(MNN.com) -- As a child, I hated playing outside. Even when we lived in picturesque Hawaii, my mom would send all the kids outdoors to play and I spent the time whining at the front door. Years later, my dog Lulu does the same thing. Once she has finished doing her business, Lulu sits by the door howling to come back inside.
Mosquitoes have been out of control this year, so I can't really blame her for wanting to stay indoors during the summer. But plenty of pooches spend the dog days having fun in the sun with their owners. Unfortunately, this also tends to be a time when plenty of dogs get away. During our daily walks, Lulu and I have run into at least three dogs that were off leash and roaming the neighborhood. Proper identification gives lost pets a better chance of returning home safely. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals notes that about 5 million to 7 million companion animals enter U.S. animal shelters each year, and about half of those pets were picked up by animal control.
If you plan to enjoy the great outdoors with your dog come fall, consider adding a few items that rank as favorites among trainers.
Get a sturdy leash: Do a quick inventory of your dog's gear and make sure metal attachments on leashes still get the job done. You don't want to find out that a leash has passed its prime during a long walk — or a run-in with the neighbor's cat. Professional dog walker Benetta Green of Gone to the Dogs pet care in Atlanta also avoids retractable leashes when walking a client's dog.
"They are very difficult to control," she says. "I've seen people who expand them out and let the dog have their freedom and, all of sudden out of nowhere, there comes a bigger dog and you don't have the time you need to pull the dog back. I know people like the retractable leash but you have to be aware of what's around you as well."
I'm partial to leather leashes because they wear well over time. Certified professional dog trainer Amber Burckhalter of K-9 Coach in Smyrna, Georgia, introduced me to the Mendota leash, a clever collar-leash combo that tops my list of favorites. One end has a looped handle, while the other serves as an adjustable collar. This multitasking leash gets frequent use at my house during bathroom breaks, but Burckhalter says the Mendota works great for dogs that tend to slip out of their collars. The rope-style leash features an adjustable leather attachment that makes it one size fits all. You can find Mendota leashes at most pet supply stores. Amazon.com offers a variety of colors with prices starting at $11.45.
Easy Walk harness: If your dog pulls during walks, then a day at the park can quickly feel like tug-of-war. Front-clip harnesses like the Easy Walk fit around a dog's front legs and offer a gentle correction when pooches start to tug. "I like that the leash attaches to the chest and not to the dog's back," says certified dog trainer Renee Payne of Walk This Way Canine Behavior Therapy in New York. "It works great for pulling or dogs that like to lag behind." The Easy Walk is available in various sizes for $16.99 at Wag.com.
Kong Wobbler: On a hot day, fill Kong's rubber Wobbler chew toy with healthy treats and freeze. "Put the dog's food in it and they have to knock it around for the food to come out," Burckhalter says. "That's additional exercise for [dogs]. They also love it because they don't typically get a lot of mental exercise." Wobblers range in price from $15.99 to $22.99 based on the size at PetSmart stores.
Pet Top water dispenser: Burckhalter recommends the Pet Top for dogs that are on the go. This plastic device screws onto standard water bottles and features an adjustable roller ball setting that allows pets to drink freely. It also means that owners don't have to carry travel water bowls or other gear. You can find Pet Tops for $6.99 at Bed Bath & Beyond.
ChillSpot Dog Bed: On a hot day, most dogs like to congregate on cool tile floors in the bathroom or kitchen. ChillSpot applies that approach to dog beds, pairing aluminum tiles with "chill pods" that you freeze overnight so that dogs stay cool while tailgating or hanging out at the beach. You can stock up now for next summer. "It's a great product for trainers to use in class," says dog trainer Andrew Zbeeb, owner of Frogs to Dogs in Atlanta, Georgia. To combat Georgia's sweltering summer heat, Zoo Atlanta even ordered a larger ChillSpot for its panda exhibit. A standard 24-by-36-inch dog bed is available for $169 at ChillSpot.biz.
Sturdy collars: Check your dog's collars to make sure that they aren't worn out. It may be time to replenish the stock. "My dogs go through collars really fast," says Burckhalter, who recommends the award-winning collars from EzyDog. These doggie essentials feature stainless steel D rings, reflective piping and neoprene linings typically used for wetsuits. As added protection, Burckhalter goes a step further. "I take a Sharpie and write info on the inside of their collar. If they did get away and their tag came off they are still marked."
ID tags: ID tags are cheapest and easiest way to keep pets safe — as long as the information is up to date. Basic metal pet tags are available for $7.50 at PetSmart stores. Lulu's dog tags serve as an early warning device, alerting me when she is getting into mischief. In my home, silence is not golden.
Take an inventory of your dog's gear and enjoy your walks more.
Join the conversation by following Morieka and Lulu on Twitter @soulpup today.
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