I was in Buckhead last Sunday working with a new Home Dog Training client and her fourteen month old Weimananer named Jasper.  I love Weimaraners and Jasper was a beautiful, young dog.  He was very active and was performing all the “normal bad habits” such as jumping, not paying attention, stealing stuff, and pulling on the leash.  This was my client’s first large dog and all the techniques she used to do to correct her toy poodle just weren’t working with Jasper.  I was there for several hours explaining why Jasper was not being a good boy and teaching her what she needed to do to have him obey and be good.

Never use extension leashes

After a few hours, Jasper was a changed dog. He no longer jumped on her, obeyed her commands and directions, stopped stealing just stuff, and was a far better walker.   My client was successful in becoming a great teacher because she understood the need to stop interacting with Jasper as if he was a human and start to interact with him as if he were a dog.  One major modification I had her take was to immediately stop using an extension leash. I have very few “in stone rules” when it comes to dog training.  Not using an extension leash is one of them.  I went on to explain to her…

My client became successful in gaining Jasper’s respect, focus, and obedience by affirming with him that she was the one who was going to always keep him safe.  This means that she has a large responsibility of placing Jake in a safe situation 100% of the time. Dogs don’t understand “sometimes”.  They only understand “I am safe” or “I am in danger”. If my client places Jake in an unsafe situation, if only for 10% of the time, it will put Jake in a fearful position 100% of the time.

Let’s turn to extension leashes and the ability to always (100% of the time) keep your dog safe when you are using them.  We first need to understand that we normally use extension leashes outside when we are walking our dog.  We normally purchase them instead of a “classic six-foot leash” because we anticipate allowing our dog to wander farther than six feet away from us on the walk.

Since it is our responsibility to keep our dog safe when we are on a walk, we must ask the question “Can I keep my dog safe if I am using an extension leash?”. We need to look at this question from two perspectives.  We first need to ask how we cold keep our dog safe if our dog is twenty feet away and we need to immediately get him back to our side. We also need to ask what we would need to do if our dog is by our side, but we need to quickly direct him if a danger (i.e. aggressive dog) becomes critical.

First, I have very few options if I need to get my dog back by my side if he is twenty feet away from me and I am walking him on an extension leash. The leash has a button to allow my dog to move away from me. It does not have a button that will pull him back to me. If is very difficult to try and grab the fine wire that most extension leashes use as its “tether” to pull my dog back to me.  If I can actually grab the wire, I will normally cut my hands if my dog is pulling.

Since the extension leash is designed to be held in my hand, a quick and strong lunge by my dog will probably dislodge it from my hand. Since the mechanical part of the leash that allows for more or less lead to be provided is a small breaking mechanism, spring, and plastic button, that can also easily fail.  I will loose total control of my dog at that moment.  The extension leash has almost no ability to keep my dog safe if he is walking at a distance.

Let’s look at the same scenario if I were to use a standard training lead.  A “training lead” is simply a classic leash that is long.  If I needed to retrieve my dog quickly when he was wearing a training lead, I could quickly grab and pull the lead back to me.  If he were to lung or pull expectantly, I have the ability to hold the lead with both hands.  The lead gives me a very easy tool to keep my dog safe when walking at a distance.

Next, let’s look at the a situation where I have my dog walking right next to me and a dog expectantly charges. Since I am holding the training lead by the handle in one hand, it is very difficult to direct him behind me or quickly in one direction. If I had a small dog, it would be next to impossible to use the extension leash to pick my dog up quickly. I could not provide him with any form or protection in this situation.

If I were walking my dog with a standard leash and a dog expectantly charges, I can easily grab the leash with two hands to direct my dog behind me or in a safe direction.  It is also very simple to use the leash to quickly pick up my small dog. Again, I can keep my dog safe with a standard leash and the extension leash offers no real protection.

And finally, even though this is not a specific “safety issue”, I want to mention the main reason why most people have problems walking their dogs.  If I am walking my dog with an extension leash and he is pulling, it is exceedingly difficult for me to perform any control or direction when I am holding the handle of the extension leash in one hand.  Since I have very little control over the tension of the leash when my dog is pulling or lunging, all my dog senses are “reciprocal tugs” to his tugs. It turns into a “tug of war”. My dog can use his entire body and all I can do is to try to hold onto the leash with one hand.

If my dog is pulling when attached to a standard leash or training lead, i can easily grab the leash with two hands and direct him left or right. I can also take both hands to give quick jerks to have him look back towards me. Since i am using both hands, i am using a large part of my body to direct and control him to a point that I find appropriate. This “extra power” gives me additional self-confidence in my actions. My dog can naturally sense that assertive nature and quickly submit.

I would like to change course for just a moment and share a story told to me by one of my clients over ten years ago.  He was a paramedic down in Atlanta and had a two-year-old Dalmatian named Smokey.  I had been called out to help him with some obedience and excitement issues with Smokey. During the course of the lesson, I had discussed my aversion to extension leashes.  He said he had experienced a very bad situation with a person walking their dog on an extension leash while he was out on a call several weeks earlier. He shared his story:

It was really early in the morning and the sun has just come up. They were heading to an emergency call driving down a major street.  Ahead of them, he could see that a man and his dog were out for an early morning walk while it was still cool. The dog was sniffing the grass at the edge of the street.  The owner had the dog on an extension leash and was too busy listening to his ear pods than paying attention to his dog. Because it was really early in the morning and there was no traffic on the streets, they had their lights on but were not blaring the siren

Just as they got close the owner and the dog, the dog leaped in front of the oncoming fire truck.  It happened so quickly that the truck’s driver couldn’t respond.  He told me that they were sitting so high up, they couldn’t initially see if they had hit the dog.  My client said that everyone’s hearts were were racing as they looked back down the road where they had passed the man and his dog.

Luckily, they had just missed the dog by inches.  My client said that this incident impacted every Fireman and Paramedic on that truck for the rest of the day.  If the dog had jumped a moment sooner he would have been right in front of them and he would have been instantly killed.

Can I state it any clearer than this?  Please, no extension leashes, no, never.

Please call Robin or me at (770) 718-7704 or (770) 718-7716 if you need any dog training help.  We are blessed to have been your local dog training professionals for over sixteen years.  We have trained over 5,000 great dogs and loving families and are ready to help you.