When it comes to our own needs, we're pretty boring shoppers. But send us into a good independent pet supply store, and we might not come out for an hour - with a store employee helping us carry stuff we just had to try out. Hunting for unique, attractive, fun, and/or useful dog gear is so much more satisfying than shopping for anything else! We found many of the following items at pet product trade shows, and the rest in our favorite pet supply stores. We hope you enjoy them as much as our dogs have been!
Bowls of Steel
Providing food and water in the confined space of a kennel or crate is a challenge - especially when the only place for the bowl to be secured is on the door, where the dog is likely to knock it loose. Lixit Animal Care Products, "the largest small animal watering device manufacturer in the world" offers "Bowls of Steel" stainless steel crocks that are designed to address the issues of security and providing ample capacity in a small space.
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Lixit's patented "Quick-Lock" bowl attachment clamp and bracket allows the crock to be easily but securely mounted to any wire crate or kennel door.
Unlike most dog bowls, these are comparatively narrow and deep, which both helps reduce spilling and provides a generous capacity without taking up too much space at the front of the kennel. And just as the name suggests, these super bowls are made with high-quality stainless steel, making them easy to clean (or even sterilize) and eliminating the possibility of the chemical leaching that can occur with plastic or ceramic dishes. The crocks are available in 10-, 20-, and 40-ounce sizes, in pet supply stores and through many online retailers. - Nina Thomas
The "Quick-Lock" Bowl, $12-$17
Everyone knows that puppies like to - have to - sink their teeth into stuffed toys that have a satisfying mouth-feel. Most store-bought toys are made with synthetic fabrics and stuffed with polyester filling. When puppies inevitably chew them up, it's important to find and pick up all the pieces of polyfill stuffing they've pulled out of the toys, so they don't end up at the veterinary ER requiring surgical de-stuffing, so to speak.
We're not going to go so far as to say that these stuffed toys, 11 inches long and hand-crafted in Nepal, won't pose a risk to a pup who chews and pulls them apart; puppies should be supervised with all toys and pieces that are chewed off should always be removed promptly. But we do believe that the hazard posed by swallowing bits of these eco-friendly toys, made entirely of natural boiled wool (with non-toxic dyes), is less than that of swallowing polyester fibers. We've picked up a fair bit of puppy poo with bits of wool in it in recent weeks, and none of the poopers have been worse for wear.
Natural wool has a subtle aroma that is bewitching to most puppies and dogs; just wave one of these toys near your pup's nose and watch his nostrils flare and his interest pique. These toys have never failed to engage even the most toy-naive dogs we've met into playing fetch and tug games.
Le Sharma also sells one of our long-time favorites (and former Gear of the Year star), Tuggis - long ropes, about two inches thick, made of the same boiled natural wool. These are available in a variety of lengths, from 20 to 72 inches.
The sale of these fair-trade toys also help Le Sharma's campaign of caring for street dogs in Kathmandu. Ask for them in your favorite independent pet supply store, or buy from Le Sharma online. - Nancy Kerns
Have we lost our minds? A $400 dog bed? Well, maybe we have lost our good sense, but of all the innovative, useful products we've found in the past year, this is the one that makes us most excited.
The most special thing about this bed is what you can't see unless you unzip the luxurious cover: the base mattress. It's made of low-density polyethylene (LDPE), a tough, flexible plastic that been spun into an airy mesh resembling melted fishing line. There is no fabric in this mattress, just this flexible and springy, yet dense material, five inches thick. A 200-pound human can stand on this bed and not feel the floor; it provides firm yet yielding support.
But the best part is the fact that there is absolutely nowhere in this mattress for dust mites to live or fleas to deposit their eggs. The airy spaces inside the mesh mean it won't ever absorb odor or heat. To clean the bed, all you have to do is unzip the cover and throw it in the washing machine, and hose off the mattress; it will dry in the sun in minutes. This is a boon for anyone with an incontinent dog.
The Forgiveness Sofa is available with a variety of choices of material. We purchased the "luxury microsuede" cover and have found it to be durable and attractive to all the dogs that come through our office. It comes off easily, washes and dries well, and even goes back on with a minimum of exertion. Replacement covers are available.
The bed comes in three sizes (30" x 20"; 40" x 30"; and 54" x 36" (shown with WDJ office-dog Otto, above).
Snoozer uses the same LDPE material in thinner (two inches) mattresses in their flat Forgiveness Dog Crate Pads available in four sizes and dozens of fabric choices and colors (all $63-$165, depending on size). The material provides a decent cushion without the polyfill stuffing that seems to tempt so many dogs to chew and unstuff their beds.
But it's the five-inch-thick Forgiveness mattress that we're really crazy about. We've begged Snoozer to use this five-inch mattress in a flat bed without the bolster (which cannot be washed, somewhat defeating the purpose of this otherwise completely washable bed). Perhaps if we all asked nicely? - N.K.
Forgiveness Sofa, $200-$400
Snoozer Pet Products
SiliDog Dog ID Tags
What's the number one complaint about dog ID tags? The jingling! Imagine a tag that's not only silent but also easy to read, colorful, and charitable. Silidog ID tags, made of 100 percent silicone, are all that and more. The company founder and CEO was inspired to create this no-noise tag alternative when his allergic rescue dog would loudly scratch the night away. The product was featured on the entrepreneurial TV show Shark Tank and launched with Kickstarter funds.
Silidog tags come in an array of colors and shapes, so you are sure to find the combination that fits your dog's personality. And unlike a traditional engraving on colored metal, the tags are guaranteed never to fade. They can be stretched, twisted, and bent, but snap back into their original, highly readable shape. Silitags are up to adventures of any size - from scaling mountain peaks to digging holes in the backyard.
The price includes engraving and shipping and an added bonus: The company gives a portion of every sale to charities that support animal initiatives. - N.T.
Silicon ID Tags, $20
Wigzi Gel Leash
When it comes to leashes, we're not usually fans of synthetic materials. But we happened to fondle the handle of one of these gel leashes at a trade show - and just couldn't let go! The handle has an added layer of cushiness for an extremely comfortable grip.
The Wigzi Gel Leash is six feet long, and has an embedded reflective stripe down each side of its entire length. It features an added d-ring near the handle so you can clip on a poop-bag holder or your house keys. It's made from a synthetic material that's both flexible and strong, waterproof, and stink-proof. If it gets dirty, simply wash with soap and water and it will look like new again.
The leash comes in four neon colors: pink, yellow, green, and blue.
Wigzi also sells matching gel collars in four sizes (extra small, small, medium, and large, $10 - $14). The collars are adjustable, and have a plastic quick-release buckle and a pleasingly large leash ring (which makes it easier to find the ring and snap a leash onto it). These products come with a two-year warranty.
Given the softness of the material, we wouldn't recommend these products for dogs who are prone to chewing their leashes.
Wigzi Gel Leashes are available in select pet supply stores (see website for retail locations) and online, including through Amazon.com. - N.T.
Gel Leash, $21
The Great Bowl
"Stay. Good bowl." That's the unofficial motto of Ono, a company devoted to bowls that stay put. The secret is a place mat with an integrated bowl; it's a single, molded piece of silicone that suctions to any smooth surface, holding dog bowls securely in place.
Dogs absolutely can't tip, lift, nudge, or paw the bowl out of place, spilling their food or water and scratching the floor, but their humans can easily lift any corner of the mat (breaking the suction) to refill or wash the bowl. The mat can be used with or without the accompanying stainless steel bowl that nests neatly in the silicone base.
Silicone is free of phthalates, BPS, BPS, and PVC. It's dishwasher-safe and built to last; it doesn't fade or corrode; nor does it support the growth of fungus, mold, or bacteria.
The bowl is available in two sizes: the "Good Bowl" holds 16 fluid ounces, and the "Great Bowl" holds 32 ounces. Both sizes of bowls are available in single- and double-bowl mats. Single bowls are sold in either charcoal or cool gray; the double-bowls are available in those colors plus mint and coral.
Parents and grandparents of infants and toddlers should take a peek at the company's offerings for spill-proof kid bowls at ezpzfun.com. - Nancy Kerns
The Great Bowl, $25
Side-Release Dog Collar
Tail Wagging Dog Lead
A Tail We Could Wag partners with Mayan artisans in the highlands of Guatemala to create these colorful, beautiful collars and leashes. Company owners Joe and Laurie Ryan purchase the colorful fabrics in Guatemala, helping support the small community of Mayan artisans who create the hand-woven textiles. They then assemble and finish the products in the United States "for uncompromising quality and craftsmanship, delivering durable and colorfast products."
The bright textiles are stitched onto a strong but soft nylon material. We've had some of these collars for years without seeing any separation of the fabric. Only solid brass hardware is used on the collars and leashes, and the leash-rings are of an ample size.
The collars come in four sizes (small, medium, large, and extra large, fitting dogs with necks measuring from 11 to 30 inches) and 26 different patterns, all featuring bright, colorfast designs. A Tail We Could Wag also offers some lovely martingale collars.
The Tail Wagging Dog Lead is six feet long, with a handle loop and a brass snap. It, too, comes in 26 different designs, so you can match or contrast the collars.
The products can be purchased directly from A Tail We Could Wag, or from a number of select pet supply stores; see the company website for a list of stores where the products at available.
A Tail We Could Wag has offered "fun fashion accessories" since 1988. The company takes its name from a poem by W. H. Auden, which contains the line, "in moments of joy, all of us wish we possessed a tail we could wag." - N.K.
Side-Release Dog Collar and Tail Wagging Dog Lead, $26-$35
A Tail We Could Wag
Eagle, ID (866) 726-9247
Simple Solution Pee Pads
Dogs of any age might need to use so-called puppy pads to preserve their house-training and protect your floors, whether due to an immature bladder, an extraordinarily old one, or a reduced capacity for "holding it" due to medical conditions. And in this day and age, when many of us live in apartments or must be away from home for 10 hours or more, those pads had better be capable of absorbing more than just a single puddle.
Simple Solution Dog Pads has taken pee pads to the next level, offering an ultra-absorbent pad featuring a combination of high-tech solutions. By making the pads thicker (six layers thick) and utilizing their industry-leading technology that converts liquid to gel, these pads can hold up to 10 cups of liquid - that's more than half a gallon of urine that may otherwise seep into carpets or furniture.
The Simple Solution pads contain an odor-neutralizing material and a substance that causes the pad to turn a teal color to indicate when it's been used.
Simple Solution offers several types of pads: a training pad (23" x 24"), an extra-large training pad (28" x 30"), and an all-day pad (23" x 24") with the 10-cup absorbing capacity. The company also sells a training-pad holder.
The products are available directly from simplesolution.com and at specialty pet retailer and independent stores. - N.T.
Simple Solution Pee Pads, $64-$77 for 100
The Bramton Company
Clot It First Aid Kit
While many people possess first aid kits for their fellow humans, having an emergency kit for our canine companions is often overlooked, yet no less important. The ClotIt First-Aid Kit was designed specifically for injuries that may occur to a dog on a walk or run, on the job, or even at home.
What makes this kit extraordinarily useful is the inclusion of ClotIt non-staining blood-clotting powder. It works by accelerating the body's natural coagulation cascade by "rapidly absorbing plasma at the wound site, leaving behind platelets and blood cells, to aid in forming a solid clot . . . (which) results in complete clotting in seconds." The powdered form of ClotIt is versatile; it can be used on anything from a small scratch to a large laceration. In cases of severe bleeding, it can play a significant role in saving a pet's life during the transit time to a vet.
The ClotIt First Aid Kit also includes: sterile gauze pads, a stretch gauze bandage, cotton-tipped applicators, alcohol prep pads, sting relief pads, triple antibiotic gel, hydrocortisone cream, antiseptic towels, tape, scissors, a slip leash, and tweezers.
While it would be useful to store one of these kits in your car or dog-event go-bag, those of us who hike or work with search-and-rescue (SAR) dogs in rough terrain would do well to slip the bottle of ClotIt powder into a pocket or fanny pack. It would be a huge relief to know you had a fast, simple way to stop any bleeding caused by your dog's accidental contact with brambles, brush, or barbed wire while out on the trail.
The kit can be purchased in many pet supply stores (check the website for locations) and directly from Protege Biomedical. Refills of ClotIt are also available ($15 for one ounce, or $30 for five ounces). - N.T.
Clot It First Aid Kit $30
Eden Prairie, MN
Coolaid Cooling Vests
While there is an abundance of clothing options to keep dogs warm, there are drastically fewer options that offer cooling - and during those hot summer months, some cool relief is just what most pooches are panting for. Coolaid Dog cooling vests have your dog covered.
After years of research and development and partnership with Coolcore, Coolaid has developed a highly effective textile proven to decrease body temperature. Most competitor's materials are laden with chemicals, but Coolaid uses a unique fabric structure that increases wicking, moisture transportation, and regulated evaporation.
To begin the cooling process, simply wet the material, wring out any extra water, and put the vest on your dog. Tests show that the application of the wet vest can provide up to a 30 percent reduction in the dog's surface temperature.
These vests are all-around sleek, from their increased mobility design, to their color options, to their form-fitting, buckle-free, strap-free profile. They are 100 percent machine washable; just pop them in the wash and line-dry.
The vests come in four sizes (small, medium, large, and extra large; see the size chart on the company website) and four colors (crockery, navy, pink, and red). Cooling blankets (resembling horse blankets, with adjustable chest and belly straps) and bandanas made of the same material are also available.
While summer is still a few months away, these just might be the perfect holiday gift or stocking stuffer. - N.T.
Coolaid Cooling Vests, $27-$32
Coolaid Animal Cooling and Recovery