- Choosing basic dog gear
- Sniffing out the coolest products
- Picking leashes and collars
- Finding fun dog stuff for you
- Going green with dog accessories
A dog can get by without much in the way of material belongings, and a great many of them do. A collar. A leash. A container for water and one for food. A warm, dry place to sleep. Something to play with or chew on.
Add love, training, and attention to the list, and, in truth, a dog doesn’t need much more. But, oh, how we love to spend money on our dogs! Selling pet supplies is a multibillion-dollar industry, with so much money spent on dog-related furniture, food, and toys that it seems the only difference between having a kid and having a dog is that you don’t need a college fund for the latter. That, and no matter how many things you buy your dog, she never gets spoiled.
Your dog couldn’t care less if the collar you buy her is diamond encrusted. A crystal bowl or a stainless steel one — it really doesn’t matter to her, as long as you put food in it. And you can color-coordinate her leash to match her collar and the interior of your SUV all you want, but it won’t impress her. Most of the dog-accessories decisions you face you make to please yourself. And that’s fine, as long as you meet your dog’s needs with gear that is well made, practical, and appropriate for her size and temperament.
At the most basic level, your dog needs food and shelter. That’s about the most any dog could ever have hoped for during the thousands of years humans and dogs have worked and lived together as companions and workmates. Everything you add to those basics is designed to make your dog’s life — and your own — safer, more convenient, and more enjoyable.
Outdoor Accessories: Fences, Dog Runs, and Barriers
You have a responsibility to provide a safe, dry place for your dog, one that’s cool in the summer and warm in the winter; keeps him from roaming the neighborhood; and protects him from cars, thieves, and assorted sickos. Those requirements are the basics, but you’ll have a much better relationship with your dog — and he’ll be much happier — if you take him out of the doghouse and into your house.
What’s the point of keeping a completely outdoor dog as a pet? Protection? Fat lot of good that big dog will do you outside when burglars are inside your house. Companionship? You work all day and then come home, feed the outdoor dog, and maybe play with him a little. Then you go in and watch TV, and he sits outside alone.
Although some dogs handle the outdoors better than others, they still can cause a lot of problems. They bark day and night out of boredom and loneliness. They dig. They chew the siding off your house. They can teach themselves to be overzealously protective, to the point of dangerousness.
Some people who own outdoor dogs didn’t start out intending for them to live outside. Maybe the dog never was fully housetrained or was never taught to not jump on guests. Perhaps he doesn’t know how to behave himself around children. Perhaps he’s destructive, and you figure that it’s better if he eats the picnic table rather than the coffee table. Perhaps he smells horribly rank.
You owe it to your dog, your family, and your neighbors to do what you can to avoid leaving your dog outside all the time.
If you must leave your dog outside, you must do your best to bring a little joy into your lonely dog’s life with time and outings to strengthen the bond between you. Don’t just throw some food out in the yard and forget him. That qualifies as abuse and could get you in trouble when neighbors complain to the authorities.
The dangers of chains
In many parts of the country, fenced yards are uncommon, so many people keep their dogs on chains. Tethering a dog for a short while is okay in a pinch — never with a choke collar, though — but a tethered existence is not a good one. And a chained dog should never be left unattended. In hot weather, staying outdoors can be even more dangerous, and even lethal, for a dog.
Dogs who spend their lives on chains are more likely to become dangerous, biting anyone who comes onto their turf, because they feel lonely and vulnerable. In fact, the profile of the average dog involved in a vicious bite incident is a young unneutered male on a chain.
In some cases, dogs have tried to jump a fence, didn’t have enough chain to clear it, and ended up hanging themselves from their collar on the other side of the fence. Dogs have also
wrapped their chains around trees and died because they were desperately searching for water on hot days.
If you don’t have a fenced yard and you refuse to let the dog inside, then you really shouldn’t get a dog. If you do anyway, walking your dog a lot and installing a kennel run and a doghouse (covered elsewhere in this chapter) for him is far better than just putting him outside on a chain.
Good fences make good dogs
Unless you’re an apartment dweller, your dog will probably spend a certain amount of time in your fenced backyard, ranging from a few minutes a day to do her business to perhaps the hours while you’re at work. You want to make her time outdoors as pleasant and safe as possible.
The ideal setup is a fenced yard away from the street. Solid 6-foot fencing is best to protect your pet from the view of people who might tease or steal her and to give her fewer reasons to bark. If you’re a gardener, consider allocating part of the yard for your dog and keeping the rest of it off limits unless you’re with her. One creative person designed a yard with a U-shaped area around the outside for the Airedale and an interior courtyard that was kept safe from his big paws.
Kennel runs also work fine for keeping dogs out of trouble when you’re not with them. A kennel run is an longish enclosed area that the dog has access to. Keep it well protected from heat, cold, and wind; keep fresh water and toys always available; and be sure that your dog spends only a short amount of time in the run. Remember, a 10 x 6-foot run is a safe place to spend a few hours, but it’s no place to spend a life. You can build or buy a kennel run. Many online retailers sell materials for kennel runs and kits.
Electronic boundary systems that use shock collars to teach dogs the property lines can be useful in some situations, but they have some serious limitations. First, some dogs choose to go ahead and be shocked if the temptation on the other side is great enough, but once out, they avoid taking another hit to get home.
Also, an electronic boundary system does not protect your pet from animals or people who enter your property, so your dog can easily be attacked, poisoned, or stolen. And it does not protect people from your pet. Children can be bitten after coming into the territory of a dog behind an electric boundary system. A solid fence can spare children the injury — and also save a dog’s life, because a dog who bites a child will be put down.
Good fences make good neighbors. Sturdy, solid-wood fences also make good dogs.
Entrances and exits
Two products that make the ins and outs a little easier to handle are dog doors and baby gates:
– Dog doors: Most dog doors consist of a flap of metal or plastic that a pet can push with his nose or paws to open. They are great for anyone who doesn’t want to get up every time the dog scratches or whines at the door, and even better for people who leave a dog alone all day and want to provide access to the outdoors while they’re gone. Dog doors can be set up between house and yard, or between a garage and a yard. Some people build chutes with dog doors at both ends to cut down on drafts.
For the sake of security, have your door installed where your pet’s comings and goings aren’t so noticeable, and close and lock it when it’s not needed, such as when you’re on vacation. Do remember, though, that a dog door — especially a large one — always carries a certain degree of risk. A young burglar, or a thin one, can gain access to your house through the flap.
You can also install a dog door through an exterior wall rather than a door, though you’ll need the help of a contractor.
– Baby gates: These portable, removable barriers are available in pet-supply catalogs and anywhere children’s things are sold. You can use them to limit a pet’s access to certain parts of the house.
You can use the two products in combination to provide a safe and secure place for your pet when you’re away from home: Baby gates can keep the dog in the kitchen, for example, and a dog door can allow him to go to the part of the yard that he’s allowed in when you’re not with him.
Doghouses: Protection from the elements
If your dog spends much time outside — while you’re at work, perhaps — she needs shelter from heat and cold. One of the easiest ways to provide this shelter is to give her a doghouse. Your choices are pretty much wood or high-impact plastic.
No matter what material you choose, a doghouse should fit your pet snugly — she should be able to stand up and turn around, but not much more. Dogs have liked them for thousands of years. Providing your dog with a house that’s too large also makes it hard for her to stay warm inside it with just body heat. The doghouse should have an entrance that’s off-center so the dog can curl up in one end for warmth. A removable roof is helpful for easy cleaning, and the doorway should have a flap over it to keep out drafts.
Building a doghouse is an easy weekend project for anyone with basic carpentry skills; you can find plans at libraries or building-supply stores. You can also buy complete wooden doghouses and kits, including some that are extremely fancy and designed to match your home’s architecture — Cape Cod, Georgian, ranch style, and so on. It can be a great project for the kids to help with, too. Several manufacturers offer doghouses of molded, high-impact plastic that, in some ways, are superior to traditional wooden ones. They clean easily, do not retain smells, and offer no place for fleas to breed — as long as you keep the bedding fresh (more on bedding in the next section).
Where you place the doghouse has a lot to do with how comfortable your dog is when she’s in it. In winter, place it in a spot that’s protected from the wind. In summer, definitely place it in the shade. Obviously, finding a place that satisfies both criteria is preferable so that you don’t have to move it.
Indoor Comforts: Crates and Beds
Indoor dogs need a place to sleep, too. Opinions on this topic are various and passionate, but unless your dog has impeccable manners and respects your authority, he probably shouldn’t be on your bed — it gives him the wrong idea concerning who’s the top dog in your family. Don’t feel sorry for him, though: More beautiful and comfortable beds are available today than ever before, to fit every dog, every budget, and every decor.
Reaching for crateness
One possibility for a bed is a crate (see Figure 6-1), probably the most versatile piece of dog gear ever made. Once used primarily for transporting dogs on airplanes, the crate in all its varieties — open mesh, solid metal, or high-impact plastic — is now widely used and recognized as one of the best tools for making living with your pet easier. A crate is also one of the easiest and fastest ways to housetrain a puppy or dog (housetraining is covered in Chapter Housetraining 101
), and it’s also a decent whelping box, if you ever choose to breed your pet. With some modifications to cut down on the drafts, it even makes a decent doghouse.
Figure 6-1: A dog crate is an extremely versatile piece of canine equipment.
If your dog misbehaves, the crate is a good place to put him for a “timeout.” If for any reason you don’t want him underfoot — a guest with allergies, a contractor marching in and out — the crate is a godsend. But be careful —don’t make him associate the crate too much with punishment.
The crate is also perfect for its original purpose: transporting your pet. A loose dog in the car can be an annoyance, even a danger. Everyone is safer when you use a crate. In an automobile accident, a loose dog is as vulnerable as an unbelted human. And talk about safety! Crates are tough, so much so that a crated dog once survived an airline crash with near-total human casualties. And when traveling with your pet, you’ll find that showing up with a crate will endear you to hotel owners, some of whom can be sweet-talked into lifting “no dog” rules if they know your dog will be crated in the room instead of chewing up the bedspread.
Dogs who are accustomed to crates love them. It’s a room of their own, cozy and secure, and many dogs seek out their crates voluntarily. Always-open crates can serve as an unconventional end table in the den, and you will often find your dog snoozing inside, by choice. To increase comfort, you can buy pads to fit the floor of crates. You can also make your own without too much difficulty by tucking a washable blanket inside — or you can just leave them empty, especially in warmer weather.
Need yet another reason to buy a crate? In times of disaster — floods, earthquakes, hurricanes — a crate can save your pet’s life by keeping him secure and providing you with alternatives if you have to evacuate your home. The cages of veterinary hospitals and animal shelters adjacent to a disaster area fill up quickly, but there’s always room for the pet who brings his own shelter.
Consider what you’ll be using a crate for before you buy one. If you ever intend to ship your dog by air, be aware that not all crates are intended for this purpose. Some are designed for light use — housetraining puppies in the home, for example — whereas others are designed for car travel, a medium-grade use.
If you intend to use a crate for housetraining, as a bed, for travel, for occasional confinement, and possibly for a whelping box, you’re better off buying a top-quality crate of high-impact molded plastic, approved for air travel.
Buy a crate to fit the size your puppy will be when grown. He should be able to stand, turn around, and lie down comfortably. When housetraining a puppy, make the crate smaller by using a panel. As an alternative, borrow a puppy-sized crate from a friend or the puppy’s breeder.
A crate is a big-ticket item, so shop aggressively. Underutilized sources include garage sales and classified ads.
Letting sleeping dogs lie . . . in their own bed
Although a crate can be used for almost anything, it’s not the only choice when it comes to a bed. Dog beds keep floors and carpets cleaner, provide a cushion that makes all dogs more comfortable (especially older or arthritic ones), and allow you to live without guilt for keeping your dog off your bed.
Every dog needs a bed, even if it’s just an old blanket. Two of the most popular varieties include
– Oval cuddlers designed for dogs to curl up in, lined with plush or polyester sheepskin
– Stuffed cushions that resemble 1960s beanbag chairs, albeit in more muted colors
The most important point to remember when picking out a bed (see Figure 6-2) is that it must be washable, or at least have a removable, washable cover. You’ll almost certainly have a problem with fur, smells, and fleas if you don’t wash pet bedding on a regular basis — weekly is ideal.
Figure 6-2: Make sure that your dog bed is machine washable or you’ll be buying many of them. (Photo courtesy of Gina Spadafori.)
Washability is why carpet remnants are not recommended. You just can’t keep them fresh and clean smelling, and they’re like a welcome mat for fleas.
Some of the handsomest and sturdiest beds are available on the Web and by mail order, in a wider range of colors and sizes than you may be able to find locally. Doctors Foster and Smith, a pet-supply firm in Wisconsin, has some of the nicest (www.drsfostersmith.com
). Another great source is L.L. Bean (www.LLBean.com
You can also find great beds at dog shows, and some of these beds are only sold at dog shows.
In dog dishes, too, you have a lot of options, from using an old pot to buying a hand-thrown ceramic bowl with your dog’s name painted on it. Dishes designed to store up to a couple days’ worth of food or water are available, as are paper bowls good for one meal only (the latter most commonly used at boarding kennels and veterinary hospitals).
Usually the best choices are dishes of molded, high-impact plastic or stainless steel that resist chewing or scratching and can be sterilized in the dishwasher. These dishes — stainless steel, especially — retain their good looks, handle any abuse a dog can dish out, and last forever. Dishes that damage easily are hard to keep clean and invite the buildup of food and bacteria in the dents and scratches. Some dogs also have a sensitivity to flimsy plastic bowls.
For dogs with long, silky ears — like Cocker Spaniels — look for bowls with a narrow opening and high, sloped sides to keep that fur out of the food. If your dog is a ravenous eater, a bowl with a rubber or otherwise nonskid base will help keep the dish from ending up under the cabinets.
Some people are a little squeamish about putting dog dishes in the dishwasher, but, if your dishwasher’s doing its job right, the water will be hot enough to render everything in it clean enough for you to eat out of.
The “dog prewash” can save water and perhaps even extend the life of your dishwasher. Don’t allow your dog to beg while people are eating, but your dog can help with after-meal cleanup by licking the plates clean before you load them in the dishwasher.
Although you should pick up your dog’s food dishes after meals, wash them, and put them away, you need to keep water dishes full and available at all times. Here, too, stainless steel is your best choice. Dishes with reservoirs are fine, but they’re hard to keep clean. And unless your dog needs a lot of water, these products get mucky before the water needs to be refilled.
For outside water, the Lixit, available in any pet-supply store or catalog, has long been a popular device. Attached to an outside faucet, it releases fresh water when the dog licks or nuzzles the trigger, and stops the flow when the dog is finished. It needs to be installed in a shaded area, however, because the metal can become frying-pan hot if exposed to full summer sun.
All water sources need to be sheltered from both heat and freezing cold, or they won’t be available to your dog at all times — a potentially deadly situation in extreme weather. A couple blocks of ice — you can make them by putting water-filled margarine tubs in your freezer — will keep a shaded water supply cool for hours. Heated bowls are available to keep water from freezing, as are special devices designed to fit into buckets to do the same thing.
If you and your dog are constantly on the go, look into a more portable water source. Several different kinds of traveling bowls are designed to reduce splashing, and some collapsible products can be put away in a space as small as a fanny pack. You can also use a squeeze-type bottle like bicyclists use — your dog will quickly learn to catch the flow. You may want to mark it with indelible ink so everyone knows it’s dog water.
With a little kitchen remodeling, you can have low pull-out drawers reveal recessed dog dishes — stainless steel pop-outs, for easy cleaning — and secure storage for kibble.
Collars and Leashes
Fashion aside, collars, harnesses, halters, and leashes perform a very vital function: They help you train your dog and allow you to keep her out of trouble in public. Collars also protect your dog when you can’t, by carrying identification that will get her home if she ever slips away from you.
When buying a collar — buckled or quick-snap — for regular wear, measure the circumference of your dog’s neck a couple inches down from your dog’s head and then add 2 inches. For tiny dogs, add 1 inch. When trying on collars, you should be able to fit two fingers snugly between collar and neck, or one finger on a small dog. The goal is to have a collar snug enough so your dog can’t back up and out of the collar, but loose enough for comfort.
The everyday collar
A regular dog collar is an essential purchase for your dog, but if he’s wearing the wrong collar at the wrong time, he could end up hurt or even dead. Understanding some key points before you go shopping is important.
Your pet’s everyday collar, the one you put the tags on, should be a buckled collar, either flat or rolled, made of nylon web or leather. Either a flat collar or a rolled collar works fine on dogs with short or medium fur, but rolled collars are preferable on dogs with long, thick fur at the neck, such as Collies.
Nylon web collars are probably to be preferred. Some dogs are more apt to chew off the leather collar of another family dog, but nylon is much tougher. Nylon collars also come in an incredible variety of colors and patterns. As long as the collar is well made, though, both nylon and leather will last for years. Quick-snap closures have become popular, especially on flat nylon web collars. And it’s easy to see why: Press in at the edges, and the collar’s off easily for baths and changing tags. Press the tips together and, snap, it’s on again. For most dogs, these collars present no problems. Because they are so simply adjusted, they’re ideal for growing puppies. Some trainers think buckled collars are more secure for large, strong, and impulsive dogs, but a high-quality quick-snap collar should be just as sturdy.
Some people may think that elegant canine collars are a recent development, but it’s simply not true. Owners who can afford it have always put ritzy collars around the necks of their prized canine companions — gold, silver, pearls, and gems have been part of the society dog’s wardrobe for centuries.
Some of the loveliest collars imaginable crop up in specialty Web sites, catalogs, and pet boutiques, for prices that would keep some dogs in kibble for months. Want one? If you can afford it, why not? Just make sure to make a matching donation to your local shelter so the guilt doesn’t get you down.
A properly fitted buckle or quick-snap collar — with tags and a license — is all a puppy needs for the first few months of her life and maybe all that she ever needs (see Figure 6-3). But most dogs need a collar for training, or for you to be able to control yours better on a leash.
The most commonly used — and misused — training collar is the slip, or choke, collar. This collar is a length of chain — sometimes nylon — with rings at both ends. To use it, you drop the length of chain or nylon through the end (stationary) ring and then slip the resulting loop over your dog’s head. The leash is normally attached to the moving ring, called the live
ring — not the stationary one, called the dead ring (see Chapter Basic Training and Beyond
for how to train your dog with a training collar).
Choice in collars has never been greater, with some seeming almost works of art. (Beauty/Photograph courtesy of www.greyhoundgang.com.)
The most important cautions to know about a slip collar is that it must never, ever be your dog’s everyday collar, and you must always remove it when you’re finished training or walking your dog. The moving (live) ring of the collar can get caught on just about anything — even the eyetooth of another dog in play. When caught, a dog’s natural reaction is to pull away, a move that tightens the collar, which panics the dog into pulling away more. Even if you’re there, you may not have the strength to rescue a terrified dog in this situation — and even if you do have the strength, you may be badly bitten while trying. Many dogs have died from misuse of this common piece of training equipment, and near misses are even more common.
You can call it a choke collar if you want, but know this: Choke collars do not actually choke. If you’re choking your dog, you’re using it wrong. That’s not training, it’s cruelty, however unintentional. Be sure that the leash is attached to the moving ring on the chain, not the stationary one. The moving part of the training collar should go over the dog’s head, not under it. When positioned properly, the collar tightens when you pull on the leash and releases when you slack off. If the moving part of the collar is under the dog’s head, when you tighten, the collar tightens but doesn’t release when the pressure’s off.
How can you get it right? With the dog sitting on your left, hold the collar in a P shape, with the loop away from you and the bottom of the P on top. Slip it over your dog’s head, and it will be in perfect position.
The slip collar is by far the most common collar for training and control, but a few others also are used:
– Partial slip collars can be a hybrid between a flat collar and a slip collar, part flat nylon, part chain, or all chain. They are designed to limit the choking action of a slip collar — they tighten, but only so much. Some trainers use them all the time; others recommend them for people who have an exceptionally difficult time with the release of the slip collar’s snap-and-release motion.
– Pinch or prong collars are more popular than ever because they are an efficient way of dealing with large dogs with especially well-muscled necks, like Rottweilers. As with a partial slip collar, they can be tightened only so far, but, unlike the partial, they have blunt metal prongs evenly spaced along the inside of the length of the collar. When the collar tightens, these blunt prongs press firmly — but not cruelly — into the flesh of the dog’s neck.
These collars are very controversial, in part because of their cruel appearance, which is probably why some people like them: They look macho. Pinch collars should not be a first-choice training collar, but in the hands of a knowledgeable trainer, they can help with a powerful dog.
– Head halters are another device with a public-relations problem, this time completely unwarranted. The problem: They look like muzzles. In fact, they operate on the same principle that has worked for years with horses: Where the head goes, the body follows. The leash is attached to a ring under the jaw, and when pulled, pressure is placed around the muzzle and around the neck — both important in canine body language.
Properly fitted and used, a head halter can make even a large, powerful dog controllable enough to be walked by a child — but, then, so can a proper course of training.
– Electric collars give a shock either automatically, such as when a dog barks, or manually, at the push of a button. They are widely used in training dogs for hunting and field work, and for correcting some serious behavior problems. Although electric collars are widely available in pet-supply stores and catalogs, pet owners should use them only with the guidance of experienced trainers. Without a thorough knowledge of training theory and a perfect sense of timing, this training tool is more cruel than effective.
– Harnesses for walking a dog are best left on little dogs because they offer nothing in the way of control and give up a great deal in the way of leverage. Some small breeds — such as Toy Poodles — have a tendency toward collapsing tracheas, in which the rings of cartilage in the neck collapse temporarily when the dog gets excited. These dogs are ideal candidates for harnesses, to relieve the pressure on their necks from pulling. (Again, you can train your dog not to pull, but people with tiny breeds don’t really have to, so they rarely do.)
Your veterinarian may suggest a harness if your dog is of a breed known for neck or back problems, or if your dog has had a neck trauma or surgery.
A couple harnesses on the market do offer some control, tightening around the dog’s chest as he pulls. These harnesses are an option even for larger dogs.
Some harnesses are made for dog sports — for tracking or for pulling sleds or wagons.
ID tags and microchips
Your young daughter leaves the front door open, or the wind blows down the fence: A lost dog can happen to the most conscientious of families. For this reason, your dog’s collar should have tags.
A dog’s collar should always have an ID tag with your phone number, and a rabies vaccination tag from your vet. When you move, get a new ID tag first thing. Also check the tags frequently, to ensure that the information is still readable. Even better is to subscribe to a 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week tracking service, like 1-800-HELP4PETS, which not only reunites you with your dog if she becomes lost, but also arranges for boarding or medical care if you cannot be immediately found.
You can ID your dog in other ways, of course. Tattooing, with your driver’s license number or another traceable number (like a registry number from the American or Canadian Kennel Clubs) has been popular for years. Microchipping has come on strong in the last decade. The microchip is permanent identification no bigger than a grain of rice. Your veterinarian embeds the microchip under the skin over your pet’s shoulder blades, using a large needle. (But don’t worry: One yip is about all you’ll hear, and then it’s done.)
Microchips used to be of dubious value for returning lost pets, because one company’s chips couldn’t be read by another company’s scanner, and shelters couldn’t (and wouldn’t) cope with competing systems. That has changed, with manufacturers moving toward one industry standard and with the entry of the American Kennel Club as a registry of microchipped animals in the United States and Canada — for any animals, not just AKC-registered purebred dogs. Having your pet chipped by your veterinarian costs anything from $40 to $100, but it’s a good investment in your dog’s safety.
If you’re planning to have your canine companion microchipped, find out what, if any, chip scanners the shelters in your area use, and make sure that your pet is implanted with a chip that can be read by using that brand of scanner. Also register your pet with AKC Companion Animal Recovery (800-252-7894), which offers 24-hour match-up service, 365 days a year. Although the service was set up in conjunction with one manufacturer, you can register the number of any chip — or tattoo — you use. If someone calls to report finding your pet, the service will release your number so you can be reunited quickly.
Choices aren’t as varied in leashes (also called leads) as in collars. You can find a lot more colors and designs these days, but the same basic choices remain: leather, nylon, or chain.
You can use anything you want when your dog is trained, but until you reach that point, the standard 6-foot leather leash is your best choice. Nylon is a very close second, but it’s not as easy to grip as leather and can give you burns if your dog takes off suddenly and whips the leash through your hands.
Chain is horrible to train with: It’ll cut your hands to pieces, and your dog will confuse the noise of the leash with the noise of the collar.
Several lengths are available, from a 1-foot traffic lead that’s useful for moving a large dog quickly from one place to another, to long leads for training or to give a dog a little more room to roam without unleashing him. For walking or training, the 6-foot lead is still best: It lets you give your dog some freedom while still giving you plenty of control. It’s also the length spelled out in most leash laws.
Leashes are sold in 1⁄4-inch, 3/8-inch, 1/2-inch, 5/8-inch, 3/4-inch, and 1-inch widths, with the two middle sizes the most commonly used in obedience training because they’re easier to grip than the other sizes. The weakest parts of a leash are where the snap attaches and the handle is formed. Look for sturdy stitching or, in leather leads, one-piece construction.
One of the most popular leashes is the reel-type flexible extension-type lead that offers a dog up to 32 feet of freedom, yet allows the owner to stop it from extending by pressing a button on the plastic handle. Although it’s not meant to help you teach dogs to walk without pulling, owners commonly use it to teach dogs to come when called. This type of leash is great for travel, too, and for dogs who can’t be trusted off-leash but still need to stretch their legs.
These leads, widely available in different sizes and lengths, are wonderful for letting a dog sniff around in areas where it’s not safe or where you’re not allowed to let her off-leash. “Flexis” aren’t designed to give you control over your dog, especially if he’s large and strong. It’s easy to lose your grip if the dog hits the end of the line running. For these reasons, don’t use a flexible lead in areas where it would be dangerous if your dog got loose.
The Wonderful World of Toys
Every dog needs toys. They keep your pet occupied and amused when you cannot, and they provide you with another avenue for interacting and bonding. Toys give your pet something to chew on besides your toes (or shoes, furniture, or books), and they are absolutely essential to puppy raising, because puppies feel better when their teeth are cutting through. Of course, toys are also fun to choose and buy. A couple cautions in the toy area are warranted, but not many.
The kind of chewie toys you buy has everything to do with the size of your dog and how aggressive a chewer she is. Some of the toughest chew toys on the market are made by Nylabone, in a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors.
The king of chew toys is the Kong, a hard rubber toy that looks a little like the Michelin Tire man. Kongs have hollow centers that you can fill with peanut butter or another kind of treat, which gives dogs plenty of interesting activity as they try to get all the treat material out. Not only are Kongs almost impossible to destroy, but they also bounce in a sprightly manner, in unpredictable directions.
Chewies designed to remove plaque and stimulate gums are also popular. They have nubs along their length, or indentations designed to be filled with canine toothpaste.
Rope chews — some of them adorned with hooves at the ends or rubber balls in the middle — are popular, but some trainers think they’re too much like things you don’t want your pet to chew on, like carpet fringes and curtains.
Monitor your pet’s chew toys. When they’re worn or chewed to the point they can be swallowed, replace them.
Puppies and dogs alike love toys of either plush or vinyl that make a noise when squeezed. However, they can turn into a very expensive proposition if you own a dog who isn’t happy until the squeaker is dead.
One of the nicest and sturdiest plush toys is the Vermont Chewman, solidly made of thick, fake lambskin and available in catalogs and pet-supply stores.
Fetch is an outstanding way to exercise your dog while reminding him of your role as pack leader. Many people use flying discs for this sport, and although it’s great fun, be aware that some dogs have been injured while leaping after flying disks, to the point of needing surgery on their knees and backs.
Tennis balls are another common toy with built-in risks. It may seem safe, but never let your dog chew on a tennis ball or play with one unattended. Some dogs have died after a tennis ball, compressed by powerful jaws, popped into the throat and cut off the air supply.
Does that mean you should avoid playing with flying discs or tennis balls? No, but use some common sense. With flying discs, avoid the acrobatics that wow spectators at half-time shows but have your dog leaping, twisting, and landing hard. Work on low throws in front of your dog, to encourage him to run but not to jump. And use floppy ones made of fabric or rubber, not plastic. Tennis balls are fine for fetch, but put them away when the game’s over.
You can, of course, buy solid rubber balls. And for water retrieving — a great exercise for the dog who enjoys swimming — Kong makes a floating variety with a rope handle that’s easy to throw a long way on land or in water.
If you buy a toy that invites tug-of-war games, it’s fine to let your pet pull against another dog. But never play tug of -war with your dog, and make sure that your children don’t, either. What seems like an innocent game could be a setup for tragedy. Tug of war can teach your dog to be dominant. Consider this scenario: You play with your dog, pulling against her in a battle of dominance, however playful in appearance. You get bored, the phone rings, and you drop your end. You think: Game’s over. Your dog thinks: I win — exactly the opposite of the message your dog should get, and one that may lead to other dominance challenges.
Green Dog Accessories
These days, more people are going green when it comes to food, cars, clothing, and even beauty products. We’re also beginning to understand the benefits of choosing products that have a lower impact on the environment. So if organic foods and chemical-free shampoos are healthier for us, why shouldn’t we try to provide the same for our dogs? Fortunately, you don’t have to look very hard to find green pet products in the marketplace. Internet and specialty shops abound, and many conventional pet supply stores have a selection of eco-friendly products.
You’ll likely come across the following hot topics in your eco-quest:
– Organic: Foods, textiles, and other products that are organic are considered better for our bodies and for the planet because they are grown or raised without synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, chemicals, or hormones.
– Sustainable: Reducing our impact on the earth’s resources is the main idea behind sustainability. As a dog owner, you can make lifestyle and consumer choices to limit your use of resources.
– Recycled: The mantra “Reduce, reuse, and recycle” applies to pets, too. Pet toys, beds, and other items can be manufactured from recycled products, reducing the load on landfills.
So save the planet and start shopping — and be sure to bring your canvas shopping bags.
Bedding with eco-benefits
Dogs may be Man’s best friend, but few bonds are stronger than the one between a dog and his bed. Given how many hours a dog will spend sleeping, comfort is a key factor. For eco-minded owners, however, comfort is only one consideration when choosing a bed.
A growing number of manufacturers now produce environmentally friendly beds for pets. Whether it’s a cuddler, cushion, blanket, or sleeping mat, these cozy products are made with your pet’s and the planet’s health in mind. People who lean toward the green side of dog ownership can choose from washable covers of naturally dyed organic cotton and hemp, as well as recycled fabrics. You’ll rest easy knowing your beloved dog has a chemical-free spot for snoozing. Think eco can’t be stylish? Think again. You can find colorful, classic, and hip designs for these earth-friendly beds.
To keep your puppy properly cushioned, many green beds are packed with soft and durable IntelliLoft stuffing, made of 100 percent shredded recycled plastic bottles. How’s that for eco-friendly?
Toys you can be proud of
Toys are great fun, especially when they’re made of materials that won’t harm your pet. To make playtime a safe time for your pet, consider toys that are free of pesticides and chemicals.
– Plush toys: Look for organic fabrics and recycled stuffings such as IntelliLoft; natural dyes are also good.
– Chew and fetch toys: Seek out lead-free and latex-free chewies; toys made from nontoxic Zogoflex are supertough, buoyant, and pliable, and are designed to be recycled. Instead of spending money on average toys, choose durable, natural rubber toys that can stand up to serious play.
Eco-leashes and collars
So you want to spread the good news about being an environmentally responsible dog owner? Well, put on your pup’s eco-friendly collar and leash, and go for a walk. While you’re out strolling, you can explain to your friends and neighbors that most pet collars are made of nylon, a product of petroleum. Explain that both your dog and the environment benefit when you choose to buy collars, leashes, and harnesses made of durable natural fibers like hemp, cotton, grosgrain ribbon, and leather. Mention that these earth-friendly accessories come in an impressive variety of colors and designs.
If you’re an environmentalist who’s into canine fashion, you’re in luck. You should have no problem finding doggie duds made from natural materials and fibers. Shop for earth-friendly sweaters, coats, hoodies, and rain gear designed with your style in mind.
At some point, your pooch will need some primping, and now you can tackle your grooming tasks with an arsenal of effective green products. From shampoos to sprays, you’ll find a wide range of canine beauty supplies that are natural, gentle, hypoallergenic, and biodegradable; look for products without alcohol, artificial dyes, sulfates, chemicals, detergents, or harsh fragrances.
When it’s your house that’s a mess and not your pet, take care of the problem with eco-friendly cleaners and stain and odor removers; they do the job without leaving harmful chemicals behind. As an added benefit, many of these products come in recycled packaging.
by Eve Adamson, Richard G. Beauchamp, Margaret H. Bonham, Stanley Coren, Miriam Fields-Babineau, Sarah Hodgson, Connie Isbell, Susan McCullough, Gina Spadafori, Jack and Wendy Volhard, Chris Walkowicz, M. Christine Zink, DVM, PhD