Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Product Review: Rubit Dog Tag Clip

The Rubit is a device for attaching tags to a dog's collar. It is strong, light, durable, and makes it very easy to switch between collars. This is very important if the dog's owner is mildly obsessed with collecting collars and changing them on a daily basis.
Photo by Erin Koski
The Rubit comes in three sizes, a ton of colors, and three different shapes. Some of them are also available with rhinestones or spikes. I bought a black Medium Curve Rubit and a pink Small Curve Rubit for my dogs almost four years ago, and they have worn them on a near-constant basis the entire time. A couple of months ago I purchased a pink Small Heart with Rhinestones for Ru because he could stand to be a little more fancy. As you can see, it is absolutely adorable.

I love how simple, strong, and decorative these clips are. They are extremely lightweight, which is very important for a 6lb dog. Most of Ru''s collars are 3/8" wide, and I like to clip the Rubit directly to the collar to keep the tags from hanging too low. The small Rubits are too small to clip to the rings of most of Brisbane's collars, but there is nothing his Medium Rubit can't handle.

Photo by Erin Koski
Since I have used our original Rubits for several years, and recently purchased a third one, I have been able to make a couple of interesting observations. First, the quality of the split ring for the tags has gone way down. Our original Rubit Curves still have their original split rings that are holding up wonderfully. However, the ring on the new one bent and nearly fell off despite holding the exact same tags Ru had been wearing with the first one for years. A lot of people on Amazon have left reviews complaining about this issue, and for good reason. Lost tags are a pain in the butt to replace. I caught the unwinding ring in time and replaced it with one of the tons I have around because they come with every single tag and I only use one per pet.

The other observation I've been able to make concerns Brisbane's Rubit Curve. When we were setting up these photos, I noticed that the top of the black Rubit is significantly thinner than the top of the pink one. After four years of hikes and beach trips, it is actually wearing out. Brisbane still wears it on a regular basis, so I will be looking to replace it eventually. I'll probably get a round one next time just because we don't have one yet. It's possible that this issue has been addressed in the years since this Rubit was purchased.

Pros: Easy to use, makes swapping tags simple. Small size prevents tags from hanging too low. Durable and long-lasting even after many dips in the ocean. Plenty of size, color, and style options.

Cons: At the moment the split ring provided with the product seems to be completely inadequate for the task of holding dog tags, it should be replaced with a ring that came with a dog tag. The colors eventually fade and rub, and I've seen at least one spiked Rubit that was missing a couple of spikes.

Bottom Line: This is my favorite tag clip and I will definitely be buying another one for Brisbane in the future. They are simple yet stylish, and I love how compact and light they are. I will be checking in with the company about Brisbane's thinning Rubit Curve.

My Vaccinated Dog Has Kennel Cough?

Last week a puppy at work went home with kennel cough, and Monday afternoon Brisbane started coughing. Like all dogs at daycare, Brisbane and the puppy were both current on their kennel cough vaccine. So how did they catch it?
This has nothing to do with bordatella. Photo by Erin Koski.

Kennel cough, or infectious tracheobronchitis, is caused by the bordatella bacteria, but dogs that catch it usually have canine parainfluenza virus as well. The disease is spread through the air, and is highly contagious. Kennels, veterinary clinics, and doggy daycares use special cleaning products to kill viruses and bacteria on surfaces, but even the cleanest places see an outbreak of kennel cough occasionally. The disease can also be contagious before the dogs begin showing symptoms, so breaking the cycle of transmission is difficult.

The kennel cough vaccine is a lot like the flu shot for humans. Getting a flu shot will protect a person from certain strains of influenza, but it will not necessarily prevent them from getting the flu that year. What the vaccine will do, however, is help prepare the immune system response so that the disease will be less severe if the person does catch it. Kennel cough can be caused by a number of different agents, and vaccinating against it is a bit like trying to vaccinate against the common cold.

Brisbane is a magnet for kennel cough, this is the fifth or sixth time he's had it, and he was current on his vaccine each time. I stopped getting him vaccinated against kennel cough for a couple of years because we were not taking any classes or doing any activities that required it. He had the nasal vaccine almost a year ago, but still caught a very mild case last summer, while Ru had a much longer and more severe case.

According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, kennel cough usually improves after around 5 days and the coughing normally stops after 10-20 days. I will be waiting until the weekend to see if Brisbane is improving, if not he may have a secondary bacterial infection and need antibiotics. Because kennel cough is so contagious, veterinarians often prefer that dogs with upper respiratory infections not enter the building. For Brisbane's first case of kennel cough, his vet at the time came out to the car to hear him cough.

We were supposed to begin agility classes this week, but it looks like we'll have to postpone that for a while. We won't be making any more trips to the dog beach until Brisbane is no longer coughing, but we will still be visiting some of our favorite on-leash walking spots. It should be easy to keep Brisbane from sharing airspace with everyone but out-of-control off-leash dogs with rude owners. Instead of warding them off with "my dog isn't friendly" or "my dog needs his space", I can announce "my dog has vaccine resistant kennel cough, and now yours does too!"

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Product Review: Kong Airdog Off/On Squeaker

The Kong Airdog Off/On Squeaker is a revolutionary new toy that I wish someone had invented years ago. Quite simply, it is a squeaky toy with an off switch. It is also made from that tennis ball material that dogs find so irresistible for some reason.
Photo by Erin Koski
Once upon a time, when he was under a year old, Kong came out with the Airdog products. Originally they were simply tennis ball material toys in various shapes. We had a big bone-shaped toy, and Briz enjoyed tossing it, pouncing on it, and stripping the fuzz from it. The Airdog stayed in our toybox for many years. When I tried to buy another one, I found to my horror that they had added squeakers to every single Airdog product.

Photo by Erin Koski
I've mentioned before that Brisbane has an obsessive compulsion to chomp tennis balls. He also has an obsessive compulsion to squeak things, so squeaky tennis balls are basically crack for him. Once in a while I buy him an Airdog squeaky tennis ball as a special treat. Those things last for about 15 minutes of continuous compulsive squeaking before the squeaker gives out and they become utterly pointless to Brisbane. This is why we need a squeaky toy with an off switch.

All squeaky toys have a hole plugged with a squeaker tube, and a chamber that forces air through the squeaker when compressed.
If you remove the squeaker tube from a squeaker toy, you will find that you can blow through it and make a continuous horrible squeaky noise that will gnaw at the sanity of anything within earshot. The Airdog Off/On Squeaker toys have a little switch that routes the air either through the squeaker tube, or through a plain hole with no squeaking. I am seriously in love with whoever invented this device because it is amazing. We have the rattle-shaped toy, and Brisbane thoroughly enjoy biting it.

Pros: The squeaker can be turned off. THE SQUEAKER CAN BE TURNED OFF!!! These toys come in two sizes and the large ones are big enough for big dogs. The felt is supposed to be nonabrasive and shouldn't wear down the teeth of compulsive toy-biters.

Cons: Although the regular Airdog toys are made in the USA according to Kong's website, the Off/On Squeakers are made in China. They come in a variety of shapes, but "average tennis ball" is not one of the options.

Bottom Line: Brisbane loves this thing, and it's one of the few squeaky toys he's allowed unlimited access to because I can shut it off instead of confiscating it when I'm on the phone with a client and he suddenly needs to make a bunch of noise. It has held up through a whole lot of compulsive biting so far, and I will certainly buy another one if/when this one needs to be retired.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Product Review: Hurtta Waterproof Coverall

The Hurtta Waterproof Coverall is a one-piece protective suit for dogs. It comes in a huge range of sizes, from super-tiny to gigantic. Based in Finland, the Hurtta company offers a wonderful variety of top-quality apparel for active dogs.

Photo by Erin Koski
We live on the coast of central California, where it has snowed twice in recorded history. The Waterproof Coverall is a warm, waterproof fleece suit that covers the entire body to protect from snow. It's a snowsuit.

Why did I buy my chihuahua a snowsuit? It barely even rains here, and most people in North America would laugh at what we call winter. This makes us utterly unprepared for anything resembling actual cold weather. A lot of houses here aren't insulated, and I know several people who don't own anything warmer than a sweatshirt. We had a night this past winter where the temperature dropped below freezing, and I headed out to work in the morning to find my windshield iced over. I poured water over it, and the water froze and made the ice thicker. I believe I shouted "This is California, I do not have the means to deal with this!" My friend from Canada told me I should keep an ice scraper in my car, I told her I don't even know where to buy one.

All this is to say that we don't handle actual weather very well around here. I took Ru to work with me that morning, and he sat outside and shivered violently until I took him inside and parked him in a crate in front of a space heater. Ru has plenty of sweaters and coats, but he didn't have anything that was both waterproof and would cover most of his body.

Ru is a difficult dog to find clothing for, because he has an unusually long back. Most four-legged clothing is made for much shorter dogs, and the outfits that are long enough are also much too big around the chest and neck. Hurtta dog clothes are fantastic because they make their four-legged stuff win multiple leg lengths. Ru's snowsuit is a size 12" (neck to tail) with short legs. The neck and waist of the suit have elastic drawstrings, so I can cinch the suit down for a perfect fit.

Pros: Incredible adjustability and many different sizes mean that even hard-to-fit dogs and unusual body types get to stay warm and dry.This outfit is super durable, and extra warm. The back and underside of the suit are open so Ru can potty.

Cons: Hurtta makes some great stuff, but they do not have a four-legged suit that comes in fun colors and is both waterproof and warm. The Slush Combat Suit is uninsulated. The Microfleece Jumpsuit isn't waterproof. The Waterproof Coverall only comes in brown. Hurtta dog clothes are also unusually expensive, $60-80 retail.

Bottom Line: The range of fitting options makes the Hurtta Waterproof Jumpsuit the answer to my quest for a warm, waterproof, four-legged outfit for my long-backed chihuahua. The sizing options should also make Hurtta the easy answer for keeping bulldogs, whippets, and other funny-shaped dogs warm and dry.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Book Review: Don't Shoot the Dog

Far more than just a dog training book, Karen Pryor's Don't Shoot the Dog is an amazingly thorough introduction to the concept of behaviorism. It explains the science behind why all creatures do what they do, and how their behavior can be altered.
Photo by Erin Koski

Karen Pryor is a former dolphin trainer, and this is the field in which she originally developed the concept of clicker training that can be applied to any animal. Traditionally, dogs were trained through force and intimidation. Cesar Milan uses traditional force training and flooding exercises,  along with a nebulous concept known as "leadership" that is somehow supposed to solve behavior problems. However, the Dog Whisperer's methods can only be applied to animals that can be controlled or forced. Dolphins cannot be forced to do things they do not want to do, so clicker training was developed as a way to teach them what their handlers wanted.

Don't Shoot the Dog does discuss dogs and how to train them, but it also describes the behavioral concepts behind how and why these training methods work. Knowing the science behind the training allows prospective trainers to alter their methods as needed to fit a particular situation. When Brisbane was a puppy with spinal disc issues, he used to growl at people who sat next to him on the couch, anticipating them touching or moving him in a way that hurt. Conventional training, and the Dog Whisperer would have had me revoke his furniture privileges, or attempt to "be a better leader" and see if this somehow taught him that the couch did not belong to him. Don't Shoot the Dog taught me to train an alternate behavior, I taught Brisbane to get on and off the couch on command. When he growled, he was told to perform his getting-off-the-couch trick, and praised for complying. Very quickly, Briz learned to leave on his own when he didn't want to sit with someone. What could have been labelled a "dominance" issue or sign of poor leadership was simply a matter of teaching Brisbane a better way to handle a situation that made him uncomfortable.

One of the most delightful parts of Don't Shoot the Dog is the way it applies the behavior concepts to humans. The science of behavior is universal across species, we all do things we find rewarding and avoid things we find unrewarding. Don't Shoot the dog explains how to use various training methods to training yourself to stop biting your nails, to get your roommate to pick up their dirty laundry, to get the kids to be quiet in the car. It gave me a whole new view of human behavior, and changed the way I interact with other people.

I highly recommend Don't Shoot the Dog to anyone and everyone. I think the world would be a better place if everyone read this book. I think it should be a required text in high school, maybe in science class, where everyone could try training each other.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Product Review: EzyDog QuickFit Harness

The EzyDog QuickFit harness is a Norway-style harness designed to eliminate pressure on the dog's neck and throat. It is not intended to prevent dogs from pulling, and would actually make it more comfortable to pull on the leash if the dog has not been trained to walk nicely.

Photo by Erin Koski
This is the first Norway harness I got for Brisbane. I found it at Pet House, where I was able to try it on him. I decided I wasn't pleased with the fit and was able to exchange it without a fuss.

The QuickFit harness comes in six sizes from Extra-Extra-Small through Extra Large. Brisbane's chest measures 26" around, so he should fit into a size Medium, but the front strap on that one was too short so I exchanged it for a large. I still think the front strap is too short, but the Extra Large does not adjust small enough to fit around Brisbane's chest. I had the same fitting issue with Ru, at 12" around he should barely fit into an Extra-Extra-Small, but he's wearing a small with the front strap set to maximum length.

Photo by Erin Koski
That adjustable front strap is what makes the ExyDog Quickfit different from any other Norway harness I have seen. On every other harness, this strap is a fixed length and can be too short or too long for certain dogs. The QuickFit has a neoprene tube with the EzyDog logo that hides an adjustable velcro section. The harness comes with the front strap adjusted to its smallest setting, and it can be extended several inches. The neoprene tube should hide the velcro nicely, and many people do not realize that the harness has this feature, so the Amazon reviews are filled with complains about the strap being too short.

For my dogs, even with the front strap adjusted past its maximum length on a harness a size too big, the front strap is still pretty short. The buckle for the belly strap sits in their armpits and could get uncomfortable on a long hike. I see these harnesses on dogs at work occasionally, and they always have the front strap adjusted to its maximum length. This leads me to believe that the range of the strap is from "way too short for any dog" to "long enough for normal dogs".
Photo by Erin Koski
A properly-fitted Norway harness should fit with the belly strap vertical, with plenty of clearance for the dog's elbows. The black velcro sticking out on the front strap of Ru's QuickFit is the result of the strap being adjusted too long. I have considered modifying these harnesses by making a velcro strap extension and a custom neoprene sleeve to fit over it.

Brisbane love Norway harnesses because I can put them on him without having to pick up his sensitive feet. He doesn't really like having the harness put over his head, but it's much better than the alternatives.

Photo by Erin Koski
Pros: The EzyDog QuickFit is more adjustable than any other Norway harness. It is extremely easy to put on, and the floating ring strap makes a nice handle. There is a side ring for attaching identification tags. It's a very sturdy harness, with reflective trim and durable plastic hardware.

Cons: The front strap only adjusts from unreasonably-short to not-quite-long-enough, leaving wide-chested dogs with a bad fit. The smallest sizes are very stiff and feel overbuilt for tiny dogs. The buckle for the belly strap sits in the dog's armpit and the short front strap can cause the buckle to rub sensitive skin. The velcro adjustment for the Large harness makes a continuous crinkling sound that is annoying on quiet walks in the woods. The leash ring on the Large size is rather heavy, and can bounce around on the dog's back.

Bottom Line: This is a great harness for dogs with sensitive feet, dogs that lack flexibility, and people who want something fast and easy that doesn't bother their dog's neck. The front strap adjusts from medium length to incredibly short, much shorter than the ComfortFlex Sport harness, and comparable to the Hurtta and Casual Canine with the option to go much shorter. In my area the QuickFit is the only Norway harness available locally.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Puzzle Toy: TreatStik

The TreatStik is a hard plastic toy that dispenses food when rolled across the ground. It is incredibly durable, easy to clean, and fast to load. The kibble is dispenses via a hole near the bottom of the toy.
Photo by Erin Koski
For most of his life, Brisbane has not eaten meals out of bowls. I prefer he spend a bit more time and use his brain in order to get food. Briz also used to have separation anxiety issues as a puppy. The TreatStik is one of the toys I used to help him get over this. I would put some kibble in the toy and hand it to him before I left the house, and Brisbane learned that my leaving also meant dinner time. The TreatStik forced him to spend several minutes working for each piece of kibble.
Photo by Erin Koski

My favorite feature of this puzzle toy is that the entire end of it opens up. I can dump a cup and a half of kibble in there with zero effort. Of course, Brisbane doesn't eat more than a quarter cup of kibble per day right now. I need to think about switching him to a lower-calorie food.

Puzzle Toy Rating
Photo by Erin Koski

Capacity: 5/5 
At 1.5 cups of kibble, this thing not only holds an entire meal for Brisbane, it could hold nearly an entire meal for Josie. This is probably our highest-capacity puzzle toy.

Loading Speed: 5/5
Unscrew lid, dump in a scoop of kibble, screw lid back on. This is the paragon of easy-to-fill toys by which I judge all other toys.

Unloading Speed (standard dog): 5/5
Josie could spend all day long getting her kibble out of this toy. I would fill it to capacity and she would work on it for an hour and need a nap before she emptied it.

Unloading Speed (superdog): 4/5
Brisbane can get his daily 1/4 cup of kibble out of this in less than 5 minutes, but more kibble takes more time. The TreatStik website suggests putting chunks of carrot in there to liven things up, I'm gonna try that next. I should also have a look at the smaller one and see if it has a smaller hole to drop kibble slower.

Durability: 5/5
My TreatStik is nearly nine years old, Brisbane has had it his entire life and it has been rolled, bashed, and lost countless times. It's a bit beat up on the outside, but still completely functional.

Size: 4/5
The large TreatStik is big enough for the biggest dogs, as long as they are supervised with it. However, the smaller size is too big for toy breeds. This isn't a huge issue for us because Ru doesn't care about food, but it does make the appeal of the TreatStik slightly less than universal. This toy is too big for any dog who's jaw can fit through the hole.

Noise: 2/5
This is the second noisiest puzzle toy in our house. It would be fine if we had carpets and the kibble just rattled around, but on hardwood the Treatstik sounds like a herd of elephants.

Locatability: 3/5
The relatively large size makes this toy difficult to lose for very long, but it the round shape and low profile mean that it very easily rolls under furniture. It's usually under the kitchen cabinets, otherwise it can take a very long time to locate.

Washability: 5/5
Dishwasher safe, awesome if you have a dishwasher, otherwise it scrubs clean nicely with soap and hot water. Vinegar, bleach, and boiling water should eliminate any leftover nasties if necessary.

Hoardability: 1/5
Brisbane doesn't like to carry the TreatStik in his mouth, so he rolls it around until it's empty and then abandons it.

Total: 39/50
This is definitely one of our favorite puzzle toys, and probably the one that gets the most use because I can just dump in kibble and then run out the door.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Book Review: How to Behave So Your Dog Behaves

How to Behave So Your Dog Behaves, by Dr. Sophia Yin, is my favorite book to lend. I am on my third copy now because I keep loaning it out and it keeps not coming back. I think one copy moved to Texas with some friends of my parents, another was left with neighbors before we moved. Anytime I hear someone claim their dog is being "dominant", ask me my opinion of the Dog Whisperer, or mention some troubling behavior, I rush to get this book into their hands.

Dr. Yin is a veterinary behaviorist, meaning she is a veterinarian who specialises in behavior and training. How to Behave So Your Dog Behaves is a book about scientific dog training, known as behaviorism. At its most basic, behaviorism is the science of why things do what they do, and thus the principles of behaviorism can be applied to everything from dogs to horses, amoebas to brother-in-laws.

The book begins with an introduction to dog communication, explaining things in simple terms to help people understand what their dogs might be feeling. My favorite part of the book is the table of dog body language, and the accompanying chart for dog owners to fill in. The chart asks the reader to record various aspects of their dog's body language and behavior in various circumstances to help them learn when and where their dog feels confident, shy, pushy, confused, or relaxed.

After explaining behaviorism and how it works, the book goes on to explain how to train some basic behaviors and solve some common issues. I love the way Dr. Yin offers multiple methods to train each behavior and solve each issue. Not every training strategy works for every dog, and having multiple avenues to the same result helps budding dog trainers learn to be flexible in their approach.  Dr. Yin also describes games that can be played to help dog and owner work together better, and help the dog fully understand what he is being asked to do.

Dr. Yin continues to be one of my favorite trainers, behaviorists, and authors. She has a whole lot of material available online for free, and teaches concepts like "low-stress handling" to veterinarians and their staff. Sometimes I feel the tone of her writing is a bit brusque, but not in How to Behave So Your Dog Behaves. Dr. Yin is also an Australian cattledog lover, she is pictured on the dust jacket with two of her cattledogs. This makes me love her even more.

How to Behave So Your Dog Behaves is a book for everybody. New dog owners, people with problem dogs, veteran trainers, and especially anyone new to the concept of behaviorism. I particularly love the title, as it reminds us that we are training our own dogs at all times.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Happy Birthday Brisbane!

Brisbane turned nine today! He is in excellent shape, and is showing no signs of becoming a senior dog. It's true that he has slowed down a bit in the last year or two, but that just means that he actually gets tired now. His energy level now resembles that of a normal dog.
Cupcakes to take to daycare!

Every year I bake Brisbane a birthday cake, stick a number candle in it, and take a picture.

It has been a marvelous nine years, Brisbane has taught me more than I ever would have learned from an easy, uncomplicated dog. Briz was not the dog I wanted or was planning to raise when I picked him out nine years ago, and I love him for all of his imperfections. He was exactly the dog I needed, and he still has plenty to teach me about dog behavior, managing issues, and working with the dog I have rather than the dog I want.

Brisbane may never be a flyball star or an agility champion, but he is definitely the best teacher I could ask for.

For his third birthday we had a party, complete with other dogs and party hats,
He looks like such a puppy in these early pictures! I'm hanging onto him in all of his first birthday pictures because I hadn't yet taught him to sit and stay reliably.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Cheapass Dog Fun: Bake a Super Easy Dog Cake!

Brisbane's birthday is tomorrow, and we're taking cupcakes to daycare to celebrate. These were some fairly high-effort cupcakes, but dogs are the easiest friends to cook for because they literally have no standards. To make halfway decent cookies and cakes for humans, you need at least half a dozen ingredients to achieve the correct texture and taste. Dog cookies and cakes work with two or three ingredients, and need no leavening agents or spices.
Five ingredients for fancy cupcakes.


1. Something Tasty. I've used peanut butter, cheese in all forms including canned, and ground or diced meat of any sort. Leftover stew, meatloaf, or casserole works, too.

2. Something Dry. Flour, oatmeal, cornmeal, almond meal, cooked rice, cooked pasta, bread, crackers, cereal, chips. 

3. Something Wet. Cooked, canned, or mashed fruit or vegetables, eggs, juice, or even water will work.

Last year's cake was made out of leftover Swedish meatballs and crushed Special K cereal. This year I decided to go all-out and make something pretty. Brisbane's birthday cupcakes (pupcakes?) are made out of ground beef, quick oats, banana, applesauce, and canned parmesan cheese. 
Too crumbly, needs some wet stuff.
I browned the ground beef because I didn't want the cupcakes to be too greasy. If I were using something less squishy, like steak or chunks of cheese, I would have chopped or shredded it, or maybe just run it through the blender or food processor. I threw in the parmesan cheese just because I saw it in a dog biscuit recipe once and thought it was neat.

Eggs and flour make a really good binder for sticking everything together in baked goods, but Brisbane is allergic to eggs, so I have to use other sticky things. I used quick oats and applesauce instead, because oats can be used as a binder in meatloaf, and applesauce helps keep everything moist.

I considered adding ground flax, baked or microwaved sweet potato, and shredded carrots to this recipe, but I was feeling lazy today. I did throw in a mushy banana because it was convenient.

The correct texture is kind of doughy.
I didn't actually measure any of these ingredients, I just started by adding all of the ones that I had the least amount of. One banana, one pound of browned and drained ground beef, and as much parmesan cheese as I was willing to feed to the dogs. Then I poured oats and applesauce in and mixed it. Too dry and crumbly? Add more applesauce. Too wet? Add more oats. 

I was shooting for a fairly dry and doughy texture, wetter would have been fine but also would have taken longer to bake. Too dry and the cupcakes might have come out crumbly. If I had wanted to make dog biscuits instead of cake, I could have made the mixture even dryer and then shaped it into flat patties and baked it on a cookie sheet.

The nice thing about this mixture is that it has nothing that I expect to expand or contract while cooking. This gives me the freedom to shape the final product before it goes in the oven.

I filled the first round of cupcake liners sparingly, the second batch would be mounded over. I originally set the oven timer for 10 minutes because I didn't think anything really epic would happen to them that quickly. When the timer beeped I tried stabbing one with a fork, which came out pretty greasy. After another ten minutes they looked a little more dry so I decided they were done.

The dog cupcakes came out slightly greasy, but not too bad at all. I frosted them with cream cheese because it looks deceptively like icing.

The waiting is the hardest part.
I could have left these plain, but I have fun decorating them. This year I just went with regular rainbow sprinkles to make them look as much like people cupcakes as possible. Are regular sprinkles good for dogs? No. Will a dozen sprinkles on a cupcake hurt a dog? Probably not.

These are definitely major treats for my dogs. The cream cheese and beef makes them a high-calorie and fatty special-occasion food. If this were more than a once-a-year event I would probably skip the tablespoon of frosting on each cupcake.

Happy Birthday Briz!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Product Review: Chuckit! Bumper

The Canine Hardware Chuckit! Bumper is a fetch toy equipped with a short rope that allows it to be thrown long distances. It is soft and comfortable for the dog to bite, and floats.
Photo by Erin Koski, photobomb by Ru.

The Chuckit! Bumper is perfect for beach play. The rope allows me to fling it far out into the waves, and the color makes it easy for Brisbane to spot in the surf. As an added bonus, the shape makes it look like a stick of dynamite.

The bumper is soft enough for Brisbane to catch without hurting his mouth. It doesn't soak up water, and it's solid foam so a hole doesn't mean it will fill up with water and be lost to Davy Jones' Locker. After the beach I just have to thwack the bumper on the ground a couple of times to remove the sand from it.

I bought the bumper at Dioji because I wanted a pool toy for Briz and I had forgotten about the Chuckit! disc we already had. Unlike the Zipflight disc, Brisbane does not feel the need to rip chunks out of the bumper.
Photo by Erin Koski

Pros: The bumper is brightly colored and floats high in the water, so it's easier to spot than a ball. It's also big enough that even giant dogs can enjoy retrieving it without the risk of choking. The rope makes it easy to throw the bumper pretty darned far.

Cons: The bumper doesn't fly quite as far as a ball thrown with the Chuckit! launcher, which is why it is not our default fetch toy. There's really the most negative thing I can say about it.

Photo by Erin Koski

Bottom Line: The Chuckit! bumper is my first choice for aquatic adventures because it flies far and is easy for Brisbane to find in the pool, lake, or ocean. The rope makes it easy to toss, and fun for dogs to shake and kill. This toy still looks brand new after quite a lot of throwing, catching, biting, shaking, and killing.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Scraped Nose?

Brisbane has a tendency to scrape his nose on certain chews. I have no idea how he manages this exactly, and am open to suggestions. It has happened with large rawhide bones, and also with dried beef tracheas, but not with bully sticks of any size, or rawhide retriever rolls.

Long suffering dog patiently suffers.
I could understand if Brisbane was scraping up the front of his nose, or the sides. I could understand is he was accidentally clawing his own face. I keep watching him while he chews, but I absolutely cannot figure out how Briz manages to scrape the top of his nose.


Saturday, April 19, 2014

Product Review: Chuckit! Zipflight Flying Disc

The Chuckit! Zipflight is a flying disc dog toy. It floats and is brightly colored and highly visible in the water. The Zipflight is also soft and easy on grab.
Photo by Erin Koski
I bought the Zipflight for a trip to visit relatives who have a swimming pool, and it works extremely well for that purpose. Brisbane has no trouble locating the flourescent orange disc in the water. It's much easier to spot in the surf than a ball. The Zipflight does not soak up water, and dries quickly so I don't have to worry about putting a soggy disc in my car.

Photo by Erin Koski
I'm not a particularly skilled Frisbee thrower, but I can't get the Zipflight to fly particularly far. I think it's because the disc is so soft and squishy, it can't cut through the air like a hard plastic disc. It's disctinctly possible that I'm just really bad at this and the Zipflight is actually on par with the best regulartion Frisbees, tough to tell. At any rate the Zipflight is soft enough to be thrown with great force and caught by an enthusiastic dog without anyone getting hurt.

Most epic Briz photo ever by Erin Koski
Pros: Highly visible, soft and and gentle on doggy mouths. Does not pick up sand or dirt, dries quickly and does not absorb water. Unlike a regulation plastic Frisbee, the ring shape is easy for dogs to pick up. Brisbane likes to run around with it on his nose. The Zipflight is a short-range toy for us, good for smaller spaces and times when I don't want Brisbane sprinting down the beach at top speed.

Cons: The soft and squishy qualities of the Zipflight make it less durable than it could be. Left to his own devices, Brisbane will pull chunks of foam off the disc. This is not a long-range fetch toy for us, and I can't get it to fly high or straight. Exhausting Brisbane with the Zipflight requires a lot of effort on my part.

Photo by Erin Koski
Bottom Line: I love the Zipflight for swimming pool and lake adventures when I can toss it into the water for Briz, but for beach and land-based fetch I much prefer the Chuckit! launcher and Ultra Ball. The Zipflight is highly visible but doesn't have nearly as much range.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Product Review: Ruff Rider Roadie 2012 Edition

The Ruff Rider Roadie is a crash protection harness for dogs riding in vehicles. The harness does not rely on hardware of any sort, and uses a one-piece design for strength.

Photo by Erin Koski
The Roadie was once once of the top safety harnesses on the market, but the product has gone through a number of redesigns that have made it significantly less awesome. The ease of use has gone way down, and the harness has some serious sizing issues that the company does not acknowledge.

Photo by Erin Koski
Several years ago I decided that my dogs needed seatbelt harnesses, and I realized that the average pet store product wasn't going to hold up in a real accident. Videos of crash tests showed plastic buckles and stitching failing catastrophically, and I decided that I needed something that would really hold up. I purchased a 2009 Roadie for Brisbane after getting a number of enthusiastic recommendations from my friends, but what I received wasn't what I expected. The original Roadie had a clip under the belly of the dog, this hardware would not be under any force in an accident. The buckle made it possible to get the dog in and out of the harness. The 2009 Roadie redesign eliminated the buckle and just made the harness all one piece.

Photo by Erin Koski
Brisbane's 2009 Roadie was huge and heavy, but it was nearly impossible to get him into it because I had to pull his feet up to his elbows and force them through the harness. He had a lot of trouble walking in it, and I never really used it because it made both of us miserable.

The 2012 Roadie has gone through another redesign and is now slightly less horrible, but still not ideal. The harness now has an adjustable yellow strap on the belly that allows me to buy a gigantic harness and then cinch it down somewhat tight. The larger sizes also have a yellow chest strap to help tighten the harness, but the concept is still the same: buy a humongous harness so the dog can get into it, and then tighten it down a bit so it doesn't fall off.

I bought my Roadies on Amazon, and I was prepared for fitting issues after reading dozens of reviews. Brisbane measures right at the bottom of the size range for the Medium 1, so I thought it would have enough room.

Photo by Erin Koski
The Medium 1 size was so small that I could barely shove Brisbane's front legs through the openings without dislocating something. Once on, the harness visibly cut into his armpits, and I was afraid to have him walk in it. I exchanged the Medium 1 for a Medium 2, and that is what Briz is wearing in these pictures. I no longer worry about actually harming him by putting on the harness, but it is still an uncomfortable process. The harness is obvious huge and hanging off him in the pictures, but it still cuts into his armpits.
Photo by Erin Koski

The Roadie is advertised as a hiking and walking harness, but I'm afraid to put it on my dogs before they get into the car for fear it will rub them raw. I had the same fitting issue with Ru, at 7-pounds with a 13" chest he should fit perfectly in an Extra Small, but it was too small to even get on him. Ru wears a Small 1, which looks huge on him.

I contacted the Ruff Rider manufacturer with my concerns, and was told that they do not have a sizing problem and I must be using the harness wrong. Supposedly the reason I couldn't get Brisbane into the Medium 1 harness was because it was actually too big. They did not have a good answer for why I could get him into the Medium 2 harness so much easier.

The Ruff Rider website changed abruptly during the Center for Pet Safety harness tests. The company's Facebook and Twitter disappeared, although the webpage still invites visitors to check them out. The product currently for sale on the site appears to be the same one I own, but the product photos show something different. The harness in the big splashy pictures has clips on the sides, and one also has plush lining. Neither of these harnesses is available for sale as of today's date, though they have been prominently displayed on the website for months.

Pros: This is a strong harness that will probably help contain my dogs in an accident, and might also prevent injury to them and to human passengers. It is one of the less expensive safety harnesses on the market, and placed third in the Center for Pet Safety's 2013 harness test.

Cons: The harness is extremely difficult to put on the dog, and a good fit must be sacrificed in order to get a harness that a stiff and inflexible dog can get into comfortably. I can't find a happy medium between so-big-it-hangs-off and so-tight-it-dislocates-their-elbows. The tether is too long and is really only safe when used on the shortest setting. The company does not appear willing to entertain the possibility of sizing or fitting issues, and does not actually sell the products most prominently displayed on their website.

Bottom Line: I got these because they were $25-30 on Amazon and at the time they were one of the only reliable crash-tested harnesses available. I find the current iteration of the Ruff Rider Roadie to be difficult to use and uncomfortable for the dog. I will be upgrading Brisbane to a SleepyPod Clickit harness as soon as I have $100 to spend on it.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Is a Crate Safer than a Harness in an Accident?

While I was researching vehicle safety harnesses and obsessing over crash tests on YouTube, I had several people tell me that they had dispensed with the question entirely by securing their dog in a crate in the car. Many people seemed to have the notion that crates were the absolute safest option, and I thought so too until I found these videos.

Holy crap! When an animal hits the inside of a plastic crate in a collision, the crate EXPLODES! The seatbelt puts stress on a very small area of the crate, and the plastic breaks. Those car barriers designed to keep dogs in the back of a hatchback of SUV are also going to fail as soon as a dog hits them with the force of the collision.

Fortunately, this video does have a very important lesson. Plastic crates should not be buckled into the car with a seatbelt, the safest way for a pet to ride in a crate is with the long side of the crate contacting the back of a seat in the car. This will spread the force out so that the crate hopefully does not break, but the pet is still going to hit the side of the crate very hard. After watching these videos, I do not feel safe transporting my dogs in crates. The Center for Pet Safety is currently doing a study on crates in collisions, and will hopefully begin to dispel the notion that crates are automatically safer.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Center for Pet Safety

It may come as a surprise to many pet owners, but there are no standards for pet safety devices. No governing body or independent organization requires companies to test their pet products, and recalls are normally at the discretion of the manufacturer even when a product has been shown to cause harm. Consequently, pet product companies can make all sorts of claims about their products.

Car safety harnesses are my pet peeve, because manufacturers can claim that their products will actually protect dogs in collisions. The vast majority of car harnesses are absolutely not built to withstand the force of an actual accident, and many dogs have been injured while wearing them because the harnesses fail in unpredictable ways.

Not long ago, someone decided to actually do something about this, and the Center for Pet Safety was formed. This is a non-profit organization devoted to testing products and developing safety standards for pet products. They launched their campaign by releasing these videos of car harnesses failing miserably. Most of these companies claimed their products were "crash tested", yet they failed in some horrific ways. One cinched down tight enough to cause crushing injuries, another failed in such a way that it nearly decapitated the stuffed test dog, a third simply failed at every seam and hardware point.

I saw this test and pretty quickly identified the "crash tested" harnesses as being made by Bergan, Kurgo, and Coastal Pet Products. I went looking for high-performance safety harnesses and had only the Champion or the Roadie harnesses to choose from. I ended up buying a couple of 2012 Roadies on Amazon for $25-30 because they were less expensive and didn't have huge hardware.

The Center for Pet Safety completed a landmark harness test in 2013, in which they stress tested, crash tested, and evaluated the performance of every crash-protection harness on the market. The SleepyPod Clickit was easily the best product, with the Klein Metal Allsafe harness coming in second and the Ruff Rider Roadie coming in third.

The Center for Pet Safety is currently finalizing their safety standards for crash protection harnesses, and the Sleepypod Clickit may be the only product that makes the grade. I am hoping the published standard spurs other companies to improve their harnesses too. CPS is also testing crates to see what happens in a collision.

Product Review: Nylabones

Nylabones are synthetic non-edible chew bones, the company also makes edible bones. They come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes.

Photo by Erin Koski
Ru loves Nylabones like nothing else. He is an avid recreational chewer, and spends a decent amount of time each day happily gnawing these things. We have the full range of sizes around the house, but Brisbane won't chew anything that isn't edible, and Josie was equally unenthused. Ru has claimed all the Nylabones for himself.

We probably have well over a dozen of these things around the house, because Ru just isn't happy with a single Nylabone. He needs to have a pile of at least three or four, so he can lay atop them like a dragon on his hoard before he begins gnawing. He also enjoys burying them between the couch cushions, and they end up all over the house so I need to replenish his supply frequently.

Ru's Nylabone collection includes some opaque Daily Dental Durable bones, a Durachew textured ring bone, several spiky Dental bones, many clear Flexichew bones, and a pink Durable wishbone that is probably his favorite. Our foster chihuahua, Candy, was a much more powerful chewer and gnawed the knobs off a few of the Nylabones, but Ru doesn't chew pieces off them so I'm letting him keep them. The Durachew Ring bone hasn't gotten much love.

Nylabones claim to be flavored, some of them are supposed to taste like chicken, others like bacon. I haven't noticed any odor whatsoever, and even ventured a lick because I am ridiculous. They taste like nothing to me.

I wanted to get Ru a Nylabone Dental Dinosaur because I love dinosaurs, but there were so many Amazon reviews about dogs cracking teeth on them that I decided to pass.

Pros: Durable chews for dogs that love to gnaw. These come in a wide variety of sizes and shapes, and the petite chihuahua-sized ones are quite cheap. The harder ones were irresistible for my tiny power-chewing foster-uahuah. Other brands of durable chew bones are somehow not as compelling, it has to be a Nylabone.

Cons: Not all dogs like chewing plastic, or Nyla, or whatever these things are made of. I've heard stories of crazy dogs snapping them in half and eating them, so I would be careful to supervise a new dog with one. Nylabones are quite noisy when playing fetch on a hardwood floor.

Bottom Line: For dogs that love to chew for fun, nothing beats a Nylabone. They are cheap, easy to find, and appropriate for a wide range of dogs. I expect to be finding them in my couch for many years to come.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Product Review: Fuloon Car Hammock with Sides

The Fuloon car hammock is a waterproof backseat cover that prevents dogs from falling off the seat into the footwell. It is waterproof, washable, and has sides that protect the car doors.
Bonus chihuahua photobomb. Photo by Erin Koski. 

Fuloon is a company with a rather eclectic range of products. They make car hammocks, remote training collars, automated pet feeders, LED strip lights, and this inflatable back seat mattress for humans. Right now their site is mostly selling stock photos, but their pet products can be found on Amazon.

I previously had a cheap terrycloth backseat hammock that I bought for $20 at Ross, but the waterproof backing on it disintegrated, and it had some serious design flaws.
Photo by Erin Koski

My old car hammock had slots for seatbelts, which supposedly could be closed with velcro. In reality, the velcro immediately got gunked up with fur and beach sand, and basically just let everything through. I needed the hammock for two reasons: keeping the dogs from falling off the back seat, and keeping the sand contained so that I could reasonably carry human passengers in my car without getting them sandy. We go to the beach a lot, usually several times per week. Brisbane likes to play in the water, so I inevitably end up with a wet and sandy dog rolling around in my car. Beach sand is a giant pain in the butt to clean out of the car, so I wanted a seat cover that actually stood a chance of containing it.

I wanted a car hammock with sides. I didn't think this product actually existed, I thought I might actually have to make it myself. I needed a waterproof seat cover with no holes, that could act as a bucket to effectively contain the sand and keep my seats, floors, and doors clean.

I found the Fuloon back seat hammock on Amazon for $30, and it was exactly what I was looking for. Josie loved riding on it, and it kept her from falling off the back seat. One side zips down to allow dogs to get in and out, and it can be zipped up again to protect the doors and to keep sneaky dogs from hiding under it on the floor. There are straps that loop through the handles above the doors to keep the sides up, but the clips on these are really flimsy and I replaced them with carabiners after slamming them in the car doors.

Since I purchased my hammock, Fuloon has released a new one that zips open on both sides as well as down the middle. The new one also has a tether that might help keep the dog in the back seat but definitely isn't going to help in an accident.

Pros: Only car hammock I've found that acts as a bucket to contain messes and keep dirt and sand from filtering onto the seats. Really, truly keeps my seats clean. It's also durable, I've had mine for six months and so far Brisbane's pointy nails and Josie's 60-pounds haven't left a mark on it. It has cleaned up very well after potty accidents and shows zero wear even after six months of constant use. It was also cheaper than almost everything else on the market.

Cons: The clips on the straps that hold the sides up all broke right away. Some of them got shut in the car doors, others just popped. I expected this, as many people reported it in reviews for the product.

Bottom Line: If there is anything else like this out there, I haven't managed to find it yet. This is the only car hammock I've found with sides, and it works incredibly well. After a trip to the beach I can toss Brisbane in there with a couple of towels and know that the sand is going to stay in the hammock. This is not a vehicle safety device, but it does help keep Brisbane from falling off the back seat. It is an incredible value and I would not hesitate to buy another one if this one failed.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Eight Years of Tooth Wear

In 2006, I bought Brisbane a big fat rope tug toy. During a particularly vigorous tug session, Briz suddenly yelped and quit playing. Turns out he snapped the tip off one of his upper incisors, fortunately just the tip and not enough to expose the pulp.
That tooth in front of the upper canine tooth is not as pointy as it should be.

Eight years later, Brisbane's teeth have seen a fair amount of wear and tear. For several years a raw diet kept his teeth bright and clean, and he still gets raw meaty bones to chew. He doesn't chew non-edible stuff, but he does love to bite tennis balls and I think that has worn down his canines quite a bit.

When Brisbane opened his Kurgo Wander Pail recently, he did some superficial damage to his teeth.

After eight years, Brisbane's teeth still look pretty good. That incisor is still missing the tip, and his lower canine has been worn flat. The top canine was also flat, but he also chipped the tip on the Kurgo pail.

I think his teeth look pretty good after all this time.

Cheapass Dog Fun: Make a Springpole!

A springpole is a resistance tugging toy for a dog, but it actually requires neither a spring nor a pole. Mine is made from a couple of old bike tire tubes and some nylon webbing that has its own little backstory*. Making a springpole can be incredibly easy and cheap, or it can require some serious construction. It all depends on the person building it and the dog that will be playing with it.


1. Something springy or stretchy. (Strong spring, bicycle or car inner tube, pilates band...)

2. Something to tug. (Rope or fleece tug toy, plain old rope, fleece pajama pants...)

3. A place to hang it. (Tree branch, swing set, engine hoist, ceiling beam, door frame...)

The tug toy that tugs back!
A springpole is another lazy way to exercise a dog, right up there with lurecoursing and flirtpole. The springy or stretchy thing in the middle provides resistance so when the dog tugs, the toy tugs back. 

Making Brisbane's springpole took perhaps five minutes. (It contains neither a spring nor a pole, as my husband helpfully pointed out.) First I walked across the street to the bicycle shop and asked for a couple of punctured inner tubes, one was longer than the other so I tied a knot in it to even them out. Then I cut a length of nylon webbing tossed it over a tree branch, and tied it to the tubes. I had Brisbane stand on his hind legs so I could see how high to hang the toy, and then tied that on. Done.

Brisbane works out.

I read in a Clean Run agility magazine many years ago that tugging with front feet off the ground or barely touching is great for a dog's core muscles, and particularly awesome for dogs with long backs. I've seen plenty of pictures and videos of pitbulls hanging off these things and flying through the air, but Brisbane is seriously injury-prone and I needed to hang his toy where he can get it while keeping at least some feet on the ground.

This is a great setup for Brisbane, but I would need ti think about using car tire tubes and hanging it a lot higher if I had an athletic pitbull or a larger dog. Many people use garage door springs, but this person used a smaller one for her less-intense tuggers, and here someone with a Viszla puppy used a little storm door spring and a plant hangar. If I were to make a springpole for Ru I might use a bungee cord or a exercise resistance band and mount it in a door frame for indoor chihuahua fun.

This tutorial begins with building a sturdy frame to hang the springpole, starting with setting posts in cement. This would be a great option for a yard with no trees, and dogs that need something sturdier than a plant hangar mounted on a fence. I'm guessing a hangar for a punching bag or some other sort of workout equipment frame would work well for a seriously athletic larger dog.

I own a large spool of heavy duty nylon webbing, used to make Teva sandles. This stuff is amazing and I will probably using it to make harnesses and leashes eventually. The spool of nylon webbing has its own story, and may eventually get its own post. Many years ago, my father-in-law worked for the Teva sandal company and acquired a giant spool of sandal strapping. A few years later while cleaning out the garage, he dumped it on the curb with the garbage. I spotted it while stopping by to visit my then-boyfriend, and threw it in my trunk. The spool traveled with me to college, where my friends and I used bits of it to tie things to the roofs of our cars, suspend stuff from the garage ceiling, and generally kludge things together in college-student fashion. When I graduated and got ready to move home, I left the spool in a pile of stuff at the curb, where one of my friends scavenged it. Three years ago, my husband and I moved back to my college town. Three months ago, that friend cleaned out her garage and returned the infamous spool to me. My husband was baffled by its reappearance. All he knew was that it was thrown away twelve years ago and then suddenly reappeared on our porch.