by MANDI BROADBENT, CSR
We have all heard them: The Great Leash Lies. We may have even been guilty of saying them out-loud. Our pet is approaching someone and those silly words come out before we can even think; “Don’t worry. He’s friendly!”
OK… But, where is his leash??
Regardless of an animal’s outward demeanor, leashing your pet is not only responsible pet parenting, it’s literally required by law. Still though, every year tens of thousands of people end up in emergency rooms with dog bites. Many of those injuries because a pet wasn’t properly secured and/or the owner wasn’t paying close enough attention. Remember, proper pet parenting starts at home. And it begins with recognizing those menacing Leash Lies and fixing them.
1. “Oh, he’s fine.”
Perhaps, one of the most popular of all the Great Leash Lies is believing that a 26 foot long, handheld tether is a reasonable replacement for good supervision. Your dog is not a Ronco® – you can’t just “set it and forget it“.
Whether you’ve had dogs your whole life or you got your first pup after retirement, learning proper leash manners is vital. Not just for you, but for your dog too. Making sure your pet is secure and controllable, heeling next to you on a short lead should be your top priority when you venture out into public. This common sense move ensures that you can keep a hand on the situation, and your pet, at all times.
Remember, Murphy’s Law states that “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”
The long and short of it is that in 2020 there is no excuse as to why your pet is not on a regular, fixed leash. Retractable leashes are dangerous. They cause emergencies like amputated limbs, losing an eye, and everything in between. Unreliable and promoting distracted or absent pet-parenting, retractable leashes pose serious safety concerns for you, your pet, and any bystanders .
It really doesn’t matter which of the leash lies we tell ourselves to justify their use. There is no reason for your pet to be more than a few arm lengths away from you in public. Public places or public trails are just not the best places to practice this particular form of social-distancing. Plus, it seems grossly negligible to have your dog running around nearly 10 yards away from you in public. Listen, just because you think your pet is fine that far away from you doesn’t mean others trust that judgment. It only takes a second for a problem to develop. If your pet is too far away from you, that problem may escalate quicker than you can handle it. Don’t risk it. Cut the retractable cord.
*Lincolnshire Animal Hospital does not support to use of retractable leashes as they have been known to cause severe injury to humans and animals alike. If you are currently using a retractable leash for your pet, we recommend you stop. Try replacing it with a standard, good quality lead/leash. This will keep your pet at a close, manageable distance at all times.
2. “He’s trained. He won’t run away.”
Another of the leash lies seems to be that if a pet is trained, they don’t need to be on a leash. Even the best training program is not a replacement for responsible pet owner etiquette. It doesn’t matter how many hours of training your pet has gone through, or how many certifications they hold. Accidents can, and will, happen. (See Murphy’s law above).
Story time from my days in Animal ER. Ten years ago, we had a good samaritan bring in a spry Basset Hound wearing a bright blue Hawaiian print button-up shirt. They had he found him on the side of a highway in the mountains on their way back from the beach. As it turns out, the little guy was a well-trained dog used by the police department for his tracking ability. He had gotten scared when a cannon was fired at a neighborhood “block-party” and he took off… two towns over and nearly 30 miles away!
When the owners came to pick him up, they were in absolute shock. Why would such a “well trained dog would ever run off like that”? Thankfully, he was found by people with good intentions. But not everyone is kind-hearted and you will feel awful if a problem could have all been avoided by something as simple as a leash.
3. “He just gets too excited sometimes.”
Your dog lunging excitedly on the end of a leash, gagging and pulling to escape your grip to play seems like it’s a hassle. Because it is! And often times we place blame the leash, since without it your dog wouldn’t get excited all the time. Right? Well, the truth is that what you really need is a good leash combined with proper leash training. Training can greatly reduce, and even eliminate many of those annoying, so-called “leash problems”. Over excitability, pulling, and lunging, can all be eliminated with proper training, creating a safe and calm experience for both you and your pet.
4. “Don’t worry… he’s friendly!”
Of all the leash lies, this might be the hardest to swallow at first. Believing your pet is safe off-leash (or on a long leash) because he is friendly with other people just isn’t true. Just because your pet is “fine” with the person they have ran up to, does not mean that person will be fine with your dog. I have had pets my entire life and I cannot imagine a day without my furry best friends! But I have to remember that not everyone feels the same way I do about animals. The scared and apprehensive reactions of a person approached by a strange dog aren’t always because they fear that the dog isn’t friendly… they may simply fear the dog.
Animal phobia, or zoophobia, is one of the most common fear-related anxiety disorders diagnosed, with cynophobia, or fear of dogs, being the most common animal phobia developed. It can be incredibly traumatic for someone with an animal phobia to have an off-leash dog suddenly approaching them. Even if that animal is friendly and trained! There are also plenty of people who just aren’t quite comfortable around animals, including small children and the elderly. Keeping your dog on a short leash is not only polite, it is your social responsibility.
5. “He loves other dogs!”
Look, I’m happy that your dog is friendly with other animals. Mine, however, is not and your dog running up to her like that is a big problem. Circling back around to #4 – again, just because your pet is fine with other animals does not guarantee that the animal they have ran up to will be fine with them. It’s great that you are confident that your pet won’t harm another animal, but what will you do if your dog approaches an aggressive dog and you aren’t close by?
In my ten years, I cannot tell you how many times an owner has called frantic because an off leash animal attacked their animal, or that their own off-leash animal was attacked by another dog. Making sure that you always have your pet on a manageable leash guarantees that you are the one in control when it comes to introducing your furry friend to other animals. And remember to always ask permission to allow your dog to approach another dog – many owners will be happy for the consideration.
6. “Oh it’s ok, he loves little kids!”
Kids and dogs are a tricky thing. We are bombarded daily on social media with adorable photos and videos featuring children and their pet best friends, inciting aww’s and teary smiles with every cute interaction. But we have to remember that what we are seeing in only a sliver of reality. Those adorable photos are only half of the coin.
According to a study from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the United States sees approximately 4.7 million dog bites every year. With 800,000 of those bites requiring medical treatment. What is more startling is that more than half (50%) of all dog bite victims are children. Roughly 25% of those victims requiring emergency medical treatment.University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburg
In the end, the only way to ensure that your pet is always safe with children is to make sure they are trained on a leash at your side and that no child is ever left alone unsupervised with an animal. If you have children, make sure you teach them to never approach an animal without your permission and the owner’s permission. Because just like numbers 4 and 5, not every dog likes children and not every child likes dogs.
Always ask permission to approach.
Please, don’t believe those pesky leash lies.
It’s important to remember that dog ownership is a privilege, not a right. If you have a fenced in yard and want to allow your pet off leash on your own property, that’s fine. No one can stop you. But allowing your dog off leash, or on an extra long leash, in a public place (defined by anywhere that is accessed publicly) is unacceptable. It takes no time at all for your pet to get into trouble without a leash on. From ingesting toxic substances to unprompted aggression, accidents can happen quickly and without warning. Your pet is your responsibility. And in the end, they are your liability to handle appropriately at all times.
The statements and opinions in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Lincolnshire Animal Hospital.
GIFs provided by Giphy.