Ball Training Devices: A Comprehensive Study by Highland Canine Training

detection dog indicating on box

Ball Training Devices (BTDs) are a fundamental component of detection training. These small machines achieve great results when used correctly by enabling trainers to reinforce specific behaviors, and build those behaviors into a solid indication. BTDs allow reinforcement to come directly from source – a concept which is difficult to achieve without them.

The benefits of using a BTD are numerous. A “freeze and lock” indication (or focus, point or stare) is one of the most practical indications for most types of detection handlers. This type of indication lets a detection dog point directly at the source of target odor, communicating to the handler exactly where the scent is coming from. This helps eliminate handler confusion in determining the exact location of source, and helps ensure that their K9 partner does not get frustrated because they have to wait for their handler to “figure it out” before getting rewarded. With all types of indications, a BTD begins pairing target odor with reward right away, and builds the connection between source and reinforcement in such a way that cannot always be achieved when the reward is consistently coming from the handler.

A functioning BTD can be a game changer for you and your future (or current) K9 partner; however, not all are created equal. At Highland, we pride ourselves on training world-class detection dogs, and we wanted to know which BTD was the best. Through a comprehensive study of several popular BTD models, we were able to determine the strengths and weaknesses of each, alongside which model is truly superior.

Why This Comparison Analysis Matters For You

When building any sort of behavior, timing of reinforcement is critical. If you can’t reward your dog at the moment they are presenting the desired behavior, you can’t make that behavior better. In the beginning stages of indication building, dogs tend to offer a variety of behaviors – only one of which you will want. Typically, they offer these behaviors for only a second or two before trying something different. This is precisely the reason why it is so important to have a quality BTD: the moment you press that button, the reward has to be instantaneously launched from the box.

In order to create a top-notch detection dog, you need to have access to top-notch equipment. Imprinting materials and training aids, environments conducive to skill development and proofing, equipment, training materials and handler education are all critical to the success of handler and dog.

Ball Training Device Comparison Analysis

The following comparison analysis was conducted in an outdoor environment in mild weather conditions. Each model was tested right after another on the same day, with no change in weather or environment. All distance results were recorded on video at maximum capacity, and measured with the same tools. All other active results were recorded through appropriate software and measured accordingly.

The models chosen for this analysis are several of the most popular chosen for detection training in North America, and most readily accessible to detection K9 trainers in 2020. The brands included in this review are:

K-9 Behavior Shaping Device
$674.95

dogtra ball trainer pro

Dogtra Ball Trainer Pro
$429.99

European Ball Training Device

kas bsd

KAS Pump Box
$410.21

In this article, we will cover several of the most important criteria that you will want to know about each ball trainer before making the investment.

Basic Specifications

This category contains most of your standard “need to know” criteria. The dimensions and weight of each model are included, alongside the minimum size box necessary for use, allowing you to know prior to purchase if the device will comfortably fit in your boxes.

It also includes information such as if multiple remote types can be programmed and used with the device and the range in which the remote will still work.

Finally, information specific to trainers such as if any of the materials utilized in each design contain substances commonly found in explosives, and if the machine triggers automatically when dropped from six inches (this is especially useful if you’re training high drive dogs who have a tendency to knock boxes over).

 K-9 BSDDogtra Ball Trainer ProEuropean Style Ball TrainerKAS Pump Box
Range325'500'350'500'
Weight3.4lbs
DimensionsL-6.4in/W-6.4in/H-10.4inL-9.8in/W-4.1in/H-6.8inDiameter-10.4in/4.9inL-7.8in/W-6.2in/H-7.0in
Triggers When Dropped At 6"?YesNoNoYes
Multiple Remotes Standard?YesNoNoNo
Minimum Box Size Needed For UseL-6.4in/W-6.4in/H-10.4inL-9.8in/W-4.1in/H-6.8inDiameter-10.4in/4.9inL-7.8in/W-6.2in/H-7.0in
Any Chemicals Common To ExplosivesPlasticPlasticPlasticPlastic
Can Boxes Be Altered For Compatibility?YesYesYesYes

Batteries and Charging

This category contains any information relevant to charging or replacing the batteries in your device.

Reliability and consistency are critical in the training of your detection dog, so ease of charging/battery replacement will enable you to train more regularly. This also includes information such as if car chargers are available, the type of power source necessary to operate the divide and if you are able to purchase chargers separate from the device.

 K-9 BSDDogtra Ball Trainer ProEuropean Style Ball TrainerKAS Pump Box
Compatible After-Market ChargersNoNoYesYes
Are Car Chargers AvailableNoYesNoYes
Easy & Cheap To Replace BatteriesYesYesYesNo
Manufacturer Chargers Sold SeparatelyYesYesNoNo
Type Of Power Source To Run Device2x12V1.3Ah/20HR Lead Acid2 Hour Rapid Charge Battery9V Battery/Rechargeable
detection dog trainer conducting ball trainer study

Cleaning The Device

In order to ensure that your device continues running well, it will be necessary to keep it clean and well cared for.

The amount of cleaning necessary to maintain optimal functioning will depend on the materials used in construction and the layout of these materials. We will cover how often each machine will require cleaning and the ease in which cleaning can be accomplished.

 K-9 BSDDogtra Ball Trainer ProEuropean Style Ball TrainerKAS Pump Box
Designed To Be Cleaned EasilyYesYesYesYes
Required Cleaning FrequencyMonthly/As NeededMonthly/As NeededMonthly/As NeededMonthly/As Needed
k9 behavior shaping device

Operational Specifications

Containing operational specifics such as the amount of noise each machine makes, if there are any factors that could influence unintentional cuing, how much the ball or reward is compressed during use and more, this section will allow you to compare the “in use” stats between each model.

 K-9 BSDDogtra Ball Trainer ProEuropean Style Ball TrainerKAS Pump Box
Height Of Ball When Compressed9.4in6.6in4.7in7.8in
Can A Frame Be Simply ConstructedYesYesYesYes
Noise In Decibels86.5 dB84.3 dB85.2 dB88.8 dB
Delay From Activation To Release0.139 Seconds0.395 Seconds0.532 Seconds0.097 Seconds
Max Height Of Ball When Released24in24in25in28in
Is Release Height AdjustableYesNoNoNo
Easy To Reload For Each RepetitionYesYesYesYes
Fires Items Other Than Tennis BallYesYesYesYes

Environmental Triggering

Which factors can set this model off before you’re ready to press the trigger button? When working with newer dogs that haven’t yet developed a consistent indication, it is likely that they will “test” a number of behaviors, from biting, scratching and attempting to turn the box over.  All of these behaviors can inadvertently cause the Ball Training Device to launch the ball prematurely and result in rewarding the dog for an action that you do not want to reinforce.  This section covers if impact can set trigger the device to release at different velocities.

 K-9 BSDDogtra Ball Trainer ProEuropean Style Ball TrainerKAS Pump Box
Device triggers when 5lbs is dropped on box from 4'NoNoNoNo
Device triggers when 5lbs is dropped on box from 6'NoNoNoNo
Device triggers when 5lbs is dropped on box from 8'
NoNoNoNo

Other

This category contains other information that users will find relevant to their training.

 K-9 BSDDogtra Ball Trainer ProEuropean Style Ball TrainerKAS Pump Box
Environmental Factors Which Impact The DeviceJust Temp if Cleaned WellJust Temp if Cleaned WellJust Temp if Cleaned WellJust Temp if Cleaned Well
Can The Device Be BuriedYesYesYesYes
Does The Device Fire At Angles Up To 90°YesYesNoYes
Is Device Usable For Multiple BehaviorsYesYesYesYes
Does Device Cause Alteration Of Training ProcessNoNoNoNo
Can 'Dummy' Devices Be Easily MadeNoNoNoNo
Device Allows A Ball To Be Dropped RemotelyNoYesNoNo
ball trainer device comparison study

In Review

Employing a Ball Training Device can offer you the opportunity to build a more solid detection dog in addition to teaching and reinforcing behaviors in various other areas of training.  Each BTD that we looked at had varying capabilities and limitations but all  of them seemed to be capable of reinforcing basic behaviors.

Of the four that we looked at, it was pretty evident that the Dogtra Ball Trainer Pro simply had more to offer.  It delivers consistently, is more versatile (the only device that launches and drops a reward item) and the value of the device – for what it delivers – is hard to beat.

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