There are a wide variety of different training tools and aids available to help you change your dog’s behavior. I am going to discuss some of the most common used today, including how they should be used in a responsible training program. You or your dog may work very well on one particular tool or another. The important thing is to find what works and then be consistent.
Different Kinds of Training Collars
You know you’re using a training collar if you are able to communicate some information with it beyond just restraining or managing a dog. It also helps if the collar is neutral to the dog starting out, meaning he doesn’t have any preconceived notions about what the devide means, good or bad. While dogs may be wearing buckle collars, harnesses, or rolled leather collars during training, those wouldn’t be considered “training collars.”
Chain training collars (aka choke chain) are used to provide a physical leash/collar correction to the dog. When not engaged during a correction, the collar should hang loose around the dog’s neck. A correction lasts maybe 1 second. The chain collar distributes the thrust of force more evenly around a dog’s neck than a buckle collar (where any force or tension from the leash is concentrated on the dog’s throat), but not quite as well as a prong collar.
Prong collars (aka pinch collar) are commonly used to manage leash pulling, which is not their intended or correct use. Rather than making pulling less comfortable for a dog, the collar is better-used to provide a physical leash/collar correction to interrupt unwanted behavior and redirect the dog to correct behavior. Prong collars are often positioned wrong on the dog’s neck and not fitted properly (too loose). They should NOT hang loose like a chain training collar, but should fit snug. It’s also important to incorporate a backup to the prong since they have a tendency to come apart, whether it’s using a chain training collar in conjunction and clipping the leash to both, or using a small carabiner to attach the dead ring on the prong to the d-ring on your buckle collar.
The plastic Starmark collars are a little less “pinchy” than traditional metal prong collars but operate using the same general premise of distributing a correction evenly around the dog’s neck and helping accentuate a physical correction. Both the Starmark and traditional metal prongs will amplify a light tug on the leash, making them good ways to balance out imbalances, whether it’s a physically weaker owner and a powerful dog, or a dog that is very sensitive to body language and/or pressure so really requires a subtle touch.
E-collars (aka “remote training collars”) allow the owner to deliver a well-timed stimulation via the remote control to the receiver (collar). With proper training, the stim sensation will be meaningful to the dog and cause the dog to make the proper adjustment in their behavior to be successful. E-collars are some of the most misunderstood training tools out there today. While there are certainly trainers out there using them purely as “shock” collars (dialing the collar up to a level that startles a dog and pushing the button when the dog is doing something naughty, positive punishment), far more trainers are using them on lower levels as negative reinforcement, to mean that the dog learns to turn off the mildly annoying sensation by doing something specific such as a command.
If you’ve heard or read horror stories of e-collars, you haven’t spoken to a professional trainer that actually uses the tools in the manner described above. In most cases, when used in this way, you cannot tell by looking at a dog when they are and are not feeling the sensation. trainers that tell the horror stories don’t actually use the devices and may have never felt one or operated one themselves! There are a number of manufacturers out there today, each with different designs and functionality, so you really can find a collar that fits your needs. Some of the most versatile and easy to use collars available now are from E-Collar Technologies (makers of the Einstein model). Another quality manufacturer is Dogtra.
Leashes, Lines, and Tabs
The importance of a good leash and long line cannot be discounted, even if your ultimate goal is off-leash reliability.
A high quality leather leash is best for any type of training where you’ll be giving a physical correction and the leather transmits the correction much better than nylon or cotton. Fit and size are important as too wide a leather leash on a small dog could cause any correction to be overwhelming. Similarly, a narrow show leash on a Great Dane will mean that physical corrections will be significantly less effective comparatively.
Slip leads are all-in-one, single piece leashes and collars. They are also very effective at getting control of and communicating with your dog, and can be great for puppies. They have a gentler corrective “action” than chain training collars, simply compressing around the neck when tension is applied to the leash, and releasing when tension is released.
Long lines are typically cotton or nylon and should be at least 15 feet. Some trainers prefer them to be longer. A tab is basically a handle for your dog’s collar. They are sometimes made out of leather or nylon with a clip, and sometimes they are homemade out of cotton clothesline cord and a secure knot. When using a chain training collar or prong collar, they are attached to the live ring.
Other Training Aids
I am differentiating these items as training aids, and the list goes on and on. None of these are items your dog wears, rather, they are items you use and your dog interacts with to either help learn a command, reinforce, or proof behavior.
Clickers (or any markers) are used to precisely mark the moment a dog did the right thing or made the right decision, such as responding correctly to a command. Many people choose to use a verbal marker such as “yes.” A marker is different from praise and is not in and of itself a reward. A clicker or verbal marker can come to have positive associations because it is often followed by a treat, praise or other reward especially early in training. But without the association with a primary or secondary reinforcer, a marker is a neutral stimulus (doesn’t have any meaning) to a dog.
Using markers in training is just another way to provide feedback to your dog and can be very helpful in the initial teaching of expectations.
Tugs, balls, treats (and praise!) are all forms of reward. Hopefully, one or all will be reinforcing to your dog as that will help you attain and maintain his attention and enthusiasm for the training. Rewards that are positively reinforcing to a dog are an important part of effective training and relationship building. They motivate a dog to work, perform, or learn where pure compulsion or force could otherwise discourage, frustrate, or shut down. And while you could technically force a 10 pound dog to do something, the lesson is much better learned when the dog is motivated to learn it and does so with help rather than being forced.
That said, the use of gentle physical placement absolutely has a place in dog training and is very effective (consider the piano teacher that places your fingers on the correct keys rather than waiting for you to find the correct combination and then rewards you for it–the equivalent of free shaping–or tries to describe the position to you in words).
A word about food as a training aid: Food has several applications beyond just reward. It can be used to lure a dog into a position or to target something, as distraction in proofing, and can certainly increase motivation and energy when incorporated into training that is otherwise tedious or difficult. But food should NOT be used to bribe a dog to comply or work with you.
Targets or Target Stick can be used to teach a dog to move away from you (by touching a target on the ground away from you), or to help increase precision of a movement or command by using a target stick to help the dog find the correct position by touching the end of the stick.
High Tech: These days, there are lots of high tech. training aids out there, including door alarms and scat mats used to train boundaries, remote control treat dispensing devices, video cameras (to record and review your own performance), video baby-monitors and home surveillance systems to remotely observe behavior (and interrupt or correct with an e-collar), even apps for your phone!
Not everything you slap on your dog is cut out for training. Most everything else not mentioned here primarily manages or restrains your dog. Along with the retractable leash, mentioned above, head halters and “no pull” harnesses tend to be quite aversive to many dogs (even the “all positive” trainers that were lauding the Gentle Leader a decade ago have walked back their endorsement). If a tool is inherently aversive, it is hard to use it in a training program because you must first work to overcome the dog’s fear or disdain for the tool. Oddly enough, I’ve never met a dog that didn’t like his e-collar or prong collar, but many dogs that would rub their faces raw trying to get out of a head halter.
But Wait, There’s More
The above list only barely scratches the surface of pet dog training. If you venture beyond and especially into competition obedience such as Open or Utility, or agility, the sporting ring, tracking, scent detection, or personal protection there are myriad specialized aids and tools. We use many of the tools and aids listed above to get meaningful obedience training and behavior modification results, while also preserving the personality and energy of your dog. For more information about how we can help you find the well-mannered dog within, contact us, or complete a free dog training consultation form to get started!