Back in the late 1970’s I started training my Golden Retriever with a well-known Oregon dog trainer who with his wife, had nationally ranked obedience Papillions. Dave Elizares was a short, confident, charismatic man who on the one hand trained dogs for the police yet entered illegal cock fights with his birds on the weekends, was an expert ballroom dancer yet was proficient at martial arts. Many people were jealous of him, many even hated him but everyone agreed that he was one heck of a dog trainer.
The first night at his basic obedience class both sides of his large pole building were lined with students with their wild, out of control dogs of all sizes and breeds. It was loud controlled chaos only because Dave gave orders and you quickly learned to say yes, sir, no, sir or he’d throw you out the door and send you down the road.
The first night, he taught us how to hold a six-foot leash. The leash had to be six feet in length. It had to be leather and it had to have a loop at one end. If you didn’t have the required leash, you bought one from Dave’s wife, Donna, or you went home.
I still remember how Dave explained basic leash handling in exact detail. Dave was quite the story teller too, so with the instructions came close to an hour of how, if done correctly, holding a leash as he taught would save your dog’s life. Damn if he wasn’t right.
Take the six-foot leash, drop the clip end on the ground and put your right thumb into the loop at the other end. Hold your palm facing you with your fingers straight.
Take your left hand and grab the middle of the remaining leash.
Take your left hand and set the leash inside your open palm. At this point you have three pieces of leather in your right palm.
Remove your left hand from the leash and grab the “sewing of the leather” where the metal clip is attached. With your right hand now make a fist around the three pieces of leather.
No matter what level of education or profession, whether you were blue-collar or white-collar, man, woman or young adult sometimes it took several sessions before people learned to hold the leash correctly and confidently. During the lesson the dog was often lunging, barking and out of control. By the time the student had the leash correctly in hand there was nowhere for the dog to go but to sit tightly by the owner’s side in heel position.
Then Dave, ever the practical joker, would walk down the first line of students, all standing at attention, dogs in heel position, the handler’s left hand held just above the clip so the dog couldn’t run. He would go up to the first person and in a flash reach over and pull on their leash. The handler would jump in surprise and drop the leash. Dave and some of the more advanced students would laugh on cue because Dave would always do this in a beginning class and always get the same reaction. Then he’d say to the surprised handler, “Your dog just ran away from you. Never release your grip from the loop and never, ever hold a bunched up leash”. By the time Dave made it around the room, we were all holding onto our leashes for dear life. Then he’d progress to teaching us how to transfer the leash to the left hand again without losing control of our dog.
While this process may sound ridiculous, imagine this room of twenty or more out of control dogs, and clueless owners. At the end of ten weeks the handlers were confident, with many stories of their own on how “the thumb in the loop” saved their dog’s life.
Why am I telling this tale? In August I attended a local dog show, entering my young brown and white Border Collie, Razz, in Rally. After we finished the last station we headed out the exit gate. By habit my leash was held as Dave had taught me although I now use a 24” leather leash. There in front of me was a tiny, frail looking older lady with a tiny Poodle. The woman smiled and said in a happy voice, “Very nice job.”
When bad things happen with animals they go downhill fast. Within a matter of seconds Razz saw the woman’s smiling face, heard her sweet voice and launched up into the woman’s face. Over the span of four seconds I saw the woman freeze in position, her eyes widen and her mouth open. At that point Razz hit the point where my left hand held the sewing of the leather. Razz ricocheted backwards and flipped back into heel position by my side. My dog could have pushed the woman back into the wooden ring gates and killed her. Thank you, Dave Elizares. I was able to react instinctively and Razz was no worse after the self-correction. But it’s something she needs to learn: manners, keep four on the floor.
Wow, that was close.