The Devil’s Own Creation (Or How I Feel About Retractable Leashes)

I would like to state for the record – this post is full of my own personal opinion.  I am not a dog trainer or a veterinarian –  I am simply a woman who spends most of her time in the company of many different dogs.

Retractable leashes….how many of you use them?  If I had to guess…I would say it’s almost an even split between those of us who use a good old-fashioned leash to those of you who go for the retractable variety.

In doing a bit of research for this post (ok…I should say “in looking for articles to reinforce my own viewpoint”), I was surprised to find that even Consumer Reports had taken the time to weigh in on this issue.  While their reporting told of a retractable leash severing a dog owner’s finger (seriously….read about it here), I was actually looking for something far less dramatic to discuss with you guys.  The Dog Whisperer himself, Cesar Millan states “You should never use such a lead [retractable] for just walking your dog” on his website.   (In fact…check out that link for lots of good dog walking and retractable leash tips.)

Retractable Leash

Picture from a great post on the Dogster site

I honestly do not see the allure of retractable leashes.  When I lived in an apartment, I did use one for Buffy.  She was having trouble walking on a leash…and I tried EVERYTHING.  The retractable leash did work: she walked better with it on and it did come in handy when I couldn’t keep up with her running up and down the stairs.  (We lived on the second floor.)  We did not really use it on long walks, though.   Scarily enough, we stopped using it only after it SNAPPED.  (Thankfully, Buffy is well behaved and did not run off.)

Using clients retractable leashes is – most of the time – just plain annoying.  (Try walking 5 dogs on all on retractable leashes and you will know the definition of annoying.)  The dogs seem to use it as an excuse to run out of control and not listen to me. I have received numerous injuries from the darn things…and while most of them were minor, I did receive a bad burn on the back of both of my legs due to a crazy dog running around me and then taking off.  (And when I say burn….I mean BURN.  It was very severe.  And I am not a wimp!)

So, I have my own experiences, Cesar Millan, and about a hundred other articles backing me up in my statement “Retractable leashes are the devil’s own creation.” 

But, we all know that there are two sides to every coin.  Or, as my mom would say “That’s why they make chocolate and vanilla!”

There are 2 instances I can see (and have seen from my own dog walking) where retractable leashes are not as horrible as I have lead you to believe:


I got the retractable leash SKILLZ!

***Long walks in wide open spaces.  Not all of us live in tight, cramped cities with traffic whizzing by and 15 other people out walking their dogs at the same time on the same narrow strip of sidewalk.  Maybe you are taking your dog for a hike. Maybe you live in the middle of nowhere and it is nice to let your dog explore without having total freedom.  That kind of activity gets this dog walkers retractable leash approval.

***With calm, relaxed dogs.  Now, I don’t just mean you have a good, well behaved dog.  I mean, you have a good, well behaved, won’t-chase-after-a-squirrel, not-gonna-get-excited-by-a-loud-noise, chilled out, could-probably-be-walked-without-a-leash dog.  They exist.  If you have one…well, stop reading this right now and go over and give her a big kiss because you are LUCKY…but yes, if you have one of these dogs, retractable leash it UP.

So…maybe retractable leashes aren’t REALLY the devil’s creation.  Maybe they do have their own place and time.  I guess what this (self-proclaimed!) dog expert is wondering is, how did they become such a staple in our dog society?  Why do dog lovers feel the need to buy and use them?  These questions, dear readers, are ones that only you can answer.

Looking forward to reading your comments!

5 Dog Specific New Year’s Resolutions You Should Make (don’t worry…they are realistic!)

2013 is here!

Usually, I’m not one to make new year’s resolutions.  (Let’s be realistic…who sticks to those anyways!)  Call it maturity – or insanity – but this year I decided to outline a few areas of my life that I might improve upon.  I didn’t write them down….I didn’t tell anyone…but I am going to keep them in the back of my mind as I travel through 2013.

Then I realized it might not be such a bad idea to make new year’s resolutions – just for my pups.   My dogs are my constant companions…but when things get crazy, their wants and needs seem to be the first things to slip my mind.  So, here is my list of 5 Dog Specific New Year’s Resolutions.  Consider them suggestions, loyal readers; let’s see if we can take a few minutes out of each day and brighten our dogs’ lives.

1.) Hang out – OUTSIDE!  Amigo Outside

Imagine being stuck in your house for 23.5 hours a day.  (Ok, so the first day would be glorious if you didn’t have to go out to work/run errands/be productive…but EVERY day?)  Now imagine you are genetically hard-wired to roam around in the sunshine, but you are literally imprisoned in a house.  (As humans, we really can’t even imagine what this is like!)  This is the life of your dog.  Dogs are animals first…and animals spend all their life outside.  Do I want you to walk your dog?  Of course I do!  Walking is great bonding and is an awesome way for you both to exercise!  Do I want you to take your dog to the dog park?  Of course I do!  What fun for your dog to get to make friends and socialize!  Do I think it is realistic to tell you to routinely spend hours of your life doing these things with your dog?  Of course I don’t!  What can you do?  You can spend time with your dog in your own backyard.  You can take your dog with you when you visit your mom…go to the drive-up teller at the bank…go pick up fast food.  Get them out of the house – when it’s convenient for you.  Your pups will rearrange their schedules!

2.) Challenge their minds!

Some people (not you, of course!) think that dogs lack intelligence.  This could not be further from the truth.  Let me tell you – when you were a kiddo, you weren’t that smart.  Your mom and dad had to spend hours teaching you how to talk, how to walk, how to read.  They devoted their whole lives to it!  Dogs, like humans, WANT to learn…and (unlike you in your childhood) they WANT to please their parents.  So teach them!  What can you do? As I have blogged before, I think you would be surprised at how quickly dogs pick up vocabulary.  This could be as easy as saying “bone” every time you hand them a bone, or “Kong” every time they bring you their Kong for a peanut butter refill.  Before too long, you can create a game – say the word, and as soon as your pooch brings the item to you…give her a treat.  (You won’t need the treats for long – pups love this.)   You can even sit on your lazy behind for this one!  You can do it on commercial breaks, for goodness sake!  It give your dog something to do, and they will love you for it.  (There are also lots of puzzle toys you can get to entertain your dog while you are busy/away.)

3.) Keep them healthy!

Of course you take good care of your dog!  You keep them hydrated and nourished.  You give them treats and blankets and (if they are lucky) let them sleep in your bed.  Some things, though, might slip your mind.  What can you do?  Every dog, every month, should be given heartworm medication.  (I am especially bad about forgetting this.  I feel horrible!  I have the medicine, but just can’t seem to remember to give it to them monthly!)  There are also little things you can do to keep your pups in tip-top shape.  Cleaning out their ears every 2 weeks, trimming their nails, bathing them…all things we can do in our own homes that take a matter of minutes, yet sometimes these things slip our minds!  Picking up poop is another thing we often forget.  It’s our yard, why should we have to worry?  It’s in the back, no one will see it.  Dogs are low to the ground.  They aren’t careful to avoid their waste, and they trample right through it.  Then, their paws itch and they lick them.  Not hygienic!  (Oh – and they come right inside and jump on your furniture, pillows, bed, carpet…you see where I’m going with this.)

Dog reading4.) Educate yourself!

How many books on dogs are there?  We surely will never know, but it seems a new one comes out weekly.  There are books on dog training, breeds, behavior, history, evolution…science has finally gotten around to studying the animals that live closest too us.  There is a seemingly endless fountain of knowledge when it comes to our four-legged loves!  What can you do?  READ!  Pick up any dog book that looks interesting to you, and read it.  (I am a big fan of the library…so don’t even give me the excuse you don’t want to shell out the dough.)  Even if you don’t pick up the most highly regarded one, it will get you thinking.  Maybe you won’t agree with what that nut job author tells you to do, and you’ll start a conversation with your coworker about his dog.  Maybe you won’t believe that a dog’s brain works like that, and a Google search will lead you to a site that will confirm the unbelievable and get you asking more questions.  In any case, you will get a better understanding of what your dog is thinking or feeling…and why they are thinking or feeling that in the first place.

5.)  Give them undivided attention!

Ok, so this last one is a broad statement.  I’m not going to suggest where you do it, when you do it, or how you do it.  I’m not going to say how often you should or how long it should last.  I’m just going to suggest you spending some quality time with your furry best friend.  What can you do?  Put down your cell phone (I’m not even going to tell you to turn it off, because we are staying realistic here, people!)  Turn off the TV.  Shut down the iPad.  Just BE with your dog.   Talk to him.  Pet him.  Kiss him.   Love him.  Does he want you to throw the ball?  Do it!  Does he want you to lay down and nap beside him?  Do it!  All he ever wanted was to have your attention and to make you happy.  (And treats…he wants treats!)  Remember why you got this little guy in the first place!  It wasn’t to bark every time your doorbell rang or to track mud in from the yard.  You got him to be your companion and to make you happy.  Let him do his job!

Pablo and Buffy

Lazy Sunday = Home School (Vocabulary Lesson)

If you’ve ever read anything I’ve written about dogs, you know my #1 advice for a happy pup: WALK.

But sometimes, you can’t go for a walk (weather!)  And sometimes, if we are being totally honest, it’s Sunday and your just being lazy.  This is the situation that I found myself in today.  Me – not wanting to go outside due to a hot, humid Houston day.  Buffy – bored.

Step 1 – Make sure your dog has proper eye glasses.

If you’ve ever been in this situation, let me offer a piece of advice: Teach your dog a new word.  Dogs need mental stimulation as much as they need physical stimulation.  It’s a win/win: your pooch will be happy that you bust their boredom AND they will actually be physically tired once you’ve finished playing teacher.  The word you choose does not need to be a command (example: sit, down, etc) or it could be an object…or a location…or a person.  Get creative!  (And think how impressive your pup will be at your next party.)

I guarantee (yes, GUARANTEE!) that this process will be easier than you think.  (Warning – Your first session will be PAINFULLY slow, but hang in there!)  Remember, ALL breeds of dogs will enjoy this easy exercise.  Vocabulary lessons aren’t just for labs.

Follow these 5 SUPER EASY steps to school your pooch:

(1) Choose your new vocab word carefully – Make sure the new word doesn’t sound like any commands your pup already knows.  If you are working on objects that can be retrieved, make sure your dog is comfortable with the object, and it won’t be painful to carry in his or her mouth.  Keep the words short and easy to understand. (ex. ball, rope, pen)

(2) Listen to your own voiceThe number one mistake of people training their dog is to repeat the word/command until the dog complies (which could make the word sound like a longer, more complicated, completely different word!)  Say the word once, and say it the same each time.  By changing our tone and inflection, we humans can easily confuse dogs without even realizing it.  “Give me FIVE!” “GIVE me five.” and “GIVE ME FIVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” all sound like different commands.  Say it once, and then wait (even if it’s a full minute) until your dog obeys and you can praise him.

(3) Remember past lessons – Dogs speak no English…. seriously, it’s easy to forget.  If your dog doesn’t know “come”, he or she might not even show up to class!  If your pooch doesn’t know “sit”, that should be lesson #1.  In fact, I start each of my sessions with a few “sits” and “downs” – commands that I know my dog knows like the back of her paw.  This gets her from crazy co-ed to studious pupil.

(4) Get in the mood – Cesar Milan calls it a “calm submissive state.”  Whatever you call it, be aware of your dog’s mood before you begin your lesson.  If your dog is all worked up because the mailman just passed, it is not a good idea to try to use a vocabulary lesson as a distraction.  Also be aware that your mood matters too.  If you just remembered you forgot to pick up the dry cleaning you HAD to have for tomorrow and are stressing about it, your dog will pick up on your anxiety.  (Oh, and plus, you are much more likely to get frustrated with your poor pooch.)

(5) Be Patient – This is definitely the most important advice.  I know, I know…you are thinking “Duh!  I know I have to be patient.”  Think about however much patience you think you need.  Now multiple it by 10.  That’s really how much you need.  When I get frustrated, I try to put myself in their paws.  What if I went to China and someone was trying to teach me Chinese?  How quickly could I  hope to recognize, understand, and remember a handful of words?

If you can follow these 5 easy (I mean, really, they are SUPER easy) pointers, your pup’s IQ will raise in no time.  With short sessions on a (fairly) regular basis, my own dog knows everything from “kiss” to “bring me the remote.”

…and we didn’t even leave the house!

Training 101 – Repeat Repeat Repeat

I’ve never tried to learn Japanese, but I can imagine how hard it is.  Spanish is so similar to English – even those of us whose study of the language ended in high school Spanish II can usually at least get the drift of what Spanish speakers are saying.  But Japanese!  You are dealing with different  inflections, grammatical structure, and sounds!  This is what makes training your pup so difficult.  Not because your puppy speaks Japanese, but because you two are speaking entirely different languages. It isn’t that she doesn’t want to learn, it is that she literally has NO CLUE WHAT YOU ARE SAYING! 

I care for a dog….let’s call him Buddy…who has some major aggression problems.  Buddy’s mom loves him dearly, but she refuses to train him or correct any of his bad behavior.  (This has resulted in Buddy biting and drawing blood on more than one occasion.)  I consider myself pretty fearless when it comes to those on four legs, but this guy is big and has been known to get me a bit rattled.  His mom prefers him to be walked with a harness, but of course Buddy HATES having his paws/legs touched.  He likes me well enough, so usually he is pretty tolerant of me gently lifting his paws.  Usually.  One morning, when Buddy was in a particularly cranky mood (yes, dogs can have bad days too) he tried to bite my face when I lifted his paw.  (I say “tried to bite” but I don’t believe he was actually aiming to take my nose off.  He absolutely could have…but he didn’t.  I believe this was his way of putting me in my place by trying to scare the bejesus out of me…aka a “correction bite.”)  (P.S. It worked!  I had the bejesus scared out of me!!)  Of course, walking Buddy every day is part of my job, so I couldn’t let a little thing like teeth to the face scare me away. 

I came up with a plan.  I would say and do the EXACT same thing before every walk.  EXACTLY the same thing.  I would stand by the door, instruct Buddy to sit (this included waiting until he did…no matter how long it took!), slip the harness over his head, and say “paw” when I was going to touch his paw and lift it into the harness.  By going through these steps every day, in the exact same order, Buddy knew exactly what was going to happen.  Better yet – he knew that nothing bad was going to happen to him.  Wouldn’t you know…after only a few days of “sticking to the script” Buddy lifted his paw every time I said “paw.”  By simply repeating the EXACT same thing, he learned what to do all on his own. 

I have done this same thing to increase my own pup’s vocabulary.  I don’t actively try to teach her words, but if I pick up something, I will say what it is.  The key to this is NOT to include the word in a sentence.  Just say the word.  For example – to teach her what the TV remote was, I simply said “remote.”  I did not (at least not in the beginning) say “Bring me the remote.” or “This is a remote.”  I did not sometimes say “tv remote” and sometimes “remote control.”  I just said “remote.”  It didn’t take long before she caught on.  Now, when I sit down to watch tv and the remote is out of arm’s reach, I simply say “Bring me the remote.” (she is already familiar with “bring me the ___”) I don’t even have to get up!  She’ll bring it right too me. 

This is why so many people have trouble training their pooches.  To your furbaby, “sit” and “sit down” are completely different things.  If you teach your dog “down” (as in laying down on the ground) you cannot also say “down” as a command to get off the furniture.  It seems like such a basic thing, but listen to yourself next time you are training or instructing your dog to do something.  Also, make sure that everyone taking to your dog is using the same vocabulary.  If your dog is jumping up to get his paws on the counter – are you saying “down” while your wife is saying “off.”  If so, your dog either (1) thinks you two are nuts or (2) will never learn what the heck you are trying to say.

Training and vocabulary work are great ways to keep your dogs mind sharp and to intensify the bond between you two.  Make it a point to work on new objects every week.  In an amazingly short amount of time, it will be like you are both speaking Japanese! Your pup will be happy….and you’ll never have to get up to get the TV remote again!