When it comes to training your dog there’s no substitue for time, patience, persistence, consistency, and repetition. But training tools can help you with that process. A training tool is a device that you use to reward and communicate with your dog during training sessions, on walks, off-leash, and whenever you’re out and about. It helps you keep your dog well-behaved and safe, and makes it easier to train and control your dog. Let’s take a look at some:
Treats – the most basic training tool
Treats are the most basic of training tools. If your dog is food-motivated, you can even use his everyday food as a training treat. Some other yummy treats you can use:
- Plain boiled chicken
- Hard-boiled egg
- Hot Dogs (use sparingly due to high sodium content)
- String cheese (again, use in moderation)
- Chunks of fruits or vegetables (choose wisely, some fruits and vegetables may cause health issues)
- Store-bought treats and cookies
When you consider using treats to train your dog, keep in mind that each bite adds calories and other elements to your dog’s diet. So modify the amount you feed at mealtimes to allow for those calories, and consult with your vet to help you decide how often to use treats. Or, just use his regular daily amount of food as treats. That way, you can be sure your dog is getting the proper amount of nutrition.
This is exactly what it sounds like – a small device that makes a clicking sound when you press a button. It’s used to mark compliance. You give the dog a command, and it complies successfully. You click, and immediately follow up with a treat and praise. This tool works well for commands given within hearing distance.
The leash is a training tool
At its most basic, a leash is a line that tethers you to your dog. It enables you to control your dog when you are outdoors. You can also use it to communicate with your dog by interrupting whatever he is doing to get his attention back on you. A good length for a leash is 4 – 6 feet long.
- Slip-leash – slides along itself, rather than clipping to a collar. You create a loop at the end that slides over a dog’s head. But this leash is commonly used for training or as a rescue lead only; if used improperly it could cause a dog to choke itself out. If you are considering using a slip-leash, talk to a trainer who can help you learn how to use one safely and properly.
- Nylon leash – this is the most commonly used leash, made of nylon webbing. It’s strong and durable, and washable.
- Leather leash – this is more expensive than a nylon leash. It’s also more durable, and easier on the hands.
The training cord is typically 20-100 feet long. This leash is primarily used to train recall. Hunters use it to train their retrievers and hunting dogs. But any pet owner can use it to train their dog to recall; a 60-foot length is usually sufficient for most pet owners. For tips on how to train your dog to recall, see our training overview.
Collars are another common training tool
There are many different types of collars. Choosing the right collar for the right purpose is important:
The flat collar is the most common collar in use by most owners. ID tags clip on to the D-ring, along with the leash. It’s the simplest of collars to use, and most dogs do well with basic training using nothing more than a flat collar and a leash.
The Martingale Collar
The martingale collar is a flat collar, with a “pinch” action loop at the front. It’s designed to tighten the collar, similar to a slip collar (without the slip leash) or “pinch” collar (without the prongs). This collar activates with leash pressure, as does a flat collar. Learn to use it properly, or you risk your dog choking himself out. If your dog pulls and lunges, this may not be the best choice of a collar for you.
Prong collar/pinch collar – a more advanced training tool
The prong collar (also called a “pinch” collar) is used primarily for behavior modification or targeted obedience training. It may look barbaric to some people, but when fitted and used properly, this collar is a very effective tool for training and does not cause any pain to the dog. There is a learning curve, however, so do your research and get some advice from a trainer who can show you how to properly fit and use one.
*A prong collar should only be used during a training session or when on walks. Do not leave it on your dog while they are playing. Never leave it on your dog all the time, and never leave it on when he will be unattended.
The remote collar uses a vibrating impulse of varying intensity to get yor dog’s attention during training. Trainers and owners alike use it for over-distance off-leash training. This collar requires a proper fit, and when used correctly, it can be a highly effective communication tool between you and your dog.
The remote collar is sometimes referred to incorrectly as a “shock” collar. It’s important to understand that a remote collar is not a shock collar. Shock collars deliver an actual electrical shock stimulus, and they are still in use by some manufacturers as part of an “invisible” electric fence boundary system. A remote collar can be an invaluable training tool, but a shock collar is not a reccomended tool for training.
A harness is a type of restraint that a lot of people use to control their dogs on walks. They believe it will stop the dog from pulling. But harnesses are actually designed to enable dogs to pull, like the harness traces for a sled team. A harness does have a useful application for everyday use, though. A well-designed safety harness will keep your dog safe in your car. It will keep him from running away from the scene of an accident, and could save his life.
A muzzle is a device designed to prevent dog bites. There are different types of muzzles:
- The basket muzzle looks like a cage for the dog’s jaws. It fits over the snout and secures over the head and high on the neck behind the ears. A basket muzzle allows your dog to pant, drink, and take treats easily and safely.
- A sleeve muzzle (also called a “soft muzzle”) slides over the dog’s snout, preventing the dog from opening his jaws wide enough to bite. This type of muzzle also secures over the head and behind the ears. A sleeve muzzle should only be used for short durations – like at the vet or groomer, and should be loose enough to allow for panting but not so loose that the dog can work his jaws and loosen it further. All straps should be secure enough that your dog cannot get the muzzle off with his paws.
Know when to use a muzzle
Never use a muzzle when going into areas where there are a lot of other dogs – like a dog park, or doggie daycare. Putting a muzzle on your dog is basically removing his main means of self-defense, which is his bite. Taking a muzzled dog into an area where there are other dogs running around off-leash and unmuzzled is asking for a dog fight. The other dogs will pack up on him. They will see that he is defenseless and attack him. Dogs that may otherwise be non-aggressive will attempt to dominate him.
If you have more than one dog in your home, avoid using a muzzle on just one dog. Muzzle all of them, or none of them. If you need to muzzle him for a trip to the vet, wait until you are away from the other dogs in your home, and then put it on in the car just before you leave home or as you arrive at your vet, before exiting the car. Or wait until you are in the exam room to muzzle him.
If your dog needs a muzzle due to aggression issues or because he has a bite history, you should be keeping him muzzled when necessary, and away from other dogs and crowded areas when possible, for everybody’s safety – including his.
A word of caution
When choosing training tools, it’s important that you work with them safely and effectively. Ask your vet, ask a trainer. Learn how these tools function and choose the right one for the job. The right tool can make all the difference when communicating with your dog. After all, you wouldn’t use a sledgehammer when what you need is a wrench, would you?
*For more information about training tools, consult your local trainer or vet , or contact the Jackson County Animal Protection Society. Photo credits: Niki Kingery