Have you ever bought a gadget that your dog actually needed?


Vet visits aside, dogs require no gadgets. Yet the supply of 'canine' techno-doodads only grows, as evidenced by the pitches that accumulate in the delete box, requesting that this or that new animal-machine be 'reviewed.'

I place the word in scare quotes because PR people invariably do this cute thing whereby they ask to send it to my dogs to be reviewed. "Tell me what puppy thinks!" Then something arrives in the mail addressed to "Trixy and Mocha Beschizza" and the UPS man looks at me all weird.

So, fair enough, one exception is the excellent Zoombak GPS collar, reviewed here by Steven Leckart. It is exactly what it purports to be. "If it's an emergency, getting an update with a specific address that is even 1-2 blocks away from your dog is an AMAZING proposition. For only $100 and a monthly fee of $10-15, despite some technical difficulties, this thing's a winner."

PetCell is a similar offering, but allows you to actually call your pet and speak to it, too. Sit! I can see that working, but only if the animal were trained appropriately -- would many of us do so? But there's the rub: you're buying yourself an idea whose successful execution depends on many other things. And so it is with pet tech, where we disengage ourselves in increments from our furry friend's real needs and enter the world of our own whims.

Take, for example, the $3,000 canine treadmill, especially designed for people who spend lots of money on their pets. Or a $5,000 therapeutic whirlpool dog bathtub, complete with VetSling.

You might also consider outsourcing the love to Wag, a pet hotel Lisa Katayama says "promises the ultimate in canine luxury." Among the technological delights: flatscreen television, a networked camera for remote pet-welfare inspection, and an atmospheric filtration system. Arugula for rabbits!


Is this Pet Doorbell necessary? I ask because my dogs sit by closed doors and bark; less enchanting, but just as easily understood. And not $30.

Behold the machine that makes ice cakes for dogs, or the $250 speaker system that is also compatible with horses.

And did you know there was postmodern furniture for pets? Not a gadget, I know. But it's still the same basic idea: pay lots of money to validate one's personal bond to an inscrutable beast, which in this case would prefer to recline on an Ettore Sottsass shelf.

You know how Tamagotchi and Nintendogs are like pale, sad shadows of the real thing? TheSnif Tag goes one better, turning the chop-licking joy of a real animal companion into a series of neat statistical charts for you to examine while it begs for your attention. It's an accellerometer and RFID collar-tag that transmits 'motion data' to a base station; so armed, you can quantify your dog's daily routines.

More fun is the Pets Eye View Camera, a tiny dangly box which hangs from Rover's collar and snaps ground-level pictures at 1, 5 or 15 minute intervals. Caveats: the pictures are 0.3 megapixels and poor quality, and there's only enough space for 40 of them. A skilled maker could easily make something better.


Pictured above is a $555 dog-powered scooter, trike and skateboard system, presented here without comment.

There is, however, a final item whose utility is clear: Bissell's Spotbot Pet edition, a mini spot cleaner that sqirts stains, brushes them clean and slurps the mess into an easily-cleanable tank. It works great on "puke, pee, or butt juice," and is $130 at Amazon.

Have you have any success with anything in the genre? One thing I've been tempted to try one of those portion-control electronic feeder thingies, but I just can't think of a good reason to that isn't really just an incentive to spend less time with my dogs.


    1. That’s the best video I’ve seen for a while. I’ve lost count the amount of times that I’ve taken the dog for a walk and she’s all “come ON already”. Looks like lots of fun, too.

  1. there was this german sheperd where we used to go on vacation. it was one of the few dogs i know that are not scared but amused by skateboards and used to pull me. i am sure we both enjoyed the speed.

    the gadget involved was called a leash. and yeah, i could even bail off of my board whenever i felt the urge to do so.


  2. I just can’t think of a good reason to that isn’t really just an incentive to spend less time with my dogs.

    I suspect that is what it comes down to many times. Buying stuff for the animal as a way to compensate for the attention it is lacking.
    It’s also another way to ‘humanize’ your dog. As if more stuff will make him happier.

    The best buy I ever made for my dog was a Kong.

  3. Appropriate writeup. Most pet gadgets are pure garbage, but I can attest to the value of Bissel’s SpotBot. That thing is worth its weight in gold to any pet owner with carpeting.

  4. I have two gadgets I got to help me take care of my dog that I really use a lot:

    * A battery-powered Dremel for grinding his nails (made for the purpose – it runs slower than a bench model, I believe). It works very well and makes trimming his nails easier. Previously, I had broken three pair of the guillotine-style clippers on his unusually stout nails.

    * I also got a Petzl Zipka Plus2 headlamp (the pet in Petzl is purely coincidental). Although I also use it for other stuff, I originally bought it for cleaning out his ear – which I have to do about once a week (he’s lucky I love him). And cleaning up after your dog at night is much more pleasant when you can see what you’re doing even if you don’t have a hand free. And thanks to the (should be award-winning) design of the zipka models, I can also just keep it around my wrist for everyday use or stick it in a pocket.

  5. My dog has a local council mandated microchip, that’s about the only gadget he “needs”.

    The last time he got his paws on a phone he chewed it, so he misses out on an iPad

  6. Thanks for the Kong suggestion. I now have a mental image of tubby elementary school kids with their hands tied behind their back, running around pushing one of these over to access the cheetos held within.

  7. I don’t know that it’s a gadget, but a crate is a pretty awesome thing for training, and then as an indoor dog house when they are older (without the door).

    RFID chips are also pretty good.

    As are collars with tags.

  8. Not sure if it’s a gadget but a muzzle. Once a year when he has his boosters we also have him inoculated for Kennel Cough. This involves spraying stuff up his nose.

    He really, really, really doesn’t like it or the vet who administers it. You can guess the rest.

    The rest of the time he’s an equal opportunities savager!

  9. I don’t know if this qualifies as a gadget, but we purchased an outrigger for our kayak that allows the dog to ride with us. It creates a level platform for him to sit on (or jump off of) and stabilized the kayak so that it is very unlikely he will cause it to tip over. Totally worth the money. I think it may be called Kayrak, made in Canada…

  10. I generally have this same discussion with my wife over cat toys. In short, is the toy for the cat’s entertainment, or for ours? If it’s particularly soft and squishy, or stuffed with catnip, then the cat will like it. If it has a particular shape that’s amusing to humans, then it’s probably mainly for our amusement.

    But I would like to try an RFID enabled cat door, and maybe a GPS logger. That’s also mainly for humans, but useful

  11. I got an Extreme Kong for my Great Dane which he loves, only problem is a few friends have asked why I have left a giant butt plug on the carpet.

  12. A dog CAN use a regular treadmill.

    We have all of our pets microchipped, and got one of them back after he had been lost (and also lost his collar–long story), so I’m a huge believer in those. A lot of other gadgets we’ve tried haven’t been that useful. Our dogs are terrified of the dremel tool, so we use regular clippers. We had a PetSafe instafence for a while, but our dogs eventually learned that chasing whatever was on the other side of the fence was WORTH 30 seconds of maximum shock, so we ended up putting up a simple wooden fence. Our cats won’t even chase a laser pointer.

    One caveat on the pet wheelchairs and carts and such–my vet is not a fan of those because the pet can only spend a couple of hours a day in them. She feels it is more for the human’s comfort than the pet, who suffers a pretty poor quality of life whether in or out of the device. Something to think about.

  13. I once bought a slip lead. You pull a little widget near the handle end, it pulls a mechanism on the dog’s collar. When this widget is pulled, the whole collar flies off spectacularly and your dog zooms off at over 30mph!
    Used for running dogs.
    Great fun.

  14. We have a SpotBot and it’s brilliant. We have a beagle and a few nice oriental rugs. The Spotbot makes it possible for them to coexist. It does a great job of getting stains of all kinds (pet, food, wine, etc) out of carpet. I’m not sure I’d call it a dog gadget, though, more a cleaning device for humans. If we ever have kids, it will be worth its weight in gold.

  15. I’ve found the Springer Dog Leash to be a good investment for someone who lives in an area where letting the dog run free is not an option. Riding my bicycle with him running beside is the only way he gets the exercise that he needs.

    I also have a Drinkwell water dish because the filter keeps his water clean.

    On the other hand when we go in bike rides I let him drink out of puddles, ponds and streams so perhaps that Drinkwell is more for my sake than his.

  16. What? I get junk mail sent to my cats all the time. That’s how I know it’s junk mail. After all, how can my cats have a credit card when they don’t have pockets?

  17. I tried the Pet’s Eye camera on my cat. It lasted about two hours before my cat visited the water bowl, submerging the camera. The camera is not waterproof.

  18. Just a list off the top of my head:

    Dog door
    Scat mats (to keep teething puppies away from furniture)
    The amazing tick removal tool
    Bark collar/Dogtra training collar

    But now my dogs are looking at me so it’s time to take them for a walk…

  19. Best gadget for my dog was an RC car. He will chase the hell out of that thing, and occasionally I will chase him with it.

    Also, laser pointers.

  20. Not a gadget, precisely, but I made a grooming table with a ramp out of a set of plastic shelving. It helps me keep my poor sad back intact while still being able to groom, bathe, brush teeth, clip nails, etc.

    Thinking of, a good set of clippers is extremely useful and might count as a gadget.

    There are dogs/cats with tummy troubles who benefit from very tiny, very frequent meals on a strict schedule; the auto-feeders are helpful for those guys.

  21. I bought my dog a Kong. He messed with it for one minute, then looked at me like “aren’t you going to help me out here?”

    He also has the microchip, which was mandatory when we got him from the shelter. I have offered him my iPhone on several occasions, but he’s not interested.

    One good, legitimate gadget is a dog wheelchair. Yeah, it’s for the more unfortunate pooch, but certainly is something some people wouldn’t opt for.

  22. “Is this Pet Doorbell necessary? I ask because my dogs sit by closed doors and bark; less enchanting, but just as easily understood. And not $30.”

    Uh, as the NEIGHBOUR of someone with a similarly-barking dog, I think the Pet Doorbell is a freakin’ FANTASTIC idea. Put the doorbell outside, and the chime inside. And VERY necessary, thank you. Just ask my sanity.

  23. The Springer is amazing: http://www.amazon.com/Springer-Bicycle-Jogger/dp/B0017NM4OE

    I saw a guy running his husky with one in Canada when my dog was a puppy and promptly went out and got one. i knew my dog enjoyed long (loooong, 20k plus) walks, but now we easily cover great distances. Sure, I can just hold a leash on a handlebar, but the Springer keeps the center-of-gravity lower.

  24. I have a webcam set up in my house using Zone Minder as a motion-detecting security camera more than anything else, but I do use it to check that my dog isn’t mauling something while I’m at work. It was also a lazy way for me to document his growth from when he was a puppy.

    Also, in terms of neat dog toys, my dog gets a lot of exercise chasing his Buster Cube around for treats. Apparently they’re enjoyed by a miniature horse, too! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KNUo8shD4mY

  25. Regarding the treadmill idea. I’ve wondered if my dog would go for that and I’ve concluded that she would just look at me like I was insane with the little thought cloud floating above saying “just take me for a freakin’ walk dumba$$.”

    Continuing that idea, the retractable/extensible leash is a great idea since she loves to run about twenty feet ahead and then stop abruptly to sniff things. With that thing I can walk at my pace and so can she.

  26. Indeed! A Kong, specifically the blue one with foam in the middle and an attached rope for throwing. With a little practise, you can throw it a surprising distance, and it floats (I presume this is the purpose of the foam).

    Now, not strictly “needed”, but most retrievers do seem to have a genuine need to fetch things out of water sometimes, and for some reason it seems to be more interesting to them than a tennis ball.

  27. Actually, yes. It was a 1972 F-250. It’s safe to say that my dog needed that particular gadget in the worst way. Made him feel 12 feet tall and faster than any other dog in the world.

  28. We bought two brass garden bells that hang outside our front and back doors. Our dog uses them to ask to come in. She also has an inside bell that she uses to ask to go out.

  29. I’ve been involved driving sled dogs since the eighties and bought and built many gadgets over the years that I’ve found useful despite not being a big “gadget guy”.

    A life long nordic skiier, I learned about skijoring from a Swedish musher and thought it sounded like a great idea. The only thing was that in the late eighties there were no suppliers of gear. My first skijor belt was a chain wrapped around my waist but soon found and adapted a climbing harness. As the climbing harness had leg loops it was superior to early models later available in the US until they started adapting this idea. Nowadays, there are many excellent suppliers of skijor gear.

    One of the coolest things I’ve made was working with a retired aircraft engineer who had a grant from a dog food maker to study dog output. At the time, trees made GPS units rather unreliable so we used a bicycle wheel with a speedometer to measure speed / distance. But for measuring how much the dogs pulled, we built a system using a tensometer jury rigged to a Sinclair computer housed in a rubbermaid box to collect data. The research discovered that an efficient team actually put very little tug on the line to keep forward momentum. Less efficient dogs pull more with less consistency which results in more injuries as dogs pull best by relying on the harness to catch them as they throw themselves forward rather than landing only on their paws.

    A modified four wheeler ATV has been a great gadget. Got it from the kid down the road for a great price as I had him remove the motor as part of the sale conditions. It’s a nice way to get the dogs out when there’s no snow. And without the motor there’s no hassle for using the local multi-use trail that bans motors.

    An avid cyclist, I also pioneered a sport called “bike-joring” which seems to now be an accepted term. Springer and others have been selling for sometime a way to connect your dog to the side of your bike, but it doesn’t allow them to really work.

    So I built a way to attach the dogs to the handlebars. It sounds counter intuitive, but it is the most stable spot to attach them. It’s the same spot 6-day riders hold their bars when doing handslings on the track. And if you attach to the headtube, the line too easily gets tangled on the front wheel or fender and there is less control/stability.

    A loop of bungie and rope over the bars, one on each side of the stem, gives great control and flexibility as it’s easy to pull the loops off the stem if you need to untangle them or get better control off bike.

    Then there’s little things like better dishes, food scoopers and poop scoopers that make daily chores easier. Mine are home made for the most part, but I use hog pans as dishes.

    I’ve always wanted a poop scooping robot and have thought of modifying one of those solar power mowers… but they are expensive and the dogs would probably eat it.

    Auto axles are a great way to put a stake in the ground that will make it easy to chain up a dog. Much better than those little twisty stakes they sell in pet shops that never work reliably.

    Good dog houses are also helpful. I use a 50 gallon plastic barrels supported on an A-Frame of pallets. This provides shade underneath the house and puts the door high enough that males don’t pee in it. Over the years, been replacing the plastic with wood houses which look a bit nicer and give the dogs a flat spot on the roof to hang out. They like that. Never give a dog a peaked roof, unless it’s a 2-D dog like Snoopy who can perch on that.

    And maybe the coolest gadget I’ve seen and always wanted, was a truck load of old communication cable spools to give the dog yard a hacker/phreaker look by converting them into dog houses. Someday.

    Dog mushing is fun in part due to the many innovations that come out over the years. Mushers tend to be quite resourceful hackers who combine high tech with an ancient art whose motto is, “you can fix anything with an axe” that reflex a legacy of self reliance in the wilderness. And despite the cool things I can brag about, am humbled by the true master dog drivers who could go out with one tool, an axe, and build an outstandingly engineered perfectly balanced sled out of a birch tree in short order that would outperform one made in a fully supplied shop of powertools and laser rulers and allignment devices.

  30. I now have 2 goldens but have had up to 5 at once. Besides their toys (tennis balls, Chuckit, and Squidgies), there are a few things that have made my life and theirs significantly easier: An assortment of brushes, for one. The Granite Gear visibility coat provides just enough fleece to add a measure of warmth for early cold days when their winter coat isn’t fully in, has a Cordura shell to repel burs and resist scratches, and reflective 3M taping tio instantly catch headlights or flashlights.
    One of my dogs was deaf the last 3 years of her life. This was a real problem during our regular sunset off-leash walks, as she was all but invisible in the woods and couldn’t hear me calling. I solved the problem with an LED-lighted collar (Nite-Dawg) which I then fitted with a small brass cow-bell made for lambs and sheep.

  31. Microchips and ear tattoos don’t count as gadgets — they’re required and serve a useful purpose.

    The wheelchair for the dog isn’t a gadget, either — any more than a wheelchair is a gadgets for a person. It’s a tool allowing an animal or a person to enjoy life in a way that is otherwise not physically possible. (A major “good boy” for Ziggy AND his owner, for helping Ziggy enjoy his life.)

    Kong for aggressive chewers…not a necessity, agreed, but pretty close to it if you have an aggressive chewer in the house.

  32. How about a radio so that a group of dogs could hear each other? I’m thinking of vernor vinge’s story the babbler and his novel a deepness in the sky.
    My teddy bear no longer gets more snailmail than i do, but that’s the story behind why my email is gtbear@gmail.

  33. I added an automatic pet door for my dog from Solo Pet doors. These are the type where a sensor is worn on the collar and when the dog/cat approaches it opens like a garage door. I would say that this was the bet money I have spent since the dog have the freedom to go in and out all day long. My guess on a sunny day, he is outside 30-50 times a day. When we leave to go anywhere, as soon as we close the door – he dashes out of his door and is waiting at the back fence while we drive away. This door did require me to cut a hole in the wall and supply power to it so it is not for someone that is not very handy.

    1. I bought one of the Solo automatic pet doors, too. Does yours actually work reliably? Mine was a piece of junk, it was more likely to open with nothing around at all than actually open when my dog approached it. And I didn’t want to have to worry about keeping fresh batteries in the collar unit all the time.

      So I returned it and spent $700-something (ouch) on the Plexidor unit with an RFID tag in the collar. It works soooo much better than the Solo unit did.


  34. Must have gadgets for my dog include; microchip, bowl with overhanging interior rim to keep ears from getting wet, crate, and several of those plastic atlatls for flinging tennis balls.

    They’re wonderful. You don’t have to touch the nasty, slimy ball and the throw-stick throws it much farther than I ever could with my arm.

    I’ve also heard wonderful things about the devices that allow your dog to pull you on a bike, sled or skateboard. Tired dog= happy dog.

  35. I recently got into the whole inventing stuff for dogs and definitely laugh at some of the crazy stuff I see. I created a whistling fetch toy called BIRD BALL. It sounds like a bird when you throw it…check out the videos at

  36. Things my dog Kira appreciates:

    Crazy Ball: Nested hard plastic balls with treat-sized holes. You pour in small treats and the dog knocks the thing around to make them fall out.

    Kong: Described above.

    Toy tire: Made for dogs. The treads look like paw prints. To make it more of a challenge, I weave a two-yard long piece of microfiber fleece through the hole. Sometimes I tie it in a loose knot. It takes Kira about ten minutes to unravel it.


    Pocket Gophers.

  37. The only electronic dog gadget I ever bought was a remote controlled vibrating collar. The dog I got it for was deaf, and trained to recognize a number of hand signals. The collar was to get her attention if she wasn’t looking at me, like when she would be wandering around in the back yard. A short buzz and she’d look at me, and I’d give her a signal. Super handy.

  38. The bark collar I bought for my 2 dogs was the best thing ever. It shocked them with low voltage once. It’s never shocked them again. I live in a neighborhood where my neighbors are all close to me, and my 2 dogs would bark incessantly at nothing all the time. I tested the shock with my hand (held it and shouted into the collar) It felt like a very strong static electric shock from walking on the carpet and touching something metal.

  39. We bought a medium-sized “Jog-A-Dog a few years back for $1500, best money I’ve ever spent on the two of them. For people who own high energy breeds and don’t have a *couple* hours a day to run them, it’s a lifesaver (and furniture saver)–particularly in winter. Yeah, we could have gone cheaper and bought them a used treadmill, but they were still around $800, weren’t proportioned properly, and not sealed up the same way.


  40. Food and water bowls might not count as gagets. But for a dog living in a desert area, a Lixit faucet waterer is a godsend.

  41. First, people don’t need gadgets either, yet we like them. Same with dogs. My dog loves the laser pointer I have for him. He chases the red dot and gets lots of exercise. It is fun in the back yard at night. Further, I go canoeing, sometimes at night, and take my dog. He doesn’t swim well. I have a flashing life preservor.

  42. Yes there is a gadget that your dog needs. You know those red, flashing lights you see under the seats on bicycles? Attach one to your dog’s collar and it will help keep it from being hit be a car a night.

  43. Didn’t see this mentioned … I use a head halter (“gentle leader”, or “halti”) on each of my 100# puppies. Yes, I know I could just do a better job training them not to pull during walks, but even so, have a cat or a squirrel run out in front of them and I haven’t seen the training it would take for them not to shoot out after it. Or at least, I’m certainly not capable of it. The only complaint I have with the halters is that occasionally someone will confuse them with a muzzle (not even close to the same). I actually had one lady yell at me for being so mean as to have my dogs muzzled.

    Also, recently purchased a collar/leash combo (http://www.activedogtoys.com/insta-leash.html) that I really like.

    1. Yeah, tell me about. Gentle Leaders have been around for years but I still have to explain that my dog isn’t a killer because of the loose little strap around her muzzle.

  44. I’ve always wondered why they didn’t make “squeaky” toys with a chip that played ultrasonic squeaks, so the owners weren’t driven nuts by sounds they can’t hear…

  45. Re The Wag Hotel:

    It doesn’t matter how fancy a boarding kennel is; if they leave your pooch cooped up by himeslf all day long, he’s not going to be happy. Almost every person I know who has taken their dog to a Wag hotel has never taken them back for a second visit.

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