THERAPY DOG TRAINING EQUIPMENT
"All animals must wear a collar or harness and be leashed while on the evaluation grounds. The leashes and collars or harnesses used by teams when visiting must be safe and humane for the animal, and also safe for the handler and the people being visited. The type of equipment your animal uses to test is the same equipment they must wear when visiting." - Pet Partners Student Manual
While we are here to help our candidates succeed, all Pet Partners are responsible for knowing what equipment is acceptable as well as for proper fitting and proper use of acceptable equipment. (certainly NO choke, prong or E-Collars are allowed while testing or while performing any Pet Partner activity & we strongly discourage their use for training purposes, please see our Angel Paws Dog Training Position Statement, What Kind of Training Does My Dog Need to be a Therapy Dog?, Why No Choke, Prong or E-Collars and related links for more information) Although Pet Partners does offer a variety of acceptable equipment (listed below) for use during the Pet Partners Skills & Aptitude Test and while on visits professional opinions of various equipment vary widely and there are several important considerations to be mindful of when choosing your equipment for Animal Assisted Activities & Therapy purposes especially. World renowned dog trainer/behaviorist/author Turid Rugaas offers this important caution about equipment; “The most simple equipment is always the best. The more equipment you try to use when training the easier it is for things to go wrong.”
Please keep in mind that you will be required to use whatever equipment you test in until you (if you choose to) re-test and pass the test without it. This is often more challenging than many candidates think. Your Pet Partners liability insurance is only valid as long as you are abiding by ALL Policies & Procedures including required equipment so there are no exceptions to this policy. Please carefully consider this policy as it applies to on-going visits with a variety of people while deciding what equipment to use. A Head Halter (shown below left) for instance will require frequent explanations that it is not a muzzle. Many assume it is a muzzle without asking so Pet Partners using Head Halters must be prepared to explain the Head Halter to everyone even if they don't ask. The extra straps on the Freedom Harness (shown below right) can sometimes be a lot to handle along with required visiting kits, antiseptic hand gel, visiting cards, furniture adjustments etc. so for Animal Assisted Activities & Therapy purposes the Freedom Harness may not be the best solution either. NO equipment should replace training with a professional! We want our dogs to respond to US (verbal/visual cues) rather than to our equipment. Any training equipment can be aversive if used incorrectly so it's important to work with a professional with the goal of teaching your dog to respond to you without the equipment as soon as possible.
Equipment is a personal choice and all equipment on Pet Partner's list below is acceptable for testing and visiting but if you think you may only use specific equipment while on visits please also consider the possibility that if your dog is not accustomed to wearing a particular piece of equipment only worn on visits they may learn to associate the visit with discomfort &/or confusion. This is something we definitely want to avoid! We handlers need to be comfortable in our important role with the equipment we choose as well so that we're not feeling challenged or uncomfortable when we have to use &/or explain less familiar equipment for visits either. For these and other reasons related to our goal of inspiring confidence in the people we visit we encourage you to choose carefully when considering equipment and not fall into the trap of using equipment as a short cut or substitute for training. For these and other reasons it is highly recommended that you train in the same equipment you plan to use in your test and subsequent Pet Partners activities. It is also important that you practice controlled socialization in the same equipment you train in so your dog will not associate the equipment with lack of social interaction but be sure to take it off for free play so they don't associate it with a free for all either. Please also see Socialization, Leadership and our Angel Paws Dog Training Position Statement
Therapy Dogs must respond to their handlers rather than their equipment - be a Communicator not a Puppeteer!
Benefits of the Front Clip Harness over other options
"Tools facilitate teaching, as long as there is teaching present. As a society we tend to rely on tools to get things done. But could you imagine if you bought a hammer and just threw it across the room at a box of nails? You wouldn’t exactly be a skilled carpenter."
The simplicity of a front clip harness (shown above left & video to the left) or another front clip harness rather than either the Head Halter (shown below left) or the "Freedom Harness" (shown below with extra straps) is recommended for many reasons if you really need special equipment but the choice is ultimately your own. If a "Freedom Harness" is used please learn to use it with only 1 leash attached as more than 1 leash while on early visits especially is more cumbersome to handle than most beginners are ready for as you will be handling a lot of other things while on visits in addition to your dog. And, as always, we want our dogs responding to us and to our clients rather than to their equipment so whatever equipment you choose please remember to use it as a temporary management/training tool rather than as a permanent or long term means of control. Explanations, photos and videos of various equipment can easily be found with a simple Google search. Regardless of the equipment you use it is important to seek professional help to assure it's proper fitting and use.
*** NOTE: Although the caution in this video about a plain collar is probably a little extreme for most dogs we have included it here ONLY because it makes several excellent points in favor of the front clip harness as preferred training equipment over the Head Halter - feel free to disregard the plain collar caution for our purposes as we believe this caution is more relative for certain dogs with specific habits and handlers who are using their equipment as a substitute for training. It's a valid caution - as ANY equipment can be aversive if used inappropriately.
As always, it is important to seek professional help while training your dog. Please see our page on Recommended Trainers and keep this information in mind when discussing, choosing & fitting your equipment.
The brush you use for your evaluation and therapy team visits does not have to be the same brush that you use to routinely groom your animal. Your visiting brush should have soft bristles and a plastic handle to reduce the chance of unintentional injury to both your animal and the client. Wire bristle brushes and combs with metallic teeth aren't considered acceptable.
If your animal needs a special piece of equipment to accomodate a disability, that equipment will need to be pre-approved. You or your evaluator may contact firstname.lastname@example.org to request a review of additional equipment.
Although the Freedom Harness is allowed Angel Paws does not recommend using the extra leash for basic training use or during general Animal Assisted Activities & Therapy visits due to the fact that the extra straps can be quite cumbersome to manage on top of visiting kits, calling cards, anti-septic hand gel, furniture adjustments etc. The simplicity of the front clip harness (shown top left) or attaching only one leash in the front of the Freedom Harness is preferred over using both leashes on the back of the "Freedom Harnesses" or Head Halters (above left) for handlers requiring special equipment. However, in experienced hands this harness can be very effective particularly when working with clients who benefit from holding the leash while walking the dog with the handler who must also always have control of a leash connected to the dog. As always, it is important to seek professional help to assure proper fit and usage of any special equipment you may choose and to not substitute equipment for training. It is important that our dogs willingly respond to our verbal/visual cues rather than to their equipment as a means of physical control.
IMPORTANT NOTE: The "sound" referred to in this video is NOT to be confused with the use of a clicker or verbal marker but rather as a verbal or auditory CUE. Clickers (&/or verbal markers) should NEVER be used as a recall prior to a desired behavior ONLY as a precursor to a reward immediately FOLLOWING a desired behavior. For more complete information on the technique only partially described in this video see Turid Rugaas' book "My Dog Pulls. What Do I Do?" and other excellent training books available at http://www.canis.no/rugaas/books.php As always, it is important to seek professional help to assure proper use of any technique.
Teaching Your Dog to Walk Politely on a Loose Leash, Parts 1 & 2
While this process may seem simplistic, if practiced consistently with lot's of repetition, rewarding often for desired behavior, this is exactly what will yield the required results of a relaxed, willing reliable response to a verbal cue. Remember the 3 D's - Distance, Distraction, Duration. If your dog is succeeding consistently, increase the 3 D's SLOWLY, in small increments. If you dog is not succeeding, decrease the 3 D's until you are able to reward less often for desired behavior. As always, it's best to seek professional help!