An eye-popping $50 billion dollars is spent on pet care every year, with the lion's share going to the dogs, literally. But even though thousands of dog-care supplies are on the market now with thousands more introduced all the time, I think there are but a handful that have been game-changers.
Here are my top five:
Shipping crates for animals have been around forever. But the original Vari Kennel line of high-impact plastic crates forever altered the way we raise and train our dogs. Most notably, crates are now used routinely for housebreaking -- working with a puppy's natural desire to keep the area around him clean to help him learn to "hold it" until he can be taken outside and praised for going in the right place.
Crate training also helps to teach growing puppies which items are OK for chewing and which are off-limits, based on what's inside the crate and what's not. A crate also provides a safe place for a dog to ride in a vehicle, teaches him to be more relaxed when confined at the veterinarian's and even provides him a safe, secure place to be when evacuated during a disaster.
Formed from durable rubber, the Kong is arguably the best dog toy ever invented. Kongs now come in a wide range of sizes and chew strengths. But it's the hollow center of most Kongs (the floatable Kool Kongs are the exception) that gives this toy superstar status.
Dog trainers recommend keeping crated dogs busy with Kongs stuffed with a variety of fillings, such as kibble, cheese, peanut butter and rawhide sticks. There's no telling how many happy dogs have been distracted from destruction by the mighty Kong.
Early dog collars were made of metal to protect the necks of war dogs; later ones were made of leather to identify owners and allow for controlling animals with leashes or keeping them from roaming with chains. But fashionable collars weren't available for the ordinary dog until the invention of the snap-together clasp.
The plastic clasps also help make collars so affordable that many dogs have more than one, and not a few have collars for every occasion.
I throw like a girl. But even if I didn't, I know that no one with the possible exception of a major league outfielder could throw a ball far enough to keep my two retrievers happy. Since I like my retrievers to be happy -- not to mention exhausted, so they don't drive me crazy -- I own a Chuckit. Actually, I own three. Maybe four. Simply put: I can't live without them.
Seemingly based on the cesta used to fling the pelota in jai alai, the Chuckit gives even the wimpiest dog owner a rocket launcher for an arm. With little effort you can fling to the point of your dog's happy exhaustion without working up a sweat yourself.
Legendary veterinary behaviorist Dr. R.K. Anderson had a simple idea: Why wouldn't something that has worked with horses for countless years control a dog just as painlessly? Head halters for dogs are simply modified versions of horse halters, and they work on the same principal: Guide and control where the head goes and the rest of the body will follow.
How many shoulder joints has the head halter saved? Hard to say, but the ability to take an unruly dog for a walk benefits both pet and owner, helping lessen behavior problems caused by inactivity and health problems caused by excess weight.
Next week, I'll have my five cat-care products that have changed the world.
Is grinding nails
really OK for dogs?
Q: What do you think about "grinding" a dog's nails rather then cutting them? I often see an ad for a tool that can do it. Is it safe? -- via email
A: Grinding your dog's nails is safe if done properly, and can be easier on you both. I'm not personally that big a big fan of the one "as seen on TV," but there are other options for getting the job done -- including an ordinary rotary grinder such as the Dremel with a medium-grit tip. Both cordless and corded models seem to work just as well for this task, but the cordless may be easier for beginners to handle.
In the early stages of training, just let your dog see the grinder, and praise and treat. In a later session, turn the grinder on and praise and treat. Praise and treat your dog progressively, allowing the grinder to get closer to a paw and to briefly touch a nail tip. The first time you grind -- which may be several sessions after the first introduction -- be happy with working a little on just one nail, and don't forget to praise and treat.
Be sure to either clip the hair of longhaired dogs or to hold it back so it won't get wound in the shaft of the grinder. (One trick is to slip an old nylon stocking with a hole for the nail over the paw to hold the hair away from the grinding tip.) Support the dog's toe, but don't squeeze too hard. Hold the grinder against the nail for no more than a second or two at a time to prevent heat buildup, and don't push the grinder hard against the nail -- just hold it there and let the tool do the work.
Grind across the bottom and then carefully in from the tip of the nail. Just a little bit at a time is plenty. If you do this weekly, you'll be able to maintain short nails on your dog with ease. (If you do an Internet search for "grinding dog nails," you'll find a couple of well-done step-by-step guides with pictures.) -- Gina Spadafori
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
'Net tool locates
vets when you travel
-- The holidays are a major travel season, and these days travel often includes the family dog. But what if your dog sniffs out the raisins between the seats and hoovers them up before you check the rearview mirror? Or, at the in-laws', your pet gets hold of grandma's medication? The American Animal Hospital Association noticed the upward trend in roaming Rovers and launched a pet-focused trip planner. The planner pinpoints veterinary clinics and hospitals along your route. Just plug in your starting point and final destination, and you'll not only get driving directions for your trip, but the name, location and contact information for pet help along the way. Find it at healthypet.com/RelocationAndTravel/TripPlanner.aspx.
-- If you've been looking for one more reason to make kicking cigarettes your New Year's resolution, how about this one: Second-hand smoke has been linked to cancer in pets. A study by the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University looked at the link between second-hand smoke and cancer in cats, and found not only a strong link, but an increased risk for pets exposed for five years or longer. For dogs, a study by the College of Veterinary Medicine at Colorado State University noted a higher risk of nasal tumors in dogs with longer muzzles, and lung cancer in dogs with shorter muzzles -- the carcinogens being stopped in the noses of some dogs but going through to the lungs in others. In pet birds, it's the "canary in the coal mine" all over again, with lung cancer turning up at higher rates in homes with smokers. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are affiliated with Vetsteet.com and also the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.