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Prep Your Tack Box with Care for Peace of Mind

The tack box is an indispensable tool for anyone who shows dogs. This portable storage unit is designed to accommodate an arsenal of supplies and is lightweight enough to travel just about anywhere. Aluminum models seem to be most popular and offer features that help to keep busy exhibitors organized and ready for ring time.

A good tack box will be large enough to hold the essentials, yet not so large that it becomes cumbersome. Standard features will include a heavy duty handle, a lid with a hold-open hinge, a leash bar, separate trays for things like brushes, combs and collars, and a compartment for tall spray cans and bottles. A front that opens wide keeps every item within reach.

Additional features may include individual pockets on swinging doors, smaller compartments within each tray, and elastic straps for holding things in place. Optional shoulder straps are also available in some models, and locks provide extra security.

Making a Tack Box Your Own

Although every tack box is manufactured with these standard features plus options, each one quickly becomes as individual as the handler who uses it. Grooming tools vary greatly from breed to breed, depending on coat length and texture. Any trimming, clippering or stripping required will determine the tack box contents. Smooth-coated dogs may require only the basics for coat care, but they also need supplies of their own to keep them comfortable in any weather.

Tack boxes are essentially equal parts salon, wardrobe and emergency first-aid kit. Shampoos and conditioners (wet and dry), aerosol cans and spray bottles are always on hand, no matter the location. Essentials such as scissors, shears, clippers, brushes, slickers, rakes, mat splitters, nail trimmers, hand strippers and stripping stones are likewise always ready to be used for those last minute touch-ups. With chalks, powders, ear cleaner, toothbrush and toothpaste added, the tack box becomes a traveling grooming shop. All that is needed is electricity to power the forced air dryer, and it’s showtime! (And just in case you’re at a show where there’s no electricity, pack a box of corn starch … it will absorb dirt and help clean a dirty coat in no time!)

Blankets and chamois cloths are just some of the items that transform a tack box into a closet. Blankets with Velcro straps keep dogs warm in winter and, when soaked in ice water, cool in the summer heat. A chamois does the same job and can be used to clean up spills and accidents as well. Snoods keep long ears clean and prevent ear-feathering matting. Dog booties or little socks keep feet clean and dry in wet or snowy weather.

Grooming aprons help keep handlers and assistants neat and clean while prepping dogs for the ring. Pockets are useful for having combs and brushes close by, and a drawstring makes a handy “third arm” for holding a blow-dryer.

Handling Inevitable Emergencies

Every so often, an accident happens or a dog becomes ill while on the road, requiring immediate attention. A tack box, fully stocked, becomes a medicine chest and is crucial for quickly applying first aid to the sick or injured animal.

Perhaps the most essential item to carry is a thermometer. A fever indicates a potentially serious situation, so it is best to know the dog’s temperature immediately. (A dog’s normal body temperature is between 100.5 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit.) Use petroleum jelly to ease insertion. Individually wrapped alcohol wipes or peroxide will clean the thermometer.

For treating wounds, Betadine solution (a type of antiseptic iodine medicine for wounds to deter infection) or hydrogen peroxide 3 percent USP may be used. Check expiration dates periodically and replace with fresh bottles as needed. An antibiotic ointment such as Neosporin is a topical cream used to prevent infection and accelerate healing. After applying the cream liberally, wounds may be covered with 3-inch-by-3-inch sterile gauze pads and wrapped with rolled gauze and vet wrap to prevent licking. Vet wrap sticks to itself, but not to hair and, like the gauze, helps stabilize fractures. Another good way to treat injuries such as sprains, swelling and bruising is to use the modern single-use instant cold packs, which work by squeezing to mix together the chemicals and water inside, creating a cold compress.

Occasionally an injured dog may bite out of pain or fear, and vet wrap, gauze or even a bandanna can be transformed into a muzzle, if necessary, or used to safeguard torn ear leather. One-time-use instant hot packs become very warm once opened and are good for both human and canine emergencies.

A compact thermal blanket works well to prevent shock.

Rubbing alcohol, applied to the skin as a body-cooling agent, may aid heatstroke and fever. It should not, however, be used to treat open wounds, as it is not an antiseptic and can damage the skin. Epsom salts (mix 1 teaspoon in 2 cups of warm water) may be used for drawing out infection and for bathing itchy skin and paws. Styptic powder stops bleeding of torn toenails, and a sterile saline eye solution may be used to flush out eye contaminants and treat eye wounds.

Several items from the pharmacy should also be stored in the tack box. Hydrogen peroxide will induce vomiting and activated charcoal tablets are effective in absorbing many toxins. Milk of magnesia and Pepto-Bismol are also good for stomach upset and certain types of poison ingestion. (Cats should not be given Pepto-Bismol as they have difficulty metabolizing the salicylate.) Flagyl is a useful general anti-diarrheal medication, and Pedialyte, the electrolyte solution available in grocery and drug stores for children, may be given to rehydrate puppies and adult dogs. It is also useful for small dogs that may experience blood sugar or electrolyte imbalance.

Nutri-Cal is a nutritional supplement that may be given to dogs that are off their food. This concentrated mineral and vitamin solution may be administered using a syringe, without the needle, as can any oral medication.

Benadryl, or the generic diphenhydramine, is another useful over-the-counter product used for treating bug bites and stings and other allergic reactions. Just be sure to use plain diphenhydramine and not other formulas. Consult with your veterinarian ahead of time about dosage. Only tablets should be used, as the liquid version contains alcohol.

Other important items for a tack box are a hemostat to stop bleeding (also useful to remove a thorn or large splinter) and a tongue depressor to use as an emergency splint to stabilize a fracture. This can also be used to get dog food out of a can or to stir coffee, if nothing else!

A flashlight is always useful to have, and a penlight can be used to see how pupils respond to light. (In a healthy animal, pupils will decrease in size when exposed to light.) Matches are a good solution for getting a constipated dog to relieve itself. If you need instruction regarding how to “match” a dog, just ask any professional handler!

Post emergency phone numbers in your tack box in case a dog, handler or exhibitor becomes ill while at a show. Likewise, the microchip number of each dog should be listed in case they become lost while on the road.

Finally, exhibitors should never leave home without safety pins and a tiny sewing kit. Wardrobe malfunctions can, and seem to always, occur, usually at the worst possible moment.

With a fully stocked tack box, you’ll always be prepared for any situation that may arise while you’re on the road.

Written by

Dan Sayers started “in dogs” through a chance encounter with a Springer Spaniel in 1980. A student of dogs ever since, he’s shown Spaniels and Hounds in the conformation ring and breeds Irish Water Spaniels under the Quiet Storm prefix. A dog lover with a passion for the creative arts, Dan has worked as a freelance writer, photographer and illustrator for many years. His feature articles and columns have appeared in Dogs in Review, Dog World and the AKC Gazette, and his design work has appeared in dozens of publications in North America and abroad. An interest in all things “dog” brought Dan to Best In Show Daily, where he gets to work with the most dynamic group of fanciers every day. He lives in Merchantville, New Jersey, with his partner, Rudy Raya, Irish Water Spaniel, Kurre, and the memory of Oscar, a once-in-a-lifetime Sussex Spaniel.
  • Cheri Hollenback February 23, 2012 at 8:11 PM

    Great article! Thank you for the list.
    One suggestion I would add to the First Aid section would be Famotidine (Pepcid) or Tums to help if a dog is exhibiting signs of bloat. Helping decrease the gas in the stomach can help decrease the chance of torsion while you’re in transit to the vet. Life lessons learned…

    • Dan Sayers
      Dan Sayers February 24, 2012 at 3:36 PM

      Thanks for the helpful suggestion, Cheri. There’s always room for more emergency supplies in our tack boxes.

  • Vickie March 8, 2012 at 12:55 PM

    Plain contact saline solution (not the disinfecting formula) is good to have on hand for cleaning out wounds and eyes.

  • Emily July 1, 2013 at 5:43 PM

    Very nice article! now to make some room for some more odds and ends in my tack box!!

  • minnahpage
    Melody January 7, 2014 at 10:12 AM

    Sanitary napkins are ALWAYS in my kit….not for me, but as bandaging material. They are highly absorbent, often come individually packaged, can be had in a whole variety of sizes, and if you can find the old-fashioned non-self-stick kind, can actually be tied in place around a limb. (Or a whole dog, if it’s small!)

  • Molly Ehmann January 7, 2014 at 12:07 PM

    Generic Immodium. Good for man or beast. Just don’t use the Immodium Advanced because there are other things in there that aren’t safe for dogs, as far as I know. Panty liners are also good for bandaging difficult areas.

  • Deb Eldredge, D.V.M.
    Deb E January 11, 2014 at 4:27 PM

    Two quick things: hydrogen peroxide is not ideal for flushing a wound as it can damage tissues – saline solution or a chlorhexidine wash is better. On immodium, be sure your dog is MDR 1 normal before you use it! some dog shave a genetic defect that can lead to toxicity.

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