Pet Points: Retractable leashes risky for pets, humans

Nice weather is finally here and it is possible to exercise without slipping on the ice. Walking is a great way for you and your dog to begin shedding those extra winter pounds.

However, owners of older adult dogs need to remember that they have aged five human years since last spring. Start out slowly and work up to a more vigorous routine. Walking on grass on very warm days will be more comfortable for your pet than a hot sidewalk. Consider taking along some water as dogs get overheated easily; never stress a dog in the heat. You should always have control of your dog on a leash except in an off-leash area.

A recent article on the Veterinary Information Network warns about the danger of retractable leashes. Dogs using these leashes can run ahead or lag behind and have more freedom to explore the environment. Unfortunately, they can also stray into the street or wrap up their owner with the cord and trip them, especially if greeting another dog. In a veterinary office, retractable leashes can permit dogs to approach each other and cause an occasional disaster as the leashes get tangled. Fights between dogs can escalate because the long leashes make it hard for owners to control them.

Dogs can develop significant momentum before getting a jerk at the end of the leash. The VIN article showed a radiograph of a dog with a torn trachea (windpipe). The dog had strayed into the street and was hit by a motorcycle, but the neck trauma was thought to be from the yank of the leash.

In 2009, Consumer Reports also warned about the hazards of retractable leashes. In the story, a woman's finger was severed when it became caught in the leash. I had a retractable leash with my last dog, but it broke from the strain of my new large-breed dog. Some pet stores ask owners not to bring in dogs on retractable leashes because of their poor control.

Responsible pet owners control their dogs when out in public. A long leash can permit the dog to approach people who do not appreciate the greeting. When walking my dog I always walk between my dog and other pedestrians. I believe a traditional leash gives the owner more control.

Some people who have trouble controlling an unruly dog resort to a prong collar. When pulled and tightened, it will work, but it is not the best option. Most veterinary behaviorists and trainers prefer a head collar. Marketed under a number of brand names and looking like a horse halter, this collar has a strap of fabric that circles the mouth and gives the walker better control of the head.

Proper diet and exercise are the best prescription for good health. Leash your dog, enjoy the spring air and shed those extra pounds safely.

Lawrence Gerson is a veterinarian and founder of the Point Breeze Veterinary Clinic. His biweekly column is intended to educate pet owners. Consultation with a veterinarian is necessary to diagnose and treat individual pets. If you have a question you'd like addressed in Pet Points, email Include your name and municipality or neighborhood.