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Retractable leashes: Are they sabotaging your dog's health?
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Retractable leashes: Are they sabotaging your dog's health?

The health and safety hazards of retractable dog leashes you need to be aware of

Before I get into the nitty-gritty of why retractable leashes can endanger your dog’s well-being, I’d like to invite you to do an experiment.

If you have a dog collar nearby, put it on your neck, attach a retractable leash and ask a friend to hold the handle firmly. When you’re in position, start running without knowing when you’ll hit the end of the leash. Nevertheless, I’m sure you'll feel it when you reach the end.

How did it feel being yanked on?
Is your neck sore or bruised?
Did you feel pressure in your head?

Sadly, there are millions of dogs around the world whose health has been affected by these seemingly benign tools without pet parents being aware of it.

The combined effect of the pull and sudden stop on retractable leashes greatly impacts the neck and, consequently, the health of many dogs, and this article aims to explain why.  

For many years, I didn’t understand how dangerous retractable leashes are. While I’m aware this article may make some manufacturers unhappy, our dogs’ well-being is my priority.

I hope this information will help raise awareness about the injuries and health problems caused by extendable dog leashes and guide you in choosing safer alternatives for your canine friend.

14 reasons not to use a retractable leash when walking your dog

1.   Neck and throat injuries

Repeated jerks and pulling on the leash cause injuries to the neck if your dog wears a collar or to the chest and torso if you use a harness.

The neck is the region where the parasympathetic and sympathetic nerve fibres originate. When traumatized, it can profoundly affect organ function, resulting in heart issues (atrial fibrillation, dilation, or other cardiomyopathy), stomach and digestive issues, or problems with lung and kidney function.

dog neck anatomy


At the same time, neck injuries can result in front leg lameness as foreleg nerves are connected to the cervical spine. Many people don’t realize that paw licking is often caused by an abnormal sensation and numbing due to nerve injury. 

The thyroid gland is also a frequent victim of a harsh leash and collar combo, as it’s located directly under the front portion of the collar. Repeated trauma to the thyroid gland leads to the loss of thyroxin-producing cells, resulting in hypothyroidism which affects the ‘breathing’ or oxygenation and function of every cell in the body.

2. High safety risk

Retractable leashes pose a genuine safety risk for you and your canine companion. For example, many cases of the leash suddenly snapping back have ended up causing harm to both the dog and the pet parent.

3. Reduced control

Retractable leashes may give dogs the illusion of freedom, but they often compromise your control. When your dog runs out too far, retracting the leash can be cumbersome and slow, potentially leading to dangerous situations such as car, bike and other vehicle accidents.

4. Faulty lock mechanism

The lock mechanism on retractable leashes can sometimes fail and get stuck, leading to potential accidents and serious injuries if an unfriendly dog approaches or your dog runs in traffic.

5. Uncomfortable grip

The bulky handle of retractable leashes can be uncomfortable to hold for longer periods, making your walks less enjoyable. A light, gentle leash that is easier to grip can enhance your comfort during doggie walks.

6. Friction burns and cuts

The speed at which the cord can retract poses a high risk of painful burns or cuts to your hands, especially if the leash wraps around your fingers.

7. Off-path exploration dangers

If you have a “garbage hound” that has to stay under control in littered areas, retractable leashes make it harder for you to supervise your dog by allowing them to go far away. This can expose your dog to toxic waste and other things that, once ingested, might endanger their health.

8. Encourages ignoring commands

When the retractable leash is fully extended, your dog might feel disconnected and start ignoring your commands.

9. Promotes bad walking habits

Retractable leashes can inadvertently reward pulling, teaching dogs bad habits. With a traditional leash, your dog can learn proper walking behaviour and that pulling doesn't result in additional freedom.

10. Potential for entanglement

The retractable cord can wrap around people, other pets, or objects, which could lead to injuries or accidents.

11. Sudden jerks can give whiplash

When your dog bolts on a retractable leash, either because they want to explore a particular area or are scared by something, the abrupt stop will yank them backward, which can often cause whiplash and neck pain.

12. Increased stress for your dog

The retracting mechanism can startle and stress dogs, impacting their overall comfort and happiness. Traditional leashes provide a consistent and predictable experience, reducing stress for your canine companion.

13. Questionable durability

The durability of retractable leashes has often been called into question, especially the longevity of their retraction mechanism. Traditional leashes, being simpler and made of durable materials, are typically longer-lasting and more reliable.

14. Environmental impact

Plastic and synthetic materials are another reason you may want to ditch retractable leashes and choose one made of natural, eco-friendly materials instead. 

What is the best alternative to a retractable leash?

For the reasons above, I’ve never used a retractable leash on my dogs, and I’ve been searching for a safer option for years until I found one of the gentlest leashes available.

Handmade from strong, plastic-free, shock-absorbing materials, the Gentle Leash is the best alternative to extendable dog leashes because it helps you prevent injuries and protects your dog’s neck and health, and the planet too.


Retractable dog leash FAQ

●     Why are retractable leashes bad?

Retractable leashes put your dogs health and safety at risk by causing injuries to their neck, throat and back and disrupting the energy, blood and nerve flow in the body. Moreover, using a retractable leash can result in injuries if the retraction mechanism malfunctions or the cord gets entangled, which could harm you and your dog as well as others and their dogs.

●     What injuries are caused by retractable dog leashes?

Walking your dog on a retractable leash can cause severe neck injuries that are most often undetected and can further impact organ health. The cord of a retractable leash can also cause cuts and burns on your hands and entangle other people and pets, resulting in injuries.

●     Do retractable leashes cause pulling?

Yes, retractable leashes encourage dogs to pull while on a leash, as they learn that pulling helps extend the leash providing them more freedom to explore their environment. A retractable leash can be even more problematic for puppies that havent been trained to walk correctly on a leash.

●     Can a retractable leash break?

 Yes, unfortunately, the cord of an extendable leash can wear down in time and snap, especially if theres a larger dog at the end of the leash pulling or running at full speed. This can lead to accidents and serious injuries if your dog wanders too far away.

●     Is it better to walk your dog on a leash attached to a collar or a harness?

I recommend avoiding the leash and collar combo when walking your dog as it can cause injuries and inflammation to their neck and throat and lead to hypothyroidism, kidney, lung and digestive issues, and heart disease. Switching to a well-fitted harness and a traditional leash can help minimize the pressure of tugs and jerks throughout the body and keep the neck and throat protected. 

About the author

Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM is an Integrative veterinarian, nutritionist and creator of natural supplements for dogs and people. Helping you and your dog prevent disease, treat nutritional deficiencies, and enjoy happier, healthier, and longer lives together.

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