A BioThane long line can be an incredibly versatile piece of dog walking gear! A long line is essentially any leash that is longer than the “standard” leash length of 4 to 6 feet. Long lines can range from 8 feet up to more than 50 feet in length! Long lines can improve your walks dramatically by reducing leash tension, giving your dog greater freedom of movement and choice, and allowing them to walk at their natural pace. All that said, it’s best to start with a more conservative long line length and make sure that you understand some key long line safety and management tips before trying one out.
Here are our top five tips for beginning long line users!
1. Choose the Right Length
When you're starting out using a long line, I recommend choosing a leash length that's just a few feet longer than a “standard” (6 foot) leash. 10 or 12 feet are great length options for long line beginners. I don't recommend using a long line over 15 feet if you're just getting started. You’ll be surprised at how much of a difference just a few feet of length can make! For many dog guardians, adding just a few feet of length can make walks almost instantly more enjoyable and less frustrating. Your dog will have the freedom to move their body more freely, investigate their environment, and walk at a more natural pace without leash tension. As a bonus, adding just a few feet of extra length can give you the opportunity to get comfortable managing a longer leash, without having to deal with a bunch of extra slack. Once you have some basic long leash handling skills, you can always upgrade to something longer for hikes, decompression walks, or other outings.
Or not! I switched over to using a 10 ft leash for all of my neighborhood dog walks a few years ago and haven’t looked back. I find that 10 feet is a fantastic option for so many contexts - plenty of extra room, without a lot of extra weight and slack to manage. When choosing a length, consider the environments you’ll be navigating, the size of your dog, and your comfort level. If you live in a crowded urban area or your dog is very small, 8 ft may work great right for you. If you have a little more space or a bigger dog, try a 10 or 12 ft long line to start.
2. Choose the Right Gear
Using a long line requires a slightly different style of walking and leash management. With a standard dog leash, most users hold the leash by the handle. With a long line, you will be giving and taking slack and holding the leash at different points along its length. Walking a dog on a long line is a much more dynamic experience and requires some skill and practice to do effectively.
You want to make sure that as you’re learning, your dog still stays connected to you at all times! Aside from the long line, you'll want to make sure you have all the right equipment to make your walks safe for you and your dog.
At a minimum, I recommend the following dog gear when using a long line:
- Your dog should wear a flat collar with ID tags anytime they’re in public.
- Your long line should always be clipped to a non-restrictive back clip harness. Clipping to the back of the harness, rather than the front, prevents your dog’s legs from getting caught in the long line, and reduces the risk of injury if your dog runs when attached to the long line. This is particularly important as you graduate to longer lines.
- A Safety Strap connects your dog’s collar to the base of the leash clip. If your dog backs out of their harness, or the leash clip fails, your dog will stay connected to you via the safety strap. See our safety straps in action!
- A Built in Traffic Handle. At High Tail Hikes, we offer the option to add a built in traffic handle to the base of your leash or at a custom placement 12, 18, or 24” above your dog’s leash clip. A built in traffic handle can be helpful for quickly securing your dog close to you when needed. Important note: long lines naturally have more slack in them than a standard leash. If you’re placing a traffic handle on your long line, think carefully about the placement to avoid having your dog’s legs get caught in the traffic handle as they are walking. Watch our traffic handle demo.
- A Waist to Leash Strap ensures that you stay connected to your dog even if you lose a hold of your long line. See our waist to leash strap in action! Alternatively, a “Convertible Handle + Sliding O Ring” upgrade to your long line will allow your long line to be used hands free or cross body. This can be convenient in certain situations, and it also ensures that your leash stays connected to you, even if you lose hold of the leash.
3. Learn and Practice a Safe Leash GripOne of the main differences between using a standard leash and a long line is that there is more active management involved in using a long line. With a standard leash, most users typically hold the leash handle. In order to take advantage of the versatility of a long line, you need to be able to manage the long line dynamically, giving and taking slack throughout your walk. To do that, you won't always be holding the handle, and you'll need a safe and effective leash grip.
The grip that I use and recommend is called the “Thumb Grip” (I’ve also heard it called the “Ice Cream Cone Grip.”) It’s extremely simple and effective. The “dog end” of the line sits on the outside of your thumb, and the “handle end” of the line runs over the back of your thumb and into the space between your thumb and index finger. Run the line from the outside of your thumb to the inside, and then gather the two sides of the leash and close your fist around them. This serves as an extremely effective and safe “brake” if you need to stop the line. It also makes it very easy to give and take slack as you’re walking.
Guide your thumb up and down the line and close down your fist at the point where you’d like to brake. The best part of this grip is that it’s very effective, yet there is no risk of leash burn or finger injury. If your dog suddenly takes off and/or you need to drop the line for any reason, you can simply let the line slide off the end of your thumb.
I always hold my leash in a thumb grip in my non-dominant hand. That way, my dominant hand is free to slide up and down the leash as needed to give or take slack, or to use as a "brake hand" to slow down or stop the leash as needed.
If you are using this leash grip, you can hold your dog's leash anywhere along its length and it will be secure in your hand. The loop handle is there only as a convenience and a safety backup.
Before taking a walk with a long line, I strongly urge you to learn and practice this leash grip at home. It will become second nature, and it will allow you to have control over the leash, give and take slack, and brake the line quickly and easily without risking finger injury.
4. Keep a "smile" in the leash
One of the main goals of using a long line is to reduce leash tension. The goal is to give your dog extra slack so that they can move their body freely, walk at a natural pace, and explore their environment. You don’t want a ton of extra slack dragging on the ground between you and your dog. The goal is to have a nice loose “smile” shape between you and your dog, with the leash suspended just above the ground. Throughout the walk, you will give and take slack to maintain your “smiling” leash. I recommend practicing this at home first! The "Smiling Leash" website has some great resources.
5. Know Your Dog and Maintain Situational Awareness
While reducing leash tension and giving your dog more room to move freely can improve the experience of a walk dramatically, it’s also important to have situational awareness for the safety of yourself, your dog, and others. Before going out into the world with your dog on a longer leash, consider the following:
- Local leash laws. In some places, the law may require you to use a 6 foot leash.
- Choose an environment where you and your dog are likely to be successful, especially when you are getting a feel for using a longer leash. This may mean choosing a location with less traffic and higher visibility. Check out our blog post 20 places to take your dog for an enrichment outing.
- Be conservative with your slack. Only allow as much slack as you feel comfortable handling, while still being able to safely and easily secure your dog as needed.
- Make sure you keep your dog close to you when going around corners or where there is low visibility and potential for sudden triggers to appear. Always keep your dog close when crossing a road or walking on a busy or congested street. If you are out hiking, don’t risk tripping others with your long line. Gather up slack and move to the side when passing others.
- On walks, be vigilant and scan the environment. Anticipate when you may need to shorten your leash or brake. A long line walk is an active, dynamic experience, and it requires your attention and active participation.
- Have a plan, and use and practice an emergency brake for if/when your dog sees a trigger. For example, when I am on a neighborhood walk with my dog, I know there is a certain spot where feral cats often congregate. We avoid, cross the street, or I keep Charlie close to me with my "brake hand" covering the line as we approach this area in case the cats are present.
- Long lines can be incredibly beneficial for rehabilitating fearful or reactive dogs when part of a carefully thought out training plan. If your dog is fearful, leash reactive, or aggressive, consult with a certified force free positive reinforcement professional before using a long line.
Ready for the next step? If you're comfortable using a longer leash and are ready to explore using a 20 foot or longer line, and learn more advanced handling techniques, I recommend Up To Snuff's “Long Story Short” virtual course.
Using a long line is such a great way to improve the quality of your walks for both yourself and your dog. With these simple tips, you're well on your way!