sense NOT to try & grab the cord.If my dog got too far ahead,I’d just pull back on the handle part & call her back to me & then I’d retract it.

  15. For the past 10 + years my collar bone has been detached from my shoulder! And it caan never be reattached. I was walking my 5 mos. old Lab who already weighed 50 pounds when my son came riding into the street in his hot wheels. The dog was thrilled at the idea of a good chase and decided to run off toward my son. I just stood there holding that stupid plastic handle hoping she would stop when she got to the end of the leash, the way she usually did. But in my inexperience with dogs, I had no idea how focused she was on catching up with my son. When she hit the end she pulled me off my feet into the air like Mary Poppins! I landed on my side with my arm still extended, the leash flew out of my hand and I heard and felt the crunching sound of my ligaments being torn irreparably. I went into shock instantly, became nauseous, while hearing my little boy yelling “don’t worry mommy I will get her!” I was lying on the ground screaming for my son to stay way from the dog, all the while envisioning him grabbing the leash and being dragged down the gravelly road. NEVER EVER EVER — USE THEM!

    • Oh Tonia – that is a horrendous story and accident. It could happen to anyone and, sadly, does. I do not know you but I know what an amazing Mom you are, yelling out to protect your son when you were in, what must have been, extraordinary pain. {{{ }}}

      Thank you for sharing your story here. Others will read and learn from it about the dangers of this product.

  16. Thank you SO much for this – I HATE those leashes. People fumble, can’t put the brakes on their animals in emergency situations, dogs are ‘on lead’ but totally out of control, not to mention the danger of deep cuts or dismemberment to the handler, dog or anyone nearby.

    Personally I feel they should be BANNED except perhaps (in modified form) for experienced professional trainers. Certainly they should NOT carried by normal retail outlets like PetCo, Walmar etc. Perhaps a letter-writing campaign would be wise?

  17. And you haven’t even touched on one of the biggest issues: A woman in my condo building wasn’t paying attention…..when she got ON the elevator, her little dog got ON with her, and was on a retractable leash…..then the little dog exited the elevator for whatever reason…..and the woman didn’t think to watch for that. Elevator went UP with little dog attached to the retractable leash…..on the OUTSIDE of the door. Dog was strangled as the elevator had NO EMERGENCY STOP BUTTON.
    This is not an uncommon scenario. And more and more elevators are leaving off the emergency stop button. So once the door closes, you can say good-bye to your puppy.

    • How horrible and grim and terrible. 🙁

    • I’ve seen quite a few stories and videos about that. Sadly a lot of them don’t end up in a happy ending. It was good that one video I saw there was a guy who rushed to the dog and undid the collar to save the dog.

    • That could have happened with a normal leash. If anything the extended leash extended its life by some seconds. I used to use an elevator to get to my place of living and I made my dog sit in the corner each and every time so others could come in and not be scared by him.
      If people followed an etiquette to owning and training their dogs this really wouldn’t be a problem. It’s not fair to punish all the owners and dogs who are well trained and take steps to properly use this tool because of other fools out there.

      • Who is being punished?

        I continue to find it amazing how angry others are at the novice pet person. “Fools”? The people posting here are normal, devoted pet people who went to a pet supply store and got what they thought of as a leash. What makes them “fools”?

        And the lack of compassion for the human in the elevator story – who went through an experience I can barely imagine – is stunning to me.

  18. It is a MAJOR pet peeve of mine to see a pedestrian and a dog on a Flexi walking on the incorrect side of the side with their backs to oncoming traffic, and the dog is extended out as far as it goes and I have to safely figure out a way around them. They never hear me approact, (or they just ignore me) and continue on in la-la land while they’re dog hogs the road.

  19. Flexi leads serve no purpose but to provide a false sense of security and to separate fools from their money. Owners have ZERO control over their dogs on those leads and I also personally know/knew 6 dogs who died from been hit by a car because of those useless things. Every time I take my baby or dog for a walk and see a dog on a flexi lead I cringe and examine the animals body language very closely, preparing to jump in front of my fur baby or human baby if need be, knowing that leash and owner will be of no help should a need for intervention arise.

  20. Like any piece of equipment, retractable leashes have their place if used properly with training. Dogs can learn to respect the 20 or so feet of “freedom” the retractable leash gives them and not pull for more. These leashes retract and have a lock to keep the dog close when needed but way too many handlers ignore it. Users of retractables need to desensitize their dog to the leash bouncing behind them in a safe enclosed area so if it the handler drops the leash the dog doesn’t panic. I wouldn’t use them with a head harness as there is too great of a chance that the dog will bolt to the end and get snapped around causing neck issues.

    • Hi Jennifer – I’n confused here. One on hand you say that with training the dog can respect the end of the leash 100% and on the other you say not with a head halter in case the dog bolts? If it IS safe with training, then a head halter would be a safe choice (and it is not, we agree on that point). That first part of your comment I read as a “in a perfect world” statement: dog is 100% trained, pet people know how to “desensitize” a dog to the handle (and not make the dogs fear worse, which is just as likely an outcome for a novice), use the leash perfectly 100% of the time and then it is safe.

      Your last statement is the real world comment: “too great a chance that the dog will bolt”… yup. Glad to see you won’t bet a pet dog’s health on their training. I won’t bet a dog or a pet persons safety on it. The comments here are chilling and heartbreaking. They make my case for me.

  21. I totally agree with this assessment. When my daughter was younger, she took our German Shepherd for a walk. Somewhere along the walk the dog decided to dart. With that, the lead flew up and she ended up coming back home with a slight laceration on her chin. I have never liked them after that and would not recommend them for anyone, especially larger dogs with a lot of power and pull.

  22. I faithfully use the retractable. Yes I understand the dangers but why would you have an out of control dog on one to begin with. Lexie is a tripod rednose her pace of walk is different then mine. My Vet recommended getting one for her to avoid the hunched over walk she had to do in order to keep my pace. She now has no back problems. Would I put any dog on one? No I wouldn’t they aren’t made for training or brisk excessive walking they are more for the lounging and mellow paced enjoy the day walk and should never be used on a dog that pulls anyone. Its not the leash you use it’s the dog connected to it. If your dog is hyper and a small animal chaser they need to be on a sturdy lead line. Its all bout proper handling and the use of products sold.

  23. I use one occasionally in our huge park system. I am the only person around (especially in the winter, my fave time to walk) and my dog is older and well trained.

    Any other time my leash is a six foot leather lead. And I HATE flexi’s in the hands of inexperienced people with their untrained rambunctious dogs. And the biggest pet peeve is are the labs with head halters on flexi’s. Why it is always labs I will never know. Because if there was ever a dog that didn’t belong on a flexi-able to invade every other dog and person’s space-it is a lab.

  24. I bought one for my dog to use in open areas in the park near my home. On the walk there, it was locked with a short lead to keep the dog by my side. Once in the park and away from other people, I unlocked it so he could run around…then he saw the geese.

    My 55 lb dog broke a leash designed for 110 lb dogs because he ran and the mechanism inside the plastic handle snapped. He was in the water and we almost had goose for dinner.

    Now, I use a long lead I made. We’re working on off-leash training and recall, so it’s good to have the length.

  25. I love my retractables but sadly after reading this and some other things happening I’m going to have to give them up. One dog ran after a rabbit while I was cleaning up after the other one and I grabbed the rope part and got a bad burn. Several years later a person on a bicycle with a dog on a retractable came riding by on the street. My dog ran at his dog and he ended up wrecking the bicycle. (We won’t go into the silliness of what he was doing!) Finally, while walking the dogs with my great niece one dog wrapped around her bare legs and gave her a slight burn. My dogs love the retractables but they will just have to get used to the other leads, starting today.

  26. About 16 years ago my golden saw and rabbit and was on a retractable leash. She took off and I didn’t let go. My husband, who was walking next to me, said I literally flew in the air and landed on my right extended arm breaking it in a T-fracture and I had many scrapes, cuts and bruises. I learned my lesson and if my dog takes off on the leash, I just let go.
    I’ve been pulled down by regular leashes also.

  27. WOW, I had no idea these were so dangerous!!! I am throwing mine away now. I have a 75 lb. lab/Brittany mix and 50 lb. aussie/rotty. Amazingly we haven’t been hurt or my grandson. Not taking any risks no that I know. THANKS for this post!

  28. I agree with the dangers these leashes can pose. However, having a dog that is trained for hunting, which means he is used to being way out in front while sniffing out birds, we often use a retractable when walking him around the neighborhood. I am ever vigilant about our surroundings, constantly on the look out for other pedestrians, bikers, and especially children who may want to pet my dog. We have mastered the command “wait” and that has come in quite handy as I use it at least 50 times on every outing! I say it, he stops dead in his tracks, and gets “reeled in” and is then told to heel, which he does, until the person or other animal passes. If used properly, with caution and the knowledge that these leashes can and do cause serious bodily harm to either the human or the dog, and in some cases both, if used improperly, they can be a wonderful tool.

  29. A friend has two Mastiffs he walked with a retractable leash on the beach. One day a man let to small dogs out of a car with no control. One pup ran directly in front of the mastiff and started barking. My friend restrained the big dog with effort but, suddenly the leash broke and the mastiff instantly killed the tiny pup. The owner of the little dog knew his dog should not have been loose, but the scene was described to me as “not pretty.” Heavy leashes now on the mastiffs.

  30. This article gave me some things to think about… We occasionally used flexis for walks in the forest. Never for neighbourhood walks. But as I often went walking alone and we have two dogs, a flexi can be a true nightmare. So I bought a special harness for me, also used for dogtrekking. It goes around the waist and has a line with elastic, like a bungee. At the end is a couple line for the two dogs. Advantages : you have both your hands free, the dogs can’t get entangled with eachother or me as the couple line automatically moves around and you can easily pull the dogs near you if necessary. For our neighbourhood walks they have a police leash that you can extend if you want to, but mostly I have them on the shortest distance. I must mention that we have two small dogs. With big dogs the trekking harness is only suitable for one og that doesn’t pull to hard…

  31. I agree with you so much! They’re a pain to work with in the vet office too! I’m a vet tech and I get really annoyed when the owner hands me that stupid retractable leash when we go to bring the dog in the back. I always lock it because what happens if I don’t know there is another dog in the back and one of them could be dog aggressive and the one I’m holding runs off and I can’t pull them back like I would a normal leash and something happens? I always try to switch their leash for one of our slip leads. I never used it when my dad had it for our dog. I always chose the normal leash over the retractable.

  32. I was considering getting one of the leashes for my dog, but now my mind has changed. My dog loves being off leash and listens very well ,so my thinking was a retractable leash would let him still explore on our hikes on trails where leashes are mandatory. Now he will stay on his regular leash, unless it’s okay to be off.

  33. I’m sorry, but I feel I have to politely point out that the whole tone of this post is smugly self righteous. Once again, the dogblivious must be warned and the rest of us chastised for their very existence. The unfortunate news is that the dog owners who need to hear this most aren’t reading your blog. The rest of us ought to be able to make that decision without being talked down to as you attempt to shock (severed fingers!) without making much of a balanced argument. I can quickly access a comparably large pool of standard leash horror stories. There’s a reason they don’t make these for horses; do the math if you have a large dog. The broken finger with the Cocker sounds bad until you look at the broken ankle/hip stories when people get pulled over with standard leashes. People place their dogs in ridiculously poor environments and then wonder why there are issues. There is no shortcut for constant vigilance with ANY leash, so blaming Flexis is a tad disingenuous. The truth is people today don’t want to be held responsible or take responsibility for anything – and that’s the heart of 90% of dog behavior problems. Dogs – like children – crave order and boundaries and an occasional taste of freedom from school. It’s very possible to be safe and respectful of your dog’s nature and other dogs and people while using a Flexi. Are you suggesting all of us should stop using them so they are no longer made so that the dogblivious can’t possibly harm themselves? If not, perhaps consider adopting a more balanced argument in place of personal opinion. Stating Flexis are dangerous and then making constant exceptions to the rule in the comments section (oh *you’re* okay, you get it) suggests you’re simply seeking to stir the ‘us dog trainers’ against ‘them pet owners’ pot rather than educate.

    • My observation is we all see what we believe.

      You see creating conflict between an “us” and a “them” but you’re the one using denigrating terms like “dogblivious” and blaming “90% of dog behavior problems” on the novice. Accusing pet people of poor choices, bad management and refusal to take responsibility.

      I find the people who come to me for help universally intelligent, eager to learn, kind and devoted dog people who do the very best with the info they have.

      You critique me for not offering a “balanced” view then complain when I support some people in their use of the tool.

      As for my use of the amputated finger example – that is graphically illustrated in the company’s warnings.

      There is more, but I will let your own word choice, judgment and tone speak for you.

  34. My family and I raise service dogs for the blind – 8 so far and whelped 27 puppies. I am so glad we use a leather leash that folds to a 3 foot leash. I had so many scary moments with the retractable leashes: puppies darting out to the road, chasing another dog and having the cable around my legs, nearly had my finger’s decapitated, not to mention the lack of control for corrections. I’ve even pushed the lock button to realize a moment later that I unlocked it. You will also get burned hands with regular nylon leashes as they rip through your hands – use leather. I rarely use retractables anymore. It has long been a concern of mine that the “Dog Whisperer” allows people who have dog control issues to use the extendable leashes. These leashes allow the dogs to run and lunge at others without any control. Especially if you have large breeds (we have labradors), don’t use these leashes. Please keep yourself and your pet safe.

  35. I have a four inch scar on my leg from a retractable leash. My mother was at the dog park with me and her 65 rottie mix. she kept letting out the lead to let her go sniff. It was making me nervous, so i turned to tell her she should retract it so no-one would get clotheslined, when her dog found a friend and took off around me. it was like a hot knife cutting my leg. Never bought one since.

  36. Isn’t this really just common sense? A dog tied in a yard with one of those horrible plastic-coated wire lines is just as if not more dangerous. I’ve heard of dogs getting them wrapped around their own legs and losing limbs or running across the yard and taking out any one or anything in the path of that line. But again, if you use a little common sense you can avoid being hurt or hurting your dog. Letting kids walk the dogs on a flexi is more of a bad parenting matter.

    • My definition of “common sense” is experience that has been understood. If you don’t know the risks, you can’t know the consequences.

      I’ve known experienced dog pros who have been hurt by retractables. I guess you could blame them, too. But if you have a tool that is so dangerous for so many, doesn’t it warrant more warning? I think it does. That’s how we can help people get experience without having to get hurt.

  37. I had one that had the cord and when my dog ran it cut my back of my leg open and I had a finger cut open. So will not use any more , I ever got one that has the flat rope in it and won’t touch it I’m afraid some how it will cut me .

  38. There is virtually no control over a dog on a retractable leash which defeats the purpose of a leash in the first place. I would also add that retractable leashes are technically illegal in jurisdictions that have restrictions on the length of leashes allowed by statute. For example, in California many cities and counties limit the length of a leash to no longer than six feet. I don’t know of a retractable leash that is six feet or shorter, so by definition, they may be illegal, depending on where you live. As an animal attorney, I see retractable leashes as an unnecessary liability.

  39. I haven’t read all the comments but this one subject is dear to me. I always tell my students NO Retractable Leashes. Then one new class day, a former student came in with a new pup. She had already told me what happened to the Poodle she first brought. She wanted to talk to the class before it began.
    “NO Retractable Leashes, Listen and learn, I did not and my dog ran into the street with this leash on and It would not Lock, she was killed in front of me ON THis leash. Point Given” Class “Point Taken”

  40. I quite using the day my rottie darted out off the sidewalk in front of a parked car (there were people walking dogs on the other side of the street that he wanted to see) and came within 2 inches of being run over by a passing car !!!! I was so freaked out by this that I never used that kind of leash again.

  41. I use one when I am walking my 9 year old Lab by herself. I don’t use it if we are going to be walking in crowds, high traffic areas, or with other dogs. She does fine when it’s just the two of us, she is well trained and enjoys a little freedom. I also never use it when going places in the car or traveling. I’ve seen injuries from those and 6′ leashes and would never dream of using the retractable with our 8 year old Lab who’s a squirrel and rabbit chaser.

  42. I hate those things! I run around a lake a couple times a week and love seeing all the dogs on the trail…except for the ones on flexi-leashes that you can’t predict where they’re going to go. Two times in the past month I’ve almost been clotheslined by a small dog moving too far away from its owner (who of course wasn’t paying attention).

    As a dog rescue volunteer, they’ve always bothered me and we discourage their use to adopters. You have no control, and the locking mechanism doesn’t always hold. What’s to keep the dog from wandering unexpectedly into danger? I can’t imagine walking a dog without a leash with a loop wrapped around my wrist.

    Flexi-leashes are dangerous, period. Not just to the walker and the dog, but to people as well.

    • Hi Kate – Glad you’ve been safe so far. Dear friend’s son had a terrible bike accident when a dog on a flexi ran across the road in front of his bike. Broke his arm.

  43. I’m sorry, but I have to disagree with the tone of almost all of these posts. There is nothing wrong with a retractable lead. You have to know how to use it, and your animal needs to be properly trained. Nobody around but you and your dog? Let it run free. Somebody (person/car/bike) approaches? Reel them in. Teach them to heel while on the retractable like any other leash. In fact, it allows you to bring them in very close (2 ft) when necessary, which is harder to do with a regular leash.

    Been using these for 20 years without incident. Not sure why it’s so hard for everyone to figure out.

    • Hi Brian – My guess is that, as a man, you have upper body and hand strength that many women just don’t. So, what is easy for you may not be for many women. I see this all the time in my dog training work.

      Confused about the “very close” comment as heel is walking within inches of my side – on or off any leash. If my dog is properly trained to heel, that’s where she is. If I need a short leash to hold her there, she’s not heeling on her own, I’m manhandling her into position. Another reason I am guessing you are significantly stronger than your dog.

      • Well, my wife and teenage daughters are able to handle our 60 and 85 lb dogs on the retractable leashes, and none of us (me included) are particularly muscular.

    • Thanks, Brian. I have a very mellow, small dog. We live on a very quiet street and have never had a problem with the flexi. I think the flexi actually STOPPED my dog from pulling. She does walk at a different pace than I do, and we’re both more comfortable with some distance. If I see another dog walker or pedestrian, I reel her in. She walks with a harness and we do just fine. I know there can be risks, but I don’t think fixed leashes are a panacea. I’ve been pulled off my feet with a standard leash before. It’s a matter of good judgement. If I had a bigger dog, or a higher energy dog, I doubt if I’d use it. And my kid never uses it.

    • Hi Brian, I agree with you 100%… Proper training for owner, and dog is the key to success no matter what type of leash you use.. Sarah, I use a 16 ft retractable leash for my 110 lbs Tibetan mastiff, however I did train leash eaticate with a 6 ft lead before graduating him to the retractable with full confidence in his training..The only danger posed by a retractable lead is an untrained novice with an unruly dog..My guess is the people having grief with the flex leash are also having problems/issues controlling dogs with a regular leash… I am not attacking the the novice, but mirrowly suggesting if they get professional training life would be better for them and the well being of thier dog..

      • Being a professional trainer, I am a big supporter of professional training. However, any tool that requires pro training to use properly is a tool that needs as much warning given to the public as possible.

        I’ve known pro trainers who have been injured by this tool. It can happen in seconds, even with an otherwise well-trained dog. And if the answer to that is that those people were not good enough handlers then it is a tool that is dangerous indeed in novice hands.

        • Like any tool the flexi, if used improperly can be dangerous. That being said where do we draw the line on safety? WE have lawnmowers that won’t run unless you are in the correct postion and holding a safety bar to keep the blade spinning with warning all over the machine to keep feet away from the deck. Yet people STILL manage to remove their toes by circumventing the safety features or not using the machine properly ie: wearing sandals while mowing the lawn. Same thing with snowblowers, chainsaws, etc. What it basically comes down to is some people should not use any device because they are a clear and present danger to themselves and those around them. Lets stop blaming the device and look a lot more closely at who is using them and why they can not seem to grasp the correct way to use them. Sorry to say but in many cases I just conclude that the people should have been nominated for a Darwin award. 🙁

          • Thank you for equating retractable leashes with chainsaws, snow blowers and lawn mowers. Although, last time I looked, the leashes had many more warnings attached.

            There are major differences, of course. These leashes are sold to and used by children. These leashes are used in public where they can injure (or worse) other people and dogs.

            Some devices have more potential for harm than others and therefore people need to be aware of the risks involved. This blog helps them become aware.

  44. Like all training tools, flexi’s can be used correctly and safely or incorrectly and dangerously. Most folks who train for competition obedience use them for training (for instance, to improve speed on recalls or to prevent the dog going for the wrong glove) and for warming up at shows (when you need more than 6 feet of distance but must keep your dog on leash).

    I also walk my golden at shows and when we’re traveling on a flexi — it is locked at 4 feet while we are walking in a crowd but when we get to some open space I let him wander freely to find the spot he wants to pee and poop on. Of course, he is extremely well trained and the flexi is more to compy with him being on leash than for control. Further, I TRAIN my dogs to not be afraid of the handle falling on the ground.

    Sorry to be contrarian, but the issue isn’t the TOOL, it’s the misuse of the tool.

    • Nope, it’s the tool.

      If the tool requires that many caveats to use it should be sold from a locked case with warnings on the packaging itself.

      Pet people buying a leash assume it’s… a leash. You put it on the dog. Doesn’t occur to them that training is necessary and it’s not reasonable, IMO, to expect them to seek out info they do not know they need.

      • I agree the leashes should be sold with cautions attached. People need to know how to use them. And the dog has to be suited to it.

    • I can drop the leash, in my yard, and my dog just stops when she feels it behind her. I didn’t have to train her to do that. She just does.

  45. Thank you for this post, I hope the warning is heard far and wide. I have been training dogs for more than 40 years, 20 years training other people to train their dogs, and I couldn’t agree more with your warning. I know many people would like to see these leads banned, but that is not really necessary. In the right hands, with experienced people who use them properly, they can be useful, and relatively safe. The problem is that these leads are sold specifically to the population that doesn’t have the expertise to use them properly. For those average dog owners who haven’t had anything bad happen, my response would be ” . . . yet”. I could give people a long list of horror stories, but that would work about as well as showing teenagers pictures of horrific car crashes expecting the kids to drive slower. The very people who SHOULDN’T be using them are actually the target audience, and somehow the professionals should find a way to educate – with blogs such as yours, Sarah! My husband, with no training as a trainer whatsoever, gotta love the guy, he does walk the dogs regularly – loved the flexi leads. Until one day someone else approached with their dog on a flexi, and the other dog wasn’t well trained at all. Hubby got a nasty burn on his finger trying to keep the other dog’s cord from cutting our dog’s leg as they circled each other. The deal was sealed when we attended a fund raising event that had a lure coursing fun run set up. FYI – the flyers for the event had bold faced line of type that said “No retractable leads, please!” But there was some guy with a huge Labrador trying to use his right hand to fill out the registration form, while attempting to use his left hand to control this large dog, who by then had spotted a dog running the course, chasing the plastic bag, in full cry. Oh boy, it ran in slow motion in my mind . . . the Lab pulled that hard plastic handle easily out of the owner’s hand, and took off after the running dog, with this giant sized plastic handle chasing the Lab . . . the chaos was astonishing. Thank goodness the dogs didn’t fight over the plastic bag, to add to the wild scene. No injuries, but a long pause in the fund raising, while crews rebuilt the course, putting pulleys back into the ground, and re-hanging the snow fencing on three sides. One embarrassed man was asked to leave, and come back with a proper leash if he wanted his dog to run. They were nice about it, but tempers were short.

    Hubby now uses 6-foot leads on the dogs on walks, and no longer seems to miss the flexi leads. I still have them, use them on road trips primarily, so the dogs can stretch their legs a bit on potty breaks.

    In some communities, a dog on a retractable leash isn’t considered, legally, to be on leash at all. Check your community dog regs before considering using them.

  46. So what do you recommend instead? Both of my dogs are on retractable leashes now and always have been.

    • Hi Kim –

      For general walking? Regular leashes. That’s how Pip and I cruise when we go out for a stroll in public areas. We walk together. It’s very pleasant for both of us. That is, I know, a big shift.

  47. Do you like harnesses or just a regular around the neck leash?

  48. I really dislike folks who have no clue about these leashes and just let their dog run all over with it. Once I was taking a dog from the shelter where I volunteer to the vet office. I had no clue about this dog’s temperment, if he liked dogs or not. I went into the lobby and was trying to walk to the opposite side of the desk away from the little dog on the flex leash. Oh, it was so excited to see another dog. The lady replied, he’s friendly. I said, no clue if this one is or is not, so get your dog. The lady still did not understand my concern and just kept saying, but my dog is friendly and loves other dogs. There was 2 girls at the desk. The one come flying around the desk and grabbed the little dog just before the shelter dog who was already nervous snapped at it. The lady started cussing me out. I told her to get a rid of that flex leash since she did not seem to be able to control her dog with it. I truly do not like them.

    • A trainer friend of mine, Becky Bishop, confiscates all retractables. Tells the people they don’t have a “license to flex”. So, you’re not alone in your feelings about them.

      • Confiscating other people’s property? I’m not happy with that! People PAID for those things. You can advise against them, but they belong to the people who bought them.

        • Ah… these are from people who come to her for training help – not from the general public. My bad for not explaining that.

          That’s her style and their choice. Works for them.

    • This I can understand. People seem to think that if their dog is friendly, there’s no problem in approaching other dogs. The dog they approach may not be friendly. I ALWAYS reel my dog in if we see another dog anywhere near. I only let it extend when we’re alone in the park or on our very quiet street. In a couple of weeks we’re taking a trip to the mountains. I want her to be able to roam a bit on the trails, but don’t want her off leash. I’m taking my flexi.

  49. Simon, our shih tzu, was nearly two years old. He attended obedience training and did very well. My husband was walking him on a dark, misty winter morning as one of our neighbors was returning from a “red eye” and driving too fast in the neighborhood (because he “didn’t expect anyone to be outside at that hour”). As the car rounded a slight curve, it startled my husband and my dog. Simon ran into the street to attack the car. My husband simply couldn’t engage the lock on the leash fast enough. Simon was killed. That was 10 years ago and it is still so very painful to think about today. I’m heartbroken. We take our responsibility as guardian of our dogs very seriously. I really wish someone would have educated us about the dangers associated with the retractable leashes. Ours would have gone straight to the trash. Thanks, Sarah!

    • Oh Julie. Please accept my condolences for that loss and extend them to your DH. I’ve heard that story many times with the same terrible result. A second of startle/confusion and…

      You and your husband did not know. You thought you were doing right by Simon.

      My guess is that your story will save some other dog. Thank you for sharing it – as painful as it is.

  50. I’ve seen them used a lot on the smaller dogs. I never liked them, never tried them on my dogs. My dogs are all between 80-120 lbs. No way would I be able to control them if they decided to bolt, and I’d lose a leg in the process. There was an instance where I put my biggest outside on the metal cables they have, and this older gentlemen with his GSD came by my house. For some reason, my boy just doesnt like this dog and goes nuts. Well, I ended up with a huge gash on my leg and a sprained ankle when he took me down with it. I could only imagine what that flimsy piece of dental floss would do. I think I’ll keep the short leads I use on all my dogs.

  51. I completely agree with your article on retractable leads, and would never use them in a public place, although as a person running a rescue I do have a few of them but only use them when a dog comes in and may have worms etc. and cannot use the usual doggie area, it does give them a little more freedom and allows them to run and play a little more.

    I love your note about knocking a person down when the dog quickly gets to the end of the lead, funny enough that happened to me but thankfully I was able to adjust myself quickly enough and not fall, the funny thing is, it was a little 20 lb puppy, we were walking around and I was distracted by a new plant and wasn’t paying attention to the puppy when she took off I didn’t realize it until she hit the end of the lead which nearly took me down. Imagine if that had been an adult dog.

  52. Totally agree. My Miniature Pinscher, Ciel, ran off because of a retractable leash. I have never lost a dog in my life before or since and I lost her for 2 hours. It happened because I accidentally dropped the plastic part and it retracted after her and terrified her. She ran off and Min Pins run fast, so I could not keep up with her. I kept searching and eventually found her. We just got lucky she didn’t run in the street.

    • Many dogs are scared by that handle retracting quickly and will bolt when it “chases” them. And that is not an event most people could imagine could/would happen until they see it (or read your story). Glad you got Ciel back safe and sound.

  53. Oh flexileads how I hate you
    Riding my scooter I nearly jumped out of my skin as a small dog lept off the sidewalk to “chase” my 50CC and I nearly ran it over.
    Dogs chase noisy things, it was just being a dog and I nearly killed it because it was not on a controlled lead.
    Walking my dog, I have a reactive dog and the simplest thing to do is keep her on a short lead and away from a potential trigger – can’t do that when the other dog is on a flexi. I’ve stepped into the road to give small dogs (Rubys trigger) some space only to have them run out to us. And lets not talk about the aggressive smaller dogs on flexis who have charged my 95lb dog – why is a dog that charges on a flexi?

  54. I have a 5 year old Shih Tzu and I use a Flexi Lead all the time simply because whenever I put an ordinary lead on him if I give it the slightest pull he chokes and it is not very pleasant taking a dog for a walk when the poor thing is choking all the time. Does anybody else have this problem, most of the dogs mentioned are big dogs with strong necks not like my poor little fella.

    • Bernie, I understand your concern. I once dropped out of an obedience class without refund because the people running it would not allow us to attend if we didn’t use a little pronged choke collar on our Shih Tzu. Against my better judgement, I tried it because I was inexperienced and thought I was dealing with professionals (who came highly recommended BTW) and my little buddy woke in the middle of the night coughing for several nights thereafter. I’m extremely sensitive about the retractable leash topic now because of the accident we had with Simon (see above). We use nothing but harnesses and fixed length leads on our Shih Tzus.

    • Harness. That is all.

  55. For some reason, I grabbed my retractable lead to take my dog out for a walk. I had NEVER used it on him before and had always wondered why those leads do NOT come with a wrist loop. Well, on my walk I tripped and fell. My hand instinctively opened and the lead clattered to the ground. My dog took off into the street (where the speed limit is 55). I finally found him sitting in front of our house (a half mile from where this happened). I will NEVER use it again…

  56. About 20 yrs ago as my dog proceeded to run in a circle around me excited to see a dog friend, the cord did a wonderful job slicing my leg below the knee. Still have the scar today. People thought I had knee surgery !

  57. I only use it when I take my girl to the beach so she can play in the water. Once we are done the regular leash goes on! I’ve been hit in the mouth before and it hurts! Thanks for the info!

    • Many injuries to all would be prevented if people know to do exactly that: use a regular leash to the exercise/park area; use the retractable in a quiet area; put the regular leash back on to go home.

      Sorry you got smacked in the mouth. Glad it didn’t cost you a tooth.

  58. I live in the mountains. We have a rule up here. NO LEASHES LONGER THAN SIX FEET! A woman had her dog surrounded and killed at the end of a retractable leash. There was nothing she could do but watch in horror as her German Shepherd was carried off by the pack of coyotes. I keep my Chihuahua on a six foot leash, but I usually have it shortened to 4 feet. He is to walk next to my feet. Always! I’ve had large dogs run up on me and try to attack my dog. They are off leash. Big no no. Please people! Keep in control of your dogs. I have literally been knocked down by large dogs. I have had to curl up with my dog sheltered by my body on the ground. Not cool!

    • And how would a standard leash have warded of a pack of coyotes?

      • My guess would be that the coyotes would not have made an attempt if the dog had been next to the human. Some of the longer retractables, 20+ feet, may have allowed wandering into brush. I don’t know. What I do know is that there are multiple reports of dogs being taken off retractables and none of dogs take off a standard leash.

        • 20+ feet is really long. Longer than necessary. I just want my dog to be able to walk comfortably without having to match her pace to mine. And sniff around a little. Even when we go to the country, she’s close by. Wandering off the trail just gets her tangled, She stays within reach.

          • Agreed. Longest I’ve seen is the Flexi Explore Retractable Belt Dog Leash, Large, 26-Feet Long, Supports up to 110-Pound, Black. Way too long for my comfort. Dog can get up a big head of steam in 26 feet which increases risks to all. And I can totally picture someone patiently waiting while their dog explores some brushy spot. Not my style but who would think such a rest stop would risk their dog’s life?

  59. My GSD was attacked by two Yorkies that were on flexis at a very impressionable age. She will be 6 in October and has been reactive ever since. I hate those things unless it’s in very selective environments.

  60. When we first got Jasmine I got one of these retractable leashes to provide more freedom for her safely. It took all but couple days to see what potential risk this was. I got rid of it and never used it since.

  61. Thank you! I hate these leashes.

  62. I am 74 years old & have a SUPER strong Pit Bull . I live on 5 acres . Some one must have instruction in HOW to use a flexi leash & have had a lot of experience with dogs , to use it safely . You must have a back up collar in case it disconnects from collar . You never grab the leash . You never let it wrap around the dog , an object or a person . You NEVER let a dog run on a flexi . He walks to the end of the leash and then can explore .You always keep any leash with NO SLACK .Slack in ANY LEASH , is an invitation for an accident if the dog bolts !!!!!!!!! You can make this leash as short as you want and keep the break on . You can walk in crowds with leash locked at 2 feet . This leash can come in handy at certain times but should never be used by any one who has not received training by a professional trainer . Stores that sell these should warn buyers & vets should also warn their customers .

  63. One other reason to never use these – they WILL break after some use. I learned my lesson on these early on when walking my high-prey-drive Siberian Husky. She saw a yappy tiny terrier (off leash, of course) in the neighborhood on one of our walks, and lunged toward it. I had a firm grip, even saw this coming, but the damned thing just disintegrated in my hand. Fortunately the terrier had a head start and my Husky came back on recall (she was TDI trained and certified). NEVER again have I used on these atrocities! We warn all who adopt from our rescue to never use these, for all of the above reasons (thank you for the excellent post)!

  64. Still trying to get these banned at Pt. Isabel…they are usually attached to a baby, cup of coffee and a cell phone. Still have scar around my ankle where it went almost to the bone. FLEX LEADS ARE DANGEROUS….there is nothing better than clear communication, ANTICIPATION AND FOLLOW THROUGH! Flex leads are tools…tools of laziness and disaster.

  65. I had an adopter who was walking their Siberian Husky with one of these leashes and you know what happened next … he saw a deer, the leash was pulled out of their hand and it took 4 days to find him. He was wrapped around a tree and could have died of starvation – no way to get home, no way to get untangled.

  66. Very fortuitous that I read this now! We are new dog owners – just adopted a large, lively 2 year old mixed breed (possible border collie, chow, collie, Australian shepherd???) stray from a rural shelter. We’re working on training this rambunctious boy and thought having a flexi leash would be a good thing for him down the road! I am your target audience and really appreciate knowing the dangers. We’ll stick with our 6 foot leash.

  67. I am very aware of the dangers and I walk both my Lab and Terrier on these types of leads. If I drop my Labs handle she stops dead but the terrier is scared of leaves blowing so he ran on the one instance I dropped his, stopped when he thought it was safe and just as the handle was retracting the lead going towards him he ran again! Luckily a girl had just put a horse in a field and stopped him before he got to the road.
    A neighbour uses the Halti’s with his and I have never been a fan of the halti anyway as it just looks wrong and spiteful.
    I get what you are trying to do but I dont think you will ever get them banned as there will be many more people using these without any problems / issues ever than there is who have or will have problems / issues.
    Yes Flexi Leads are dangerous but so is breathing!

    • Hi Tony –

      Glad your terrier was caught before getting hurt. If you lived in the city, you might be here telling another story of loss.

      If you’re walking them together on two retractables, that is against the manufacturer’s advice and I assume they understand the risks posed by their product(s) better than any of us here.

      And, I wish retractables posed the same sorts of risks as breathing – then only the “user” would be harmed. But, as the many comments here show, it’s the user and the dog and passerby’s as well with retractables.

  68. Case examples as to how prevalent these accidents are? In a decade I’ve never seen or heard of an accident involving a retractable leash. Sometimes you can be over cautious. I have however broken my little finger using a chain lead. Still going to use chain leads.

    • Hi – It can sound weird to hear of a product being so risky when you have no personally had an issue with it. I take the company’s word on such matters and they warn loudly and repeatedly that these are real risks in retractable use.

      If I was just beating the drum alone, that would be one thing, but I am actually just stating what the company states.

    • My friend cut her leg on a retractable once. She still uses it. With caution.

  69. I totally agree about retractable leashes. At the MCSPCA sponsored Dog Walk and Fair too many people with little dogs use them. I have a Cattle Dog, who is really friendly but does not like being charged at, in his face, by a small dog who is on one of those leashes. By the time the 3rd dog charged at him I had it and just left the walk. I am not going to be responsible for something that might happen due to no fault of mine or my dog. I HATE those things and I don’t understand why people need to have their dogs roaming on someone’s lawn, or into the street. I, too, know someone whose dog was killed on the street, still with the leash on, just ran into the street and the owner was not paying attention. Most people with these leashes on their dogs, are on their cell phones when they are walking the dog and don’t pay any attention until it is just too late. I wish they would take them off of the market.

  70. Does anyone have a suggestion as to a leash to use that gives them a little more lead but is not a retractable? My dog likes a little leeway to so her business in the woods. Thanks.

  71. My neighbor had a young German Shepherd pup on a retractable leash. They were walking down the street, a truck was coming, the dog lunged and the cord snapped. The truck hit the dog, he died, and everyone was devastated. I tell everyone I see with one of these leashes that they are dangerous and can be deadly. If you must have a long leash, get a 20′ lunge line and wrap it around your arm when you want your dog close, then let it out when you want your dog to have more freedom. And of course, make sure you’re in a safe place for your dog to have that much space. I believe retractable leashes should be banned.

  72. To be fair, I understand the dangers of retractable leashes but continue to use one with my leash-reactive foster. As we work on sensitizing and conditioning him to new environments it has been extremely helpful in managing his leash-reactive behaviour and helping him to learn to interact with the world.

    It makes me very uncomfortable to hear someone completely pan a tool that can be extremely helpful and necessary in certain cases.

    • Hi Anne –

      So I am gathering you’re working with a trainer so got coaching on this tool’s use. I am also gathering you have a dog who lunges on leash and are using a retractable to allow him to interact with… other dogs? Other people?

      Yikes – that makes me very uncomfortable!

      I do not “completely pan a tool”, I am giving warnings the company gives. This is not a “leash” like other strap leashes but a more complicated tool that poses real risks.

  73. I’m with Maureen on banning the things. They are a danger to dogs, owners, car drivers and passer’s by. I bear the scar from one of these things; 3 inches wide and it was 4mm deep when it happened.
    I was out with a friend and his dog as we neared the road from the park we were in he pulled the lead right in and locked it in place; a motorbike spooked his dog who then jerked causing the lead to UNLOCK itself. As my friend yanked the dog back to stop it being hit by a car that was heading straight for it the dog ran across in front of me where the rope did it’s damage. His dog at the time weighed just 8kg and he was on a 50k lead.
    I had one for my own dog when she was a pup; luckily we were in some woods when she trotted in front of me (and it she was literally not going faster than a slow trot) and she just kept going; the lead had just pulled itself out; I had the holder in my hand and was watching the lead bounce on the ground behind my dog. Luckily she wasn’t a runner; had she been I dread to think of the consequences

  74. I do use a retractable leash with my grand-dog. I am in my 60s and a back injury doesn’t allow me to comfortably or easily walk on uneven (i.e. unpaved) ground. I live in an area without sidewalks, so the leash allows my older grand puppy (well-trained, well-behaved) to “wander” a little. I can be on the road, she can get a little more exercise than I can give her while I dog-sit.

    I appreciate all that you shared, and certainly don’t recommend it for a younger, more active dog, or in city areas. And thank you for writing the piece and for the warnings.

  75. The thing that bothers me most is that people don’t seem to understand that a dog 10 feet ahead of them on the sidewalk could easily go 10 feet to the side of them, well into the street. Just because the dog walks nicely out in front doesn’t mean it isn’t capable of suddenly darting in another direction and they’d have no way to control it.

    I’ve also had the experience of people letting their “friendly” dogs out the length of the leash and in my dog’s face. Now I have a reactive dog. I try to avoid other walkers, going out of my way not to walk when others might, but I still can’t get away from all of them, many with retractable leashes. I tell them to reel in their dogs. They tell me maybe if I didn’t keep my dog away, allowing him to “read my body language of fear”, he’d be fine.

    Just as they don’t seem to understand the law of physics as to length of retractables, they don’t seem get that even though their dog may be friendly (or not), it doesn’t mean the other dog will be (or should have to be).

    I wish retractable leashes were ONLY sold to trainers. Maybe if people began to sue…

    • This was what happened to me! My dog is still working on her manners and this other lady let her dog come say hi without asking permission. Her dog wrapped around me with the flexi leash and I have a huge gash on the back of my knee!

  76. I spent a good deal of time writing a comment in support of warnings about retractable leashes and it’s gone now because you decided I was a spammer. You probably won’t get this one either. Too bad. I appreciated your article.

    Beyond frustrated

    • Actually, I have no part of who is seen as a spammer or not. They system does that and, in general, does a pretty good job. It spares us 100’s of spam comments a day. But it is imperfect and every once and a while casts out a good one. Once you alerted me, I found your comment and approved it.

      Sorry you were frustrated.

  77. I have been raising both maltese and silky terriers for almost 20 years. Several years ago I received an Email from a lady saying she had recently sadly lost her maltese. Her name sounded familiar to me and I naturally checked my records and I found that she had purchased her maltese from me about a year and a half previously. I sent back an Email to her asking if her dog’s mom and dad were those of two of my maltese. They were. She called and she told me what had happened to her dog. She had been walking him with this type of leash when he saw a squirrel and he happily took off running to chase the squirrel. He of course was running at his top speed and when he got to the end of the leash , the leash yanked him and flipped him thus causing him to break his neck. This was a very tragic end for such a lovely young dog! I was relating this tragedy to my vet and one of the groomers at my vet clinic. They too felt these leashes were unsafe both because of injuries and untimely deaths to pets and injuries such as torn off fingers and accidents to the owners that have used these leashes.

    • Gail – I’m so sorry to hear this. Small dogs + top speed + physics is a dangerous combo as your sad story tells. Thank you for sharing it here. People need to know the potentials so they can make a fully informed choice.

  78. I will never forget the time, I was driving and a man was walking beside a fairly busy road, his dog at the end of a 20 foot flexi, the dog saw a rabbit, ran right out in front of my car, and I killed the dog. I was absolute devastated, and still the owner was yelling at me, screaming that it was my fault. The dog crossed 2 lanes before getting in front if my car. How is that being incontrol of your dog?!?!? Ill never forget that day )c;

  79. A big dog who pulls excessively or bolts can injure a walker on any kind of leash. Wrists can be broken by wrist straps. Any leash can be dropped. I agree the retractable should come with some training and clear warnings, but I’m not sure I would ban it. The one time I was pulled off my feet and injured I was using a standard leash. It’s not for every dog, every owner, or every circumstance.

  80. All 94 lbs of me walk both my 220 lb Newfoundland and my 150 lb St. Bernard together on regular leashes and although they are pretty much well-trained couch potatoes, I’m always amazed at the retractable leash owners with their 10 lb yapper who are in awe of me. “What’s your secret?” I always say its all in the leash! I have control (they do NOT), I can keep my dogs close (they CANNOT) and I still have ten fingers (big added bonus)! Retractable owners don’t understand when you let your yapper charge 20 feet ahead of you into the faces of two giant breeds (who, by the way, love all animals) you are taking a huge chance regardless of how friendly they are. Do YOU like some in your face??? Reel your dog in and teach them proper socializing etiquette. Oh, and buy yourself a REAL leash! Not everyone thinks your dog is as cute as you do, particularly when you are a football field away at the other end of what you call a “leash” and your dog is jumping all over me and my beasts!

    • Don’t blame the leash, blame the owner/operator! It doesn’t matter what leash you use if not used carefully and correctly the results can be the same.

      • Hi Gordon – Actually, not true. In 25+ years of professional training and dog care as well as speaking to many thousands of dog people on the Net, I haven’t had a single serious burn or amputation injury, not one “killed while on leash” nightmare and only very rarely a pull down injury with a strap leash. No dogs have died lunging at a squirrel on a strap leash while one doxie I know over snapped his own neck doing so on when he hit the end of a retractable at full speed.

        Glad you have not had an issue but that does not mean issues are not possible or even are rare. They are not. The companies know this. No strap leash has such warnings attached because there is no need.

    • We don’t all have yappers on 20 foot leads. Mine is so called yapper who is well trained and responds to instructions. She is also well and responsible socialised. The owner should be in charge, lead or not and I would take insult if slotted into the “yapper” category. There is also the problem of dogs being too big for their owners and I have to protect my very small delicate dog from them and their “walked” owners on a regular basis. It goes all ways.

  81. I am 15 years old and I have a 1 year old(12/01/12) 75% Staffordshire Terrier/ 25% Boxer pup. He is the most social dog ever, compared to our poodle/bichon frise who is on probation. I always use a 6 ft nylon leash. i only use the flexi when we go to the park at night so we can play with the frisbee safely. Our dog has not bitten anyone or any other dog. I take him out to play every other day and I introduce him to my friends at school so he can be socialized. We have had him since he was 8 weeks. I have a question also, is it true that a dog does not see you as its alpha if he sleeps in the same bed as you? He has been sleeping with me since he was 10 weeks old. I am the first person he sees in the morning and the last person he sees at night. He spends most of his time with me. He is trained in english, some german, and i want to teach him more german and chinese.

  82. Those Flexi leashes should be banned. There are so many warnings because of all the injuries throughout the state. In 2005, while outside talking to my husband. Our 9 month old Samoyed jumped to play and in less than a second the cord sliced off my finger on my opposite hand that was in the air while I was talking. I had 2 long surgeries to make a new top digit. I lost work days. Was incompacitated for 4 months with occupational therapy. My hand will be scared for life and that finger will never look or feel normal.

    • Dear Karen – that is horrible. No way you or your husband knew that was the risk of an item called a “leash”. Such moments happen in seconds and all because your puppy was being a puppy and you were chatting with your husband. So very sorry to read your story and that you suffered such a lost but I thank you for sharing it here so people can understand what can happen to normal people with normal dogs doing normal things.

  83. Sarah,

    Thank you for raising the issue of retractable leads. We reported back in 2012 of a lady badly burned and hurt by the nylon cord from a retractable lead after becoming tangled.
    We’ve heard of a couple of incidents since then. Unfortunately, even a small dog on a long lead can cause serious injury, and these accidents happen so quickly!
    I no longer use one, but started carrying a small pair of scissors on my key ring when this came to light. I’m sure there are many pet owners out there who’ve been injured, that we just don’t know about.


    Judy Oakley

    Pet Owners Association

  84. Thank you for stating this on your well respected blog. I spend too much of my time as a pet dog trainer telling people to get rid of that retractable leash that should only be used to exercise their dog on road trips in an unfenced area, or as you stated, for particular supervised training situations. Why would anybody prefer that big bulky plastic handle that prevents communication up and down the leash? Dogs learn that they don’t have to pay attention and humans are constantly randomly throttling their dogs as they lock or unlock these leashes without warning. This is bad for the relationship between dogs and people as well as the other very real dangers you pointed out.

    • Well said, Naomi. That’s a whole other level that I did not attempt to address in a blog. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Sarah

  85. Obviously I am in the minority but I have used flex leashes for over 20 years and have never had a problem. I have, however, been pulled to the ground when walking a dog on a regular leash. I suppose common sense plays a big part in many things but I don’t need a warning sticker on the cord of my hair dryer telling me not to use it in the shower either.

  86. I am a volunteer for Mutts Matter Rescue in Rockville,MD. I would like to ask your permission to share the retractable dog leash dangers with our volunteers and new adopters. Thank you. Vicki

    • Thanks for asking, Vicki. ANY of my blogs can be used by anyone as long as the blog and I get credit. Does that sound fair?

  87. The only possible reason for using a retractable lead in any public space other than for training in your own back yard is pure and simple. LAZINESS full stop. It is sooo much easier to just amble along letting your dog do all the work running about while the owner shuffles along behind (or worse still – chats to someone thereby standing still and not even having to MOVE THEIR LEGS. The other reason is if the dog stops to do its business, the owner can continue walking and pretend that the dog hasn’t stopped thereby avoiding picking up behind. I have seen this happen so let’s not pretend it doesn’t. What did people do BEFORE this ridiculous invention? Open the front door and tell Fido to take himself for a walk no doubt.

  88. I wish I had read this before. I lost my Chihuahua, Bailey two days ago because of a faulty retractable lead 🙁 I had no chance of stopping him from running in a road and getting hit. Never, ever will I use a lead like that again. It’s not worth the risk of losing my boy because a longer lead let him run around more. I just hope people read this and reconsider a retractable lead and don’t have to go through what my now smaller family are having to go through.

    • Sarah –

      I am so sorry for your loss of Bailey. That very thing has happened to many – the brake jams or catches for that critical second. And it only takes a second. Even leashes with functioning brakes can lead to trouble when it is a second that makes the difference. Hugs {{{ }}} to you and your family as you work through your grief. – Sarah

      • Thanks you for your thoughts Sarah. Bailey was on his way to come and see me at work so we could go out for a lunch time walk. He didn’t make it here, if the crossing traffic lights only changed a second sooner things would have been different. It is a great loss, such a good little character, followed us around the house, or he would be sitting under a radiator. Its hard being in the house without him around 🙁 He was greatly loved and he gave some much unconditional love back. I miss our little boy Bailey. I’m putting a little website together in memory of him, still working on it at the moment, soo much to say about him. I will certainly add a link to this article.

  89. I think flexi leases have their place. I always train a puppy (and our one adult rescue dog) on a regular lease for MONTHS before using a flexi leash. The dog must respond to my voice commands and I use the break as a reminder when needed. When walking, I stay aware of my surroundings and shorten and lock the leash when around people, etc. Out current goodlendoodle/ shepherd has been taught to heal on the flexi leash and does a great job. I can apply the break any time I need to but usually just remind her. When we are alone and walking its nice for them to have the freedom to go ahead and behind for a quick sniff. All our dogs know to stay by the curb as they walk and move over is a command they know . I only use tape leashes–never the cords. People can be irresponsible and kids should probably not use them but they aren’t as bad as they can be portrayed here.

    • So with months of careful pre-training, constant vigilance and knowledgable use they are safe? That supports the article well, I think, that they are not for general or casual use.

      Much of what I portray here are simply part of the warnings a manufacturer supplies on their own site. I trust that they are saying accurate things about the product they produce. Last time I looked, these leashes had more warnings (word for word) than some handguns and chainsaws.

  90. Hey people one must have an average level of common since and logic in using anything! Your dinner fork and knife can cause Sirius injury’s and getting in and out of a shower can be dangerous to your health also! LOL
    STOP and use your head! Yes your head was given to you to think with and not just to grow hair on!!
    A regular leash can inflect the same injuries as these retractable leashes do! Gee take up piano lessons or something, or maybe you will fall off the bench and break your back!?!?!
    Get a life dumb assess

    • Actually, they can’t. Never heard of a regular leash causing to-the-bone lacerations or a single amputation. Never had a client report their dog being killed by a car on a regular leash. The list goes on.

      If the same risks were posed by normal leashes, those companies would have the same warnings attached. They do not.

      Retractable leashes are significantly more risky that a regular leash.

  91. I only use a retractable leash with my well-behaved small chihuahua. A big dog, or one that would run? Absolutely not.

  92. It is true about getting cut- my wife got a small one on leg when our Westie bolted. I attached a cord loop to handle that goes around my wrist so I cant lose leash if it comes out of my hand especially if wearing gloves in winter. It happened once and the dog kept running after rabbit- didn’t care at all about the trailing leash. When a Westie sees a squirrel or rabbit it goes into hunt mode- sneaks up and then chases. I join in the fun and run down sidewalk with my dog Katie in full pursuit! I always pick up the poop

  93. I did know about the retractable dangers, but I am so glad that you wrote this post, because I know many dog owners don’t know about it. I am very excited to meet you tomorrow at BBCSTL! Holy moly, you’ve had a ton of views on this! Congrats!

  94. Nope. I had no idea, Sarah! Unfortunately, our dog died a couple years ago at the age of 16 yrs. and we did use these often. Now that my son has a new one year old dog, I will be certain to advise him of this. I am aware that he doesn’t currently use a retractable leash but just in case…
    Great advice! Thanks!

    • Sorry for your loss, Dana. You clearly did a great job loving your dog to get them to 16.

      Thanks for sharing the info with your son. The more people are informed, the more people can make informed choices for their dogs and themselves.

  95. Wow! Thank you so much for this post. I’ve never used a retractable collar just because my dogs need a steady and firm lead for walking, but this post ensures that I never will!
    Its so important to get the word out there and spread awareness, I’ll be sharing this with my friends!

  96. These leashes should be banned. I never liked them before, but now I hate them more because I’m suffering from cuts behind my knee. Another dog owner let her dog wrap around me and then locked the leash quickly, and it sliced through. Using these is very irresponsible when you are around other people and other dogs.

  97. I’ve been thinking of getting one just for letting my dog swim. He can not be trusted off leash as he has bitten other dogs, and so I always have him leashed and under control. But we go to a park with a stream, and he likes to swim. I find the standard leash very limiting for this, especially if the water is too cool for me to wade in very far. DO you think If I carried it with me and only used it when he was in the water, it would be low risk, or completely unadviseable?

    • Hi Julie –

      Only you can know what is safe for you and your dog. One question I would ask myself is, “If my dog hits the end of the leash at a full run, can I manage that?” With a dog who has hurt other dogs before, this is a key question.

      Best – Sarah

  98. Holy Toledo….had my Boxer on a retractable leash (today)….never ever again. I sit here currently feel like I here feeling like I’ve been in a car accident. We were in the front yard (I always keep him leashed in the front yard because he’s a runner. A cat comes running by and my boy was off…..on top of being yanked from here to kingdom come, he snapped the leash when it got to the end of the line. What was left, snapped back and i have a NASTY burn on my arm….and my daughter watched our Boxer run full speed out of sight. Thank Goodness my older son ran after him and eventually got him back. NO MORE RETRACTABLE for this family!

    • Wow, Christie! So sorry to hear this.

      I’m glad your Boxer is safe and I hope your arm heals up quickly. It’s amazing how much momentum can be built up in the length of those leashes!


  99. Hi, I agree that these leads can be dangerous for the reasons you’ve outlined. However I have used them for over a decade and they are my no. 1 choice to give the dog the most freedom as possible. I have found that you have to train your dog up so that they know never to pull or take off suddenly. I always use a choker chain on the large dogs for safety.

    The handler has to concentrate and know what their dog is doing or planning to do. Too many owners lose focus and are caught by surprised when their dogs take off suddenly, often because they are not watching them.

    Finally there is a new type of retractable lead on the market which has an inertia brake. This lead automatically locks if the dog takes off too quickly, it acts similar to how a seatbelt locks if you pull it too fast.

  100. Hi, I agree that these leads can be dangerous for the reasons you’ve outlined. However I have used them for over a decade and they are my no. 1 choice to give the dog the most freedom as possible. I have found that you have to train your dog up so that they know never to pull or take off suddenly. I always use a choker chain on the large dogs for safety.

    The handler has to concentrate and know what their dog is doing or planning to do. Too many owners lose focus and are caught by surprise when their dogs take off suddenly, often because they are not watching them.

    Finally there is a new type of retractable lead on the market which has an inertia brake. This lead automatically locks if the dog takes off too quickly, it acts similar to how a seatbelt locks if you pull it too fast.

  101. I’ve a young small dog who is responding very well to training with the retractable lead. I never take him along busy roads. I continually bring him to heel, reward him and let him go again. When I meet people or cars, I bring him in and lock the lead. I’m aiming to eventually have him unleashed and the retractable is an ideal lead for this. DO people not realize that with a touch of the button, it becomes a normal lead, at the length you require. I started using the lead inside the house, then in my fully fenced garden, then on the beach, and he’s a good obedient little mate now. We are now working on ‘Stay’, which a must if you want to have your dog unleashed. Once again the retractable is an ideal tool.

  102. How many times has an out of control dog wrapped a leash around someone’s legs and tripped them? How about the trainer or handler that told them to put their hand though the loop at top and the dog saw a critter and took off. What happened? the dog pulled them down and broke a shoulder, a wrist or an arm. I know this to be true as it happened to two people I know personally. A good trainer or handler would never tell you this.
    I you are walking your behaved dog on a leash for pleasure and not to use the bathroom they are wonderful. If you walking for the bathroom the retractable leash is much better.
    I have trained and walked many a dog in the past 15 years and I do know what I’m talking about.

    • True, I know people injured using strap leashes but… not remotely as many or as many dogs killed or any amputations. These leashes have a higher risk of more serious injury without a doubt.

      Ask the companies.

      No regular strap leash comes with such a detailed list of risks and warnings. In fact, none that I know of come with any warnings.

      That alone supports the dangers better than any other fact.

  103. I use a flexible lead for my pug. She is deaf and can’t hear me calling her. I only ever extend it where it is safe for her to run ahead of me. I wouldn’t do it on the street. I know how the brake works and can stop her in an instant if need be. If it weren’t for the flexi lead her walks would be very restricted and because she is deaf I can’t risk letting her off. I admit it is not something I would use on a large dog.

  104. I have serious cuts on both of my legs, that occurred when another persons dog (on a retractable leash) ran around me while playing with my dog. I haven’t gone to the
    doctor, but the wounds are turning red and hurting, so I will try to be seen my a PA or doctor tomorrow.

    • Ouch!

      Yes, see your doc ASAP. If ANY red lines going up your leg you RUSH to the ER, today!

      Until then, compresses of diluted betadine or chlorhexidine as hot as you can stand them for 10-15 minutes a few times a day is advice I’ve gotten in the past for wounds. But doctor ASAP – please!

      Those cuts can be deep and those cords dirty; a bad combo for a nasty infection.

  105. Sarah, thank u for this article. This information will help me and others who did not know any better.

  106. I think these retractable leashes have been made for people who are bored. They give “that sense” of freedom, but i have seen them break, i have seen people get tangled and fall.
    Nothing better than having a regular leash and a balanced dog. I walk all 3 of my dogs with regular leashes, simultaneously.

  107. I bought a retractable lead for my German Shepherd hoping it was going to be a safer way for her jumping on and off a boat we had hired on the Norfolk Broads. We bought the right size for her weight and went into the garden to try it. I stupidly asked my husband to call her so I could see how long it was, 2 seconds later I was face planted in my lawn with a leg broken in 3 places, torn tendons in same leg and arm. I ended up in plaster for 9 weeks and now 3 months on still unable to walk without crutches. We had to cancel holiday. If only I had known. This should never be used on large dogs especially and mine is now banned.

  108. We were using retractable leashes with our dogs for years; nobody could convince us against it … till today ,when the leashed almost suffocated our dog to death while she suddenly started to play with another dog and got tangled around the neck. The horrific, desperate cry of the dog and our inability to help seemed forever . Eventually, with Angel’s help we got her free . .. Please , don’t wait until this horror happens to you , keep your dog safe on a regular leash.

    • So glad your dog and you are safe. Thank you for sharing your story so honestly with others. You may well save others from such a frightening moment.

  109. Here is the larger picture. These leads should not be used on dogs that are not well-trained and 98% of the dogs out there are not well trained. Sadly most of the people railing against these leads have not invested the time to train their dogs properly. It comes down to this, if you want to get a dog be prepared to train it. If you’re not prepared to train it don’t get the dog. If you truly love your dog like you say you do then the animal should listen to every command you give it by the time it is one year old. If you think I’m not being realistic then you’re one of those people who haven’t got the time to invest in their dog and shouldn’t own one.

  110. Great post Sarah!
    When we work with our pups, we never rely on retractable leashes. Walking a dog is always a chance to train and set boundaries. It is difficult to communicate to your dog when they are 20 feet ahead of you.




  112. OH MY! I have used retractable leashes before – on big and little dogs and am well aware of how. I was just, a few minutes ago, about to go buy my about-to-be adopted chihuahua sized dog one. I really wanted one so she can move a little farther away so I don’t trip on her. And also, because the regular leash often gets caught under her leg. I do not walk her in crowded areas, just leisurely walks in the neighborhood. Now I am confused about what to do!

    • Hi Laura –

      Congrats on your adopted companion. With small dogs, I think a short “strap” leash to a harness is the safest thing. Partly because it allows me to get to the dog quickly should an off leash dog with questionable intent suddenly appear.

  113. I TOTALLY agree. It boggles my mind how many people with large, powerful dogs use these. There was an elderly couple shuffling along with their Chow on a retractable leash as I was walking to my car. I didn’t see them on the other side of my car (SUV) until I was nearly in hand-shaking range. The dog lunged at my throat – coming within inches. I was able to step back and turn my head, but the gentleman was nearly pulled off his feet. The leash was extracting as the dog lunged. To add to the insanity my dogs were watching me from the front large window and started body slamming the window to get to me. That really frightened to man (I have two Amstaffs…one of whom is 91 lbs and quite strong). I was able to turn around and give them the calm down hand signal – but for a second I thought they were going to break the window. The man and his Chow live on our street – about 6 houses down. I have noticed they sometimes tie the dog to the bumper of their truck in the morning…luckily not on a retractable for that. He barks and snarls as we go by, but my dogs have gotten used to him and ignore him now.

    This morning in the vet’s lobby the lady next to me had a hyper German Shepherd puppy on a retractable and kept letting the dog get close to my dog because both were friendly. My dog was in there for a staph infection. I don’t like to let my dogs greet dogs at the vet in case their dog is in there for something contagious like that.

    Also – I have seen a few pit bull type dogs and a large Rottweiler on retractable leashes. The Rottweiler and a couple of the pit bull type dogs were pulling their handlers all over the place and all I could think is…OMG…that string is going to snap.

    I am not perfect. I was at my sister’s property (8 acres) which wasn’t fenced in at the time. She initially told me her dogs were friendly with other dogs and it wasn’t till I got there that I found out that one of her dogs snaps when being sniffed. So I decided to keep my dogs separated. She also told me her back yard was fenced in and secure. It was a 5 ft. fence with chicken wire…my dogs could jump that in a heartbeat. So I was hanging out with my dogs tied to my car with 50′ leads. We had a system of rotating dogs and people in and out of the house. Well – I made the mistake of tying them to the pole that holds the hatch up (we do this at the beach with no issues). My niece made the mistake of coming outside with a yelping puppy. My two ran off and when they hit the end of the lead the bar was bent in almost a 45 degree angle. Lesson learned on that one.

  114. My Goldendoodle puppy was on a leather short leash and my sheltie was on the retractable tape. The puppy always jumps for the tape leash to play. Last week, she got tangled in it and got two cuts on her tongue, according to the vet, which will never heal. I’d like to send you those photographs for your article which is still valid, especially since the retractable tape leashes today are thinner and reinforced.

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