Long Line Training Part One - Safety and Handling Tips

Note: This article is part one of a three part series. Part two will cover how to train a dog with a long line and part three will cover off-leash transitioning. The goal of this series is to help dog owners achieve higher levels of off-leash success by safely and effectively using a long line as a stepping stone.

Part 1: Safety and Handling Tips:

In my opinion, the long line is a valuable tool but, just like any tool, it's good to have some basic safety rules! If you were learning to be a chef, this would be an article on how to properly dice your carrots without slicing your fingers.

As a dog trainer, I've personally experienced and witnessed just about everything, and when it comes to working with long lines, the most common injuries are rope burns, getting tripped by the rope and hyper extended fingers. Here are a few recommendations to minimize those risks.

Choosing the Right Location:  Giving your dog 50 feet of freedom all the way around you is a lot to pay attention to.  Avoid doing long-line work around other people.  You don't want the leash to entangle or trip people trying to enjoy a nice walk through the park. You also don't want kids or dogs to step on a dragging leash which will interfere with your training.  In short, practice in an open space.  

Gloves: Avoid rope burns by wearing gloves. Yes, you have to remember to bring gloves and it's one more thing to carry when not using the long line but well worth the hassle. I personally don't use them but I've also suffered some harsh rope burns because of that choice. Please, do as I say, not as I do, and wear gloves.

Long Pants and Shoes: Please don't wear shorts or sandals - rope burns to not discriminate.

Giving Your Dog The Right Amount of Slack: The only thing your dog should feel is the drag of the line on the ground. If the line between you and the dog is not touching the ground it's too tight which only reminds the dog that he's leashed. The goal is to give your dog a sense of freedom so try not to remind him he's on-leash by having any tension on it. That being said, you don't want too much slack because the dog may run off. Trust me, you don't want a full speed impact with the end of the line! That could hurt you as well as the dog. You want just enough slack for the dog to feel free. For example: If the dog is 20 feet away, hold the line at a length of about 25-30 feet. As the dog moves about, adjust the length accordingly.

Holding the Line: Generally, the line should be held with a very light grip allowing the line to slide through your hand with no resistance. Only grip the line tightly when you need to stop the dog or give a leash correction. If you see a distraction coming and really need an extra strong grip you can use a leash-lock grip.The leash goes up through your palm, over your thumb and back down through your palm again. Grip it tightly. You should now have what looks like two leashes coming out the bottom of your fist. Now take your other hand and grab those two pieces like you would grip a baseball bat. This will save you from rope burn but you still need to brace for impact. Hopefully you did not get caught off-guard with too much slack in the line. (See above) If that chirpy squirrel gets your dog's attention and there is too much slack in the leash, get ready, you and the dog are both gonna feel it. You can also brace your hands against your chest to avoid shoulder injury.   (watch leash holding video demo)

Letting Go of the Line: In some cases the safest thing to do is let go of the line. This is a judgment call of weighing risk of injury from the long leash against whatever is going on in the environment. For example: If your dog is running towards a busy street you will probably opt to take the pain of a line jerk but if he's chasing a squirrel in a fenced park you might drop the leash.

Stepping on the Line: Stepping on the line to stop or correct the dog is easier on the hands. It's also better for your timing if the line is out too far to pop it with your hands.

Awareness of Surroundings: Keeping an eye on your surroundings is super important! I've only had two really bad rope burns and both were from being caught off-guard. Let me just say that grabbing a line that's moving 20 mph is not fun! Had I been paying more attention I could have leash-locked before impact.

Drag the Tail: Most people attempt to manage excess line by constantly wrapping it up but this is a problem for multiple reasons.

  • It's a hassle, making people less likely to practice
  • It winds up getting tangled
  • Takes attention away from the dog and surroundings
  • A wrapped leash is harder to get a leash-lock on and is more likely to get wrapped around a finger. Ouch!

A better way to handle the extra line is to let it drag behind like a tail. It feels counterintuitive but it's safer, easier and more effective.

Wrapping the Leash: Wrapping the leash in loops that are long enough to fit comfortably over one shoulder makes for easy, hands free carrying when not in use and hanging on a hook for storage.

Ok, that pretty much covers safety and handling. Watch for part two for how to apply this stuff. Let's go train some dogs!

-Chad Culp, Certified Dog Trainer and Canine Behavior Consultant

© Thriving Canine 2015