product reviews
Culture: Reviews
Bark Likes This: Crypton's Throver

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 with Crypton Fabric’s patented high-performance textile solution, plus cleans up easily in the washing machine. It measures 48 by 54 inches and comes in 10 designs, available in a range of sophisticated colors including patterns from artist William Wegman. The Throver is a perfect companion for any dog-friendly home or excursion. $99

Culture: Reviews
Bark Likes This: Pet Fairy Noshers
Organic Schmear Delights

Pet Fairy Noshers is another new product that Kit and all her doggy housemates, including old-guy Lenny, are simply gaga for. This tasty “schmear” is just right for hollow-toy and sterilized-bone stuffing (we’ve used it in the TreatToob, too). Ingredients include pumpkin, unsweetened applesauce, organic honey and cinnamon, plus other luscious goodies. Lovingly made in small batches in northern Vermont, this “barkalicious” spread also makes a wonderful gift. 16 oz. in a glass jar, $8 to $10. Amazon.com.

News: Guest Posts
App Review: Pet Sitter
Can an app really stop your dog’s barking while you’re away?

The Pet Sitter app makes some big promises for its $1.99 price tag. Well, maybe not promises, but strong suggestions. The Pet Sitter assures you that it will keep your dog (or cat or bird) company while you’re home and that it will email you if your dog won’t stop barking. What it very strongly suggests is that it can distract your dog from barking using a simple mobile device.

So, does it work? Maybe. Sometimes. In certain situations. For certain dogs.

A quick word on the basic application, which works on iPhone, iPad and iPod: When I discussed this application with fellow dog owners, their response, invariably, was “When am I going to leave my phone at home?” Yes, this application is really only useful for people who have a mobile device they plan to leave at home, such as an iPod, iPad or old phone.

Fortunately, I have an Apple device I could leave at home, and decided to test drive the application on Skoda, my four-year-old Boxer. Skoda is an ideal test dog for this application, since he barks every single time any person comes to the door. I just needed to turn on the application before I left the house, knock on the door when I came home and listen to Skoda’s reaction.

When you first fire up the Pet Sitter application, you are prompted to select a series of sounds that will play whenever your dog barks. There is a nice selection to choose from, from doors creaking to squeaky toys to chirping birds. You can select the sounds most likely to distract your particular pooch, and steer clear of any sounds he finds particularly upsetting. The idea is to choose a variety of sounds, so if the giggling baby doesn’t capture his attention, the ringing telephone might. You can also select a noise threshold, so the Pet Sitter app can go off when your dog makes or peep or not until he’s barking to high heaven. Then you make sure you hit “Start” before you leave the house.

The first few times I tested the application on Skoda, I left the device near the door, the most likely place he’d start barking. Then, after leaving the house for a few hours, I tried knocking on the door. Sure enough, Skoda came scrambling to the top of the stairs, barking with great enthusiasm. I listened to the Pet Sitter chirp and buzz and hiccup, and watched through the window as Skoda gave it the full Boxer head tilt…and went right on barking. Rinse. Repeat.

In fact, I was about to write off the application (at least where my fellow is concerned), until one day I came home, knocked on the door and heard Skoda stop barking when the application went off. I’ll admit it: I was pretty impressed.

So the application might work if you have a dog who tends to stop barking when he’s distracted, and you can reliably plan where to leave your pet-sitting device. But you also might need to be diligent about switching up the sounds so that your pup doesn’t become inured to them.

One of the handier promises Pet Sitter makes is that it will email you if it fails to dissuade your dog’s barking. That way, you’ll know if your dog is actually barking as often as the neighbors claim—and if something is regularly upsetting him while you’re gone. It won’t tattle if your dog merely yips at the mailman, only if he cycles through several levels of distractions without simmering down. Personally, that’s a feature I’d like to customize, but it’s better than nothing.

Well, it would be better than nothing. I tried barking at the application until a message popped up telling me that I was a noisy creature and my parents would be receiving an email. So I eagerly raced to my computer and checked my inbox. Nada. Nothing in my spam filter, either. In fact, I’m still waiting on that email. Perhaps Pet Sitter decided not to rat me out after all.

Pet Sitter isn’t an application I would personally recommend. I suspect that the email feature won’t be reliable until the next version or so, which would make it a more useful application down the line. Still, if you’re willing to bet $1.99 that it might quell your dog’s barking, it could be worth the gamble.

Platforms: iPod, iPad, iPhone

Download the App

News: Guest Posts
App Review: Pet First Aid
A multimedia guide to your dog’s bumps and bruises

No app is ever a good substitute for veterinary care, but your phone is a handy place to store a first aid reference. After all, if your dog is injured while the two of you are out and about, having the number for ASPCA Poison Control or instructions on performing CPR readily available can buy your pup precious time.

Information for the Pet First Aid app comes from PetCPR.com. The app mostly consists of text, laying out everything from what to include in your first aid kit to how to respond to a spinal injury. But Pet First Aid also includes pictures and videos to illustrate the concepts it describes. Pictures show how to identify oxygen deprivation from a dog’s gums and where to apply pressure to slow an injured dog’s bleeding. Videos demonstrate how to take your dog’s pulse, how to wrap an injured paw, how to perform CPR and more. Again, it’s not a substitute for learning these things from a professional, but it’s useful information in an emergency.

And, when you do get your pup to the emergency vet, Pet First Aid doubles as medical records storage. You can record all of your dog’s medications, vaccinations, allergies and medical conditions, as well as her veterinary contacts, right in your phone, so you and the emergency vet don’t waste precious seconds gathering her medical history.

Best of all, the Pet First Aid App doesn’t require an Internet connection; all of the information is stored directly on your device. So if you take your iPod Touch jogging, you’ll have access to all of the first aid information, even if you can’t get a wireless signal.

Price: $3.99

Platforms: iPhone, iPod Touch

Get the App

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Robot Dog Expands on Virtual Pets
Wappy Dog is here

Having a dog is so enjoyable that gamers are seeking out the experience in the virtual world. Wappy Dog is a robot dog that interacts with a person by way of a Nintendo game.

Virtual pets are not new, but this system expands on virtual pets by including an actual toy. The toy robot dog develops—changing its behavior, skills, mood, personality and responsiveness based on the virtual interactions the person has while gaming with this system. The addition of a physical toy is supposed to lead to a stronger bond than a game alone can create.

A toy dog is no substitute for a real dog, but I think the educational opportunities are intriguing. Just as people can learn about parenting through virtual experiences, there is the potential for people to learn skills from Wappy Dog that could enhance their ability to raise, care for and train a real dog.

Has anyone tried out Wappy Dog?

News: Guest Posts
App Review: Fido Factor
Helps you plan your dog’s day out

Yelp has helpfully started to include dog-friendly data in their user-generated reviews, but a quick search for “dog-friendly bar” might well turn up a bar with a friendly staff that happens to serve hot dogs. And when the reviews aren’t written by dog people, they may neglect some key information, such as whether there’s a water bowl outside and if your pup can hang out past 8 p.m.

So Fido Factor steps up to the plate, with reviews of dog-friendly destinations by real live dog owners. The app finds your location and invites you to choose one of ten categories (“Restaurants,” “Shopping,” “Pet Stores,” “Pet Services,” “Lodging”) and then lists all the relevant spots where your dog can tag along.

I can’t vouch for Fido Factor’s accuracy across the board, but I was impressed by its Berkeley, Calif., listings. Why yes, Fellini Coffee Bar does serve dog treats at its walk-up window. I’ve brought my Boxer into Half Price Books with nary a murmur from the staff. Non-service dogs can ride BART in a carrier and MUNI with a muzzle. All the information is right there on the screen. You can designate certain destinations as “favorites” if you’d like to bookmark them for later, and you can always contribute your own reviews.

Fido Factor has a few drawbacks, however. Fido Factor comes in iPhone/iPod only, so if you’re an iPad user, the display is obnoxiously small (or obnoxiously pixellated if you zoom in). The larger issue, however, is that it’s locked to your location. If you and your co-pilot are about to go on vacation, you can’t use the Fido Factor app to research spots at your destination ahead of time. Fortunately, Fido Factor does have a complementary website—FidoFactor.com—where you can find dog-friendly destinations far away.

Price: Free

Platforms: iPhone, iPod Touch

Get the App

News: Guest Posts
App Review: The Google Maps of Dog Parks
Paws up for Dog Park Finder

If you’ve ever had an urge to look up every dog park in a 20-mile radius, then Dog Park Finder is the app for you. It’s a comprehensive list off-leash areas and on-leash dog walks, mapped out for your convenience.

There are plenty of apps that promise you a directory of doggy delights, only to fall far short of their promises. (I spent hours with the My Dog app before deciding its best feature was its travel tips section.) Dog Park Finder puts sparsely populated applications to shame, delivering long lists of parks and walks in just about every zip code. The information all comes from DogGoes.com, a site that reviews pet-friendly and pet-unfriendly places, and it’s amassed an impressive amount of data. Not only does Dog Park Finder map out these spots, it also includes handy information such as park fees, the name of the management organization, whether there are any bathrooms and whether the park area is fenced in, not to mention user reviews so you can decide if it’s the right venue for your dog.

Dog Park Finder also includes a useful feature I have yet to see on other dog directory apps: It tells you which beaches, trails and other areas specifically forbid dogs.

I would highly recommend this app for anyone looking to find a few (or a few dozen) more parks and trails in their area. Or, if you’re like me, you can just spend hours moving the map around and fantasizing about far away dog parks.

Price: Free

Platforms: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch

Get the App

News: Guest Posts
New Game for Android Phone Simulates Dog Fighting. UPDATE!
Dog Wars turns suffering into a mobile phone diversion

[4/26/11 Editor's note: It looks like Google heard the people! Dogfighting Game from Android Markets Following Complaints. Hooray.]


Seriously, who thought this was a good idea—free game for Android phones in which players feed, train and fight virtual dogs? “Dog Wars” participants can even inject their animals with steroids, bet virtual money and use a gun to fight the cops during a bust.

  “Anything that in any way appears to promote or condone the serious, violent crime of dog fighting is cause for concern,” says Dr. Randall Lockwood, senior vice president of ASPCA Forensic Sciences and Anti-Cruelty Projects. “This ‘game’ comes at a time when public outrage and law enforcement concern about dog fighting is at an all-time high, and the public should make this outrage known to those who promote it.” The ASPCA is among several groups calling for Google to reject the Android app.   Meanwhile Kage Games, the company behind this brainstorm, argues it’s just a game, get over it.  Well, that’s true. But those of us who know about the consequences of fighting for defenseless dogs, we don’t want to get over it. It can be hard enough to persuade people that animals suffer, we don’t need to turn that suffering into a light-hearted diversion that further undermines the reality.   The truth of dog fighting is a life spent on a heavy chains, with inadequate care, food and water, isolation, and injury and even violent death during the fights themselves. Learn more at the ASPCA’s Blood Sports section.   To call for Google to block this game from the Android market—you can sign a petition at Change.org or contact press@google.com or Android Market.  
News: Guest Posts
What’s the Best Way to Find a Lost Dog?
Tech help includes a smartphone-scannable pet ID tag

Last week, my friend John’s dog slipped her collar during a walk and sprinted off. It was two long, miserable days and sleepless nights before Lily was discovered, dirty and shivering not so far from where she had made her ill-advised dash. The man who discovered her wrapped her in his coat, created a little leash from string in his bag (à la McGyver) and took a cell phone photo that he sent to his girlfriend. She checked Craig’s List and made the connection. When John got the call, he was in a van with a professional dog-sniffing dog about to search the scene. Cue happy music.

  Anyone whose dog has disappeared knows the horrible, sinking feeling and the response. Search the area. Call shelters. Place ads. Put up flyers. Even, hire a pet detective. In the last decade, technology has taken a growing role in the search. Craig’s List for one. Lost dogs are also posted on Facebook. And there are websites exclusively for posting lost pets, such as pets911.com. Community Leash is an iPhone app that sends out lost/found pet announcements. Several companies have created amber alert–type services, such as FindToto.com, that robocall all the phones in the area where your dog went missing.   A recent entry into the business of keeping track of your dog comes from a company in my neck of the woods. PetHub, Inc., of Issaquah, Wash., has created the Link ID tag that is laser-etched with a 2D barcode that can be scanned and read by a smartphone. The selling point on the PetHub tag is that owners can create a profile that can more easily be kept up-to-date and provide more detailed information than old-fashioned printed tags or even microchips.   At any time, the pet parent can modify the pet’s online profile and control what’s shown when that tag is scanned. PetHub claims that only about 5 percent of dogs in the U.S. have microchips and that 58 percent of those contain outdated information. The Pet Hub profile can also include timely information, such as the pet’s medications, vaccinations and medical history. There’s also a simple “Contact Pet Owner” button that won’t reveal the owner’s number but facilitates direct notification.   Here’s the thing: The idea sounds good, especially if you’re all about your smartphone, but it wouldn’t have helped Lily. She slipped her collar. All that technology would have just dangled at the end of the leash in John’s hand. (Now, she walks on a harness.) She was chipped, so if she’d ended up in a shelter or vet’s office, there’s a good chance a scan would have reunited the pair.   I like the old fashioned tag (although my dogs are also chipped): You’re not required to subscribe to an ongoing service, nor does the person who finds your dog need a smartphone to access all your pup’s data.   Of all the options out there, other than not losing our dogs in the first place, I wonder what is the most effective strategy for getting them back. And, is technology really making it easier. What’s your story?


Dog's Life: Lifestyle
“Groupon” for Pups
Two daily deal websites launch for pets this year

Daily deal coupon websites, like Groupon and LivingSocial, have surged in popularity over the last two years. These websites partner with companies to offer a different deal each day. 

Occasionally, there will be a pet-related deal. I once got a $50 gift certificate to a local boutique pet store for $25 and a voucher to participate in an Outdoor Bound group dog hike for $35.

Earlier this year, pet lovers got two of their own daily deal sites, PetSimply and Barking Deals. These two sites feature a different deal per day, often a pet product with free shipping. 

According to the companies, these deals are 50 to 90 percent off of retail price. However, the value of the deals vary greatly. For instance, two medium Kong Squeakair Tennis Balls for $2 is a pretty good deal, while two Petmate plastic can covers for $5 seems a bit steep. Many of the product prices are similar to existing discount pet catalogs such as Jeffers and JB Pets.

What I’m more excited about are the company-specific deals. For instance, PetSimply recently offered a $20 gift card to PurestPets.com for $10. I’m hoping that as the membership grows at both websites, they will start offering more unique offers you can’t get anywhere else.

Have you gotten any cool pet deals from a daily deal website?