Got a new dog in quarantine? You and me both.
I’ve had a couple of adult dogs over the course of my life, but the experience of becoming a new mum to a 6-month-old rescue during quarantine was a totally different ballgame. I had a pretty good idea of certain behaviours that I wanted to train out of my dog at a young age so those didn’t become an issue later on (guarding food or treats, for example). But especially because of the pandemic, my opinions for in-person training were fairly limited. I’d never had a puppy this young before, and she needed to learn both basic obedience and potty training — and fast. I am only one person and there was so much pee that first week, my god.
I know I’m not the only one with a new dog under my roof — adoptions and pet ownership have skyrocketed during the pandemic — and I wanted to share some of what I’ve found to be useful for helping my dog be, as my training program likes to say, “a good family member.” Most of what I’ve listed here are supplies I bought myself, but I did try to call in a few “premium” dog products to review that look a little less like, well, dog toys. (For those of us in tiny spaces, I’ve found that even minimal clutter can start to feel overwhelming when you’re seldom leaving home, and this is something I tried to keep in mind as I was hunting for potential well-designed “dog tech.”) I’ve narrowed it down to the best of what I’ve been able to test over the last four weeks, courtesy of some help from my four-legged co-reviewer Raven.
Without question, the best money I spent on anything for my dog was an online training course from Ontario-based operation McCann Dog Trainers. The program put me out about $530, which was a lot of money for me given all the other stuff I needed as far as supplies and food. But I can’t stress enough that it’s been worth every penny.
The places within walking distance of my home were completely booked or waitlisting because of limited-capacity covid-19 precautions, and I had actually learned about the McCann Method from the group’s YouTube channel and decided to give it a shot. The McCann Method is all about positive reinforcement and giving your dog the tools to make good choices and, most importantly, to want to make those smart decisions. While many of their training videos are available online for free, I ultimately opted for the paid program to help me navigate prioritising Raven’s training when there was so much she had yet to learn.
The nice thing about this program is that while it’s online, it does give you access to weekly group Zoom classes, structured courses, a private member community, and trainers who will answer any specific questions you have by email within roughly 24 hours. That last part was a huge selling point for me as I had many, many questions. I actually originally enrolled in the Puppy Essentials program but was pointed instead to the Life Skills program for adult dogs after speaking with one of the trainers by email (they were very kind and helpful, by the way!).
The program lets you move at your own pace, but I was able to get Raven fully on-command potty trained and leash trained within a week on this program, and she’s getting more confident around other dogs and people by the day. In less than four weeks, she understood commands for “with me” (alternatively, heel), “wait,” “crate,” “stay,” “sit,” “get in” (alternatively, heel and wait), “up,” “lay down,” and “leave it,” among other, sillier tricks I’ve taught her, like how to shake. We’re currently working on bed stay and recall commands for off-leash safety down the line, and she’s doing fantastic.
If a program is outside of your budget — and especially if your dog already has some basic training like leash respect and potty outside down — McCann Dog Training has hundreds of free videos covering specific skills and training techniques on its YouTube channel. These were very helpful for me in the time leading up to my dog’s arrival, particularly around crate training (which in turn later set me up for success with “wait,” “stay,” and “OK” release cues).
Petco also offers a variety of training options both in-person and online. Training courses in person range anywhere from $200 for six-week group classes to $400 for six weeks of private lessons, with other options in between. Online group classes start at $130 for a four-week program and go up to $400 for a six-week online private training plan. I haven’t trained with Petco so I can’t speak specifically to this program, but it may be a good solution for folks who’d like the option to break their training down a bit.
Leashes and Training Accessories
Admittedly, I am Leash Lady now. I have a leash for any occasion. Raven weighs about 11 kg and stands to my knee, so she’s not a very big girl. That makes her difficult to see at night without any street lights, so I have an illuminated leash that I use for longer night walks as a safety precaution. I found one on Amazon ($30) and while it’s nothing fancy, it helps signal especially to bikes to watch out for her.
Then there are my daytime leashes. If you end up going with the McCann dog method, you’ll be asked to have two 1.83 m leashes, two 6.10 m cotton webb leads, a flat buckle collar — these you can pick up at any pet store or at Chewy — and a bait pouch for your training. I did not immediately buy the bait pouch, which I quickly realised was a mistake given the methods used by my training program.
After ordering and returning one bait pouch that didn’t quite work, I ended up sticking with Cosmos, a treat bag from Amazon ($13) that I can sling over my shoulder as a crossbody, which makes grabbing it super easy on my way out the door. This has been one of the best investments I’ve made in Raven’s training because it allows me to quickly reward good behaviour without having to dig around in my pockets, particularly when we’re on walks and around distractions.
Lastly, I was able to call in the Magic Link leash ($85) from Fable Pets, and while it’s not my favourite leash for everyday use and particularly at this point in our training, it’s a fantastic hands-free solution for things like running or hiking (which I plan to do a lot of when my dog is a little older). There are quite a few ways to use it as a leash — lasso-style, fixed collar-and-leash, or slip-on for trainers — but it can also be worn either around your waist or across your chest with enough slack that your dog can freely walk alongside you without any issues. It’s made with an industrial-strength brushed cord with aluminium hardware, and it’s super easy to keep clean. It’s very pricey, though, and functionally similar styles can be found for half that price.
Best Tug and Chew Toys
It would be a failing of this list not to include Kong toys, which come in a variety of shapes and sizes based on your dog’s individual chewing habits. I bought two of the Kong Classic ($9) that I switch out for things like special treats in my puppy’s crate when I’m leaving the house or entertaining her when I can’t give her my full attention. I have my dog on a pretty specific feeding routine that allocates part of her meals for training, so I don’t use the Kong for mealtime. But I understand some dog owners have success with feeding their pups this way as well.
Now, as far as plush toys go, I don’t know what it is about this company, but I’ve now had two different dogs who cherish their Fab Dog plushies over most of their other worldly possessions. My last dog had hers for three years and we would occasionally stitch it up when it was ripped, but it withstood a lot of rough handling and held up really well. Same goes for the one Raven now has, a Floppy Koala ($18). (Though because she’s going through a serious chewing phase, there’s probably no saving this one. RIP.) The Faball squeaky toys are fabulous as well, another of my dog’s favourites and a great motivator for teaching fetch. And for pulling play, my dog adores a rope toy I picked up at Target ($3).
Best Interactive Toys
The Kong really fits this category as well depending on how it’s used. But I found a couple of other interactive toys that aren’t total eyesores and, most importantly, allow for quiet play since many of us are working from home right now. The one my dog loves the most is The Odin by Up Dog Toys ($30). It’s a modular rubber toy that can be stuffed with treats and then slowly dispenses them as your dog knocks it around, and it’s easy on surfaces like hardwood. (Though be aware that it is not a chew toy.) The other is another product from Fable Pets called The Game ($75), which similarly dispenses treats when it’s knocked around by your dog. The Game has multiple difficulty settings, and it’s silicone with a weight in the bottom, which helps keep any noise down. It might be a good solution for pups who have a tendency to inhale their food, too, and it can hold over a cup and a half of kibble.
The last interactive toy is one I also frankly wish I had not bought but must still recommend, and that’s the Wobble Wag Giggle Ball ($22). If you have a high-energy dog, this toy will likely be a delight and especially great if it can be isolated to either outside or another room in your home. Mercifully, my dog did not seem to have any interest in the way it screams, I mean “giggles.” If she had, I would of course have had no choice but to let her indulge in this hell toy to her heart’s content. But as I feel very strongly that the sounds this toy makes could be what you hear before you die, I’ll be donating mine to a friend or local shelter.
Best Dog Bed
I live in a relatively small apartment with limited space for additional furniture. So when I was looking for a dog bed, I wanted something that would look like it belonged in my shoebox-sized living room. I really like the PupRug Faux Fur Orthopaedic Dog Bed from Paw ($185) — which seems to be perennially discounted on the company’s site from its “normal” price of $460 — and my pup loves it as well. I will, however, warn that only the cover of this memory foam bed is machine washable, and that could be a huge problem for a dog prone to marking or accidents. And speaking from experience, the inner shell around the foam pad itself is not waterproof as the company suggests.
The company also makes a large throw that was attractive to me because my couch is a very light grey. With this thrown over my ottoman, my dog can sleep right next to my feet without me having to worry about it getting dirty. Again, this product seems to be regularly “discounted” to $150 from $400. Both the bed and the blanket handle regular washing quite well and look pretty much brand new after repeated cycles through the washer.
If you have also spent a possibly absurd amount of money on your dog throughout the pandemic, let us know what you got — and, better yet, what you recommend — in the comments below.