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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Xhuuya the Raven

Our puzzle-solving corvid friend!
Photo by Erin Koski
I mention Xhuuya the raven a lot when discussing puzzle toys and how they can be used for enrichment for more than just dogs. Xhuuya is an educational ambassador for Luzonica: Birds of the World. This educational outreach program is run by my photographer friend, the same person behind pretty much all oft he really good pictures here at The Dog Geek. I spent a lot of time with Xhuuya when she was a baby, and coming up with new toys and puzzles for her is an endless project..

Her name is pronounced "Hoo-ya", and comes from the mythology of the Haida people of the Pacific Northwest. In the mythology of many Native American cultures, the raven plays the role of the trickster. In some, the raven is considered a creator. In Haida mythology, the raven is both a trickster and a creator, and one of raven's names is Xhuuya.

Ravens are crazy, scary smart. Keeping one legally in California involves a stack of paperwork that includes permits on the city, state, and federal level. It also involves coming up with enrichment activities to keep that raven busy in captivity.

Dog food puzzle toys can be used for ravens
Photo by Erin Koski
There's not actually a market for raven puzzle toys. Food toys for birds and intended for large parrots. Some of these work for Xhuuya, but there's not a huge variety out there, and most are too easy for her to take apart. Some dog puzzle toys also work incredibly well, and it is this perspective that has led me to add the "versatility" rating to my puzzle toy reviews.

Xhuuya solves puzzles in a very different way than my dogs. She has a long pointy beak that can reach way down into narrow spaces. While the dogs essentially have meat grinders on their faces, Xhuuya effectively has a screwdriver. She can pry things open, and even unscrew them.

So what sort of puzzles work best for a raven? The Cycle Dog 3 Play Hippo is a favorite, along with the Planet Dog Snoop. Most of our JW Pet puzzle toys were borrowed from Xhuuya. Busy Buddy's Twist & Treat is another toy that works well. Unlike dogs, ravens tend to poop all over their toys, so washability is a huge consideration. Unlike parrots, ravens do not tend to shred things for fun, so they can have soft and flexible toys.
Outward Hound raven problem solving treat spinner
Photo by Erin Koski

 Considering whether or not a toy will work for Xhuuya has led me to consider other species as well. Can a toy be pushed around by a guinea pig? Can it be picked up and tossed by a rabbit? Is it hard enough plastic to keep a rat from just chewing through it to get to the food? Would a goat be able to use a toy without breaking it? How about a horse?

Environmental enrichment is important for every captive species. Xhuuya presents an extreme challenge, and I hope that by discussing our experiences with puzzle toys, I can inspire some other pet owners and zookeepers to consider what they can do to keep their charges busy.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Product Review: Top Paw Angler Fish Stuffy

Normally when I walk into Petsmart, I don't even notice the racks of Top Paw and Grreat Choice plush toys. I just find most cheap mass-market plush toys to be totally unappealing. Emoticons? Sports balls? Anthropomorphic food? My inner hipster shouts "No way!" But a few weeks ago I found a plush angler fish amongst the more typical starfish and seahorses.
Top Paw angler fish squeaky plush
Photo by Erin Koski

So at this point I should probably confess that I have a collection of stuffed sealife. No, not normal stuffed animals like otters and sea turtles. I have an octopus, a manta ray, a manatee, an ocean sunfish, and probably a few I can't recall just now. It's a very specific niche into which the Top Paw anglerfish fits perfectly.

Do I still think the vast majority of dog toys look incredibly stupid? You bet! Loofah dogs? Misshaped alligators and teddy bears? Hedgehogs in every shape, size, and color? Everything has been done to death, and the toy companies try to liven things up by giving their animal toys huge heads, or round bellies, or long necks. It's just not an aesthetic I find appealing.

At this point, most of our stuffies are either dinosaurs, stuff we got in subscription boxes, or toys my mother randomly give the dogs when I'm not looking. There's nothing better than arriving home to a shredded teddy bear and not being sure if we've destroyed a family heirloom. (But seriously my mother is awesome for spoiling her granddogs!)
unique offbeat anglerfish squeaky plush dog toy
Photo by Erin Koski

Pros: It's an anglerfish. How often do you see a plush anglerfish, let alone a plush squeaky dog toy anglerfish?

Cons: That little fishy lure didn't hold up very well, though to it's credit it's still attached and recognizable.

Bottom Line: I don't actually wish that companies would make more offbeat plush toys that appeal to my weird little foibles, because that would mean those toys were actually popular, and if they became popular I wouldn't like them nearly as much.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Treat Tuesday: QChefs Puffed Power Cracker and Puffed Fitness Cracker

QChefs was kind enough to give me samples of their new digestible chews at SuperZoo, and these are so unusual that I had to share them here. We got a Puffed Power Cracker and a Puffed Fitness Cracker. Power Crackers are made from cottage cheese, buckwheat, and coconut oil. Ours had a fairly light and air consistency, and I was surprised how long it took Sisci to chew it up. Fitness Crackers are made from rice and hard cheese, as well as coconut oil. Ours was very hard and took quite a bit of gnawing to demolish.
hard cheese edible dog chew

Good For: Up to 20 minutes of intense chewing for the little Fitness and Power crackers. Dog with protein allergies. Dogs that like to swallow their chews whole. Being more exciting than a Himalayan yak chew.

Not Good For: Dogs with rice, buckwheat, or dairy allergies. Being more exciting than a bully stick.

How Much We Like Them: I need to find a local shop that carries these because the dogs love them.
digestible edible long-lasting dog chew