Dog Training: Essential Equipment
I have a lot of dog paraphernalia. Which makes sense. I have a lot of dogs. And have for years. Over the course of those years, I’ve amassed quite the collection of leashes, collars, beds (of course), bowls, jackets, toys, chews, and uncategorizable detritus. Alas, now my dogs are older. A lot older in some cases. We aren’t doing the training, the walking, the dog parking, even the playing that we once did. Yet, I still have this closet (yes, an entire closet) full of well, crap. Useful crap, up until recently. Now, it is crap in need of some downsizing. That causes me to reevaluate these items. If I had to do it all over again (which I suppose I will eventually), knowing what I know now, 13+ years into this dog journey, what would I hold on to? I’m not talking about the items integrated into my home. Not the beds (love those!), not the feeding stands, not the Crypton Throvers (worth their weight in gold). No. What would I need to be out and about and functional with my dog. To train them. To travel with them. To accomplish that A-1 goal of having a dog who doesn’t embarrass me in public. Couldn’t we all use a little help there?
What are those items? It boils down to surprisingly few.
#1. 6-foot Leather Leash. Let me say that again: a 6 foot LEATHER leash. Yes, the material is so important. I have relationships with my leashes that are nearly as long as those with my dogs. If you haven’t used one, you won’t understand. Leather grips better. It doesn’t slide through your hands. It softens and only gets better over time. It has a proper weight which doesn’t flop and fly to minimize a bit of the tangle factor. For most average size dogs, I recommend the 3/4″ width. Its not too wide nor too narrow, fits comfortably in your hands, and is stout enough to deal with pulling or the occasional impromptu tie out (only in a pinch, not recommended). A good leash will last a lifetime. Mine have. Being comfortable with your leash is absolutely essential to being confident with your dog on the other end.
#2. Treat Pouch. I’m a little ashamed to admit how many different models of these reside in that closet. I’ve tried them all. The cheap, the expensive, the cute. The Premier (now Pet Safe) model is the hands down winner. But, why a treat pouch? Because whatever you are doing with your dog, where ever you are going, you better bring treats. The world is a training opportunity. Even if you aren’t planning to work on training, the outing could go differently than you anticipate. What if you need an emergency quick recall? What if you encounter an unknown close range screaming child (or other terrifying noise)? What if your dog is just a rock star in a surprising situation and needs to be rewarded? Bring Food! And treats, especially the yummy ones, in your pocket, they suck! They crumble, they squish, they are forgotten and discovered (unfortunately) later. This treat bag prevents that. The waistband keeps it in place and allows you to slide it from side to side easily. (Do those little clips work for anyone?) The most important feature is probably the metal closure, which allows you to prop it open for easy access, and snap it closed in one motion. I have a couple dogs (ahem Rocco, Hugo) who’ve been known to raid a treat bag if I’m not paying attention. This prevents that.
#3.Walking Harness. Training a loose leash walk should be any dog owners #1 goal to enhance their relationship with their dog. There is nothing like being able to take a long leisurely stroll with just your dog. One that does not involve water-skiing behind them, hanging on for dear life. Its one of my most cathartic activities. That said, its not a behavior that comes easy. For some dogs it takes life long management. These ‘no pull’ harness are a life saver. When adjusted properly (which is really the key), these give you an almost automatic loose leash. By their very nature, when a dog pulls it puts pressure on the opposing (outside) shoulder and steers your dog back towards you. Taking the edge off the strength of that pull. Again, its all about the fit though. The Premier Harness, while widely available, is actually not my favorite. I’ve always preferred the Wonder Walker, whose website also offers helpful videos on use and fit.
#4. Training Collar. Hold your horses positive training mafia! Yes, that is an iteration of the dreaded, demonized prong collar. How could I, right? Let me caveat it by saying, learn how to actually use one. Attend a basic obedience class with someone who will show you how they should be properly used. I can’t stress this enough. They are oft misused. Oft, Oft. Probably more oft than not. And they can do more harm than good in such cases. That said, I’ve used them with all of my dogs to varying degrees. This one is my favorite. Its not metal, crazy intense, but still communicates the point. The only downside is getting it on and off takes some practice. Do that before its on the dog.
#5. Clicker. See look, a clicker! I’m a fan of both the carrot and the stick. Unlike traditional methods clickers aren’t going to cause any trauma when improperly applied. Your dog is just going to a) get more cookies or b) learn to disregard the clicker. Which brings us to the rule of the clicker. Consider that little cricket noise a contract between you and your dog. Click. Treat. Always. In its simplest form the clicker is a behavior marker. Think of it as trying to take a snap shot of the behavior you want. Without the complications of voice intonation or the bad timing humans are prone to. I’d also recommend attending a clicker-centric class (cuz they are fun!), but in this case a good read could get you rolling. I like Clicking With Your Dog and/or Click for Joy. By the by, this particular clicker rocks the most because there is no button hunting. You can even set it on the ground and click with your foot, preventing your dog from doing a visual ‘clicker check’ to determine if the performing the behavior is worth it or not.
#6. Long Line I almost forgot this one! Because I hardly ever use it anymore. Why? Because my dogs have good recall. (Those that can still hear). Why do they have good recall? Because I trained them with a long line! I don’t care if its 20 feet long or fifty. To be perfectly honest, I don’t care if its a length of clothesline and a clasp from the hardware store. Put your dog on it and practice your come here, with fabulous rewards! Look at you prepared to reel them in should they foolishly think that command is optional! My favorite place to do this was in front of our house outside the gate. Hence if they ever got out of the gate unintentionally, they’d have lots of experience coming back. As if this wasn’t reason enough, a long line is handy for exercising dogs who don’t have a solid return just yet. I’ve used them while traveling to unfamiliar and unfenced destinations. They make a decent tie-out, under supervision.
So, that’s my tool bag. That’s what will remain in the closet. Given these 6 items, a string cheese and a crate I could train any or all of the 5 things every dog should know. Throw in a couple other household items and we could comfortably travel, go on a medium day hike, enjoy a busy dog-friendly event. That’s one of the beauties of dog ownership. It’s easy to get caught up in the canine consumerism (as my closet can attest), but in actuality this ‘hobby’ don’t take much. We’ll hang onto some good toys, excellent food storage receptacles, our all important Running Leash, and I can’t promise I’ll swear off dog beds. Beyond that, I think there’s a dog themed garage sale in my future.
How about you? What are your essential dog products? Training or otherwise?
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