I am blessed to be able to walk my dogs in a park that runs along the bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Unobstructed views of the Pacific, ocean breezes, and a friendly, neighborly atmosphere make this one of the many reasons I love living in Santa Monica.
On a recent 75 degree February afternoon, an otherwise tranquil sunset stroll was abruptly interrupted when an out-of-control Dalmatian mix nearly tackled my dog and I. I hadn’t noticed the liver spotted, 60lb bulldozer until the point of impact because his human was a full 10 feet behind, barely holding on to the end of a retractable leash. When I suggested that the dog walking next to me wasn’t fond of unknown dogs jumping on her back, this person’s response was “he’s a puppy. He’ll learn.” No “sorry my dog jumped on you and assaulted your dog,” no “are you alright?,” and no attempt to control her dog until she was 10 feet past us, with her dog straining at the end of the leash.
Unfortunately, this isn’t my 1st encounter with a human failing to take responsibility for their dog’s behavior while attached to a retractable leash. Far from it. Whenever I venture into public places that permit canines these days, I see dogs leading their people into all sorts of uninvited encounters. Not surprisingly, many of these situations end badly, with one or more dogs being pulled violently away from an ensuing skirmish, or worse. Regardless of whether or not anyone gets hurt, from that point forward the propensity exists for one or both dogs (or their handlers) to create future problems, due to this negative experience.
Of course there were encounters with unruly dogs before the widespread use of retractable leashes, but it was different. First of all, humans were rarely more than 5 feet from their dogs, so it seemed they were more aware of what they were doing, and thus responded more quickly. I also think being in close proximity increased human accountability. It’s much easier to look the other way or avoid eye contact when you’re 10 feet ahead of, or behind your dog. Walk in any park in Los Angeles long enough and you’ll see little brown piles of plausible deniability being deposited right in front of you.
Retractable leashes in and of themselves are obviously not the problem, but rather enable humans to make bad choices where dog behavior is concerned. I believe most people choose to be responsible dog guardians, when they know how to be. Standard, 6 foot (non-retractable) leashes are much better at communicating that message, in my experience, and should be required in any public setting where dogs are likely to encounter other people or dogs.