Dog Gear of the Year

Innovative, unique, useful, and/or delicious products for you and your dog to enjoy together.


There are millions of dog products being marketed to dog owners for direct use on, in, or around their dogs and puppies: foods, treats, supplements, toys, training tools, garments, medical supplies, grooming tools and unguents, beds, fences, and crates. Then there are the limitless number of dog-related items meant to glorify, commemorate, and stoke the human’s love and understanding of dogs: canine-related decorations and knickknacks, art, clothing, stationary, books, videos, DVDs, and computer programs.

We’re always looking for new and particularly useful products to recommend to our readers (and to use for our own dogs!). We limit our attention to products that provide an actual service, that help owners keep their dogs healthy, happy, safe, and well-trained. You can find “cute” on your own!

We can’t pretend to have seen much less inspected them all. The task would be endless. But we’ve seen enough products to quickly recognize particularly unique items, ones that stand out in terms of quality and usefulness, or that have solved an everyday problem in an extraordinary way.

Here are some additional challenges: letting go of past favorites (especially those that have no real peers), and sitting on our hands while waiting for products in development to reach market. We’re going to address both types, briefly.

We know, we know: There are thousands of dog treats on the market. But we keep buying Lick’n Crunch cookies, for ourselves and for gifts, because these are:


Dog Treats


  • Made out of 100 percent human edible ingredients in a plant that makes cookies for people
  • Completely safe and legal for people to eat
  • Perfectly safe for dogs to eat, since they contain carob (never chocolate)
  • Way tastier than Oreos . . . and dogs love them, too!
  • Available with either peanut butter or vanilla filling

There are many occasions and circumstances in which it’s helpful for a dog to wear a muzzle. In many cities, for example, only muzzled dogs are allowed on public buses and trains Muzzles are also helpful for dogs who have difficulty staying in control in the face of particularly stressful settings such as a vet’s office or on the sidelines of an agility event. Sadly, many people assume that a muzzled dog is a mean dog or that you, the owner, are mean! and the sinister look of many muzzles only reinforces those stereotypes.

Dog Muzzle


In contrast, the bright, cheerful print fabrics of Happy Muzzles convey an overtly friendly message: This is a nice dog who just has to wear this right now!

Happy Muzzles are constructed out of strong but light and washable, Cordura fabric, with a little padding in the nose for your dog’s comfort. They come in three prints daisies, cherries, and a blue geometric design and seven sizes, including two sizes appropriate for wide-faced dogs.

We’re always on the lookout for a better dog bed. Usually this implies a foam-filled bed; in our experience, only very thick, dense, top-quality foam can provide adequate cushioning for older, arthritic dogs . . . or to provide a comfortable enough pet bed to keep the young dogs and the cat off our sofa! But foam has its flaws. As it ages, it gets smellier and smellier. Thick foam is difficult to wash, rinse, and dry. Sometimes washing it makes it even more odoriferous. And when it gets even older, it starts to disintegrate!

CrossGel LLC has made luxury consumer and medical beds for humans for a number of years but not with foam. Its unique mattresses are made of a soft, heavy polymer gel that is molded into a sort of honeycomb structure (with square-shaped cells rather than hexagons). The columnar structure of the cells helps to distribute weight over a wider area, increasing the comfort of the bed (and in humans who are confined to bed, reducing or eliminating pressure sores). The material feels flimsy when a section of it is manipulated in the hand, but it does provide cushion and comfort. The material is machine washable, and air-dries quickly.

Dog Bed


CrossGel only recently branched out into pet beds. It tried to anticipate the special needs of dogs and the requirements of dog owners, and developed a antimicrobial, antibacterial, zip-on, fabric cover; this is the cover that we have tested. The base of the cover is a heavy, rubberized, no-slip material that holds up well to the bed’s heavy use; the top has not proved as sturdy.

The fabric used in the top of the cover, made of a special material that is supposed to resist odor buildup, has frayed and worn at a rate that indicates it won’t last nearly as long as the gel interior. Though we haven’t had the opportunity to test it, we’d probably be happier with the regular synthetic fleece cover that CrossGel offers for $50 less.

Like virtually all top-quality beds appropriate for use with old or arthritic dogs, the FlexGel bed is very expensive. Even so, its comfort seems worth the price. Eleven-year-old Cooper, seen above, has a choice of three beds in the Whole Dog Journal office. Since the arrival of the FlexGel bed, he chooses the FlexGel exclusively, even shunning his cozy (and well-padded) crate in cold weather. We think any older dog would instantly appreciate the FlexGel difference.

For The Love of a Dog


Patricia McConnell is the real deal: An educated, experienced dog trainer with a lovely and evocative writing style, who offers dog owners insight as to their beloved companions’ behavior and good training and handling advice based on sound behavioral science. We’ve been ardent fans for years, especially of her 2002 book, The Other End of the Leash: Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs. That title helped people appreciate how the human’s and the dog’s experience of the world are different, why this frequently leads to misunderstandings and gaps in interspecies communication, and how we can more effectively understand, live with, and manage our dogs.

This book delves deeper into the shared emotional life of dogs and humans. In the hands of the wrong author, that would likely be fuzzy or irrelevant or both. In fact, in recent years there have been numerous best-sellers written by amateur dog owners that cover lots of the same territory.

What elevates Dr. McConnell’s work above others is her gift for noticing and clarifying the subtlest interactions between dogs and their people, and illuminating the biological, chemical, and evolutionary drives that influence those interactions.

When we better understand what is going on inside a dog when he wears a certain expression or assumes a particular posture, and we learn precisely how an emotion like anger predicts our physical responses, we can move past reacting to our dogs’ behavior in nonproductive ways. McConnell helps us advance to the level where we can compassionately and correctly interpret our dogs’ behavior, and respond with appropriate, kind, clear behavior of our own. That’s a literal prescription for a better dog/human relationship.

TreatStik made by Treatstik Pet Toys


Food-dispensing toys are a boon to bored dogs and their busy owners. If it was up to us, few dogs would take their daily kibble from bowls. Instead, you’d enrich your dog’s day by delivering that kibble in a way that requires physical and mental effort over an extended period of time.

We’ve long advocated the use of Kongs and other rubberized toys for this purpose. However, we frequently hear owners complain that their dogs chew up (and sometimes swallow pieces) of their tough, but not indestructible, food-dispensing toys.

The TreatStik is an elegantly simple alternative. It’s made of hard, tough nylon, so it doesn’t invite chewing, but it can withstand the efforts of dogs who attempt to extract the food by brute force. These efforts are so unrewarding, especially in comparison to the strategy that results in the most generous payout nosing the toy again and again that even dogs with a history of chewing rubber toys change their strategy to the more rewarding nudge, nudge, nudge.



TreatStik comes in just two sizes (small and large) and four colors. A cap on the large end unscrews for easy loading and cleaning, and the toy is dishwasher safe.

Still a Favorite…

Dogs who don’t chew up their Kong toys, and who need even more distraction in their days perhaps to help them deal with separation anxiety can benefit hugely from KongTime.

We wrote about KongTime at length in “Help for the Home-Alone Dog” in the September 2005 issue. KongTime is a machine that dispenses up to four food-filled toys, at random intervals, over a period of either four or eight hours (you select which). The dog’s anticipation of the toy-drops and the time it takes him to extract the food from the toys help him get through otherwise tedious (and perhaps anxiety-producing) days. Often this is enough to keep dogs with separation anxiety from barking all day, compulsively chewing on themselves, or trashing your house!

We like to recommend the device to people who are planning to get a new dog or puppy, in an effort to help them prevent the onset of boredom or anxiety-related destructive behavior. KongTime runs on batteries, and is easy to load and clean. It comes with four medium or large Kongs, and detailed instructions for its use.

KongTime best helps dogs with separation anxiety when used as one part of a life-enrichment program; further changes in the dog’s management may also be required. Note: KongTime is not recommended for multiple-dog households.

We’re not wimps. We’ve given shots, squeezed anal sacs, taken out stitches, and worse. But we still dread clipping dogs’ nails especially thick, black nails. We shudder at the thought of clipping too much off and hitting the “quick” the blood-filled, sensitive core of the nail. The dog jumps and yelps, you jump and yelp, blood goes everywhere . . . And if you don’t cut off enough, you have to do it again sooner.

We Can Hardly Wait…

QuickFinder is supposed to end all the drama. It’s a pair of guillotine-style nail clippers that utilizes biomedical technology to detect the presence of blood vessels. Position the clippers too far back on the nail and a red light indicates, “Do not trim.” When you’re close, a yellow light indicates caution. And when your position is just right, a green light says, “Go for it!”



MiracleCorp expects to have the clippers on the market this month . . . but we’ve heard that before from the manufacturers of products we were eagerly awaiting. The hazards of international product manufacturing can mean we may have to wait a while to receive and test this promising product. If it works like the prototype we saw in action, we’ll let you know and we’ll buy several!