As a professional pet sitter, my first and foremost concern of course are the pets -- their safety and well-being. When I'm walking someone else's dog(s), as well as my own, safety for the dog, others and myself is a priority. Having an enjoyable experience is also important for all involved!
Over the last fifteen years, I have either experienced or witnessed all kinds of situations and scenarios while walking dogs. I have had someone else's (otherwise friendly) unleashed dog attack and almost kill the dog I had on a leash. I've had dogs come charging out of an open door or gate while walking by with a dog so many times I can't begin to count them. I've had small children come running at me (with parent near by), wanting to pet the dog I'm walking, which is not friendly and doesn't like to be around children. There have been times I have turned around and run the other way with the dog to avoid situations.
Not long ago I passed someone walking their dog on the other side of the street and she wanted to bring her dog over to say "hi" to the dog I was walking, which was 1) not my dog, 2) not dog friendly and 3) was barking and displaying aggressive body language that was obvious to me, but was not understood by her. She got mad or offended when I said it wasn't my dog and declined!
I've had dogs pull out of their collar. I even had a dog back out of her harness once (which was obviously fitted too loose). I've had collars break, leashes break. I mean, when you do something long enough, you will experience just about everything that can happen while doing it. And as you go along, you learn by experience what kinds of things or situations to avoid. So for safety's sake, my rule of thumb is stay away from all others -- people and other dogs.
Another thing that I have learned along the way to avoid are retractable leashes.They are anything but safe. If you want to use one while walking your own dog, that is your choice. But as a professional pet sitter in a big city, I don't use them walking other people's dogs and I don't use them to walk my own dogs either, for many reasons:
- They are easily pulled out of your hand. A sturdy loop that is around your hand and wrist can't be beat for control -- and control of the dog is of the utmost importance.
- They allow dogs to get too far away to have reasonable control if something occurs to warrant quick action. Six feet away is long enough. I have seen people use retractable leashes with prong choke collars, which is an oxymoron.
- They can break or snap unlike a regular leash (that is the correct size and strength for your dog).
- They can and have caused burns, cuts and worse -- amputations.
- They are dangerous in that dogs can easily jerk their necks or cause spinal injuries while behaving like the animals they are, and charging after something full speed, or just running and not realizing when the end of the line is coming.
- They actually teach dogs to pull. Dogs learn that to get a longer extension, or to go where they want, all they have to do is pull hard enough and they get it.
- To have any dog, especially a large dog, essentially on a string/thin cord/thin ribbon is not a good means of control. When I see children walking their dogs on these, I just cringe. Not a safe idea.
- They are just harder to manage, especially if walking more than one dog and picking up the poop, which in most places is the law.
- They can malfunction and won't retract.
- They can frighten dogs (especially fearful ones) if they are dropped, and then they are injured due to running to try and get away from the handle that is chasing them. (True story.)
- I don't know of a good positive reinforcement dog trainer or a veterinarian that recommends them.
This is a perfect example of why I cringe when children use them. I have either experienced, witnessed, read or heard about so many different instances in which people and/or pets have gotten injured or worse while using a retractable leash.
Even adults have trouble using them correctly. More recently, a man was walking his large dog down our street on a flexi-leash. Our three-legged cat was sitting in the driveway, up close to our house, far from the street, where they were walking. The dog saw our cat as he got close to our house and ran full speed after our cat, going to the end of his extended leash line in about a second, yanking the man up into our yard with him. As the dog ran around a tree and the man himself a few times -- all the while this man never uttering a word to try and control his dog or using the brake on the leash, this man ended up being all tied up and tangled in the flexi-leash, trying to get himself out of it. It took him a few minutes. (Our cat ran and got away to safety.) And this is a grown man!
So as a policy, we do not use retractable leashes. If you are a client and that is all you have, no worries -- we have our own preferred equipment that provides the control and safety that we require. And if someone walking a dog sees you and your dog coming towards them and they go the other way, don't be offended. We're just playing it safe and keeping it fun!
I want to thank Karen Becker, DVM, for writing a great article on this subject, which inspired me to finally write about it too. Read her article here:
Dr. Becker: 10 Reasons Not to Use a Retractable Leash
And another more recent article on the subject by Dr. Becker:
Pitch These Five Items in the Trash