Consider This: Is it safe? Is he comfortable and happy?

Animal Chatter

By Iris Winston

It looks attractive, but…

A happy Pit Bull Terrier mixed breed dog looking up as its owner pets it

Those were the words from a friend of mine as she looked at the illustration accompanying one of my pet columns. It showed a cute white dog on a long leash walking far ahead of an older man holding the leash.

It brought to mind a life-changing accident for my friend. She recalled the day that her own dog, eager for his daily outing, moved ahead of her in a similar “I’m the head of the pack” mode. He didn’t pull hard until he spotted a squirrel in the distance. Then, apparently forgetting his leash and the person holding it, he took off at a run, causing my friend to crash to the ground. Though the dog meant no harm, his enthusiastic “Gotta get that squirrel” response resulted in her hitting her head as she fell and landed her in hospital for close to three weeks.

Not every dog-walking incident will have such major consequences, but the main reasons for leashing a dog remain. A leash is intended to help you maintain control and to protect your dog from harm. A long leash, pulled taut because Fido is lunging ahead fails to achieve either objective. In addition, retractable leashes tend to encourage dogs to pull, frequently tangle when they are at full length and can cause friction burns on the owner’s hands as they rewind too fast.

Forrest, hiking and old couple with dog on nature walk in mountain in Peru for fitness and exercise. Travel, man and woman on hike with Labrador pet, love and health on retirement holiday adventure

A short leash, usually from four to six feet, preferably with a second handle in the middle, works best for me. With safety in mind for both human and animal, walker and dog move side by side and the leash remains slack as the pair travel along a sidewalk. There’s time for the dog to check out assorted aromas and read the “pee-mail” from other canines along the way, but this is primarily a time for quiet walking and heeling. With luck (for Fido), the destination will be a designated off-leash area where the dog can safely enjoy his time running free.

Another image favoured by designers is of a smiling dog leaning out of a car window as it speeds along the highway, with the dog’s ears and fur blowing in the wind. Much as any dog may enjoy the view and the many scents that blow his way, allowing him to lean out of a moving car endangers his life and his health. Apart from the risk of him being ejected if the driver has to stop suddenly, there is the even more likely issue of debris flying into his eyes and damaging his sight or leading to an infection. Even more hazardous is allowing a dog to ride in an open truck bed. That’s simply a horrible accident waiting to happen.

Less dangerous, but still a problem in my book, is people dressing their dogs up in silly costumes. I am not talking about the kind of jacket intended to keep an animal warm on a cold day, though some dogs hate any type of clothing. They will show how stressed they are by panting or standing like statues until the offending garment is removed.

While protecting a dog from inclement weather is for the animal’s sake—whatever his reaction—outfits draped over a pet to amuse the owner and friends has nothing to do with the animal’s protection or comfort.

In the first place, making your pet look foolish amounts to lack of respect. More to the point, material not meant to be used for clothing a fur-bearing animal might cause him to overheat if worn indoors or lead to irritation of the skin. A bandana is fine for a short time, but a restrictive outfit covering much of the body is almost bound to make any pooch uncomfortable.

So, whether the focus is on the length and type of leash, the size and material of the collar, the dog’s position in a vehicle or any kind of dogwear, there are two questions to be answered: Are he and you safe? Is he comfortable and happy?

Almonte, Ontario, writer Iris Winston is a former executive director of the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies. She has been an animal lover all her life. Her pets have always been important members of her family.