I was recently throwing some water marks for my dog at a local city park pond when an angler from across the pond (it was a large pond and I was in a small neck, so I wasn’t disturbing anyone) got curious, wandered over and struck up a conversation. We chatted for a minute or two, I explained what I was doing and he asked me what, exactly, was that thing I was using to throw my bumpers?

That “thing” was a remote bumper launcher. I’ve had mine for years and it’s one of my favorite retriever training tools. I showed him how it worked and he seemed genuinely curious. Turns out the guy was a casual dove hunter, he had a lab and had always sort of wanted to train him. He then asked me how much something like that would cost, and when I told him, he gave me an incredulous look, sputtered “you’re kidding?” shook his head and went back to fishing.

And that got me to thinking that dog-training, just like bass fishing, flyfishing or big-game hunting, can be as cheap or expensive as you want to make it.

For the most part, it isn’t a terribly gear-intensive activity. Whistles, check cords, leads, bumpers, birds, patience and time. You can train a dog, whether a pointing dog, flusher or retriever, to a pretty high level with the basics. But just like anything else, once you get hooked and get evermore involved, you start casting covetous glances at the more specialized–and expensive–gear that most pro and and advanced amateur trainers use. Things like e-collars, bumper launchers, wingers, bird launchers and the electronics to run them; all these things help make training easier, faster and more effective. And they work splendidly. But there’s a price. No, literally, there’s a price…

If you haven’t priced some of the more advanced training aids out there you might be in for some sticker shock, and whether it’s worth it to you depends, of course, on how you view dog training. Do you see training as simply a means to an end (a trained hunting dog) and don’t have much interest in training for its own intrinsic rewards? Or do you train almost year-round because you get almost as much enjoyment out of training as you do the hunting?

If you’re the former then perhaps the cash outlay for advanced training gear might be better served elsewhere, perhaps a pro trainer. But if you’re the latter, if you end up falling down that rabbit-hole into the “enthusiast” category, then I guess spending a few hundred bucks on launchers, electronics and e-collars sounds perfectly reasonable.

What’s your most expensive piece of training gear?