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Long line dog training is a great way to work from a distance with your dog and can help get reliability in certain behaviors while maintaining safety.
The long line is really a long leash that comes in various materials and lengths, depending on your needs.
I’ve used them to work with my dogs until they became reliable off-lead.
When I first practiced a sit-stay or down-stay at a distance in various settings, I used a 20-foot long line to be sure that my golden retriever Riley was safe when at a distance.
Just in case he would break the stay, he wasn’t able to run off. Of course, by the time I used the long line in new places, his stay was very solid. But you never know what can happen.
So how do you use a long line when training a dog?
In this article, I’ll discuss various reasons to use a long line as well as how to use it safely.
Used correctly, it can really help you have a better relationship with your dog. And it can make training certain commands more successful when your dog is at a distance from you.
The long line is something we recommend on our New Puppy Checklist (check out #29 on our list)
- A long line can be used for many activities with your dog. You can teach him reliability in performing commands at a distance,
- You can perfect his reliable recall, sit/stay, down/stay, and leave it when he’s not right next to you.
- And the line can be used to exercise him and even hike with him or give him more freedom to explore the environment. It can also be used for certain behavioral work.
Why Use a Long Line?
A long line has many uses. It’s useful to teach many commands.
Of course, a dog should be reliable on a shorter leash when performing commands before moving onto a long line.
As is true of any training, first start without distractions in an area your dog has previously been trained in before training in new settings.
In order to set your dog up for success on a long line, physically exercise your dog at first.
Go for a walk or fetch to take the edge off. This is especially important if you have a high-energy or high-drive dog.
Teaching Obedience Commands
A long line is great for teaching distance recalls. Of course, make sure that your dog understands what the command “come” means before you use a long line.
First work with the command inside without distractions, then outside. After he’s reliable in those settings, you can move on to more distracting settings.
You can also teach distance stays while the long line is attached to your dog. You can also work on his “leave it” command while using a long line.
The long line is also very useful for Behavior Adjustment Training (BAT) set-ups. Essentially, this is a training method in which the dog is permitted to make choices in certain situations.
There is a series of leash skills that train owners of reactive dogs on how to safely use a long line around the dog’s triggers such as people or other dogs.
By letting the leash out, the dog has a sense of freedom. The leash is not jerked because doing so would potentially increase the dog’s reactivity.
It’s also useful in gun dog training and for tracking dogs.
Other Uses for the Long Line
But the long leash isn’t just for training. It can also be used to further the bond with your dog by engaging in fun activities that aren’t as structured as training exercises are.
A long line can also give your dog the freedom to run and get exercise safely while not in an enclosed area.
When I had my first sheltie, Amber, I didn’t have a fenced yard. Even though her obedience was great, I still used a long line to let her run around and play fetch.
When she was playing, her natural herding drive may have kicked in, making it unsafe for her to be free. The longer leash wasn’t expensive but gave her some freedom. It was a win-win.
You can also use it when hiking or walking with your dog in areas in which the long line won’t catch on shrubs or other items in the environment.
With a water-proof line, you can even use it at the bay, the ocean, and in creeks.
When we let our golden retriever Spencer swim in the bay down the shore, I had him on a 50-foot-long line in a harness. Then, he could retrieve his ball to his heart’s content.
And letting your dog sniff and investigate the environment while on a long line also is a great activity for canine enrichment.
Long Line Dog Training
As is true with any type of activity or training of our dogs, safety comes first. In the beginning, you should hold onto the long line every time you use it
After you’ve trained your dog to be reliable in many everyday situations, you can drop the long line and just grab it if you need to.
But don’t rush the process. Use it 100 percent of the time until he’s reliable in the places you’ll use it.
Pro-Trainer Tip: Always have very high-value treats ready when using a long line. These are usually meat, cheese, or fish-type treats. Vary the type of treats so that your dog doesn’t become bored. And treats should be cut or broken into the size of a pea.
Before you even decide to use a long line, your dog should reliably do the following commands:
- Pay Attention
- Leave It
- Loose Leash Walking.
If he won’t perform these commands when he’s close to you on a six-foot leash, it’s unlikely that he’ll do them when at a distance.
And make sure before using a long leash that your dog has been trained in the distracting environments that you’ll use with a longer leash.
So now assuming that you’re ready to use a long line, make sure that your dog’s in a well-fitted back-clip harness.
Using a harness that’s clipped to his back is less likely to get caught in his feet. And it’s too dangerous for a long line to be attached to a dog’s collar. It would place too much pressure on his throat.
When first using the long line, you may want to ensure your safety too.
You can wear well-fitted cotton canvas gloves that you can easily work in. You also should wear sturdy long pants and a long-sleeve shirt (depending on the weather).
At first, get your dog used to a long line in an area without distractions that he’s used to being in, such as your yard. Make sure that there are no obstacles that the leash can catch on to.
Start with a 20-foot-long line. Hold the loop (handle) of the leash firmly in your hand. Manage the slack by gathering up the leash in large loops.
At first, just let out about six feet of the leash and walk around on a loose leash. After your dog’s comfortable on the line, let out another four feet–about one loop–that you’re holding.
Let your dog sniff around, then call him to come to you. When he comes, praise and give him a few high-value treats in a row. A jackpot!
Then use his release cue so that he can wander away again. Eventually let more leash out, periodically calling him back to you every few minutes.
Always praise and highly reward him for coming. Because he’s used to not pulling on a leash and having slack, he should be likely to not pull on the long line.
Each time that you release a loop on the line, make sure that there are about two feet of slack in the line.
Occasionally, ideally, your dog should look back at you and even come to you without you calling him. Always praise and reward these check-ins. If at any time your dog ignores you, go back to a step to which he was successful.
After your dog will readily come when called (and check back with you occasionally), start to add distractions. Take him to other places that he’s used to where it’s safe to use a long line.
I don’t recommend taking him to any place where there may be loose dogs. Even if your dog’s friendly, another dog may not be.
And even if both dogs are friendly, the long line may become entangled, which can panic the dogs and even prompt aggression.
When he’s reliable in known environments, take him to open fields where the line won’t catch on anything and practice.
If he’s reliable, take him on hikes or other places you would normally take him. Always call him back periodically.
Take frequent breaks and just keep him with you only letting out six feet and do a few minutes of loose-leash walking. Then, let him out again four feet at a time to investigate the environment.
Untangle the leash from any small branches or other items that may become entangled in the long line when needed.
Always call him back to you and keep him on a short six-foot portion of the long line when near people. This is especially important if he’s not people-friendly.
But it’s also important if he is, as he may knock someone over with his exuberance. Most people don’t want a dog rushing at them.
Also, letting him have such undesirable behaviors will be self-rewarding to your dog. He would keep rushing at people or animals then because it’s so much fun when he reaches them.
When practicing this, do it at a distance at which he cannot reach the people.
Sometimes, in practicing him coming to you, get silly, make a kissy sound or say WHEE and run a few steps in the other direction when he looks at you.
It has to be more of a party coming to you than all the distractions that are around your dog. Praise and give him a jackpot of a few treats in a row when he reaches you.
After he’s reliable on the long line, you can also practice known commands. Place him in a sit or down stay and go away from him as much distance as he can handle.
Then return to him and release him, keeping the long line on him of course. Praise and reward him before releasing him from the command.
Do a sit/stay/come and praise and reward when he comes. Tell him to “leave it” when he sees a bird or squirrel and call him back to you. Praise and reward when he does.
After you feel confident that your dog is reliable on the long line, you can let him drag the line.
Start in an environment without distractions as you did at first when training him to become accustomed to the long line.
Then, after he’s reliable in that setting, let him drag the long line in the more distracting settings that you did when holding the line.
Always make sure that he doesn’t get too far away from you. You should always be able to pick up the line if need be.
Consistently use the long line when practicing with your dog until he’s reliable all of the time.
When I teach a dog to do off-lead work, I make sure that he can handle and be reliable in listening to me in any environment that he will need to before I work on him off a lead.
When transitioning from a long line, I also attach a second lighter line that’s still strong enough to hold the dog.
Then, I’ll let him see me taking off the heavier long line and test him. He’ll probably think that he’s free.
Always start without distractions only adding them over time–weeks or months–as he can handle them. If he readily comes, does sit and down stays, and performs other commands reliably, eventually he may be able to be off a leash.
Have a lot of patience and don’t rush the process. Some dogs who have very high drives may never be reliable off a long line. Safety is more important than risking your dog’s health and life.
Types of Long Lines
Long lines come in many standard lengths from 10 feet to 50 feet. You can even have a custom length made if you desire. The long line is really just a longer leash with a handle.
The long line comes in various materials too.
A biothane long line is rubbery and water-proof. Because it doesn’t trap moisture, it won’t smell later after it gets wet. The mud falls off of it and it doesn’t catch on things like a fabric line would. This type would be good for fieldwork and hiking.
Cotton webbing is preferable in other settings because it’s not as hard on the hands as nylon would be. Nylon is more likely to cut your hands.
Generally, a flat line is preferable over a rope, cord, or other rounded material which may cut into your hands or your skin.
A 15 to 20-foot line is better in busier or wooded trails. A line up to 30 feet is fine for wide-open spaces where the line won’t catch on anything.
For BAT training, a climber’s rope or similar line or a fabric, flat, shorter-length long line would probably be best.
What NOT To Do: Don’t Try This at Home
Using a long line takes practice. Don’t start out working around distractions. Instead, work up to being around them as your dog can handle it and reliably perform commands–especially come and leave it–at a distance.
Also, make sure that the long line isn’t held tightly. There should always be about two feet of slack so that the dog feels as if he’s free.
With a tight line, there’s an opposition reflex and a dog may pull in the opposite direction if the long line is taught.
Don’t use a retractable leash. They can be dangerous in certain settings and may not be strong enough for distance work.
Don’t let your dog drag the leash unless he reliably listens when you’re holding onto the long line.
Don’t let your dog reach people or catch prey. If you do, he will probably do such self-rewarding behaviors in the future and not listen to you when you tell him to leave something or to come to you.
How do I use start using a long line?
A dog should know certain basic commands, such as paying attention, come, sit, down, stay, and leave it before using a long line. Then, you can start at a close distance of a few feet on the long line and call him to you. Praise and reward when he comes.
What type of long line should I use?
There are various materials and lengths of long lines. Generally, a cotton fabric flat long line is good for most training. But a Biothane long line may be preferable when tracking or hunting because the line repels water.
Should my dog be in a collar when on a long line?
No! A dog should never be in a collar of any type when connected to a long line. Being in a collar can injure his neck. Instead, he should be on a well-fitted back-clip harness.
Teaching a dog while using a long line can be very rewarding.
You can teach him to perform many commands at a distance. He can learn to sit, down, stay and leave things when told to.
You can have him come to you reliably when he’s at a distance. And it can be used for certain behavioral training, such as BAT.
But using a long line isn’t just for training. A long-leash can be used for tracking, hunting, and hiking with your dog. He can exercise and play safely on a long line. And he can just sniff and enjoy the environment.
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