At Super mutts along with timing, consistency, and motivation our training program also consists of tools, rules, and exercise. We have found, where people fail when it comes to training their dog is generally in one of these three key areas. We will be discussing each in this 3 part series.
Rather you have problems with your dog jumping on people, pulling on leash, barking, house training or destructive chewing, the three elements of tools, rules, and exercise will come into play.
When we get called for a training session we find that people are either using some of these key components, none of them , or sometimes, all of the wrong ones.
Dogs give us a variety of behaviors, some desired, others unwanted but they do not automatically “know” this, they are just being a dog. It is our job to train them which behaviors are desired and which are unwanted. The reason tools, rules, and exercise are so important in changing your dogs behavior is this –
1. If you are not using the right tools, you cannot properly reinforce behaviors and therefore cannot communicate to your dog the behaviors that are either desired or unwanted.
2. If you do not provide rules for your dog, he will not understand the behaviors he is exhibiting are either desired or unwanted.
3. Without proper exercise, a dog will exhibit all forms of unwanted behaviors.
Let us take a look at each element individually. In this article we will look at tools.
There are many tools involved with owning a dog in general and especially for dog training purposes. Tools of dog training consist of collars, leashes, kennels, food pouches and bait or rewards
Collars come in a variety of colors, kinds and price ranges and are generally the #1 tool we often change when training our clients. Most people have a collar for their dog but often times it is the wrong one for the situation they are having with their dog.
For instance, a buckle collar is great for a dog that walks nicely on leash and does not pull, but will do nothing to discourage pulling.
A martingale collar is a good all around collar and also for leash walking. It discourages pulling to an extent, cannot slip off the head, but does not work for a strong puller. It does need to be sized right to work properly. Many people use this type of tool but most often, it is too loose around the dogs neck.
A harness was designed for tracking and pulling purposes and actually encourages a dog to pull. The harness gives the handler very little control as it is around the dogs chest, which is the strongest part of the dogs body when it comes to pulling. When a dog pulls against the harness, it is designed to create pressure on their chest wall which triggers the dogs opposition reflex. You can test your dogs opposition reflex. With your dog standing, gently push on his side as if you were trying to tip him the opposite direction. You will feel that he will lean into your hand to avoid falling over. That is opposition reflex, humans also have it. There are different types of no-pull harnesses available and are affective on some but not all pulling dogs. A harness can be beneficial for small dogs as you can reach down and pick them up by it should the need arise, but generally are not needed.
Prong collars are designed for dogs that pull on leash. They are good to use for dogs that are strong pullers but not in all circumstances, not with all dogs, and proper education by a trainer should be given to be used effectively. The prong collar also needs to be sized correctly to work properly. Prong collars are considered power steering for dogs in that the dog corrects itself and minimal pressure needs to be applied by the handler. Prong collars are especially useful for seniors with large dogs that pull and can possibly pull them down or for dogs that out-weigh or are stronger than their handlers.
Remote trainers work well for a number of behaviors and are great for distance training, hunting dogs, or to discourage certain behaviors but can be used incorrectly if not properly trained by a professional.
Lastly, head collars, which were designed to control opposition reflex by putting pressure on the back of the dogs head, should also have proper education by a trainer on how to properly use them. They can irritate a dogs nose especially brachycephalic breeds, and many times cause more frustration in the dog, leading to difficulty concentrating on what the handler is trying to communicate. We do not recommend head collars for our clients.
To avoid having to use a special collar for pulling it is highly recommended to train your dog how to properly walk on a leash from the beginning. Since most people seeking dog training advice generally have not done that, it is often necessary to use a corrective collar to first get the dog somewhat under control so it can then be taught how to properly walk on leash. Many of the training collars can then be eliminated or changed out for a general buckle collar.
As you see, with just collars alone, there are many different types and each situation will require a different tool. Having the wrong collar on your dog can exacerbate or even cause the problem you are trying to fix!
Just like collars, leashes come in a variety of types. The main issue we see when it comes to leashes is that the person is not using the leash correctly. There are different leashes for different circumstances as well. Generally, in training, you start with a short leash and gradually increase the length and distance you train a dog.
A 2 foot traffic lead is great for walking a large dog and gives the best control especially when paired with the correct collar. The traffic lead can be clipped to your belt enabling hands free walking. Hands free walking is very handy to teach a client that has issues with holding the leash too taught, which in turn causes pulling due to the afformentioned opposition reflex.
A 6 foot small diameter leather leash is generally what dog trainers recommend for all dogs. They are easy to handle, give you the ability to bunch them up in one hand while walking and allow ample length to work on obedience commands from a 6 foot distance.
A long line is 20 – 30 feet long and is used to train a dog obedience commands at a distance while still having the ability to control the dog if he should break command. It can also be used when you want to give your dog room to sniff around at a distance in a controlled environment without being off leash. You can also use a long line to tie a dog to something to secure them when camping, at the park, on a picnic etc.
We should take this time to discuss retractable leashes. Dog trainers generally never recommend retractable leashes. We never recommend them to our clients however we see them used all the time. It is the first and fastest thing we will change with a training client. The retractable leash gives the handler the least amount of control over their dog. A retractable leash allows the dog to be too far in front of the handler. They often get tied around people, other dogs, trees….anything. Once extended, there is very little ability to reel a dog back in due to the tiny rope like leash that is attached. This is why, when you observe people using these leashes, you will see them walking around and around the person or thing the dog has entangled itself in. They are more expensive and the handle is much more cumbersome than a regular leash. They cannot be used when walking multiple dogs with a single handler.
Many injuries have been caused to people and dogs due to the retractable leash. If the dog does take off after something and the person drops the leash, it will retract so quickly as to hit the dog or will frighten the dog from the large plastic handle chasing it down the road.
Did I say we don’t like retractable leashes? Worse than the retractable leash is one paired with a head collar or harness.
Kennels are self-explanatory and come in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors. Which kennel you choose is up to you however different circumstances call for different sizes.
All dogs should be kennel trained. You can watch our video on kennel training a puppy here . Dogs are den animals and like the security of a confined space. You cannot train a puppy properly without a kennel and it is one of the first tools we recommend when setting up the puppy nursery for our Puppy Montessori program.
The kennel provides a safe place for your dog to rest. The kennel can keep your dog safe when having workers, guests, or small children to your home, when he is sick or when traveling in a car. The kennel helps with everything from house training to separation anxiety. A dog that is kennel trained is comfortable in a kennel and will be comfortable in a kennel in any situation such as the vet, groomer or shelter if they should find themselves lost.
The kennel is a neccessary tool for keeping your pet from engaging in unwanted behaviors when unsupervised. When a dog begins engaging in behaviors, he will continue to do so in the future. Setting your dog up for success includes when he is unsupervised as well.
The kennel is a very important and necessary tool for your pets well-being that every dog owner should have. You can also read more about kennel training in our book Puppy Montessori
Food pouches and bait (reward)
Lastly, when it comes to tools, one that is used the least by the average person is the food pouch and the food (reward) that goes in it. Yes, food is a tool, a very important tool when it comes to training a dog. We do not start any training program without the use of food. It is a necessity and we would go as far to say it is THE most important tool in your dog training kit! You can modify or train any behavior with food. Everyone knows that dogs love food! You do not need to take a course on classical or operant conditioning to know that. Most people know this because Fido is always begging for it!
Dogs love food and will work for food. A dog will go out of his way to engage in a behavior if he knows it leads to a food reward, whether that is desired behavior or unwanted behavior. If a dog gets a reward for the unwanted behavior of sitting at the table while you eat, he will engage in that behavior. On the other hand, if he gets a reward for the desired behavior of sitting on his bed, across the room, while you eat, he will continue to engage in that behavior. He doesn’t know which is desired and which unwanted, just which one gets the food! How YOU use this tool is extremely important.
During the learning process it is imperative to use food reward to teach a dog. Once a dog has learned the behavior, food reward can be faded out. Even though our own dogs have been well-trained, we continue to give reward, periodically, for desired behaviors, especially for the recall and especially in a distracting environment. If you want a dog to come to you every time he is called, give him a motivational food reward EVERY….TIME….CALLED! The more motivational, the faster he will come!
Food builds trust, helps create a dog that is engaged with the handler rather than everything else in the environment and that is the goal of training. Dogs need motivation to engage in something and food is a very powerful motivator. That being said, the reward has to be motivational to the dog in each context. A dry treat might be motivational if the dog is learning to sit while in the living room but as you up the distractions, chances are, you need a more motivational reward.
The treat pouch is a great tool because you can hook it to your belt and always have access to reward desired behaviors quickly. If it is hooked to you, the chances are strong that you won’t lose it. The food pouch is extremely helpful to use when walking your dog because it allows easy access to the food while your other hand is holding the leash.
Hopefully, you see why the proper tools are so important when it comes to training your dog. A dog trainer gives considerable thought into what tools are correct for each dog, handler, and situation. This is why we can get frustrated when people change the tools we recommend. We know how important they are. In dog training we always say, “you need to set the dog up for success”. The proper tools are the beginning to the success not only for your dog but for you.
So, grab your tool box and head over to part 2 of the series – Rules
Cindy Quigley is a Canine life cycle coach. She is the owner of Supermutts.com and author of Puppy Montessori. She has 23 years’ experience professionally working with dogs. She has worked in grooming shops, boarding facilities and veterinary hospitals, all of which taught her how to read canine body language and understand dog handling. As boarding and daycare facility owners together with her husband Kenneth she has cared for thousands of dogs and has thousands of hours observing, studying and modifying canine behavior.