When we are trailing, we are not only watching our dogs subtle body movements, but also feeling the tension change on the lead as they trail.
The line is a phone wire between you and the dog, it allows you speak to your dog and they can speak to you. This is via subtle (or not too subtle depending on the dog!) changes in pressure when trailing, to feel the pull into the scent or when the dog has stopped and may be casting for the scent.
As this communication can be so subtle, it is very important that we have good line handling skills as it works both ways.
Pulls on the line, or sudden jerks can cause miscommunication to the dog on the trail, as well as put them off trailing all together. Some dogs cannot cope with sudden pulls on the line and will immediately stop working.
Lines are also a way for us to keep our dogs safe, they allow us to stop them running into danger when they are on the trail. Dogs can trail perfectly fine, if not better without us hanging on the lead of a lead, but we need it there for safety for our dogs. They are also the only way we can keep up with the dogs. If we had the dogs off the lead then there is no way we would be able to keep up with the dogs as they run, and would never be part of the trailing experience; never mind reading the dogs body language when they are nearly out of sight.
Unsafe handling can be things such as letting the line drop on the ground loose for extended periods of time, where it can be tangled around your feet and the dogs, as well as the environment you are trailing in. Not only is this highly dangerous as the dog can take up the extra length and run forward into danger, as well as pull you off your feet as they surge forward depending on their trailing style. If it is trailing on the ground then there is no communication between the dog and handler via the tension and can make it harder for the handler to read their dog.
When we say tension we don´t mean the strong breakneck tension, but having the lead tight and free to be reeled in and out. The best way to describe it, is how you would hold a hand of a child, you hold it tight but there is flexibility in the movement. The other person can move their hand about and you can tighten and loosen when needed, but at a moments notice you can tighten the grip for safety. The line should always drop out of the hand smoothly while trailing and be able to easily be picked up as the dogs stop, change direction or cast for scent.
Poor handling such as pulling on the line heavily to stop the dog and letting the line suddenly pull, can lead to giving the dog a negative aspect when trailing. Dogs, that have had a negative experience while trailing won´t be giving one hundred percent effort towards the task at hand.
Fast dogs can be harder to work with, as you are constantly reeling the line in and out. Line handling is a skill that you perfect over time, but being new at the sport doesn’t excuse lead flicks as corrections or sudden jerks as your trying to control the trailing.
Learning to handle a line is a skill you need to practice, ideally away from the dog to start. You need to first learn how to build the loops in the line and how it best suites you. Find out in which hands and how you feel when dropping or picking up the line. We all have individual preferences we like to work with. We now have a badge to achieve in line handling in our new Progression Workbooks (Get them HERE), this exercise of reeling the line in and out to its full length without ringing a bell on the end is a brilliant way to practice your line handling without the dog to start.
The length of the line is a choice you need to make depending on how your dog trails, as well as the environment you are trailing in. Speaking to your instructor about the length and material of the line to suit you and trying out different lines, is the best course of action.
They should range from five to ten metres long depending on the size of the dog, it´s trailing style and what works best for both ends of the line. For example, just because you have ten metres to work with, does not mean you need to work to the end of it at all times. There will be times when your dog will need more or less line, depending on many different factors, such as weather and environmental conditions.
We highly recommend the raptor grip lines we stock from Houndagrips for your go to mantrailing long line HERE