Dog training is both a physical and mental exercise for both the human and dog. The process of training a dog is technical and requires a level of coordination on behalf of the handler. Our ability to communicate information to our dog is heavily reliant on the delivery of clean and consistent information. This information is quite often delivered through a hand cue/gesture, leash work or another physical action.
Many people start their training when their dog is either a puppy or when they are having significant handling/behavioural issues with their dog. Both of these scenarios increase the difficulty of the work. Puppies are always a handful and test even the best of us, and older dogs who are starting their formal training a little later that have existing behavioural issues, are always difficult to handle.
So how do we make the training process easier for both parties?
The equipment we use can make all the difference. Sometimes it’s the difference between doing 100 clean repetitions to create behaviour change, versus 1,000 poor repetitions that still don’t achieve the desired response. Here are some of the dog training essentials with an explanation on why you should consider getting all the gear.
A well designed treat pouch
When we want to reward desirable responses we have about 1.5 seconds to get the food to the dog after we mark the behaviour. If we keep food in our pocket or in a plastic bag, it may well be hard to get food out in time. If the reward comes late, then what have we now rewarded?
Example: We are working on neutralising a dog’s response to cats. Our timing and reward delivery can make all of the different between making progress and going back a step.
We are walking along and our dog spots a cat – the moment they look at the cat they make a choice to look back up at us and start to engage with us (typically our dog pulls towards the cat) – right at that moment we need to mark and reward.
As we reach into our pocket to find a treat – we struggle to pull it out and at the 2 second mark our dog starts looking back at the cat again – we finally get the treat out and feed. What have we now rewarded? Good treat pouches are designed for unimpeded ease of access to the reward.
The right leash/collar/harness for your dog
When dealing with dogs that are hard to handle or hyper-aroused on lead we are often competing with adrenalin. The dog sees a dog/cat/bird and adrenalin kicks in. Adrenalin both suppresses appetite and increases a dogs pain threshold; consequently they won’t take food treats and are unresponsive to pressure applied on the lead – which we are attempting to use to redirect the dogs attention.
Our task is to redirect the dog or engage with the dog before adrenalin kicks in; promoting more desirable responses and rewarding those desirable responses heavily. Our ability to do this effectively and in a timely manner relies partly on the equipment we use. As a business we aren’t prescriptive with walking equipment; we look at the dog in front of us and look to find the best solution for the handler/dog combo to ensure we maximise their chances of success in these difficult moments and ultimately enjoy the walk together.
The ideal interactive toys
The best part of our dog’s day should be playtime with us. Our ability to play with our dog in a manner that innately satisfies them is measured by our actual play style/ability and the toys we use. When we play with our dogs we want them to able to grip a toy and tug/pull back hard on the toy. If we use toys that our dog can’t grip and they easily slip off, then we risk them becoming frustrated and consequently losing motivation in the game. No different to playing netball with a slippery ball.
Interactive toys are different to home-alone/self-satisfying toys. Home alone toys need to be bullet proof, as your dog will likely try and destroy them when bored or when looking for a satisfying task. Our dogs carnassial teeth can cut through sinew and bone – hence needing extremely strong toys when they are left with them alone.
Tug toys on the other hand are typically softer – often made from French linen or a durable foam (these materials hugely increase grip satisfaction). The reason we can use these materials in play is because the dog isn’t taking the toy away and using their back carnassial teeth to sheer through them. The game of tug involves gripping, tugging with you, winning and repeating; not sheering through items.
If your dog has a tendency to run off on their own and sheer through the toy, then keep them on a long line during play to encourage them back to you. Once the game ends the toy is taken away and put somewhere safe for next time. A well-constructed French linen tug when used appropriately with a hard hitting GSD can last 2-3 years or longer.
Is dog training a sport?
Our advice is to treat dog training like a sport. It is a process of setting ourselves up with the correct equipment to assist with the practical elements, gaining an understanding of the methodology and practicing the skill sets in small pieces to start, before chaining them all together.
Both you and your dog are trying to build muscle memory. The hardest part of dog training is the first 3-4 weeks when we are getting comfortable with the handling elements. Once we develop some nice technique and muscle memory, we find a level of flow in the work and start to enjoy the process. At this point our dog really starts to develop and their rate of learning speeds up greatly.
Because you are now a skilled operator delivering clear and consistent information, that your dog can use to make smart choices on a more regular basis; opposed to delivering inconsistent messaging that creates confusions and frustration for both of you. Handler skill with the right gear equates to a faster rate of learning and a well-trained, happy dog.