9 Pros & Cons of Retractable Dog Leashes, Plus Safety Tips

Retractable dog leashes are great... or are they?

Updated February 5, 2024
Woman Walking Dog in Park

When they're properly used, retractable dog leashes can provide an outlet for dogs that want to run and need more exercise. They're popular because they allow the dog some more speed and freedom than more traditional leashes. But safety concerns around dog-dog greetings and risks,  like dropping the leash handle, have a lot of pet professionals steering folks away from retractable leashes. So what are these concerns and what's this really mean for you and your dog?

The Pros of a Retractable Dog Leash

hand holding an extendable dog leash

The benefits of retractable leashes include:

Increased Movement

Your dog can have greater freedom of movement, which can enrich their walks and overall quality of life.

Useful for Exercise

They allow you to exercise a dog that has more energy and wants to move at a faster pace.

For Training

They're useful for training the recall (come) command, just as you would with a long line.

Cons of Retractable Leashes 

The downside to these leashes involves safety concerns for both the dog and their owner. Pet professionals and long-time pet owners alike have voiced concerns over:

Not As Secure

Dogs have been known to run far ahead of their owners. If you're off balance with a larger dog, you may not be able to hold on to the leash securely.

Cords Can Fail

The cords inside the leash housing can fail, allowing dogs to run ahead and find themselves in traffic or other dangerous predicaments.

The End of the Line

Dogs running out ahead of you that suddenly hit the end of the line can suffer neck and trachea injuries.

Risk of Aggression

Too much freedom might allow your dog to run up to other dogs that may be aggressive, which can lead to fights. "Never use a retractable leash with a dog that has aggression issues in a location where you might run into another person or dog," says Certified Dog Behavior Consultant Adria Karlsson, MAT, EdS, CDBC. If your dog is 16 to 20 feet away from you, it's more difficult to control a possible incident.

Need to Know

If your dog has leash aggression, it's important to use a traditional leash.

Risk to Both People and Pets

Retractable leashes pose a risk to people and have caused serious injuries. If the cord is taut and you grab it or it hits open skin, you can severely cut yourself or your dog or get burned.

Training Concerns

If you are working on teaching your dog not to pull, using a retractable leash can be confusing to the dog. The dog is being asked to walk closely to you on one type of leash where pulling will not be reinforced. They then switch to another leash that promotes pulling. This can be counterproductive since you're giving the dog an inconsistent message.

One option is to train the dog with a cue for each behavior, but you may find this more difficult if you are not yet skilled with training. Alternatively, you can wait until your dog is fully trained to walk nicely before introducing the retractable leash.

Related: 5 Dog Training Plan Must-Haves & Ready-to-Use Example

Safety Tips for Using a Retractable Leash

Woman walking with her dog

If you decide to use a retractable leash with your dog, there are some steps you can take to reduce the risks and make things a bit safer. 

Train Your Dog

At a minimum, train your dog to come when called and to sit or stop when asked. This allows you to avoid any potential issues, like chasing a squirrel or running into the street. Teaching a "leave it" command is also useful in case your dog comes near some appetizing item they shouldn't eat. They can just leave that dead frog on the trail (ICK!).

Use a Chord to Tie the Leash Handle to Your Wrist

It's easy to drop a retractable leash, and then the rewind mechanism jumps toward your dog, possibly scaring them to run away. Prevent this by tying a string to the handle and around your wrist, so the leash won't drop if your hand releases.

Replace Anytime You See Fraying on the Chord

If a retractable pet lead becomes sluggish or shows signs of fraying, the winding mechanism may be off-balance and fail to rewind properly. Replace the leash in this situation.

Don't Use It Wet

If the cord or ribbon becomes wet, leave it open (not retracted) until it's dry to prevent mildew and decay.

Get the Right Size

Narrow leashes are appropriate for small dogs, while wider leads are for larger breeds. Most manufacturers give recommendations for specific dog sizes on the packaging. Take a look at the back of the package to see if your dog's weight is listed.

Wear Pants

Avoid wearing shorts or clothing that leaves parts of your leg exposed to avoid any injuries if the leash touches your skin and the dog lunges.

Pay Attention

Pay attention to your dog at all times. Don't talk on a cell phone or be otherwise distracted. This is true of all leashes, but especially retractables, as your dog is farther away.

Retractable Leashes and Your Dog

Though retractable dog leashes are convenient and give both dogs and owners greater freedom and control, they must be used properly to be effective and safe. Make sure you weigh the pros and cons, as well as your dog's size, personality, and level of training, before deciding to get one.

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9 Pros & Cons of Retractable Dog Leashes, Plus Safety Tips