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In April 1975, Dahl was in a bar (which is now Beauregard Vineyards Tasting room in Bonny Doon) listening to his friends complain about their pets. This gave him the idea for the perfect "pet": a rock. A rock would not need to be fed, walked, bathed, groomed and would not die, become sick, or be disobedient. He said they were to be the perfect pets, and joked about it with his friends. However, he eventually took the idea seriously, and drafted an "instruction manual" for a pet rock. It was full of puns, gags and plays on words that referred to the rock as an actual pet. The original had no eyes.
The first Pet Rocks were ordinary gray stones bought at a builder's supply store. They were marketed like live pets, in custom cardboard boxes, complete with straw and breathing holes for the "animal." The fad lasted about six months, ending after a short increase in sales during the Christmas season of December 1975. Although by February 1976 they were discounted due to lower sales, Dahl sold 1.5 million Pet Rocks and became a millionaire.
A thirty-two page official training manual titled The Care and Training of Your Pet Rock was included, with instructions on how to properly raise and care for one's new Pet Rock (notably lacking instructions for feeding, bathing, etc.). The instruction manual was the real product: it was full of gags, puns and jokes. It contained several commands that could be taught to the new pet. While "sit" and "stay" were effortless to accomplish, "roll over" usually required a little extra help from the trainer. "Come," "stand" and "shake hands" were found to be near-impossible to teach, but "attack" was fairly simple (also with some additional help from the owner). The owners also found that potty-training their pet rocks was fairly simple, given that they were, in fact, rocks. Dahl's biggest expense was the die-cutting and manufacture of the boxes. The rocks only cost a penny each, and the straw was nearly free. For the initial run of booklets, Dahl had a printing job for a client and "tacked" the pet rock booklet onto the main job. This resulted in a batch requiring only a cut and trim, at almost no cost except some labor.
With his money Dahl opened the ironically named "Carry Nations" bar in downtown Los Gatos, California. He continued to work in advertising but avoided interviews for years, because "a bunch of wackos" harassed him with lawsuits and threats. Dahl said in 1988, "Sometimes I look back and wonder if my life wouldn't have been simpler if I hadn't done it."
The Pet Rock became available again on September 3, 2012. Rosebud Entertainment currently holds the United States trademark rights to the Pet Rock.