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Lisa Unleashed: Happy Holidays To The Hounds

Published: December 24, 2016

My holiday memory bank is now filled with half a century of Christmas Eve celebrations, almost all of them include the family dog or dogs, a few with one cat, and most with a horse somewhere in a nearby barn or my backyard. But each year the question always looms, What to get the dogs for Christmas?
In the early days I imagine my parents would toss our Collie mix WooWoo a steak bone, or later give our Scottish Terrier, Angus Dow Jones McDuff Nelson, a new box of Milk-Bones, fresh from the First National supermarket. Or maybe it might have been a piece of Landjager, a smoked, air-cured meat sausage, that my Swiss grandmother used to stuff in our stockings on Christmas Eve.

During one celebration, I recall bringing my schipperke/beagle mix Tippy Toes to my grandmother’s house and making him wear a Santa outfit. The three-piece costume came with pointy hat, belted red suit, and a white felt beard. Somewhere in the basement that photo still lurks. But I don’t ever recall what I used to get Tippy for Christmas. This is shocking to me since he lived to be nearly 18 years old, from the time I was 11 years old until I was 29. There must have been bones, treats and toys. Although Tippy wasn’t really a toy-loving kind of dog, just a true chow hound. He was a traveler though, for years he alternated Christmas Eve visits between New York and Michigan. I guess his gift from us was, “Wanna Go for a Ride?

Doggie Tech As Gifts

The last 30-plus years have been filled with many Norwegian Elkhounds, and many “Puppy’s First Christmas” declarations filled with chewable bones and plush toys. But today in this age of technology the choices for dog gifts are staggering. There is a rash of new wearable tech collars for dogs that, thanks to GPS, will tell you where your dog is if it leaves its safe zone, the weather conditions around him, as well as his activity level.

I won’t be buying Adele any wearable tech collars, that can cost upward of $100, since I don’t need to know where she is when I’m not at home, because she better be inside the house where I left her. As for weather conditions, I already have an app for that, which drains my phone battery less than a GPS running 24/7 in the background, which I can turn off. Not to mention monthly charges from $9.99 to $29.99 to run the app to keep track of your dog. That’s a lot of biscuit money! As for activity, the 30-minute walk works great for her and I using my old Swiss Army watch.

Pass on the collar, but there is more techie treats to choose from. There is a blue-toothed-enabled smart pet food bowl, that with an app, you create a profile, and then the bowl lights up as you pour food into it and turns red when you have feed too much to your dog. What ever happened to the low-tech and free measuring cup?

Not home during the holidays? How about a feed-and-go dispenser while you are away at Grandmother’s house? This device features six food compartments you can prefill with scheduling options. There is a Wi-Fi/Ethernet capable webcam built in so you can monitor when the food is eaten. But wait, there’s more! There are speakers so you can, according to PC Magazine, “play a recording of you calling them to eat (a digital Pavlovian bell).” The system works remotely over the web and only costs $259. But, Who is letting the dog out to do his doggie business while you are away?

For the water retrieving breeds there is the safety alarm pet pool kit. Put this monitor that looks like a turtle on your dog’s collar and you will instantly know when your dog is in the pool when the base camp alarm sounds. Want to keep you dog mentally stimulated? A mere $184 will get you a lighted plastic object that plays a game like Simon for your dog, with a digital voice recording of you. Works with an app too. Ca-ching! And for $79 you can get a dog shock collar you can operate from your smartphone. Ouch! Not a good idea.

And here is where I absolutely draw the line from frivolous to truly Orwellian scary. For $379, you can get a pet cam with full video conferencing capabilities. Just mount it to your wall and you can talk/see your pet while at work. I’ve always wondered what affect this has on the dog. It’s bad enough when Ray and I FaceTime and Adele comes looking at the phone as if saying, “Why did you put Lisa in that little box?” I’m watching her cute head tilt, not to mention it breaks my heart not to be with her, but to see her looking confused back at me when she hears my voice. Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer not to put any tech between me and my dogs’ bonding experience. I want that full-on hello when I walk in the door, especially when I’m carrying this year’s Christmas Eve gifts of knot toys and moose antlers.

Lisa Peterson writes about horses, hounds and history at and is the owner of Barn Girl Media, a communications consultancy company. Contact her at

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