I want to start training my dog to come back to me and have heard that using a long line will help. Do you have any tips on how to get started and when it’ll be OK to let him off the lead completely?

Denise Price advises…

Long lines are an excellent way to start safe recall training. By long line, I mean a padded-cushion lunge line of around 10 metres – never a flexible or retractable lead. Long lines have many benefits: your dog will be able to express many of his natural behaviours with more freedom, investigating the environment and moving at his natural pace. Repetition and practice will help him realise how far away he can go, he’ll learn the benefits of coming back when you call, and won’t be able to run off in the other direction when you call.

Safety is paramount. Always attach the line to a suitable dog harness. Lines are a trip hazard for handler and dog. Generally, a dog will get used to having the line trailing along behind him, but the line could catch on his leg and cause injury if he is zooming about and is stopped suddenly at an inopportune moment. Consider your own safety too – grabbing hold of a line as it is rushing off at a rate of knots can cause a nasty friction burn.

To mitigate all of these risks, ensure your dog’s time on a long line is calm and steady. Begin by keeping hold of the handle of the line, attach the long line to the dog’s harness and then remove his normal lead. Cue the change of equipment by saying, “Go play”. Dogs soon learn what ‘go play’ means! Allow your dog to freely and calmly potter about on the long line. Intermittently, call him to you, just four or five times on the walk to keep it fresh. Every time he comes back to you, reward him with a novel and extremely tasty treat or play with a toy he loves. The recall doesn’t mean the end of the walk, it means come to you for fun. Then say, “Go play” again. If your dog gets too excited, gradually reduce the length of the lead.

When your dog is reliably recalling on the long line, you can proceed to the next stage. The long line can trail behind him without you holding the handle. If you sense that he is becoming alert or excited, then pick up the line by the handle for added control. Your strong observation skills will be needed to make sure he doesn’t whizz off. However, if he is chilled out and mooching, then the long line can trail behind him and he will enjoy more freedom – working up to the day when he can be off the lead altogether.

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