Caroline has more than 12 years of experience solving canine behavior problems either with families, in rescue or at her own home.
What Is a Retractable Lead?
Sometimes called a stretchy or extendable lead, a retractable lead has a long line that is wound up neatly inside the handle; the dog is in control of making the lead longer by pulling on it and unraveling it from the handle. Many can be locked to a chosen length to allow more or less control as desired. They have become a popular accessory, particularly over recent years, as they are now available for most sizes of dog and come in a selection of lengths.
Why Do People Use Them?
Simply put, many people use them because they believe the lead allows their dog at least some freedom without too much risk of the dog getting lost or into a situation that might be dangerous to them or others. For many, the retractable lead eliminates the need to train the dog and as a by-product encourages lazy dog walking etiquette, allowing people to continue walking without needing to pay too much attention to their dog.
Are There Any Pros to Using One?
So far as I can see, there is only really one possible reason to own a retractable lead, and that is as an aid to recall training. The lead allows some freedom in a public place whilst recall is practiced without fear of your best bud running off or getting into too much trouble, and is especially useful when teaching him to come back to you when there are distractions nearby or if he has already learned that not coming back is much more fun and that there is not much you can do about it. The end result being a trained dog that can eventually be trusted off the lead in safe places; the lead has done its job and can be finally binned.
So What Are the Cons?
There are a lot of cons to using an extendable lead, here are nine that I think pretty much cover all the bases.
- The first con I want to talk about concerns general lead discipline, many people purchase a retractable lead because their dog pulls on the lead and the retractable lead allows the handler a more comfortable walk, but actually, it will only reinforce the notion that your dog was right to pull on the lead, for him, pulling on the lead now means even more freedom, plus if he hasn’t already he will quickly become used to feeling tension around his collar and will simply normalize the feeling as just being a part of walkies.
- Another good reason to ditch the retractable lead is that it is quite simply bad psychology to let your dog charge on ahead of you. As his mentor, he should be looking to you for leadership and you can’t guide him if you are lagging behind, he is also more likely to show territorial behavior if he is the scout party.
- It sounds obvious but, the longer the lead, the further the dog is away from you, and subsequently the less control you have, especially if your dog is reactive to other dogs or people, you should be right there in the middle of the action so you can intervene the second it happens, you are no good twenty or more feet away.
- Also worth noting, is that in terms of safety, even manufacturers of these products don’t have much faith in them, whilst the leads are supposed to withstand the weight of your dog, manufacturers of these products will accept no responsibility if the cord snaps or the handle breaks, nor will they accept liability for any injury caused to your dog or you, under any circumstances. Don’t believe me? You only have to read the disclaimer that comes with it.
In 2007, a survey in the USA recorded 16,564 accidents involving retractable leads. Injuries to people ranged from burns and cuts to full amputations, 10.5% involving children under the age of Ten.
- If you need any further reasons to avoid these leads like the plague, lets talk about safety. Firstly, safety to your own dog. The retractable lead allows your dog to walk up to 26 feet ahead of you, behind you… and to the side of you. That means that if you are walking along the road with the lead extended more than a couple of feet, there is nothing you can do to stop your dog if he decides to dart out in front of traffic.
- It is not uncommon for dogs to cause injuries to themselves while using the leads either, mostly by sprinting away from you and getting a painful jolt to the neck as they suddenly find the end of the lead. Reports include injuries to neck, spine and trachea.
- And what about safety to others? If your dog can run sideways into traffic, there is nothing to stop him from doing the same in front of a cyclist or runner, even on a footpath. I’ve had to hurdle far too many leads as dogs have bolted across my own path when I’ve been out running, and it’s only a matter of time before I go flying.
In 2015, 59 year old Anthony Steel was awarded £65,000 in damages after suffering multiple injuries, including permanent hearing damage and fractured ribs, when his bicycle became entangled with a retractable lead.
- What if your dog gets in some bother with another dog, in this instance the lead might actually make matters worse. Just imagine a situation where another dog has approached to say hello, a couple of quick sniffs and both dogs could easily become entwined in the extended cord. Now unable to behave normally, the situation could quickly escalate and become dangerous, and not just to the dogs, but also to the people that will be frantically trying to untangle and free them.
- And finally, as if you needed any more reasons, the retractable lead encourages lazy walking. The dog leads the way as the “walker” ambles along behind. There is no discipline and the dog just pleases himself. It is not a good precedent to set with your dog, if he thinks he can do whatever he wants, and go wherever he wants, then why should he listen to you in other situations?
What Should You Do Instead?
- Walking the dog on a short lead is a great start, this gives the dog a little bit of discipline, it also instills a sense of calm and purpose to his walks, as well as an element of teamwork. No longer is he forging ahead, leading the way and protecting his pack. Now, you are a team, facing the world together, with you as his trusted mentor.
- Second, address all the reasons that prevent your dog from being trustworthy off lead. If he is over excited by other dogs, then he needs more socialization. If he gets distracted by smells, teach him to walk with his head up, paying proper attention to you. If he just won’t listen to you, then he needs more rules and discipline in his life.
- And then, teach him to respond reliably to the recall, and for this there is no magic wand, it is just a case of having plenty of tasty treats, praise or toys (or all three) and practice, practice, practice. Start in the house and garden and gradually build up adding more and more distractions and you will have ditched the retractable lead in no time.
Now you can let him off his lead in safe places, the benefits are huge. He will get more exercise and more stimulation as he will be free to explore as you walk, and play to his heart's content. Being off lead allows your dog to socialize more naturally with other dogs, he can go places you probably don’t want to go such as into the sea for a splash and swim, and he can run and fetch a toy, all whilst you enjoy the freedom of walking without a lead.
As a final note, it is worth mentioning that some breeds of dog just do not do recall. For them there are a growing number of secure dog parks that are opening up, some are free and some come with a small charge. Alternatively, learning to run or cycle with your dog might be an option for you, especially if they have a lot of energy to burn.
Happy and safe walks!
© 2016 Caroline Brackin
Why Switchblades Are Banned
Second Amendment enthusiasts are adding a new front to their right-to-bear-arms battle: Knives. In particular, the infamous switchblade, which has been banned by federal law since 1958. Why all the fuss? Well, it all dates back to racism, xenophobia, class warfare, and political theater. Sound familiar? It’s no coincidence this was the knife Freddie Gray was arrested for carrying.
But First, A Poem
An Encomium of the Drop-Knife.
No knife is so slick,
It is quick on its trick
And a joy that will last you through life.
There is none ‘neath the sun
Just like it, not one,
It’s the Schrade Safety Push-Button Knife.
If the button is pressed
The blade does the rest,
Opens out like a thing all alive
You break no thumb nail
In your efforts—that fail—
If you’re owning this Push-Button Knife.
It’s the handiest yet,
It is everyone’s pet,
And with all good knife merits it’s rife.
Its blades are rare steel,
And really ideal
Is this notable Push-Button Knife.
It’s the very quick pick
Of club, class, and clique,
Its equal they cannot contrive
It’s a true treasure trove,
And a thing you will love
Is this wonderful Push-Button Knife.
A. W. BELLAW, DeGroff, Ohio
An Italian stiletto or bayonet-style switchblade.
What’s A Switchblade?
To start, we should probably define what we’re talking about. Let’s let the federal government do that for us. The Switchblade Knife Act of 1958 defines them by saying:
“The term ‘switchblade knife’ means any knife having a blade which opens automatically—by hand pressure applied to a button or other device in the handle of the knife, or (2) by operation of inertia, gravity, or both.”
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And goes on to ban the manufacture, interstate transport, and importation of the knives, as well as their possession in federal territory.
Basically, a switchblade is a knife where you push a button to spring open the blade.
In your head, you’re picturing the Schrade ShurSharp, which was most popular during the first half of the 20th century. That knife was made in America, but aped the “Italian Stiletto” blade shape, which was a saber ground, single-edged blade with a partially sharpened false edge on its back. That’s a relatively ancient style which prioritizes an ability to thrust or stab over cutting efficiency or utilitarian design.
An early Schrade push button knife. Photo: WRSDesign
Sharp, Sexy. Safe?
Motorcycles and sportscars first achieved mainstream popularity in America when troops brought them home from WWII. And so, too, the switchblade. Schrade was contracted to produce an automatic-opening knife for US paratroopers and soldiers stationed in Italy brought back those Italian stilettos.
In short, the switchblade was sexy. Compared to the very basic nature of pocket knives of the time, the switchblade was both high-tech — it opened with a button! — and exotically dangerous in appearance.
Schrade had actually been manufacturing push-button knives since the turn of the century, marketing them to outdoorsmen, farmers and laborers as the height of labor-saving technology.
A 1904 advertisement from Schrade for its push-button pocket knife read:
Operated With One Hand.
No Breaking of Finger Nails.
Will Not Open in Your Pocket.
Will Not Close on the Fingers When in Use.
The Schrade Safety Push Button Knife, of which we are the exclusive manufacturers, is rapidly becoming the leading knife on the market because of its many advantages over the ordinary pocket knife. Being easily operated with one hand it is far more convenient than the old style pocket knife which necessitates the use of both hands to open and frequently results in broken finger nails. This novel knife is especially suitable for a gift or souvenir, as it is something out of the ordinary, very useful, and when furnished with one of our attractive handles makes an ideal gift.
Ironic that a knife marketed partially for its safety benefits would end up being banned due to its alleged danger.
A Poor Weapon
A modern analogy to the switchblade would be AR-type semi-automatic rifles. Those are black and look like military weapons, so some people think they’re cool, but others think they’re dangerous. In reality, any gun is only as dangerous as the person using it. And so too, with knives. A folded newspaper can be deadly in the right hands cars kill more people in the US every year than guns and knives combined.
Analyzing the switchblade objectively as a knife enthusiast, it’s a crappy weapon. The push button design, which is the only thing banned, introduces a major point of potential failure and that hinge is not only a weak point, but must allow blade “play” in order to function. That’s where the knife can wiggle a little, side to side, and that means the blade acts like a lever on that weak point, exacerbating failure. The longer the blade, the weaker that style of knife will be.
As a knife which only works one way — the thrust — it also lacks proper finger guards, tractive handles, jimping or other mechanisms for ensuring your hand doesn’t slide down onto the sharp edge. A sharp knife + a tight grip + your hand being soft and full of blood vessels and nerves + poor traction = serious potential for injuring yourself.
A weak knife that only works for stabbing and has poor retention is also one that’s likely to be lost or broken during any sort of fight. That’s not to say you couldn’t use one to kill someone, simply that there are and always have been better options that remain totally legal.
And unlike dedicated weapons such as guns, knives are carried primarily for practical, everyday and emergency uses. Take this letter for instance , written to an individual who had been gifted a switchblade and sent in duplicate to Schrade:
My dear Mr. Goring:
I want to tell you how you saved the lives of twenty-eight
people. You remember presenting a knife to me (Dr. B. E. Hawke)
while traveling with you from New Orleans. Well, I was on the
“Laconia” that was torpedoed and sunk three hundred miles off
the West Coast of Ireland. In lowering our lifeboat into the
water, we got about two-thirds of the way down the ship side
when the rope attached to the front ends on the boat got fast
in the pulley, and as the stern was gradually going down, we
were in a fair way to be dumped into the sea when some one
called for a knife and I happened to have the only one in the
boat and it was the Schrade safety push button knife that you
gave me, so I hastily opened it and cut the rope and let us
loose and down we went to safety. I certainly treasure the
knife and will try and not lose it, and when I get back to
America, will make you a present of it that is, if you would
care to have it. This was at 9:30 P. M. We were in the boat all
night and picked up by a warship the next morning, wet and cold
and numbed and shivering, but in a week I got pulled together
and am now nicely and completely settled at this hospital.
B. E. HAWKE, M. D.
Menace to Society
“Designed for violence, deadly as a revolver — that’s the switchblade, the ‘toy’ youngsters all over the country are taking up as a fad. Press the button on this new version of the pocketknife and the blade darts out like a snake’s tongue. Action against this killer should be taken now. It’s only a short step from carrying a switchblade to gang warfare.”
How’s that for melodramatic? And it’s just one passage pulled from a 1950 article in Women’s Home Companion (of all things) titled, “The Toy That Kills,” written by someone who was working as a ghost writer for Harry S. Truman.
During the early ‘50s, the white middle class became obsessed with the alleged danger posed by gangs of ethnic minorities allegedly roving America’s cities. That’s one reason for suburbia and the hysteria is what led to the Switchblade Knife Act, as well as the bans by individual states.
Urban street violence was the 1950’s version of The War On Christmas. Look over here while we develop the military-industrial complex! And the switchblade was sexy. What began with “The Toy That Kills” led to a raft of newspaper and tabloid stories, all vilifying the switchblade, then Hollywood got in on the act with Rebel Without A Cause, Crime In The Streets, 12 Angry Men, The Delinquents, High School Confidential, etc, of course culminating with the smash hit broadway musical, West Side Story. That debuted in 1957. It’s no coincidence that the federal Switchblade Knife Act was passed the next year.
“Isn’t it true that this type of knife, switchblade knife, in its several different forms, was developed, actually, abroad, and was developed by the so-called scum, if you want to call it, or the group who are always involved in crime?” asked Senator Frederick G. Payne of Maine during a hearing on the issue . From the same hearing:
“Vicious fantasies of omnipotence, idolatry. barbaric and sadistic atrocities, and monstrous violations of accepted values spring from the cult of the weapon, and the switchblade knife is included in this,” stated congressman Sidney R. Yates. “Minus switchblade knives and the distorted feeling of power they beget — power that is swaggering, reckless, and itching to express itself in violence — our delinquent adolescents would be shorn of one of their most potent means of incitement to crime.”
“Every day our newspapers report numerous muggings and attacks, most of them involving knives,” shouted representative James J. Delaney. “Can we sit by complacently and ignore the bloodshed in our streets? Doing away with switchblades will not be a cure-all for the crime wave sweeping the nation, but it will remove one of the favorite weapons of our juvenile and criminal element. it was not until about 1949 or 1950 that these things came into common usage. In the gathering of juvenile gangs and clans, nearly every one of them has a switchblade. It is a ritual with some of them to carry switchblades. It is not only the boys, but I was surprised to find that a great number of the girls carry them also.”
How to get your dog to stop barking at you
Below are some options you have when getting your dog to stop barking at you.
Positive reinforcement training
One option is to use positive reinforcement training. This is where you encourage the behaviors you want to see by rewarding your dog when it displays them and avoid rewarding it when it does not.
To use it to get your dog to stop barking you would do something such as:
- Stop giving it attention when it starts barking at you
- Give it attention when it stops barking at you
- Stop giving it attention again if it starts to bark at you again
- Repeat the above and reward it with treats when it does not bark at you when it normally would
You can watch the video below for some more positive reinforcement tips.
Give it a daily routine
Dogs generally like having a structured daily routine that they can follow. If it seems like your dog is barking because of wanting to be fed, walked, etc, it would help to start giving your dog those things at the same time every day so that it knows when to expect them.
Avoid encouraging the behavior
As mentioned above, it might be the case that you have been encouraging the behavior by giving it things it wants when it barks.
Instead of giving it things that it wants when it barks, try to stop rewarding it when it barks and to reward it when it does not bark.
If you can’t get it to stop barking or it is aggressive, it would also be an option to get help from a dog trainer or behaviorist. By doing so you should be able to see how to train it to stop and what is causing it to bark at you.
When training your dog, it is important to train it consistently over the course of weeks and months. If you just train it once or twice, it is not likely that you will be able to change its behavior much, but by training it consistently over the course of weeks and months, you can get much better results.
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The Best Everyday Dog Leash
We’ve added an FAQ section and updated buy links throughout this guide.
It’s important to have a reliable leash when you head out the door on a walk with your dog. No one wants a carry handle that’s uncomfortable to grip or a poorly-constructed leash that’ll snap at the slightest tug. The Max and Neo’s Double Handle Heavy Duty Reflective Leash is the best leash for most dogs and their guardians because the comfortable two-handle design makes it easy to quickly shift your dog if they’re headed into danger. And after 40 walks with our dogs the leash proved slow to fray, didn't trap odors, and retained its shape out of the wash. There's not a lot more you can ask for in a leash.