Dog training: Equip yourself for success

Learn more about the basic equipment that’s needed in order to be a successful 4-H dog trainer or handler.

It is important for handlers and trainers to come to class prepared with all the necessary equipment. Having the correct equipment will allow everyone to get the most out of their class and will help to alleviate discouragement. Training with improper equipment can cause boredom, loss of patience, irritation and discomfort for the dog. When a dog is comfortable they are much more likely to learn quickly.

Trainers should encourage handlers to bring water from home, the dog’s water bowl, their prong collar, choke collar, buckle collar, 6-foot leather leash, showmanship lead and basic grooming tools to every practice. An easy way to do this is to have them make a bag specifically for their dog and for dog training. It is important to bring all of their tools in case the schedule for the day’s class changes. Trainers need to remember they are training animals and working with people and therefore need to be very flexible with their class schedule. They need to be willing to change their plan if they see signs of boredom, frustration or disinterest from either the handler or the dog.

A trainer should never run their classes for more than 45 minutes. A longer class may cause the dogs to lose focus. In addition there should be lots of praise and breaks provided within the 45 minutes for both the dogs and the handlers.


Handlers need to have a buckle collar and short leash. Buckle collars should have all tags or lose items removed from them so that they do not pose a safety issue for the dog. Handlers should never use a choke or prong collar for obedience. The short leash should be short enough that it doesn’t get caught in the dog’s legs as they are working through the obstacles. In addition it needs to be short enough so that is doesn’t get caught in the obstacles themselves.

The hander should have a 6-foot leather leash. Leather leashes do not stretch but are pliable enough for a young handler to loop it and hold it in his or her small hand. Nylon leashes can hurt if they are pulled through the hand which may cause the handler to drop the leash. Nylon leashes can also cut the dog if they get hooked under the dog’s leg when pressure is applied.

Handlers also will need a choke collar (chain, leather or braid is ok, but chain is strongly encouraged) for proper obedience training. A choke collar should fit properly in order to get the desired result without injuring your dog. To get the proper size, you should measure the dog’s neck and add two inches. If you have a very large headed dog, you may need to adjust for that.

A prong collar may be encouraged for training purposes or for first year handlers or new dogs. For more information on prong collars please see the Michigan State University Extension news article “Prong collars: Are they useful or do they pose a danger?”

A show lead specifically made for this can be found at local pet stores. 4-H showmanship leads are different than the collars and leads used in conformation shows, and allow the handler to maneuver easily. The showmanship show lead used for 4-H also helps the dog to understand it is working in showmanship because the feel is so different from the choke collar used for obedience.

Suggested equipment for dogs:

  • Leather leash (6 foot long)
  • Choke collar and/or prong collar (for Obedience and Rally)
  • Buckle collar with all tags removed (for Agility)
  • Showmanship lead (for Showmanship)
  • Cloth clothesline with clasp (30 foot long for off leash training or fun time)
  • Two towels (one to wipe dog’s feet; another to wet in hot weather and place on dog to cool)
  • Bowl
  • Water (this should be from a source the dog is used to)
  • Treats (not crumbly or too big – pieces on the floor can cause training problems for everyone)
  • Favorite toys
  • Plastic bags (for waste disposal)
  • Something to lie down on
  • Kennel or X-pen (if necessary)

Suggested equipment and tools needed for handlers:

  • Tennis shoes only – no exceptions
  • Comfortable clothing (no baggy clothes or short skirts)
  • Something to drink
  • Hair tied back
  • Loud voice
  • Excited tone
  • Patience
  • Good attitude
  • Strong attention and focus

Suggested equipment and tools an instructor will bring:

  • Agility equipment
  • Rally signs
  • Cones
  • Any other necessary items to conduct a class
  • Appropriate distractions (ie. toys, balls, noises etc to use during training)
  • Positive attitude
  • Willingness to teach in the toughest conditions

Now that you have a starting point for your class equipment needs, you are ready to move on to setting up your first training class. For more information on how to structure a class or for a set of rules, see the following Michigan State University Extension articles:

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