Gear of the Year 2004

Our favorite dog care products from this year's reviews.


Behavior Modification Tools
How can a toy improve a dog’s behavior, you ask? Ah, well! Just think of all the naughty behaviors a dog cannot participate in while he’s busy playing with a toy! How do you make the toy so irresistible to guarantee his interest? You load it with food, of course!

The Kong was the first toy of this type on the market, and while we will admire it forever (and keep a supply on hand for our own dogs), we also appreciate the innovations built into later-generation products by competing manufacturers. In 2004, Premier Pet Products introduced an entire line of products (“Busy Buddy Treat-Holding Rubber Chew Toys”) that enabled dog owners to load the toys with treats to safely distract and occupy their dogs.

The one we like the most is called the Twist ‘n Treat. The inviting rubber material and its innovative saucer shape make it a highly successful treat-dispensing toy. It’s a snap to load with its two-piece, twist-together design and – unlike the Kong – just as easy to clean. It’s also adjustable; when the toy is twisted tightly closed, the treats can only fall out of a few slight dips in the edges of the toy, and a dog has to really work – licking, chewing, and flinging the toy – to get the treats out. A less-motivated dog can be encouraged by twisting the toy slightly open, so the treats pay out more generously. Twist ‘n Treat comes in three sizes: small, medium, and large.

Twist ‘n Treat, made by Premier Pet Products, LLC. $8 – $16. (888) 640-8840 or


We’re also fans of time-consuming puzzle toys that require the dog’s owner to participate in the fun. Truly interactive toys require (and inspire!) the dog to think as he learns how to operate the toy – and how to work to complete a task with several steps. It may sound trivial, but this sort of game can actually help a dog “learn how to learn,” by getting rewarded for his persistence and innovation.

Most of the products in this category are made out of fabric and contain small parts with squeakers in them. Unlike the chew-resistant toy described above, these toys should not be left with an unattended dog, since they can be easily chewed up.

Our favorite toy in this “interactive toy” category is the Hide A Squirrel, made by Plush Puppies/The Kyjen Company. A stuffed hollow tree holds three little stuffed squirrels (with squeakers). Some dogs grasp the concept of this toy immediately; others may require a step-by-step introduction. At first, simply let your dog play with the squeaky squirrels, and even have him fetch them a few times. Then, stuff them into the “tree.” Hold the tree and encourage him to sniff and then pull the squirrels out of the “knotholes” provided.

Once he gets how to do it, you can find myriad ways to extend the game. Try throwing the loaded tree across the room and watching him wrestle the squirrels out, and then ask him to bring all the pieces back to you before you reload it. The tree is also big enough to enable you to stuff additional toys in it, to make the “unpacking” take longer.

Hide a Squirrel, made by Plush Puppies/The Kyjen Company. $7.50. Available in many pet supply stores and catalogs, including valley vet supply, or (800) 419-9524.


Our experience with Comfort Zone Canine Behavior Modification Plug-In led us to estimate that as many as two out of three anxious dogs may improve somewhat under its influence. This plug-in atomizer emits a substance dubbed “dog appeasing pheromone” (“DAP” for short), synthetically formulated to mimic pheromones produced by canine nursing mothers and purported to reduce any dog’s stress-related barking, elimination, whining, anxiety, fear, chewing, and other stress-related behaviors.

Training Editor Pat Miller tested the DAP atomizer on her pack, hoping to reduce the compulsive guarding behavior of her Scottie, her Cattle Dog-mix’s thunder phobia, and her Kelpie’s typical herding dog’s control-freak behavior. She found it definitely eased the thunder-phobic’s reaction to storms and relaxed the Scottie, but saw no difference in the Kelpie’s behavior.

Miller also asked members of her trainers’ on-line discussion list about their experiences with the product. She received 42 responses, with 64.3 percent reporting positive results; 30.9 percent reporting no observable behavior change; and 4.8 percent reporting negative results.

While not a panacea for all dogs, DAP seems to have a positive effect on enough dogs to test it on your stressed-out dog as a worthwhile adjunct to a behavior modification program.

Comfort Zone, made by Farnam Pet Products. $25 – $30; refills $16. Widely available in pet supply stores and catalogs.


When we examined car safety harnesses for dogs (“Seat Belt Your Dog,” February 2004), we were not completely satisfied with any of the models we tested. None of the models seemed to be designed and manufactured so as to provide equal measures of safety and comfort for the dog. To select the best product for your dog, you need to take into account your driving habits (average speed and route when driving with the dog; freeway driving or just tooling around town?) and your dog’s size and passenger style (is he a big dog who likes to lean into the windshield? A little dog who likes to bounce across the back seat from window to window?).

If your greatest need is to secure a heavy dog, or to prevent a dog from getting launched through the car in a worst-case high-speed accident, we’d suggest The Roadie (pictured at left), a super heavy-duty nylon harness with reinforced stitching and lab-tested components.

If your requirements are more casual – to confine a distracting, restless dog to a smaller territory in the back seat, for example, or to prevent a small or medium-sized dog from getting thrown into the dashboard or onto the floor in a lower-speed accident – we prefer the Universal Car Harness (right), which is much easier to put on and take off the dog, but considerably less sturdy than The Roadie.

The Roadie, made by Ruff Rider Products. $30 for The Roadie “Basic” (which we reviewed); $60 for the “LX” model with sheepskin lining. (720) 249-2986 or

Universal Car Harness, sold by J-B Pet Supplies. $11 – $17. (800) 526-0388 or


We discussed implantable identification microchips (“Collar, Tag, and ‘Chip”) in the August issue. It would have been nice if we could have identified a clear winner in the microchip wars, so we could recommend one type of microchip to all dog owners. However, there are several companies competing to gain market dominance in the U.S. and Canada, with each promoting its own type of chip and, more importantly, the scanners that detect and read the chips. These scanners are generally provided by their makers, free of charge, to shelters and animal control agencies. The promise of the microchip implanted in your dog may go unrealized if your local shelter does not have (or does not use) the corresponding scanner.

Nevertheless, we strongly suggest that you have your dog implanted with a microchip anyway, because it increases your dog’s odds of being returned to you if he’s lost without his collar. When the system works, it’s near-miraculous. We’ve heard stories about dogs who were returned to their owners thousands of miles and even decades from where and when they were lost.

To better the odds, find out which scanners are used by the shelters in your area. If there is a mix, lobby your local animal control agencies to either agree on a common model, or use every available scanner on incoming dogs. Register the microchip with its maker’s recommended registry, and update your contact information with the registry every time you move or your phone number changes. But mostly, keep a collar and current ID on your dog at all times.


Someday, I swear, I’m going to have a Standard Poodle, no cats, and a pet-hair-free wardrobe, sofa, and car. In the meantime, I surround myself with devices that remove pet hair from everything except the pets. The one device I cannot live without is Evercare’s Pet Hair Pic-Up, a tape-based roller, similar to a paint roller covered with sheets of very sticky masking tape. I have one in my car and my gym bag, and several sprinkled throughout the house. When a sheet gets covered, you rip it off, like layers off an onion, until you need a refill.

However, if I’m going to take on a big hair-removal job, such as the sofa or my fleece jacket after a trip to the dog park, I use a more economical roller, the (almost) endlessly reusable Tacky Pick-Up made by Classic Products. This roller is covered with some sort of mushy, sticky material that grabs hair (and lint, dust, loose threads, etc.) until it is covered. Then you just rinse it under the tap; when you rub it under plain old water, the hair and lint washes free and you can keep rolling to your heart’s content.

Pet Hair Pic-up, made by the Evercare Company. $3.20; refills for $2.70. Available in many pet supply stores and catalogs. We purchased from Care-A-Lot Pet Supply, (800) 343-7680 or

Tacky Pick-up, made by Classic Products. $4. Available in many pet supply stores and catalogs. We purchased from Care-A-Lot Pet Supply, (800) 343-7680 or


Nothing constitutes a non-life-threatening canine “emergency” as much as an encounter with a skunk. No one whose dog has come into his or her home covered in fresh skunk spray will dispute how urgent the response must be, nor how deeply despair can take hold of one’s heart during the recovery process.

Our gratefulness knew no bounds when we learned about Nature’s Miracle Skunk Odor Remover, a commercial product found on the shelves of most pet supply stores. It is easy to use – simply saturate the dog with the watery substance and allow him or her to dry. The safe, natural, nontoxic enzymes in the product are able to neutralize the odor in one, or at the most, two applications. Anyone living with a dog in skunk territory should have a quart or two ready.

Nature’s Miracle Skunk Odor Remover, made by Eight In One Pet Products. $10.50. Available in most pet supply stores; call (877) 880-8855 for locations.