7 Must-Have Items for the Modern Dog

By Dr. Marty Becker l vetstreet.com

iStockPhoto -- Dog in HarnessFor 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?

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Fast-Forward to Today

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.

Seven Must-Haves for Every Dog Owner

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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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4. Supplements: Talk to your veterinarian about supplements with clinically proven results that can potentially help your pet. There are some that help protect and enhance your pet's cognitive functions as he ages, and others that may help him cope with the joint pain that often accompanies aging. Some of these products are actually in commercially available pet food, a time- and money-saver that might work for you and your pet.

5. Oral-care products: Think good-better-best when it comes to your pet's dental care. Start with chews impregnated by enzymes that attack plaque while your pet satisfies his healthy need to gnaw. Take it up a notch with rinses that help keep plaque from forming. For the gold standard of care, make sure your pet has regular dental examinations by your veterinarian, with cleanings under anesthesia as needed, and that you brush your pet's teeth at least two or three times a week (daily if you can). The proven benefits of healthy teeth and gums simply cannot be ignored any more than the doggy breath that is neither pleasant nor normal.

6. Parasite control: Forget the dips, soaks and collars of yesteryear and get on board with safer, more effective control of fleas, ticks and internal parasites. Today's products protect your pets and also the rest of your family by controlling parasites that spread disease. I remember all the awful skin problems associated with parasites, the miserable dogs and cats and the feeling of helplessness as a veterinarian. Now I can advise my clients how to help their pets be pest-free and happy. Find out what's best for your dog or cat and your area of the country by talking to your veterinarian.

7. Food puzzles: Every year I see more of these food puzzles available. My dogs love them, and I recommend them all the time, as does my daughter, Vetstreet trainer Mikkel Becker. When a dog has to solve a puzzle to eat, it helps keep his mind and body active, slows the rate of food consumption and provides an alternative to destructive behavior often seen in dogs with too much time and energy on their paws. Perhaps the most simple food puzzle is a do-it-yourself one made from arguably the best dog toy ever invented: the Kong. These sturdy chew toys can easily be stuffed with treats and will keep your dog engaged and busy. Food puzzles are a terrific way to keep cats active and entertained, too.

And, yes, there's one more thing that isn't a product but is more important than anything you can buy when it comes to caring for your dog. That's a good working relationship with your "other family doctor," your pet's veterinarian. Regular wellness checks and preventive care (especially weight management) will add years to your pet's life and life to your pet's years.

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