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Dr. TRACY ACOSTA: Proper leash, collar a must for every dog owner

One of the essential tools in every dog's life is a good leash. Every puppy from the early days of training must learn how to walk properly on a leash for both safety and basic training purposes.

Leash laws exist to protect not only your dog from tragic hit-by-car accidents but also to protect and safeguard all humans and other animals out and about in a civilized society. No dog, despite its level of training, should be allowed to roam or to walk about freely when not in a fenced in yard, a home or a fenced dog park where dogs are permitted to run.

Along with the leash comes the proper collar or harness. It is easy to become overwhelmed with the enormous selection of collars and harnesses that are available today. You can say a lot about your dog's style simply by the collar or harness you choose. However, remember to first and foremost choose the collar or harness that best suits your dog's everyday life and function. Despite the adorable print available on some, they may not be what your dog's lifestyle calls for, so choose wisely.

If dealing with a puppy, remember that as a puppy grows, so does his neck size. Be sure to choose a collar that fits comfortably around the neck and allows at least two fingers to be placed easily between the collar and the puppy's neck. Check the comfort of the collar on a weekly basis as the puppy grows toward its adult size. Despite the fact that most collars are adjustable, you should expect to purchase at least one or two collars as the puppy matures.

Harnesses and halter-type devices are also popular. A harness can be a practical alternative for small dogs that are sensitive to being corrected or whose necks are too fragile for correction with a collar. Harnesses encourage pulling, so they are best used on small dogs that are easily controlled. A powerful working dog or a Nordic breed that is bred to pull is much better off with a regular collar or a head halter.

A third choice instead of a collar or harness is the halter devices available for dogs. Several types are available, but all work to give you more control over your dog's head while walking. The idea is that if you have control of your dog's head, you will also have control of his entire body and therefore the direction in which he is headed. These work great on large, strong dogs no matter what your size. I found that I had complete and absolute control of my 85-pound Labrador retriever and found it to be more humane and practical than any other collar, especially a training choke collar.

Choosing the perfect collar or harness may take some trial and error, and every trainer has a different opinion. It is important to go with what works best for your particular dog and his temperament.

Leash options are numerous as well, and are usually a matter of personal preference. Choose a leash that is the most comfortable for you on your end as well as the easiest to use with your dog. Remember, the shorter the leash, the more control you have with your puppy or dog. Usually a 6-foot leash is appropriate for training class. If you will be walking your dog through high-traffic areas and you need to keep close control, buy a 4-foot leash.

Only when your puppy has learned basic manners and commands and is ready for more freedom can you use an extendable leash allowing 12 to 16 feet of roaming.

Leashes are made of numerous types of material and again are a personal choice. Leather leashes are lightweight, durable and classic in appearance, but some dogs enjoy chewing on them. Nylon leashes are also lightweight and durable and offer a wide variety of colors and patterns. Chain leashes tend to be heavy and noisy and suit few owners or dogs in function.

No matter what type of leash, collar or harness you choose, remember to use it. Far too many tragedies occur when owners trust their dogs to stay close by and not to stray or become distracted. A dog owner can never know when a tempting cat or squirrel will catch a dog's attention and make him forget his boundaries. Even the best-trained dogs can become statistics. So, as a small-animal veterinarian who too often deals with the anguish and guilt of dog owners after their dogs are hit by cars, I plead with every dog owner to use a proper leash and collar any time you are not in the confines of a fenced yard.

It is also important to note that most cities and local governments today have leash laws that make it necessary for your dog to be on a leash whenever he is not in your home or fenced-in yard. As someone who routinely walks her dogs, I am often frustrated from paying the price for those who choose to disobey leash laws. While I am out walking my dogs, we are regularly approached by dogs out on the loose. Even if the dog that comes up is friendly, I do not always know this and have to take every precaution to protect my dogs and myself. Sometimes when the loose dogs run up to my dogs and me, my dogs perceive this as a threatening behavior and become too protective of me.

Without exception, every dog no matter how good his behavior and training, should be on a leash outside the home.

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