Welcome to the wonderful world of props! Before you start using props, you’ll want to make sure they are appropriately sized for your dog. In this blog, we’ll discuss different options and sizing, and will also cover how to make or where to buy props!
There are a lot of items that will work as a pivot bowl, and the item doesn’t necessarily need to be round. You want to make sure your dog can stand with both front feet comfortably on the pivot bowl, but you also don’t want the pivot bowl to be super big.
Above Left: This bowl is too small for Excel. See how his feet are squished together?
Above Right: This bowl is a good size for Excel.
My go-to for a pivot bowl is the rubber feeding dishes sold at feed/farm stores. I like them because they are not slippery for the dog. I do have some brands, however, that collapse when a larger dog stands on them. Sometimes I will stack 2-3 bowls together to get a higher platform and to keep the bowls from collapsing.
You can also use plastic dog dishes. You can get some rubber matting or something non-stick and glue that to the bottom to keep the dog from sliding around.
Bricks or even a phone book, duct taped together to prevent sliding, will also work well. Small to medium sized pots will also work.
If you prefer to purchase a pre-made pivot bowl, you can visit this website: http://platformsplus.org/products.html
Sit Platforms need to be correctly sized for your dog or you will lose the ability to teach precision. Most large dogs only need a platform that’s 10 inches wide. There should only be about ½ inch of each side of your dog when he/she is sitting on the platform. You want your platform to be sized correctly for length also, to prevent the dog from sitting farther away from us in front. When your dog is sitting, measure from the front toes to just behind where the tail meets the rear. That should be a good size for your dog.
This size platform is perfect for Excel. He’s unable to sit crooked on it without falling off, and he can’t sit too far back.
The following pictures show a platform that is too large for Excel, but may be useful to teach dogs who are new to platforms.
You can choose to make or purchase your sit platforms. They can be made out of wood, foam insulation, children’s play mats, and more. Here is a great article on how to make your own platforms:
If you’d like to purchase your sit platforms, here are a couple websites.
I recommend that you have TWO sit platforms, one for front and one for heel. There are times when we will want to use both. For some advanced exercises, having two platforms to use in front can be helpful as well.
Full Body Platforms
Full Body Platforms can be made just like the sit boxes except they are longer. They can also be purchased at the links listed under sit boxes.
Be sure your dog can stand comfortably with all four feet on the platform. It’s better to be a bit too long than too short. You want your dog to have enough room to lay down. You’ll see here that my full body platform is a bit wider than my sit platforms. When I’m practicing position changes in heel, I actually put one foot on the platform to give my dog less room to be crooked. However, with positions in front of me, I don’t worry if the dog isn’t perfectly straight, and I find dogs are more comfortable with a bit of extra width. Also, dogs usually stand with their rear legs slightly wider than their front legs.
This is the full body platform that I use for my goldens. You can see that it’s a bit big, but it works nicely for position changes.
If I’m concerned about the dog being straight while doing position changes in heel, I will step on the platform with my left foot.
Front Foot Targets
Front foot targets can be something simple like a short 2×4. If your dog slips on the wood you can glue a thin rubber yoga mat to each side. I also like to take foam children’s play floor and glue 2-3 layers together, and cut that to the size of a 2×4.
Rear Foot Targets
I usually use a sit platform turned sideways. Especially when first teaching, I’m fine with the rear foot target being a little bit bigger. I don’t want it too tall because dogs can struggle with lifting their feet up high enough when they are backing on to it. For this prop, a little bit bigger can be easier for the dog.
These can be super simple, like a cool whip lid or a yogurt lid, or any type of plastic lid. I like to transfer my nose touches to several different types of targets, so having a few that look different than each other can be helpful. I also teach the dog to target a piece of duct tape just like they would a target, so putting a piece on a target can be helpful.
Wire gates are very useful in teaching obedience and rally behaviors. You have a few different options for ordering wire gates. Here is an example of something you can order from Amazon. You would then zip-tie the wire panels together:
You can also purchase them from the Rally FrEe store: https://www.rallyfree.com/products/
PVC Chutes are so useful! I use them for fronts and finishes and preventing creeping forward on positions, but you can use them in so many applications. I make my own, getting 90 degree connectors and making a box. ½ inch PVC works well for my goldens on my foam mats. If you train in grass, or if you think your dog needs a bigger PVC, you can use ¾ inch.
Another option is to lift up your PVC chute slightly. If you’d like to do this, you can get three way connectors. I haven’t found it necessary to lift my PVC chutes but if your dog completely ignores the PVC this might be a good option for you.
Having several versions of the PVC chute is helpful. I start with a rectangular box, but when I start fading props I go down to a 3-sided box with short sides.
Remember that you can always cut props down to be smaller, but making props larger is extremely difficult! Err on the side of too big. For dogs new to props, it’s sometimes helpful to start the dog on a slightly larger prop. Once the dog is comfortable putting all of his/her feet on and sitting on the prop, you can always trim it down or make a smaller one.