After receiving such amazing feed back to the "Our Favorite Training Tools" post a few weeks ago, I have been encouraged to make a more complete list of every tool that us as professional dog trainers use or have ready for any given situation. Honestly, you don't need a lot of fancy or expensive equipment to be prepared for nearly any situation, but there this is a list of everything we personally have with us during any training session with any dog.
It all starts with a Leash.
The Mendota Slip Leash is our most popular piece of equipment that our clients purchase. The reason why so many of our clients enjoy the Mendota Slip Leash is primarly because we use these leashes for 99% of our training. We primarly prefer the 6 foot long 1/2 inch think model for two reasons. As professional dog trainers, we handle all varieties and breeds of dogs, large and small. For the smaller dogs, having the 6 foot leash gives them enough slack to have a nice loose leash while heeling. With the larger dogs, we can gather up a little bit of the extra leash in our hands to keep it out of the way. The 4 foot leash is great for taller dogs because there is less distance between your hand and where the leash attaches to the dog.
Mendota slip leashes come in 1/2 inch or 3/8 inch. I'm like some others out there, and it takes a minute to remember fractions, so just know that 1/2 inch is larger than the 3/8 inch. We prefer the 1/2 inch slip leash because it generally is much more comfortable in our hands, and when your working with dogs all day long, comfort can be big deal. Also, if its more comfortable on our hands, its likely more comfortable for our dogs.
Treats! Treats! and More Treats!
We primarily use Bil-Jac Frozen Dog food as our training treats. Now I know what your thinking, "What dog thinks dog food is a treat?" But, believe it or not, most dogs really enjoy it way better than their usual kibble. The other reasons why we love it is because of its "Play-dough" texture. Its easy to break it into small pieces, or mold it into a big ball for other training techniques. You can also use it to easily fill your favorite interactive toys! It also is shipped frozen so we can easily store it in a large freezer until we need it without worrying about it going bad in the meantime.
Having a way to carry your treats can make training immensely more efficient and save your clothing pockets from being stuffed with crumbly treats. We like to be able to train without any breaks for anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes straight. If you find that you constantly need to get another handful of treats, or need to refill whatever you are using to carry your treats, investing in a decent quality treat pouch can be a life-savor. The brand we really like here is great because it has a couple extra pockets, including one that is actually a poop-bag dispenser, and it has a nice ring your could attach your clicker to.
Or a Training Vest
Now I know that most trainers are prefectly content using a treat pouch to carry their reward treats, but I've recently fallen in love with using a training vest instead of a treat pouch.
What's so great about a trainging vest?
A Training vest has regular pockets that you can use for your treats, plus a whole bunch of other pockets that you can use to carry different types of treats, maybe a pig's ear, a tennis ball, a tug toy, your training clicker, and even your cell-phone. It even has a pocket designed as a poop-bag dispenser. Whenever I want to do some training, I just grab my vest and my leash, load up on some treats, and I'm ready to go! It even has pockets in the back so that when you want to whip out that tug toy, its like a big surprise, like "WHERE DID THAT COME FROM!" It also has some nice velcro straps near the shoulders so you can hang your favorite two on your shoulder to assist with eye contact training! And lastly, and most importantly, I find the vest to be just more comfortable.
15' to 30' Long Line (Long Leash)
I generally have both a 15' and a 30', but if you only want to have one, go with the longer choice. A long line gives you the ability to continue to work exactly the same way you have been with your 6' or 4' leash while increasing your distance on some of your sit-stays, place-stays, and down-stays. You can still give a correction when needed, and if you are working in an area that is not enclosed, the long line can give your dog more freedom while still keeping them safe. Also a long line is essential when working on Recall commands!
Mendota Pro Training Slip Collar
I'm sure you noticed that the aforementioned Long Line had a hasp on the end of it and isn't a slip like the 6' Mendota Leash we mentioned earlier. Well, it is important to remain consistent in all of your training, so you want the corrections and leash pressure that you give from 30' away to feel just the same as if you standing right next to your dog. The Solution: the Mendota Pro-Training Slip Collar. The slip collar works and feels just like the slip leash, and allows you to attach any standard leash with a hasp to the collar.
Why not just used the Mendota Pro-Training Slip Collar instead of the Mendota Slip Leash?
We're glad you asked! As dog trainers, the slip leash is our greatest safety tool. We can use the slip leash to safely secure dogs as they come out of their crates or kennels without needing to reach our hands into the kennel where we could possibly get bit. The slip leash allows us to adjust the opening of the leash wide enough that as the dog exits its kennel we holding the opening of the leash in front of them and just lasso them as they come out. Also, the slip collar is a great tool, but like most tools, its important to have the right size.
The Mendota Pro-Training Slip Collar comes in various sizes from 16" to 24" and having the proper size for the dog you are working with can be very important. We keep a variety of sizes with us just for this reason, but if we can use our slip leash to accomplish our training, sometimes that's just easier.
Braided Leather Leash with Brass Hardware
Now wait a minute, we already for the slip leash, and the long line, and the slip collar, and now we need another leash?! You bet! A quality leather leash is stronger than any rope leash you can find. We also recommend using a leash that either comes with a Brass Hasp or Brass hardware, or getting a braided leash that you can easily change the hardware out and replace it with brass hardware. Why Brass? Brass will bend and not snap like steel will. You will have a better change of noticing if your hardware is beginning to fail and give you a chance to replace it. If your hardware suddenly snaps without warning, you are far more likely to possibly be dealing with a serious safety situation! These leashes come in a variety of lengths and thicknesses, but just remember that the thicker the leash, the stronger it will be! If you're planning to work on any sports where you want your dog to build strength and pull on that leash, you're gunna want to get a very strong leash! Even if you aren't going to be doing any type of working dog training with your pup, a leather leash is still great because once you break it in it becomes really soft and comfortable in your hands while still having amazing durability and strength. Also, if you end up using different types of training collars, (coming up next) this type of leash can make it very easy to switch between them depending on what you are working on.
A Flat Martinglae Collar
A martingale collar is a type of collar that has two "dead" rings and a ring that is attached to a section of the collar that which pulled on will tighten the collar evening around the neck of the dog. Martingale collars are sometimes also know as "greyhound" collars because most greyhound owners (like me) know that a regular flat collar will easily slide over greyhouds' tiny heads! The martingale is great because just like a slip leash, even if a dog tries to slide out of its collar, it will be impossible becase the collar will tighten to prevent it from coming off. Why not just use a slip leash then? Again, Great Question! There are some training where we want our dogs to pull into the collar! Now if we have the leash attached to the "live ring" when the dog pulls, the collar will tighten and somewhat discourage some dogs from pulling. So, we can easily attached the leash to one of the dead rings on either side of the live rign and now it becomes a simple flat collar. This is ideas for training agility, scent detection, and clicker trick training!
Starmark Training Collar (Large and Small)
Now, I mentioned earlier that you may end up using different types of training collars, and we've already talked about the Mendota Pro-Training Slip Collar, and the Flat Martingale Collar. So, now I want to talk about what we refer to as the next level up. Some dogs are a bit more stubborn, and you could entice them with food and toys all day long, but they still want to ignore your or try to chase that squirrel they saw run across the road. With really strong and subborn dogs, the more pressure you put on the slip leash or slip collar, you could actually start doing some physical damage to their trachea. So, instead we recommend moving up to a Starmark Training Collar.
The collar has plastic links that work similarly to a Herm Sprenger prong collar (which we will get to). The collar comes in two sizes, Large and Small. The size of the dog does not determine the size of the links you shoudl use, only how many you will need. The lower level starmark collar would be the large, and if you're still not seeing the results you would like, then move up to the small. The smaller the links, the more "pinch per inch." The reason we use these types of "pinch" collars is because it creates a similar sensation to what mother dogs would give their puppies as corrections and they were growing up. If a puppy for acting inappropriately, the mother would give a quick gentle bite on the scruff of the puppy's neck. The points of the collar are dull (NEVER SHARP!) and as you put pressure on the leash, the space between the points decreases creating a pinching sensation. The allows you to get more correction with less pressure and ultimately with less possibility of injuring your pup. If after a while of using the collar, you feel like your dog understand the concepts of training much better, you can always switch back to the slip!
Herm-Sprenger Prong Collar (Large and Small)
Now, lets say you've tried the Starmark Training collar, and you feel like your dog is just really hard-headed. The next "level up" from the the Starmark is the Herm-Sprenger Prong collar. The prong collar also comes in multiple sizes, and just like the Starmark, the Herm-Sprenger prong collar's sizes have nothing to do with the size of the dog, but rather to the level of correction you want to give. We recommend starting with a larger size prong link and working your way up to the smaller sizes of links. Remember, smaller links mean "more pinch per inch." Its important when using either the Starmark or the Prong collars to first: Learn how to properly fit them on your dog! and secondly: learn how to properly give a correction! (A prong collar will not magically fix a dog pulling on the leash!)
The points of the prongs are dull (NEVER SHARP). When leash pressure is applied, the points are pulled closer together because of the level design of the prongs. This is what causes the pinch sensation. We urge you to always invest in a high quality prong collar like those made by Herm-Sprenger and not some knock-off. Cheaply made prongs can rust or be easily damaged and cause the prongs to become pointed, jagged, or rusted and could cause injury to your dog. We also recommend to at least briefly inspect your equipment anytime you're about to put it on your dog. If you notice any type of damage, rust, bending, discoloration, or jagged type, replace the damaged links and do not put it on your dog!
Stay tuned for a future blog post on prong collars!
A high quality remote collar can be a great addition to your tool kit if you know how to properly use one! First: Quality is important! Its tempting to grab that $20 remote collar from the local pet store, but this could actually be more detrimental to your training than it is beneficial. I personally use the E-Collar Technologies EZ Educator 4 Dog System.
What's the difference between a $20 remote collar and a $200 remote collar?
Everything. Remote collar training can be more humane and less aversive than leash training when done properly. Depending on the brand you can have anywhere from 10 to 100 levels of stimulation, as well as options for vibrate, and tones. Why have more levels? for the most part the maximum level of stimulation from is the about the same for most collars. So, that means level 1 on a collar that only has 10 levels, is the equivalent to level 10 on a collar system that has 100 levels. So, if you have a very sensative dog, and level one is too high for them, you have no where to go lower than that. With 100 levels we start at the lowest level and work our way up until our dog can just barely feel it. This is called the working level. Most of the dogs I've worked with can feel it anywhere from level 3 to level 7 (out of 100). That means that if I only had 10 levels, level 1 would be too high for almost all of my dogs!
The next reason why quality is important is CONSISTENCY. You would think that a technological device like a remote collar should be relatively consistent, but you will find that the cheaper brands can actually produce different types and levels of stimulation without even changing any of the settings. Also, timing! Many of the more inexpensive brands have at least a slight, if not substantial delay between when you press the button to when the collar actually delivers the stimulation. Timing and Consistency are the two the the "Big Three" fundementals of dog training. If your training equipment is putting these at risk, you're using the wrong equipment.
The Elevated Place Bed!
This is one of my absolute favorite piece of training equipment. It can be a little bulky to transport if I am training at a new location or want to do some training at the local park, but it is absolutely worth it! The elevated place bed is essential for developing what is known as a "boundary stay." The fact that the bed is elevated creates clear definition between when all four paws are on the bed and the precise moment that one paw steps off of the bed. You can accomplish the same concept with regular soft bed, however, many dogs like to lie on their beds with the feet hanging off of the edge. It makes the line between being on the bed and off of the bed a bit blurry. We always like to start with the elevated place bed, and then we can easily transfer the Place command to any type of bed or place you'd like.
A Travel Water Bowl
Even if you think you're only going to be training for a short period, your dog is actually doing a lot of work and will probably want something to drink. Some parks have public water bowls for dogs, but water bowls are the number one way that illness is spread at dog friendly parks. Even if you are at local trainers facility during a group training session, resist the temptation to let your dog share her bowl with any of the other dogs in the group. You wouldn't share your drinking glass with strangers would you?