Essential Skills and Safety Tips for Long Leashes

In a previous blog post, I explored how decompression walks can benefit your dog. Here, I’ll dive into more practical tips regarding the leash skills you might need for these types of walks.

How do you do a “decompression walk” when being off-leash is not a suitable option?

While you can take a decompression walk on a typical 6 foot leash, I feel that dogs get the most benefit out of decompression walks if they are either off-leash or on a long line/long leash. This gives them more freedom to make choices, sniff, and explore.

Off-leash decompression walks are not suitable for all dogs in all scenarios. An off-leash walk is probably not a good idea for your dog if:

  1. Your dog does not reliably come when you call them. Note: it takes a LOT of training for dogs to have the skill set necessary to be safely off-leash in an unfenced area. These skills start with a solid recall but also include teaching the dog to check in with the handler frequently, to “wait” instead of rushing ahead when cued, and to not stray too far ahead of their handler. Work with a professional positive trainer to build this skill set with your dog if off-leash walks are one of your goals.

2. Your dog has a history of reactivity, aggression, etc. and being on leash reduces the risk to other humans or other animals you may encounter unexpectedly.

3. You are in an area where dogs are required by law to be leashed.

4. Your dog is extremely interested in wildlife and has a substantial history of predation or chasing critters.

5. You are at a location where a leash is necessary due to safety hazards (for instance, there are busy roads nearby).

When in doubt, using a leash is always best.

I commonly see dogs off-leash that are clearly not ready to be off-leash: they lack connection with their guardians and do not come back when called. Make no mistake, this is a safety hazard: for the dog, for any animal that the dog runs up to, and potentially for people, too.

Even if your dog is friendly, not all other dogs are: some dogs need space for a variety of reasons, and it’s not OK to let an off-leash dog run up to them. If you see people or another dog approaching while you are walking with your dog off-leash, call your dog and leash them until you ask the other people if it’s OK for your dog to say hi. If your dog does not have good enough recall to do this, then your dog needs to remain on leash for now.

The great news is that after learning some basic long line skills, you can have a great walk with your dog that FEELS like an off-leash walk and reaps the rewards of off-leash exploration.

Where do I get a longer leash or “long line?”

My favorite longer leash that is very beginner friendly is the 15 foot Mendota leash (right). These beautiful, durable leashes are round and easy on the hands. They come in a variety of colors and are washable. They are a great choice for both beginners and experienced long line handlers.

If you’d like an even longer leash (30 feet or more in length), biothane leashes offer a great waterproof option.

SportDOG also offers a nice washable option; however, this leash does not come with a handle at the end, so I recommend tying some knots to fashion your own handle if you purchase this leash.

Those are just a few of my favorites: there are many excellent long line options out there. Make sure you obtain one that is a suitable size and strength for your dog. Larger and stronger dogs require thicker leashes and clasps to avoid equipment failure.

What other equipment do I need for a long line walk?

When you take your dog for a long line walk, the safest equipment for your dog to wear is a body harness. Equipment such as head halters or any sort of collar are more likely to injure your dog if they reach the end of the long line at a high rate of speed (which we always try to avoid…but still, harnesses are safest).

If your dog is a very strong and fast mover, you might find getting a pair of biking gloves helps reduce the risk of rope burn on your hands. I found a cheap pair of biking gloves and cut the fingertips off; these have been the perfect addition to my long line tool kit for fast movers. Using a leash belay system (described below) will also reduce the amount of friction on your hands.

How about retractable leashes?

You might be wondering about retractable leashes or “flexi leashes.” I don’t recommend retractable leashes for a variety of reasons, some of which are summarized here. The reality is that either non-retractable or retractable leashes can injure dogs or people if they are not used properly. However, I would argue that a properly used long line is safer than a properly used retractable leash because there are ways to handle a long line skillfully and safely that are impossible to do with a retractable leash (see long line safety skills in the video below).

In addition, retractable leashes reinforce dogs pulling forward into tension on a leash: dogs learn to pull forward against the leash mechanism to explore, and since exploring is fun, this reinforces moving forward even if they are feeling some resistance from the leash.

For any dog, but especially if you have a reactive dog, teaching the dog to move TOWARDS leash pressure rather than pulling against it is a better goal that promotes loose leash walking and a calmer, less reactive pup.

How do I use a long line safely?

Long lines are fantastic for walking dogs, but they really can be unsafe without the proper handling skills. If you have a 30 foot leash, an enthusiastic dog can use that to get a 30 foot head start and take off like a rocket ship, sending you into orbit. Or, if you have an extreme puller on a 20 foot line, that dog could spend the whole walk 20 feet ahead of you, dragging you along. Neither of these scenarios are safe for the humans or the dogs involved!

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth even more, so I’ve created a short video of long line skills to keep you safe while you’re having fun with your furry friend. Please note that because I’m a certified BAT instructor (cBATi), many of my long line techniques are borrowed from Grisha Stewart’s Behavior Adjustment Training (BAT) leash skills.

Where do I learn more about BAT leash skills and leash belay?

Grisha Stewart has a fantastic online school with great webinar offerings. You can learn more about loose leash walking and some BAT leash techniques here.

You can learn more about leash belay through Grisha’s Effort-less Leash Walking webinars here. To see more footage of Grisha Stewart using leash belay with her adorable new pup Joey, check out the video below.

I hope that you find these tips and tricks helpful for having safe and happy decompression walks with your dog! If you have any questions, feel free to ask away in the comments below! Happy training!

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