Sunday, March 8, 2015

It's Not the Leash, It's the Owner!

So, retractible leashes...

To tell you the truth, I generally advise against them. Personally I'm not a fan, have only had few good encounters with them and they are not allowed in my group classes. When a client pulls out the retractible leash so we can go on a walk to see their dog's excessive pulling, the first question is if they have a regular, non-retractible leash. They have a bunch of downsides:

-They actually teach dogs that pulling is a perfectly fine activity that pays off- if a dog pulls, they get up to 20 feet of leash!
-Painful rope burns if you get caught in them. I know this from personal experience- it freakin' hurts and burns and this can happen when it's not even your dog or leash.
-Little to no control over of the dog. Seriously, your dog has 20 feet to roam and play and explore with you at the other end. As long as they aren't attacking anyone, a lot of people let them do this at will and only reel their dog in when there is already a problem.
-Safety- or the lack thereof. I have seen waaaay too many people walking their dog on a retractible leash; the person on the sidewalk and the dog in the street, 8-15 feet away from them! I sure hope these dogs have a solid recall for when a car comes zooming down the street so they don't both go flying into the air.
-If your dog pulls hard (which is easy because of all the extra momentum they have already) and the leash gets out of your hands, the plastic holder will chase your dog away. I have actually had this happen. Many moons ago, when I was young and these leashes were all new and fancy, I was walking my aunt's dogs (my first mistake was walking multiple dogs with these things). One of the dogs pulled and of course I dropped the retractible leash. Not only did I have a dog running away to see something he wanted, I had him running faster and looking behind him to see what was following him. Let's just say I was late to work that day, but I didn't need my afternoon run.

Now that I have told you how I really feel about them, I want to tell you a secret.

They aren't all that bad. 
I don't know why I'm telling you this because I really want your dog on a regular leash, but I guess that if you are really set on a retractible leash, I want to make sure you can succeed with it. One of my rules with training is to make it as easy as possible for the human to succeed first. If I harass them about equipment and tell them they have done everything wrong, I'm not building a good relationship with that person. Without a good relationship with that person, I can't help them or their dog. If I can't help them or their dog, I can't make a living doing this and I have to find another job. I really don't want to get a different job- I love the one I have. Since I love my job, I have learned to be (absolutely no pun intended) flexible with pet parents. For that reason, I have been able to see the potential good in these retractible leashes.

-They are a great opportunity to practice recall on a long leash without the worry of getting tangled up in it (or picking up stray sticks along the way).
-They are helpful for older dogs who have vision or hearing problems- the comfort of feeling that tension from the leash can help them to feel more at ease in the big, scary world.
-It can allow scared dogs the opportunity to escape from scary things that their owner may not see right away, allowing them to understand they have control of a situation and start to build confidence.
-By walking back and forth between owner and the end of the leash, the dog can get twice (or more) the exercise as they would otherwise.
-The added distance and walking back and forth allows the dog ample opportunity to sniff and explore the environment. This makes the walk more enriching (read: fun) for the dog. If they have more fun and get some mental stimulation, the dog is bound to fare better in training and life with people in general.

How can you ensure that you are using that retractible leash to the best of your and your dog's ability and maintaining a safe walk for all?

Not to worry, I've got a few tips:

-Frequently practice the recall on leash. Like, every few minutes sometimes. This is a great way to practice the 'catch and release' recall: call your dog to you and when they get to you, give them lots of love and attention, play with their collar and let them go play and explore again. I LOVE the catch and release recall because it teaches your dog that you calling them doesn't always mean the fun is ending. The more your dog is used to coming when called, the less reliant you are on the leash to reel your dog in and the better your dog is with the recall... which is a really swell thing to be good with.

-Practice polite leash manners, no matter what type of leash you have. If you see another dog approaching, recall your dog and only allow greetings if it's ok (verbal ok by person, and body language is accepting for both dogs). Watch out for other pedestrians during walks, especially when on trails or sidewalks. It's really no fun getting clotheslined by a leash, I've been there and still have the scars to prove it.

-Apparently some of the new retractible leashes have wrist straps so that if /when the leash gets pulled out of your hand, it's still attached to you. This can prevent the leash from chasing your dog around the block, which will save you both time and headache.

-Use common sense, please. No matter what type of equipment you use, it should be checked before every walk (I check every dog entering every class and before going out on walks during private lessons). Harnesses and leashes can loosen over time, nylon or leather leashes can get ripped or stretched and retractible leashes can crack and break open. Take the time to look it over as you put this equipment on your dog, it could save a life. Also, please, please DO NOT use a head halter or prong/choke collar with a retractible leash. The risk of damage is really too great if the dogs pulls to the end of the line too hard. Harnesses are my go to for walking in general.

If you can be a responsible leash user, you can have success with any leash!

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