For owners

Training Aids

Get the right equipment and teach your dog to use it.

Even once you have chosen the right equipment and accessories for your dog, the task of convincing it to accept and use them is still ahead. It’s just a matter of training, writes Kate Mornement.

Gone are the days when a lead and collar were the only tools available for training your dog, and the only things a dog needed were a food and water bowl and a bed to sleep in.

These days, the variety of accessories and equipment available to dog owners is endless and can be the cause of much confusion.

When choosing accessories and equipment for a dog, it’s important to consider the purpose you want the item to serve. Some items, such as harnesses, are designed for many different purposes; you can buy a harness to restrain your dog in the car, to minimise pulling on the lead during walks and even to distribute weight evenly on a dog that’s required to pull a heavy weights for canine sports.

So what types of equipment are best for you and your dog? Knowing the answer will help you both get the most out of training and make caring for your dog easier.

Training equipment

There are many things to consider when choosing training equipment for your dog. If you are going to participate in formal obedience training classes then you will need to find out what equipment is used by the trainers who run the classes.

Different dog trainers have different philosophies and preferences for training aids. Some prefer to train dogs using a flat collar, some prefer a slip chain and others might use a head halter as their tool of choice.

When purchasing training equipment try to take your dog with you. This will help you choose equipment that fits correctly. If you can't take your dog with you, write down its measurements to  help you find the right size.

Collars and leads

By far the most commonly-used training aids are collars and leads.

Almost all dogs wear a flat collar with identification and council registration tags attached. A lead can easily be attached to the D-ring of a flat collar for control during walks and training.

Besides the flat collar, other varieties include slip collars, slip chains and martingale collars made from materials including leather, nylon and cotton. Leads are also available in different styles, sizes and materials.

Choosing the best collar and lead for your dog will depend on the size and age of the dog, what you want to use them for and which styles you prefer. Trying a variety of different styles can help you decide which combination works best.

Halters and harnesses

The popularity of halters and harnesses has increased dramatically in recent years and they now come in a variety of styles, sizes and materials. Halters are used to control dogs that have a tendency to pull on the lead.

While many dog owners find halters to be an invaluable tool, it is very important they are used correctly to avoid injury. Sudden jerking, for example, can cause injury to the dog’s back.

There are also harnesses available to minimise pulling on the lead. These are available in several styles. Other harnesses are designed for car restraint and for various dog sports (such as Flyball). To choose the right harness from the pet supply shop, make sure you know what you need it for.

Kennels, beds and coats

Many dog owners have bought home a new kennel for their dog only to discover that their money was wasted because their dog doesn’t use it. To encourage your dog to use its kennel, make sure it has a comfortable kennel liner to lie on and feed the dog some of its favourite treats inside the new kennel.

Placement of the kennel is also important because most dogs want to be close to the action. A kennel placed near the back door is more likely to be used that one placed down the back of the garden.

When buying a bed for your dog there are many things to consider including the age and size of your dog, as well as where the bed will be placed.

If your dog sleeps in the lounge room you will need a bed that is easy to wash. However, if your dog sleeps outside in a kennel you will need a more durable bed that is water and dirt-proof.

Elderly dogs can suffer from aches and pains, and a raised bed helps take pressure off their joints.

If you have a dog with a short coat or you live in a cold climate, chances are your dog will need a coat to keep it warm in the winter months.

Unfortunately, some dogs become very good at removing their new coat and chewing it to pieces. The secret here is to buy a good-quality, well-fitted coat made of strong materials with buckle or clip fasteners. Coats that fasten with Velcro are easily undone by clever canines.

Toys, bowls and grooming aids

Choosing the right toys for your dog will again depend on its age, breed and motivations. Some dogs prefer soft squeaky toys whereas other like balls or tug toys. Sometimes it’s a matter of trial and error to find out what your dog’s favourites are.

When buying food and water bowls it’s always a good idea to go for quality and ease of cleaning. Cheap plastic bowls are often chewed and can tip over, whereas the more heavy-duty ceramic or stainless steel bowls generally last longer and are easy to clean. Of course, selecting appropriately sized bowls for the size of your dog is essential.

All dogs need to be groomed to remove dead hair and keep their coat in top condition. There are many different combs and brushes available for all the different breeds and fur types. Ask a groomer about what grooming aids are best for your dog’s cost type.

Dogs should be introduced to grooming aids at a young age and in a positive way. If your dog becomes anxious or fearful when you groom it, familiarise it slowly with positive experiences.

Get familiar

When you purchase any new item of training equipment, take the time to familiarise your dog with it in a positive way. Rushing this process may create a negative association with the new item.

For example, bringing home a new head halter to stop your dog pulling on the lead and using it to take the dog for a walk straight away will often result in the dog quickly becoming frustrated with the restrictive device around its head. The dog will often paw at the halter or rub its face on the ground in an attempt to remove the halter and, with this negative experience, will soon develop a negative association with the halter.

Rather than rushing your dog into wearing or using the new equipment as soon as you have brought it home, take some time to train your dog to have a positive association with it. In some cases, such as when introducing halters and harnesses, this will be a simple matter of desensitising the dog to wearing the equipment. This can be done using something the dog loves (food works well) to reward it for gradually accepting the new item.

Keep it simple

Familiarising your dog with a new item is a step-by-step process.

The process below outlines how to introduce a dog to a new harness, but it could be easily adapted to suit a variety of objects.

  1. Place the harness on the floor and allow the dog to sniff it. When the dog shows interest and does not show any fear, reward with a treat.
  2. Hold the harness at your dog’s eye level. Again, reward a positive response with a treat.
  3. Slip the harness over your dog’s head and reward your dog’s acceptance of the harness.
  4. Fasten the harness and reward with another treat.
  5. Attach the lead and reward again.

Each of these five steps should be repeated several times, ensuring that the dog is completely comfortable with each stage before moving to the next. Move through the steps slowly until the dog accepts wearing the harness without hesitation.

If at any time the dog becomes anxious or fearful, go back to the previous step where the dog remained calm, and repeat that step several times. You should only progress to the next step if the dog was successful with the previous step.

At the last step, allow the dog to wear the harness for a minute or so while verbally praising and rewarding it with treats. Then remove the harness, put it away and repeat the exercise the next day.

After a few repetitions your dog will look forward to wearing its harness because it has learnt that good things happen when it wears the harness – it has developed a positive association with the harness.

This process can be applied to any new training equipment or accessories, such as grooming aids, you introduce to your dog. However it will not be necessary for everything. Toys, for example, are usually willingly investigated and happily played with.

The length of the familiarisation process will also depend on the temperament, personality and previous experiences of the dog. Some dogs are more outgoing and accepting of new things, while others may be more timid, requiring more time and patience.

Ask the experts

Choosing the right equipment for your dog and training it to accept and use it may seem like a daunting task. However, there is help available. Seek advice from professionals such as behaviourists, dog trainers and knowledgeable pet supply shop staff with regards to the most appropriate types of equipment for your dog and to suit your intended purpose. Remember also that you need to be comfortable with the equipment you select.

Other things to consider when purchasing accessories or equipment for your dog are the breed, size and age of the dog. An appropriate lead for a Chihuahua will not be suitable for a Great Dane.

As the saying goes ‘you get what you pay for’. Investing in good-quality accessories and training equipment made from high-quality materials will save you money in the long term.

Need more help?

Obedience and training clubs affiliated with one of Dogs Australia’s State and Territory bodies will be able to provide tailored advice on choosing the right equipment and training your dog.