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Does your Dog need a Retractable Leash? Why we think not.

Many of you reading this may not agree with the stance we take on this, but some of you may think of your leash differently after reading it. We wrote this blog because it is close to our hearts. A very good friend of ours ended up in the hospital with a broken elbow and hip when she got tangled up in a retractable leash at the park. The woman that entangled her ran away and left her there unable to walk while passerby's came to her side. The other woman has still never been found 2 years later, so no charges could ever be pressed. This left my friend with 2 surgeries, a month in the hospital (including assisted living because she lives in a walk up), thousands in medical bills, a year of physical therapy and paying for someone to care for her own dog while she was on the mend. You never really heal after all of this and retractable leash injuries are much more common than you might think. 

Does a dog really need to have the freedom to explore while a pet parent looks away and lets the lead get longer and longer and longer...Those modern day gizmos that make dog walking a fear factor sport.    


German inventor Manfred Bogdahn designed one of the first retractable leashes. He got the idea for freedom on a leash as he calls it back in 1972 while walking his dog. If the lead could extend then a dog could start and stop several times along the way while not forcing the pet owner to do the same. That innovative concept forever changed the dog walking experience for man’s best friend.


But did it change for the better? These leashes generate almost as much controversy as today’s Presidential tweets. They have even polarized pet parents into extremist groups of lovers vs. haters. I can attest that retractable rage is very real because I experienced it first-hand recently when I casually mentioned that I was writing this blog.   

Why does a dog leash ignite such heated debates of good and evil? It’s because retractable leashes have proven to be mini weapons of mass destruction.    


The leash itself is nothing more than a thin cord wrapped around a spring-loaded device housed inside a plastic handle. The touch of a button extends the cord out to lengths up to 26 feet. The extra distance feature is what people love about them. They believe that giving their dog more room to explore makes them happier and more fulfilled. On the other hand, it’s this 20 feet of slack that creates an expansive danger zone where everyone in it is at risk. At this distance, pet owners can’t control their dogs or the life threatening situation at hand which leads to very serious and sometimes fatal injuries. That’s why people hate them.  


It’s important that pet owners understand the basic mechanics, operating techniques, and possible dangers of a retractable leash before using them. Phil Blizzard, CEO and Founder of ThunderWorks which makes ThunderLeash, admits that safety is a concern. He says that’s why their retractable leashes come with a how-to-manual. But honestly, who reads manuals?   

FLEXI, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of retractable leashes, has a disclaimer page on its website that reads in part like this:  

A copy of the Special Precautions & Directions booklet is included in every leash packaging.

Download safety instructions:

for cord leashes
for tape leashes
for VARIO leashes

Read the special precautions below before using a flexi leash. Failure to follow these safety precautions can result in serious injury. Because this leash is retractable, it requires special precautions to reduce the risk of injury. Read this pamphlet before using your leash and save it for future reference.

Do you really want to use a product that is out right telling you it is dangerous? Remember, this is you and your best friend’s life at stake. 

Flexi's site also states "This leash should only be used by responsible people who have read and can follow all of these precautions. Anyone who uses this leash must be able to control the dog and watch the dog closely at all times to keep it from running off or wrapping anyone in the cord/tape/belt. Keep out of reach of small children. Never let anyone play with this leash."

Here are just a couple real life reasons-

  • A guy driving in a neighborhood after dark sees a man walking down the street. He then notices that his dog is walking on the other side alone. Luckily, he brakes just in time so the owner can reel in the retractable leash and bring the dog back by his side avoiding a potentially devastating outcome.   

  • An owner walks his dog alongside a busy main road. He has slung the retractable leash over his shoulder with the cord extended to about 12’ behind him. He never once looks back to see if his dog is in danger let alone if he is still there. This was an accident just waiting to happen.


Neck-related injuries are the most common to dogs for the obvious reason:  collars/leashes. The retractable leash is the most life threatening. According to holistic veterinarian Dr. Peter Dobias the pulling action by the dog along with the repetitive stop-and-go braking by the owner applies a force on the collar which in turn presses on vital organs (thyroid gland, jugular vein, carotid artery, cervical spine, and cervical nerves). The resulting problems are often misdiagnosed and therefore not treated properly.

Here are some symptoms to watch for and report to your veterinarian if you use a retractable leash:

  • Paw licking – In response to numbness or a pins-and-needles sensation in their neck, dogs lick and chew their paws. These injuries are often misdiagnosed with allergies.

  • Armpit Scratching – this same tingling pain sensation can cause tightness of the armpit muscles.

  • Hypothyroidism – the thyroid gland is very superficial in the neck and therefore prone to physical damage. An injury can result in inflammation whereby the body creates antibodies against the gland which leads to hypothyroidism.  

  • Ear Scratching/Infections – Injuries to the upper cervical spine C1-C3 are prone to ear problems. The neck is crucial for providing the energy flow to the ears and collar injuries play a big role.

  • Epilepsy/Seizures – Pressure on the jugular vein increases intracranial pressure which increases the likelihood of epilepsy in a predisposed dog.  

But far worse, retractable leashes have been known to kill. Take the case where a dog bolted into traffic and was hit by a motorcycle before the owner could retract the cord.  Critical Care Specialist Dr. Garret Pachtinger said the dog suffered a torn trachea - not from the blunt trauma caused by the direct impact of the motorcycle - but from the pulling injury caused by the collar/leash on the cervical neck and trachea. Thankfully, the dog recovered.


Dogs can suffer emotional trauma as well. When a runaway pulls the handle out of its owner’s hand, the sound of it dropping scares the dog. That sound creates a forever lingering fear in the animal not only of the leash, but of being walked. That behavioral symptom might even be hard for a dog whisperer to diagnose.   

But the cons don’t stop there. Retractable leashes literally teach a dog to pull which is contrary to all principles of dog training. They quickly learn that the more they pull the greater distance they can travel.  


Danger is not limited to the streets.  Prompted by a serious biting incident and potential lawsuit, Dr. Paul Potenza of New Canaan, Connecticut built a half wall in his waiting area to separate standard and retractable leashed dogs which are problematic in small enclosed spaces.   

Mounds Pet Food Warehouse took an even more extreme approach to ensure the safety of their shoppers.  They banned retractable leashes from their five Wisconsin stores. Customers are now asked to borrow a standard 6-foot leash to use while shopping.  


If you do use a retractable leash, please consider these guidelines as a code of conduct so everyone stays safe.   

  • Respect other owners/dogs around you by retracting the leash so your dog is close to you.

  • Be mindful some dogs might not be friendly.  Calming an aggressive dog is almost impossible.

  • Buy good quality leashes made with a belt or tape, not a cord.

  • Choose the right size for your dog.  Leashes are rated by weight and cheaper knock-offs are not.  

  • Constantly be aware of your surroundings looking for potential dangers.

  • Lock the leash for distances that are safe based on your environment.

Sounds simple enough, right? But human nature is a funny thing. Rules are only for other people. Be honest, how many times have you said “don’t worry, my dog is friendly” or “my dog would never do that”?  


Let’s be real. A DOG! is a DOG! is a DOG! They are descendants of wolves and no matter how much domestication - they are still wild animals. Television host/trainer Casey Anderson of America the Wild says that despite his years of handling wild animals and even forging lifelong bonds with some never let your guard down.  

We want to believe that our best friend would never hurt anyone but we don’t really know what sensory cues trigger them to attack. It could be a noise we can’t hear or a flashback from their past. My Maru has always been highly aggressive and anti-social and that’s why I am always on high alert. As a pet parent I believe it’s my responsibility to ensure not only her well- being but that of others as well.

With retractable leashes there are just too many variables to control. And that’s why I am not an advocate. If there is an incident who should be at fault? Is it the dog, the leash, or end user? Or, maybe pet humanization is the real blame.  


Modern day pet parents treat their dogs like surrogate babies - not like man’s best friend. They send them to spas, daycare, and even snap chat with them. Is it any wonder then why retractable leashes are so popular?  Pet owners have convinced themselves that it will give their dog a more satisfying walking experience to have that extra freedom of movement. Can you say projection? It’s that kind of illogical logic that makes theses leashes top seller


If you’re still not a believer, spend 15 minutes online searching for information on retractable leashes. The only positives you will find are on manufacturer’s websites. That tells the story.

Whether you are pro or con on this issue, hopefully you now have a better awareness. It’s your dog, it’s your decision. Safety above all else should be the priority.

If you’re still having trouble deciding whether you’re for or against retractable leashes, grab an old leash and go for a long walk with your best friend the old fashioned way.