Long Line Handling & Hiking

Do you want to take your dog hiking on a long line, but can’t stand long lines? This post is for you! It’s no fun getting tangled in 50 feet of rope, and dragged all over the place! There’s a number of techniques you can use to make the long line experience more enjoyable for yourself.

Choosing the right equipment

I use a back-attachment harness with long lines. This ensures your dog won’t hurt her neck in case she ever hits the end of it at full speed. My personal favorite is Hurtta’s padded Y harness.

As for choosing the line itself, I recommend biothane. It gives you a much better grip than webbing, there is less probability of rope burn, it doesn’t soak up water when you’re hiking in the rain, it’s easy to clean, and quite indestructible. Because it’s slippery, it’s less likely to end up with tight knots that are hard to undo or get caught on obstacles.

If you use a webbing line, or if your dog is strong and tends to unexpectedly pull, wear riding gloves for additional grip and rope burn prevention. The fabric kind with little rubber dots are both cheap and effective.

Choose a long line without a handle – if you drop it and let it drag, the handle will just make your and your dog’s life miserable by constantly getting caught on obstacles. If you already have one with a handle, just cut it off.

The broader the line, the easier it is to hold on to it and keep yourself and your dog safe if she tries to take off. However, broader also means heavier – the smaller and lighter your dog, the thinner your line should be. I recommend a 40 to 60 feet, ⅝ inch long line for a medium sized dog. If you’re new to long lines or have a dog who tend to be all over the place, broader is always better. Don’t get more than 50 feet if you’re trying long line hiking for the first time. The longer your line, the more difficult the handling, and the less fun your experience. You can always upgrade to a longer one later!

Choose a color that’s easily visible against the ground you tend to hike on. The easier the line is visible, the easier it will be to notice and step out of any loops around your feet. That, again, helps prevent you from falling!

Safe Handling

Be a splitter, not a lumper – not just when it comes to training your dog, but also when it comes to training yourself. Practice handling your long line at home, when it isn’t attached to a dog. Once you’re fluent as far as looping it up is concerned, add the dog.

Option 1: Looping

With your dominant hand (right hand in this picture), take turns making loops to the left and right side of your non-dominant hand. The non-dominant hand creates an eye the leash runs through.

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There should NEVER be a string running over the back of your fingers: if your dog pulls, this loop will close rapidly and can break your hand!

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The pictures above are by my friend and talented photographer Isabell Grubert.

This looping technique is also ideal for storing long lines.

Option 2: Dragging

Again, you’ll create an eye for the long line with your non-dominant hand. However, rather than looping up the line, you’ll just let whatever part your dog isn’t using drag behind you. Use your dominant hand in front of the non-dominant one in order to stop your dog or slide loose parts of the long line back behind you.

Don’t get trapped in a loop!

Whenever you find yourself at the center of a C, U or O made by the leash on the ground, step or jump out of it right away. You want the line to always be an S or an I next to you, never looping around your feet. Standing inside a loop is an accident waiting to happen! Be mindful of this the first few times, and soon, stepping out will be something your body just does without requiring conscious effort.

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Step out of the loop!

Giving in to leash pressure

Just like you should have a skill or two in place before you head out on an enjoyable long line hike, so should your dog.

Teach your dog that feeling pressure on her harness is a cue to turn back towards you. This prevents pulling on the long line: every time she reaches the end, she will automatically be cued to stop and reorient rather than pull.

To teach this, gently pull on your dog’s harness, then feed near your body so she has to walk a step or two towards you in order to get her cookie. Once she offers taking a step towards you as soon as she feels the pressure on her harness, add a click: gently pull on the harness – mark as she is turning towards you – feed near your body. Gradually extend the distance between you and your dog, and repeat the exercise. Then, generalize it to the real world, and you’re ready to use it on a hike!

Here’s a short video from my recall class that shows the second step (adding the click) to the giving in to leash pressure exercise:

Feel comfortable handling your long line? Hit the trails and have fun!

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