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Karen B. London
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Tangled in the Leash
Awkward, embarrassing and dangerous

Watching a neighbor walk a couple of dogs by my house recently, it appeared more as though the group was attempting a complicated macramé pattern than going on a brisk walk. These sweet dogs were weaving in and out, twisting around my neighbor, their leashes, and each other. One word came to mind: chaos.

I’m not picking on the person—just empathizing. I’ve had my share of leash mishaps, and performed the leaping-over-the-leash-and-spin-to-untwist dance. In fact, I’ve acquired enough experience to achieve a high level of skill at it.

Once, my dog and I walked on opposite sides of a tree and when I reversed to go onto his side (because were working on loose leash walking and he’d been doing so well I didn’t want to make him come back), he kept going and followed me around the tree. In the sort of absurd comedy or errors that all friends experience from time to time, we walked around that ill-placed tree, switching directions, several times such that an observer might have thought it was the maypole, not a maple. It was the dog walking equivalent of getting wedged in a doorway like The Three Stooges. Usually, we were quite adept at coming around a pole or tree, but on this one occasion, it was far from smooth.

I’ve never been injured by silly leash antics, but I know not everyone has been so lucky. Many people have been knocked over, jolted enough to hurt their backs, or even broken fingers when they got tangled up and the dog pulled on the leash. The trainer in me cannot help but point out that this is yet another reason to teach dogs to walk nicely on leash without pulling, though I’m well aware that sometimes bad luck is more a factor than a lack of training.

Please share your experience with leash acrobatics.

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Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.

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Submitted by Abby | July 21 2011 |

I'll never walk a dog on a retractable leash again! I used to walk a lot of dogs for people in our neighborhood and I've had so many burns on my legs from the cords of retractable leashes zipping past me. Plus, you have no control whatsoever with those clunky things. I have to stop myself from telling people who use them to throw them away!

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Submitted by Beth | July 22 2011 |

I second what Abby said! Retractable leashes are horrible. I used one for the first four years I had my dog without too many problems. Then last summer we were out on a walk and a neighbor had his dog off her leash. She dashed toward us, and I jerked the retractable leash back to get my dog closer to me, but it didn't retract so the leash scraped against my neck. It gave me "leash burn," and I still have a scar to this day.

Submitted by Zo | July 22 2011 |

My Sharpei/Mastiff X, Tenk, and I were doing our usual walk. We came upon some neighbors, one with a dog who always lunges and goes off on Tenk. I braced in case Tenk decided to lunge back. Instead he took off in the opposite direction after a lizard. Flat on my back, sprained ankle and pulled leg muscles. Dog looked at me as if I were nuts, lying in the street. Now I just grip leash but don't brace myself when we come on aggressive or loose dog.

Submitted by Veronica | July 22 2011 |

I aggravated an old knee injury and have had to use crutches at times. I've managed to walk my doxie with the leash handle on my wrist and then my hands on the crutches. Max has adjusted to my slower pace and we can walk nicely...until a squirrel/cat/dog appears...THEN it's a whole other ball game!! Fortunately, I've found that I can stomp the end of the crutch on his leash and stop him from pitching forward...it's been a work in progress!!

Submitted by Monica | July 22 2011 |

The main cause for this sort of chaos is the retractable leash! In my opinion they should NOT be used unless you're somewhere where your dog can actually range away from you and not tangle around anything or anyone...like in a big field or park. I have several neighbors with 2 dogs each and seeing them walk their dogs with two retractable leashes is ABSURD! I have no sympathy for them since they're causing their own troubles.

I have 2 dogs and I solved the problem by knotting their 6' leashes together at about the 3' point and so they're both tethered together but still have some room to move away from one another AND I have complete control over them. The other option is to use a coupler but I didn't want to spend the extra money so I just tied my existing nylon leashes together!

Submitted by Monica | July 22 2011 |

The main cause for this sort of chaos is the retractable leash! In my opinion they should NOT be used unless you're somewhere where your dog can actually range away from you and not tangle around anything or anyone...like in a big field or park. I have several neighbors with 2 dogs each and seeing them walk their dogs with two retractable leashes is ABSURD! I have no sympathy for them since they're causing their own troubles.

I have 2 dogs and I solved the problem by knotting their 6' leashes together at about the 3' point and so they're both tethered together but still have some room to move away from one another AND I have complete control over them. The other option is to use a coupler but I didn't want to spend the extra money so I just tied my existing nylon leashes together!

Submitted by April | December 4 2013 |

Even non-retractable leashes can get tangled around a tree or something. I (inadvertently) taught my dog "Back Around" when he was a puppy. He would wind around a something and I would stop, lead him back around the tree or post or even me (instead of untangling the leash) and I guess I always said "Go back around" so now all I have to say is "Back Around" and he untangles himself. It's a lifesaver when your hands are full and trying to maneuver the dog.

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