The long line, or better known to horse people as the “lunge line”, is the intermediary step between the six foot training leash and the tab (sometimes referred to as the “handle,” a one foot leash worn by the dog at all times which allows you to always be in a position to administer a correction).
The best long lines are made of 1/2 inch nylon webbing, the type you can purchase at a outdoor/camping supply store or from a horse and tack shop. They can be anywhere from 15 feet to 50 feet or more in length.
I prefer a 25 foot or 30 foot long line, because it’s long enough to work real distances (and catch the dog should he try to run away) but not too long that it has a tendency to get knotted up like fish line on a Bass Lake vacation. Up until now, if you’ve been doing your on-leash obedience routines correctly (by keeping a loose leash) the transition to the long line should be fairly smooth.
See, the dog doesn’t know the difference between a 6 foot line, a 15 foot line, or a 40 foot line. Why? Because, as a result of several studies– even ones you can do yourself– behaviorists have ascertained that the canine has very limited abilities to use reason or logic. In other words, as long as you don’t inadvertently teach him, he won’t automatically know the length of your leash.
The first step to long line training is to begin taking your dog to various different locations and let him run around with the long line in trail. I have found that with many dogs who have been kept on a tight leash all of their lives, that they grow to see freedom as a scarce commodity. So, the minute that the dog thinks he’s off leash, he bolts and runs away because he feels that such freedom is scarce, so he must take advantage of it when he can.
Once you begin letting your dog roam freely, with the long line on, there are two thing that start to happen. First, your dog will begin to forget that he is trailing the long line, so he starts to think he is free, and freedom STOPS becoming such a scarce commodity. Secondly, if he does decide to “take off” on you, you will always be in a position to regain control. (It’s pretty hard for even a really fast dog to get away from you when he’s trailing 50 feet of line!)
So, what does the dog learn?
He learns that, under no circumstance, can he bolt and get away from you. Just like the Alpha dog, you are the strongest, and the fastest. You can always out run and chase down any other member of your pack. And the long-line gives you this ability.
In essence, this is the same thing we do with the electric collar. We teach the dog that he can’t outrun us, and that we can correct him, even if he’s fifty feet away from us. The benefit of the electric collar over the long line is that the timing for your correction can be faster, and usually more motivational. But unless you’re physically handicapped, this should not be enough of a feature as to disable you from still achieving great results with the long line.
The benefit, of course, to the long line is that, a good long line will cost you $15, or maybe $20 dollars. A good electric collar, on the other hand, may cost you upwards of $200, $400, or even –for the fancy, Cadillac of remote training collars– $1500!!!
A WORD OF CAUTION ABOUT HOW NOT TO USE THE LONG LINE
As I mentioned above, the biggest mistake you can make with the long line is accidentally teaching your dog the length of your line. If your dog discovers that your long line is only 10 feet long, and he’s now wandered 50 feet away from you, and you are not fast enough to run up and step on the end of that long line if he decides to bolt, then what has he just learned?
He has learned that there is a certain proximity, or distance from you in which you will not be able to catch him. And whenever he thinks he can make a run for it, he’s going to make a go of it.
If this happens, pretty much the only thing you can do is to go out and buy a much longer line and re-teach him that he can’t get away from you… ever! But if this has happened already, it will take much longer to reach your final goal, because the dog, for a long time, will continually test in different circumstances whether or not he can still get away. When you reach the point where you are confident that your dog knows he cannot run away from you without getting corrected for it, you are ready to progress to the point where you can take off the long line, and substitute the tab (the one foot leash ). At this point, the dog is virtually off-leash.
However, there are some specific techniques for using the tab, which you should consult your local trainer about.