Downeast Dog News

Do you know how long your dog’s leash is?

A calculated risk
By | Jun 01, 2018
Photo by: google images Both of these dogs are exhibiting behaviors which would prompt me to stay far, far away from them.

"She's now frightened of the birds at the window feeder."

"DeeDee" (not her real name) is only 15 months old, but she landed in the hospital overnight for emergency medical care after being the victim of a violent attack that left her physically injured and emotionally traumatized.

DeeDee is an impressionable human baby who had just recently discovered the joys of her improved mobility and the exploration it allowed. She was out enjoying a springtime walk with her mom when her world very suddenly turned upside down. An on-leash dog approaching them lunged at DeeDee and in a millisecond, grabbed her face, and shook her, causing serious lacerations. Thankfully, the physical wounds will heal with time, but the emotional damage will linger well past “toddlerhood." Traumatic events like this can upend a child's general sense of security and well-being and can have a significant impact on important aspects of development. It’s going to be a long road ahead for young DeeDee.

This event and events like it are totally, completely preventable but, unfortunately, occur way too often. If DeeDee’s attacker were human, the crime would have been classified as “aggravated assault.” Aggravated assault is a felony punishable by a fine of thousands of dollars and years of imprisonment. When a dog is the perpetrator, it’s a civil issue and consequences vary by state and jurisdiction.

If a dog cannot physically connect with the object of his aggression, he cannot cause physical harm to it. It’s a no-brainer, right?

We dog owners need to do a better job of ensuring the safety and well being of those around us. We need to give our dogs more space from the little kid who evokes fear in our dog (or vice versa). For those “vertically talented dogs, we also need to give more space from the human he is sure to jump on if he has the chance. We can control the space our dog has access to when he is on leash. Likewise, even if we don’t own a dog and never intend to, we must educate ourselves about dog body language and safety. At some point, we will encounter them; after all, we are a country of 90 million dogs to 326 million people. Some dogs walk around like angry, fully-armed bandits: cocked, locked and ready to shoot at the slightest thing. This type of dog can be a public health risk.

When I’m leash walking a dog in public, I find myself making perpetual calculations and observing my dog, so I know what is drawing his attention at any given moment. How long is my leash? How far is the nearest distraction? What can my dog reach? Is there a person or dog approaching? If so, how can I position myself so that we can pass with sufficient space so as not to interfere with his movement or ours? If there’s a dog approaching, how long is his leash? Does he have skills, or is he excitedly lunging and pulling his way towards me? (If it's the latter, we high-tail it away). What skills does my dog have that will help manage the situation or on the flip side, what behaviors does my dog have that will make the situation more challenging? These assessments have to be made on the fly.

A whopping 18’. Did you know that a regular 6’ leash can offer a dog a diameter of about 18 feet of movement? That figure factors in the length of the leash plus an extended arm (about 3’), doubled. The figure is doubled because our dogs can move from one side of us to the other in no time flat if we aren’t paying attention. A full body lunge and its momentum will add up to even more than 18’. Retractable leashes make calculations impossible – I avoid them at all costs; a dog’s behavior is unpredictable if he has a 50’ range of movement.

Some things to consider:

1. Safety is the biggest concern –yours, your dog's and anyone he may come into contact with.

2. Our dogs will notice things that we don’t. Observe your dog, so you know what he’s paying attention to – you’ll have a chance to re-direct and get out of Dodge before it’s too late.

3. Limit your dog’s available space by limiting the length of the leash. Our dogs should not greet every dog and every human they encounter. In fact, it’s best if they learn to pay attention to their own human (by way of generous rewards), but they should definitely not greet anyone if they are pulling and/or if the object of their desire objects.

4. Limit your dog's view by blocking it; this will often help reduce his interest.

5. Teach skills to your dog which will help with day-to-day living, including good leash walking skills, attention games, and fun games to play while you are out and about.

6. Take good stuff with you on walks, so you can reward your dog for appropriate behaviors.

7. Know what your dog is paying attention to. Always!

8. Contact an experienced, certified professional dog trainer for help.


If you are reading this, you are probably a dog owner and a dog lover like I am. Please be responsible for everyone's sake. Someone's future may very well depend on it.

If you are interested in learning more about this case, I will be adding more information to Downeast Dog News on-line.