Sunday, June 6, 2010

Keep It Short

Every leash law in the country that I have ever heard of requires a six foot leash. Not an eight foot leash - even though that would be much safer when hiking in the mountains.  Ever try to stay out from underfoot of a pair of hiking boots with a human scrabbling down behind you?

Observe: the six foot leash.

Six feet is the length of leash that allows a person to pull a dog back from danger or from being dangerous, if they are paying attention. Used responsibly, a six foot leash tells everyone around them that they won't get jumped on or have their butt sniffed -- which I have noticed is not popular with most people.

Two dogs meeting on six foot leashes know it is an even playing field. It may not go as smoothly as when we are both unleashed and can practice dog manners unfettered. But it is better than having one dog on a short leash while the other roams free or dorks around on an extra ten feet of string.

Six feet does not allow a dog to shoot off like a rocket thinking she isn't leashed  -- only to be yanked off her feet when she hits the end. That hurts!

And six feet leashes are made of wide, non-cutting webbing or leather that doesn't hurt like the dickens if it gets tangles around a limb or other body part. No one enjoys that.

Well, duh, you say. What leash would allow dogs to go crazy and jump on people, make dog meetings tense and threaten to dismember you if it gets wrapped around your ankle or finger?

Meet the retractable leash.

Up to sixteen feet of cord is available. Supposedly braked by your thumb. 

How does it work? As describes one such product:

"Once Fido is leashed up, the cord moves in and out freely with the release the trigger. Squeezing the brake trigger stops the cord again when the pooch is at a comfortable distance. The brake also locks (and unlocks) quickly with one hand to keep your canine cohort at the perfect distance thanks to a handy locking lever. When it's time to reign in* Spot, you just hold out your arm in the direction of your dog, pull the brake trigger and lower your arm to your side to pull him in, releasing the brake trigger and repeating this step until your dog it at the desired distance."

*Carmella's correction: the proper term is "rein in" - as in pull back on the reins -- not "reign in" which implies some sort of evangelical ministry goings on. 

I understand the whole point is to give Fido more room to roam. You believe, rightly so, that dogs deserve to be able to sniff and explore. And you would expect Miss Carmella to be jumping for joy at this concept. But even if retractable leashes weren't painful and dangerous - which they are (check out the horror stories at the Consumer Reports safety blog) -- retractable leashes are one of those products that serve the individual and not the pack.

There are plenty of products and behaviors that we all desire for "me and only me" - the rest of the world be darned. I am not talking about a tasty bone -- my ownership causes you no pain other than jealousy (seriously though, take a step back!).

I am talking about products and behaviors of the few that threaten the balance of happiness of the many. Boom boxes on the beach. A me-only pass for the sane lane. Public human nudity (not that I'd care). Reaching into to bulk bins to snack at the co-op or double-dipping your chips at a party (again, I personally wouldn't be bothered but I search for meaningful examples for you). Backyard fireworks lasting into November (just buy less next Fourth of July -- sheesh!). I could go on and on and so could you.

Who doesn't, deep down, want to be the only one allowed to disregard the rules while everyone else follows them? I'll bet you hate everyone else talking on their cell phones while they drive... but do you really pull over to answer yours? Really?

The fact of the matter is that a dog that is trained has no need for a retractable leash. We can trot alongside just fine on six feet. And you can stop and let us sniff when we feel like it (aHEM, Susan).

A retractable leash doesn't give dogs more exercise. You want to give Fido more exercise?  Get your tushie MOVING and put on some miles.  How about you drop that health club membership and devote the time and cardio rate to Fido?

You feel bad for the constraints of the six foot leash? Your dog doesn't want a few more feet of leash. She wants off, now and then. There are plenty of places to run off leash. And don't even get me started about the idiots who use retractable leashes at the dog park. I can't even SEE those darn cords when I bound up. OUCH!

And finally, let's talk about reining in your dog on a retractable leash. If you want to retract the leash, the tension on the leash has to be released for the spring to suck in the slack. There is no crank to reel it in. Fido has to stop while you walk forward or Fido must return to your side.

I don't think I am off my mark to generalize that people using retractable leashes aren't the type to have taught their pooch to heel on voice command. If there is a squirrel and Fido isn't trained, off he goes. There's no reining in happening. All you have is sixteen feet of razor sharp cord ripping to and fro. No doubt, personal injury lawyers love them.

So please, for the love of the human/dog pack and all the social mores that keep it peaceful and safe, lose the retractable leash. Or at the very least, use it when you are very, very alone. But at that point wouldn't you just let Fido run free? He might run away, you say? Get thee to obedience class!

Other post titles considered:
  • I Demand a Retraction!
  • It's Only Fun until Someone Loses an Leg
  • Stop! In the Name of Love - Before You Break Her Neck! 
  • A Six Foot Leash Beats Six Feet Under


  1. I learn so much from you, Carmella. I didn't have the leashed idea about all this.

  2. Check out for really alarming graphics!