Doggie Showdown: Classic Leashes Vs Retractable Leashes

Doggie Showdown: Classic Leashes Vs Retractable Leashes
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Man’s best friend has long stood by our side with a little help from the humble dog leash. But if you’re in the market for a leash to wrangle your new pet, which kind of leash should you turn to: the ol’ classic, or the newfangled version?


There are quite a few reasons you might be making a decision between a classic dog leash and its modern-day counterpart, the retractable leash. Both let your dog roam the world with you by its side, and both offer similar levels of control at short distances. The differences become clear the farther out you’d like your dog to travel.

Classic Leash

The anatomy of your traditional leash usually involves a rope made of nylon or leather, with a looped handle on one end and a collar clip on the other. Leashes come in a variety of lengths, sizes, materials so you can find one to fit your style.

You can’t really go wrong with a classic leash, but its unchanging length does little to accommodate situations where you want your dog to run free, or free-ish.

Retractable Leash

A retractable leash is a leash with a spooled line stored in a handle. They usually extend anywhere from three to seven metres, and have a built-in locking button to prevent your pet from travelling farther than you’re comfortable. It works more like a tape measure than a winch, so you won’t be able to reel your dog in but it will keep your leash taut while your dog explores its surroundings.

Retractable leashes are incredibly convenient if you love letting your dog explore without controlling him every step of the way. They’re ideal for use in large, open spaces where environmental dangers are minimal. There is a price to pay for the convenience, however, and often it isn’t worth the cost.

Dog Leashes are Safe, But Short

Classic leashes are the easiest way to exercise physical control over your pet. The shorter length allows you to pull your dog away from dangerous situations and control the dialogue between your dog and other animals or people. Shorter leashes can be used for training purposes, while longer leashes satisfy the role of a retractable one: granting some freedom to your dog.

There’s no real danger in a traditional leash when it comes to entangling situations. Unlike retractable leashes, your dog won’t have metres of tow cable to wrap around trees and people like an AT-AT on Hoth.

The worst thing about a classic dog leash is its inflexibility. That 1.5m leash will stay a 1.5m leash, and keep your dog from venturing into areas you’d rather let him explore with minimal supervision. That leash is great for walking in an urban environment but if you’re out in the wilderness or an open field you want to let your dog explore, it won’t cut it.

You can purchase longer leashes, called tracking or training leashes, but you’ll have to wrap and carry the thing when you’re done with it, or bring along your shorter leash when you want to regain control over your pup. Adjustable leashes let you adjust your leash length from three to six feet: great for training and walking, but not exactly for exploring.

Retractable Leashes are Convenient (and Dangerous)

Retractable leashes are great for letting your dog explore the outside world without much supervision. Instead of forcing your dog to stay within the range of a traditional leash, they can explore that backyard or park while you hang back and take it easy. A retractable leash’s locking button lets you control the desired length, so you can use it like a normal leash when you’re out and about the city.

Some leashes have optional add-ons like flashlight or doggy bag holders. Depending on what you’re looking for, both extras could save you some hassle if you’re an evening walker or prone to forgetting to restock your poo bags like yours truly.

Unfortunately, what makes retractable leashes such a useful tool is also what makes it so dangerous to both dogs and humans.

You can’t predict when accidents will happen, and letting your dog roam dozens of feet away from your supervision could lead to minor accidents or even serious injury. It’s impossible to retract the leash fast enough in an emergency. Children approaching your too-far dog could be injured if they approach improperly. If your dog runs into another dog as it rounds a corner, both animals could get seriously hurt. The freedom could allow your dog to run after a car, bike, or person, leading to a potentially dangerous altercation or accident. In short, retractable leashes are too long for their own good.

You also have to worry about dropping your retractable leash, which could send your dog into a frenzy. Your dog might bolt when it sees the hard, plastic leash handle rocketing toward it like a deranged chew toy.

Retractable leashes are also detrimental to leash training. Dogs are encouraged to pull on the leashes since it’s the only way to extend their purview, and that could lead to behavioural issues down the line.

Reports of serious injury ranging from gashes to full-blown finger amputations have also occurred when using retractable leashes. They’re pretty rare, but the threat of rope burn or a deep cut because of a leash snapping back is always present.

The Verdict: Classic Leashes Are Safer Leashes

In nearly every case, the classic dog leash is the ideal choice for walking your dog. Not only does it allow for more control of your pet, it doesn’t carry the risk of injury inherent in a retractable leash, nor does it pose as much of a danger to your dog’s physical and mental health. There’s no real danger of amputation or getting tied up in 6.10m of nylon rope, either.

Retractable leashes should be used in open spaces like fields and parks, where potential hazards like cars or other dogs are few and far between. You shouldn’t use it in the city, nor should you use it around other dogs. If you still want a retractable leash, just be mindful of where you walk your dog.


  • I have had “words” with a few people using retractable leashes while their mutt plays with other dogs. Having seen a broken leg eventuate from one such incident I’m quite happy to pass on the word. I’ve also seen old people tripped and bicyclists crash from their use in urban areas.

  • Retractable leashes are downright dangerous. I brought my dog to a local festival by the Swan river in Perth, my son and I were sitting on a wall people watching, and my dog got spooked and ran round us. His retractable leash wrapped around my son’s throat and would have throttled him or even decapitated him had I not used my jacket to catch the leash. If I’d used my hand to catch the leash, no doubt I’d have lost some fingers.

  • I think people also need to be made aware that you should really only use a retractable leash (if at all) on a trained dog. A retractable leash actually makes leash training a dog really hard and is setting the owner up for failure. It doesn’t give the dog the context of how far away it needs to be from you and that it needs to pay you attention and follow your cues. I wouldn’t use it unless I was confident that if I recall my dog, it will come directly and not hesitate. And that’s all on top of the issues with people and animals being hurt by them because the lines are hard to see and thin.

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