Equipping for Training Success

Love Dog

In This Chapter

  • Getting yourself (and your dog) ready for training
  • Distinguishing between leashes and collars
  • Balancing fit and safety concerns
  • Taking advantage of training treats

Dog training is no different from any other activity — you need the right equipment for the job. Many choices are available to you, and in this chapter, we address the factors that determine what training equipment to use under what circumstances.

Just because it’s a collar or a leash doesn’t mean you can use it to train your dog. In Chapter Setting the Stage for Training, we discuss how the mother dog teaches her puppies to stop doing something she doesn’t want them to do. She uses a correction, something the puppies perceive as unpleasant, to get them to stop. This unpleasant experience, in turn, teaches the puppies the responsibility for their own behavior. A puppy says to himself, “If I use my teeth on Mommy, I’ll get nailed. If I don’t, mommy will lick my face.” So puppy chooses not to use his teeth on Mommy. That, at any rate, is the gist of what we think is the puppy’s thought process.

Remember

Teaching your dog the responsibility for his own behavior is the key to training. Therefore, the dog has to perceive the correction as unpleasant so he can avoid it. (See Chapter Setting the Stage for Training for training descriptions and definitions.) If he doesn’t perceive it as unpleasant, there’s nothing to avoid, and the objectionable behavior continues. Hence, the importance of the right training equipment.

Choosing the Right Training Equipment

The type of training collar and leash you need depends on a number of factors, including the ones in the following list:
  • Your dog’s Personality Profile (see Chapter Understanding Your Dog’s Mind)
  • Your dog’s touch sensitivity or threshold of discomfort
  • Your dog’s size and weight in relation to your size and weight
  • The equipment’s effectiveness
  • Your dog’s safety
  • Your aptitude for training your dog
Keep in mind that training isn’t a matter of strength but finesse. For you, Buddy’s trainer, it doesn’t have to be a heavy aerobic workout.

Pulling on leashes

Leashes come in an assortment of styles, materials, widths, and lengths. The following are the most common materials:

Canvas: Canvas leashes are readily available in pet stores and through catalogs and Web sites. They come in a variety of colors, although olive green seems to be the most common. We get ours from Handcraft Collars (www.handcraftcollars.com).

Remember

The best training leash is a six-foot canvas leash — it’s easy on the hands, easily manipulated, and just the right length. It’s also the most economical. For the average-size or larger dog, such as a Labrador, we use a canvas leash that’s 1⁄2-inch wide. For toy dogs, such as a Yorkshire Terrier, we use a leash that’s 1⁄4-inch wide.

Nylon: For a training leash, our materials of choice are canvas or nylon. Both can be readily manipulated, an important factor for the method we use, and they’re economical. Canvas, especially with larger dogs, is easier on your hands than nylon.

– Leather: Leather leashes are also quite popular, although they’re more expensive than canvas leashes. They’re usually bulkier than canvas or nylon but do not readily lend themselves to our approach to training.

Chain: We’ve never quite understood the purpose of chain leashes or why anyone would want to use them, but they exist. Chain leashes are often used with large dogs, but they’re heavy, unwieldy, and hard on the hands. For example, if you wanted to fold the leash neatly into one hand or the other, as required by the training techniques we teach in this book, you wouldn’t be able to do so without considerable discomfort. It’s definitely not a leash you can use for training Buddy.

Choosing among collars

Collars also come in a dazzling assortment of styles, colors, and materials. We distinguish between two types of collars:
  • Training collars
  • Collars for the trained dog, which can be ornamental
The purpose of a training collar is for you to be able to guide your dog and, if necessary, to check your dog. (A check is a crisp snap on the leash, followed by an immediate release of tension.) A check is used mainly for abstention training, when you want your dog to stop doing something that he wants to do but that you don’t want him to do (see Chapter Setting the Stage for Training). The check creates an unpleasant experience for the dog, which he can avoid by stopping the unwanted behavior, similar to a mother dog snapping at a puppy.
Collars for the trained dog are buckle collars, and they can be leather, nylon, or canvas. For the untrained dog, buckle collars are virtually useless. Picture yourself trying to hang on as a fully-grown Rottweiler decides to take off after a cat. Trying to control that dog with a buckle collar would definitely be a heavy aerobic workout.
Some owners prefer a harness, which is perfectly fine for dogs that don’t pull or for small dogs, where pulling isn’t terribly objectionable. But for a medium-sized or large dog that pulls, harnesses aren’t a good idea because you give up the control you’re trying to achieve. The dog literally leans into the harness and happily drags you wherever he wants to go. The only exception we can think of for using a harness on an untrained dog is if the dog has a neck injury.

Remember

Use the two types of collars — training collars and buckle collars — correctly. Remove the training collar when you aren’t training your dog or when you can’t supervise him. When not training, your dog should wear his buckle collar with ID tags attached.

You can find any number of training collars. We describe the advantages and disadvantages of each in the following sections.

Chain or nylon slip-on collars

A slip-on collar, usually made of chain or nylon, is one that slips over the dog’s head. Because such a collar has to fit over the dog’s neck, it has the tendency to slide down the dog’s neck. The strongest part of a dog’s body is where the neck joins the shoulder blades. The farther the collar slides down the neck, the more difficult controlling the dog becomes and the less effective the collar is as a training tool. Table 6-1 lists the pros and cons of this type of collar

Table 6-1                          Pros and Cons of Slip-On Collars


Advantages
Disadvantages
Readily available in pet stores and through catalogs
Not very effective
Inexpensive
Great potential for damaging the dog’s trachea and neck
Easy to put on
Therefore, easy to come off — not very helpful when trying to make Buddy walk without pulling

Warning!

Not only are slip-on collars ineffective for purposes of training, but when improperly used, they also pose a danger to your dog’s trachea and spine. Avoid them! Animal chiropractors have made similar observations of spinal misalignment caused by this collar. Because slip-on collars aren’t very effective to begin with and have a poor safety record, we recommend you save your money and get something that works, such as the nylon snap-around collar.

If you do decide to use a slip-on collar, put it on by taking the live ring, the one that pulls the collar tighter, and pass it over the dog’s neck from left to right. In this position, the weight of the dead ring will automatically release the collar when pressure is released from the live ring. When worn the other way, the pressure from the live ring won’t release promptly.

Nylon snap-around collars

The principal difference between a slip-on and a nylon, snap-around collar is that the latter has a clasp that enables you to fasten the collar around the dog’s neck instead of having to slip it over his head. That way, you can fit the collar high on your dog’s neck where you have the most control. It should fit high on his neck, just below his ears, as snug as a turtleneck sweater, for maximum control. Table 6-2 presents some other advantages (and disadvantages) to a snap-around collar.
The snap-around collar is our first choice collar because of its effectiveness and versatility. For more than 30 years we’ve used the same source — Handcraft Collars — because of the quality and durability (see www.handcraftcollars.com for more information).

Table 6-2                  Pros and Cons of Nylon Snap-Around Collars


Advantages
Disadvantages
Fairly inexpensive
A puppy will grow out of it quickly, and you may have to purchase others
Can be fitted exactly to your dog’s neck
Not as easy to put on as a slip-on collar
Very effective
Quite safe
The snap-around collar is guaranteed to fit your dog properly. The collar should sit just below your dog’s ears. Measure the circumference of your dog’s neck directly behind his ears with sewing tape, or a piece of string that you can then measure with a ruler. The collars from Handcraft come in half-inch increments.
The snap-around collar comprises
  • A clasp on one side
  • A ring on the other side
  • A loose or floating ring
Start with you and your dog facing each other. Then follow these steps to place a snap-around collar on your dog:
1. Take the clasp in your left hand and the two rings in your right hand.
2. Place the collar under your dog’s neck and bring the ends up to the top of his neck, directly behind the ears.

When you begin to put on the collar, the dog flexes his neck muscles, expanding the circumference of the neck by as much as a half inch, creating  the impression that the collar is much tighter than it actually is (similar to the effect produced by a horse taking in air as it’s being saddled).

3. Attach the clasp to the floating ring.

The smooth side of the clasp needs to be next to the dog’s skin.

Tip

You may get the impression that the collar is much too tight and that you can barely get it around Buddy’s neck. We suggest that after the first time you put the collar on, you wait for five minutes. After the dog has relaxed, you then can test for correct snugness. You need to be able to slip two fingers between the collar and your dog’s neck (one finger if you have a toy dog). If you can’t, the collar is too tight; if you can get three or more fingers through, the collar is too loose. One way to make the collar smaller is to tie a knot in it.

After you have the collar on, you can use it as a training collar by attaching the leash to the live ring of the collar or as a buckle collar by attaching it to  the dead ring of the collar.
The live ring of the training collar is the stationary ring; the dead ring of the collar is the floating ring (see Figure 6-1).
Some dogs don’t respond to a check on a snap-around collar — that is, the check doesn’t create an unpleasant experience for the dog and change his behavior. The dog may be touch-insensitive and have a high discomfort threshold. Or, the dog’s size and weight in relation to your size and weight may be such that he doesn’t feel your check. When that happens, you may need to consider a pinch collar.
Figure 6-1: The floating ring is the live ring and the stationary ring is the dead ring on a training collar (left). An ideal leash is shown on the right.

Remember

Take the training collar off your dog when he isn’t being trained and whenever he isn’t under your direct supervision. Don’t attach any tags to the training collar. When you’re not training your dog, use a buckle collar you’ve attached his tags to.

Pinch collars

For old-time trainers, the pinch collar was the only collar to use. Also called a prong collar, a pinch collar certainly is an effective and efficient training tool. Those who use one for the first time often refer to it as power steering. We jokingly call it the religious collar because it makes an instant convert out of the dog.
According to our vet, who is also a certified animal chiropractor, the pinch collar is generally the safest training collar. From our perspective, it’s also the most effective training collar. Table 6-3 offers some of the highlights and lowlights of using the pinch collar.

Table 6-3                        Pros and Cons of Pinch Collar


Advantages
Disadvantages
Readily available in pet stores and through catalogs
Looks like a medieval instrument of torture
Very effective
Twice as expensive as a snap-on collar
Can be fit to the exact size of the dog’s neck
Very safe — it’s self-limiting in that it constricts very little and not to the point where the dog’s air can be cut off
Pinch collars come in four sizes: large, medium, small, and micro. We’ve never used or recommended the large size because it appears to have been made for elephants. For a large, strong, and rambunctious dog, the medium size is more than adequate. For Golden Retriever–sized or smaller dogs, the small size is sufficient. For toy dogs, use the micro version, which must be ordered.

Remember

Any collar or piece of training equipment can be misused or abused. The intent of the user is the key to achieving a harmonious relationship through training.

Clara’s story

When we met Clara, she was in her mid-60s. She lived in a large house outside of town, fairly isolated, although she could see some of her neighbors. We discovered that Clara had had a number of dogs during her life and after her last dog died, had acquired a German Shepherd puppy. Clara felt that she needed a dog that would protect her. She named the puppy Ursa. Whenever we talked, Clara would extol Ursa’s virtues — how sweet she was, how easy she
was to train, how well she played with the grandchildren, and how many tricks she’d learned.
As time went by, we found out more about Clara. She’d had back surgery with steel rods implanted, and she frequently had to wear a neck brace. She then told us that she had to put Ursa on a pinch collar to walk her. Clara said, “She just got too strong for me. Every time we went for a walk, she would sniff the ground where the deer had been and she would pull so hard that I didn’t think I could hold her. So, I put her on a pinch collar to control her and now, after two weeks, I can walk her on her regular collar and she no longer pulls me off my feet. Without the pinch collar to help me, who knows what I would have done. I even thought that I might have to give her up, a thought I couldn’t bear. Who knows what would have happened
to her?”
Now when we meet Clara, she often has Ursa with her, and according to Clara, the dog is a saint. She said, “Instead of being frustrated and angry with her, I tell her what a good girl she is. I’m happy, and she is happy.”
The pinch collar does rub some people the wrong way, because it looks like a medieval instrument of torture. Others consider it inhumane. People’s perception of a given piece of equipment, however, is immaterial. What counts is the dog’s perception, and your dog will tell you. Does your check have the desired effect on the dog’s behavior? Are you putting your dog in a position where you can sincerely praise him for the correct response, or are you angry with him and calling him names? Yes, dogs have feelings, too!

Remember

In selecting training equipment, keep in mind the circumstances. A dog’s touch sensitivity, or threshold of discomfort, increases proportionally with the interest the dog has in what interests him (see Chapter Understanding Your Dog’s Mind for more info about understanding your dog’s mind). For example, when you train Buddy in your backyard, where there are few distractions, a buckle collar may be sufficient to get him to respond. When he’s out in the real world and wants to chase another dog, you may have to use a training collar to get him to mind.

Does all this mean that the pinch collar is the right solution for every training problem or every dog? Not at all, but it’s the right solution under certain circumstances.

For many dogs, the pinch collar is the most humane training collar, especially if it saves them from a one-way trip to the shelter. If you have to use a pinch collar, put it on the same way you put on the snap-around collar. Simply expand or contract it by adding or removing links, respectively.

Electronic collars

We don’t recommend that you use an electronic collar to train your dog. To use such a collar requires a great deal of skill and experience. Moreover, they’re quite expensive.

Tip

We do, however, recommend an electronic bark collar for uncontrollable barking — it’s a lot cheaper than being evicted. They typically cost about $50.

Citronella collars

Another training tool is a citronella collar, which costs about $100 and comes in basically two versions: a bark collar and a “deterrent to chasing” collar.
The vibrations of the dog’s throat activate the bark collar, and it emits a puff of citronella in the direction of the dog’s nose. The expectation is that the dog considers the puff of citronella sufficiently unpleasant and therefore stops barking.
The “deterrent to chasing” collar operates on the same principal except by remote control. Dog chases car, and just before he gets there, the owner presses the button and the dog gets a whiff of citronella. Again, the expectation is that the dog considers the puff of citronella unpleasant enough to stop chasing.
Do citronella collars work? No one piece of training equipment results in success every time with every dog, and citronella collars are no exception. They do, however, work with about 75 percent of dogs, thus making them another effective training tool.

Hedging toward head halters

The head halter is a hybrid piece of equipment, an adaptation from head halters used for horses. It works on the premise that where the dog’s head goes, eventually the rest of the body has to follow.

Whereas the pinch collar looks downright menacing, the head halter looks quite inviting and user-friendly. Interestingly, your dog’s reaction (and he’s the one that counts) is likely to be quite the opposite. He’ll readily accept a pinch collar but vigorously and vociferously object to the halter, at least initially.
The following list describes the principal advantages of the halter, after your dog has learned to accept the effect it has on him:

Calming and tranquilizing: Helpful with nervous, timid, shy, or hyperactive dogs

Equalizing: Helps smaller handlers with larger dogs, senior citizens, and handicapped handlers control their dogs

Muzzling: Helps with inappropriate sniffing behavior, whining or barking, some forms of aggression, and play biting or nibbling

Table 6-4 provides some additional advantages of the head halter, as well as some disadvantages.

Table 6-4                 Pros and Cons of the Head Halter


Advantages
Disadvantages
Readily available in pet stores and through catalogs
Greatest potential for serious damage to your dog’s neck
Not very expensive
Transition tool only
Minimum strength required to use it
The dog doesn’t learn to accept responsibility for his behavior. When the halter is removed, the dog reverts to previous behavior.
The great potential for damage is due to the nature of the halter. Because it controls the head, a strong pull by the dog or the handler can do serious damage to the dog’s neck. In this regard, it isn’t quite the same principle as the head halter for horses. Because most people are smaller than horses, the halter is used to control the horse’s head from below.
In contrast, most people are taller than dogs, and any pull or tug is going to be upward and, at times, simultaneously to the side. Tugging the dog’s neck in this way creates great potential for injury. In relation to a person, a horse’s neck is also correspondingly stronger than a dog’s. We feel that the halter can and often does have a depressing effect on the dog. The irony here is that this highly marketable tool has great potential for damage, while the torturous-looking pinch collar is the safest.
Finally, the halter is a transition tool, at best, because it doesn’t teach the dog to assume the responsibility for his behavior. Take the halter off, and the dog will revert to his previous and presumably undesired behavior.

Treats Are Your Training Buddies

Other than your ingenuity and intellect, treats are the most powerful training tool you can use. If your dog isn’t interested in food, see Chapter Setting the Stage for Training for the definition of object of attraction.
You can use treats in one of two ways:

As a reward for a desired response: When you use it as a reward, you keep the treat hidden from the dog, who doesn’t know whether or not he’s going to get it. For example, you say “Down,” and Buddy lies down. He may get a treat, or he may not.

Remember

When conditioning your dog to a particular command, to be effective, the treat has to immediately follow the desired response so the dog understands that he’s being rewarded for that particular response. Don’t diddle around fumbling for a treat and give it to him just as he’s getting up again. You’d be rewarding Buddy for getting up, not what you wanted at all.

As a lure or inducement to obtain a desired response: Now the treat is in the open and you use it to entice the dog to lie down, and when he does, he gets the treat. When used as an inducement, it’s within the dog’s control whether he gets the treat or not.

Remember

Because you’re going to use treats both as a reward and as an inducement, you need to decide where to carry them. Some people use fanny packs, some a trouser pocket, and still others a shirt pocket. All these options are fine so long as you realize that as soon as your hand moves, your dog will focus on where you keep the treats. Wherever you keep them, you must be able to reach them quickly to reward the desired response. Having a few in the palm of your hand when working on a particular exercise isn’t a bad idea. The key is to use the treat before the dog does something you don’t intend to reward. If you can’t get to the treat quickly, there’s a good chance that Buddy will do something you don’t want to reward — and you’ll have lost the moment to reinforce the right behavior. We make a habit of having some treats with us at all times.

Selecting the ideal treat

We like to use dry treats rather than something moist or soggy, and many dry and semidry treats are available. You do, however, need to be careful of both salt and sugar content so that treats don’t ruin your dog’s diet. Experiment to find out what your dog likes and what he responds to. Trying to train a dog with treats he doesn’t like is pointless. Treats also aren’t going to be very effective after Buddy has just been fed.
Our dogs’ favorites are homemade liver treats, which we use sparingly so as not to upset their stomachs. They’re simple to make using the following steps and contain no salt or sugar:

1. Parboil some beef liver and let cool.
2. Cut liver into 1⁄4-inch cubes.
3. Place on a baking sheet and liberally sprinkle with garlic powder.
4. Bake in a 250-degree oven until dry, about one hour.
5. Store in the refrigerator.
Our dogs also like carrots (actually, anything that’s edible), but obviously not as much as they like liver.

Kong treats

Next to pure liver, our dogs like the TOTs (Training Opportunity Treats) made by the Kong Company (kongcompany.com). TOTs are made of liver and  milo — a gluten-free grain that’s highly digestible — and contain no salt or sugar. (Milo is a variety of sorghum that resembles millet.) TOTs are just the right size for a training treat and are dry and don’t need to be refrigerated. Unless exposed to moisture, they have a good chance of lasting a long time. Few dogs can resist this treat.

thedog8it!

Another excellent training treat is made by thedog8it! Inc. (thedog8it.com). The treats are called Bribery Bits, and they’re also dry and don’t require refrigeration. They’re made with human-grade ingredients and are organic whenever possible. Bribery Bits come in different flavors, such as Chicken Liver & Garlic and Cheese & Herb, and the original recipe is made with whole smoked kipper fillets. They sound so good, it’s hard to believe they’re intended just for dogs. The base grain is organic barley flour. Dogs love them.

When treats don’t work

Some dogs don’t respond as well to treats as they do to other objects, such as a ball, Frisbee, stone, or stick. In that case, use whatever turns your dog on, so long as it doesn’t become a hindrance in your training.

Success Story

Our German Shepherd, Katharina, wouldn’t take treats in training. She would, however, respond to a stick or a toy, so that’s what we used (see Chapter Setting the Stage for Training for the definition of an object of attraction).

by Jack and Wendy Volhard

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