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Retractable Leashes – When to Reel in and When to Replace

Before you clip on that retractable leash, the Wisconsin Veterinary Medical Association (WVMA) wants you to know when and where it is appropriate to use these leashes.

Some of the dangers from the retractable cord include rope burns if rapidly extended while touching it, wrapping the cord around you and/or your pet, and the cord breaking. Dogs approaching other dogs without permission and the dog running with the owner being pulled, and possibly injured, at the other end are other dangers, warns Dr. Alan Holter, WVMA member and veterinarian at Dodgeville Veterinary Service.

The WVMA recommends using a standard length leash for all dogs to help ensure the safety of you, your dog and others. However, if you are planning on using a retractable leash, take precautions to help ensure a safe and enjoyable excursion.

"Retractable leashes are for areas where there are no other animals, cars or people," says Dr. Holter. "If the dog is trained to the leash and listens to commands well, this can be a great way to exercise the dog safely without doing as much exercise as the dog."

If you are currently using a retractable leash, Dr. Holter advises you to check the leash frequently for signs of weakening to avoid the cord or strap from breaking.
He also suggests avoiding use of these leashes in veterinary clinics.

"There are too many chances for inappropriate dog to dog interactions and risks with scared or aggressive animals at veterinary clinics," says Dr. Holter. "Your pet may not mind a trip to the veterinary clinic, but others may find it stressful. It's best for all pets to keep to themselves."

If you do choose to use a retractable leash, the WVMA advises you to take proper precautions to ensure safety.

- Train your dog to respond to verbal commands. This will give you more control when the leash is fully extended.
- Always be aware of where the cord is to keep it from wrapping around any person or animal.
- Regularly check the cord for rips and tears. By inspecting it prior to a walk, you can avoid it breaking when the dog is attached.
- Dropped handles can scare the dog. If you choose to use a retractable leash, use a wrist strap to avoid dropping it.
- While walking/running, don't let your dog go around blind corners ahead of you. Call your dog back and shorten/lock the leash so you can make sure no person or dog is around the corner.
- There have be cases of people being tripped by leashes fully extended. Keep your dog within a close proximity in areas where other people may be to avoid injuries from unseen leashes.

If you have additional questions about retractable leashes, contact your local WVMA member veterinarian. To find the veterinarian nearest you, visit

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