Put a Leash on That Dog! Retractable Doesn’t Count!

COVID-19 has forced many people to change their daily routines, whether they no longer have jobs or are self-isolating, these people suddenly have more time on their hands. The changes were obvious within the first couple of weeks. With the weather being warmer than it had been, people took to the streets, lots of people. Every time I looked out the window, there were people walking and a good number had their dogs with them. My initial thought was that this was great! Daily exercise is important for people and pets alike. But as I watched, my opinion started to shift. A small detail, something that most people would not pay attention to, was starting to cause me concern.

Retractable leashes have gained a considerable amount of popularity with pet owners. From the smallest Chihuahua to the pony sized Great Danes, there seems to be a retractable leash for everyone.  This is the small, innocuous, detail I saw that made me worry.

A retractable leash (or lead) is a long length of cord or ‘tape’ housed within a plastic casing with an easy to grip handle. Perhaps this is the draw, the reason pet owners see these in pet stores and gravitate to them. What people don’t know is how dangerous these leashes are.

Martensville animal control bylaw defines running at large as, “when the dog is not under control by being either: a) securely fastened by a metal or leather or rope leash which is not more than one and one-half (1 1/2) meters in length and which is attached to the collar so that it cannot roam at will…”.

1 ½ meters is equal to 4.9 feet. A quick check on a pet store website showed one retractable leash to be available in 3 lengths: 10 feet, 16 feet, or 26 feet. So why is this dangerous? While 10 feet doesn’t seem like it is very far from you, it does not allow for quick changes or correction in a pinch. Retractable leashes don’t have a forced retract, which means that if your dog is 10 feet in front of you and you need the leash length to be shorter, either your dog needs to stop so you can catch up, or you need to run faster than your dog.  So, if your dog is in danger 10, 16, or 26 feet ahead of you, you have few options. What if the locking mechanism fails? There are just too many scenarios in which this would be terrible.

Not only is this long length dangerous in an open setting, but in the veterinary clinic as well. As hard as we try to keep the lobby empty, there are always times when multiple pets end up sharing this space. Controlled, on a short leash, there are few incidents.  When there is an altercation, the cause is typically a lack of control and this is often due to a longer than ideal leash.

The other dangers these leashes pose becomes more apparent in small spaces. While the first listing I checked had no warnings listed, another retractable leashes I looked at did:

“Eyes/Face: The retractable leash cord/tape and hook can cause serious facial and head injuries, including injury to eyes and face. Do not hold the leash near your face or head. If the cord/tape retracts or breaks, the hook can cause serious bodily injury to you or your dog. Always use the back-up collar to limit this risk.

Hands: NEVER grasp the cord/tape with hands or fingers.

Fingers: DO NOT allow the cord/tape to wrap around your fingers, hands, arms, legs, or any other part of you or your dog’s body.”

The eyes/face is pretty well explained. Don’t do that or this will happen. The hands and fingers, well that portion of the warning has caps lock words in it so it must be very important. But where is the ‘this will happen’ part? These actions can result in injury ranging from burns, to amputations. Amputations! Can I just tell you again how dangerous these are? Bring one into a smaller setting like a vet clinic waiting area, or into an area that your dog will become hyperactive, and the likelihood of injury goes up exponentially.

If you check our online store, you’ll notice that there are no retractable leashes available for purchase. This is because we, at Martensville Veterinary Hospital, so strongly believe that they are unsafe for the pet and for their people that we will never suggest their use. A 6 foot flat leash is all the average pet owner will ever need and is by far the safer option.