Extending Leashes and Long Lines
Learn why an extending leash isn’t the best (or the safest) training choice, and how to use a long line instead.
Extending leashes. Most pet supply stores sell them, and on most sidewalks somebody seems to be walking their dog on one. Dog trainers are not wild about them, but we do understand that sometimes you want to give your dog extra room to roam at times when it may not be safe to let her off leash entirely. This week: why trainers usually avoid extending leashes, and what we suggest instead.
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Extending Leashes Teach Dogs to Pull
One problem with extending leashes is that there’s always tension on the cord (unless your dog happens to be moving toward you and the cord is locked). So pulling gets your dog where she wants to go, which in turn means that she is constantly being rewarded for pulling on the leash. But teaching your dog to walk politely on leash boils down to rewarding her for keeping the leash slack. Extendable leashes undermine that goal. Now, I hate the sensation of having my arm constantly tugged on, but maybe you don’t mind it. Still, a dog who’s learned to keep the leash taut at all times is harder to walk in any situation where you need to keep her close to you. Also, try walking her sometime when you have back strain. Ow.
Extending Leashes Can Be Dangerous
Extending leashes can endanger both your dog and you. Any experienced trainer can tell you at least one story about a client’s dog who bolted in a panic when his guardian dropped the plastic handle and it went clattering along the sidewalk behind the dog. You’re less likely to drop a cloth or leather leash, especially if you wrap it once around your hand. And if you do drop it, it won’t make a sound loud enough to startle even a skittish dog.
And think about cats, squirrels, and other furries of the great outdoors. You’re walking your dog on his extending lead and a stray cat races across his path. It’s bad enough if the cat runs into traffic; if you aren’t fast enough to lock the lead, your dog may join her there. Or the chase may be what sends the cat into the road in the first place; if she gets hit by a car, that’s on you. If your dog is going hell-for-leather and you lock the lead, you can knock him off his feet – or do worse, if you’ve paired the extending lead with a choke chain, a prong collar, or a halter.
I’m not even done! A leash cord wrapped around your finger by a bolting dog can break the finger or even amputate it. This is less likely with a tape leash, but in 2007, nearly 3,900 leash-related finger injuries sent people to the hospital. Or if the leash clip breaks off your dog’s collar, the tension on the extended leash can whip that metal right into your face. Think of how hard a measuring tape with a spring snaps back into its housing when you release it. These are risks I wouldn’t take for a piece of equipment I don’t think much of.
Your wisest course, then, is to use a regular leash for walks around your neighborhood or while you’re on the road. As for those times when you would like to give your dog some room to poke around, but don’t feel safe letting her off leash for whatever reason, here’s how to use a “long line.”
What Is a Long Line?
A long line is exactly what it sounds like: a long, light, strong rope or cord, or a leash, usually 20 to 50 feet long. Long lines aren’t quite no-brainer tools and they do share some potential dangers with extending leashes. But extending leashes seem to encourage people to space out, whereas a long line demands your active attention and engagement with your dog.
Get started with some practice in your backyard or another relatively small, secure area, and follow these 4 long line rules:
4 Rules for Long Line Safety
Rule #1 - Decide whether to have your dog wear a collar or a harness with the long line. A harness is probably safer for your dog if he’s liable to bolt, but in many situations dogs will spend most of their time poking around and sniffing, and a wide flat collar may be fine.
Rule #2 - Once you’ve attached the long line, pay out only about 8 or 10 feet of it – you’re generally going to keep your dog closer than most people do with an extending leash. Loop the line around your hand. (You can wear a glove to further protect your skin.) If your dog takes off, the loop will tighten and form a brake so you don’t get rope burn and your dog doesn’t either knock herself flat hitting the end of the line or head for the next county trailing 40 feet of rope.
Rule #3 - Be careful not to let the trailing line get between your legs or wrap around an ankle. Again, rope burn.
Rule #4 - Try to keep the rope to your dog’s side rather than between his legs, and if it ever loops around one of his legs immediately unwrap it.
Supervise Your Dog When Using a Long Line
Supervise your dog just as if she were completely at liberty. If she perks up over something distant or out of sight, go closer to her, taking up some of the rope as you go so that neither of you can get hurt if she takes off running. On the other hand, if she’s trotting toward an obvious goal that’s within the rope’s length, pay out enough line to let her reach it. Then walk up to her, again taking up the line as you go so that you’re generally giving her no more than that original 8 or 10 feet of slack.
If you’re going to let your dog drag the line, tie a knot in it every few feet; when you’re walking up the line to collect your dog, the knots can serve as a brake if she starts to wander away, pulling the line with her.
I wish I had a dollar for every person I’ve seen texting while their dog gets into trouble 25 feet away, at the other end of the extending leash. But a long line does no work for you; instead, it pushes you to pay attention to your surroundings and to your dog. That’s exactly the right frame of mind to be in: Engagement and attentiveness are half the battle in dog training, no matter which end of the leash you’re on.
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