When it comes to taking your dog for his daily walk to the park, most of us do not spend a lot of time thinking about the leash. Once we decide what kind of leash to take home with our pup early on in the pet adoption process, it is rarely a subject we revisit or reconsider. Leash choice is often determined by the size and strength of the animal, and the functionality of the tool. For many pet parents, the retractable leash is the most appealing option, because of the freedom it allows for the dog, and the relative control it gives the dog owner, either to keep the pet close or to let him wander at will.

Unfortunately, while retractable dog and cat leashes continue to be popular, there are some serious tales of caution to be heeded. Here are a few dangers and recent accounts, of which anyone owning a retractable leash should be made aware.

Warnings About Retractable Leashes

Leash burns: If your pup suddenly goes tearing after a squirrel, wrapping the thin cord-like leash around your leg, it could result in a very painful burn on your skin. The flat ribbon-shaped retractable leashes make this hazard less of a threat, though they can still chafe skin if pulled quickly.

Tangling/Entrapment: Fortunately most dog owners keep a close eye on their pooch as they go for a walk. But since the cords can easily go lax, or suddenly retract and tighten, the dog could end up tangled or tied up. If this should happen around the pup’s neck, and you fail to notice, it could be life-threatening in a matter of seconds.

Further accidents: When the dog has free reign to skip along wherever he’d like, it could present a problem if the owner gets distracted even for a moment. Stepping out to cross the street without waiting, or running ahead in front of a driveway, or entrance to a parking lot, could subject the dog to being accidentally hit before you have a moment to hold the stop button, and pull him back to safety. Even something as simple as the pooch running eagerly up to another dog (who might not like your curious pet, and snap at him right away) could cause injury or share a disease. Sometimes retractable leashes give us a false sense of care-free safety, while very real threats remain.

Leash malfunctions: The handle of these leashes contain the rest of the coiled up cords, causing them to be heavy and at times awkward. This makes the handle easy to drop (potentially leading your pup to bolt away at this momentary freedom), or when the cord runs out and gets taught if your dog runs the full distance, he could pull the handle out of your hand. This would force the handle to shoot straight for the pup (as the cord is pulled automatically back into the handle), which could scare or hurt the dog. Additionally, were the cord itself to break at any point, it could come back-lashing over toward you and sting your body.

Injuries Caused by Retractable Leashes

Some cases of malfunctions reported about retractable leashes have been severe indeed. In one account, a 13 year old girl in Texas was walking her dog when the retractable leash snapped off and hit her in the eye, causing immediate blindness. Fortunately, after many surgeries and treatments with retinal specialists, Derreka Williams’ eye has made great progress in recovery.

A woman named Heather Todd lost the tip of her index finger in 2005 when she was walking her Labrador named Penny. The dog (weighing almost 90 lbs) took off down the road, causing the leash to burn her arm, and when Todd went to reposition the leash, the cord wrapped around her hand, causing her to be dragged several feet and severing the tip of her index finger.

One Chicago-based trainer named Jamie Damato does not allow retractable leashes in her training courses because of severe injuries like these, even posting pictures of the injuries to warn her clients about the dangers. Though these kinds of leashes might feel freeing and convenient, the risks are not to be taken lightly.

Due to these concerns, most retractable leash companies have a warning on the label, along with instructions on what to do and what not to do with these tools. However, we caution pet owners to either only use this kind of leash 1) if you are determined to be focused 100% of the time, 2) if you use the thick/flatter band retractable leash and 3) if you have a very small dog. Other than that, retractable leashes have proven hazardous for many consumers.