Training with the Long Line

A tool to achieve off leash success with your dog

You never know when you’ll need your dog to obey you when he’s not on a leash… at the dog park, perhaps, or if he runs out the front door one day. There will be a time when you’ll need him to come, sit, and stay; simply put, to listen to you from a distance. Long lines are especially useful to master off leash compliance with stay, recall, and distance work. When your dog is on a long line, he is at a distance from you, but you also still have control over him when necessary.

Ideally, the line needs to be easy to handle, durable, and at least 20 feet long. Commercial long lines come in a variety of options: nylon, cotton, and acrylic. But it’s just as easy to tie a long piece of rope to an attachment for your dog’s collar, as long as the leash is strong enough for your dog and safe for you to handle. Retractable leads are not practical for use as a long line. The leads are heavier due to the plastic housing which make the leash more obvious to the dog. This type of line can also accidentally unlock and retract.

A foundation of trust

Begin with approximately five feet of leash when you work with your dog. As your four-legged friend becomes compliant and reliable at this length, you may increase it to 10 feet, and so on in 10 foot increments. Be sure to reinforce good behavior along the way. Instead of focusing on taking away your dog’s freedom, the goal is to have your dog earn freedom through compliance and trust. The better your dog behaves, the closer they are to gaining more length on the line and then earning off leash privileges.

Long lines are often inappropriately used to physically correct or “reel-in” dogs during recall training. This is not a correct use of the line for a few reasons. First, by using physical contact, you are making the dog overly aware of the attached leash. This results in the dog becoming dependent on the leash, only responding when the leash is on, and avoiding commands when the leash is off. Ideally, the leash should require minimal handling during training.

Using the long line

Do not wrap the leash around your hand or arm. Instead, gently loop it in large circles and hold it at your side, ensuring that it’s dragging on the ground with plenty of slack while you work with your dog. To interrupt unwanted behavior, step on the line while it’s on the ground and then redirect your dog to a more appropriate task. This technique should be used sparingly to ensure the dog does not become dependent.

Interrupting with the long line

  • Step on the leash when the dog breaks the “stay” command. This will allow you to effectively put Fido back into position without a chase.
  • Step on the leash during recall training to prevent the dog from walking away. Once the dog reengages with you, step off the leash. Next time, try calling the dog before he gets to the end of the leash or becomes over-stimulated.
  • Step on the leash while saying “leave it” to prevent the dog from pursuing a distraction. Reward your dog as soon as they direct their attention to you and away from the distraction.
  • Step on the leash to prevent your dog from jumping on people. This minimizes this unwanted behavior and allows you to reward the dog for “four on the floor” or sitting politely for greetings instead.
  • Step on the leash for time-outs when your dog or puppy becomes overstimulated. Whether your dog is bouncing off the walls during play, or your puppy won’t stop hanging off your clothes, a short 10-15 second time out by stepping on the leash will help them with impulse control.
  • Step on the leash to regain control while working on polite walking or heeling. It can be useful in encouraging your dog to frequently “check in” with you on your walks.

Long line safety

Make sure you and your dog are safe when practicing with a long line or rope. Try to train on your own to begin with, to make sure other people or dogs cannot become wrapped up in the leash.

If your dog is super strong and has no impulse control whatsoever, consider using gloves with your long line to prevent sores and rope burn on your hands. The gloves, like the line, should only be a temporary measure until you have better control and compliance.

Transitioning to off leash work  

Once your dog has learned obedience skills while dragging a long line, you can start omitting the leash all together. You can try using a lighter line as you transition, or use a training tab. These short “handles” attach to your dog’s collar and provide a quick hand hold for emergency use. Make sure your dog is at least 80 percent reliable in obeying his commands while on leash, and work in an enclosed area to start for safety.

The Town of Warrenton recently introduced a law requiring dogs to be on a leash not exceeding six feet in length. This is to maintain control and allow dogs, owners, and the general public to safely share public spaces.


Charlotte Wagner Harvey
About Charlotte Wagner Harvey 21 Articles
Charlotte Wagner Harvey holds a Bachelors of Science with honors in Animal Management from the University of Essex with a special interest in behavior. As a dog trainer and the owner of K9ology in Warrenton, she helps dog owners and dogs find common ground to establish a peaceful life together. Her core tenets: there are no shortcuts, it is hard, and do it right or don’t do it at all. She lives in Rappahannock County with her husband and a farm full of animals including horses, chickens, cats, and, of course, dogs.

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