Quality training requires being prepared with quality tools. I highly recommend introducing these tools to your dog in combination with the outlined training program. If you pair a new food, new harness, new mat with the training exercises outlined, you will find that these same tools will help your dog shift into a learning mind-set even as you gradually increase the level of difficulty and begin training in more challenging or distracting environments.
Here is a list of tools that I think are a must-have:
A six foot leash: Six foot leather leashes are recommended for training because they afford your dog the movement necessary to make choices on a slack leash and it gives you the ability to establish safe parameters in training exercises, that will also carry over into your day to day to walks. The leather is soft and easy on your hands and will only gets better with time. Leashes that are 3, 4 or 5 feet long create more tension and can exacerbate common leash issues like pulling or reactivity. Avoid nylon leashes, which tend to be harsh on your hands, and leashes made of heavy or thick material or that have bulbous handles. Under no circumstances do I recommend using retractable leashes for training. I also discourage the attachment of bag holders or baggies to the end of the leash as this can interfere with the mechanics of your training. For dogs under 30 lbs. get a leash that is 1/2 inch wide. For dogs 30-75 lbs get a leash that is 5/8 inch wide. For dogs 75 + get a leash that is 3/4 inch wide.
High Value Training Food: I recommend Happy Howie Rolls. You can use beef, lamb or turkey flavor. Rotating through different formulas can be because dogs are generally more excited by novel food. Boosting motivation in this way can make for stronger training results. This food fits all the criteria for a good training food. It is moist, meaty, easy to break into small pieces without crumbling AND last but not least is a nutritious food. It’s important that you avoid your typical packaged treats that are most commonly found in pet stores as they will typically have a higher caloric concentration and consequently cause undesired weight gain when utilized in a behavioral training program. We will be using a high rate of reinforcement when establishing new training patterns, as well as when we are generalizing to new distractions which is why it is of extreme importance that the food be both highly motivating to your dog and a wholesome addition to their day to day meals.
Training Pouch: Good timing is essential in training. When training a new behavior or capturing desired behavior you will need a 1.2 second response time. You have a 1.2 second window of time to pair a targeted behavior with reinforcement, which means that having the right training pouch will make an enormous difference in your training results. The reason I like this training pouch is because it snaps open and closed with a magnet allowing for easy access to training food and better timing than those training pouches that have draw strings. It’s also incredibly important that the training pouch have a strap that wraps around your waist. I guarantee that if you buy a training pouch that only has the option of clipping to your waistband, you will find that the pouch will constantly be falling off or spilling its contents every time you bend over or sit down. Your dog might love it, but it’s not necessarily beneficial to your training.
Training Mat: The training mat will play a central role in establishing the foundation of your training. We will be working on mat exercises that will improve your dog’s focus, impulse control and attention to you around distractions. I will often refer to these exercises as calming exercises or relaxation exercises because the mat exercises detailed in the training program will be putting calm, relaxed behavior on cue. In the long term, the training mat will play several practical purposes. You will be able to use it to condition calm behavior in the home, when guests arrive, when having dinner or when visiting family or friends. This mat will become your dog’s “zen spot” and if you are committed to the training and work your dog through the weekly exercises, you will find that this mat will have the magical ability to draw your dog to it like it has a certain magnetic charge. The mat I use for training, and the one that I recommend to all my clients, is actually a kitchen mat from Target. Here are 5 reasons I love this mat for training purposes. 1. The cushy material creates a comfortable surface for practicing downs and sufficient traction when practicing sits. 2. It has no exposed threads, puppies and nervous chewers love to pull at those! 3. It has a rubber bottom that keeps it in place on hard surfaces, and keeps it rigid and prevents bunching on carpets. 4. You can easily roll it up and take it on the road with you, which is great when generalizing training. It will look like your dog’s own little yoga mat.
Wonder Walker Harness: This is a front clip harness that adjusts well to nearly any body type, including, short legged basset hounds and dachshunds, deep chested great dane’s and broad chested pit bulls. This harness will not eradicate leash issues on its own, however, when used in combination with the outlined training program, this front clip harness will greatly facilitate training for dogs that pull, lunge or bark when out on walks. There are many other similar products on the market that hang too low on your dog’s chest, that interfere with your dog’s range of motion, or that constantly need to be re-adjusted. So if you’ve tried similar products and have been disappointed, I urge you to keep an open mind about this product. In order to make sure that your dog is comfortable, and that the harness is as effective as it can be, you are going to make sure that the harness is adjusted appropriately. The front strap should rest high on your dog’s chest. Make the top piece as short as it can be, and lengthen the girth strap as necessary. I also recommend attaching the snap on your leash to both the harness and your dog’s regular collar. This is a good safety precaution as dogs often find a way to pull a Harry Houdini and slip their elbow out of a harness when they are excited and jumping around on leash. Double clipping also makes the harness more effective because it keeps the leash centered on your dog’s chest when there is tension, instead of allowing the leash to pull the center of the harness off of the dog’s shoulder. The last thing that I love about this harness is that you have the option of clipping a leash on the dog’s back when hiking, walking on nature trails, or if pulling and reactivity seems to no longer be an issue in certain environments. Note: Double clipping the leash requires that your dog also be wearing a regular buckle collar.