Equipment for training has been a lot of trial and error, which I mostly blame on my being new to this. It’s probably cost me more than it should, but I now have a smorgasbord of training gear, most of which will last me decades.
Leashes– As you can imagine, leashes get a lot of use. The leather leash is timeless for a reason, and a good one you take care of will last a long time. For competition, the 6′ leash is the standard length, though in the PSA obedience trials you can possibly use a shorter length. However, for protection work, 6′ is still the norm, and if you get into tracking, such as in Schutzhund, you may be looking a longer leash still. Most of the time, I’ve been using leather leashes from Leerburg. I have a couple standard 6′ right now (in case I misplace one, which I have) as well as a 6′ with a handle near the snap. I also have a 4′ with two handles which gets mostly used when we’re out walking or running around the city. It keeps King closer in of course, but we also have some narrow sidewalks, so in a sense can be a little safer when there are people and cars out there.
Collars- I’ve got a few different collars depending on what we’re doing. For competition, the standard is a chain collar used on the dead ring. The new standard has seemingly become the “fur saver” chain collar, which consists of longer links that don’t pinch and break the fur, hence the name. It’s worth your time getting the measurement right since the collar is going to go over the dog’s head. Right now my go-to fur saver is a Herm Sprenger stainless steel, which is very strong and will last a long time.
I also frequently use a 1.25″ ASAT flat collar. ASAT (all-season, all-terrain) is a synthetic leather that actually feels pretty similar to the real thing. The particular collar I have is a double-layer agitation collar, meaning it can safely be used for protection training. In some cases, the 1.25″ can reduce the dog’s airflow, so you may want to move to a 2″ agitation collar (the collar doesn’t agitate the dog, it just describes how it can be used) or a harness. Right now I’m back to using a harness mostly for protection training.
For training collars, I’m a big fan of pinch collars, though these collars certainly have their share of critics. Some of the criticism is probably based on their appearance (most often described as looking like a medieval torture device) and some criticism probably comes from those who practice a “purely positive” form of training. Unfortunately, my dog is not one that will redirect his attention away from another incoming dog for a small piece of food in my hand. I’m sure there are dogs out there that will do that. The pinch collar also makes a world of difference in general pulling when we’re out on walks, and also comes in very handy in leash pressure work used for things like heeling. I know there are people out there who abuse this training tool, just like any other training tool can be abused, but used correctly the pinch has been, in my experience, humane, safe, and effective.
I like the Herm Sprenger collar and currently use the stainless steel version. The points on the Sprenger collars are more rounded than many I’ve seen in the big box pet stores, and the stainless will last a long time. Most of the time, I use the medium size, though I occasionally use the small one still. The small sits higher on the neck and seems to provide a little clearer communication, such as using leash pressure to show position in heeling.
Tugs- Tugs get used almost daily. They’re an effective reward for all kinds of behaviors, and provide an interactive reward for the dog and handler both (and sometimes a bit of exercise too). I have a ton of tugs right now, but most get used with some regularity. The materials run from tough firehose material to woven jute to synthetic or french linen material, which is softer and easier on the dog’s teeth. The large ones are great in that they’re easier for the dog to target, and easier to grab both ends of when you’re playing. However, they don’t fit quite as well into a pocket, and finding other places to stash it is a bit of an art form.
I’ve bought tugs from every place on the “Additional Resources” page, and each one has had its positives and negatives. Currently, the tugs getting the most use are synthetic tugs about 1″ wide that I can fit into a back pocket easily whether we are training on heeling or just going for a walk. Elite K-9 sells several different synthetic pocket-sized tugs of different lengths, and I also recently acquired a Gappay synthetic tug from Hallmark K-9. You may see any of these show up in pictures or videos.
Leerburg sells some great synthetic larger size tugs, with or without handles, and many of them are made in Germany. These were great especially when I started training in the tug system taught by Michael Ellis and others. The tugs are large enough that the dog can easily get it without biting me (obvious bonus) and have held up very well. However, it’s tough to wedge those in my pockets, so I would almost have to get a training vest to use them in the field as effectively as I would like. I also have two larger tugs from Leerburg, one fire hose and one jute. The firehose one is incredibly sturdy, and the material in general is good for teaching the out. The jute one we use a lot, but I’ve taken to either using it just around the house or in our still-basic retrieve training, motivating the dog to bring the item back to me for a bite/tug reward.
As I said, I have a lot of tugs these days, and each one is just enough different to provide its own set of benefits for training.
Bite pillows- When I first saw this name I wasn’t sure what to think. Bite pillows are traditionally used to take a young or green dog from simple tug work and prey development into a transition toward bite sleeves and suits. In short, it’s a tough pillow with handles, usually made of jute or synthetic material (similar to a bite suit). I’ve had a few by now, and they also make a great tool for tugging and obedience work once the dog understands the fundamentals of tugging.
I started with the Sport Klin and have gotten a lot of use out of it. It’s on the softer side, which is fine, but the drawbacks I saw were a lot of extra material adding to the depth of it, and the handles were a little on the thin and small side, making them sometimes dig into your hand when you had it and hard to grab on the fly if your dog is bringing it back to you.
I then got an Elite K-9 synthetic bite wedge. It’s smaller dimensionally (both in width and depth) than the Sport Klin, and maybe a little softer. It almost feels like it’s filled with a milk jug, but I really like the size and the way the handles are done on it. They’re wide and round, making them very easy to grab and hold onto, but they flop around just a little bit. I eventually gave this pillow to a family member who occasionally watches King so they would have something easy for both of them to play with.
My next one was a Gappay out of firm jute. I’d heard a lot of great things about the company in general and their bite wedge in particular. They offer a softer jute model as well, but I figured that base was already covered in the Sport Klin that I had. When they say firm, they mean it. It is just shy of feeling like there’s a bite bar in it. When King Man first took a run at it, you could see him realizing he was going to have to bite harder to hold on. He seems to have figured that out now. The Gappay probably has the best handles of any of them. They’re wide and round like the Elite K-9, but they are a little stiffer so they won’t move around on you. Dimensionally, it’s about as wide as the Sport Klin, but not as deep. However, it still takes up a bit of room in the gear bag.
Since I no longer had the synthetic Elite K-9 pillow, I ended up ordering one of their jute ones recently. It just came in. Because of its size, it will probably be the one I take to the training field most often, and it’s still plenty big and plenty firm to provide a good bite target for King.
Bite wedges (bite bars, half sleeves)- I only own and have used one of these, though I researched a while before making this purchase. I went with a Sport Klin sold by Leerburg. I’d been pretty happy with everything else I had made by the company or bought from Leerburg, so I had a good feeling when making the purchase (though I waited a while to do it because they’re a little more than the other tug equipment I’d purchased). I’ve been very happy with it. It can be used as a half sleeve on the forearm and can then be slipped to play tug with the dog. The handle layout was a big selling point for me- there are two sturdy handles inside plus the one on the back. There are a lot of other companies that also manufacture these; as I said, the one I purchased just seemed to be a good fit for my use and has been.
E-collars (electronic collars, remote collars)– As with any other training device, the e-collar has its share of both supporters and opponents. I did a lot of research from a variety of sources when I was considering this as well as talking to people in the area who had used them. Kind of like pinch collars, I agree that in the wrong hands and with the wrong information they can be severely abused and misused. Even after I decided to get one, I was still researching for a while before even putting it on my dog. There is a process to introducing the e-collar, and when used correctly it is extremely humane and effective. In fact, when I pick his e-collar up off the counter, King Man runs to me instead of away from me. We marked putting the collar on and off initially, and he wore the collar for a while before it was even used. And yes, I even tested it on myself. It is a quick nick, probably most similar to a static pop when you touch a door handle.
There are several brands considered top-quality out there. This is not an area you want to try and save money on. You get what you pay for. Some (but not all) of the better known brands are Tri-Tronics, Dogtra, and Educator (formerly Einstein). I went with the Educator ET-400TS, and it’s been a game changer across many applications.
Harness- First, let me state that I can’t stand adult dogs being walked on a harness in the city. I go to the other side of the street because most of the time the owner has no control over their dog in a harness. If I wanted to race in the Iditarod, I’d get a sled dog, and then I’d put a harness on him. To each his or her own- and for the record if it’s a puppy, I have zero problem with using a harness- but I don’t want a separated shoulder and I also want control over my dog.
I am, however, a proponent of using a harness to build drive in protection work as well as some other obedience areas like the recall. A well-made leather harness isn’t cheap, though, and believe me when you are doing protection work you want a well-made harness. I looked at several by different companies, and the price points were pretty close for the most part. I ended up with Leerburg’s padded agitation harness (no, wearing it doesn’t agitate the dog) for a few reasons related to the design. All their leather products I’d purchased previously were top-notch, a handle came standard (not absolutely necessary, but has already proven nice to have), and one side was a heavy-duty snap instead of a leather buckle. When made correctly, this makes getting the harness on and off a LOT faster. They also offer a dual-clasp option, and looking back I might have gone with that. However, I’m happy with the purchase, the padding is easy on the dog, and its use has been very beneficial in our protection training.
Other Rewards, etc.- Believe it or not, there is life past leashes, collars, and tugs. As with many detection dogs, King has an insanely high ball drive, meaning that a tennis ball is basically his ultimate reward.
A tennis ball is pretty easy to come by. The nylon covering isn’t the best for dogs’ teeth long-term, and they can get pretty nasty when wet. Chuck-it answered that problem with their ultra balls- they’re basically hollow rubber and conveniently fit in the Chuck-it launchers, which is a big help to those of us who can’t throw a 90 m.p.h. fastball. You can buy a two-pack of the ultra-balls, and based on some of our work, those seem be King’s favorite out of the ball world.
If you have a possessive dog like I do, training the out can be tricky using a ball that’s already in his mouth and secured by his fangs. So, I set out trying various balls-on-string. These have been training tools for a long time, so I ended up with a couple from well-known dog equipment manufacturers such as Roni and Gappay. Having just a ball on string was fun for tugging but not always fun for my hands when King had a good mouth-hold. He also didn’t seem to like the solid balls as much as the Chuck-it, probably because he can’t self-satisfy when he chews down on the ball. Elite K-9 makes their “working ball” which has proven to be a decent medium. The balls are soft and hollow, and come by themselves, with a string, or with a string and handle. The handle is vastly easier to hold onto and prevent rope burn. “I don’t always use a ball on a string, but when I do…” You get the idea. I do think in the near future I will try stringing a Chuck-it ball with one of the Elite K-9 t-handles, though, which may be the best of everything.