Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Why I love my retractable leash

A perfect reason to use a retractable leash!  Do you want
to step into that snow with her so she can explore?
It's making the rounds again. Retractable leashes are dangerous.  People who use retractable leashes don't know how to train their dogs.  They're lazy.  They let their dogs run up to other dogs or out into the road.  They're as bad as [insert aversive tool of choice].  They teach dogs to pull.  They should be banned!!

I hear these things a lot from other dog owners and trainers and while some aspects may have some merit, I tend to disagree with many of the statements. Can retractable leashes be dangerous?  Sure.  There's no denying that.  But knowing how to use it (which is ultimately not very hard) minimizes the potential danger of the leash.  Could dogs run up to other dogs or out into the road?  Sure.  The leashes do usually extend anywhere from 12 to 26 feet.  This gives a fair amount of leeway and if the owner is negligent and not watching their dog or what's going on around them anything could happen.  But that comes down to the owner.  I've had people let their dogs come up to mine when it was on a 6-foot leash and I've seen owners standing near the sidewalk let their dog wander into the road on a 6-foot leash.  And worse, I've seen plenty of folks walking untrained dogs off leash.  Do retractable leashes teach dogs to pull?  Not in my experience.  Are they as bad as choke chains or prong collars?  No.  That's a pretty ridiculous statement.  They are intended to be a means of containment not an aversive way to stop a dog from doing something.

Should they be banned?  Absolutely not.

I do, however, have certain rules for the type of dog I will use a retractable leash with and when/where I will use the leash.

Rules for the Dog

1. The dog must not be able to pull me off my feet if it hits the end of the leash at a full run.  This means I am likely to only use the leash with small to medium sized dogs instead of larger ones.  My dog is 50 pounds.  I use the leash with her.  I'm not sure I'd be comfortable using the leash with a dog who was larger or more muscular.

2. The dog must not be a dedicated puller.  A dog who pulls once in awhile is ok.  But if the dog pulls constantly and is always at the end of the leash then the reason for the leash is pointless.  I will only use a 6-foot leash with such a dog until he/she has learned not to pull.

3. The dog must not be an unpredictable bolter.  In other words, if a dog tends to be a squirrel chaser and gives no warning signs that they've seen the squirrel before giving chase, then a retractable is not the right leash for this dog.  My dog does like to chase squirrels but (a) she gives plenty of warning signs (e.g. she freezes in place and stares first) and (b) I've trained her to only chase when I give her the command so her freezing in place has become more pronounced over time.

4. The dog must be trained and under voice control.  It doesn't have to be perfect voice control, but a dog who is able to respond to "stop" and/or "come" is a good candidate for a retractable leash.  If it breaks (and in over three years I've yet to have one break), I want to be able to control the dog with my voice.

Rules for Me

1. I will pay attention to my dog.  If she is wandering too close to the street, I will reel her in and/or lock the leash.  If there is a dog nearby, I will reel her in and/or lock the leash.  If there is a squirrel she wants to chase I will allow her if it's safe (running with her so she doesn't hit the end of the leash) or I will reel her in and/or lock the leash.

2. I will pay attention to our surroundings.  I will be aware of where cars and other people are.  I will keep an eye out for other dogs.  I will not let her precede me around corners where I cannot see what is coming first.  I will never ever listen to music or talk on the cell phone while out on a walk with her.  What is going on around us is important.

3. I will not choose a knock-off leash made by some unknown company (I use Flexi brand leashes only).  I will not use a corded leash, instead using the "full leash" retractable leashes as they are less dangerous and break less often.  They are sturdier leashes, especially when used with a larger dog.

4. I will make sure I know how to use the leash and will keep it in good repair.  I will keep my thumb hovering over the lock mechanism and will use that mechanism at a moment's notice.

Rules for When to Use the Leash

1. I will not use a retractable in places where the dog must always be kept close at my side.  This includes festivals and walking in the city, among other places.

2. I will not use the retractable in classes or at trials.  Again, she needs to be kept close to me during class.  She also likes to tug on her leash as part of getting excited to go out and "work," and retractable leashes should not be played with in such a way.

So obviously I have thought long and hard about when and where and with whom to use a retractable leash.  People can call me and my dog whatever acronym they want (the latest annoying one is ROAR: Rover on a Retractable), but it's not going to prevent me from using my retractable leash.  I use it wisely and responsibly and my dog is happy to have the bit of freedom for sniffing that the leash allows her to have.

Monday, December 5, 2011

What a difference a month makes (aka Dahlia's second agility trial!)

Dahlia's first agility trial was a nervewracking experience but in the end we had a lot of fun and brought home one qualifying ribbon.  It was far more than I expected for the first time out and so I was quite pleased.

But I kept watching the video of us at the trial over and over again.  I realized she was slow and hesitated because I hesitated.  Because I was scared she'd blow past an obstacle and I desperately wanted her to take them all.  It finally got through to me that if I just keep running, it's much more likely that she will keep running.  The week after the last trial, we looked like this in class:

We moved so much better together and we're both speeding up!

So I took that to the trial this weekend.  How did Dahlia do?  Well, she blew Standard entirely.  We seem to have a problem that is really surprising me: Despite rocking the A-Frame at class and being pretty comfortable on the dog walk, she completely avoids them in trial situations.  Admittedly, some of the issue the first time out was that I was so focused on the A-Frame (which was obstacle #3 in the run) that I looked away, disconnected from her, and lost her entirely before she even hit the second jump.  So our Standard run, while not a disaster (she hit every jump and tunnel past that beautifully) was not successful.  NQ.

The second two runs we did were Colors and Wildcard, both ones that we NQ'ed on at the previous trial.

Well, I'm happy to report that Dahlia totally nailed both of them.  We got a qualifying score with no faults on Colors (28.07 seconds) and Wildcard (30.43 seconds), which netted us our first (very small) agility title: The CTL1-H, Level 1 Entusiast Handler Games title.

Here's Dahlia sporting her fancy new ribbon and looking quite proud of herself!