(Or, What Stuff Do You Really Need to Train Your Weim?)
Let’s face it, there are a lot of dog products out there. And your Weim doesn’t need all of them. (Even if she tries to tell you that she does, when you visit the pet store.)
But certain products do make life with a Weim easier. So, the question becomes: How do you know which products are essential, and which would be a waste of your hard-earned cash?
Fear not, Weimaraner-owners. When it comes to pet products, I’m a consumer par excellence. I’m also a dog trainer, so all this stuff has been tried and tested by my students’ dogs too.
To include equipment on these lists, I consider it to be 1) worth getting (useful); 2) it doesn’t break, fall apart or get easily destroyed and; 3) it doesn’t cost a million dollars.
But First, A Word About Toys
With an active and intelligent dog like the Weimaraner, you need toys. These are not some optional luxury. They are a necessity. In fact, forget about the word “toys” – which suggests something optional and fun and not essential – and think about “behavioural enrichment” instead.
Most Weims spend a disproportionate amount of their day alone. And we all know they have high energy levels and are intelligent dogs. A lack of outlets for energy and intelligence is a major cause for behavioural problems, in dogs: “You haven’t given me a chew-puzzle to think about. No probs, I’ll just make myself a chew puzzle of this wooden thing which runs around the edge of the room.” Ka-pow: You return to find your skirting boards have been eaten.
Many Weims also suffer from separation anxiety. Weims form intense attachments to their people. This predisposes them to miss those people, when they’re away. There’s a lot you can do with a puppy, to prevent separation anxiety from developing. (I call this alone training.) If you have a young Weim, leaving him with some food puzzles could just be enough to tip the scales in your favor — and food puzzles are hugely useful alongside an alone training programme.
Some “Toy” Suggestions
1) A Kong (or similar). Kong now make loads of different toys, but their original and iconic Kong toy is the weird shaped bulbous thing, with the hole in the end. Wherein you put food. This toy comes in red and black (Extreme), with red being for “normal” chewers and black/Extreme being for power chewers. For most Weims, the black Kongs are the better choice. They will last longer when subjected to hours of chewing.
There are other similar products on the market. Because other companies realised that this idea of ‘rubber-things-with-holes-in’ was a go-er. I especially like the Premier Squirrel Dude toy, if you’re looking for another. But to the dog, they’re all the same because it’s the food inside which counts.
The only reason to get multiple rubber stuffable toys, is because the openings in the different-sized toys mean that the treats you can shove in there can also be different sizes. You have a massive piece of jerky? Stick it in the big one. A small cube-sized dried fish skin treat? Use the medium one. Don’t get toys which are for toy dogs, as they’d be unsafe. But there’s nothing wrong with going up a size.
Think of a Kong like a “dog pacifier”: Licking helps alleviate anxiety, soothing the dog. (A baby sucking a pacifier works the same way). Leave your Weim with a Kong when s/he’s home alone, or crated. I ask all my students to bring a Kong with them to class, so their dog can be licking away at that instead of barking or attempting to reach their neighbour.
Obviously a Kong without food in it is boring. Kong-stuffing is an art-form. The secret is to assess your Weim’s abilities to de-stuff the Kong and to stuff accordingly. No matter what your dog’s level, you always want there to be a few bits which come out relatively easily, providing quick rewards for effort and encouraging your Weim to keep trying. And then a few masterful bits really stuck in there, which keep your Weim occupied for a long time. You might want to check out YouTube for some great Kong-recipes.
In terms of helping with separation anxiety, nothing comes close to the ‘Kong Time’ machine. This machine is no longer available, but I snapped one up when it was! It contains 4 kongs which are dispensed randomly over either 4 or 8 hours. It can be placed high up, out of reach of your Weim. I include it here because I love it so much and wish it were still available – maybe you’ll be inspired to re-invent it!
2) A treat-dispenser. There are lots of different brands of these, too. Check out the Buster Cube and the Kong Wobbler. You put dry kibble in, and the dog figures out how to push it around to get the kibble to come out. Do be warned that this can be quite a loud toy with a Weim. Expect some pouncing and much ricocheting off skirting boards… Probably not for when you’re eating dinner or trying to watch TV, but great when you’re leaving your Weim home alone.
3) Nylabones (or similar). All dogs need to chew, at all stages of their lifecycle. Like licking, chewing is a self-soothing activity. Nylabones are a longer-lasting option than a stuffed Kong. They are less tasty, too, but have the advantage of not needing re-stuffing by you! Nylabones come in a range of different textures to suit every dog, but with a Weim you’re probably going to be looking at the toughest ones for heavy chewers: Try the Durachew range. If your Weim isn’t a fan of Nylabones, try the Durachew ‘Hollow Stick’ which you can squirt peanut butter or cheese string in – that should hold her attention better…
If you have a puppy, you might want to start with a Durachew ‘Hollow Stick’ and see which texture your pup prefers best. Often pups prefer the softer chews to start with, and progress onto the harder ones as they get older.
For those Weims who don’t like Nylabones, there is a similar product made by Sporn. The Sporn Marrowbone is like a Nylabone but has a strip of tasty jerky down the inside of it. This encourages the dog to keep chewing, since it tastes much better — yet it lasts just as long as a Nylabone. My own dogs much prefer Marrowbones to Nylabones, and I only buy Marrowbones now.
4) A rope/fleece tuggy (or a few). This one isn’t going to help with being left home alone, because it involves you! Tuggy is a fantastic game to play with your Weim. They love to tug; it’s good exercise (for them and you!); it’s a bonding activity; you can use it as an alternative reward to treats; it’s great for practising the transition between high drive and self-control; and it teaches your Weim that you’re fun and can be a source of play. In our time-poor world, some vigorous tuggy for 10 minutes can help burn up some energy when you haven’t been able to exercise your Weim as much as you’d like.
Weims are gundogs, and gundogs have soft mouths and don’t like to play tug with hard objects. Soft rope tuggies or fleecy rope tuggies are great and very inexpensive. If your Weim is very destructive with toys, you might need to keep the tuggies out of the way except when you play with them. This will also make them higher-value to your Weim, and more fun as a result.
There are some important rules to teach before you start. One is ‘any contact of hand and teeth, and the game stops for 3 seconds. There are also rules around stopping tuggy when you ask and starting when you say, but those are trickier to explain here. Have a read of Jean Donaldson’s Train Your dog Like a Pro which has a great section on training tuggy.
Tools For Living With a Weim…
5) A front-fastening harness for leash-walking. Walking a Weim on the leash, can be a challenge if you haven’t spent a lot of time training loose-lead walking. Even when you are spending a lot of time doing just that, sometimes you still need to get about without worrying about the training. This is where a front-fastening harness comes in.
It is difficult for a Weim to pull in a front-fastening harness. They will be gently pulled sideways, instead. Your arms will thank you for it.
There are several different brands of front-fastening harness available. There’s the Sense-Ation harness made by Soft-Touch Concepts; the Easy Walk harness made by Gentle Leader; the Freedom harness made by Wiggles, Wags & Whiskers; and the Walk-in-Sync harness made by…Walk-in-Sync.
These harnesses all have slight differences, but the most important thing is that they all attach at the front. A back-fastening harness just won’t give you the same control and, if anything, encourages pulling. (Think of huskies, throwing their weight into their back-fastening harnesses to pull a sled.)
My preference is for the Freedom harness. (If you live in the UK, you can order the Freedom harness from Good for Dogs.) Unlike the other harnesses listed, it doesn’t restrict the dog’s front shoulder movement at all, and so it can safely be left on when the dog is off-lead. It also has a second attachment point on the dog’s back, so if you do need a back-fastening harness (to use with a check cord/long-line – see below), you can use the same harness and don’t need to buy a separate back-fastening one.
Front-fastening harnesses are also great if your Weim is reactive to other dogs, as they enable you to gently steer your dog away from the threat. Attaching the leash to her collar will only heighten tension in the dog, since the dog’s air-supply is cut off when she reacts and pulls against the collar – making it hard for the dog to think, and causing the dog to ‘fight’ even harder against the threat. (Now a combination of the other dog and strangulation!)
A word about head-collars: I’m not a head-collar fan. I see many, many dogs which absolutely hate their head-collars. They try to escape when it is time to put them on. I’ve seen dogs with sores in their mouths from their teeth being pressed into their lips. I see dogs rubbing their faces on their owner’s legs or the floor, in an attempt to get the head-collar off. And I see dogs noticeably perk up and stop looking depressed, when the head collar is removed. It is possible to condition a dog to like a head-collar — but very few pet dog owners know how, or have the patience to do this. So I don’t recommend a head-collar as a routine essential device for a Weim owner.
Instead, I suggest you try a front-fastening harness (see above). However, if you are really struggling — even when using a front-fastening harness — and you still feel you need more control when walking your Weim on lead, then you might need a head-collar.
The type of head-collar I recommend, in that instance, is the Dogmatic. The Dogmatic does not tighten around the dog’s muzzle when the leash goes tight, and is the most comfortable head-collar for the dog. However, Dogmatic is a UK company and, according to their website, they don’t ship to the US. My advice to US Weim owners, is to look for a head-collar which doesn’t tighten when the leash tightens (i.e,. not the Halti or the Gentle Leader).
If you are going to use a head-collar, it’s important that you condition the dog to like it. Here’s Jean Donaldson demonstrating how:
6) A long-line/check cord. This is a very long clip leash, ideally at least 10 metres/30 feet. It finishes in a normal clip attachment and should be attached to a back-fastening harness, not a collar — to prevent a nasty whiplash effect when the dog hits the end of it. (If you use a front-fastening harness, it will pull the dog round towards you and also tend to trail under the dog’s belly instead of off the dog’s back. But it’s not a disaster to use a front-fastening harness if that’s all you have. If you have a Freedom harness, you will have both a back-fastening and front-fastening attachment on the same harness.)
As a reward-based trainer, I use the check cord to remove the dog from whatever he is doing which is causing him to ignore me. I see that the environment is full of rewards for a dog — I call these “environmental rewards.” If I call the dog and he ignores me, I gently pull him away from whatever is more interesting than me: I help him make the right choice to come back to me, for a tasty treat. After all — he can’t reach the other thing any more.
A long-line/check cord enables you to teach reliable recalls, reliable ‘leave’ cues, and to prevent the dog from (for example) running up to an aggressive-looking dog. It also helps condition your dog not to stray far from you on walks: Even when you stop training with the check cord, your Weim will tend to stay closer than if he is used to running to the horizon to check out interesting objects.
To use a long-line/check cord, you should drop it on the floor during your walk and keep the end of it trailing near your feet for easy access. This method is best begun with young puppies. If your dog is a full grown adult Weim with a penchant for running to the horizon, I suggest you hold the line and practise many recalls for tasty treats, and only start to drop it when you see the desire for running off has decreased.
My favourite long-line/check cord is made by Permatack and it is bright orange, so you’ll never lose it. It is water proof and has good grip when wet. Mud falls off it and leaves won’t catch in it.
7) A clicker and a treat pouch! There’s not much to say about these items, but I couldn’t be without them.
8) Some books to help you on the way. My recommendations are:
Click for Joy by Melissa C. Alexander
The Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson
The Other End of the Leash by Patricia B. McConnell
The Puppy Primer by Patricia B.McConnell
Good luck, and get in touch if you have any questions!