The Case Against Retractable Leashes

In all my time as a dog walker, I chose to use a retractable leash with one dog and only one dog. The reason was simple. That dog wouldn’t poop if it couldn’t roam. On a regular lead, that particular dog would pull to the end, attempt to squat, be unable, and give up. For the health of the dog’s bowels, I opted to see if she would poop while on her retractable leash and she did. Other than that whenever the opportunity presented itself I would avoid using a retractable leash either by using my own leash or a traditional lead also provided by a client. Below are just a few reasons for the case against retractable leashes.

Connection to the Dog

Walking a dog is a form of enrichment. It is relationship building. It is an activity to be enjoyed together. A retractable leash is meant to mimic an off-leash experience. Letting the dog roam far and wide. It is hard to have a shared experience when one party is so far in front, and believe me dogs on a retractable leash are going to stretch it to its end. Yes, the leash can be locked but that defeats the entire purpose of a retractable leash and circles us right back to the point of using a more traditional style lead. When given the opportunity to roam a dog is going to take it. The walk is about exploration, finding new scents, and new experiences. Wouldn’t it be best if you or your dog walker were there with your dog to experience it with them (not suggesting you or your dog walker sniff mailboxes and fire hydrants)?


Here I go again burying the lede. A retractable leash is less safe. It gives less control and it allows a dog to get itself in too much danger. Two situations. First, you are walking along a lonely road. An off-leash dog runs up to your dog snarling and growling. You shout go home, get out of here, go away, whatever else you can think of, and with your dog on a traditional leash you pull them behind you or reach down and pick them up. On a retractable leash, your dog is 10 to 20 feet away from you when this aggressive off-leash dog approaches. You have to run up to them and by that point, you are no longer protecting your dog but breaking up a dog fight. Second situation. You and your dog are approaching a busy intersection. Your dog is trained to sit and wait but this time they see something on the other side of the road and take off. On a traditional leash, they wouldn’t get far from you and you can pull them back. On a retractable leash, they can make it to the middle of the intersection and then hit the end of the leash. Now they are stuck in the middle of the road and at the mercy of any oncoming traffic.


Back in my early days as a dog walker, I had to walk two extra hyper and crazy dogs. They had retractable leashes. They also had prong colors with the retractible leashes which I have since learned is a big no-no as it defeats the purpose of both training tools in one go. Aside from that the handles of retractible leashes are big hard plastic and cumbersome. Attempting to hold two at once, often in one hand, was less than easy and quite uncomfortable. My knuckles got more beat up and bloody walking those dogs than they did during workouts at the local boxing gym.


  1. Buy a comfortable leash. If you are a golfer or know a golfer you know that a quality grip is the first step to a good swing. If the club is uncomfortable to hold then how is your swing ever going to develop? The same holds true for dog leashes. Go to a pet store. Find one that is comfortable. I like the soft rope leads myself. Good comfortable grip at the loop and when grabbing the leash itself to exert further control (which can’t be done on a retractible (not without risking getting your hand sliced paper cut style)).
  2. Work with your dog on loose leash walking. It is always good to train your dog. Either doing it yourself or working with a trainer. Loose leash walking is easy to teach. You want to work from the touch and watch me commands. When I have done it in the past it has been with a bag of treats at my hip. When the dog starts to pull or reaches the end of the leash stop, give the watch me command, and then hold out your closed hand with a treat in it for them to touch. This helps, not only, with loose leash walking but with building connection and trust with a dog. When the dog is ready resume the walk. Each time they reach the end of the leash or start to pull stop and repeat the steps. Eventually, they will walk on a loose leash.

Retractable leashes are not my favorite. Through the years we have had many clients provide them to us as the only option for walking their dog. When this has been the case I choose the bring my own leash rather than use the retractable. A retractable leash is less safe, less comfortable, and builds less of a connection with a dog. Dog walking is one of the services Stable Hands Pet Care provides but we are primarily a relationship company. And it is easier to build a relationship from four to six feet than it is from 10 or 20.