Life-Saving Carabiners

They prevent hassles, too
By Karen B. London PhD, March 2016, Updated July 2016

Equipment can and does fail from time to time. Collars break, leashes slip out of hands and gates fly open. I’m a very responsible person prone to excessive checking and re-checking, yet I have had every one of these things happen to me at some point. It’s part of my general nature to have back-up plans, and these little misfortunes have only made me more aware of their importance.

A good recall, a solid stay and a reliable wait are helpful cues that I use as back-ups in case of an error or simple bad luck. It takes a lot of training for them to work in emergencies, which is when they are needed most. A back-up strategy that works even with no training is a welcome addition to any safety plan, which is the reason I’m a fan of the carabiner.

A carabiner is a metal loop with a spring-loaded gate that can be used to connect components together quickly and easily in a reversible way. Carabiners are used by rock climbers and by other adventure-sport enthusiasts. Sometimes, like it or not, working with dogs, especially the aggressive ones that are my specialty, is an adventure. Paying attention to safety in the way so inherent to successful rock-climbing just makes good sense. With dogs, we often need to attach things, but not in a permanent way, which is why I regularly use carabiners in two ways.

I use them on gates. Even when latched, gates can blow open in high winds. Where I live, we regularly get wind gusts over 50 miles per hour in the spring, and many dogs are accidentally released from their yards during that season. Not only do carabiners prevent latched gates from failing in this way, they also provide an extra safety against a gate being left unlatched. It’s easy for a latch not to fully catch, even if you think you’ve closed it, but if you’re taking the extra step of securing it with a carabiner, you know your gate is closed.

I also use them with leashes, harnesses and collars. By attaching any equipment such as a harness or head collar to your dog’s flat collar, you protect yourself from the failure of any one piece of equipment. Even if your dog slips out of one, it is still attached by the carabiner to something else on your dog’s body. It may not be functioning as it does when it is properly in place, but at least your dog is not free in a situation in which that would be dangerous. The leash can be attached to you with a carabiner by wrapping it around your waist for a hands-free walking experience (only if your dog won’t be trying to pull you over!) or to your backpack or other sturdy accessory.

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Make sure that the carabiner you are using is a true weight-bearing and locking carabiner, and not one simply designed to be used as a keychain or to hold something little like a mesh bag to a backpack. Many carabiners are great for casual use with light objects, but are not sufficient for the uses I’ve described here.

Have you used carabiners to help keep your dogs safe?

Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral problems, including aggression. She is the author of five books on canine training and behavior.