How to Long Leash Train Your Dog

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Long leashes, often called long lines, can be a fabulous dog training and walking tool. They provide your dog with more freedom while still giving you ultimately 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:

  • Leash or rope burns
  • Tripping over the line (either you or your dog)
  • Getting tangled around objects in the environment
  • Sudden jerks from improper slack management if your dog suddenly sprints after something or you lose your own balance (this can be dangerous for your hands and joints as well as your dog’s neck or back)

Here’s everything 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 know anything special beforehand? And once you’re out using the leash, how can you teach other training skills with the increased freedom?

Read on!

Long line uses for walking and training your dog

  • Decompression walks with more freedom for your dog to engage in natural sniffing behavior (this actually lowers their heart rate and reduces stress markers like cortisol)
  • Giving your reactive dog a greater sense of agency, which can make it easier to move away from triggers (and potentially help decrease their leash reactivity)
  • Respecting leash laws in places that require visible tethers
  • Training recall from farther distances to more accurately emulate real-life, off-leash scenarios in a controlled, step-by-step way
  • Working on long-distance sit or down stays
  • Having a back up in the early stages of your dog’s off-leash adventures

Equipment first: Pick the right long line or leash

What long leash length is right for you and your dog?

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:

  • Providing more freedom on a walk while still being easy for novice handlers to manage
  • Avoiding tangles around trees, fire hydrants, or other objects
  • Giving you greater control over your dog’s direction and speed

30-foot long leashes are ideal for:

  • Emulating off-leash freedom while training recall and other distance behaviors
  • Large, open spaces with few obstacles
  • Situations where you have more than one handler around to help out
  • Dogs who already have a solid foundation of basic obedience and impulse control

What leash materials make the most sense for your lifestyle?

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:

  • Nylon leashes. These leads can become very heavy when wet and are known for causing uncomfortable burns (or even cuts) if they slip through your hands quickly. Sometimes they’re a good budget option depending on your environment, but in general, we recommend picking something else.
  • Biothane leashes. This is a sturdy waterproof material that won’t hold moisture and is easy to grip. Bonus that it’s incredibly easy to clean! Biothane is ideal for walks after rain storms as well as in environments like the beach.
  • Cotton leashes (often flat webbing). These long leashes are budget friendly and high quality. They can snag on things like tree branches more easily than biothane, but proper slack management and environmental awareness can mitigate that.

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.

Choose your dog’s other walking equipment

It’s best to use a harness with a long leash to keep your dog safe

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).

If you’re going to attach a long line to your dog’s collar, be aware of the risks

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.

A young dog lies in a grassy field, wearing a comfortable back-clipping harness attached to a black long line

Use two hands to manage your dog’s long leash

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.

Use one hand as an anchor to securely hold the long line’s handle

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!

Use your other hand to manage the slack in the leash

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.

How much slack should you give your dog?

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.

You might also let your dog drag their long line in some situations

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:

  • It’s best to let your dog drag a leash without a handle loop at the end. This decreases the chance of the line getting caught on something.
  • Dragging a line provides more control than having your dog completely off leash, but it requires you to pay close attention to your surroundings and be ready to act quickly.
  • Your dog shouldn’t drag a line unless you’re reasonably confident in their ability to focus on you around distractions and come when called. It's a good idea to always have some high value treats on hand.
  • Always pick up your dog’s drag line when passing other people or dogs to be respectful.
  • Only let your dog drag a leash in environments without many obstacles (think open fields instead of crowded woods). This decreases the odds that the leash gets caught on something and provides your pup with a jerk if they start running full speed.
  • Untangle the cords right away if you notice it does get stuck on something.

Occasionally you can opt for a “hands free” option

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:

  • Not continuously managing the slack increases the chance of injury to both you and your dog from their long line. Only go hands free if you trust your dog’s training and the environment is safe!
  • You’ll need to be extra aware of where the leash is in these situations so you don’t get tangled or trip.
  • Even well-trained dogs can get distracted or startled. Always be prepared for your dog to run after something, and have a plan in place for how you’ll respond (stepping on the leash to minimize impact around your waist, ensuring the line is connected to the most stable part of your hips and not looped around sensitive soft tissue, and so on).

Before using a long line, your dog should be able to:

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:

  • Ability to pay attention to you around mild to moderate distractions.
  • Walking on a relatively loose leash — perfection isn’t necessary and some tension is just fine (you don't need your dog to have excellent leash skills) but you do want to know your pup will be aware of where you are in relation to them and won’t pull you over. Make sure to put in some initial leash training before opting for a long line.
  • Casual recall where your dog can at least make eye contact and return within a few feet of you if you call their name.

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.

Specific skills to train using your dog’s long leash

Recall

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:

  • Always begin in a low distraction environment like a quiet, familiar location.
  • Use plenty of high value rewards like earnest praise, tasty treats, and favorite toys.
  • Think about what you want your dog’s end behavior to be. Do you want them to sit directly in front of you? Approach at your side? Do you care about a specific position or do you just want them near enough to be able to grab their collar? Define your criteria and stick to it to create as much clarity as possible for your dog!
  • Teach the end behavior you’ve chosen. You might practice having your dog sit facing you, for example, starting only a foot or two away. Make sure to reward often with your toys or treats. Keep enthusiasm high! (You can read more about teaching a basic cue like a sit or down position in this article.)
  • Slowly increase the distance between you and your dog before calling them into the behavior. Vary your training sessions to keep your dog engaged — maybe start two feet away, work up to ten, then go back to three.
  • Eventually add in more distractions and take your recall work outside on your long leash. Celebrate your training efforts!

You can read more specifics about recall training in this blog!

Distance sit and down stays

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.

When in doubt, reach out to a professional dog trainer

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.

Trainer Review of this Article

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:

Erica Marshall
CPDT-ka, CDBC,
Owner/Trainer of Wicked Good Dog Training in Christiana TN
Author of "New Puppy, Now What?"
www.wickedgooddogtraining.com