Dog training professionals and dog owners usually have a few reliable pet supply or dog training supply companies where they know they can find all they need for their dog sport or dog training passion. While there are a plethora of advertisers for vests online, finding many of the “gadgets” people use to facilitate training service dogs requires more creativity. Fortunately, with the convenience of the internet and a certain retailer who really needs no advertising help from me (hint: it’s not a rainforest) it is not that hard to find all you need to train a service dog.
Aside from the usual sources for clickers, treat bags, leashes and harnesses, trainers working with service dogs often need tools to help with training the retrieve. Certainly, obedience competition dumbbells work and that’s what I use at home, however wooden dowels can be purchased at hardware stores and are, in my opinion, just as good. They are cheaper and it’s helpful to have several in different widths as a starting point. While you are at the hardware store, I always seem to find a use for large size carabiners. They can be used to secure tethers to some handles or knobs or organize leashes (what you don’t have a closet full of extra leashes? I guess it’s just me).
Recently I started experimenting with foam tubing, it can be purchased online or at any location that supplies aides for people with arthritis. I have been using it to help dogs learn to pick up small items like pens or metal items. I start with the item in the foam tube as a starting point and then remove the tube. I use canvas bags and fabric lunch bags the same way. Train the dog to carry the bag, then put items in the bag to slowly increase the weight.
Office and toy suppliers may have bells and buttons that can be used to help train a dog to push elevator buttons or accessible doors. Also sometimes simple things like a padded carrying case for a cell phone can allow a dog to help pick up or retrieve the item without damaging it.
Medical supply stores have a wealth of gadgets that can help in dog training. For instance, need a dog to open a door? There are items that convert knob doors to levers (some dogs can be trained to open the lever). Zipper pulls, reachers, velcro can be used in many different situations.
When working with an owner-trainer who has a sensory limitation, look for adaptive tools to help compensate for the limitation. For instance, a light for the doorbell or phone can facilitate training a hearing dog, a bell or light on a collar may help when the person is blind or vision impaired.
Light switch extenders may make it easier/safer for a dog to turn lights on and off, and possibly for the person as well. This is just one more reason why I always recommend getting rehabilitation professionals, like Occupational Therapists in the loop when working on service dog training. They often are aware of tools and aides you and your client may never have thought of.
Any other favorite gadgets or source of training tools that you have found helpful? Feel free to chime in.