Whole Dog Journal Product Review: 2020 Dog Gear of The Year

Select training and dog-care equipment, recommended by experts.


Have you ever bought a cute but pricey item in a pet supply store, only to have it fail within days – or hours? “Super tough” toys that don’t make it through a day of play, beds with zippers that permanently separate the first time you wash the cover, collars that cost an arm and a leg but fray or fade within a short time I think we’ve all been there. Well, in brief: This stuff ain’t that! Here are some of the most worth-it dog-related items we’ve tried this year.


It’s normal to have one dog and 17 stuffable food puzzles, right? Normal or not, my dog fully supports my obsession, and we were both excited to add the Toppl to our line-up.  The Toppl is a cup-shaped toy with a rounded bottom, and extending from the bottom of the inside of the cup, five long, flexible inner fingers (they call them “teeth”) that hold treats in place. The easiest extraction project for dogs who are inexperienced with food-dispensing toys is to insert treats between the inner teeth. For an added challenge, a small and large Toppl can be connected to each other with kibble or other small treats inside. Since each Toppl has a rounded hole on its side, the kibble will dribble out as a dog manipulates and rolls the conjoined toys around. But to me, where the Toppl truly shines is its ease of use when it comes to stuffing and freezing a portion of a dog’s meal. I’m a longtime Kong user and routinely mix kibble with any number of “binders” (yogurt, canned pumpkin, mashed sardines, diluted peanut butter) and stuff the concoction into Kongs. It takes a little work to squeeze the goopy mix into the one-inch opening of even the largest Kong toys.  In contrast, the opening on a large Toppl is two inches, and even the small Toppl’s opening is a user-friendly 1 ¾ inches. This makes them much easier to quickly stuff – a fact I greatly appreciate late on a Sunday night when I’m getting ready for a busy workweek. The rubbery Toppl comes in two sizes (large is four inches tall; small is three inches) and three colors (blue, orange, and green).  The Toppl is top-rack dishwasher safe, latex-free, and FDA-compliant (safe to eat from). All West Paw products are made in the USA. The proprietary plastic blend is recyclable; you can’t toss your worn out toys into your own recycling bin, but you can send them back to West Paw’s Bozeman, Montana, facility and they’ll recycle them into new dog toys!  The company also offers a “Love It Guarantee,” which entitles customers to a one-time refund or replacement per toy design. – Stephanie Colman


I was given a prepublication copy of this book and asked if I would consider writing a blurb for its promotion. “Would I? Would I?” I took the additional step of immediately asking its author if she’d start writing for WDJ, and her articles (including the one on page 15 of this issue) have been a bright light in a dark year. In 101 Rescue Puppies, dog trainer and serial foster provider Kathy Callahan tells warm, funny, and heart-rending stories about fostering litters of puppies for shelters and rescues in her area. Callahan relates how foster providers can reverse the arc of  homeless animal stories, transforming tragic origin tales into supremely happy endings, just by giving pups some time in a clean space with loving attention, nourishing food, a good bit of cleanup, and social connections to good-hearted, responsible adopters. I guarantee that her warm portraits of the pups, in words and pictures, will make every reader laugh and cry several times – and, I hope, encourage at least a few to try providing foster care for needy animals themselves.  – Nancy Kerns


This is a 100% true story; I swear on my dogs’ health: Already a fan of these collars just based on their principle and design, I was photographing one that had been sent to me before trying it out on my own dogs; once one of my dogs had worn it for a while, it was never going to look clean and new again. I took pictures of the collar on a table and then put it on my little foster dog Coco to take pictures of it on her.  Just then, my phone rang and I took the call; it was my sister. As I talked, Coco ran off to play with Woody, and they immediately began wrestling and playing the kind of bitey-face games they enjoy – and the kind of games that this collar was invented for: to prevent accidental strangulation. As their game escalated, I told my sister I had to go and I started taking pictures of Woody and Coco’s rough play.  Just then, as is his habit, Woody grabbed onto Coco’s collar; he likes to drag other dogs around by any gear they happen to be wearing. Coco squirmed to get away and as she did, she wildly rolled over, and for a single second, Woody’s mouth was stuck on her collar. And then, nearly instantaneously – POP! The collar’s safety mechanism did what it was designed to do and the collar snapped apart, freeing Coco.  For just a moment, Woody stood with the collar in his mouth, looking confused; that had never happened to him before! And Coco jumped to her feet and scampered away – both dogs unharmed. It was a perfect demonstration of how dangerous a conventional collar would have been, and how perfectly this collar performs to eliminate the threat that normal collars pose to dogs who play this sort of game. I can’t believe I was standing right there taking pictures when it happened.  In the December issue, I wrote an article (“Don’t Wait! Prevent Collar Accidents”) about the strangulation dangers that regular collars can pose to dogs, and I mentioned a product that was designed to eliminate these dangers. As it turns out, I described an early prototype of the current collar, one that’s no longer made. The collar whose effectiveness Woody and Coco just demonstrated is the new and improved model of the product I described.  The owners of Chinook & Co., LLC, invented this collar after their dog Chinook died in a collar strangulation accident. The collar features standard plastic side-squeeze buckles, a tiny loop for attaching an ID tag, and a sizing adjustment slider. But the big draw of the collar is its patented break-away buckle, which releases automatically when pressure is applied. The buckle can be re-fastened quickly and easily. Of course, no one wants their dog’s collar to release when they are walking their dog or to have to change collars every time they are about to go for a walk. So the KeepSafe collar has two leash-attachment D-rings; you snap your leash to both of them to override the breakaway feature.  Chinook & Co. has a relationship with PetSafe, who sells the red, blue, and black KeepSafe Break-Away collars on their website. But the inventors offer an exclusive line of the collars in nine colors and patterns that they sell directly from their website: breakawaycollar.com.  N.K.

RAWBBLE $10 – $57

We love freeze-dried meats for use in dog diets and especially for treats. Freeze-drying preserves the meaty aroma of the main ingredients, but the treats are non-greasy and so low in moisture that they have a long shelf life, even after a package is opened.  For a long time, our hearts belonged solely to Stella and Chewy’s, who innovated a certain type of puffy nugget of freeze-dried meat. We still love that company’s Meal Mixers, but we have opened our hearts and wallets to Rawbble, a very similar product offered by Bixbi Pet.  Why? Well, for one, Rawbble’s nuggets are smaller in size, making it more appropriate for feeding in a training session with small or tiny dogs. (The nuggets are easily squished between the fingers to divide them into still smaller treats, but when working with a dog at a fast pace, it’s just easier to dole out the nuggets in their original form.) Both Stella and Chewy’s Meal Mixers and Bixbi Pet’s Rawbble are nutritionally complete and balanced for dogs of all life stages and could be fed as a sole diet. However, Rawbble’s formulas contain fewer ingredients; the animal protein ingredients are a higher percentage of the food. And even so, they cost a little less than their competitor’s products. Rawbble is available in six single-species formulas (beef, chicken, duck, lamb, pork, and turkey) and one formula with two species (chicken and salmon). Each contains muscle meat (with ground bone) as well as specified organ meat (liver, kidney, and/or heart of the same species as the muscle meat). All of the products are USA-sourced and -made.  Buy a small bag (4.5 ounces, for $10 to $12, depending on the formula), offer it to your dog in a training session, and we guarantee you’ll soon find yourself buying the more economical large bags (26 ounces, for $48 to $57, depending on formula). – N.K.


This little hard-backed book, just six inches tall, packs more information about canine body language into 126 pages than hours of video narrated by a canine behavior expert.  Author and illustrator Lili Chin is a supremely talented artist, and the dogs she draws are adorable. But she also happens to be gifted with the ability to reproduce the immediately recognizable expressions and postures of dogs in responding to things and events with fear, excitement, anxiety, happiness, stress, and calm acceptance. But while most dog owners will recognize the body language that Chin illustrates, many are unable to interpret what they are seeing, and thus will misunderstand what their dogs may be trying to tell them. So Chin breaks it down and explains, in chapters devoted to the particular language of canine greetings, conflict, stress, and play, with special focus on the variations in what dogs “say” with their eyes, posture, mouths, ears, and tails.  Chin sells her art and products online and is in demand as a creator of educational materials for veterinarians, dog behavior consultants, and dog training organizations – and no wonder! Her enaging illustrations and brief, clear descriptions make it possible for anyone to understand what dogs are telling us (and each other). This would be an equally appropriate book to give a dog-crazy child, an adult who was adopting a dog for the first time, or a long-time dog owner who has been having trouble understanding her dog.  N.K.

WASH ‘N ZIP BED $45 – $120

There’s probably not one of us who hasn’t spent a lot of money on dog beds throughout the years of living with one or multiple dogs– too frequently, in my case! Often, the chosen product didn’t quite live up to my standards for quality or ease of cleaning – or my dogs’ comfort!

The Wash’n Zip bed, zipped all the way open. This size gets folded twice, making the bed four layers thick when it’s zipped up again.

Sound familiar? Thankfully, your faith in a high-quality, comfy, easy-to-clean bed can be restored with the Wash ‘n Zip Pet Bed.  Imagine a nice, large quilted blanket, folded in half, then folded in half again; then imagine zipping a zipper that goes around the three sides of the folded blanket, holding the blanket into a nice, thick rectangle. That’s the Wash ‘n Zip! (Note that the smaller sizes are folded over only once, not twice.) Of the many things I love about this bed, the convenience of washing it is tops. The entire bed can easily be unzipped and put in the washer and dryer; there’s no wrestling with removing and replacing a cover. I cannot tell you how amazed I am each and every time with how easily the bed zips back together after washing and drying. I’ve also used the unzipped bed as a car seat or couch cover and as a blanket for a picnic with my dogs! The Wash ‘n Zip is constructed of rugged materials with quality stitching and a heavy-duty zipper. The materials of the bed are nontoxic, and the sheets of interior batting are box-stitched to lock the batting in place so that the bed holds its shape over time.  The beds come in five different sizes, with the smallest being 24 x 18 inches (zipped) and the largest 48 x 34 (zipped). There are four color choices, with three of them available in a soft velour fabric and the fourth in a soft fleece; the underside of all the beds is made of a khaki-colored, strong poly/cotton material.  Even before the pet bed arrived, I was blown away by the superior customer service of this independently owned small business. With a new puppy in our home, I needed a brand new bed. My order barely had time to process before the owner of the company emailed me back, apologizing that he was currently out of my chosen color. He asked if I’d be okay with his shipping me a similar color tone fabric to use while the other was on back order. I agreed and let him know I’d be using the bed for our new puppy.  With that news, the high level of customer service only increased; the owner threw in a Puppy Proofer, a cover that fits over the bed and closes with Velcro on the bottom, helping to prevent damage from the shark-like teeth of a puppy’s chewing habits (or even an adult dog who is a prolific chewer). Wow! When the products arrived, we found that the cover was easy to put on and take off, and helps keep the bed cleaner, for less-frequent washing.  The bed is cushy enough for our arthritic senior dog, who spends his most of his days lazing around, but not so deep that he has difficulty rising. But if the bed didn’t provide quite enough padding for your dog, the company also sells an additional “comfort cushion” that’s made to fit inside the beds. The cushion is a one-piece, box-stitched washer/dryer friendly insert. It’s been 2 1/2 years since I ordered my first Wash n’ Zip pet bed. I currently have three and am about to order a fourth. We have two dogs, but I want yet another bed! The price point, convenience of cleaning, and the versatility of the product makes it an easy decision to buy multiple beds in order to provide a soft spot in other rooms for our dogs. Did I mention that they travel well, too? I take one with me to our Fear-Free vet’s office to use atop their own soft matting.  If you’re looking for a long-lasting, easy-to-clean bed that your dog will love, this is it. Lisa Lyle Waggoner The Wash ‘n Zip bed, zipped all the way open. This size gets folded twice, making the bed four layers thick when it’s zipped up again. Lisa’s youngest dog, Cailie, enjoying her new bed.


Denise Fenzi, the author of Conversations with Raika, is a professional dog trainer and the owner/founder of Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, a highly successful online school for both competition and pet dogs. Fenzi has written a number of excellent books on training – but this isn’t one of them. Instead, it’s a series of imagined discussions that Fenzi had with her retired Obedience Champion Belgian Tervuren, Raika.  The book’s introduction explains the “conversation” this way:  “For a long while, Raika talked, but no one heard. She was not discouraged; her many years as a competition dog had taught her to persist in the face of challenge, so she just kept right on talking. And when that voice emerged, it was not nearly as agreeable nor lacking in opinions as one might have thought. Indeed, once she got started, Raika had opinions on everything from what time she went for her walk to what showed up in her food bowl to how she wanted to leave this earth, with plenty of commentary in between.” A “talking dog” device in fiction can get cloying or annoying – but Fenzi channels the personality of her smart, challenging, opinionated, and insightful senior dog so skillfully that the reader “buys into” the conversation completely within just a few pages. This has just as much to do with the witty and humorous banter between the two long-time friends as the insights about life and death they share (or argue about) as they navigate Raika’s senior years to a moving conclusion. – N.K.


I’m pretty sure I can hear the gasps from here: HUNDREDS of dollars for a dog bed? How can any dog bed be worth that much? First, these are not just any dog beds. And they are beds that not many dogs may need. These are big dog beds for big dogs – big dogs, up to 250 pounds, who need extra-thick padding between their big bodies and big bones and the hard floor.  Big Barker beds are made with three bonded layers of American-made foam with an astounding 10-year warranty. Yes, Big Barker guarantees that these beds will not flatten within 10 years, or you get a new bed. Also, Big Barker would like to warn dog owners about Chinese-made foam mattresses, which have been known to emit noxious odors and have tested positive for lead, arsenic, chlorine, and other potentially dangerous chemicals.  Even the glue that’s used to bond the layers of foam together has been carefully sourced by Big Barker. They use an American-made water-based latex glue, which is fully OSHA-compliant and can be sprayed without masks or filtration.  The material used for the Big Barker’s covers was chosen for its softness and durability. The company says their fabrics hold up well against digging and nesting. “Our strong microfiber covers score 100,000 or higher on the standard Wyzenbeek Abrasion test, which measures a fabric’s ability to withstand surface wear from rubbing. High-quality household furniture only requires scores of 15,000.” Only super-strong, American-made zippers are used for the covers. “Because our foam is so big and thick, we use up to 150 inches of zipper, surrounding a full 75% of the bed.” This enables you to take the cover off and put it back on after laundering with ease. The Big Barker bed is available in three sizes (the smallest is 30 x 48 inches; the largest is 48 x 60 inches) and two styles: flat (“Sleek Edition”) and with a headrest at one end (“Headrest Edition”). The covers are available in four solid colors.  Like I said, not everyone will need these beds. But if you have a big dog – and particularly a big, old dog, you probably need one of these beds. At 70 pounds, my 13-year-old arthritic dog absolutely qualifies, and approves of this review. – N.K.

Previous articleThanks, Pat
Next articleDog House Rules
Nancy Kerns has edited horse and dog magazines since graduating the San Francisco State University Journalism program in 1990. The founding editor of Whole Dog Journal in 1998, Nancy regularly attends cutting-edge dog-training conferences including those for the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, Pet Professional Guild, Association of Professional Dog Trainers, and Clicker Expo. To stay on top of industry developments, she also attends pet industry trade shows such as Global Pet and SuperZoo, educational conferences of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association and Pet Food Industry’s Pet Food Forum. As a regular volunteer for her local animal shelter, the Northwest SPCA in Oroville, CA, she fosters large litters of puppies and helps train wayward adolescent dogs in order to increase their chances of adoption. Nancy shares her life with her husband and two canine alumni of the NWSPCA, mixed-breed Otto (whose adorably fuzzy visage was incorporated into WDJ’s masthead some years ago) and Pit/Lab-mix Woody. 


  1. I would not suggest Rawbble as a training treat. I got a bag of the chicken to try, based on this review. The nutritive quality is good, and dogs do like them. After an hour in my pouch, the treats were a pile of fluff. When I handed intact treats to dogs, bits crumbled off on to the floor. Showers of crumbs are not a good thing in a training facility or on a walk. I won’t buy these again, though they could be useful as a quality food topper.
    I do love Toppl, and it is quite useful when clients want something for patients to occupy their mind or slow down eating.