Long Line Training Part Two - How To Use the Line

The 50 foot long line is a progression of the training process which is ultimately intended to produce a dog that is reliable off-leash...anytime, anywhere...even on a beach full of squirrels!

Note: The following exercises should be taught first on a six foot leash. It’s assumed you have completed basic obedience training and have read the safety tips in Part One. You have, right? Great, now you're ready to rock!

Top Seven Long Line Exercises:

1. Direction Changes: The first and most important step is to walk around making random direction changes with the dog at liberty, orbiting around you. If you reach the end of the line and the dog is not following naturally then give a directional cue such as "Let's go.” Otherwise, don't say anything. If the dog fails to respond, give the line a light pop and continue walking. The dog should come in your direction but does not need to come to you. Don't make a fuss, just continue walking like you’re on a mission.

"Shouldn’t I reward the dog for following me?"

No. I realize it may sound cold but the idea of this exercise is to be slightly aloof and allow the dog to "just be a dog." You see, this is not formal obedience. This is natural bonding and natural leadership. It’s very subtle yet very profound. The dog will interpret your nonchalant attitude as confidence which is very attractive. It's kind of like dating. Put attitude in your stride like, "You best keep an eye on me 'cause I might leave without ya!" (Not that you really would, of course, it's just an attitude.) You will be amazed at how quickly the dog starts watching you rather than the other way around.

2. Casual Recalls: The next step is to add a command such as "C'mere" for getting the dog to come to you. I call this a casual recall because it can be "sloppy" and is not at all what you would see in competitive obedience. The dog can spin around or lean against you. You can pet or play with them or simply give a "Good dog" and a mellow pet on the head. The dog just needs to get all the way to you, that's it. If he does not respond, simply pop the leash and continue encouraging him with a fun demeanor while walking backwards. If he does the fly-by like Maverick in the movie Top Gun, simply step on the leash, turn and back up in the opposite direction. Continue with encouragement, not frustration, until he comes all the way in. Lather, rinse, repeat.

3. Formal Recalls: A formal recall such as “Come” means the dog must come all the way to you, sit directly in front of you, remain attentive and wait to be released. You see this in obedience trials but it has great value for pet dogs as well. I generally use treats and toys for this one to build extra drive, focus and precision. In day-to-day life I use mostly casual recalls and direction changes so a formal recall becomes a rare and exciting event. It makes for a great emergency recall because the dogs love it, they come faster and the sit in front makes it easy to get a leash on them.

4. Leave It: Now we need a command for what NOT to do such as "Leave It." This basically means “Leave that alone.” The beauty of a reliable “Leave It” is that you don't have to micromanage the dog because they actually learn right from wrong. For example: Say I'm off-leash hiking with my dogs and they are getting into something. I say "Leave It!" They don't have to come to me or do anything in particular. Essentially I'm saying "You have the whole mountain to do whatever you want...except that!" If your dog fails to obey the command simply give a correction with the line. With consistency they will learn to listen no matter how far away you are and that certain things are off-limits. 

5. Wait: Typically the Wait command is used to teach boundaries around doors but it can also be used when walking or hiking. If the dog is getting too far ahead, say "Wait" as if you have just thrown up an invisible boundary. If the dog fails to respond, give a light pop or step on the line. The dog will likely turn to see what you want. Just keep walking. You might calmly say "good dog" but don't give any more instructions. If he comes back to you just keep walking and do not engage with him.

"Why shouldn't I reward him for doing what I asked?"

Because you don't want him to think this is a recall exercise. Wait simply means don't go any further or don't cross that boundary. If he tries to go ahead again simply repeat the process. When you get closer to the boundary give a release cue such as "okay" and continue enjoying your hike.

6. Stay: The long line is great for adding distance to your dog's Stay. You can feel safe because your dog might break his stay but cannot run away. Just stop him with the line and start over.

7. Boundary Training: For teaching boundaries such as not leaving the yard, use a verbal correction such as "No!" followed by a pop on the line every time the dog approaches the boundary.

That concludes my top seven uses for the long line. Be safe, have fun and practice, practice, practice!

See Part 3 for how to go off-leash.

-Chad Culp, Certified Dog Trainer and Canine Behavior Consultant

© Thriving Canine 2015