Are Retractable Leashes Safe for Dogs?

Flexi leads or freedom leashes, might seem like more fun for Fido, but at what cost?

By | Posted: July 11, 2014, 6 a.m. PST

Once touted as the best thing since sliced bread because they allow your dog extra freedom while still being on-leash, these flexible leashes are now being banned by many doggy daycare, pet retail, and grooming facilities.

Find Out Why:


As a dog trainer, I cringe when I see a client come in on a flexi-lead. Usually the first thing out of their mouth is then, "my dog pulls constantly!” I usually have to hold my tongue at this point because I really want to say something like this:

Willy Wonka meme


Instead, I say something along the lines of "well, you are using an extendable leash that rewards your dog with freedom when he pulls.”

These leashes are a great way to teach your dog to pull. They are the worst way to try and teach your dog loose leash walking or heel. Not only do they reward your dog when they pull, but when they come back to you, or try to give  you "loose leash” they are "corrected” by losing their freedom (leash retracts). So why on Earth would your dog ever come back to you?

Teach Your Dog to Stop Pulling on the Leash>>


Probably the most dangerous thing about these leads is the lack of control. In order for an owner to get their dog back, the dog has to come toward the dog. So, if your dog is 20 feet away from you and something happens:
  • An aggressive dog appears
  • A car comes whizzing out of nowhere
  • Your extended leash is over a sidewalk where a biker, skateboarder, etc. is fast approaching
  • Your dog is aggressively reacting to someone or something
  • Your dog is chasing a bike, car, cat, etc.
  • Your leash gets wrapped around another person, dog, etc.

What can you do?

Well, you can lock the leash, so your dog cannot get any more lead, but you can’t bring him back. You are left trying to grab a thin piece of line, and drag your dog back to you, or you have to run the 20 feet to him. And, if you do grab that cord and your dog pulls, you can be severely burned.


Flexible Leashes

This is all assuming you can even see that your dog is in or is causing trouble. If there is a hill or a corner, you may not even be aware.

By the time you have pulled your dog to you or ran to the scene, something tragic could have already happened. It’s just not safe.

It’s for this reason that Keith Miller, owner of Pampered Pooch Playground and Bubbly Paws Dog Wash in Minneapolis, Minn., does not sell them.

"We refuse to sell flex leashes in our stores because of the dangers associated with them,” Miller explains. "I have a huge scab on my leg right now from an irresponsible customer that let her dog run in our door and pull. The leash burned the front of my leg.”

Safer Alternatives

So you want your dog to have a bit of freedom without causing an accident or ruining your training.

Miller suggests the following two leashes, both of which he sells in his stores:

  • Stunt Puppy – Stunt Runner Leashes. They are a hands-free leash that gives your dog 3’ of freedom without teaching them that pulling is a good thing.
  • Ruff Wear – they have several options available, including leashes with the "traffic handle” which are great for when you need to get quick control of your dog.
  • 3rd Hand Leash – this is a unique design that has some great features including a quick grab handles and place for your phone or iPod.

A solid leather leash is also always a safe and sturdy choice.

More Important Dog Questions



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Melanie   Acworth, Georgia

7/17/2014 3:35:03 PM

I have a German Shepherd and I use a retractable leash with him but only after I had trained him to walk properly with me. With anything, you must know how to use it the correct way first.

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Nancy   Pryor, Oklahoma

7/16/2014 4:35:33 AM

As with any product- there are good and bad points including misuse.You just can't educate or control all consumers and their issues. I love my flexi-lead!

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Kathy   Winter Garden, Florida

7/15/2014 1:23:40 PM

I think the retractable leashes are the worse invention ever. Especially the string type for the small dogs. They are constantly tangling around legs of people, outdoor furniture, etc. I tell everyone of my friends that gets a dog or has a dog not to use them. They are extremely dangerous when a car comes around the corner and you are out walking and they are 20' ahead or to the side of you. Dogs are not supposed to be walking ahead of you. They are supposed to be trained to be along side of you or behind you. The handles are also cumbersome since you can't hang them on your wrist. I cringe every time I hear someone locking unlocking locking unlocking them. They need to be off the market just due to the safety of them. One of the worse is seeing a large aggressive dog on one of those. I will clearly turn around and walk the other way.

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Evelyn   Live Oak, Florida

7/15/2014 7:30:59 AM

I usually use regular leashes when taking my dogs out in public however I have two small brussels who wear harnesses and go out on a retractable leash in my fenced yard to "go potty"- they know what that leash means and want to get further away from you than a conventional leash allows them- I can snatch them back if needed (have done it when presented with a rattlesnake) and my 3 legged dog gets tightened up and the leash helps him come up the 6 steps to my house. They must be used sensiblely- worked as a vet tech for over 45 years and see idiots everyday coming in with a room full f strange dogs letting their dogs out on the end of the leash- that is not what they were designed for- they were designed for something like I use them for not co -mingeling.

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