Whole Dog Journal’s 2023 Dog Gear of the Year
Gear of the Year features the most exciting, useful products we’ve used and enjoyed over the past year. The post Whole Dog Journal’s 2023 Dog Gear of the Year appeared first on Whole Dog Journal.
Have you ever bought a cute but pricey item in a pet supply store, only to have it fail within days – or hours? It’s estimated that Americans spent $109.6 billion on their pets in 2021 – but how much of that was a total waste? “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, coats that cost an arm and a leg but fray or fade within a short time – I think we’ve all been there. Well, this stuff ain’t that! Here are 10 top-quality dog-care goods that you and your dog will truly appreciate.
Highlands Dog Sleeping Bag
Price: $100 – $140
The last time that Woody, my short-haired Pit Bull-mix, went camping with my husband and me, he was so cold at night that I ended up unzipping my down sleeping bag most of the way and allowing the 75-pound dog to snuggle next to me under the bag all night. I woke before dawn, feeling black and blue and freezing cold; in contrast, Woody was snug as a bug in a rug. I vowed then and there to get him his own sleeping bag for future camping trips.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to buy (or carry) an extra human-sized sleeping bag for this purpose, because I learned that Ruffwear makes a dog-sized sleeping bag that fits him perfectly! Problem solved!
Ruffwear’s Highlands Dog Sleeping Bag is made in an oval shape (like a sleeping dog) and has a zipper down one side. The outer shell is polyester with a “Durable Water Repellent” finish; the inner fabric is water-repellent nylon, and its stuffing is a compressible synthetic down. For its very first use, I unzipped the bag and invited Woody to lie down; when he did, I zipped up the zipper most of the way. He quickly realized how warm and comfortable he was and immediately relaxed into a nap. The bag is roomy enough that he was able to stand up and get out of the bag by himself when he smelled dinner cooking on the campfire. From that day forward, he has sought out “his” bed wherever we’ve brought it along with us.
The Highlands Dog Sleeping Bag is available in two sizes: Medium ($100) is 33 inches long and about 25 inches at the widest point; Large ($140) is 43 inches long and about 28 inches wide. It comes with a compression stuff sack that makes the bundle small enough to pack in your backpack. Woody is not going camping without his sleeping bag ever again!
The bottom of the sleeping bag has a sleeve that accommodates the optional Highlands Pad ($40, sold separately), which contains a thin layer of closed-cell foam and synthetic down for padding and a waterproof bottom surface. The Highlands Pad can be used alone on the ground for your dog to rest out of the dirt in camp. It folds into a smaller bundle – convenient for car-camping, but perhaps not small enough to carry on a backpacking trip. – Nancy Kerns
Price: $10 – $25
I first spotted these variously shaped dog chews that looked like they were made of wood at a pet products trade show. Curious, I approached and picked one up – discovering that they actually are wood! Was someone marketing regular old sticks to owners for their dogs to chew on?
Well, yes and no: These are sticks, but they are not just regular old sticks; they are pieces of wood from the coffee tree (Coffea canephora, sometimes referred to as java wood), a very dense wood with tightly bonded fibers that doesn’t splinter like most other types of wood when chewed. As dense as it is, though, in the course of a chewing session (and with the help of the dog’s saliva), it does slowly reduce in size in a fashion that has proven to satisfy our test dogs. Some little bits of wood must get swallowed by the dog in the process, but these are not sharp or splintery and get digested without incident.
The sticks are lightly sanded and smoothed at the cut ends; they haven’t been subjected to any other processing. There are a number of companies marketing pieces of the coffee tree as dog chews; we readily found the products offered by Ware Pet Products in both brick-and-mortar and online pet supply stores (including Amazon.com). Sellers price them according to their size, with the largest pieces commanding the highest prices. – Nancy Kerns
Chuckit! Air Fetch Ball
Price: $9 – $12
Anyone with a retriever or another ball-obsessed dog needs the Chuckit! Air Fetch Ball, a hollow, ball-shaped toy. The Air Fetch Ball has enough density to enable it to be thrown (or launched with a Chuckit! Launcher) and to fly as far as a solid ball, but thanks to its hollow, mesh-like construction, with glorious openings for airflow when your dog carries it back to you, it facilitates rather than impedes his panting, helping him avoid overheating.
Many dogs play fetch as a fast-paced, high-intensity exercise, which makes heat stress a concern. The only way dogs dissipate body heat is through panting, which is tough to do effectively with a solid ball in their mouth. My retriever won’t relax unless she’s holding the ball, but can’t effectively thermoregulate when panting with a regular ball in her mouth. The Chuckit! Air Fetch Ball has provided the perfect solution; now she can pant and hold this ball at the same time.
When I first saw the Chuckit! Air Fetch Ball, I was skeptical that it would perform as well as a tennis ball for playing fetch – and that dogs would accept it as readily. But it absolutely throws, flies, bounces, and rolls just like a tennis ball. In addition to its ability to help a dog breathe while carrying it, it’s easier than a regular ball to catch, and is highly unlikely to hurt a dog’s tooth on an awkward catch. And every dog I’ve thrown it to has enjoyed playing with it.
The Chuckit! Air Fetch Ball is available in four sizes, from 2 to 3.5 inches in diameter. Chuckit! sells launchers in a variety of sizes; check to see which launcher works with which size of Air Fetch ball. Made of natural rubber in Vietnam. – Eileen Fatcheric, DVM
Help ‘Em Up Harness
Price: $180 – $130
The Help ’Em Up Harness is used to support and steady older dogs who are having trouble with general mobility, or who need help only when getting up from a nap, going up or down stairs, or getting into a car. It’s also a valuable assistive device to protect fragile dogs who are recovering from surgery.
I’m embarrassed to report that I initially resisted when a physical therapist suggested that I use a Help ’Em Up Harness on my older Labrador Retriever. There were just so many buckles! I thought it would take forever to put it on when my dog needed it. No thank you, I thought. Then she said, “Your dog can comfortably wear it 24/7, just like her collar.” I was a little skeptical but decided to try it. She was right! My sweet Dixie wore this harness comfortably for the last year and a half of her life and it was a godsend. (Note: Blue Dog Designs suggests you give your dog breaks from wearing the harness and that you check for chafing or overheating daily.)
The Help ’Em Up Harness is designed to help you lift or support the dog’s mass from below, beneath the chest and pelvis, distributing her weight over large padded surfaces. The harness has two large handles – one positioned over the dog’s shoulders and one positioned over the dog’s hips – that you can easily grab to help your dog up or just steady her. As long as she’s wearing the harness, you can reach down and lend a hand if your dog tends to slip on hard surfaces, help her manage stairs more confidently, and easily lift her in and out of vehicles or on and off the bed. You can help her get up from lying down without a struggle and without straining your back. You can even provide support while a dog postures to urinate or defecate on weak hind limbs.
The Help ’Em Up Harness comes in five sizes, suiting dogs from 10 pounds to 225 pounds. It is durable and washes well. The chest and back panels are lined with perforated neoprene to keep the harness as cool and comfortable as possible. Straps are also covered with neoprene sleeves and areas of most friction are covered with super soft microfleece. The company’s website offers detailed directions for ordering the correct size and design (there are two options for the back half of the harness, as the conformation of some male dogs necessitates a certain fit).
Blue Dog Designs also offers a variety of straps that snap onto the harness for use when walking for longer distances or for use with smaller dogs (so you don’t have to bend over to support the dog). One has a handle that’s similar to the handle on the harness; there is also a strap you can wear over your shoulder to help support the dog’s weight without having to bend down at all.
When you no longer need your harness, consider paying it forward by donating it to your veterinarian or local veterinary rehab facility so another sweet soul can be helped in your dog’s memory. – Eileen Fatcheric, DVM
Trailblazing Tails Long Line
Price: $27 – $94
We’ve often discussed the value of using a long line for training and managing a dog who is not ready to be off-leash. You can certainly make your own long line with an inexpensive rope – but if you may need to use a long line for a long period of time – like I forsee needing to use one for my adolescent dog, Boone, who recently discovered the joys of chasing rabbits (three times now, ack!) and deer (twice, ugh!) – you may as well invest in a strong, lightweight one that is waterproof (so it doesn’t get soaked and heavy in wet grass or during a swim), impervious to stickers and grass awns, and easy to hold and coil.
The material that best meets those requirements is BioThane, a polyester webbing with a TPU or PVC coating. It is flexible and soft in the hand, with a feel like supple leather, but durable and strong.
Trailblazing Tails is a small business that specializes in dog leashes and long lines made of BioThane (and I just learned they have a new line of collars, too). I’ve been admiring their products from their social media posts for a long time, but started seriously shopping their website after Boone’s first off-leash, no-recall chase after a rabbit. I hesitated to order only because I was tempted by so many options; did I want the one with an adjustable handle? A more expensive outer coating (described as “grippy yet buttery soft”)? One with a sliding tab that would enable me to wear the end of the long line around my waist or over my shoulder? Would the ½-inch width be strong enough, or should I get the 5/8 inch? Should I get the 20-foot, 33-foot, or 50-foot option? And which of the many colors should I order?
Every time I went to order, I stalled out, stymied by the many options – until Boone’s second deer-chasing adventure clinched my choice: I’d order the most basic model, 33 feet long, in brown ½-inch-wide regular BioThane with a plain handle.
The one I ordered arrived swiftly and does the job beautifully. The brass hardware and workmanship is high-quality, the material is comfortable in the hand, doesn’t get scuffed by being dragged, wipes clean with a wet cloth, and coils easily when Boone walks close to me. While some of the fancy options would have been nice, I’m relieved to have such a nice piece of useful equipment in hand, just a few weeks later than would have been smart. – Nancy Kerns
Rex Specs V2 Goggles
My dog, Prince, and I love to go kayaking and bicycling, but I am concerned about the potential long-term effects of sunlight on his vision. I wear polarized sunglasses when I am outdoors, so why shouldn’t he? Plus I was worried about him getting bugs or debris in his eyes when he rode in his bike trailer while I bicycled.
I tried a type of goggles on Prince a few years ago. He really disliked them; he would tear them off his face in just a few seconds, leaving them dangling around his neck. The lenses sat too close to his eyes for his comfort. And since the lenses were flat and sat directly in front of his eyes, they reduced his peripheral vision as well.
I recently had an REI member dividend to spend and took a chance on the V2 Goggles from RexSpecs. I knew from the moment they arrived that Prince would be more comfortable in these goggles. The lens is large and curved, giving him an unobstructed view of his environment. The lens sat far enough away from his eyes that his lovely long lashes would not brush up against it. The straps are adjustable along multiple points, making it possible to customize the fit for each individual dog. The area between the inner and outer frames contains a breathable mesh so that the lens does not get foggy. The breathable mesh also allows water to drain from the goggles should your dog get them wet. The frame is durable, bendable, and comes in a variety of colors.
You can also change the RexSpecs lenses. They come with two lenses; one is clear and the other is smoke gray. You can purchase replacement lenses that come in a variety of colors, such as pink mirror, blue mirror, or yellow. Prince recently added the purple mirror lens to his collection.
Each lens is impact resistant and UV 400 rated; this means that 99% of harmful UVA and UVB rays are blocked from reaching your dog’s eyes. The lenses are made from polycarbonate and do scratch easily. Care for them like you would your own eyeglasses.– Jennifer Bailey, DVM
Price: $48 – $54 for 4 small or large panels
$80 for 5 of the Max Protect panels
If your dog has attempted to dig under your fence to escape your yard – or other dogs, a predator like a coyote or fox, or a nuisance animal like a skunk has dug under your fence to gain access to your yard – this product is for you. Dig Defence makes galvanized steel panels of comb-like tines that can be pounded into the ground next to/under your fence to provide an underground barrier that can keep pests out and your dog in.
The small and large panels are 32 inches in length, but the height of the tines and the distance between them varies. The products for small to medium animals have 8-inch tines spaced 2 inches apart; the panels for larger animals have 10-inch tines spaced 2.5 inches apart. There is also a “Max Protect/Gap Repair” product with 24-inch long panels; the tines are 15 inches high and 1.5 inches apart.
The panels are easy to install, even in hard soil. If your soil is very loose, consider the panels with the longest tines. They are very sturdy and can be pulled out of the ground and reused/relocated as needed.
The products are not inexpensive, so they’d be best used to address digging that recurs in a single spot or small zone; it would be impractical to use them under an entire fence line. Dig Defence sells them in a pack of four, 10, or 25 panels (the price per panel gets lower the more you buy). – Nancy Kerns
You control this pricey but absolutely pure fun puzzle game for your dog with an app on your smartphone. It’s comprised of two units: the PupPod Rocker, which has lights and sounds that signal your dog to touch it; and the Bluetooth-connected PupPod Feeder that delivers food when your dog touches the Rocker at the appropriate time. You launch the game or change its level of difficulty from your phone – and because the feeder features a video camera, you can use an app on your phone to watch a livestream of your dog playing the game even when you’re not home!
Because I’ve taught my dogs to “touch” things on cue, they enthusiastically bopped the Rocker with noses and paws – and very quickly learned to run to the feeder when they heard the sound effect signaling that a treat was about to be dispensed. The sound effects can be turned off, but the feeder still makes a mechanical noise as it prepares to launch the treat.
On Level One of the game, touching the rocker at any time triggers the feeder; on Level Two, the feeder will dispense only if the dog touches the rocker after it emits a flashing light and/or sound cue (you can choose the sound used for the cue, or turn it off). On Level Three, the rocker continues to emit the “touch for a treat” sound cue, but also introduces a new sound – one that will not cause a treat to be dispensed if the dog touches the rocker. Two more levels add even more complexity to the game.
The rocker is sturdy and has held up to getting batted around fairly vigorously by our treat-dispenser-savvy dogs. Our senior test dog (Otto), who has more than a decade of experience with food-dispensing toys such as the Kong Wobbler, was committed to the idea that the rocker should spill the treats – and since he’s pretty deaf, he couldn’t hear the feeder whirring when it dispensed the treats.
The feeder has tiny suction cups that keep it secure on a kitchen counter; it also has an integrated wall mount that can be used instead if your dog is a counter-surfer. It holds about two cups of kibble. (Treats that are fairly firm and spherical work best.) It varies, but generally dispenses one to four treats at a time, launching them rigorously into the room; my most savvy game-player (Woody) quickly learned to catch the treats mid-air.
The initial installation of the app on my phone and setting up the device (connecting to my home wifi and pairing the Rocker and Feeder via Bluetooth) was easy. I hit a little hitch when I took the PupPod to a friend’s house and tried to set it up at her house. Changing the Wi-Fi connection was a tad more difficult to figure out than setting it up in the first place, but I got it done without tears – not bad for a Boomer!
I enjoyed watching my dogs play with the PupPod as much as the dogs enjoyed it. If I didn’t work at home, I would be certain to spend my every lunch break by using my phone to initiate a boredom-busting game for my dogs and watching them play it via a livestream. – Nancy Kerns
Sleepypod Mobile Pet Bed
One of WDJ’s regular test dogs is a tiny Chihuahua-mix (he weighs less than 5 pounds). Samson is at a high risk of getting injured in a car accident, given that he’s far too small to wear a conventional car-safety harness/seat belt combination. That’s why we were particularly happy to learn that Sleepypod, the maker of our favorite (and crash-tested) car-safety harnesses for larger dogs, offers a crash-tested car-safety carrier for small dogs (up to 15 pounds).
Sleepypod calls its Mobile Pet Bed a “transformative pet bed, carrier, and car seat, all in one” – and, for once, a product lives up to its aspirational marketing verbiage.
The round base has rigid sides and a rigid bottom, which makes a dog feel secure when being carried in the product. It’s lined with foam-padded, plush bedding that can be removed and machine-washed and line-dried. To carry your dog, zip on the durable mesh dome, which allows your dog to see and breathe easily. There is a handle on the top of the dome as well as an adjustable, padded shoulder strap for easy carrying. And for driving, the car’s seat belt is used to secure the carrier, preventing your small dog from flying through (or out of) your car like a deadly projectile.
The Sleepypod Mobile Pet Bed comes in nine colors. It’s also available in a smaller size (the Sleepypod Mini) for very small dogs (up to 7 pounds) for $180. Sleepypod offers several accessories for the Mobile Pet Bed that can make your dog even more comfortable, including an electric warmer (comes with a power supply cord, a U.S. adapter, and a car adapter); a white “Ultra Plush” cushion; a clip that attaches to the car seat belt, allowing you to pre-set the ideal seat belt length; and a hammock-like insert (the “Sleepypod Air Mesh”) that can be zipped into the base of the Mobile Pet Bed to increase the air circulation under the bedding to help your dog stay cooler.
Here’s the best part: The Mobile Pet Bed has successfully passed the Center for Pet Safety’s certification testing. And Sleepypod will replace or provide a replacement discount on any pet carrier or safety harness damaged in an auto accident, regardless of the brand. Now that’s a company that cares about car safety for dogs! – Nancy Kerns
Price: $19 – $23
Two years ago the Toppl Treat Toy from West Paw won a Gear of the Year place of honor with its treat-dispensing shape and soft yet sturdy construction. Now it’s joined by the Rumbl, a springy, squishy, slightly egg-shaped, hollow wobble toy that bounces while sporadically releasing kibble, jerky, or other dry treats. Designed for moderate chewers, the Rumbl has top and side openings that make it easy to fill. Contents stay dry even while the toy is gnawed and drooled on.
Like West Paw’s Toppl, the Rumble is dishwasher safe, floats, is free from BPA and latex, and is FDA-compliant. The small size (3.5 inches tall, holds about a cup of kibble) is recommended for dogs weighing less than 40 pounds while the large size (4 inches tall, holds about 1 2/3 cups of kibble) is best for medium to large dogs. Both sizes come in three colors: eggplant (purple), jungle green, and melon (pink/orange).
My Lab’s Rumbl was a gift from her Irish Terrier boyfriend, who adores his, and it immediately became a favorite, especially when stuffed with a round biscuit or sweet potato chew that’s large enough to prevent it from falling out. The Rumbl keeps dogs busy tossing, rolling, chewing on, and chasing this satisfying treat dispenser.
West Paw dog toys are manufactured in Bozeman, Montana. Its proprietary Zogoflex plastic material is recyclable and guaranteed for quality and performance. – CJ Puotinen