Creating Context with Equipment
I have a lot of dog gear. Not a huge amount of collars, all my dogs only have a tag collar and a regular martingale and Anubi has a specific collar for Service Dog work. But a wide variety of gear that helps them define the contexts of their lives.
For walks that require manners and for both rally and obedience, I use martingale collars (these tighten a limited amount to make it impossible for a dog to slip their collar, they're used often with sighthounds). These martingales are comfortable, they're a 1.5" thick so they distribute pressure across the trachea in case my dogs forget their manners and do pull. I generally use 6' leashes with these collars for times when I do want to allow my dogs some freedom to sniff and roam, but I have shorter 4' leashes when it really is just a structured walk and I want less leash to manage.
Specifically for Anubi, he has working gear that indicates exactly when he needs to be attentive, in a sharp heel, and maintain a calm demeanor. Some of the time that's his Service Dog gear. For him that's a harness/vest and usually a fleece sweater (to somewhat cover his innate thinness) and my fancy collar. A lot of the time when he's off duty, I let him sniff and wander while on less (as long as he doesn't pull). This setup tells him to switch modes and he's on duty until the gear comes off. I'll also pull his fancy collar out whenever he is doing neutral or demo dog work with me - a simple and effective way to tell him what I need from him with minimal effort on my part.
If I put a slip lead on my dogs, they know it's just a brief walk. Either inside to a class or around the block. It tends to be the equipment that elicits the least excitement from my dogs. Now, pull out their e-collars in combination with their slip leads and they know we're going to be going hiking somewhere off leash. That tends to be the most excited you'll see my dogs. I use slip leads so I can quickly leash my dogs in case we need to pass someone and the e-collars are for backup in case we need it for recall.
For tracking, scentwork, canicross, and joring my dogs have a half-harness/distance harness. All of these are activities that are ones where I want my dog pulling into their harness. You see, harnesses with a back clip harness feel comfortable for a dog to pull into. This is why so many dogs have a harder time learning to walk on leash when their primary equipment is a back clip harness - owners must overcome the pleasant feeling pulling into the harness elicits in the dog. But for scentwork and tracking, I want my dogs excited, I want them pulling me forward with zero discomfort, eager to play the game. And for joring I need a harness that is both comfortable and safe to pull into. Using equipment that naturally encourages those behaviors while simultaneously keeping the dog safe is important.
Another change in equipment with which ever show dog is familiar: the show lead and show collar. In conformation, seeing the clean lines of a dog's neck is important - it speaks to head set, neck proportions, carriage and more. Thus, show dogs are shown on thin show collars (often a slip chains) with matching thin leads. The first time Anubi shoved his face into his show collar I got so excited because my Azawakh have taken a long time to warm up to showing, so this was a turning point where Anubi both recognized what his show collar was and wanted to participate. My dogs know that while they have that equipment on their trot, they don't walk. The stand still when asked. They don't pull into the lead. And a stranger is going to touch them. I keep their show gear on them a short a time as possible to help them understand the context exactly. And I'm not the only one. When I was at Royal Canin in Orlando an Azawakh friend did the exact same thing as me: coat and martingale on while relaxing ringside, show gear on and it's go time. The dogs both understood the exact expectations put upon them. And woe is me if I forget to bring their martingales to a show and we have to stand ringside a long time, because my dogs have pretty much no idea how to exist on a show lead outside of a ring setting.
The more I delve into the importance of gear, the more I realize how much I rely on it. For flyball and agility, both venues where I need to take leashes on and off quickly, I have a french martingale collar (a martingale/leash combo essentially) that easily slides off. The least component is made out of fleece in case my dog ever gets so excited by the venue that they want to tug on something, which actually has happened once in a blue moon.
My dogs, of course, have special equipment for when they are running lure coursing and racing. For both lure coursing and racing, the dogs wear colored (and for racing, numbered) racing jackets so judges can easily keep track of which dog is which. For lure coursing, where dogs have to run without collars, they also make specific lure coursing slip leads that allow dogs to be released to run after the lure cleanly and easily. In the
picture, these coursing slip leads are configured so I can walk the dogs to the line without the collars slipping free, but when they are getting ready to run, I change the configuration. In the top picture you can see the lure coursing colors: yellow, pink, and blue. In the bottom pictures you can sorta see the red #1, blue #2, and white #3 along with their racing muzzles. If I pull out their muzzles, my dogs throw a party because more often than not that means they're racing soon.
In Open Field Coursing, the gear needed is a little bit different. The dogs are still blanketed so the judge can easily spot them, but out in the wild open area where dogs can run after jack rabbits for miles, being able to find your dog after their either catch the jack rabbit or it goes to ground is paramount. So a really good GPS tracking collar (the home pet models don't cut it in that type of area) becomes really important. And a specialized slip lead that can be triggered quickly, with one hand is important so you can slip your dog quickly. Regular coursing slip leads just don't cut it because you could flush a rabbit at any moment you just don't have time to mess with setting them up. Both pieces of equipment in that picture are borrowed since both are specialized and spendy, but I intend to invest in my own this year.
Some gear that is important for dogs in training is any type of training tool that aides in a dog learning how to walk on a loose leash. Now, dogs can be taught how to heel on a flat collar. Or even off leash. But for many people, who don't have the training expertise and knowledge on how to go about training a heel/loose leash walking, training equipment can be so very important. In the picture, Ami is about 4 months old, though I largely trained her on a martingale collar, in this case we were working on some loose leash walking skills and a front clip harness can be a useful to redirect the dog back toward you (straight front harness like she's wearing can restrict and cause damage to a dog's natural gait, which is something to be aware of, especially if you have a dog who pulls despite the front-clip harness, but all the same, they can be useful tools). Additionally, in the shadows you can see I have a long line (30' leash essentially) coiled up. In this case I was also borrowing the harness from work so that when I was practicing recall, if she hit the end of the long line she was not applying that abrupt pressure straight to the trachea.
In this next picture you can see Ash wearing a plastic prong collar. Prong collars are extremely polarizing pieces of equipment and that's a post in and of itself. But they are the quintessential "training collar" when people talk about training equipment and emotions aside, they are effective for stopping pulling behaviors when they are positioned properly (Ash's collar has slipped a little lower than I'd prefer) and utilized safely. In this particular case, this was actually Ash's first time on any type of prong collar. During Open Field Coursing, you are often walking all day with your dog (I walked 13 miles the very first day I tried it). If you are running multiple dogs, usually someone else is going to need to be holding your dogs' leash and it's not fair to that person to allow your dog to pull excitedly in anticipation of jack rabbits, so a prong can be an excellent choice to mitigate the pulling. Though he'd never been on a prong, Ash understood leash pressure already and didn't pull at all for the people walking him (even though he's typically my worst on leash) and he did get out of control when a rabbit was flushed but it wasn't his turn to run.
And equipment isn't just collar and harnesses, it's leashes and clothing and muzzles and more. I've touched some on leashes and muzzles already. But because we live in the very temperate and often rainy Pacific Northwest, my dogs have a fair repertoire of clothes. It's chilly inside (I like my place on the cooler end of things) and I'm just going to be hanging with the dogs all day? Break out the pajamas? It's a brisk autumn day, great a single layer fleece vest or double layer fleece coat works great? It pouring and freezing on the beach in the middle of winter? Heavy jacket weather it is. It's not cold, but it is rainy? Rain jackets for anyone. I'm running their cooling coats under some cold water? Guess it's going to be a hot day. Just like if my husband tosses me my heavy ski coat, I understand that it's quite cold outside, when I pull out specific clothing items, my dogs know what to expect.
I hope what you take out of this is that I'm lazy. I hate having to get my dog to heel on a back-clip harness. I hate having to build drive and excitement on a slip lead (or worse, a show collar). Can it be done, regardless of the equipment? Yes, but it's a lot of work. This is why when clients sometimes say: sometimes I just want to let my dog wander and sniff and I don't care about heeling, I reply that the easiest way to set that up is to have a piece of equipment for sniff walks. No confusion on the dog's part that way and no frustration on yours.