Friday, January 11, 2013

Training Equipment

January is Train Your Dog month!

The Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) is hosting the third annual National Train Your Dog Month and has prepared an impressive lineup of articles, tips, webinars, Facebook discussions, and videos about training. Check out the website HERE and don't forget to check out their calendar of events HERE.

I love training dogs, that probably goes without saying to most people that know me :). It would be hard to live with the 5 dogs at my house, take in the fosters that I take in (usually the young, male dober-teens in need of manners), and spend most of my 'free' time teaching classes and volunteering at the shelter if I didn't like working with dogs!

Over the years I have found dog training to be somewhat vague in the general dog owner's life. Most people want a dog that will sit, lie down, stay, come when called, and walk without pulling but then turn around and think that dog obedience classes are just for those show-crazy people that compete. Or they go to classes and don't practice and then turn around and wonder why their dog didn't learn. So randomly this month I'll be sharing a few tidbits of training in honor of National Train Your Dog Month. If there is a particular topic you'd like to see, leave a comment and let me know!

The first part of training, before you even get to the training part, is to decide what your goals are and what training collar you are going to use, if any, to accomplish those. Please understand that there is no training collar that is right for every dog. They just don't come with universal guarantees. Also, ALL training equipment needs to be used carefully.

Quit Yanking my Chain - Aversive Collars

The choke chain and pinch collar are traditional correction collars or aversive collars. These collars rely on physical discomfort or even pain to teach the dog what not to do. But while they suppress the unwanted behavior, they don't teach your dog what the desired behavior actually is. At best, they are unpleasant for your dog, and at worst, they could actually hurt your dog and increase aggressive behavior. I advocate for positive training and believe that should always be your first choice, but when I first learned about dog training (roughly 20 years ago!!) these were the tools presented to me. Obviously, I have since furthered my learning :).

Choke chains are made of metal
links and are designed to control
your dog by tightening around
their neck
A choke chain works like a noose, tightening around their neck, and all the pressure from the correction is delivered at one spot on the dog's neck. The idea is to snap the leash swiftly so that the strangling effect is quickly applied and then released. However, there is no way to control how much the choke chain tightens. Ugh, I can't even imagine that thing around my neck! The choke chain can cause injuries to the esophagus, trachea, and other internal damage to the neck. And yes, in severe cases of misuse it can even cause death.

The pinch collar is relatively new to the public but has been around just as long as the choke chain. When people first see it, they think it is some kind of medieval torture device with spikes. Obviously, it's not that but it is still a 'correction' collar. Proponents of this collar say it delivers a more comfortable correction the pressure from the leash pop is distributed all the way around the dog's neck instead of just to one point. They also say it's the closest correction a dog can receive from a human to the natural correction they may experience in nature from another dog. The pinch collar is designed like a martingale collar (discussed below) so it can't actually choke or strangle your dog (unlike the choke chain).
The loop that fits around your dog's neck is made
of a series of prong-shaped metal links with blunted
points. The prongs pinch the loose skin of your
dog's neck when a correction is applied.

When I first got Bourbon I put him in a pinch collar, based on advice I was given at the time, to curb his pulling (remember this was 7 years ago!). He was a six month old Doberman with EXCESSIVE prey drive and had already injured my shoulder trying to go after a rabbit. Unfortunately, at that time he was also reactive to other dogs (after getting attacked by a poodley-looking dog) and being on the pinch collar increased his reactivity rather dramatically and brought out some dog-aggressive behaviors while he was on leash. Needless to say I am STILL managing his leash reactivity because of my poor choice. Bad mom! But hey we live and we learn and making mistakes are all a part of that!

Purely Positive - The 'Humane' Options

At the other end of the spectrum we have the no-pull harnesses, head collars, martingales, and buckle collars. A lot of trainers recommend head halters (such as the Gentle Leader, Halti, or Snootloop), however I am not a big fan of this option. And in all honesty, I would use a pinch collar before a head halter.

One strap fits around your dog's neck
and sits high on the head, just behind the ears.
The other strap forms a loop around your
dog's muzzle and the leash attaches to a ring
at the bottom of the muzzle loop.
 The head halters are designed to help you control your dog by guiding his head, just like in regards to horses (although the way we pull on them is quite different from how they are used on horses). An animal tends to go where its head goes and so the halter gives you control of the head. Some dogs are fine with head halters while others will fight them or seem to shut down (it can have a suppressive quality).

On a physical basis, the area under the eyes (that the muzzle strap sits on) is a sensitive area with many nerves and thin skin, so that has to be uncomfortable for them. Plus, the unexpected sideways and upward movement of the head while their bodies are still moving forward has GREAT potential for soft tissue damage and damage to the spine. Dobermans are already a breed known for spinal problems, so I really, really wouldn't go there with my crew. A great article to read before using a head halter is found HERE by Suzanne Clothier.

I have found that I really like the no-pull body harnesses if I have a strong dog that is a hard puller. There are quite a few options out there but I like the Freedom Harness and the Easy Walk Harness. I have used both of these wtih my Dobermans and it has greatly helped with pulling while not adding to Bourbon's reactivity.
These harnesses have a front hook leash
attachment, so when your dog pulls forward,
his body starts to turn towards you.

They obviously don't put any pressure on the dog's neck or head, which is a plus for me! You do have to be careful with the Easy Walk Harness and others of a similar model because the harness can loosen with time and the dog could slip out, so check the fit every time you use it.

Lastly, martingales and buckle collars are things every owner is familiar with. They are usually the 'home' collars that your dog wears every day and that has their ID tags. Martingale collars were originally designed for dogs with narrow heads (like Greyhounds) but they are useful for any dog that is adept at slipping out of their collar. We use these collars for the IDR+ dogs and also at the ARL to work with the shelter dogs.

Monday, Vito, and Rookie are all being trained in these collars (Monday and Rookie wear a martingale and Vito wears a flat buckle). I've evolved over the years to the philosophy of training with the end in mind. So if I want to be able to walk my dogs on just their collar, than that is what I train them in (unless it is unsafe for them or me).
The collar has a metal ring at end of it with a seperate
loop of material that the leash attaches to. This allows
the collar to only tighten to the size of your dog's neck
and won't choke them.

Training collars (like the choke, pinch, head halter, and no-pull harness) should be used as a temporary phase, not a life-long solution. The equipment is just a crutch to get through the snag you are having, but should not be a permanent solution. Obviously, some crutches are necessary but you should be working towards weaning off those. Building a relationship is what training is all about so that you don't have to lean on crutches in order to get your dog to do what you ask of them :).


Remember if there is a particular topic you'd like to see covered, leave a comment and let me know! Happy Training!! :)



In dog training, jerk is a noun, not a verb. ~ Dr. Dennis Fetko


  1. Such a great and informative post. Thanks for sharing this to us and keep posting.

  2. Thank you for the informative post! I have learned some very neat ways to train my dog. I think it is so important to train your dog with love, and I think you wrote a lot about that. If you try to boss your dog around, they will not want to do what you are telling them to do. I am in the middle of training my dog for a dog show, so I have been trying hard not to be too impatient! Thanks for the post!
    Wilton Josh |

  3. Great post! Bringing home a new dog, whether it’s a puppy or an adult, is like bringing home a new baby – you need to be prepared, and you need supplies. So, I was looking for articles on buying dog accessories and then I came across yours inspiring read. Thanks!

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