For as long as there have been dogs around humans, there have probably been silly dog accessories. Some of the dogs in Renaissance paintings are wearing exceptionally strange clothing. But the modern age has a thriving industry of weird dog accessories that look absurd while serving an actual purpose for improving your dog's existence. Some are extremely high-tech — from GPS trackers to automated fetch-playing robots — while others are old-fashioned in the extreme (dog food cookbooks!), but they've all got proven value for dog welfare.
There are some bizarre-but-useful dog items out there that are restricted purely to smaller breeds — this K9 dog "backpack" for carrying snow-averse small animals is an example — but this guide is as breed-inclusive as possible, so all these products can be used or adjusted to suit all canine sizes, from Rottweiler to chihuahua. If you're unsure about a product and how it might fit into your life, it's always sensible to consult your vet, particularly if it has anything to do with your dog's health or diet. And be realistic; if an item seems to be too bizarre to be true, or claims to make your dog into Lassie in five goes, it's probably taking you for a bit of a ride (or a walk).
1. Puzzle Feeders
Whether your dog needs a bit of stimulation because of how smart it is, or just tends to wolf down bowls of food at slightly alarming rates, puzzle feeders might be the answer to your prayers. They can come in a variety of extremely weird-looking shapes resembling labyrinths, mazes or confusing children's toys — one popular option is a fluffy mat that encourages dogs to nose among grass-like fronds to find their treats. They're designed to stimulate the natural instincts of dogs to find their food in complicated natural environments. They slow down the eating process and give you a deeply entertaining spectacle.
2. GPS Trackers
If your dog's the kind to slip their lead and go off into the wild blue yonder, it's probably a good idea to get a GPS tracker around their neck, so that it can track where on earth they end up. There are several options on the market, from collars themselves to clip-on accessories that use phone networks or Bluetooth, so shop around to find something that will suit your pup's particular Houdini instincts.
3. Zipline Dog Harnesses
Got a dog that loves sitting in the backseat of the car so much they run from window to window — or are small enough to go flying if you brake suddenly? Get a car zipline. This product is excellent for people whose dogs can't be transported in a carrier in the back of a car: It hooks onto either side of your back seat and clips onto the harness of the dog, allowing them free movement and preventing them from getting injured if the car moves unexpectedly.
4. Travel Bowls
How many times have you been out hiking, or just at a cafe with your beloved pooch, and had to improvise with a hose or a water bottle to give them a drink? Portable travel water bowls may be your answer. Collapsible ones are popular (Kurgo's squashes completely flat), as are ones that have non-spill technology; "floating" interiors mean that sudden jolts to those creations won't necessarily cover everything around them with water.
5. Make-Your-Own Treats
Bake Your Own Treats Kit, $10, Pawbakes
This is a particular help if, like many people, you have friends and family who love the idea of giving your dog human food — even though it's a bad idea. Encourage them to give them the correct nourishment — and make sure what goes into dog treats themselves is safe — by using a make-your-own treats pack. If you don't feel up to that kind of investment, or your canine is on a very specific diet that requires monitoring, dog food cookbooks are also an option for giving your dogs treats straight out of your own oven.
6. A Robot Fetch Game
There is basically nothing more exciting for dogs who are keen on fetch than an endless fetch game, and technology now exists that makes it a reality — even if you happen not to be home. The iFetch, provided that your dog's smart enough to retrieve balls and feed them into the machine, will keep firing miniature balls for hours, at adjustable lengths and heights. A variety of other options are available too, so shop around for something that fits your dog's behavior and size.
7. A Hand-Knitted Bed
Science shows that dogs shouldn't sleep on your bed if you want a restful night's sleep — but it may be hard to dissuade them if your covers are intensely comfortable. Give them something else to rest their heads on with a knitted-style bed, now apparently coming into fashion. They're available on Etsy and at some high-end knitted accessory boutiques, and if they're pure wool they'll be easily washable in a standard washing machine when they start to stink too heavily of dog fur.
8. Smart Training Mats & Collars
Training and monitoring dogs is a difficult prospect for basically anybody, so welcome all the technological help you can get. Smart training mats for dogs who demonstrate cues to be let outside are now available; the dogs can be trained to sit on the mat, which then sends a notification that they want to be let out. Numerous digital health monitors for dog behavior, weight and sleep are also available, which could be particularly useful if you have an elderly dog or one with a health condition.
9. Indestructible Toys
My in-laws currently own a delightful golden retriever who is so gentle with his toys that he never bites them hard enough to activate their squeakers. If yours isn't so, uh, civilized, the Tearribles may be for you. The product of a successful Kickstarter campaign, they're marketed as toys that are basically impossible to destroy, because they come with detachable limbs and tails to make them entertaining, but not a disaster. Other toys have methods to stop serious damage; the Kong Wild Knots Bear, for example, has a skeleton made of knotted rope (!) that means it's extremely difficult for dogs to pull apart, no matter how hard they try.