I love my dogs. Rocky and Apollo (obvious Rocky movie references) have been a part of our lives for some time, and despite their rambunctious attitudes and tendency to steal things from the coffee table, they’re a couple of lovable mutts I couldn’t imagine my life without.
Training them has been a challenge. We’re still struggling with backpedaling such as reversed potty training and the emergence of a few bad habits after my wife started her new job. It’s part of being a dog owner. You can’t just train a dog once and expect that it behaves exactly how you want for the rest of its days.
Being a technology-forward family, it’s only natural that we turned to gadgets to aid us in the act of training our canines. We’ve had a few successes, and quite a few failures. Some technology we’ll never try because it’s simply too cruel to use on a tiny (or any) dog. It’s easy to become confused (and broke) buying the wrong things for your dog. We’ve invested in almost a dozen different leashes and collars in hopes that our hard-headed (and unusually strong) dog would stop pulling at the leash in excitement as he heads out the door. Likewise, we’ve tried everything from training pads to fake grass to house-train our Italian greyhound / chihuahua mix, to no avail.
In reality, it comes down to what you do with the tools more than the tools themselves. You could spend a fortune on gizmos and still have a poorly trained dog.
Tools That Worked
We’ve had a lot of success using certain tools for training. I’m a fan of positive reinforcement, so any tool that accommodates this training method has been a worthwhile investment for me. Treat dispensers, clickers, and even soothing sprays to fight nervousness generally work fairly well if used properly.
A clicker, for example, is a simple piece of metal in a plastic box that makes a loud clicking sound when you press on it. This sound can be tied to receiving a treat in a relatively short period of time. All you really need to do is spend some time doing simple tricks with your dog and rewarding them when it does them properly. As you reward the dog, using the clicker makes that sound becomes associated with rewards. This translates to positive reinforcement while out and about.
I love retractable leashes because they can be locked close to you for walking and released for play. This enables you to maintain control of your dog’s distance. I don’t use it for potty walks because our apartment complex is full of loose dogs off leash (though it’s not allowed) that do crazy things like pick fights. However, if you’re taking your dog to the park and want to allow them the freedom to roam around while you kick back, a good, long, retractable leash can be a great thing.
Unlike electric collars, the scat mat sits on your floor or furniture and releases a very small zap when a dog passes it. Before leaving it alone, we always test the mat with our hands to make sure that it is working and non-painful. To a dog, it’s a quick reminder not to hop up on the couch or attempt to hop a gate. You can even place it in a doorway to train it that a room is off limits.
Tools That Didn’t Work
Apollo, our Italian greyhound mix, is a difficult dog to potty train. We rescued him around the age of five with no indication that anyone had trained him during his life. He was skittish around people and afraid to accept a treat when we got him. We attempted to use a few products to help facilitate paper training, which would later evolve into proper potty training. Unfortunately, these tools didn’t work very well.
This As Seen on TV special was a big waste of time and effort for us. Not only is our dog scared of it, but the one time we did manage to get him to do his business there, he lifted his leg and sprayed the wall. It’s not that the concept itself is terrible; it’s the execution that didn’t work very well. We even purchased a pheromone spray with the idea in mind of making this fake grass a bit more appealing to him. Sadly, it never worked. To this day he will not walk into the room if he sees the potty patch.
Potty Training Pads
Made out of a diaper material, these little squares are supposed to attract your dog and encourage them to do their business on it. The downside is that dogs have poor aim and often hit the edge of it. The attractive scent did its job getting my dog there, but he rarely came anywhere close to hitting it.
Tools That We’ll Never Use
There are some tools out there that we’ll never use on our dogs. It isn’t because they don’t work, but because there are often much easier (and cheaper) methods of getting your dog to do what you want it to do. I much prefer the dominance-based training approach to using things like electronic shock collars and invisible fences to do the same.
These collars are usually used with big, muscular dogs such as pit bulls and rottweilers. The collar itself has a series of metal prongs that pinch the dog if it pulls too hard on the collar. The downside is that a shift in position can result in those prongs stabbing the dog in the neck. Just doing a Google image search of pinch collars can bring up photos of what happens when these collars are inappropriately used.
As with any training collar, it should never be used full-time. Choke collars are also potentially dangerous tools when used outside of a controlled training setting.
Electric collars are often used to control aggressive or overly anxious dog activity. I’m not a fan of them because the shock (and the prongs) used on these are far more powerful than most people realize. Just zap yourself with one of these collars and you’ll see why. They hurt, and even a well-behaved dog has to deal with uncomfortable prongs sticking into its neck.
What about you? What gadgets or gizmos have you used with your dog(s) in training? Have you found something that really worked for you?