A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.
- John Maxwell
As you’ve seen from my previous posts, I firmly believe that a dog possesses a keen intellect. They are capable of surveying the world around them, and formulating questions in relation to their surroundings. In the pack, the questions are answered by the leader, or Pilot, as we refer to them in the PAW Method. How can you tell who the Pilot is in a pack? Well, they’re usually the one in front.
And there is my beef with retractables. Actually, I have several of them, but the biggest is that you are actively letting your dog be Pilot. No, you aren’t just “letting your dog be a dog”. Which dog? The lead dog? Dog’s aren’t one-size-fits-all, just as humans aren’t. I don’t let my kids drive the car so I can “let them be a human”.
I’ve seen many near accidents, and unfortunately, two actual accidents, because of retractables. You have no control over your dog’s manners when your dog is on a retractable. I’ve had this scenario play out many times: I’m walking Sparta (who is dog-reactive, and 100 lbs.) and someone in the park has their dog on a retractable, and your dog (who’s on a retractable, 20 feet from you) decides to run over to Sparta. Now, here comes the myth: no, your dog doesn’t want to play with other dogs. That is not the reason they are coming over. The reason they are coming over is because they have a question: Is this other dog a threat? Most dogs will answer the question themselves with a “no”, but tell me, how are you going to handle the situation if they decide that yes, the other dog is a threat? You’re 30 feet away!
As I mentioned, Sparta is dog-reactive. I will never be able to change that, it’s who she is. I can, however, Pilot her past other dogs. If we see or pass by another dog, she automatically looks at me for a brief second to see what my answer is to her question: Is this a threat? I know that the moment to answer that question is brief and the absence of a “no” is “yes”. My body language (bored) as well as a tap on the leash with my index finger give her the answer she was craving, and we move along. So ask yourself this: Sparta’s behavior is based upon my seeing her and answering her question. Do you really want your dog who “just wants to play” coming up to my Sparta? Sure…it’s ultimately my responsibility to handle Sparta’s behavior, but are you willing to risk your 5 lb dog’s life on it that I will? Do you believe that every owner of a reactive dog is working to address their dog’s reactivity? Didn’t think so.
Also, retractable leashes are astronomically rude: I don’t let my dogs go to the bathroom in the front yard. They have a designated spot in the back. When I’m on a walk, and I feel my dogs need to “use it”, I will curb them, allowing them to go where their urine won’t damage someone else’s lawn. How many people let their dogs wander front yards while on a retractable?
Obviously there are some use-cases for a retractable. Letting your dog outside to go to the bathroom if your yard is unfenced might be one. Possibly teaching recall in an open area. Beyond that, retractables baffle me. What are your thoughts on retractables? Have you ever used one? Would you support a ban on them in your city?