product reviews
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
9 Fun and Educational Toys for Dogs.
Play by the numbers
9 Fun and Educational Toys for Dogs.

The popularity of Dog Perignon Champagne plush toys, Hairy Winston squeak toys, and the chewable Dolce and Grrrbana designer shoes is a sign that the market for dog toys has exploded in recent years. Choosing toys can be daunting—the good ones need to be safe, fun and last a reasonable amount of time, but they shouldn’t be outrageously priced or so painful when stepped on in the middle of the night by bare feet that we lose our PG rating. Here are a few that I feel meet all of the above requirements.

1. Intellitoys. Dogs learn when they play, and some toys, such as the Intellicube and the Intellibone, are designed specifically with canine education in mind. Dogs can spend hours happily playing with the removable parts, learning to use mouths, paws and noses to manipulate objects.

2. Jackpot Chipmunk. Another educational favorite, this toy has a Velcro® closure pocket containing a plush-covered squeaker. Dogs can learn to open the pocket to get the squeaker, or the pocket can be used to store treats. My dog Bugsy, whom I lovingly describe as a couple of ants short of a picnic, finally learned to fetch with this method. He dutifully brought the toy, which he probably thought was a dog-proof cookie jar, back to me so that he could be paid in liver biscotti for his hard work.

3. Kong. If a household has only a single dog toy, it’s likely to be from the Kong line. These almost indestructible hollow toys can be filled with almost any kind of food, including treats such as cheese, peanut butter, cream cheese or biscuits, which the dog will then spend enormous amounts of time removing.Many dogs who are not toy-motivated learn to love them after experiencing the Kong.

4. Ball. A lot of dogs get over-the-top excited about fetching tennis balls, and anybody whose dog loves them to the point of distraction (literally!) should pause to be grateful, because never was there a less expensive, versatile, goodfor- us, good-for-them toy. If you’re inhibited by the prospect of handling a slimy ball, get a Chuckit, a plastic tool that you can use to scoop up and toss the ball without ever touching it.

5. Flying Disc. Fetch games with flying discs are even more fun and exciting to many dogs than fetching balls. The Flying Squirrel and the Hurl-a-Squirrel are both popular with the canine set. The Soft Bite Floppy Disc floats in water and has hot pink edges, which make it easy to locate after an errant throw (note the voice of experience here).Regular flying discs can injure dogs’ teeth, which is why I recommend these kinder, gentler types.

6. Donkey Tail Tug Toy. Though a knotted rope will suffice, the Donkey Tail— a long, stretchy braid of fleece—is even better for tug games. Plus, it’s made of material that doesn’t get as slimy as most tug toys or become as strongly redolent of eau de dog breath.

7. Egg Babies. These plush toys, which come in forms such as dinosaur, duck, hedgehog or platypus, have three removable squeaky “eggs” hidden inside a pouch. Dogs can pull the eggs out through the elasticized opening, which is fun for those who love to search for and find treasures. The eggs are just a little bit bigger than tennis balls, and as a huge bonus, replacement three-packs are available.

8. Booda Rip ’Ems. These are “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” toys.Dogs love to rip things apart, and Booda Rip ’Ems are actually designed for it. Their pieces are attached with Velcro® and can be reattached in a variety of ways. Many dogs love the ripping sound the Velcro® makes as much as the feeling of pulling the toy apart. The shapes include tigers, beach balls and watermelons.

9. The Critter. Lest we forget that our furry friends are predators, and superb ones at that, their toy choices remind us. Plush toys to rip apart and squeaky toys to pounce on are prized by most dogs. For the more discriminating predator, consider The Critter, which is essentially a faux fur–covered tennis ball with a faux fur tail attached. It is rare to make the acquaintance of a dog who does not go wild over it.

The main purpose of dog toys is not to give us a peaceful moment in which to read the paper and have a cup of coffee (although if you’ve used them this way, join the club). Rather, their function is to enhance play, which is a critical and often ignored part of canine behavior. And just as the best children’s books can be enjoyed by adults and children reading together, the best dog toys can be enjoyed by people and dogs playing together.

News: Guest Posts
Can My Dog Eat This?
There’s an app for that

Dogs may be our best friends but that doesn’t mean we can always share our lunch with them. There are plenty of foods that are safe for us but toxic for dogs—so many, in fact, they can be hard to remember. 

Fortunately, there’s a new app called Om Nom? to help us keep track of what foods—and, in some cases parts of foods—should be avoided. For instance, apples are a good source of Vitamin A for your dog, but the stems, leaves and seeds contain substances that can cause vomiting, diarrhea, decreased heart rate, and, if large amounts are ingested, respiratory failure.

The app also provides instruction on what to do if your dog accidentally eats something he wasn’t supposed to. While it’s not a substitute for a veterinarian, it is a guide that can be used preemptively to prevent feeding your dog something that could cause him harm. All of the information featured in the app comes from the developer’s own research based on published papers on toxicology and veterinary medicine from the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Chris Morrell, the brains behind the Om Nom? app, was inspired by his own cluelessness about his new friend, a now three-year-old Havanese named Scottie Pippen. “Once we actually adopted Pip, we quickly realized that neither of us knew the first thing about how to care for him,” Morrell says.  

After his vet ran through the list of foods to avoid, Morrell became concerned about what else might be on the “do not eat“ list. Pip had a strong urge to snap up remnants left on the cutting board, which meant Morrell and his wife were constantly Googling ingredients.

“Each website had a slightly different list, so I figured I’d do everyone a favor and compile the most comprehensive resource available.” Morrell also had a researcher interview Pip’s vet about specific foods when he couldn’t find the information anywhere else.

Om Nom? also includes a Chocolate Toxicity calculator, which pops up when you hit the “chocolate” entry. “The type of chocolate and the weight of the dog are both important factors in how dangerous chocolate is, so I thought an interactive tool would be particularly useful for that entry,” Morrell says. In addition, users can submit requests for missing ingredients or foods to Morrell from the app itself.  

And what about the peculiar name? Om Nom refers to the sound that people make when they’re eating something tasty. (Think: Cookie Monster on Sesame Street).

Om Nom? is a neat utility app for new and veteran dog owners alike, and at 99 cents it doesn’t cost much to ensure your dog is eating right. Currently, available for iPhone and iPad.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Home Works: The Dish
Dogs get a spot at the table

Decorative Pup Plates
You get the best of form and function in these plates that feature not only a chic design, but microwave-safe materials, too. Parisian artist Nathalie Lete has painted these Anthropologie exclusives with a French Poodle in the posies and an adorable Shih Tzu, groomed and party-ready.

Hand-drawn Dinnerware
Kathy Phan hand-draws her images and hand-letters the text on these elegant, stylish plates and mugs. Available both in common dog themes and as custom gifts, these plates are a thoughtful gesture for the pet-loving birthday girl (or boy) in your life.

Custom Portrait Plates
Captured Spirit Studios is a three-sister artisanal team based in Green Bay, Wisc. These artists strive to convey a dog’s spirit, or the "feeling of life," on beautiful porcelain plates. Meticulously painted in photorealistic detail, each plate is a special memento to cherish for years to come.

Wellness: Health Care
App Review: Doggie Dietitican
Good basic tool for tracking calories

Got a portly Pug, a meal-loving mutt, or perhaps a chubby Chihuahua? How about a Labrador who loves lounging a little too much or a rambunctious Rat Terrier always raring to go? How do you figure out how many calories they need?

The new Doggie Dietitian app by Dr. Sheri Cone is designed to take some of the guesswork out of calorie-counting with a program calibrated to your dog’s breed, weight and activity level.


  • Easy and intuitive to use.
  • You can store and keep track of multiple pets in your home.
  • Offers an extensive list of dry and canned commercial dog foods.
  • Offers many types of popular commercially prepared treats.
  • Offers a good list of commercially prepared raw diets.
  • Offers a brief overview of common toxic foods to avoid.

I feel this could be an especially useful app for people who have growing puppies. You can easily reenter their rapidly changing body weight and adjust their food amounts to meet their nutritional needs as they grow.


I found it was not easy to go back and add a treat to the list of the day’s food intake, which can be somewhat of a nuisance if your dog’s food intake changes each day. For example, if you feed 2 cups of kibble and 1 broccoli stem, but later add a slice of deli turkey and want to figure where you are calorie-wise for the day, you have to go back and reenter the amount of kibble, the broccoli and then add turkey. This would not be an issue if your dog’s daily food and treats remained steady each day.

If you find you are over- or under-feeding your pet, the app only gives you the option of adding or taking away a portion of dry food. I prefer to give additional “people foods,” so this fell short for my needs.

The app has a very limited list of people foods and I would beg for a more extended reference.

Finally, I feel this app would not be quite as useful for people who fully prepare home-cooked diets and treats from scratch. However, the app would give even home-cooks a target calorie range that they should be feeding.

One size doesn’t fit all

The Doggie Dietician offers a database of hundreds of dog breeds with their ideal weight. While this is good information, take the “ideal” weight loosely because every dog is different. For example, the ideal weight for a Doberman came out as 88 pounds. My boy, Bauer, is slim and trim at 97 pounds, while my girl, Dharma, begins to verge on voluptuous if she is over 72 pounds.

Putting it to the test

I gave this app a go using my two Dobies as, well, guinea pigs. I “plugged and chugged” the app’s recommendations of breed, sex, weight and activity level and compared it to the actual calories I feed my dogs on a daily basis. Here’s what I found as I worked through the process:   

The formulation I use to calculate my dogs’ daily caloric needs can be found in my previous blog (Weight Management Made Simple). This is a formula for “obesity-prone” dogs and is therefore a little more calorie-conservative than the app’s formulation.

For example: Bauer’s calorie requirements using my formula equates to needing 1,370 calories per day, while the Doggie Dietician recommends I should feed him 1,885 calories per day. Although the app accurately calculates a pet’s daily requirement needs, I can say from experience that if I fed the caloric amount recommended by the app, that he would begin to pack on a few pounds.

However, I don’t think that this should deter its use; I only mention this to highlight the point that it may take some adjustment to find your dog’s daily caloric “sweet spot.” I feel the app is a good starting point that will allow you to get a big picture and then you can fine-tune from that point based on your pets’ weight gains or losses. 

Quick fix

I get asked all the time, “How much should I be feeding my dog?” This app allows me to quickly and easily calculate the cups of food an owner should roughly be feeding his or her pet right while I’m in the exam room.

Although it’s a more basic app, I feel that it is one worth fetching, and for just under two bucks, I give it two paws up.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Holiday Gifting Trends
The average gift budget for pets is $46

Every year, it seems more and more pet retailers are joining in on the Black Friday and Cyber Monday bandwagon. In my area, several pet stores opened as early as 7 a.m. on Black Friday. 

Not brave enough to face the crowds, I took advantage of many online deals for treats and paw-safe ice melter. Doctors Foster and Smith even planned a live, streaming webcast of sales and giveaways on both shopping holidays. No doubt pet gifting has become a big business!

According to an AP-Petside.com survey, just over half of pet lovers will be buying gifts for their pets this holiday season, with a higher percentage of those under the age of 50 shopping for their furry friends.

Not surprisingly, 68 percent of pets will receive toys and 45 percent will receive food or treats. 

The poll reported that people are planning on spending an average of $46 on their pets. Most people I know, myself included, spend about $10 to $20 on each of their pets at the holidays. But I think this is because we buy our pets “gifts” all year long!

Like the survey respondents, I usually buy my crew a few new toys and treats for Christmas. Every year, I also have a larger ticket item under the tree, but it’s usually something I had been planning on buying anyway, regardless of the holiday. Last year, it was a Nina Ottosson brainteaser game and this year it’ll be new winter coats.

What are you planning on giving your pups this year?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The Dogbrella
Essential equipment or crazy contraption?

The search for perfect gifts for the holidays is on. I’m spending excessive amounts of time online and studying catalogs in order to succeed in this quest. Though I’ve found few gifts to give to family and friends, I have noticed that products for dogs are showing up in new places all the time. The most surprising pet product placement I’ve seen this year is the dogbrella in the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog and on their website.

The dogbrella is just what it sounds like—an umbrella for dogs. It is inverted so that a person can hold the handle from above while the dogbrella protects a small dog from the rain. The leash attaches to the underside. The product description will sound out of date to many modern dog lovers because of such phrases as “enabling canine and master to maintain a walking regimen in inclement weather.”

My first thought was, “Really?” (It was late afternoon, which is when I’m least articulate.) What I meant by that was, “Do dogs really need an umbrella to go out in the rain?” Then I thought about all the dogs who don’t like the rain and hesitate to go out in it. With my Oregonian roots, I sometimes forget that there are dogs and people who not only notice the rain, but actually have an adverse reaction to it. Of course, the dogbrella won’t help dogs who dislike stepping on wet ground, but it offers protection for dogs who object to the water falling from the sky.

Though I had not thought about it, the catalog emphasizes the benefit for people, which is that the dog will not bring so much water into the home after the walk. Few of us love it when a dog comes inside and performs a satisfying shake to disperse all that wetness onto nearby furniture, windows, people and anything else in the house. (How dogs know how to choose the most damaging spot for this behavior is a mystery.) Nor do many of us enjoy the aroma of eau de dog, which can be as strong and long lasting as it is unpleasant.

Would you use (or have you already used) the dogbrella?

News: Guest Posts
AshPoopie Promises to Transform Dog Waste
What will I do with my old newspaper bags?

It’s rare that I’m astonished by a dog product, but color me blown away by the AshPoopie. Now, I haven’t tested the AshPoopie—in fact, it hasn’t even hit the market yet but the idea, due out as a prototype from Paulee CleanTec early next year—sounds like a pretty awesome alternative to bagging waste in plastic and sending it to the landfill.

Here’s how it’s supposed to work (video demo below). You head out to walk your dog—or to clear landmines from the backyard—armed with your AshPoopie wand, which sort of looks like a long, sleek flashlight. Lower it over the offending pile, press a button in the handle and a pair of pincer-style scoops open at the other end. Press another button, the scoopers collect the mess—drawing it into a little blender-like container where it is mixed together with an incinerating mixture, and, voila, your dog’s waste is transformed into an odorless, sterile mound of ash.

I don’t see any mention of cost—for the wand or the incinerating cartridges. So I’m wondering: How much would you pay to never have to carry poop in a bag again?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The Future of the ID Tag
GPS lets you track your pet's location

Companies are always trying to improve on the good old identification tag. I've seen USB memory stick tags, Quick Response (QR) codes tags, and now GPS units that attach to collars.

GPS technology for collars typically sends a text or email notificaiton when your pet leaves home and gives you the ability to track your dog on a map using a computer or cell phone.

Having a GPS unit on your dog's collar seems a bit excessive and it could give people a false sense of security. A GPS unit isn't going to stop your pet from running in front of a car or eating something toxic. However, if one of my pets ever got lost, being able to track their exact location would be invaluable.

GPS units for dogs are surprisingly small, but they're still a bit bulky to have on my dog all of the time. For now I think I'll stick to the good old metal identification tag and microchip.

Would you get a GPS unit for your dog?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Home Works: Best picks of domestic design

Stylish & Practical - $99
New from Crypton, the Throver, a stylish, durable throw that’s both soft and comfortable. Use it as a blanket to protect a sofa or as cover for your car’s back seat. The Throver is not only odor-resistant, it also offers complete stain, moisture, mildew and bacteria protection, plus cleans up easily in the washing machine. It measures 48 by 54 inches and comes in 10 designs, including patterns from artist William Wegman.

Paint-by-Numbers 2.0 - $40
Paint-by-numbers is back, and this time, you get to chose from your own fave photos when you’re deciding which masterpiece to re-create. Paintapic makes the whole process simple and inexpensive. Upload a photo, pay $40 and make a few design decisions. Before you know it, you’ll receive a 14-by-18-inch canvas, a set of paints (from Palmer Paint, maker of the original paint-by-numbers kits) and two brushes. And off you go, dabbing a portrait of your beloved pooch.

Dapper Dogs - Pillow cover $29, Plates $24
Need a touch of art for your bed or table? Scott Lifshutz’s whimsical watercolors are just the ticket. The Dog Daze Pillow Cover (14 by 36 inches) is 100 percent machine-washable cotton, and the Appetizer Plates (3.5 by 5.5 inches) come in a set of four and are dishwasher and microwave safe.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Technology for Lost Dogs
ID tags with QR codes bring pets home

Little black and white squares have been popping up everywhere—on advertisements, business cards and magazines. These Quick Response (QR) codes are barcodes that are designed to be read by smartphones. People can take a photo of the square and retrieve text, contact information or open a webpage on their phone.

Now these QR codes can help bring your dog home. A new company, PetHub, engraves QR codes on identification tags. When the square is scanned, it takes the user to the PetHub web site where the pets' information is stored.

The idea for PetHub was born when founder, Tom Arnold, was on vacation. The former Microsoft employee was worried about his dog at home and thought that technology could help keep his pup safe.

QR codes certainly look cool hanging from dog collars, but I wouldn't use it as a sole form of identification. Not everyone has a smartphone and even for those who do, the code creates one additional step to getting the information needed.

However, QR codes do have their advantages. Information can be updated instantly through the PetHub web site, which is useful if you go on vacation. You can store more data, like medical information, which wouldn't fit on a traditional identification tag.

Would you get a QR identification tag?