Just the other day I had a new client contact me to set up training sessions with their new puppy. One of the first questions asked was about training aids. They wanted to know which ones they would need for the first appointment. Although I always bring everything that we might need to that first appointment, afterward I advise which ones I believe they are going to need to train their dog and meet their goals. Below is a list of top dog training aids for puppies.
1. Collars, Leashes And Harnesses
Collars: I recommend either a flat buckle collar or a martingale collar, created in any material. You need one just big enough so that your puppy has growing room but it still fits properly on the smallest setting. A martingale collar is also referred to as a limited-slip collar. They do not have a buckle. Instead they are designed to fit loosely until your puppy or young dog tries to back out of their collar, then it tightens just enough that it will not come over their head. It is also a great option for dogs with narrow heads.
Leash: I recommend everyone have at least a regular 6-foot leash. Again, you can find them made with just about any material. I recommend finding one that feels good in your hands. For most dogs, a half or five-eighth inch width works well. For dogs less than 10 pounds, go to a quarter-inch width. For extra-large dogs, you might want a three-quarter inch or 1-inch width. For my Rottweilers, I always use a five-eighth inch width.
Long Line: This is simply a leash that is 20 or 30 feet in length. It is used for training outdoors, boundary training and allowing room to play for people who do not have a fenced-in yard for their dog.
Harnesses: Currently, many choices are on the market. I use harnesses with my dogs and client dogs all of the time. I especially use harnesses for toy breeds and brachycephalic, or flat-faced, breeds. For a well-mannered puppy, a step-in or vest-style harness works very well. For dogs who still need to learn leash manners, I use a front-attachment harness. This is a harness that has a ring on the chest for the leash to attach to. This prevents the dog from pulling into the harness. There are many styles available. Choose the one that fits your puppy the best.
There is usually a stigma associated with dog muzzles. People still think they are only for bad dogs. They are not. Training a dog to wear a muzzle can be useful in an emergency or even for a trip to the vet.
There are two types of muzzles. A sleeve style usually made of cloth. This muzzle is designed to hold a dog’s mouth closed. Because of this they can’t breathe normally or pant while wearing this kind of muzzle. It should only ever be used for a moment or two. The other kind is a basket-style muzzle. Made of materials including leather, plastic and rubber, these muzzles are designed to allow a dog to pant, eat and even drink while wearing. The basket-style muzzle is the only one I recommend.
I posed the question of treats to my vet, Amy Cummings, DVM, of Creekside Animal Clinic in Norton, Ohio. She had some recommendations.
“Pieces of their own food, bland oat cereal pieces or dried overcooked plain meat,” she said. “Some dogs have sensitive stomachs so these treats are usually safe.”
Personally, I use soft, low-calorie meat treats for my dogs. It is best to ask your veterinarian before feeding a lot of treats. Save the high-value treats for when you really need them, such as training with distractions outdoors.
4. Clickers And Whistles
Clickers: If you were to ask me to choose only one training aid, a clicker would be it! It is simply a noisemaker that creates a clicking sound. The clicking sound is used as an event marker. It marks the moment that your puppy is doing the right thing and earned a reward. This is an incredibly fast way to train a puppy. They usually pick it up by the fourth or fifth click followed by a treat. Clickers can be old-fashioned party favors, box style and all kinds of fancy ones with push buttons.
Whistles: Some people prefer using a whistle to using a clicker. The concept is exactly the same. A short whistle marks the moment when your puppy is doing the right thing. I prefer to use a whistle as an alternative cue to “come.” By conditioning my puppies that every time they hear the whistle they get fed, it becomes a great aid when training a dog to work off leash. At a distance, they will still hear a whistle when they can no longer hear a voice.
5. Books And Videos
The dog-training world is completely unregulated. Anyone can claim to be a professional trainer with little to no training. In our world of social media it is easy for anyone to put out a book or video. So how can you find the right ones?
Some excellent materials are out there by veterinarians and PhDs who specialize in behavior. When choosing materials created by a trainer, look for a certification or evidence of continuing education. Look for those books or videos that focus on educating your puppy to perform wanted behaviors instead of focusing on punishing unwanted behavior.
Choose the books and videos that you are most comfortable with. I had a prospective client call after using a certain training video. After using the methods in the video, their puppy was running and hiding from them. They knew that they could not continue with those methods. If you are not comfortable with what you read or see, move on to another book or video. You know your puppy better than anyone!
6. Housebreaking Aids
Bells: These are, by far, my favorite potty training aid! By teaching our puppies to ring a bell on the door to go outside, we give them a clear signal to use when they have to go potty. This can be a simple bell purchased at a craft store, hung on a piece of twine, or elaborate, ornate ones purchased at a specialty shop.
Puppy Pads: These are soft, absorbent throwaway pads that can be very useful inside the crate or pen of a young puppy. I recommend weaning your pet off of puppy pads as soon as possible. Why? Because pads are soft and similar in texture to towels and throw rugs, a lot of puppies will start peeing on these as well if used for a long period of time.
Potty Spots: For anyone who needs to train a puppy to go potty on a specific spot in the home, I highly recommend these boxes with artificial grass instead of puppy pads. The texture is unlike anything else you have in your home and can be used on porches, balconies and even in laundry rooms. You simply start using these as if you were taking your puppy outside. When you know they have to potty, simply place them on the spot until they go and then follow immediately with a reward.
7. Crates, Gates And Pens
Crates: These enclosures come in all sorts of shapes, sizes and construction. Crates are great for helping with the potty training process and to keep puppies out of trouble when you can’t keep an eye on them. A crate should be just big enough for your puppy to stand up, turn around and lay down. If your puppy is going to grow much larger in a short period of time, look for crates that also include a crate divider. These are used to cut the crate down to a smaller size to fit your puppy’s current needs, but can be removed as your puppy grows.
Gates: These barriers also come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and construction. Some are put in place simply using pressure. Others have to be installed in a doorway. Choose one that is tall enough that your puppy can’t climb or jump over it. Gates are a great way of keeping your puppy out of trouble or from going to the bathroom in other parts of the house. They can also be used to turn a puppy-proofed bathroom or laundry room into a place where your puppy can play unattended.
Exercise Pens: Sometimes called X-pens, these are self-contained, portable fences that can be used both indoors and out. These are especially useful for people with open floor plans that make using gates impossible. Exercise pens usually are constructed of plastic or metal and fold up flat when you are not using them. Just as with the gates, choose a height that your puppy can’t climb or jump over.
8. Calming Aids
Coats and wraps: There are several popular ones on the market. Most look like some kind of jacket or rash guard for dogs. They work by applying slight pressure over the dog’s entire chest area. This pressure has a calming effect for many dogs. They can be used in any stressful situation that may cause your puppy or young dog to be anxious, such as thunderstorms, new places or trips to the vet.
Pheromones: These are nothing more than fragrances that can influence behavior. Commercial dog pheromones mimic the feel-good scents that a mother dog excretes when she is nursing her puppies. These products are usually wall plug-ins, sprays or collars that can help calm a dog who is anxious or under a lot of stress.
Music: You can purchase music that has been scientifically rearranged in the tones and tempos that are soothing to dogs. Available as CDs or electronic downloads, this music works great in conjunction with the other calming aids.
Supplements: Many are on the market. I believe the most effective ones can be found at your vet’s office. Ask your vet for recommendations.
9. Anti-Bark Aids
Most puppies bark because they want attention, are hungry or are overstimulated. I believe it is far more effective to train your puppy or young dog to be quiet than to resort to the many anti-bark devices sold on the market.
10. Chewing Deterrents
These products are designed to spray on areas or objects that your puppy likes to chew. They can be effective if you reapply every couple of days. If you plan to use these on furniture, make sure to test first to check if the finish might be harmed. Some puppies actually like the taste of these products. Never spray any of these directly on your puppy or in his mouth. It can be very irritating.
11. Food Puzzle Toys
These run the gamut from puzzles with moving parts that your puppy needs to move or remove to get a treat to objects that can hold an entire meal of dry food, that have to be manipulated in order for your puppy to eat his meal. These are great for providing mental stimulation and entertainment for both you and your dog.
I put these last only because although we can train without them they can take training to a whole new level!
Remote Controlled Treat Dispensers: These are gadgets that can dispense a treat to your dog while you are at a distance. These are especially great for working with dogs to stay on a mat or bed when the door rings. The device is put next to dog’s bed and, as you go to answer the door, you can continue to treat your dog for maintaining his position while you open the door and your guests walk in. They are also great for crate training and rewarding dogs for being quiet. There are now several in the works with cameras so that you can see what your dog is doing and then reward him while away from home.
Cameras: Although many cameras were not created with dog training in mind, I have had clients utilize various remote cameras in working with separation anxiety and with distance work. In the case of separation anxiety, we teach the dog that laying down calmly is the only way for his family to return. By using the camera, his people see that he is laying down and immediately return.
Now that you have an idea of what is available and what might work best for you and your puppy, you can confidently purchase dog-training aids that will help you reach your goal of a well-mannered puppy companion.