Retractable leashes: Dangerous for you and your dog

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    Ask the RV Vet

    With Dr. Deanna Tolliver, M.S., DVM
     YourRVvet@gmail.com

    Retractable leash

    For those of you who aren’t familiar with them, a retractable leash has a molded plastic handle; inside is a length of thin cord or nylon tape wrapped around a spring-loaded “axle.” On the other end of the cord is a snap that attaches to your dog’s collar. A button on the handle releases the cord.

    So what’s wrong with that? A lot, it turns out. But let’s look at both sides of the story.


    Pros

    1. The handler can decide how much cord (I have trouble calling this a leash) to let out, so the dog can be up to 16 feet away. This allows the dog to make its own decisions as to where to go in that 16-f00t circle.

    2. There is no number two. I can’t think of another reason why some may think these are great leashes. And even number one is really a con.

    Cons

    Because the dog decides where it wants to go in that large circle, it can get into all kinds of trouble. I can think of dozens of bad things, but to keep it short, I’ll include: going in the brush and encountering snakes, skunks and other critters; broken glass, nails and other sharp objects to step on; foxtails, stickers and other penetrable plant parts. 

    But the number one reason why I think these “leashes” are dangerous?

    You have no control over your dog.

    Scenario: You’re walking your dog with a retractable leash, set to release about 10 feet of cord. Another dog is walking towards you and suddenly runs at your dog. What do you do?

    You won’t be able to quickly retract the leash. So you grab the cord with your free hand. Your dog runs around behind you to hide, and now your hand is caught in the cord, and it’s quickly getting too tight and it hurts. So you drop the handle to use your now-free hand to untangle the cord, and by now the dogs are fighting. Your dog manages to get free and runs away. The sound of the plastic handle hitting the ground makes him think something is chasing him, and that scares him even more. 

    Or, same scenario, only this time it’s a small child that appears out of nowhere and runs gleefully toward your dog, who just happens to not like small children. Again, you might not be able to gain control over your dog until after it bites the child.

    One more: You’re walking your dog on a sidewalk next to a busy street. Your dog spies a squirrel on the other side and makes a mad dash to chase it. Because the leashes are generally cheaply made, when you try to set the lock mechanism, it breaks and your dog gets hit by a car.


    Pets in the News  • Michigan man amputates his dog’s leg Puppies used to transport heroin • Loose cat in JFK terminal • Rare disease hits dogs in Australia; food is suspected 


    Facts

    • Some leashes have a warning on the handle: “Fingers have been amputated when entangled in these leashes.” Some people have been hurt when the cord gets wrapped around their legs and they fall.

    • Dogs have been hurt either when the cord reached its full length or the handler pulled back forcefully and the dog literally reaches “the end of the rope.” It can be jerked so hard that injuries to the neck and throat are not uncommon.

    • Veterinarians who specialize in dog behavior and training warn that using a retractable leash can actually train the dog to pull. And, it’s much more difficult to train a dog when it’s so far away.

    Okay. I already know there will be many of you who insist on using your retractable leash. Here’s some advice.

    —Use one that has flat nylon tape instead thin cord.

    —Restrict the length of the tape to eight feet.

    —Make sure your dog is thoroughly leash-trained on a regular six-foot leash before using a retractable.

    —Don’t use the retractable in areas crowded with either people or dogs.

    —Never grab the cord or tape with your bare hands.

    Dr. Deanna welcomes your questions. Email her at YourRVvet@gmail.com 

    Dr. Deanna Tolliver has been a full-time RVer for over 3 years, although she has been an RVer for several more. She travels with a fifth wheel and a 1-ton dually truck. Her travel companions include 4 small dogs and a 36-year-old Yellow-Naped Amazon Parrot. She has a BS and MS in biology and zoology, respectively, and a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from the University of Missouri, Columbia. She owned a veterinary hospital for many years and recently handed over the reins to a new owner. 

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    Tim
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    Tim

    The fact that you have no control over the animal is why when you see a regulation that a dog needs to be leashed – it means six feet or less. The retractable leash seldom meets the legal definition of a “leash”.

    Shirley Hopkins
    Guest
    Shirley Hopkins

    We had a high-content wolf hybrid and I walked him with a retractable leash for many years. I would give him some freedom to sniff when it seemed safe, but shortened the leash when other people or animals were around. Everything was fine until 2 large, unleashed dogs came running out of their yard into the road barking at us one day. I thought I had things under control when I chased the dogs away, but they returned and Roman decided I needed protection. He ripped the leash out of my hands, shredding my hands in the process and pulling… Read more »

    Bob Godfrey
    Guest
    Bob Godfrey

    Since we have traveled to 48 of the 49 states and practically every park we have ever stayed in requires pets to be on a leash of no more than 6′ in length we seldom if ever see dog owners who actually limit the length of the leash to that size. I guess rules simply are not meant to be followed anymore.

    Michael Nistler
    Guest
    Michael Nistler

    Dr. Deanna’s thoughts probably makes sense for the masses – it’s sad that so many dog owners have control and obedience problems with their beloved pets. That said, fundamentally the core problem is the OWNER’S lack of training and discipline, not mechanical issues such as this or that type of leash. Yet practically speaking, I appreciate the notion that some leashes may be more of a safety concern with unruly pupsters.

    Edward Price
    Guest
    Edward Price

    I have about 20 years experience using retractable leashes with my pets (dogs from 10 to 130 pounds), so I think I can speak with some authority. The idea of a leash which can change from a 4-foot lead to a 50-foot range does not mean that you should not be changing the extension to suit the immediate conditions. You should know how to release the lock to allow the spring to gather in the leash when the dog roams near you, and how to manipulate the leash and your arm so as to be able to “reel in” your… Read more »

    Dr. Deanna
    Guest
    Dr. Deanna

    Hi Edward, Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I would like to respectfully suggest that you represent a very small minority. Most dogs are not as well trained as yours. I am in a campground at this very moment watching a young girl of about 8 trying to walk her 60 pound lab on a retractable leash. He is just pulling her along. She is not going to be able to control him in any situation. And her mother walks the dog exactly the same way. Their retractable is the cord type. They represent the reality at most campgrounds. And children… Read more »

    Rita Monat
    Guest
    Rita Monat

    Retractable leashes are very dangerous on hike and bike trails. Have seen several cyclists and walkers taken down and injured. Not the dogs’ fault, but the owners who are clueless. By the way, I am a walker, hiker, cycler and a dog owner.

    Patti L
    Guest
    Patti L

    We have never used retractable leads with our dogs and firmly believe that the best and happiest dog is a well trained dog. Right now we have an Olde English bulldog who is a joy to be around, he walks naturally at heel, but wears a good harness and has a stout lead with a short handle and an end handle. I’ve seen too many of my dog walking campground neighbors unwrapping their “retractable” leads from around trees and bushes or scrambling to get their pups out of the way of park traffic to think these are a good idea.

    TerrinJoe
    Guest
    TerrinJoe

    Thank you Deanna … as a fellow camping veterinarian who does do behavioral work in clinic you summed everything up beautifully that I HATE about retractable leads but you did miss the breaking cord snapping the owner in the eye when it breaks. Have seen that reported also. My options for our 2 dogs (that always wear collars with identification) include the easy walk harness with a 4 foot lead for when we are in close quarters, a harness that attaches over the shoulder blades with a 6 foot nylon lead for general hiking or to tie out and Amazon… Read more »

    Wolfe
    Guest
    Wolfe

    Deanna: first, thanks for your GREAT articles lately… fresh info, RIGHT info, awesome all around. I have to second everything you said, so I guess we’re up to squaring my support now. I’ve seen and experienced everything you recounted several times. I’ve seen the lack of control which leads to lack of training which leads back into lacking control, seen the crushed hands, seen people hogtied in their own cords, seen broken brakes and dropped leashes scaring hyper pets, seen dogs run to the end and snap back so hard they flipped backwards mid-air gasping for breath… ALL of it… Read more »

    Shannon
    Guest
    Shannon

    I usually use a retractable leash but always limit how far it’s extended when walking on busy park roads or trails. My dog is one that doesn’t greet well on a leash so I must be vigilant no matter what type of leash he’s on.

    Max Hegler
    Guest
    Max Hegler

    I have a 90 pound Yellow Lab. He loves everyone and everything. Because of that, I have a retractable lease to keep him close when walking in the RV park. When we are where he can safely explore I extend the leash. When he reaches the end, he does not tug or pull. I think training is more important than leash style. If you have a dog that lacks training, keep it on a short leash. I don’t want to have to take two leashes on long walks.

    Tom
    Guest
    Tom

    They have their place if your dog can behave and if the human isn’t an idiot. To incriminate them just because some people are stupid and can’t even walk and chew gum at the same time isn’t fair to dogs that like a little space and humans that are smart enough to use the retractable responsibly.

    Primo Rudy's Roadhouse
    Guest
    Primo Rudy's Roadhouse

    Good advice. It troubles me to see people using a retractable leash, because, as you state, you have no control. I have been forced to use one, while walking my sister’s dog. I kept it at 6 foot, the dog did not like being on a short leash, but got used to it and was better behaved. I am sure that changed the next time she walked him. Keep up the education of our people

    Donna Dodd
    Guest
    Donna Dodd

    We have used both types and prefer the retractable. We lock it at shorter distances for general walking, longer when we get to potty areas. An issue for us is the difference between my height (5’2″) and my husband (6’8″). You might think that doesn’t matter much, but it does. Also, as stated in the above post, when we are stationary at our campsite it is nice to have more control over adjusting the length. We’ve used retractable leads for many, many years with all our dogs and I can’t think of one time we encountered any of the dramatic… Read more »

    Phil Ehlinger
    Guest
    Phil Ehlinger

    I hate retractable leashes primarily because of the lack of discipline of the owner and subsequently the dog as well. Having a dog charge at you with a 10′ scope is intimidating. Many RV parks have rules about the length of leashes for this reason…most say 6 feet. However, I keep my pepper spray handy. And I’ve personally seen a dog run 10 feet onto a street to be promptly flattened by a passing bus.

    Brian Jensen
    Guest
    Brian Jensen

    Our dog doesn’t do well with other people or dogs so I lock my leash at “heel” length when anyone else is around. Then when we get where she can do her business and we are alone I release it so she can roam. The alternative would be to keep a long leash coiled up (very unhandy) or carry 2 leashes. (just as dumb). When we tie her out at our camper it is nice to be able to adjust exactly how far she can go since campground yards vary from a few feet to a few yards. I will… Read more »