2019 is now in full swing! January saw Canine Behaviour Guernsey go full time and with that it means I have been working out and about a lot more! While we have been out we have noticed many people are walking their dogs on retractable flexi-leads. What is wrong with that? Well, the truth about flexi-leads is they may just be encouraging the very things you are trying to train your dog not to do.
People like us to walk nicely on our leads so they can have a pleasurable walk. And that can be the very reason some people buy a retractable lead. If their dog pulls and they have a flexi, there is less strain on their arms when they go for a walk but they still have the comfort in knowing there is a lead there if they need to get their dog back. Flexi-leads make it more convenient for the human – they don’t have to keep stopping and changing direction when teaching them to walk nicely on the lead. They think it’s nicer for their dog as they have more ‘freedom’ to roam. We certainly can see how that convenience is appealing for an owner. However, by their very nature, retractable leads are always tense. They are also heavy so we can feel this as we walk. When they are locked, they are tighter and even tenser. And when they are unlocked, we know that we can pull against the lead to go ahead and investigate all those lovely scents and smells.
Let’s think then what this is all teaching us. With a flexi-lead we learn to pull. We don’t learn any self-control, nor do we learn to check in with our handler because if we are out five metres or so ahead then we’re only thinking about one thing – whatever is in our path. This doesn’t help with our recall and you actually have little control over us. They also don’t help us to be calm and relaxed on a walk. Tension can lead to anxieties and frustration on the lead – we dogs feel restricted because we can’t make our own decisions.
Another truth? Retractable lead locks can fail. Rescue centres know all too well about this – they have seen so many accidents where a dog has bolted into the road, the lock has failed and in a blink of an eye the dog is injured or killed by the oncoming car. And then let’s think at what happens if you have a reactive dog on a flexi-lead who has gone into fight mode and the lock fails? The consequence doesn’t bear thinking about.
So what can you do instead? Ideally, we should be to the side of our humans walking next to them on a nice loose lead with a loop in the middle – this ensures no tension and so a relaxed walk is had by all. It’s so nice to be able to trot alongside mum at our own pace, no pulling, no straining. I can see that she enjoys our walks. We’re trying to teach Holly this concept – it is difficult for a puppy because they get so excited but pawrents have to stay patient and consistent!
We walk on two-metre training leads that mum has the ability to shorten if need be, to tie around her waist or even to use a double clip harness. Mum also does loose lead walking exercises with us. And what about recall training? Long lines, or recall lines as some people call them, offer more flexibility for when you are out in wider spaces and practicing recall.
A loose lead is a happy lead,