As dog walkers, we've used long lines for years for safety and management during our off-leash group hikes. Our goal has always been to give our group hike pups as much freedom as possible to sniff, romp, and explore, without sacrificing safety. In the last couple of years, I've noticed more talk among dog owners and trainers alike about the importance of decompression walks, and how long lines can help to facilitate more enjoyable, less stressful walks for both dogs and their people. More and more, I'm noticing everyday dog owners try out long lines, not just for hikes and decompression walks in open spaces, but for neighborhood walks. When we say "long line," we mean a leash that is longer than the standard 6 foot length. Long lines can vary from 8 to 10, 15, 20, or even 30 or more feet.
Recently on our Instagram page, I posed the question, "For those of you who have tried using a longer leash for walks, what changes have you noticed?" I was blown away by the responses and wanted to share some of them here. Here they are:
"Less reactivity and lunging. With room to move, he makes better choices."
"More fulfilling walks for my dog mentally and physically, improved recall, and way more fun together."
"Less signs of fear and trying to escape!"
"My dog realizes that if he can run TOWARDS things he can also run away if he is scared!"
"My anxious dog started sniffing, rolling, loose body language, neutral tail, and started peeing on walks!"
"Better loose leash walking."
"Less frustration. Plus better recall practice with a long line!"
"Strangely, our dog is sticking to our side more with the 20' line than a 6' leash."
"Walks are easier to manage all around, pup has more freedom and much less pulling."
"Less pulling and less leash frustration!"
"More sniffs, less tense body language, and ultimately a more bouncy/jaunty trot."
"More sniffing, less pulling, able to self regulate around triggers more."
"More sniffing, more relaxed posture, seeing other dogs and able to disengage."
"Less pulling! She likes to walk just ahead of me. She can go at her own pace and sniff more."
"More willingness to walk, less stopping."
"Less tension, in all the ways."
"Changed to a 10 foot leash and just less tugging and more ease."
"More cooperation, less reactivity, more fun."
"Less pulling, more sniffing, less frustration based reactivity, less tension overall."
"Improved recall a ton! Gave more freedom and choice."
"Less leash tension, more natural body movement, more exploring the environment (sniffing etc)."
"Way less pulling! Turns out she just wanted to walk slightly ahead."
Pretty cool, right? What themes do you notice here? I notice:
-Less tension and frustration (for everyone!)
-More relaxed body language
If you think about it, this makes a lot of sense! Many of the "frustrating" behaviors that dogs display on walks - pulling, stopping, sniffing, freezing, growling, barking, lunging - are simply the result of dogs trying to get their needs met. Those needs could be creating more or less space, gathering information (which dogs do primarily through olfaction, or sniffing), communicating, relieving stress, taking time to stop and think, or simply the ability to move at their own pace. A longer leash can facilitate all of these things!
Quimet is an anxious girl, and long lines help her to create space from things that worry her.
Some owners might be concerned that their dog is showing "dominance" if they walk slightly ahead, or that they'll be out of control and difficult to manage on a longer leash. By all means, if your dog is displaying extreme reactivity or other behaviors that are concerning, we recommend working with a force free trainer to understand WHY your dog is displaying these behaviors, and how to help them. But it's long past time we put to rest the notion that dogs are being "dominant" if they choose to walk slightly ahead of us, or if they try to access something in their environment that interests them. Of course, we need to be mindful of where our dog is walking, respect private property, and have situational awareness, especially in busy neighborhoods. But using a long line is absolutely not incompatible with meeting your training goals. In fact, many people find that skills like loose leash walking, recall, engagement, and disengagement from triggers are easier to work on with a longer leash!
Mack is a reactive pup. Long lines help him feel safe and give him more choices. Mack's mom utilizes traffic handles to secure Mack close to her when needed.
I also think it's time to re-think what a leashed walk "should" look like. Dogs learn, process, and experience the world differently than us, and that's okay! A long line can help give our dogs the freedom to experience the world in their own unique way. The reality is that our lives are busy, and leashed walks may be one of your dog's only opportunities to engage in a number of behaviors that are crucial to their overall wellness. So - let them sniff. Let them investigate. Let them pee. Let them stop and observe. Let them choose the route. Give your dog the gift of some choice and agency, and see if you notice a difference in their behavior and in your relationship.
Long lines help Bailey to have more fun on urban adventures.
If you're interested in trying out a longer leash for neighborhood walks, I'd start with a leash just slightly longer than what you're already using. I use a 10 foot leash for all neighborhood walks, but I know others who use an 8 foot leash, and some who use 15 or even 20! It will depend on your comfort level, environment, and circumstances. Read our blog post about long line sizing here. You might consider a Traffic Handle which can be used to secure your dog close to you when needed (when crossing the street, in a busy area, or if your dog reacts to a trigger and management is needed). We also offer the option of adding a built-in traffic handle to your leash at several custom heights - this is an optional add on to any of our leashes or long lines. Getting used to managing a long line can take some practice. When starting out, it's best to work in a less busy, open area so that you practice managing the long line and securing it as needed. You can always contact us if you're just getting started with a long line and have any questions.
I hope you'll consider a longer line for your walks, or at the very least, I hope we've provided some food for thought about leashed walks and how to make them less stressful and more beneficial to your pup. As always, feel free to leave a comment or contact us with any questions or thoughts. If you're already using a long line, or if you decide to try one out, let us know how it's going!