Go to any doggy supercenter these days, and you’ll see mountains of toys, leashes and supplies. The selection seems endless. Fancy retail stores selling premium items are just as overwhelming. You look at the items and wonder what to buy. Are you a poor parent if you don’t sink a small fortune into the “right” treats and foods? Of course not. Does it matter which items you choose? Absolutely. For doggy happiness, safety and training, you really only need a few basics:
A quality collar and leash – A flat, buckle collar is the safest and best for most dogs. The collar can have a martingale loop on it that tightens only to the point that it’s snug on your dog’s neck. This is enough pressure for good and humane control. Prong, pinch and slip collars have been shown to be harmful to dogs’ necks because they cause far more pressure on delicate vertebrae and tracheas. They should be avoided. Luckily they are not necessary for good training. A sturdy, 6-foot walking leash made of woven nylon or, better yet, leather is a basic requirement. Avoid using retractable leashes. These can snap, become tangled around human legs or other dogs, and trip or seriously injure you or your dog. They also provide NO help with training a dog to walk calmly with you because they allow the dog to roam all over. Long lines can help if you want to practice chasing or fetching activities in an open, unfenced area.
Training harness or head collar – If your dog is a puller, a well-fitting harness that connects to his leash at his chest gives you good control. Another option is a head collar (e.g., Gentle Leader), which fits securely over your dog’s nose. Unlike a muzzle, the nose loop gently moves your dog’s head when he pulls, while still allowing him to pant and bark. Both of these require proper fitting and gentle introduction to the dog so he is comfortable. These are optional tools. Be aware that they should be removed before dog play, to avoid the possibility of your dog getting caught on something or injured – or entangled with another dog!
A sturdy crate and/or exercise pen – Choose your crate based on the future adult size of your dog. Whether you select a wire or plastic model, look for solid construction. Make sure there is a solid floor, or a tray insert, to protect sensitive paws. Check that the locking mechanism is smooth and secure. If you adopt a small puppy, you can put a cardboard box in half of the crate until he gets larger. That should keep him from having accidents there (as long as you remember to take him outside regularly). If your dog is large or very strong, you can reinforce the corners of a wire crate with zip ties (please cut the excess off of each tie to prevent injury or ingestion).
A clicker and supply of delicious treats – A box or button-style clicker can help you immensely with training. You use it to mark the behavior that you like, CLICK, and follow up your click with a delicious treat – preferably something soft and chewy that your dog loves. You don’t need large treats – pieces the size of a pea are enough. Positive reinforcement training using this method provides quick, permanent results if used correctly and consistently.
A few great toys – You really don’t need much gear to have fun with your dog. A tennis ball, a well-made rope or chew toy, and possibly a Frisbee are all many dogs require. But even if your dog doesn’t seem too interested in toys now, you can teach him to love them if you use them in play with him. When you do, toys can easily become a great training reward that rivals food treats. What to choose? Think about how your dog has fun, and consider his size and habits. Many dogs love toys with squeakers and have great fun dismantling them. Others like to carry a “stuffie” around the house. Puppies and adolescent dogs need toys to chew, because they are setting their adult teeth. For large breeds and heavy chewers, always select sturdy toys meant for heavy use. Kong, HugglehoundsTM, Tuffy Toys® and Nylabone® are a few well-known brands. Less enthusiastic or smaller dogs can have toys with softer construction. Whatever your dog loves, safety comes first – so choose toys that don’t have sharp or breakable parts, and avoid the really flimsy ones, even if they’re on sale. And always, always replace a toy if it is damaged, and pick up “dead” squeakers and other debris from the floor so your dog doesn’t eat them. Last tip: You can keep toys interesting to your dog by rotating them. Your pup only needs to have two or three available at a time. This can really help your budget.
Two or more food-dispensing puzzle toys – There are more and more of these products on the shelves these days, and rightly so. They provide dogs with great mental stimulation, and they also prevent too-fast eating. What makes them fun is that they keep your dog interested in a game, and they can be stuffed with a whole range of small treats or a ration of kibble. You get to mix up the choices to keep things interesting. Some popular choices that stand up to rugged use are Starmark (Chew BallTM, Bob-a-LotTM, Pickle PocketTM), Kong® chew toys and West Paw Toppl® Treat toys. Toys like Kongs can be filled with something delicious – cream cheese, peanut butter, yogurt, canned dog food, or a mixture – and frozen for long-lasting fun.
A high quality comb and brush, and specific grooming tools for your breed – Even if you take your dog to the groomer regularly, it’s a good idea to have a set of high quality, basic grooming tools on hand. Depending on your dog’s coat, you might choose a pin brush with rounded pin tips, or a slicker brush. If you’re unsure what’s best for your dog, ask your groomer or breeder. It’s also helpful to have toenail clippers or a gentle rotary sander (such as a Dremel), canine ear cleaner, vet-approved toothpaste and a toothbrush. Here is a list of emergency supplies to have on hand as well. We can help you learn how to condition your dog to these things comfortably. Ask us!