Let's Talk Leash Length

Let's Talk Leash Length

September 03, 2021

Is your dog sniffing enough?


How many conversations have you had regarding the length of a dog's leash out on a walk? Later in this article we will talk about the wonders of long lines. Just for a minute, let us focus on the little-discussed topic of the length of our leashes when we take our dogs for a standard walk.
In our ‘Knowing their Nose’ post we spoke about the importance of smell in our canine friends' worlds, from the anatomy of their gorgeous snoots, to the relationships our dogs have with scents, to the benefits of allowing them to utilize their noses, and finally to ways we can help enrich their world through sniffing. We did not, however, go into detail about the impacts of leash length.
Is it at least one third of their walking time? If not, you may want to consider slightly increasing the length of your leash.
Sometimes we can make the mistake of thinking using a very short leash will teach our dogs to want to stay right next to us; instead, we may get a dog who is simply resigned to the fact that they are not allowed to explore their environment whatsoever. In reality, we want our dogs to enjoy their walks and get the most out of them, even when we are ‘on a mission’, rather than just merely exist next to us while getting in a bit of physical exercise. A small field study found that increasing the length of our dogs leashed to 1.5 metres enabled them to sniff for 30% of the time during their walks. Considering many of us have learned to walk our dogs holding the leash in the opposite hand that our dogs are on, 1.5 metres really isn’t a huge ask. There are of course exceptions, such as using a slightly shorter lead while training, especially when we are managing lead biting. In these cases, we would recommend a 120cm light chain lead.
When we take a moment to think about it, common sense kicks in
; of course the length of a dog's leash will dictate how much freedom they will have on walks to sniff and explore their environment! While this is a simple concept, it is often missed when we talk about enriching the lives of our dogs. Many of us will use long-lines in our training and enrichment walks, but gloss over the importance of regular ol’ walking on the street and other areas where our dogs can’t have so much freedom.
Putting this into the context of the importance of sniffing, how it benefits our dogs, and how it can even lower a dog's pulse even while they are walking, it becomes clear that we should consider increasing the length of our dogs' leashes - within reason of course! First and foremost, we need to keep them safe. What we are wanting to do as their guardians is allow them a bit of extra freedom to smell that grass next to the footpath, or add an extra second to sniff a bush before catching up to walk next to us when we aren’t willing or able to stop at that moment.
Another topic is dogs that show some ‘reactivity’. For some dogs, adding a bit of extra freedom to move away from noisy trucks or other things they are unsure of while they are learning about their environment can make the world of difference. What happens to a very short leash when a dog tries to move away? It goes tense, putting pressure on the dog and restricting their ability to flee. Taking away our dogs ‘flight!’ mechanism can ignite their ‘fight!’ mechanism, meaning we see dogs who appear to be acting aggressive out of fear, caused by their inability to get more space. This is another reason why we encourage dog guardians to go at their dog's pace when facing things that they may find frightening; we want them to learn to cope within their own limits without having to endure an adrenaline-inducing experience.
Finally, let us touch upon the topic of long lines. The same field study mentioned earlier found that dogs who walked on a 5 metre long leash (which is probably shorter than many of us use) spent 85% of their time sniffing! Increasing the length of the leash increased the amount of time a dog spent sniffing – so utilize your long lines when it is appropriate and safe to do so! Compared to the 30% of time spent sniffing on the 1.5 metre leash, we see that the impact of leash length on our dogs scent-experience with the world is enormous.
In summary, if your dog is sniffing less than 30% of the time on your short-leash walks, consider slightly increasing the length of your leash. Continue being mindful of your environment and practicing your loose-leash skills to the same degree as you do with your current leash. For the most part, the experiences our dogs have are ultimately up to us; we should try our best to make that experience as fulfilling as possible where we safely can.



Lorraine said:

Surely it depends on the size/ breed of your dog and how willing you are to walk at your dog’s pace to allow your dog to sniff. We have an 18 month old Shih Tzu who I walk everyday on a 1.5 metre lead. I allow him to stop and sniff whenever he wants to which is probably about 95% of the time. He loves to explore things and I let him do this. I think the bigger issue is people who march their dogs down the street without letting them stop for anything which would be frustrating for the dog and not allow it to do what comes completely naturally.

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