First, I should tell you that I had some canine assistance for this post–my own dog Monkey (who was secretly hoping to score some swag from the endeavor) tagged along and played the role of Chief Sniffer. It was not a hard sell:
Second, let me say that I am amazed at how many pet toys could stand to benefit from human supervision. I say this not to alarm anyone but to suggest reading the instructions, product information, and reviews before you buy.
Third, let's consider the question of whether or not a pet can distinguish amongst his/her toys. I would say yes, though it varies by degrees. You really must watch this National Geographic video, Unlikely Animal Genius, in which a rescued Doberman Pinscher dog arranges his toys in artful combinations–in triangles, all Monkeys, all face-down. Barbara Smuts, PhD, University of Michigan, was called in to study and verify this unusual behavior. I couldn't help but spot the fluffy orange Orangutan toy. This happens to be Monkey's favorite and he will select it from a pile of toys every time that he wants to communicate that he is ready for his dinner. I do not jest. It even trumped his brand-new-that-day toy (see below).
With this in mind, let's talk about the dog gifts and cat gifts that are sure to hold a special place in the hearts of your four-legged friends. Dogs first. Sorry, cat lovers, but Monkey doesn't always act the gentleman.
I'm not sure if it's the tactile feel of this toy, its life-like size, or the fact that it doubles nicely as a head rest, but this toy does not dissapoint. Orange Orangutan, available at Doctors Foster and Smith for $13.59 (half what it costs at an Upper East side shop in Manhattan!)
2) Dog Toy: Kong Classic
You cannot go wrong with a Kong. Here's why: they're durable and well-made (as product-tested by a voracious consumer of dog toys, Thunder), and you can fill them with treats or frozen wet food to mentally challenge your dog, make him work for his food (a good thing), or occupy him while you're away from home.
Kong Classic Kong Dog Toy (large, red), available at Amazon for $7.21.
3) Dog Toy: Chuckit! 18M Ball Launcher
Playing fetch with your dog helps keep him fit and healthy. The farther you can make him run, the better. One of my surprising skills is the ability to throw a mean hardball, sidearm, and yet, with this device, I can throw a tennis ball much farther than I otherwise could. Just ask Daisy the chocolate lab.
Chuckit! 18M Ball Launcher (colors vary), available at Amazon for $4.99.
4) Dog Toy: Planet Dog Wood Chuck® with Orbee-Tuff® RecycleBALL®
The Planet Dog Wood Chuck® with Orbee-Tuff® RecycleBALL® is made with sustainable bamboo and reused cork scraps and has a charitable component. (Two percent of Planet Dog proceeds go to the Planet Dog Foundation which supports canine service programs).
The Planet Dog Wood Chuck® with Orbee-Tuff® RecycleBALL® is available at Planet Dog for $24.95.
5) Dog Gift: OllyDog Travel Bowl or Treat Bag
We all know it's good to keep your dog well-hydrated. For road trips, pack this foldable and fashionable water bowl:
Lapper Travel Bowl, available from OllyDog for $12.
If your dog is more food-oriented, or if you're looking to train your dog wherever you go, carry a treat bag for consistent reinforcement of good behavior. Treat Bag Plus is available in a variety of patterns, features a key stash pocket, three ways to wear the treat bag, large easy access opening, and a magnetic closure (helpful for one-handed operation if you have a dog that pulls. I'm speaking hypothetically of course).
Treat Bag Plus, available from OllyDog for $14. Also available from REI for $14.50.
Tip: If you're looking for an edible gift option that will disappear fast but nonetheless be much appreciated, I suggest Merrick Flossies Spiral Chew Dog Treats, available for online purchase at Petco.com or from retailers listed on the Merrick Web site. Flossies can run from $3-$5 and can help free a dog's teeth from tartar-causing plaque. A good old-fashioned beef bone (uncooked) will also do. The flossies buy you about 5 minutes of pet-focus, the bone a solid 20 minutes plus.
On to our fine feline friends. For cat lovers, it will come as no surprise that a good cat gift has to "do something or smell like catnip to get the interest of a cat" according to Pauline Gratt of Calling All Pets (the helpful pet shop pictured atop this post). As evidence, see a bewitched Buddy playing with my gift of catnip-filled felt:
1) Cat Toy: Da Bird With Rod
Ever since I bought my brother's cat a Da Bird feather toy, I catapulted into the category of Best Cat Toy Gift Giver Ever. His cat was such a fan of this toy that he loved it to death, requiring the ordering of replacement parts. You can watch the product video to see it in action. Petco.com's users have rated it 5 out of 5 paws. The toy aims to mimic a real bird in flight. With just a little flick of your wrist, you can have this toy darting and leaping in no time.
Da Bird with Rod feather toy, available from GO-CAT Feather Toys for $5.95.
2) Cat Toy: Cat Dancer
This is the "old standby" according to Ms. Gratt. According to my brother, "It's a piece of wire and some cardboard bits, but your cat will never get tired of it. It's the best-conceived cat toy ever." So is the price. (Why are cat toys so much less expensive than dog toys?)
3) Cat Toy: Fling-ama-String™
No assembly required. Just hang the toy on any standard doorknob in your home. It's said to be irresistible to cats, even those who would rather sleep all day. The good news? This toy is highly interactive and engaging. The word of warning is that you must supervise your cat's interaction with it. Requires 3 AA batteries (not included). Watch the manufacturer's video of a cat playing with a Fling-ama-String™.
RS Reader price for one Fling-ama-String™: $25, MoodyPet.com. Enter the code "REALSIMPLE" at checkout. Valid through 12/31/10 or while supplies last.
4) Cat Toy: Bolt™
We all know that cats like to chase anything that moves. Now picture a dancing light that will drive your cat into a frenzy (in a good way). Read the warning label before using and be sure not to aim the laser light directly into the eyes of people or pets. Supervise your pet's play. This product is intended for pets, not for children. This automatic laser light toy requires 4 AA batteries, not included.
Bolt™: Available from FroliCat™ for $19.95.
5) Cat Toy: Ping Pong Ball
Don't be deceived by the basic appearance of this ball. When a cat pounces on it, the ball bounces and glances off the floor and makes a sound, all of which prove captivating. Just make sure you supervise the action.
Tip: At the end of the day, when it comes to cats, crumpled up newspaper is sure to delight and the price is right.
Happy shopping! What are your favorite gifts for pets?