Leashes, Collars, and Identification
These are some of the essential items you have to have for your dog. There are many types to choose from, however, and understanding the differences will make it easier when you get to the store.
You'll need an all-purpose leash for walks around the block and most training sessions. Leashes or leads come in a variety of colors, textures, and styles. There are leather leashes, nylon leashes, and even chain leashes. The best (and also the most expensive) is a six-foot-long leather leash. You should have this leash for a long time if you take care of it. Leather is strong, wears well, doesn't stink, and is comfortable in your hand.
Nylon leashes are also strong and come in a huge assortment of colors and patterns. They come in handy when you have to walk your dog in the rain and you don't want the leather to get wet. If you have to give your dog a bath, a nylon leash can get wet while providing some restraint. They dry quickly and don't shrink or crack. But they're not comfortable to hold; in fact, some may give you a rope burn if they get jerked out of your hand.
Chain leashes are decorative but quite impractical. They're hard to hold, and can hurt you or your dog if they get pulled against your skin.
Flexi-leads are just that: flexible leashes that allow you to extend or shorten the leash like an adjustable clothesline. The idea is that it lets the dog have some freedom to roam, but when she comes nearer to you, the line automatically withdraws and recoils. There is also a button that can stop the flow of the line at any time, so if you need to keep your dog close to you, you can limit the amount of line you let out. These leashes provide you with the opportunity to run your dog with greater freedom in open spaces where dogs are not allowed off-leash.
The only problem is that if your dog circles you or someone nearby with the leash, the cord may cause a burn against your unprotected skin. When using a Flexi-lead, you must be alert to any changes of direction or sudden activity on the part of your dog. Overall, though, they're a handy way to have control and still let your dog run.
Can I use a harness?
Many people dislike having to pull on a collar that presses up against their dog's trachea. Owners of smaller dogs and toy breeds need to be especially sensitive to this. For such owners (and their dogs), a harness is a practical way to safely go for a stroll. The harness goes over the dog's head and around its front legs and chest, securing with a clasp. There is a ring hook on the top where a leash is attached. Harnesses are now made in a variety of materials, colors, and patterns, often with matching leashes.
Like leashes, collars come in a huge variety of materials, styles, and colors. Unlike the leash, however, one size does not fit all; you will need to buy a collar to fit your dog at her current size. Collars should fit snugly but not be too tight. You want something that goes around her neck comfortably and won't slide off the head, but you need to be able to insert two fingers between the collar and the dog's neck. Don't pull on the collar to make the space. It should be slack enough that it happens without creating too much tension.
There are four basic types of collars: traditional buckle collars; choke chains; the pronged collar; and electronic collars. The traditional buckle collar is recommended as your dog's first collar and the one he'll wear almost daily. These collars come in leather or nylon and have the traditional buckle or clasp fastener. They are adjustable, so your puppy should be able to grow into her buckle collar (though she will definitely grow out of at least one!).
You can get a buckle or clasp collar in whatever color or style you want, from a conservative but elegant rolled leather, to black leather with metal spikes, to bright pink, to monogrammed, to decorated with ducks, hearts, or flowers. There are even buckle collars that glow in the dark! Your dog's collar can be a true expression of how you feel about her.
The choke chain (now often referred to as a slip collar) is a metal link collar that is primarily used for training. Basically, this is a slip-knotted smooth metal chain that comes in different sizes. The idea is that as the dog pulls harder, the collar “chokes” him, pinching his skin slightly or impairing his breathing. To relieve the tension and breathe easier, he has to stop pulling. Used properly, this kind of collar can save years of wear and tear on your arms and shoulders and teach your dog not to pull. Your dog's trainer can demonstrate the correct way to put the collar on and how to use it for maximum efficiency.
This collar should be used only during training and should not be the collar you use all the time. Because the collar has two big rings on either end, it can get caught on things. If your dog catches his collar on something while you're not with him, he could easily choke to death trying to free himself. If you properly train your dog in the beginning, eventually you won't need this collar — though he will always associate it with training, which might help him pay attention to you.
The pronged collar operates like a choke chain in that it tightens around the dog's neck as she pulls harder. But the pronged collar has dulled metal prongs that poke her in the neck as she pulls. Many people use this collar when walking dogs that are very difficult to control or for whom a smaller choke chain is not effective. If you think you need this kind of collar for your dog, you must be instructed in its proper use. Speak to a trainer or your breeder about whether it's the collar you need and how to use it. Additional training classes are probably in order, too.
You will also find a number of electronic collars in your pet supply store. There are electronic collars to stop your dog from barking, electronic collars to keep your dog within your property, even electronic collars to be used as training aids by hunters and people who work their dogs at great distances. The most commonly used are the bark collar and the collar that works with an “invisible” electronic fence. All work by “zapping” your dog with a burst of electricity when she barks or tries to break the barrier of the fence, or when you need to get her attention. All should be used in conjunction with more humane training methods of teaching the dog to shush, mind her property, or respond to a whistle or voice command. They can definitely be abusive in the wrong hands.
Head halters are essentially harnesses that slip over and around a dog's head, like the halters used on horses. The theory is that a dog can be led more easily by the head than by the neck (which is usually a very strong part of a dog's anatomy). These halters are very effective. But they have some drawbacks. First, they look like a muzzle, making poor Spot look like the canine version of Attila the Hun, ready to bite at the slightest provocation. Many people think they are cruel because they make your dog look more dangerous because she's being muzzled. It takes some dogs a while to get used to head halters, too, as they can feel strange at first. But if you have a dog who pulls no matter what, you should consider using one.
Identification for Your Dog
One of the most important things that your dog could ever have is proper identification in the form of an ID tag, in addition to a more permanent tattoo or microchip. This is because he could become lost quickly and easily, and it's important that when he does he has a clearly visible piece of identification on his body.
Most pet supply stores large and small have in-store kiosks where you can make tags for your dog's collars. The tags come in all kinds of fun shapes and sizes and the machines are easy to use. The tags are inexpensive. The information that's critical to put on the tag is the dog's name and your phone number(s). List whichever phone you use most frequently first — nowadays that's typically a cell phone number. Then list your home phone and even your work number. It's not necessary to list your address. Someone who finds a dog with a tag will call the number, not take it back to a street address (what if no one is home?).
Permanent Forms of Identification
As necessary and important as an identification tag is on your dog's collar, it can come off or be removed. To further protect dogs, they can be tattooed or microchipped. Many people tattoo their dogs with the animal's American Kennel Club or other registering body's registration number. The tattoos are applied on the inside of the back leg where they are hard to see unless you're really looking (shelter and animal control staff know to look for them).
An identification tag attached to your dog's collar is an essential piece of equipment. It is the first thing anyone will look for should your precious companion become lost. Tags come in many shapes, styles, and colors these days, so they can also serve a decorative purpose.
Even more popular and standardized today is the implantation of a microchip — a rice-sized capsule that contains a computer chip with a unique number. These tiny microchips are injected between your dog's shoulder blades into the muscle mass there where it won't migrate to another part of the body. The injection looks worse than it is — it doesn't hurt your dog at all. These chips are permanent for the life of the dog and are easily scanned. Ask your veterinarian about getting a microchip for your dog. Once chipped, your dog receives a tag to go on her collar alerting anyone who finds her to call an 800-number where the chip numbers are registered. Should the tag be lost, animal shelters, animal control officers, and veterinary offices are equipped with scanning machines.