Let me start by saying this: There are no silver bullets when it comes to gun-dog training. You could spend thousands on gear, but if you don’t lay down the basics, link the steps, and put in the time your dog won’t amount to much more than a foot warmer.

In the course of the past year I found a few things that I can’t be without. And I’m happy to report none of them put a dent in the bank account. (And for the record, none of them were freebies.) This is by no means a complete list, but I like to think of it as my utilitarian, all-star lineup. I’ll save the high-end items for later.

Mendota Slip Lead: I’ve got a number of leashes and check cords, but nothing is as versatile as this Slip Lead. It’s a great tool for teaching heel, it’s soft and pliable (it tucks nicely in your back pocket), and comes in a very appealing hunter orange. There’s a reason the pros swear by these leads.

Avery True Bird: There are countless bumpers and dummies for training your dog, and they all work. But Avery True Birds work best for me. I don’t use them all the time, but if I sense Pritch’s retrieving enthusiasm waning this is the first bumper I pull out of the bag. They float nicely and encourage a proper hold. The Green Wing Teal is the perfect size for smaller dogs or pups.

Dogs Unlimited Collar: I love this collar for a number of reasons. It’s indestructible, light, and comes with one or two brass nameplates. Pritch never takes a step outside without it.

Kong: A Kong toy has nothing to do with training a gun dog but everything to do with my sanity. This is the only indestructible toy that Pritch has met, and she loves it. When I need a nap on the couch and would rather not have a wet nose giving me the sniff over, I toss the Kong to Pritch and let her go wild.

How about you? Any training tools you won’t be caught without?