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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Think outside the Catalog! Cheap-o training tools that do more


I took a photo of these training tools--  a rubber feed pan, a traffic cone and a bath mat--- to demonstrate that you do not need to break the bank on gimmicky training aids to get the job done.  It seems at each seminar, an instructor hawks items that you must have if you ever hope to reach the pinnacle of success he/she has achieved.  Or they have a crew building stanchions and boards and all manner of wood work. 

So what can you really accomplish with this random trip to Fleet Farm? Lets begin our cheap-o tour of tools with the rubber feed dish.  They come in varying sizes, depending on how big your dog is.  It needs to be large enough that the dog can comfortably place his/her front feet on the dish (notwithstanding that I did start to teach Chica to place her rear feet on perch as well).  Some people call this a "perch".  The dog learns hind-end awareness and movement on the perch. You can teach movement to heel position, and centering to front.  Placed on either side of the jump, it can be used to create muscle memory in the distance and work on the technical skill of jumping before adding the retrieve.  It can be used as a target on the send-away.  The dog can be taught to "hit the mark" as you toss food behind it and it returns to the perch and stabilizes.

The bath mat is just a simple thing to teach a dog to go to a "place."  I use it often with pet dog training.  Giving the dog a place to be instead of mugging the door, or dinner table, is helpful. When I flew with my Search and Rescue dog, I would always carry a rolled up mat or bed with my pack.  While waiting at airports, I would unroll the bed and Jinx knew that was her place to rest.  On the plane, I placed it at my feet.  The mat can help make boundaries clear for the dog.  Visually, if they stray from that place it is very clear, and different from the grass or floor.  If I need to make it more clear by elevating, I can place the mat on a board or even a folded crate. In practicing a long down it can be helpful to make it clear to the dog that no creeping is allowed.

And the cone?  Some years ago I noticed that a well known competitor carried with him a small, collapsible traffic cone.  He used it as a send-away target in practice and said it was something he could carry with him to any new field. That is a good idea, having something that the dog is familiar with from place to place.  I recently saw the traffic cone (a taller one) used to teach the dog to run blinds.  It started as the dog being rewarded to touch the cone, and then to move around it, teaching a tight search.  I have used the cones to mark a lane between the blind and the distance I will allow the dog from it, to teach them to run tightly, and idea that was adopted by another trainer.  None of these ideas are secrets.

Actually, you will find that Fleet Farm is an incredible resource. Need a tab? Spend $5 on a thin, puppy leash and cut it to the length you need.  Yes, they come in pink! Although they don't sell fur-saver collars, you will find other training collars about 1/3- 1/2 price in comparison.  Puppy carriers... only $25.  If are a 1970's holdover and still know how to macram√©, buy para-cord there and make your own leashes and collars. Need a flirt pole to attach a piece of leather, for working puppies?  Try a lunge whip in the equestrian department.

 I know there are people who prefer to talk about how much money they spent building or buying the latest gadget-- and Lord knows, I own many of them myself!-- but there are enough things to spend money on in this sport, so if you can save a little here and there and use these common items to make good training, it might be worth trying.  Think outside the catalog box.