Training Tools

I thought it’d be nice to dedicate a post to training tools and equipment, because they’re more important and come in a bigger variety than many people realize. I already covered clickers in my previous post, so we’ll leave those out.

Reinforcements

  • Treats – I’m sure you’re all familiar with these. For training it’s best to use small, soft, smelly treats. Just use whatever your dog loves, whether it’s chopped up hot dog, turkey, ham, whatever. You want to use tiny pieces to avoid your dog getting too full too soon; dogs don’t care how big the treats are, they’re just excited to get them in the first place. To avoid weight gain, simply consider the treats used during training as a replacement for one of his meals. Use your best judgment and alter your dog’s meals accordingly.
  • Toys – Some dogs think treats are fine, but they really go nuts for TOYS! Tug is one of the best games to use as a reward. Use whatever motivates your dog.
  • Praise – Praise is a helpful marker for when you don’t have treats or your clicker on hand. Don’t be surprised if your dog won’t work solely for praise, though – it’s not as tasty as treats or as fun as toys. There are some training methods that use only praise as a reward, and corrections as punishments. I recommend avoiding any training programs like this; this article talks about why: http://paws4udogs.wordpress.com/2012/02/06/he-should-do-it-because-he-loves-me/

Leashes

  • Standard – The good ol’ standard 4-foot or 6-foot leash… this is what we recommend most. Overall, they give you the best control of your dog for training.

  • Retractable –  A trainer’s worst nightmare. We do not recommend these for training – or anything else. They give the handler very little control of their dog, the locking mechanism can easily break, plus it actually encourages your dog to pull. I’ve heard of dogs who were hit by cars because their retractable leash allowed them to run into the road.

  • Training –  Training leashes are the reeaaally long ones, the 20-footers and 50-footers. These are great to use when training a recall cue, or anything else that requires you to get some distance from your dog. I used a 20-foot one with shelter dogs to let them easily run around and burn some energy without me losing them. Note: I shouldn’t have to say these should only be used in SAFE areas where you are far from any dangers.

  • Tabs – I’m not incredibly familiar with these, so to quote another trainer: “Leash tabs are short little handles you can attach to your dog’s collar. I didn’t find a lot of use for these until I started taking agility classes. Now I love them. My dog is off leash while navigating the obstacles, but when I need to hold her still it’s just a little more convenient than grabbing her collar.”

  • Euro –  The European-style leash is what I currently use with my dog and I love them. It has latch hooks on both ends and multiple rings, so it can be adjusted to different lengths. You can also wear it diagonally around your torso for a hands-free leash, which is what I do (I don’t recommend this for pullers though). Some allow you to walk two dogs on one leash, but I’ll say why this is a bad idea in the next paragraph.

  • Coupler –  This is an attachment or leash that allows you to walk two dogs on one leash. These are generally a bad idea because it’s frustrating for many dogs to be trapped so closely next to another dog, whether it’s their buddy or not. If there’s an incident that riles up your dogs, it could frustrate them further and they could redirect onto each other and cause harm or get tangled.

  • Waist –  There are hands-free leashes that attach at your waist, which are great for training or jogging (provided your dog is good about jogging along beside you).  They free up your hands which makes handling your clicker and treats much easier.

  • Tie-out –  These are to tie your dog up in the yard, and are usually attached to a stake in the ground. Some of them can be pulled out of the ground by a strong and determined dog. If you don’t have a fence, it doesn’t keep strange dogs from coming up and bothering your dog. When your dog is tethered he feels trapped and nervous, which can increase the chances that a fight will erupt, and your dog can’t escape. If you’re leaving your dog tied out most of the day, it’s not getting the attention and socialization it needs and can cause behavioral issues.

Collars

  • Flat – The good ol’ flat collar is (like the good ol’ standard leash) what we recommend most. Buckles or snaps are fine, though sometimes the snaps can break. The collar should be snug enough that it can’t slip over your dog’s head. You should be able to fit no more than two fingers under your dog’s collar.
  • Martingale –  Some dogs, like greyhounds and whippets, have heads that are as narrow as their neck, which means flat collars can slip off even when tightened properly. Martingales work well for these dogs because they will tighten when pulled on, but not tightly enough to choke your dog.
  • Choke Chain –  Speaking of choking, that brings us to choke chains. Just as their name implies, these are chains that will tighten around your dogs neck when the leash is pulled. These can damage your dog’s neck and are just plain unpleasant. My mentor did actually manage to find a use for them though. If you have a dog who’s a bad leash biter, just put the choke chain on the dog’s collar and hook your leash to the other end. This leaves your dog with an unpleasant chain to chew on, and isn’t as hard on your hands as a chain leash.
  • Prong – Prong (or pinch) collars are pretty popular. Personally, I hate them. Anyone who says they don’t hurt is an idiot. I don’t care how thick your dog’s fur is, they are, at best, unpleasant. If used improperly (a.k.a. the way most people use them) they can very easily worsen some dogs’ issues, especially leash reactivity and aggression. If you insist on using a prong collar, please please PLEASE read this quick article on how to do it properly: http://www.suzanneclothier.com/the-articles/training-prong-collar
  • Shock – If there’s one thing I hate more than prong collars it’s shock collars. They are painful and tend to create a fearful dog. What I really hate is people who use them as an “easy fix” for barking dogs. A surprising amount of dogs learn to only bark in the gaps where the collar is unable to shock again. I’m sorry if that’s unclear, I’m not good at describing it. It is merely a bandaid (and not a good one) that does not resolve the underlying problem.
  • Citronella –  Another barking deterrent is the citronella collar, which sprays an unpleasant citrus scent in the dog’s face every time he barks. Like the shock collar, this is unpleasant and does not address the underlying problem. Plus, many dogs just learn to bark to the side to avoid the spray. They can also be triggered by a dog other than the one wearing the collar barking nearby.
  • DAP –  DAP stands for “dog-appeasing pheromone.” This is a collar that emits a calming pheromone, so it’s a good tool for stressed dogs. Results may vary, so don’t expect it to work like magic. Also comes in a spray.

Head Collars

The most common brands are the Gentle Leader or Halti. These head collars wrap around the muzzle and neck, with the leash attaching under the chin. They work on the same principle a horse halter does, in that it steers the dog by its head, so it works well for pullers. These can be dangerous though because if the leash is jerked it can damage your dog’s neck, so we don’t recommend letting kids walk dogs on a head collar.

There are different models (like the Sporn and Canny brands) of this collar where the leash attaches at the back of the neck instead of under the chin, which makes them a bit safer. Caution should still be used.

Harnesses

  • Standard –  Many of you are familiar with a standard harness. This wraps around your dog’s shoulders and the leash attaches at the back. These are good if your dog has a sensitive neck, but probably aren’t a great idea for severe pullers because they actually tend to encourage pulling since dogs can pull easier from their upper body than their neck.
  • Easy Walk –  This harness is a great option for bad pullers who are at risk of damaging their neck with collars. The leash attaches at the front instead of the back, so that when your dog hits the end of the leash it steers him back toward you. Soon he learns that pulling only serves to turn him around.

Invisible Fences

I hate these, I really do.  The idea is to have a fence to contain your dog without actually having to spend all the effort and money on putting in an actual fence. Nice idea, but… it doesn’t execute well. Your dog wears a shock collar that zaps him every time he crosses the invisible boundary. What happens with some dogs is they see something, a squirrel for instance, on the other side of the fence. They run after the squirrel, get zapped on their way through the boundary, and are too afraid to come back across because they’ll get zapped again. So now you’ve got a dog that’s actually stuck outside of your yard. Not only that, but the fences tend to just… turn off… a lot.

I have three personal stories about my experiences with invisible  fences. Someone I know used to have one with her three dogs, and one of the dogs became so terrified to come outside because he had no idea where the shocks would come from. Every time he came outside he would walk as close to the house as possible, afraid to go into the yard. In this case the electric fence created a fearful and anxious dog.

I have two neighbors with invisible fences. The neighbor down the street has a German Shepherd who is supposedly friendly enough. I met her when she was loose one time. She was too wary of me to let me get close enough to see if she had any tags, and she actually charged me a couple of times. I didn’t move, so she backed off. I have no idea what she would have done if I had run the other way or cowered. What if a child came across her and ran away screaming? Would she chase them? Bite them? This dog has gotten out of her electric fence multiple times. Once she was missing for a few days and the family had “lost dog” flyers posted everywhere. Luckily she was found, but she has escaped at least once since.

My other neighbor has two very sweet dogs. But… their invisible fence is a piece of crap, so I’m frequently finding their dogs in my yard. I remember one time my dog and I came home to them in my yard, and as I was trying to usher them back into their yard, another neighbor came down the street walking her dog. My neighbor’s two dogs ran into the street to greet her, and she did not want them near her or her dog (I think her dog may have had reactivity issues). She yelled at me to get my dogs, and I shouted back that they weren’t mine, but I tried to call them back to me anyway – not surprisingly, they didn’t listen. If her dog did indeed have reactivity issues, that little incident probably set her back a lot, and that is incredibly frustrating. And just today I heard my neighbors yelling after their little dog because apparently it had gone missing. I saw one of them driving back in their car with their bigger dog trotting along beside it, so I assume the dogs had gone along for a romp in the neighborhood.

Bottom line: invisible fences can be harmful and fail far too frequently.

If you guys think I left anything good out, let me know in the comments!

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