The multi-billion-dollar pet industry has no shortage of gadgets, toys, and educational resources dedicated to dog training and activities. Read below or click here to check out my petguide.com article listing some of my top picks, ranging from $2 to over $200!
1. Clicker training kit
Coming in at around $2, a clicker makes an excellent stocking stuffer. A clicker is a tiny tool that fits in your hand, and when you push a button, it makes a “click” sound. Clickers are a fun way to teach your dog all sorts of behaviors or tricks. For example, put a post-it on the floor and click every time your dog happens to approach or touch it with his paw; soon he’ll figure out the “touch” game, and you can put the post-it on walls or other surfaces for him to touch. For a dog owner new to clicker training, Karen Pryor’s Clicker Training Kit for Dogs is the way to go.
2. Treat and Train
Essentially an elaborate click-and-treat device (at about $110), there is the PetSafe Treat & Train Remote Reward Dog Trainer. This device is filled with treats or dry food, which is then dispensed using a remote control that you use either manually or set on a timer. Dogs can learn to stay on a mat while you eat dinner or answer the door, play targeting games to burn energy, and build other good manners with this device. Click here to see how I use it with Batman and Beans for rainy-day fun.
Puppod is a high-tech interactive game that engages your dog in brain games that increase in difficulty as your dog progresses. The game includes a special Kong Wobbler that gives your dog sound and light cues, and a bluetooth treat dispenser that automatically rewards your dog when he’s solved the puzzle. The treat dispenser allows your dog to play the game while he’s home alone, or if you’re home, you can skip the dispenser and give him the treat yourself. The toy includes a mobile app to help you participate and track your dog’s progress. Though pricey ($179USD for Puppod and $299USD for the Pet Tutor treat dispenser), if your dog is destroying your house due to pent-up energy or mild separation issues, it is far cheaper than a new couch or oriental rug.
4. Magazine subscription
Sometimes an old-fashioned magazine subscription is the most rewarding gift. My personal favorite is Whole Dog Journal, a monthly magazine that puts quality over quantity, covering dog training, behavior, health, and more. Because the magazine doesn’t have advertisers, you know it’s the real deal. You'll also have access to back issues online.
5. Treat bag
Stop fussing with plastic bags or pockets full of stinky treats. Treat bags (or bait bags) make rewarding your dog faster and easier, and there are quite a few on the market. The Whole Dog Journal’s top choice, and mine as well, is the OllyDog Treat Bag Pro. The $25 price tag is steep but it's one of the best bags on the market, with a solid clip and belt, a magnetic clip to keep the bag closed, and extra pouches for your personal items.
6. Exercise equipment
Both athletic dogs and couch potatoes can benefit from various kinds of at-home sports equipment to keep their minds and bodies active. Fitbone is one product (at $70) that doesn’t take up much space. Fitbone is an inflatable balance platform that moves somewhat when your dog puts his paws on it. It provides instability training to strengthen the core, reduce stress, burn excess calories, and give you one-on-one time with your dog.
7. Training classes
For the dog lover who enjoys learning, positive-reinforcement-based dog training schools like Brooklyn Dog Training Center offer gift cards. You may also consider an online course, such as those offered by Fenzi Dog Sports Academy or Scent Work University. You'll find online classes in both obedience and sport areas; students follow a syllabus and submit written and video recorded materials online, to which the instructor responds.
Kate Naito, CPDT-KA, MS, is an accomplished author and dog trainer with Doggie Academy in Brooklyn, NY. Her books, articles, and videos cover everything from house-training to leash aggression.