raining a puppy or an adult dog can be easy if you know the basics and if you are equipped with the right tools for the job. Anyone who has ever done any DIY knows that using the wrong tool is a sure way to botch a job, hurt yourself, and damage whatever you're trying to fix. The same principle applies to dog training equipment.
In my experience, the 3 most important criteria for choosing a dog training tool are safety, durability, and simplicity. I learned the hard way about durability. With Roxanne, my 9-month-old female Malinois, a $20 ball on a string lasted just under 45 minutes, and a flimsy plastic climb bed was chewed to bits within a few days after purchase.
Fearful or over-excited dogs quickly learn to back out of their buckle collars and escape; badly fitted muzzles come off and people get badly bitten; cheap leashes break; beds are chewed, and toys are destroyed faster than you can say "fetch". With experience, you learn that quality and safety are worth paying for.
Leashes and collars
You may want to consult our detailed article on dog leashes and collars, but I will summarize what I recommend for most training situations.
Martingale collars are also called no-slip collars because dogs are less likely to back out of them compared to flat buckle collars. If a martingale collar is well-sized and adjusted, it offers comfortable security without the risk of choking your dog. It is very effective for leash training and can be used for dogs of all sizes.
Choose a wide collar (at least 1", the wider the better) that protects the trachea, with a nylon loop instead of a metal chain, and avoid martingales fitted with a plastic quick-release closure that can potentially break. Martingale collars should be used with a well-stitched 6ft or 4ft flat nylon leash, or a more durable leather leash with a chrome or brass clip. Don't let your dog chew or play with the leash. As a backup collar, or when the dog is indoors, I also use a flat buckle collar.
Martingale collars must be properly fitted to be safe. You must measure your dog's neck around the base of the skull, just behind the ears. This measurement is the same as the martingale collar when it’s fully tightened or closed. A collar should be snug, not tight.
For training more reactive dogs to walk properly on leash, I often use a simple round 4ft nylon slip collar. It is designed as a loop, and fits around the top of the dog’s neck without the need for a collar. A slip collar (also called slip leash) provides better control when you teach leash pressure to dogs that tend to pull. Don't use a slip leash for routine walks, and use the leather safety stopper to prevent the dog from accidently slipping out of the leash.
Long nylon line
When I teach the recall command, or when I just want to release a dog to let him play and explore as a reward after a walk, I use a 30 ft flat nylon line with a brass or chrome snap.
Never use a retractable leash to walk your dog or to let him loose. Retractable leashes have the potential for causing serious injuries to humans and dogs alike.
Harnesses are designed for pulling. If I want a dog to pull during exercise (like rollerblading or running), I sometimes use a simple back-clip harness. The harness must fit properly without being too tight or too loose.
Pulling with a harness can be a positive confidence-building exercise for puppies. Back-clip harnesses are also commonly used with working dogs or for flat-faced breeds like English Bulldogs or Pugs that breathe with difficulty. For any other case, I would not recommend using a harness for walking or leash training a dog, and I strongly advise against using front-clip harnesses that interfere with a dog's natural gait and can cause the dog chronic pain.
If your dog shows fearful, protective, or dominant aggression and has a tendency to bite, muzzles are an important safety accessory for prevention. I recommend using a well-fitted basket muzzle for training and protection, and a simple fabric muzzle when going to the vet, or the groomer. Fabric muzzles should not be used when exercising your dog, as they restrict his ability to pant.
A basket muzzle is a rigid cage typically made of metal or rubber that fits over the dog’s nose and mouth. They may look harsher then soft muzzles, but they are actually safer and more comfortable for dogs, as long as they are properly fitted. Basket muzzles are effective and do not prevent a dog from opening his mouth, drinking, or breathing properly.
A dog must be trained to gradually accept the muzzle, unless you are prepared to struggle with your dog or chase him every time you need to put the muzzle on.
A crate is an essential training tool for house training puppies, and also indispensable when traveling with your dog, or if you need to leave him in the house for a few hours. I only recommend plastic airline type crates, as they are more versatile, more durable, easier to clean, and much easier to carry around. See our article on crate training for more details.
An elevated bed (or climb bed) is one of the most useful and also one of the most underrated dog training tools. I use climb bed indoors and outdoors for obedience training or behavior modification. Beds can teach a dog to be independent when indoors, and can be particularly useful to rehabilitate protective dogs who hurl themselves at the door each time the doorbell rings. I recommended purchasing the more durable steel-framed model with a tough waterproof nylon mesh.
A clicker is a very effective tool for animal training. The use of clickers is based on a classical conditioning technique called marker training. When you timely "mark" a positive behavior with a familiar sound, the dog understands that he has performed well and is conditioned to expect a reward after hearing the marker.
Clickers are the method of choice for training guide dogs.
Most trainers use verbal markers ("yes", "good dog") followed with a food reward. With some dogs you get faster and more reliable results by using a clicker instead or a verbal marker. You should also gradually phase out food rewards as soon as the dog performs reliably.
I typically use 3 types of toys for training adult dogs and puppies. Small bite tugs, balls on a string for toss and retrieve, and flying discs or dog frisbees for the more athletic dogs. With the experience of training working dogs such as Belgian Malinois and German shepherds, I now favor professional quality toys that are more durable and safe. Most of the toys found in pet stores or online will last less than a day with a Malinois, so it's worth spending a bit more for durable accessories.
Play is an important part of training for building a dog's confidence, drive and stamina, whether you work with a puppy or an adult dog. With games, you also develop a strong bond with your dog between training sessions.
Toys should only be used during training and should not be left with your dog when he is alone. Some dogs can become obsessive over their toys or extremely possessive, which can lead to aggressive behaviors. Your dog needs to understand that the toys are a reward and not his possession.
A simple clip-on bait bag is indispensable for reward-based training, unless you want to fill your pockets with dog food and saliva. I prefer simple open pouches that you can clip to your belt. In practice, I use food treats moderately, and only in the initial phase of training. If you learn to depend on food rewards to train dogs, you soon discover that some dogs are not food motivated and that you need to find alternative motivation strategies. Other get greedy and opportunistic and won't obey unless the get a treat.
This recommended list of dog equipment is not exhaustive. The above items are in my experience the ones that are the most effective, and they match my selection criteria for safety, durability, and simplicity.
Dog training accessories should always be chosen with safety in mind. Safety applies to your dog and yourself. I have seen very serious injuries to both dogs and handlers with unsafe equipment such as retractable leashes, muzzles, crates, and even harnesses and toys.