What are the 5 things you'll need to make your positive training plan fun and easy for your dog?
You don't need to spend a lot of money on dog training supplies to be prepared to train your dog effectively. For most dogs, a well-fitted harness, comfortable flat-buckle collar, sturdy leash, and some tasty treats are all you will need to teach your dog to love training time! When dogs love their training, they learn behaviors quickly, and the best trainers never over-complicate things.
Save your cash for high-quality training treats and don't bother with fancy dog training equipment. Stick with Whole Dog Journal's 5 positive dog training gear essentials and both you and your dog will have a safe and happy learning experience!
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TRAINING A DOG: WHAT YOU'LL NEED
1. A Nylon, Leather or Heavy Cotton Leash
When your dog has a positive association with his leash, it makes going out for walks or getting in the car a lot easier. Your dog might even let you know when it's time to go out by grabbing his leash and bringing it to you! You will want a leash made of sturdy cotton, nylon or leather that is between 4-6 feet in length. Build your dog's positive feelings toward his leash by feeding lots of training treats whenever you clip it to his harness. If your dog is known to chew the leash, treats are also useful for redirecting his attention (and mouth) away from it.
Even if you are fortunate enough to have a well-fenced or otherwise secure property where your dog can roam off-leash, you will want to consider leash training. Vet visits, the pet supply store - almost every public space will require your dog to be leashed. A dog who isn't used to walking on a leash can make life quite difficult for their guardian, by being reactive when leashed or dragging their walker.
2. A Flat-Buckle or Breakaway Dog Collar
Collars are not the primary point of attachment for your leash. Collars are invaluable for carrying IDs, proof of vaccinations, and other licenses a dog might need if lost, but Whole Dog Journal holds the belief that attaching a leash directly to a dog's neck collar must be potentially harmful. A dog with perfect leash etiquette - who never strains, drags, or ducks out of their collar - is the exception to this rule. But even so, a harness is almost always the better choice for attaching your dog's leash.
Collars should be loose-fitting around a dog's neck. You should be able to fit approximately 2 of your fingers between the collar and your dog's skin; any tighter, and your dog may develop strain or chafing over prolonged wear. A collar that is loose enough for your dog's comfort is simply not secure enough to be the main mechanism for controlling or restraining them on walks.
Since your dog will wear their collar more than any other gear, it is important that your dog is always comfortable in it. That said, dogs should not wear their collars ALL the time. Yes, there are different kinds of dog collars designed for safety, etc., but no collar eliminates every risk. To know more, read Nancy Kern's "When Dog Collars Become Deadly."
3. A Properly-Fitted Front-Clip Harness
Whole Dog Journal recommends using a harness for your dog's general street action: walks, light exercise, car rides.
Harnesses should always be taken off in the house or during playtime with other dogs, however. Though there is no suffocation risk with harnesses, they can still get stuck on objects as dogs play.
Excessive wear, or an improperly fitted harness, can cause chafing around dogs' "elbows". There are even some reports of dogs developing conformation or gait issues from wearing a harness. Despite this debate, harnesses are still better for restraining your dog than leashes. As mentioned, harnesses present no risk of damage to dogs' necks and are generally a more effective training tool for dogs who pull the leash.
4. A Clicker!
The decision to use a training clicker as a reinforcer when teaching your dog is entirely up to you, but developing your dog's positive association with one can make training other behaviors a lot easier. Clickers for dog training are cheap and available at any pet supply store or online. If you don't want to wait to obtain one, use any household object that you can use in one hand and which makes a distinct clicking noise. A loud pen or a baby toy could work; just keep in mind that clickers designed for dog training make a very sharp, recognizable sound which dogs can hear and identify easily. You want to find an object like that.
5. Delicious Dog Treats
The most important training tool of all: valuable dog treats. Treats are how you motivate a dog to do training exercises with you, and how you let them know they're doing a good job. Choose a snack that is low-calorie, high-reward. A strong positive training program requires a lot of treats, so it is important to find a food that won't cost you a fortune, isn't a bother to carry around with you, your dog is highly interested in, and which won't make your dog gain weight.
Whole Dog Journal will always recommend boiled chicken as a training treat, but we also encourage trainers to try using veggies. You may be dealing with a dog who lives for vegetables, in which case weight gain will be of no concern.