Features January 2012 Issue

Dog Gear of the Year 2011

Some of the best dog-training and -care tools, toys, and treats we’ve tried.

Every year we come across a few dog-related items that make an immediate and/or lasting impact on our dogs or our dog-care regimen, and we feature them here. This year, we also asked our readers, via the Whole Dog Journal Facebook page, for their nominations for “Gear of the Year.” Some of the items here are their selections. 

Dog Twister: Stash treats in the center compartments; the dog needs to slide the covers from side to side to reach the treats. Once he is adept at this, the game can be made more difficult by the insertion of bone-shaped stoppers that limit the direction that the pieces can be moved to gain the treats. The stoppers can be inserted at right angles to make it easy for a dog to extract them, or snuggled into the slots to make it more difficult.

Nina Ottosson Dog Activity Toys

Swedish dog owner Nina Ottosson first marketed some of her puzzles and games for dogs in Sweden in 1993; we first heard about them (and reviewed the original wood versions) in 2008. Since then, probably in a defensive response to a number of cheap plastic knockoffs of her designs, Ottosson has developed a line of high-quality plastic toys, though the original, beautiful wood models that are made in Sweden are still available. The wood ones are sturdy and gorgeous – and more expensive. The plastic ones are also quite rugged, holding up to all sorts of clawing and even being picked up and dropped and continuing to work perfectly.

Peanut’s strategy is to use his claws to start the movement of one of the compartment covers . . .

We tested one of the knockoffs, as well as Ottosson’s plastic “Dog Twister” model; there was no comparison. Our dogs were finished with the knockoff in minutes; but many designs of the Ottosson toys, like the Dog Twister, are designed with several levels of difficulty and continue to provide a challenge for dogs after months of play. In addition, Ottosson makes more complex toys and simpler toys; as her website says, “Whether you have a ‘Forrest Gump’ or an ‘Albert Einstein’, there is a Nina Ottosson game design to suit every dog!” (Even our young cats got into the action, using their claws to manipulate the pieces; Ottosson indicates which of the toys are appropriate for cats!)

These toys are great for occupying puppies, giving non-ambulatory or post-surgical dogs something to do, or just amusing yourself while amusing your dog!

Then he shoves his nose in and nudges the cover aside while rooting for the treats.

We purchased from Amazon.com, but the toys are available from a number of online retailers, listed on the website below.
dog twister, plastic – $42

Nina Ottosson Dog Activity Toys
Karlskoga, Sweden

Car Seat Covers

The last time we bought a car seat cover meant especially for protecting the car from the wear and tear (and moisture and dirt and hair) of dogs, IT smelled so bad that we returned it without ever trying its fit in the car. (We did let it air out, fully unfolded, for two days on a clothesline ; it still stunk.) We’ve been reluctant to try another model since then; instead, we’ve habitually covered the back seat with a large bed sheet.

Otto prefers to take the entire toy somewhere else, so he can work on it in private. (He’s also had some minor success at dropping it and having a few treats fall out.)

A few months ago, we tried again. We purchased the Solvit Deluxe Bench Seat Cover, a machine-washable (polyester with a suede-like finish) cover with a water-resistant backing. It installed easily, with adjustable straps that go around the headrests, and lined openings for the seat belts to pass through. (There are some other straps and hooks under the cover that are meant to pass under the cushions and fasten under the seat somewhere, but our car’s seat is fastened right to the floor. We didn’t use those straps, and yet it doesn’t seem to matter; the cover stays put anyway.)

We love it. First, because it didn’t smell bad. Also, no moisture from our wet, muddy dogs passes through to the seats. Hair and stickers stick to the cover, rather than the car – and yet, when we took the dirty cover out of the car and shook it, most of the hair and stickers flew off. The cover looked so presentable after the shaking, that we didn’t wash it that first time; we just put it back into the car!

Antlers are actually “made” of the same tissue as bone, with a fatty marrow interior.

We purchased from Amazon.com, but a list of other retailers can be found on the Solvit website.

Solvit Deluxe Bench Seat Cover
– $33

Solvit Products
Arlington, Texas
(866) 676-5848

We’re always looking for items that satisfy our dogs’ need to chew – and that are as safe as possible. The animal hooves that are sold in pet supply stores are often too hard (risking broken teeth); and many rawhide, tendon, and “pizzles” chews present a risk of being swallowed in large enough chunks that bowl obstruction becomes a concern. We’re not fans of any of those green chews, which contain a ton of wheat byproducts.  But antlers have become a recent obsession with our dogs. They are hard, but not quite as hard as cow hooves, and they last a lot longer than any rawhide-type chews. Best of all, they have that animal-product appeal for dogs – and the animals that provided them don’t have to die (deer and elk shed their antlers annually, and they are collected for this purpose). 

Our dogs like the fleecy, quilted fabric of the Solvit car seat cover – it’s warm and grippy, not slippery.

There are a number of companies selling deer antler chews. We suggest looking for those that are sourced in the U.S., from animals that have been organically raised. Always take away any chew item from your dog when it is chewed down to a size that could be swallowed.
We purchased from Amazon.com, but antler chews can also be purchased directly from the Chasing Our Tails website.

Deer Rack Snack – $9

Chasing Our Tails, Inc.
Hudson, New Hampshire
(866) 967-0152


We’re obsessed with leashes. Our favorites are simple, strong, and well-made of quality materials. And they have to feel good in the hand. Leedz leashes meet all those criteria – especially the feel in the hand. They are made of a particularly silky synthetic rope that stays smooth even after lots of daily use. Each has a generously sized loop handle.

Leedz are available in the four UV-resistant colors seen here, with swivel snaps or slip ends.

Leedz are made by Purple Pebble (a pet products company that also offers some very nice fleecy “Cuddle Mats” for use alone or in a crate). They are offered in two diameters: the 5/8” is recommended for big dogs and comes in 2’, 4’, and 6’ lengths; the 6’ length is available with either a snap on the end or a slip noose. The 3/8” comes in a 6’ length with a snap end or a 4’ length with a slip end.

Leedz – $23

Purple Pebble
West Milford, New Jersey
(201) 444-7439

Freeze Dried Meat Treats

We’ve never had a dog turn down these training treats.

There is a short list of attributes that we look for in a treat: It should be mostly or all-meat (that’s the definition of high-value, in the opinion of most dogs); it should be dehydrated or freeze-dried (to make it convenient and not greasy in a pocket); it should be small (so we can feed a lot of them without filling up or boring the dog). That’s it!

Bravo!, maker of top-quality frozen raw diets, recently introduced a line of freeze-dried meat treats that meet all of our selection criteria. They come in four varieties: all-beef “hot dogs,” turkey, buffalo, and “Trail Mix,” which contains those three plus tiny cubes of freeze-dried cheese. We like the latter best, because the variety seems to hold our dogs’ attention longer. Bravo! uses only domestic sources of responsibly raised meats. We purchased from a local pet supply store; retailers are listed on Bravo’s website. Bravo! treats are also sold by online retailers such as cleanrun.com.

Bravo! Trail Mix – 4 oz. $10

Bravo!, LLC
Vernon, Connecticut
(866) 922-9222

Non-Plastic Poop Bags

Dog poop presents the environmentalist with a real problem. We would hazard a guess that most of us do the worst possible thing: use a plastic bag to pick up poo, and then throw it in a garbage can, bound for a landfill somewhere.

Here is an environmentally responsible alternative: bags made of polyvinyl alcohol, which you use to pick up poop and dispose in a toilet. Flush Puppies feel and perform like plastic, but when immersed in water (as they would be if flushed down a toilet), they completely degrade into water and carbon dioxide in about four days. They are safe and approved in waste water treatment systems and septic tanks. Flush Puppies contain no petroleum products (like plastics), so if you are closer to a trash can than a toilet, you can feel better about disposing them instead of a plastic bag, which takes much longer to biodegrade.

The bags are 8 x 10 inches and thick enough to be quite sturdy. We’ve never broken one in the process of picking up or carrying poo.

We really like these large, sturdy bags – and so did all the dog-owning friends we gave them to as stocking stuffers! The only complaint we heard was that it was difficult to tie a knot in the bags. The maker actually advises against knotting the bags if you intend to flush them; the knot takes much longer to break down in water. We found that the bags contained poo odor sufficiently to finish our walks if we just twisted the neck of the bag and held it by the twisted section. We purchased from Amazon.com; retailers are listed on the Flush Puppies website.

Flush Puppies – 60 bags for $9

Pawesome Pet Products, LLC
Boca Raton, Florida
(855) 766-7224

Comments (4)

I loved the antler idea, so I bought one. Knowing my Aussie, sometimes called "Mr. Destructo", has been known to swallow an end of a 3 foot bully stick in an effort to consume the whole thing quickly.....I bought a really big one. At first, he settled down and happily chewed on it. Next thing I knew, in less than 10 min, the giant thing was gone. He had simply chewed it up and eaten it. All of it. Yes, that quickly. All went well, if you know what I mean :) But 10 min of fun for these prices won't work. Not for heavy chewers.

Posted by: CAROL M | October 11, 2012 7:06 PM    Report this comment

I loved the antler idea, so I bought one. Knowing my Aussie, sometimes called "Mr. Destructo", has been known to swallow an end of a 3 foot bully stick in an effort to consume the whole thing quickly.....I bought a really big one. At first, he settled down and happily chewed on it. Next thing I knew, in less than 10 min, the giant thing was gone. He had simply chewed it up and eaten it. All of it. Yes, that quickly. All went well, if you know what I mean :) But 10 min of fun for these prices won't work. Not for heavy chewers.

Posted by: CAROL M | October 11, 2012 7:06 PM    Report this comment

Wish we could have got our product to you for your review. We are the makers of It's Your Doodie tm the discreet dog walk bag.This unique product clips to your dogs leash or harness so you do not have to carry the nasty plastic bag. The pocket is waterproof and wipe clean. New bags dispense from the front eyelet. A hand sanitizer pen clips into the front pocket and the hang tag doubles as an air freshener. We developed this in an effort to make it more convenient for pet owners to pick up after their dogs when their isn't a trash receptacle nearby. You can review our products at www.itsyourdoodie.com

Posted by: itsyourdoodie | May 3, 2012 11:34 AM    Report this comment

Thanks for your review of the Solvit Car Seat Cover. I am putting the hammock version on my list.
I too purchased a less expensive cover--a hammock style--and was not pleased with the smell. Unfortunately, I could not return that cover because not only did I air it outside, but I laundered it, hoping that the smell would go away. The odor was reduced somewhat, and after more airing, I finally put it in the car. After the cover was a little over a year old I noticed that the pvc waterproof coating was breaking down--little bits of powdered pvc fall onto the carseat and the floor. I can now hold the cover up to the light and now see through in a few places. I've only left it in the car because I don't have a replacement for it yet. Looking forward to getting a nicer new one.

Posted by: Anne B | January 26, 2012 5:51 PM    Report this comment

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