Thursday, December 20, 2018

One overlooked detail could be hampering your dog walking efforts

Being out on an adventure with our dogs is a fun way to engage with them and is great for our mutual well-being. As a professional, I've had the opportunity to try out different leashes and other pieces of equipment, for example, harnesses—my requisite choice—to enhance the experience for myself and the dog I'm with. Comfort and safety are paramount for both of us, and since I'm in the driver's seat so to speak, it's up to me to ensure that and to gauge if my 'passenger' is having trouble. 

Safety and ethics

There are things that, for safety, ethical and professional reasons, I unable to use: choke, prong and shock collars and retractable leashes—the latter being my focus here—are off limits.

Many families love them, and it's not hard to see why. They offer dogs more space to roam while still being tethered, the lead itself retracts back into the handset as the dog moves closer and further away. Some models have lights and even a dog waste dispenser attached to them. 

Convenience is attractive. But it, like other things, comes with a trade off: safety. Are you willing to sacrifice that? I hope not. Though there's an inherent level of liability that comes with having a pet in our custody when we're out in public, there are just too many variables that are not predictable and can contribute to very dicey situations. I've addressed this in past posts, so feel free to click here and here for more on that. 

An equally important issue

There's is another issue with retractable leashes that I find dogs don't like and it's easy to overlook. Though I find this is more the case with dogs that are touch-averse, it's not limited to them. The constant tugging feeling of the lead as it releases and retracts when a dog moves toward and away from the handler. It's distracting for the dog and to some degree can be confusing for them—after all, the leash itself is a communication conduit of sorts between dog and handler. At least that's what I've always felt. I've tested this theory on several of my canine charges, and overwhelmingly, a traditional leash yields more favorable interactions.

If your dog isn't doing as great on leash as you'd like and you're still using a retractable, consider instead using a lightweight, comfortable leash (it does not need to be expensive, just sturdy) that feels good in your hand. A lightweight leash can help mitigate any undesirable sensation (the constant tugging) at the point of contact and improve the dog's ability to focus on the things that are most important during a walk: any clear communication that you offer up, and having fun. 

A final word 

Many families note that they prefer that their dog be afforded more distance to roam when out on adventure, and that a retractable gives them that flexibility. My solution—one that I employ professionally—is to use a 20 foot long training lead. Typically made from lightweight cotton web, they are inexpensive, easy to find and can be let out to extend to the full 20 foot distance when safe to do so. Having one would be a great investment. 

Lorrie Shaw is a Certified Professional Pet Sitter, Certified Pet Loss and Grief Companion, and owner of Professional Pet Sitting, where she specializes in ancillary pet palliative and pet hospice care. She's also a member of Doggone Safe (where she completed the Speak Dog Certificate Program), as well as the International Association of Animal Hospice and Palliative Care, Pet Sitters International, Pet Professional Guild, International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (supporting member) and Ann Arbor Area Pet Sitters. Lorrie can be found at She tweets at @psa2.

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