Dog training with a tow leash - that's how it works and what you need for it

While it used to be used primarily by specialists such as hunters when training dogs, it is now omnipresent in parks and fields: the drag leash for dogs. If used correctly, it is an ingenious tool for dog training and gives dogs and owners unexpected freedom.

Which dogs are leash training suitable for?

Leash training is suitable for many dogs. The long dog leash is just as suitable for retrieval training or anti-hunting training as it is for a free-running experience for dogs that cannot be given free run. A drag leash is also practical for areas where a leash is required but the dog should be able to move as freely as possible.

What equipment do you need?

For training with the towline, you not only need a suitable towline for dogs, but also a suitable dog harness , gloves and sturdy shoes.
In any case, the dog should wear a harness and the dog training leash should be hooked into it. If the towing leash is hooked into a collar, there is a risk of serious cervical spine injuries if he jumps into the leash or gets stuck somewhere.
Gloves are important for protecting people. No matter how well the dog is trained and how quickly the person reacts - it will always happen that the long dog leash is pulled through the hand. If your hands are not protected by gloves, you can get unpleasant abrasions or burns.
Sturdy shoes are not only necessary for secure footing when there is a real pull on the line. They also help to hold the leash when you need to hold it with your foot.

Which dog leash is right for me?

Which dog training leash is the right one depends on the exact use of the towing leash.
  • The traditional form of use is that the dog pulls the leash behind him - the dog drags the leash with him. That's where the name comes from. This type of training is suitable for quite advanced dogs who need to slowly get used to free running (or back to free running). The dog runs freely, but can be stopped by the owner by the person jumping on the leash and holding the dog with it. For this type of use, the leash should not have a hand loop, as the loop can easily get caught on something. In addition, the long dog leash should not be too heavy for the dog that has to pull it. For smaller dogs, light, thinner leashes are necessary; for larger dogs, they should be a little more stable.
  • For dogs that are not (yet) expected to be able to run freely, or for recall training, it can be beneficial to take the end of the cross-country leash in your hand or give it to a helper. In such a case, it is helpful if the dog leash has a hand strap. It should also be made of non-slip material such as rubberized nylon or Biothane. With this type of training, it can be assumed that the dog will sometimes jump on the leash. The leash should therefore be sized so that you can still hold the dog. For a small dog you can choose a towing line of 10m or a towing line of 15m length, for a large, strong dog it should be a towing line of 5m.
  • The third option is to use the dog drag leash as a cross-country leash. Then you take the hand strap in your hand and wind the line in large loops so that the correct remaining length is achieved. If you wind up a lot, you have the dog on a short leash. If you want him to have a lot of leeway, let go of the loops. This method has the advantage that the towing line is very variable. The disadvantage is that you more or less need two hands to handle the leash. A leash with a hand loop is advantageous for this type of leash management. It should also be appropriate for the dog's strength, so it shouldn't be too long for a large, strong dog.

What kind of tow lines are there?

Tow lines are available in different lengths, made from different materials and with different features.
  • Common lengths for tow lines are 4 or 5 meters, 10 meters and 20 meters. Basically you can say: the longer the line, the more power is transmitted. This means: the stronger the dog or the less strong or stable the person, the shorter the leash must be.
  • The width can vary significantly. There are towing lines that are less than one centimeter wide, but there are also models that are 2.5 cm wide. Here you can roughly say: the bigger the dog, the greater the width should be. A small dog has trouble pulling too much weight behind him, so the leash should be rather narrow for him. For a large, strong dog, a sturdier, wider leash makes more sense.
  • The carabiner should also suit the size of the dog: large and stable for large dogs, small and light for small animals.
  • Towing lines used to be made of leather , but today leather towing lines are rarely found. They feel elegant and remain grippy even when they get wet. However, they absorb water and therefore become heavy when they get wet. They are also difficult to clean and require regular maintenance. In terms of price, they are in the upper segment.
    Biothane is now very common for towing lines. The material is easy to care for as they can be easily wiped clean and is also lightweight. Thanks to its smooth structure, it hardly forms any knots and doesn't get stuck anywhere easily. It does not absorb water and therefore remains light even when wet. One disadvantage is the lack of grip, especially when wet.

    The inexpensive cross-country skiing lines made of nylon are also popular. They can be washed in the washing machine. However, they soak up water when they are wet. In addition, they are either so rough that injuries can easily occur if the leash is pulled through your hand, or they are smooth and not easy to grip.

    A good compromise between grip and the good properties of the nylon leash are rubberized nylon towlines . They have a good grip and are therefore easy to hold, but they can be washed in the washing machine and are therefore very easy to care for. As long as they are dry, they remain quite light.
  • The hand strap is particularly useful when the person holds the end of the towing line in their hand. If the dog is supposed to 'drag' the leash, it is better to choose a model without a loop because the hand strap poses an additional risk.

How does towline training work?

The first step: get the dog used to the leash

First, the dog has to get used to the leash, which is unfamiliar to him, and also to the harness if he is not familiar with it yet.
To get a dog used to the harness, simply put it on him at home every now and then, then play with him or offer him a chew. Within a short time he will accept the dishes as completely normal and rather enjoyable. Now hook the towing line. The dog is allowed to sniff them, but should then ignore them. If he bites it or tries to play with it, respond with 'Off!' or no! and push him away from the leash if he doesn't respond.
If he walks alongside you and accepts the drag leash as a connecting element between you and the dog, everything is fine. Try simple commands like 'sit' on the leash and reward your dog when he follows along.
Now walk the dog with the leash and reward him with words, treats or a game when he pays attention to you, for example by looking at you.

The second step: the line end signal

It is advisable to introduce a signal that the leash is about to end. No matter whether you wear the leash in loops or the full length is available to the dog: the dog should not jump onto the leash at full speed. Here you should watch your dog closely. Just before it reaches the end, give the line end signal. This can be, for example, 'Slowly' or 'Caution'. Most dogs quickly understand that this cue warns of the jerk and stop at the signal. Perfect if the dog then turns to you. Then big praise is due. The long-term goal is to prevent the dog from moving further away on this cue, even when he is free running. The immediate goal is to prevent jumping on the leash.

The third step: recall training

The most important and elementary command for walks is certainly the recall. The towing leash is brilliant for recall training. Train with your dog using the command 'Come' or 'Here!' I already know how to be distracted outdoors. To do this, first choose a location that offers a little less distraction. Let the dog walk on the leash and then call him to you. If he comes, he is praised and rewarded immediately. If he doesn't come, carefully 'fish' him towards you using the line. If he is there, he will also be rewarded. Gradually increase the distance and distraction stimuli. The long-term goal is that the dog can be safely retrieved even without a leash.

The fourth step: this is how it continues

After these training steps, you can pat yourself on the back – the dog is fit for a towline. How you continue training depends on what exactly you want to achieve with the towline.
If you want to achieve freewheeling, you should next increase the intensity of the distractions. If your four-legged friend resists temptation from rabbits and other dogs, training with a dragging leash makes sense. Now the dog runs free and only drags the drag line behind him. As a kind of emergency brake, if he is not available, you can jump on the leash and still hold him.
If you want to continue using the towline for safety reasons or because the leash is mandatory, stay tuned. The better you and your dog are attuned to each other and to the towing leash, the more fun it will be.

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