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Expandable leashes vs. the short lease?

DEAR OLD TRAINER: I read an article written by a veterinarian advising everyone to never use an expandable leash, only a short one. I use an expandable with my dogs and have for 40 years and was happy to see you recommend them as well. I don’t know why anyone would use a short one, but am attaching the article. What are your thoughts on it?

Susan, Santa Barbara, California

A: The article has been around for years. The vet lists 10 reasons dog owners should use a short leash. All the reasons are based on two things—one, the human is too dumb to operate such a complicated object as a leash, and two, the dog is not trained and it’s easier to use a short leash than it is to train the dog.

It’s lunacy of the highest order—your dog is out of control so instead of training him, put him on a short leash. He will still do all the same bad things, but at least he will be on a short leash so maybe no one will notice.

That makes no sense of course, but I think I know why the vet wrote it. Spend day after day dealing with untrained dogs creating chaos in the office and you’ll likely develop a Freudian desire to see those animals controlled. Vets are interested in treating dogs in the most efficient way. In their minds a short leash—even though it makes no sense—at least gives the illusion of control.

The truth is, using a short leash is the worst way to walk a dog. It’s not training at all. It’s a way to avoid training, and causes problems instead of solving them (see next letter).

DEAR OLD TRAINER: Buster, my 5-year old mix plays with all dogs at the park and the beach with no problems. When I walk him on a leash he lunges and barks at every dog we meet, even though I use a short leash and keep him right next to me. What is going on?

Deana, Santa Cruz, California

A: You answered your own question. Buster is fine with dogs at the park and the beach, but aggressive on-leash. Therefore, the leash is the problem.

Here’s why:

1. Dogs are pack animals and want to meet any dog they see. If the dog is not friendly, they can flee. A short leash eliminates Buster’s options, making him feel insecure, so he shows his frustration by barking at the other dog. If everyone at the dog park kept their dogs on short leashes every dog would be barking and lunging instead of running around having a good time.

2. You are nervous and Buster feels the tension through the leash, hears your heart rate increase, and your breathing change. He looks around for the cause, decides you perceive the approaching dog as a problem, and acts to protect you.

3. A dog on a short leash is frustrated as a human stuck in a freeway jam. A dog on an expandable leash gets 20 times the exercise over the same distance as one on a short leash, plus has the freedom to act like a dog.

Switch to an expandable leash. Let Buster burn up energy and have fun while you relax and have fun. That’s the point of a walk.

A trainer for more than 30 years, Jack Haskins has rescued, trained and placed more than 2,500 dogs. Send questions to theoldtrainer@gmail.com.

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