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high energy dog, but nowhere to run off leash...

2347 Views 14 Replies 11 Participants Last post by  Quinsation
Hello, so I've been looking for a dog for several months now. As some backstory--I've had an australian shepherd/border collie (not sure which but she was DEFINITELY one of those) and an alaskan malamute. So I have some experience with high energy dogs. They definitely had off switches and they could be lazy, but with the aussie/border especially they still had energy to burn and a lot of troublemaking smarts.

Fast forward to today, I'm looking to get either a border collie or belgian sheepdog (groenendael). The latter is my dream dog, so I'm leaning toward them. I'm typically an energetic person, I've been known to walk and bike for miles on end, and I LOVE being outdoors. My only issue is... I live in a slightly urban area (I use the term loosely because there are so many parks and trails and outdoor stuff around, and it's a small town) with strict leash laws and I do not drive, so there is really no place for the dog to run off leash in my town. There is a dog park, but I'm not a fan of them, especially with a herding breed that could be reactive, and ESPECIALLY with a puppy that isn't fully vaccinated. When they're older I could see possibly using a dog park when no one is around, but it's not ideal.

I have plenty of activities planned, both mental and physical. I want to do frisbee, obviously obedience training, scent work, hiking, and a plethora of other activities. However I'm worried the off-leash thing is a dealbreaker with any breeds I'm interested in. Is it impossible to have a high energy breed with nowhere to run off leash daily?

I'm thinking maybe there are some places I could take advantage of that I haven't thought of yet. I've also thought if I get a 30-50ft leash that would satisfy their need to run. I also obviously plan to go out of town now and again to more wide open spaces.

But I guess what I'm looking for is advice and tips. I don't get anything helpful when I try to research on google--heck, I just get a bunch of ads for long leads. So help is appreciated!
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I've found long leads to be very helpful with our boys - we have a national ban on off-leash dogs here during the spring to protect baby wildlife, so off leash hikes are completely off the table then. I stick to smooth, rolled, handle-less long lines for our walks in fields and wooded areas - like this - because they don't snag as easily on brush or roots as braided ones do. And if my dogs do go around a tree or into the brush, I can drop the lead and grab it on the other side of the obstruction to pull it through without a handle getting tangled or caught. If I had bigger dogs, I might go for a flat biothane lead - something like this - for a little better grip. Neither style is immune to snagging or tangling, but you'll have better luck than with anything braided, and they stay cleaner to boot. I do use standard braided or nylon webbing long-lines on occasion for certain kinds of training, but not on walks or hikes where there's a lot to get tangled it.

Handling long-lines like this in a safe and effective way does take practice. My goal is always to have the leash slack, but not dragging on the ground, because that minimizes snagging, stepping on the lead, tangling you or the dog, etc. I don't always succeed, haha, but do know that figuring out how to gather and release the line in a way that works for you and your dog takes practice. I think I started with some of Grisha Stewart's long line skills, from her BAT 2.0 book, but I wouldn't recommend buying the whole book just for that (I love it, but it is specifically about working with reactivity, so not applicable to all dogs). You might be able to find videos or articles free about it, though.

Some people have better success with retractable lines for the above reasons. I personally don't like them as much, but it's an option if you keep some things mind:

First, I'd (personally) only put a dog who already has good leash manners and no issues with meeting other dogs/people on a retractable line - they have more moving parts, and are therefore more prone to breaking, with the locking mechanism being a common point of failure. But sometimes the whole darn leash can come out of the handle. You can see why that'd be a concern with dogs who pull a lot or get worked up (even if it's just excitement) when they encounter wildlife or other walkers/dogs. The bigger and stronger the dog, the more you have to think about that.

Second, I'd only ever recommend tape-style retractables (as opposed to the cord-style). This way, if you do have to grab the lead itself for whatever reason, you're less likely to wind up with nasty rope burns on your hands, and it's less likely to create a nasty tourniquet situation if the line gets wrapped around a finger or dog limb.

Third, retractable handles 'chase' the dog if they get dropped, which many dogs find extremely freaky, so they can be harder to maneuver if the line does get tangled and there's extra worries if the handle gets yanked out of your hand. My biggest problem with retractables for my situation is that I don't feel like I can keep as good a grip on those bulky handles as I can on a long line.

But don't get me wrong, they're way easier to keep out of brush and roots and whatnot. I've even used them with my (small) leash reactive dog in areas where I'm 90% sure we won't meet any other dogs. And I know some people find regular long lines more difficult to manage and higher risk for them because they're more likely to get wrapped up in things and can be more difficult to 'break' a dog with when they take off running. I'm obviously biased because long lines are what works for me, but so long as you use the retractables safely and responsibly (they get an extra bad rap because some people who use them let their dogs wander up to strange dogs, people, into busy roads, etc.), they're a totally legit option.
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@Tater33 They're often sold as 'tracking lines' over here, because they're commonly used in game or blood tracking, so you might have some luck looking specifically at hunting dog gear? I typically use 15m long ones (~50ft), although practically speaking it's a little shorter because I almost never let it out the entire way. It's a lot harder for a dog to pull the line out of your hands if it's gathered a couple times than if you're just trying to hold onto the single smooth end on its own.

I didn't deliberately teach it (I probably should've), but both my dogs do know when I call out 'hey' or 'easy' that they're approaching the end of the line and need to watch their speed. And we practice long line recalls a lot so I can use that when they're threatening to blow past the end of the line or I spot a distraction I don't want them going after. You definitely have less control with a long line than a traditional leash, so vocal cues and commands become pretty important, because sometimes you need those extra few second to gather up the line or avoid them hitting the end full-throttle.

Oh, and I should've said before, but: long lines should only ever be used with a well-fitting harness. Even dogs with excellent leash manners can misjudge distance on a long line, and when they do hit the end, it's with way more force than a regular leash thanks to the momentum they can build up. You do not want that force on your dog's neck, period.
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