Dendrite growth is constrained by a self-avoidance response that induces retraction but the downstream pathways that balance these opposing mechanisms are unknown. We have proposed that the diffusible cue UNC-6(Netrin) is captured by UNC-40(DCC) for a short-range interaction with UNC-5 to trigger self-avoidance in the C. elegans PVD neuron. Here we report that the actin-polymerizing proteins UNC-34(Ena/VASP), WSP-1(WASP), UNC-73(Trio), MIG-10(Lamellipodin) and the Arp2/3 complex effect dendrite retraction in the self-avoidance response mediated by UNC-6(Netrin). The paradoxical idea that actin polymerization results in shorter rather than longer dendrites is explained by our finding that NMY-1 (non-muscle myosin II) is necessary for retraction and could therefore mediate this effect in a contractile mechanism. Our results also show that dendrite length is determined by the antagonistic effects on the actin cytoskeleton of separate sets of effectors for retraction mediated by UNC-6(Netrin) versus outgrowth promoted by the DMA-1 receptor. Thus, our findings suggest that the dendrite length depends on an intrinsic mechanism that balances distinct modes of actin assembly for growth versus retraction.