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Chapter 12: In The Park Using A Recall Lead

The recall lead has many advantages:

  • It gives your dog a combination of freedom and safety.

  • It’s an excellent tool to use when your dog is learning to come when called.

  • You’re able to create a limited off-lead situation in an on-lead park (and your dog therefore gets to enjoy some freedom while you stick to the rules).

  • It gives you peace of mind if you’re in an unfamiliar park where there’s a road nearby or an unfenced body of water.

  • It gives you peace of mind in any park - familiar or unfamiliar. (Even generally reliable dogs can be disobedient at times and the recall lead keeps your dog safely attached to you.)

  • It means that a deaf or blind dog (or an older dog who’s gradually losing his or her sight or hearing) can remain safely attached to you while enjoying a certain amount of freedom.

Commands Needed For Running In The Park Using A Recall Lead

  • free.

  • this way.

  • uh-uh.

  • leave it.

  • good wee-wee.

  • come: tells the dog to come to you.

  • Possibly (if you walk to and from the park) heel and stop/sit/stay.

As you can see, the commands are the same as those used for on-lead walking as outlined in Chapter 9: Walkies, with one important addition: come.

Equipment Needed For The Recall Lead

  • Sneakers.

  • Treat bag and treats.

  • Harness.

  • Recall lead.

  • Adjustable lead.

  • Possibly (if you heel-walk your dog to and from the park) head halter and EzyDog Standard Extension.


The same pair of sturdy sneakers you use for walks will provide protection for your feet when you and your dog are roaring around at the park.

Treat Bag And Treats

Ask any trainer and they’ll tell you that they teach a dog the
recall (that is, to come when called) using a lead, specifically
a recall lead). The command come is one of the most
important commands of all, and could one day save your
dog’s life. So make the best use of the recall lead by using a
few minutes of your time at the park doing recall training.


The Harness: Snug And Sturdy

A well-fitting harness (but not a front-attaching one) that’s strong and durable is the safest and most practical option when using a recall lead. The last thing you want is some flimsy number that’s likely to break if any pressure is exerted on it.

Dogs come in so many different shapes and sizes that it’s impossible to say which is the best brand, as it will be different for every dog. If you buy from the internet, measure your dog carefully (as per the instructions given on that site) to see which size your dog is in that particular brand.

Correct Fit

While a too-tight harness would be uncomfortable, a too-loose harness is dangerous because with most harnesses your dog could pull backwards and execute an escape.

As in collars, two vertical fingers under the harness straps is a good rule of thumb to follow, but get your vet to check the way you’ve adjusted the harness just to be sure you've got it right.

Houdini-Proof Harness

I mentioned the Ruff Wear Web Master Harness in
Chapter 7: The Right Equipment in the section on special
needs dogs. However, these harnesses are not just
for special needs dogs - they are the perfect harness for
any dog. To begin with, they're escape-proof. Most harnesses
have two points of attachment - one around the base of the
neck and the other around the chest. The
Ruff Wear Web
Harness has a third point of attachment
around the belly and, fitted correctly, will thwart any
escape attempts by even the most determined dog.


Why Not A Head Halter?

Using a head halter with the recall lead is a potentially deadly combination. Think about it: a dog wearing a head halter running to the end of a recall lead will have his or her muzzle pulled back forcefully in a sideways motion. This, done with enough force, could break your dog’s neck. Do NOT attach a recall lead to a head halter.

Harnesses And Recall Leads Belong Together

If your dog runs to the end of the recall lead with a harness on, his or her shoulders will take the brunt of the force. Since the shoulders are one of the strongest parts of a dog’s body, even a hard yank by a fast-moving dog will unlikely cause grave damage. For that reason, a harness is the safest option for your dog when using a recall lead.

Desensitisation Plan For Harnesses

When it comes to a harness, it’s generally a simple matter of putting it on and going out.

However, if you’ve adopted a previously abused or neglected dog, he or she might need desensitisation to a great many things that a non-traumatised dog wouldn’t. A harness might be one of them. If this is the case for your pooch, use the desensitisation plan I gave you for collars in Chapter 8: First And Foremost, The Collar.

Home Alone

Don’t leave your dog alone with a harness on. The dog
could try to take the harness off, get tangled and get hurt.
Or the harness could get caught on something and the dog
could end up injured while trying to free him-or herself.
Harnesses are to be used only while your dog is with you.


The Recall Lead

Recall leads come in varying lengths starting from 5 metres. Get your trainer’s advice as to what length to use, taking into account your dog’s obedience level. Also, consult with your vet about what length is suitable for your dog’s age, size, and any physical condition he or she may have.

Detour: A Note On Aggression And Recall Leads

You must have eyes at the back of your head and all your wits about you if you have a dog with aggression issues on any length of recall lead. And the longer the lead, the more aware you have to be.

Not all dogs with aggression problems are suited to using a recall lead. It depends on the following:

  • The level of aggression.

  • Who the aggression is aimed towards.

  • How big and strong the dog is.

  • How big and strong you are.

  • How much control you can exert over your dog when he or she escalates into aggression.

  • How crowded the park is where you plan to take your dog.

If you have an aggressive dog, the matter of whether he or she is suited to a recall lead (and if so, how long that recall lead should be) is a decision to be made in conjunction with your vet, trainer, and behaviourist.

Double Detour: The Bucket Muzzle

If you use a recall lead with an aggressive dog, you MUST use a bucket muzzle too. It will keep others safe, and alert them to your dog being aggressive (no one can accuse you of not being responsible and not giving fair warning if your dog is wearing a muzzle).

It’s important that it’s bucket muzzle and NOT a cloth muzzle, as a bucket muzzle will allow your dog to pant and lose heat as he or she runs around.

Triple Detour: Even If Your Dog Is Not Aggressive…Other People’s Dogs Can Be

There are people out there who are either:

  • In denial about their dog’s aggression.

  • Don’t care about the consequences of their dog’s aggression.

  • Actively encourage their dog’s aggression.

And you’ll sometimes find such people in dog parks with their dog (irresponsibly, I might add) off-lead. So be careful - not all dogs running around free in a park are necessarily friendly dogs.

Now, of course, these people and their dogs can be anywhere - not just in parks. The difference, though, is that in every other activity I suggest on this website, your dog is right near you. Using a recall lead in a park is one situation where your dog won’t be, so I thought it was relevant to stop for a serious reality check on the matter at this point.

No need for paranoia, but be aware of these irresponsible people and their unfortunate dogs, and be extra careful when using a recall lead.

Retractable Lead?

A retractable lead might be longer than an average-length one-metre lead, but it isn’t a recall lead and I don’t advise that you use one for all the reasons I mentioned in Chapter 9: Walkies.

Yes, it’s convenient that the retractable lead retracts as you dog comes closer and extends when he or she goes further away. And, yes, it’s less convenient manually reeling a recall lead in and out as necessary, but a recall lead gives you more control over your dog and that's immensely important. To be a responsible animal guardian, YOU need to be in charge not your dog. Your dog doesn't know about the dangers of city life but you do, so be responsible by staying in charge.

Why Reel In And Out?

If you’ve yet to use a recall lead, you might wonder why you’d need to reel a recall lead in and out at all. An example is if you want your dog to have enough lead length to sniff at a tree, but not so much that he or she can wrap the lead around the tree. In other words, it’s a matter of practicality.

Elasticised Leads?

Recall leads with elasticity don’t give you enough control. The recall
lead you use should be non-springy to give you maximum control.


Step On The Recall Lead

A dog with a good grasp of the command come is what’s needed when it comes to recall leads, but sometimes, in the height of excitement, a dog won’t come when called.

If you’re in a situation where you must reach your dog quickly, I’ve found that reeling your dog in isn’t the quickest way to do it. Instead, step on the recall lead, and walk along the length of it (as you would a tightrope or a balance beam) until you reach your dog.

Note: Different Names For Recall Leads

When you hunt around for recall leads, some petshops use other names besides "recall lead". You might find they use the terms: long lead, tracking lead, and lunge lead (lunge leads are normally used for horses, but can be used as recall leads for dogs too).

Attach Your Dog To You

Attach the recall lead to you via your adjustable lead.
As with on-lead walks, be mindful of your lower back by always
keeping one or two hands on the lead at all times.


Detour: A Big Dog Concern

If you’ve got a big, strong dog who runs like the wind, the momentum of such a dog running full-ball and reaching the end of a recall lead could dislocate your shoulder if you already have a pre-existing problem like recurrent dislocation.

The healthcare professional looking after your shoulder is the person to get advice from as to whether you should use a recall lead at all. If you get the go-ahead, be very careful and do weights and Pilates to fortify your shoulders.

Double Detour: Abouuut Face!

Be vigilant of the direction your dog is moving in and make sure you’re facing that way too. What I’m referring to specifically is when you’re facing one direction and your dog decides to tear off behind you.

You facing one way and your dog running at the speed of light in the other will pull back your arm. If you’re not quick to turn around to face the direction your dog is going, the pull could give a sudden and severe stretch (or, worse, a tear) to the muscles and ligaments in the front of your shoulder.

Paw Problems

Recall leads should ONLY be used in parks (not shared pathways and definitely not footpaths). The problem with parks is that during certain times of year they can get full of bindies. Keep an eye on your dog for signs of bindies like limping or nursing a limb.

The Ancient Art Of Bindy Removal

Only move your dog’s leg within the dog’s range of motion when checking for bindies. That is, bending at the knee and ankle in an up-down motion, NOT twisting side to side.

You can cradle a smaller dog to remove bindies, but for un-pick-up-able dogs, the best way is to crouch next to your dog and check the paw pads by bending your dog’s front paws up towards his or her chest and the back paws towards the tail.

Early Morning Or After The Rain

An unwise time to take your dog to the park using a recall lead is after it’s been raining or early in the morning when the grass is dewy. The reasons:

  • Wet grass can be irritating to a dog’s skin.

  • Water soaks into the lead, it gets filthy with mud and grass, and your hands then get grimy from reeling the lead in and out.

I suggest that you use off-the-grass ways of exercising your dog on a dewy morning or after a rainfall.

Detour: At The Beach

If you live near the coast, it’s loads of fun for your dog to run along a dog-friendly beach. The drawback is that the recall lead becomes extremely heavy as it gets caked with wet sand. This is okay for a healthy, energetic dog, but definitely not for older dogs or ones with debilitating physical conditions.

Double Detour: Not Taking The Beach Home With You

If your dog is a good candidate for using a recall lead at the beach, to prevent everything you own from getting covered in sand, put a towel either outside the house or in the car (if you’ve driven to the beach) before heading off.

When it’s home time, walk your dog long enough so that the sand, you and your dog all become quite dry. De-sand yourself and the dog with the towel and, once home, it’s directly into the tub for a bath (or a simple rinse-off, if you’re not a pathological clean-freak like me!).

Constant Vigilance

Just because the recall lead is a safety net of sorts, it doesn’t mean you can go on holidays mentally. You still have to be vigilant at all times for these reasons:

  • Irresponsible people allow their aggressive dogs to roam free.

  • A dog can wrap the lead around a tree and become distressed.

  • The lead can wrap around one of the dog’s legs and he or she could get hurt.

  • Depending on your dog’s body shape and the type of harness you use, a dog doing an energetic backward pull could possibly execute an escape.

  • Your dog could find food that you don’t want him or her to eat.

An Important Note On Food

Unfortunately, some inconsiderate people treat parks and beaches like rubbish tips. They’ll leave food lying around and you must endeavour to keep your dog from eating it for many reasons:

  • You want to be able to control how much your dog eats, and found food adds unwanted calories to your dog’s daily intake.

  • The food could contain cooked bones, which can slice up your dog’s insides.

  • If your dog is allergic to certain foods it’s possible that the dumped food is something your dog shouldn’t eat.

  • The food could be toxic for dogs (eg. chocolate) and possibly kill him or her.

  • If your dog is diabetic, carefully controlling his or her food intake is something your dog’s life literally depends on, so found food is a real danger to such a dog.

  • Last but not least, there are despicable people who would poison dogs via food. And don’t think that it doesn’t happen: some people are dog-haters and have no qualms purposely dumping food containing poison in areas that dogs frequent.

With obedience training you can teach your dog the leave it command, so that they ignore things on the ground when you tell them to. Under controlled conditions (eg. training at home or in an obedience class) this is not difficult to achieve, but can be super-difficult with found food out in the real world. However if your dog knows leave it, you at least have more chance of preventing your dog from eating the feast that he or she has come across.

The bottom line is: keep your wits about you and keep your dog away from food that’s just lying around. It might be harmless, it might be harmful, but don’t take the risk to find out.

>>>On to Chapter 13: Doing The Swim

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Mountain Bench Lead
John and I use two sizes of recall lead for the dogs. One is this 8-foot recall lead (called the Mountain Bench Lead) by Prestige Pet Products...

Flat Cotton Recall Lead
...and the other is the 9-metre Flat Cotton Recall Lead by Prestige Pet Products.

dog attached to Mountain Bench Lead
Jasmin with me. We're connected to each other by the Mountain Bench Lead. An enthusiastic dog like Jasmin charging away while attached could easily pull the lower back of a small person like me right out. So I'm always sure to keep one or two hands on the recall lead at all times.

dog on Mountain Bench Lead
And here are the boys, John and Jake, also attached to each other via a Mountain Bench Lead. Even though John is a big guy who is unlikely to have his lower back pulled out by a little dog like Jake, he still keeps his hands on the lead to ensure back safety. Better safe than sorry, right?

dog on Flat Cotton Recall Lead
When Jake is on a 9-metre Flat Cotton Recall Lead the human in question (in this case, John) tends to be way ahead and waiting for him to be done with his sniffing. (Truly, it's like Jake's a furry four-legged forensic investigator trying to find evidence wherever he goes!)

dog attached to Flat Cotton Recall Lead
But when it comes to Jasmin, it's the other way around - she's off and away trying to be in a ten different places at once and we're doing all we can to keep up with her. (Of course, we never can!)

Ruff Wear Web Master™ Harnesses
I've tried many harnesses on my dogs over the years, but from the moment I tried the Ruff Wear Web Master Harness, I was convinced that it's the ONLY type of harness to use. These harnesses are padded (and therefore comfortable), sturdy (I doubt you'll have to get a replacement in the dog's lifetime), and have three points of attachment to ensure there is no escape even for the Houdini-est of dogs. I took the above photo in low light to show another excellent feature of this harness: reflective strips that glow in the dark, which means that even in low light conditions, your dog will still be visible to you and others.

dog about to jump the gap
One of the handiest things about the Ruff Wear Web Master Harness is that we can airlift little Jake when he needs a helping hand. For example, in the photo above, there's no way Jake will make the jump from one rock to the other. Check out what John does next...

dog is lifted
...up Jake goes into the air...

dog lifted across the gap
...and not only is his body supported by the harness's three points of attachment, they also ensure there's no way Jake will slip out while being airlifted. Although John's using the 8-foot Mountain Bench Lead, this kind of airlifting can be done with a normal lead too.

dog lands
So Jake lands safely on the other side of the rocks...

walking again
...ready to keep exploring!

Bucket muzzle
This is a bucket muzzle. If your dog has aggression problems, it's wise to use bucket muzzle when he or she is on a recall lead. It's ESSENTIAL that it is a bucket muzzle and NOT a cloth muzzle as the bucket muzzle allows a dog to pant comfortably, which is extremely important when your dog is exercising.

dogs wearing bucket muzzles
Jake (right) and Jasmin (left) modelling bucket muzzles. As you can see, there's loads of room for a dog's mouth to open so that he or she can pant, but there's no chance of biting through this muzzle.

Cloth muzzle
This is a cloth muzzle. I can't stress to you enough that you should NOT NOT NOT use this type of muzzle while exercising your dog. Have a look at the picture below to see why.

dogs wearing cloth muzzles
Here are Jake (right) and Jasmin (left) with cloth muzzles on. You can clearly see that the cloth muzzle does not allow a dog to open his or her mouth at all, and that's why it's thoroughly inappropriate to use when exercising a dog: a dog that can't pant is a dog who will overheat. Cloth muzzles are for short-term use in situations such as a painful procedure at a vet's when the muzzle is on for a very brief time to prevent a bite when the dog is under stress.

Checking for bindies
I'm checking Jake for bindies the little dog way - by picking him up and checking under each paw. If he were a big dog I'd leave him on the ground and lift each paw by bending it away from the ground (NOT side-to-side in a twisting motion) to check for bindies.



Adopt a homeless animal instead - they all deserve a second chance

It's estimated that 130,000 dogs and 60,000 cats are killed every year in Australia because there are not enough homes for them all. And the global numbers amount to millions upon millions every single year.

Puppy mills are a major contributor to the terrible problem of overpopulation. Puppy mills are essentially 'dog factories' where dogs are forced to churn out litter after litter, with no thought for the welfare of the dogs and all thought for profit. The dogs live in appallingly dirty, cramped conditions all their lives, and when they no longer serve their purpose they're killed, dumped or sold to vivisection laboratories.

Petshops fit into the picture because puppy mills are generally where petshops get their animals from. Furthermore, having animals in shop windows encourages impulse purchases, and adding an animal to your family should be a conscious, careful decision - NOT one to be made while shoe shopping.

Breeders contribute enormously to the tragic statistics above too. And it doesn't matter whether they're professional breeders or backyard breeders, and whether they breed for profit or not, because while there are homeless animals sitting on death row in shelters, any and all animal breeding is utterly irresponsible.

Now, here's where you come in. You can either be part of the problem or part of the solution. You can either buy animals from puppy mills, petshops or breeders and be part of the problem. Or you can adopt from a shelter or rescue organisation and be part of the solution.

If I haven't convinced you, visit your local shelter to see the homeless animals. Let their innocent faces convince you that adopting is the only responsible choice to make.

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