Unattended Equipment Safety

09 May 2008Steve Schwarz

I saw a tragic story come through on a number of agility email lists a couple weeks ago that I thought I should share it with those of you who don’t read all the lists. A family let their dog out into their yard of agility equipment and when they checked back later it appeared that their dog had gotten out of the yard. After searching the neighborhood they ultimately found their dog had become tangled in the chute material within the chute and suffocated. I can only imagine how heart broken they must be.

So we all get the moral of the story right away: agility equipment (among other things we leave in our yards) can be potentially dangerous to our dogs if we leave them unattended. I figured that was pretty much the end of the story.

But of course, just like on every email list, someone will come along and post a reply. Many were sympathetic and even helpfully listing other dangers. But the reason I didn’t post this right away was I was fuming from a couple of the replies. They were basically taking the owners to task for leaving their dog unattended, how could someone be so irresponsible, everyone knows you shouldn’t do that, how could they do that, etc. Almost to the point of they deserved that to happen and don’t deserve to have a dog. Don’t you think these people will be remorseful for the rest of their lives? Is it really necessary to heap scorn on them publicly in a holier-than-thou manner? So I did the right thing, I didn’t reply to their replies.

Anyway here are some of my thoughts on keeping agility equipment safe when not in use and some comments on other’s thoughts:

  • If you have the luxury of having your agility equipment in a separate yard that is inaccessible you are indeed fortunate.
  • A fully enclosed dog run is often safe, be sure to check for raccoons, and other wildlife that might have created or found a way into your dog's run.
  • Obviously don't leave your chute out. I stuff the material in the barrel and stand it on end up against the fence.
  • A Tire can be dangerous to leave out. I put mine against the fence.
  • A teeter can be especially dangerous if you have more than one dog. If left up one dog could bring it down on top of another dog. So if you have an adjustable teeter you could leave it out if you disconnect the chain so it falls down to flat on the ground. Or flip your teeter upside down.
  • Other people were warning about dog's having their contact behavior degrade if they were allowed to climb on and off the A Frame or Dog Walk. I don't really see that being an issue. I trained Meeker using the Jungle Gym approach where I want him comfortable jumping on and off the contacts at any time in a controlled manner. If he looses his footing on the Dog Walk and chooses to jump off I'll praise him for making the safe choice. I also don't think allowing a dog to stand on the DW or AF and survey the surroundings will have any impact on their actual performance. Dogs know the difference between different situations/environments.
  • I'm not seeing the danger of a tunnel being left out as long as you have the ends held in position by sandbags/snuggers. Otherwise the ends might flop closed against the ground (like a Slinky when "walking down stairs") and you could have a dog overheat within the confined space.
  • Wading pools, fish ponds, swimming pools. Empty them or restrict access. These are dangerous to children too and most towns have legal requirements about access to large swimming pools.
  • Usual caveats about fire pits, grills, thunder, lightning, fireworks, lawn care products, fertilizers, tools, shovels, rakes and other implements of destruction.

Some folks were warning about the dangers of leaving bars up on jumps. I guess if you have multiple dogs rocketing around your yard they could get injured by chasing one another and colliding with a jump. But I’d think running into a contact would be more dangerous.

I think an important issue in multiple dog homes is how the dogs interact with one another. Obviously if they don’t get along it would be dumb to leave them outside together unattended. Dogs that chase one another without regard for themselves or their environment are also a disaster waiting to happen, more so when there are literally obstacles in their way. Our dogs pretty much only interact with us, every now and then Petey and Meeker will chase each other but they stay cognizant of their surroundings.

So do I follow my own advice? Sort of. I have left Meeker unattended in the backyard for as long as 10 minutes. But that is quite rare. I often have agility equipment set up in the yard, but with the caveats I listed above. But he will never interact with it without me being present. The army of squirrels in the trees surrounding my yard is much more interesting.

Milo is perfectly safe unattended. He will just chew on his tennis ball while watching the door for you to come out again. But I still don't leave him out unattended for long. Petey is just too likely to "get into something" to be left unattended for longer than tens of seconds at a time.

So did I miss anything? Is it really never safe to leave your dogs unattended?

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