On July 1, Georgia’s new “hands-free” law went into effect, making it illegal to hold a phone while driving. Public-safety officials hope this will save lives, but they also know that cell phones are not the only culprit. Anything that causes a distraction – such as eating while driving – has the potential to cause an accident.
This got me to thinking about another situation in which people try to “multi-task” with their hands: walking the dog. And I’m not referring here to a brisk “power walk” that provides vigorous exercise for both human and animal. No, I’m talking about the routine “potty breaks” that most dogs need at least three times a day.
Many pet owners find this ritual to be tedious and boring, so I can understand why they would want to bring along their phone for entertainment. The problem is that while they become utterly absorbed in sending texts or checking their social-media pages, the dog is neglected.
As a pet owner, you have a responsibility to monitor your dog’s well-being. You brought him outside specifically so he could pee and/or poop, but if you don’t bother to look at him while you’re out there, how can you be sure he actually did his “business”? You should also be checking his “output” for any medical problems. (Does he have diarrhea? Is there blood in his urine or stool?)
Here’s the other issue: If your hands are busy playing with your phone, who is holding the leash?
And sometimes it’s even worse. I often see people who are walking the dog, operating their touch-screen phone, AND smoking, all at the same time. And no, none of these people has three hands.
All of this complicates what I already felt was an unsafe situation. Many people walk their dogs using a retractable “flexi” leash, which I am adamantly opposed to because it does not provide adequate control. Just as drivers should keep both hands on the wheel, dog-walkers should keep both hands on the leash in order to counteract any sudden movements by the dog.
With a flexi, you’re holding a slippery piece of hard plastic in one hand, and the only thing that prevents the dog from jerking the leash out of your grasp is your ability to maintain a firm grip at all times. The failure rate is high, and do you really want to risk losing your dog because of flimsy equipment?
I use a 6-foot, rolled-nylon leash, with the loop wrapped around my right thumb and then double-wrapped around the square part of my hand. That configuration makes it impossible to lose a dog, because the more he pulls against the leash, the more it tightens.
Nevertheless, I keep my left hand on the leash as well. And yes, that precludes being able to use a phone. But with 24 hours in a day, there is plenty of time for that later. When I’m one-on-one with my dog, she deserves my full attention.
Debbie Gilbert has been handling dogs for 50 years and won numerous AKC obedience competitions with her late Sheltie, Sunny. She lives with her current Sheltie, Daisy. E-mail your Pet Tips questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.