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For decades, the standard advice about what you needed when you brought home a dog seemed never to change. From dog-care books from before World War II to Looney Tunes cartoons to Disney movies of the 1960s, such as Lady and the Tramp and 101 Dalmatians, the must-haves for a new dog stayed pretty much the same.
There was a doghouse, preferably homemade by Dad and the kids, with the dog’s name roughly painted over the arched doorway and a chain attached to an adjacent eye bolt. Two bowls — one for food, one for water. A leather collar and license. A chain leash with a plastic looped handle. And if the dog was to be allowed inside, a wicker basket with a simple cushion — ideally situated, of course, next to the fireplace. What more could a dog want?
No one from those simpler times could ever have imagined the tens of thousands of products available for dogs these days, countless numbers of them on display at the annual Global Pet Expo. I attend every year, and in recent years I have created a list of my favorite products, known as "Becker’s Best."
Some of these products will make it, some won’t. But times have changed, and so have our relationships with our dogs — and with the products we need to make them comfortable at home. As a veteran veterinarian, I celebrate many of those changes. And while I enjoy seeing what's new each year at Global Pet, there are a few products that I consider modern must-haves, products that go beyond the basic doghouse and collar approach and make raising, caring for and cherishing a dog simpler and more pleasant than ever.
Control harness or head halter: My dear friend Dr. R.K. Anderson changed the way we walk our dogs when he invented the canine head halter. His design, the Gentle Leader, is still the one I recommend. Veterinarians, behaviorists and trainers have been recommending them ever since, and what used to raise an eyebrow — early users were often asked, “Why is your dog wearing a muzzle?” — is now entirely commonplace. More recently, front-clip harnesses such as the E-Z Walk have also helped make walking a dog easier, using the dog’s own forward motion to stop him from pulling on the leash.
Pheromones: There are synthetic products that mimic substances naturally produced by animals — in this case, those that make animals more comfortable and relaxed. Adaptil is the name of the canine version, formerly Dog Appeasing Pheromone, or DAP. Because I am a passionate advocate for what I call fear-free veterinary practices where pets can visit without anxiety, I tend to use a lot of pheromones. For me, wearing it is like wearing pet-friendly aftershave.
Modern ID: Microchips have been around for a while now, but I’m still surprised how many people not only haven’t but also won’t chip their pets. If you’re one of them, please talk to your veterinarian. A microchip can save your pet’s life. While nothing in life is completely safe, microchips come pretty close. Health risks pale in comparison to the proven power of a microchip to return a lost pet months or even years after he strays. A more recent addition to help get pets home are tags that track your pet using GPS, potentially allowing for a faster reunion.
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