A handful of items every dog owner should have

Alyson Brown is the companion animal trainer and behavior consultant at Mountain View Veterinary Health Center in Providence, UT.  She is a Cache Valley native, and considers herself a professional student, always on the lookout for good continuing education opportunities.  She shares life with her husband and their many critters, from horses to hamsters, all of which she enjoys training.

1. A good leash.  Never underestimate the importance of having a good leash.  There are all sorts of leashes out there, but a good leather, nylon, or wool leash will suit most people’s needs.  For walks, visits to the vet or groomer, or other public outings, a four to six foot leash is best.  You want to maintain good control and have something stable and comfortable to hold on to. 

Retractable leashes can be handy, but I do not recommend them.  In fact I can’t stand them when it comes to neighborhood walks or visits to public spaces.  The locking mechanism often fails, they’re easy to drop and then scare the dog as the handle “chases” them, and the thin cord can be very dangerous to other people and pets.

I also like my leashes to be attached to a harness instead of a collar.  Collars are great for tags, but if your dog suddenly hits the end of her leash all that pressure on her neck can cause some real problems.  You may have heard that harnesses teach dogs to pull, but that just isn’t true.  Dogs learn to pull because it works to get them where they want to go, though it is true that for some dogs wearing a harness might make it more comfortable to pull because the pressure is spread out over their chest rather than on their sensitive neck.  If pulling is a problem or if you have a large or powerful dog, a harness with a ring on the chest to attach the leash to will prevent your dog from pulling forward and give you some extra control.

2. Proper and current identification.  Your dog needs tags.  A rabies tag or city license tag is great, but they aren’t always enough to help dogs find their way back home.  Your dog should have a tag with her name and your contact information on it.  It can also be helpful to include medical information on your dog’s tag, such as any conditions she may have like blindness, deafness, or diabetes, or a need for medication. 

A microchip is also a good option.  If your dog should lose her collar and tags, or if someone removes them, a microchip will provide animal control, shelters, and vet clinics with a way to identify your dog and get her back to you. 

3. Poop bags.  Your dog is going to need exercise, and it doesn’t matter if you’re at the dog park or walking down a city street, you need to clean up after her.  City officials have cited inconsiderate dog owners who don’t pick up after their dogs as one reason that dogs aren’t allowed in more of our local parks.  So, if you’d like to be able to enjoy your dog’s company on more local outings, carrying poop bags and cleaning up after her is the first step to take.  Carry some extras and share them if you see someone in need.

4. Puzzle toys!  I am a big advocate of ditching the food bowl for dogs and cats.  Most of our companion animals just don’t get enough enrichment and mental stimulation.  Feeding from a toy or during training will go a long way towards directing your dog’s energy away from getting into trouble.  Your dog has to eat, and setting all that food down for free in a boring bowl is one area where people really miss out on an opportunity to tire their dog out.

Puzzle toys don’t have to be expensive either; if your lawn is safe it can be a wonderful puzzle toy!  Toss some of your dog’s evening meal on the back lawn and tell her to go find it, you’ll be surprised at how tiring all that hunting and sniffing can be.  You can also use cardboard boxes, cups, baskets, towels and muffin tins to give your dog a little challenge along with her meals.  When using homemade or manufactured puzzle toys to challenge your dog, you need to make sure that they’re safe.

5. Proper confinement.  Not every dog will need a crate at home.  However, you’ll still want to prepare your dog for boarding and travel by training them to enjoy their crate or carrier.  Or, sometimes when a dog is injured she may need to be put on crate rest for a period of time, and life will be much easier if she is already comfortable there.

You may also need an exercise pen, baby gate, or doggy seat belt.  Yes, you read that right, seatbelt.  If your dog will not be crated in the car, she should wear a seatbelt harness.  Not only is it illegal in many places to drive with your dog unrestrained in the car, it’s dangerous.  We all know that dogs can be a big distraction to the driver, but even if your dog lays quietly in the back seat whenever you’re driving, if you are in an accident, she could be thrown from the car and become lost or injured, and she could even pose a danger to others on the road.

6. A first aid kit.  Just as you should be prepared in case one of the human members of your family should be injured, you should be prepared for your dog.  Dogs are curious and in their adventures cuts and scrapes, bug bites and all sorts of other things are commonplace.  There are a number of pre-assembled kits out there that will do the trick, or if you’d rather put together your own you can check with your vet or do an internet search to find a good list of what you should keep handy.

I have to admit, coming up with such a short list wasn’t easy, so you may also want to have: training treats, a clicker (more on that to come), a good bed or mat, toys, a high quality food, grooming supplies, something to bring water along for your dog, a good vet and trainer on speed dial, and a credit card or savings account for emergencies.

What you don’t need: Choke chains, prong collars, shock collars, high frequency “bark stoppers,” a food bowl (see puzzle toys above), or a squirt bottle.

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