the dog leash, part 2

Some random observations which may later be compiled into a handout or paper for students.

I believe the leash is the most over-used and miss-used piece of equipment in the dog-training universe. It has at least three working parts:  1) the handle, designed to fit over or into the human hand,  2) the length of material, designed to determine the distance from the owner the dog can comfortably travel,  and  3) the collar around the dog’s neck, or the attachment to an existing collar around the dog’s neck, designed to control the part of the dog nearest the brain.

First, the handle for the human hand should be defined and assigned limitations. 

The leash handle is not supposed to hurt your hand, so those decorative leashes with such a tight weave that the edges cut into your fingers should be left on the rack at the discount store. Same for the leashes with leather handles and chain instead of fabric. About 10% of my basic obedience students show up with horribly painful (for the handler) leashes.

For my own dogs I prefer a heavy leash easily grasped by my fingers, soft cotton or leather. I’ve used rubber leash-handle inserts which keep fingers from being crushed and those are great for those wild-assed-shelter-dog walking episodes.

The leash in the human hand, more importantly, is not meant to harm the dog. Some of the behavior associated with the human hand and the leash handle includes:  1) the cheap shot, where the dog is standing next to their human, looking at activity in their environment, and receives a jerk to the neck as their first or only cue to pay attention to the human,  2) constant pressure, where the dog never gets to make the right choice of walking nicely beside the human because the leash is forever taut and controlling,  3) too many choices, where the dog is permitted to make all the decisions as to where the team will go, how fast, and whose space they’ll invade,  4) too rarely used, where the dog meanders off lead while the leash hangs from the human hand or sits on the kitchen counter, allowing the dog to poop in the neighbor’s yard, hike its leg on our rally obedience signs, or generally wreak havoc with the property of others,  5) walking calmly as a team, with the dog enjoying interaction with the environment but attentive to the movement of the human.

Second, the length of material between the leash handle and the dog’s neck should be defined and assigned limitations.

The length of material is meant to limit the area occupied by the dog, so an invasion of the personal space of other people or other dogs is controlled and calculated by the human part of the team. A flexi-lead, made of 10-15-feet of cord, allows the dog to invade more space than is prudent or safe. Also, that 10-15-feet of cord is incredibly dangerous and painful if it manages to wrap around your leg, ankle, or fingers while you attempt to extract yourself. Flexi’s should be outlawed at trials and are, generally, not permitted in our building. I actually own one, specifically for walking young dogs around motel parking lots, but most folks use them as a method for allowing their dog to poop in a spot where they can’t find it to pick it up. <g>

Additionally, that length of material shouldn’t be so short that the dog’s front feet are pulled off the ground. I watch conformation dogs gait down and back the ring and notice how “light on their feet” the dogs appear to be.  Seriously, those handlers are holding that line so taut and high that the dog’s front feet are barely touching the floor. Being judged on movement? Well just pull the leash up so hard that the dog’s feet aren’t weight-bearing and you show true movement, right?

With my dogs I prefer a 6-foot lead so they can walk as a group without getting under my feet.

The length of material, more importantly, is not meant to harm the dog or human. Some of the behavior associated with the length of material includes:  1)  humans wrapping the leash around and around and around their hands so that the dog, originally on a 6-foot leash and having 6-feet worth of choices, now has no choice but to be dragged about,  2) humans injuring their hands by wrapping the leash around their fingers so that every pull by the dog results in a crushed finger,  3) dogs circle the human legs creating a trip hazard, or 4) dogs put their front and/or rear legs through the leash loop, making the walk stop and making their human reach down to fix the tangled leash.

Third, the slip collar or attachment to the dog’s neck should be defined and assigned limitations.

It should not kill or maim the dog. It should not cause the dog to get caught on agility equipment, fencing, or any other element of their environment. It should include some sort of identification if the dog is visiting a strange place and if there’s a chance the dog might get lost. The slip collar or attachment shouldn’t be buried so deep in the dog’s coat that it takes longer to detach the leash than it does to run an agility course. A slip lead or infinite slip collar should not ever be left on the dog when unsupervised, or when the dog is not in training with a human. The possibility for injury or death always exists with an unlimited slip collar.

With my dogs I prefer a 6-foot lead attached to a martingale (limited slip) collar which is removed when the dog runs agility. Kory has a really neat collar made by Canine Buddy (“A professional lead for everyone”) which has a woven martingale neck-piece, attached to a rubberized “shock absorber” collar tightener, both of which get attached to a regular clip leash. (www.caninebuddy.com)

The collar around the dog’s neck, more importantly, is not meant to harm or kill the dog. Some of the behavior associated with the dog’s collar includes:  1) use of a choke chain or prong collar (aka “pinch” collar) and jerking the dog’s head, regardless of prudent training methodologies recommended by the manufacturer’s of these devices,  2) leaving fixed collars too tight or too loose, allowing the dog to slowly strangle or allowing the dog to slip out and disappear,  3) putting slip chains on puppies or adult dogs as their full-time apparel, leading to countless deaths by strangulation every year. (I once witnessed a treasured black lab puppy put in a vehicle for a nap and found, an hour later, strangled with his own choke chain. So very, very sad.)

In other news — Erica is right — the 2-Minute Dog Training homework handouts for Go Rally Training Manual should be single sheets, front and back, with 3-hole punch potential, rather than landscape-style brochures.

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