Long leashes (often called long lines) can be a fabulous dog walking and training tool. They provide your dog with more freedom while still giving you as a handler ultimate control over their movements — and they’re invaluable for progressively teaching skills like recall and distance cues that are important for off-leash reliability!
As great as long leashes can be, though, they aren’t always easy to use. Successful handling of several feet (sometimes up to 30 or more) of line requires practice and muscle memory built up over time.
Common risks include:
Here’s what you need to know to safely use a long line with your dog. How can you pick the right leash length and material? Does your dog need to be able to do any special cues or behaviors beforehand? And once you’re out using the leash, how can you teach other training skills with the increased freedom?
Different dogs and situations require different types of long lines. Most standard dog-walking leashes are about six feet in length. Long leashes and retractable leashes range from 10-30 feet (or more)!
There’s an important trade off here: The longer your dog’s line, the more freedom they’ll have to explore and engage in natural dog behaviors — a recent study showed that dogs on a 16 foot leash engaged in nearly three times as much sniffing than those on a five foot leash! — but the harder it will be for you, their handler, to manage the slack and keep everyone safe.
In general, 15-foot long leashes are great for:
30-foot long leashes are ideal for:
Long leashes come in almost every material imaginable. It’s a good idea to invest in a quality long line, if you’re able. This way you can trust it to hold your dog in a variety of environments and limit the risks involved.
Common types of leash materials are:
If your dog is a puller, particularly strong, or you're just worried about a cord getting damaged while dragging on the ground, consider an extra-thick leash. It might feel heavier when attached to your dog (be aware of this if your pup is a smaller breed) but can be worth the extra peace of mind.
Attaching your dog’s long leash to a harness is the safest option in case something goes wrong. If the line gets caught on an object in the environment, tangled in your own feet, or your dog suddenly lunges at something in the distance, the harness will protect your pup’s sensitive neck and back! We recommend using a secure back-clip harness that gives your dog a full range of shoulder motion. Look for “Y” shaped harnesses that don’t have a straight horizontal bar across your dog’s chest.
An added benefit of using a harness? The leash will stay a little more elevated off the ground, making it easier for you to manage its slack and to prevent the line from tangling around your pup’s legs.
When using a harness, it's a good idea to still make sure your dog wears a flat collar with tags. This will help you find them if they manage to get lost (like if the cord breaks or another fluke happens).
That said, you can use a collar with your dog’s long line if you choose — just make sure you have a plan in place to keep everyone safe and comfortable. You might opt for a collar if you’re planning to have a structured training session in a single field as opposed to a walk meandering around an entire park, for example.
If using a collar, your dog should be able to pay attention to you around distractions and slow down upon a verbal cue from you. This will prevent them from hitting the end of the line full speed and putting pressure on their trachea.
You should also make sure to only use a long line with a sturdy flat collar. Never attach it to a martingale, head collar, or other type of training collar.
Once you’ve chosen the right long line and harness for your dog, how do you actually use it out and about? Here’s the lowdown! You always want to have both hands on the leash — one acts as an anchor to ensure you don’t lose your grip while the other manages slack to keep your dog from running too quickly.
Start with a firm grip on your long leash’s handle. Instead of putting the loop over your wrist, put it around your thumb with the leash resting flat against your palm. Then close your fist so the leash extends out the bottom.
While wrapping leashes around your wrist might feel like it creates a sturdy grip, it actually puts you at high risk of injury if something goes wrong. Many owners have ended up with broken bones, dislocated joints, or even nerve damage from accidents while walking their dogs in this way! Given that a longer leash inherently increases the chance that something surprising happens on a walk (like your dog yanking you by hitting the end of the line), it’s extra important to be cautious about your grip.
This “thumb loop” technique might feel flimsy at first, but you’ll soon realize how much control it gives you. Your dog would have to pull impossibly hard to tear the leash out of your hands with your thumb acting as an anchor!
With one hand acting as an anchor, use the other to actively manage your long leash’s slack. Many handlers decide to anchor with their non-dominant hand and reel in extra line with their dominant one. Experiment with what feels best and do what works for you!
What’s most important with your slack management is that the leash doesn’t get tangled and that you have secure control over your dog’s ultimate motion.
In general, it’s a good idea to give your dog two to three feet of slack at any given moment and wrap up extra in large loops that you hold in your non-anchor hand. As your dog walks farther away, you can let out a loop or two at a time. As your dog comes closer towards you, you can slowly reel in a loop or two.
The idea here is to give your dog a sense of freedom to explore and engage in natural dog behaviors — you don’t want them to constantly have to push through tension or feel conflict with you — while also having the ability to slow them down or stop their movement if needed.
Certain environments might lend themselves well to using your long leash as a drag line instead of an active walking tool. A few important things to note here:
You might also find yourself using your dog’s long leash in a “hands-free leash” setup in certain situations. This is ideal for times where you want your dog to be attached to you but also want to be able to use your arms to engage in play, like a game of tug. Many owners connect the long line to their waist via a fanny pack, treat pouch, or carabiner on a belt loop.
Make sure you know that:
Shorter long lines around 15 feet are a great option even for dogs in the early stages of training. They typically provide enough control to keep everyone safe without need for obedience cues.
If you want to use a longer leash with your pup, it’s a good idea to make sure you have a training foundation already in place. Some relevant skills include:
Basically, you want a general level of basic obedience to increase the odds that everyone stays safe and respectful. The leash is ultimately still there for a reason — you’ll have physical control to fall back on if necessary — but an informal training foundation will set you up for the greatest success.
Recall is generally considered one of the most important cues a dog should know. Even if you never plan to intentionally allow your dog off leash at parks or hiking trails, you might still find yourself in a situation where the behavior comes in handy. A guest might accidentally leave the front door open. Your dog’s harness or collar could break. A surprise might cause you to lose hold of their leash. The examples are endless!
Long leashes are especially great for teaching a recall cue since they allow your dog to feel a sense of freedom — and explore at a distance away from you — before being called, better emulating a real-life scenario.
Here’s are the training steps to start teaching your dog’s recall:
Many owners have no need for distance sit and down stays, but some dog parents find them helpful for things like off-leash hiking or different types of sport work. If you’re interested in building these behaviors, long lines are a great tool! They can help you maintain physical control of your dog “just in case” while allowing you to work at a greater distance than a standard leash does.
Certified force free professionals don’t just train dogs. They also teach humans! An experienced dog trainer can help you learn to manage your dog’s leash and teach necessary skills in a way that’s safe — and fun! — for everyone involved.
There is so much misinformation out there, we want to make sure we only provide the highest quality information to our community. We have all of our articles reviewed by qualified, positive-only trainers.
This is the trainer that reviewed this article:
Owner/Trainer of Wicked Good Dog Training in Christiana TN
Author of "New Puppy, Now What?"
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