What do you need for your new buddy?
Going to the pet store to find the best walking equipment for your new fur-iend can be overwhelming. There are many different choices for collars, harnesses, and head halters and it can be hard to decide which will be best, especially as you are still getting to know your dog. Here is a list of the equipment you need, and our recommendations for which might work best for you. Keep in mind that every dog is different, so you may have some trial and error finding the equipment that works best for both of you.
Leashes: Simple 4’-6’ leashes provide the best control. We do not recommend leashes longer than 6’ or retractable leashes, as you have less ability to intervene if your dog is about to get itself into trouble or get hurt. If you walk your dog early in the morning or later in the evening, a reflective leash or one with a safety light on it are always great options to stay safe in the dark.
Most dog professionals, including veterinarians, strongly dislike retractable leashes. Here are a few reasons why you should reconsider using one:
- The lack of control you have on your dog the farther they get from you. At any moment your dog could dart in any direction and run into oncoming traffic, inappropriately greet other people or dogs, run down someone on a bike, or eat harmful items.
- Retractable leashes have caused a number of injuries to humans and dogs. The thin cord that retracts in and out can cause serious burns and lacerations (we are talking cuts to the bone or people losing fingers!). Many dog owners get hurt trying to grab the cord or as the cord runs against their leg as their dog is running off on the leash. This happens frequently when the locking mechanism breaks and owners are scrambling to get their dog under control. Injuries can also occur as larger dogs are running full speed to the end of the leash. This can cause owners to get pulled off their feet, dogs to get serious injuries to their necks as their collar tugs them back, or can cause the cord to break, setting your dog free to keep running.
- Retractable leads actually teach dogs to pull! This is counterproductive to the peaceful walks we hope to have with our dogs. When you don’t have the leash locked the dog is expected to pull forward on it to extend the leash. When the leash is locked or if you switch to a non-retractable leash, the dog will continue to try to pull to get more leeway. Once this behavior has been learned, it is hard to teach a dog not to pull on leash.
Collars: Dogs should always have a collar they wear on a regular basis, especially when they are outside, that has its identification tags. If your dog ever gets loose, this will help them find their way home. Always make sure your identification tags are up to date, including the microchip information.
Types of collars and when they are recommended:
- Traditional flat collars: Good for everyday use to keep ID tags on your dog. If your dog does not pull, these can be used for walking as well. If your dog does pull on leash, these are not recommended for walking as they can damage the neck and trachea. Make sure the collar is appropriate to the size of your dog. Collars should be tight enough where it cannot slip over the dog’s head. It is typically recommended that you should be able to fit 1-2 fingers under the collar, but it shouldn’t be any looser than that. We recommend taking the collar off if your dog is playing with other dogs because some dogs get their mouths, paws, ears, etc. stuck in collars when playing with each other. Some people also take their dog’s collar off when they are kept in a crate due to risk of the collar getting caught on the crate.
- Martingale collars: These collars are good for dogs who can slip out of a regular collar. There are often used on dogs such as greyhounds that have thin heads. These collars tighten enough to prevent dogs from pulling out of the collar, but not so much that you are choking the dog. We do not recommend you use these collars for leash corrections to teach your dog not to pull. They should only be used for additional safety purposes.
- Head collars: Head collars are a great option for dogs that are easily distracted on walks, are leash reactive, or dogs who are larger and stronger than their handlers. These collars work like halters on horses, where you are able to have greater control over the animal because you are leading them by their head. Dogs who wear head collars are typically unable to pull as easily, making it easier to redirect their attention back onto you so that you can train them to walk nicely on a leash. If you have a dog who is a strong puller or is leash reactive or has the potential to be aggressive or run away off leash, some head halters have an extra safety feature where you can have the leash connected to the head halter and to the dog’s regular collar. This way if the head halter becomes loose or if your dog is a Houdini and gets out of it somehow, you still have control over your dog.
- Choke and prong/pinch collars: We do not recommend the use of these collars for any reason. They can lead to neck injury, trachea damage, increase eye pressure, and nerve damage. The use of punishment-based methods can also lead to stress in your dog, which can use leash reactivity, aggression, and anxiety.
- Shock collars: We do not recommend the use of these collars for any reason. They lead to stress in dogs, which can lead to leash reactivity, aggression, and anxiety.
Harnesses: Harnesses are one of the safest options for you and your dog when walking. If you have a small dog or medium sized dog, or a brachycephalic dog (short snouted dog), a harness is your preferred option. Smaller dogs and dogs with short muzzles are more prone to collapsed tracheas or increased eye pressure from the use of collars while walking. Even if your dog doesn’t pull, walking them on a harness is good for the rare occasions where you may need to pull them to prevent any harm or injury.
- Back-clip harnesses: These are the safest form of harness for you and your dog IF AND ONLY IF your dog does not pull, or your dog cannot overpower you if it does pull. This is the best option for small to medium sized dogs. If your dog does pull, is not trained to walk well on leash, is leash reactive, or can easily overpower you back-clip harness offer you little control over your dog and make it difficult for you to redirect your dog’s attention back onto you.
- Front-clip harnesses: If your dog pulls, front-clip harnesses are a good option to use during training. Front-clip harnesses work by restricting the dog’s ability to pull on leash. If the dog tries to pull while on a front-clip harness, the chest piece restricts, which causes the dog to have to turn towards the leash rather than pulling forward. This offers dog owners a little more control over their dog than back-clip harnesses. However, if your dog is a severe puller or is leash reactive, this won’t be the best option for you. Front-clip harnesses can also alter the dog’s natural walking gait, which can be uncomfortable for them and lead to injuries.
Other equipment you might need:
- Poop bags (biodegradable for extra points)
- Pooper scooper for the yard
- Food and water bowls
- Crate: crates should be big enough for the dog to stand up, turn around, and lie down, but no bigger than that. This helps prevent soiling in the crate.
- Bed and blankets
- Toys: get a variety of toys, including soft plush toys, interactive toys, harder chew toys, toys of different textures, etc.
- Grooming supplies: brushes, nail clippers, shampoo, etc.
- Training treats: get a variety of treats to start with so you learn what your new dog’s favorites are. Typically small, moist, stinky treats work the best for training.
- Chewing treats: get a variety of bully sticks, antlers, and bones to learn what your dog likes the best.
- Food: deciding on the right diet for your new pooch will depend on their age, size, breed, and activity level. Consult with the adoption counselors where you got your dog from and with your veterinarian.
- Nature’s Miracle Pet Stain & Odor Remover (highly recommended): this product is great at getting out pet stains, especially dog urine and feces. Make sure any cleaner you get has enzymes designed for dog messes.