Training Your Dog on Leash


Quick and easy ways to train your dog on a retractable leash.


Mary Wright and her exuberant 90-pound Labrador retriever, Buddy, are out for a morning walk in their bustling urban neighborhood. Mary regularly walks Buddy on a retractable leash, a plastic model with a long reel of nylon webbing and a clip at the end to hook onto the dog's collar.


As usual, Buddy is almost 20 feet ahead of Mary as she ponders the coming events of her day. Buddy enjoys towing his owner along behind him, and Mary doesn't mind because she likes her big, strong boy to experience a sense of freedom while he gets his exercise. Up ahead, Buddy turns the corner, and Mary briefly loses sight of him. Suddenly she feels the leash's webbing tighten; the taut cable telegraphs to her that Buddy is thrashing at the other end. As she rushes forward she hears a man shouting, and upon arrival at the scene, she finds Buddy entangled with a Doberman Pinscher that approached from the opposite direction.


The dogs yip in excitement as the Doberman's owner feverishly works to separate them. Mary jumps in to offer assistance, and finally the dogs are apart. Luckily, both dogs are friendly; they were merely greeting one another with exuberance, so no injuries are sustained. However, what if one or both animals had aggressive tendencies? Injuries surely would have resulted to humans and canines alike.


Although the above example is fictional, it illustrates how a situation can quickly escalate and possibly become dangerous because a well-meaning owner thought she had adequate control of her dog. That's why it's important to review safety procedures for exercising dogs on the retractable leash, a popular but often misused tool.


A Retractable Leash's Function


Retractable leashes are considered by many active owners to be indispensable gear for outdoor doggy enrichment. The leash is constructed of heavy-gauge plastic in the form of a compact case with a built-in handle. The case houses heavy-duty webbing (or nylon cord, depending on the brand and style) and a cog-like mechanism which allows the webbing to extend and retract from 16 feet to as much as 26 feet (the distance depends on brand and style), all without any input from the user on most models.


An added feature is a locking device that sets the length of the webbing as deemed by the user. The lock impedes the retractability, essentially transforming the apparatus into a regular leash. Of course, the locking feature can be reversed, usually by the flip of a lever or the push of a button. Retractable leashes, or "retractables," allow dog owners to exercise their pets while still maintaining some control, thereby reducing the risk of injury or death so prevalent when pets are given total freedom.


Retractable Leash Safety Issues


The main feature of retractables -- the ability to create distance between dogs and owners -- might also be considered the instrument's downfall, most notably for those who live in densely populated areas where encounters with pedestrians, traffic, and other dogs are likely. Dog owners in rural areas, too, face potentially serious circumstances. For example, a dog and its owner walk along the side of a country route, and the leash is fully extended. Suddenly the dog




Another huge safety concern that's rarely addressed is the potential for owners to mistakenly drop the plastic case and unwittingly frighten their pets. Consider just such a scenario from a canine perspective: the dropped case crashes behind the dog, and when the dog moves the case follows, essentially chasing the dog no matter how far or how fast he tries to get away from it. Sadly, many dogs become lost due to such mishaps.


For example, what if Mary Wright and Buddy are out for their daily walk, and Buddy stops to have a bowel movement? Since Mary is a conscientious dog owner, she wrangles her poop bag and starts to clean up, but she doesn't have a firm grip on the retractable handle while doing so. Unfortunately, the handle slips from her hand, crashes to the ground, and Buddy is off and running.


A Common Sense Approach to Leashes


Happily, many potentially serious situations can be avoided if owners simply adopt a common sense approach when using retractable leashes. One simple solution is to grasp the handle fully at all times, and to be especially mindful of hanging on to it when otherwise occupied.


It's also wise to be proactive and teach dogs to view a dropped plastic case as an opportunity to be rewarded with treats and praise. Do this at home indoors by placing the case next to the dog and feeding him some treats, then gradually build up to dropping it and rewarding. Additional indoor work should include familiarizing the dog with dragging the retractable case behind him. Start by placing the case on the ground and slowly luring the dog forward with a treat as the case follows him a short distance, then reward and praise. Someday these simple steps could mean the difference between a lost dog and a dog that calmly waits for you to pick up the handle and dispense with the goodies!


For walking purposes, the most important rule -- and probably the most unpopular one -- is to keep dogs at a manageable distance in populated areas or near roads; in most cases, manageable means setting the locking feature at no more than six feet. Many owners would argue that maintaining close proximity on a retractable is contrary to the whole point of using one. However, the safety and welfare of our pets as well as that of our neighbors should always be of primary concern. Remember, there are people in every community who either don't like dogs or are afraid of them, and encountering your dog at the far end of a retractable could spell trouble.


An excellent compromise is to maintain a controllable distance while walking and to plan your outings so that you encounter a park or a large field along the way. Upon arrival at such open spaces, allow your dog the entire length of the retractable to sniff and explore. In addition, bring along a tennis ball or other fun toy to throw for him.


Encouraging Good Leash Behavior


Another valid reason for keeping dogs close by while walking is the natural tendency of dogs to pull, and owners' subsequent desensitization to the severity of the pulling when their pets walk at a distance. In fact, the danger of dogs pulling at the end of retractable leashes is threefold: first, owners have to work much harder to control their pets, creating a time delay in emergency situations; second, dogs simply never learn to walk on a loose leash, a problem which is compounded when owners attempt to walk them on regular leashes; and finally, constant pulling, especially from the larger breeds, may lead to undue wear and tear on the webbing, which may cause it to break.


Therefore, owners should not only lock the retractable to keep their dogs nearby, but they should also treat the retractable like a regular leash and insist that their pets not pull! For those who are unsure how to teach dogs to walk on a loose leash, there are many good training books on the subject, or contact a professional trainer or training school near you.


Maintaining a Safe Leash


Finally, the proper use of retractables includes checking the device for wear and possible damage. Most commonly, the webbing frays or breaks, especially if rambunctious pups are prone to mouthing it. Also check that the clip is functioning properly and is still securely attached to the webbing. Under no circumstance should damaged webbing be repaired for continued use. If the webbing is frayed, immediately discard the leash and purchase a new one. Patched or mended equipment is an invitation for disaster.


Retractable leashes are wonderful tools when owners keep safety in mind, so get out there and use them responsibly -- the exercise will benefit you and your pet, and your dog will love you for it!


Do you use a retractable leash with your dog? How does your dog behave when walking on a leash? Tell us below!


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By Erin B 08/10/2012 14:26:00