Monday, June 30, 2014

Book Review: Control Unleashed

By Leslie McDevitt, Control Unleashed is a fantastic read for anyone who has a dog that sometimes looks at things, or barks at things, or otherwise does things they wish it didn't do in public.  It's primarily for agility dogs, but it pretty much works for every handler and all but the most mellow dogs. Actually, there's some stuff in there for the mellow guys too.
Photo by Erin Koski

I think my favorite part about this book is that all of the exercises are explained as games. Whenever you are training your dog, the two of you are engaging in a fun game. It's voluntary and enjoyable for the dog. The result is supposed to be a calm, confident dog that can focus on his handler in any circumstances, because he has learned that certain situations are cues for happy fun time. 

This is a massive difference between this and a different book, Susan Garrett's Ruff Love, which also offers to help turn your dog into a calm, confident, focused working partner. The difference is that Ruff Love instructs readers to remove all opportunities for the dog to "self reward", the program begins with several weeks of keeping the dog in a covered crate at all times unless it is actively being trained. Don't come when called? Go back in the box. The author has since been quoted as saying it isn't meant to be an isolation program, and she has no idea why people lock their dogs in boxes continuously for several weeks when she instructs them to lock their dogs in boxes continuously for several weeks. I'm told that she holds multi-day training workshops where people start their dogs on the Ruff Love program, and that by the second day everyone was crying because it was so difficult to put their beloved dogs through this.

Needless to say, Ruff Love isn't for everyone, or really anyone except people who want to win at all costs. Still, it is often recommended to aspiring agility handlers who wish their dogs were more focused and are willing to brainwash their dogs via extreme isolation. Control Unleashed is exactly the opposite. Control Unleashed is for people who love their dogs and want to engage in dog sports as a way to bond and have fun with their beloved companions. Leslie McDevitt obviously feels this way, because one of the first stories in her book is about a dog that didn't really enjoy agility, so she stopped making him do it. 

Right up there with Bones Would Rain from the Sky, Control Unleashed is by someone who sees her relationship with her dogs the same way I do. They aren't clay to moulded, our dogs are dance partners and we need to teach them the steps while listening to their music. Control Unleashed is filled with games to play with dogs to teach them how to work with us, but it's also a story about Leslie's dog Zip and his journey from being an overstimulated pile of nerves to a calm and confident dog.

The thing I use the most from this book is called the Look at That! game. Brisbane sees things and gets very excited about them, particularly skateboarders and squirrels. Often he is concerned about the thing he sees, so training him to stop looking at it is difficult. I can click and treat him for looking at me, but he will still feel highly concerned about the thing, maybe even more so now that he is looking at me and not watching for impending doom. Control Unleashed taught me to click and treat him for looking at the skateboarders or squirrels. Right away, his focus shifts to me and the food, and the skateboarders become the cue to play this fun game. This has been extremely successful when he can see the skateboarders or mailman, we're still working on not losing our minds over hearing skateboards.

Control Unleashed is filled with these silly games that work amazingly well. Teach the dog to remain focused on playing with the handler by refusing to play with the dog. Teach the dog to stop freaking out about squirrels by letting him chase the squirrels. I lend this book out a lot, but not as often as some of my others because it's slightly expensive and somewhat troublesome to replace. I'm told there is a sequel about puppies that is equally universally applicable, but I haven't read it yet.

At face value, this book appears to be a manual for teaching a remedial agility handling class using very specific equipment in a very specific setting. In sunny California I have never seen or heard of an indoor agility course, I don't know anybody who has ring gates, and I still found this to be the most helpful book I've read so far for my reactive dog-beast. I recommend it for reactive dogs, lazy dogs, easily distracted dogs, stupid dogs, and anyone who wishes their dog was a bit less or a bit more fill-in-the-blank-here. It's a manual for changing the way your dog does stuff in a way that is fun for the dog, and will never make you cry.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Product Review: Sprong Cone and Dome

The Sprong Cone and Dome is a foam-filled squeaky ball with a fuzzy velvet texture. The manufacturer's website doesn't say that Sprong toys float, but the packaging for ours specifically mentioned it. Our Sprong is a large Cone and Dome, there are a dozen different shapes to choose from, and several of those come in different sizes. Sprongs come in a ton of different colors.
Photo by Erin Koski

These things are kind of cool and unique, I haven't found anything with this texture before, and I love the fun shapes. I don't think there are any other toys out there like this. I particularly like the fuzzy velvet texture, I've always found foam-filled smooth latex toys to feel kind of weird. The Sprong has a great squeak, not terribly long or annoying or loud.

Briz isn't totally in love with the Sprong, but he'll play with it if I initiate. We actually have it because Josie picked it out at work. She was a shameless shoplifter, and it was usually easier to just buy the bully stick or rawhide she grabbed rather than pry it out of her mouth. This was the only non-edible toy she ever showed an interest in, so I immediately purchased it. She ignored the Sprong from then on, apparently toys are only fun when they aren't ours.

Sprong toys are made by R2P, Ready2Play. The company actually owns quite a few pet brands, but I've never encountered any of the others before. It's possible I just haven't noticed, I'll be watching for them now because I'm kind of strange like that. There is also a cat line of Sprong toys specifically intended for nighttime play when cats tend to find the most obnoxious object in the house to bat around. For my cats, that thing is a small and extremely resonant piece of metal that fell off a windchime.

Pros: Fun-to-squish texture, firm yet supple. Fuzzy surface reminiscent of those furry My Little Ponies that were such dirt-magnets. Tolerable volume and pitch when squeaked. Lots of fun colors and shapes and sizes. Visually appealing to humans. Pretty darned durable, ours spent several months laying out in the yard in the sun, got peed on, and still scrubbed up quite nicely.

Cons: Probably not super durable for destructo-dogs. Might be more fun for humans than dogs, probably shouldn't leave within reach of toddlers.

Bottom Line: If my dogs loved these we would be swimming in them. I've been very impressed with the one we have. The dogs don't find it nearly as attractive as ratty old tennis balls for some reason. Anyway, I think it looks really cool so it can lay around on the floor with the Mighty Dinosaurs as part of my decor.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Thanks Kurgo!

I emailed Kurgo to ask if I could get a replacement handle for Brisbane's Wander Pail. Ours is still perfectly usable after Brisbane opened it, but the broken handle seemed like a small and easily replaceable piece.
Photo by Erin Koski

Kurgo surprised me by sending Brisbane a brand new Wander Pail! Yay!

This is my favorite dog food container by far. It's the only product I can accidentally leave in dog-range and expect to find intact when I return. There is an upper tray that can be removed from the pail and used as a second bowl.

I like to put bully rings in our Wander Pail, it's a good way to keep them unchewed while we travel. I also keep kibble and biscuits in there, it's big enough to hold a couple of days' worth of food for my dogs.

The Kurgo Wander Pail is insulated, so it can safely hold raw and canned foods. We see them at daycare all the time, and for good reason. Not only is this a durable and nearly-dog-proof container, it's also backed by an awesome company with awesome customer service.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Product Review: Hear Doggy! Flats Deer

The Hear Doggy! Flat Deer is a plush toy with a squeaker that operates at a pitch undetectable by human ears. It is stuffingless and blissfully silent.
Photo by Erin Koski

I'm not a huge fan of stuffing-less stuffies, I always feel like I'm depriving Briz of one of the joys of being a dog. He's not a militant unstuffer, but he does enjoy emptying out his stuffies when they are finally breached.

That said, this is the best squeaky toy ever, even better than that Kong thing with the off switch. It is the best squeaky because I cannot hear it. Hear Doggy! toys obviously make noise, because my dogs perk up and get excited when I squeeze them.

Hear Doggy! is a brand in the Quaker Pet Group family, along with goDog and Sherpa.

Pros: Finally a squeaky they can enjoy without driving me nuts. Awesome for OCD dogs that Just. Can't. Stop. Squeaking. Cannot be used as an attention-getting device by annoying dogs.

Cons: I have no idea if this thing still squeaks or not because I can't hear it. Did they break it yet? Should I sneak up and start squeezing it when they're sleeping?

Bottom Line: We got this in a BarkBox, otherwise I may not have purchased one. I am not totally in love with our flat deer, but I will probably get Briz a flamingo or a starfish in the future because these things are pretty awesome.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

TBT: Brisbane at Six Weeks

Here is six-week-old Brisbane and one of his brothers.
Photo by Graham Hughes

A week later I would bring home my new puppy.
Photo by Graham Hughes

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Product Review: Bionic Urban Stick

The Bionic Urban Stick is an extremely durable chew toy with stuffable end cavities. It is dishwasher safe, recyclable, and covered by a 30-day guarantee. If your dog manages to destroy this toy, Bionic will trade you for a different one and use your destroyed toy for product research. The Urban Stick comes in four sizes for dogs up to 90 pounds.
Photo by Erin Koski

Brisbane isn't a serious chewer, he doesn't like gnawing on anything that isn't edible. However, I like having nigh-indestructible toys around to give my foster dogs while I figure out what type of chewer I have on my hands. I was totally unaware of the Bionic company until the Urban Stick arrived in our monthly BarkBox. It was one of the first toys I let Ulysses have unsupervised.

Briz thinks the best thing about the Urban Stick is the hollow ends. This makes the toy slightly less durable for super power-chewers. (If your dog succeeds in destroying a Bionic Toy, the company would like to enlist him as a product tester.) Those stuffable ends make this a perfectly stuffable toy, and it is part of the collection of toys that live in my freezer. I stuff the Urban Stick with peanut butter or cheese and let Briz spend all day emptying it.

Pros: This toy is dishwasher safe, recyclable, and it floats. It is durable enough to rank up there with Nylabones and black Kongs.

Cons: Not for insane monster chewers, like pretty much everything out there. The bottoms of the treat wells are pretty narrow and deep, so they're difficult to clean when Briz fails to get that last dab of peanut butter. The guarantee only lasts 30 days and requires a proof of purchase to redeem, so I will be out of luck if a new foster dog destroys this thing.

Bottom Line: I like the Urban Stick and use it regularly. It's one of the few toys I'm willing to give new fosters while I'm figuring out how much they like to chew.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Knitting Fun: The Majestic StegasauRu

I knitted a little bit when I was in college, but as I live in a temperate coastal climate I had little use for knitted goods until I acquired a nearly naked lizard-dog. Ru has an extra-long back, and keeping him toasty often means making his clothes myself. Knitting is a great activity to keep my hands busy when I am watching a movie or doing something else passive, like standing in lines.
Photo by Erin Koski

I'm not very good at following patterns, so most of Ru's sweaters are free-knitted. This means I just sort of knit what I think will work and make it up as I go along. It also means I have to undo nearly everything at least once before I get it right.

This is Ru's stegosaurus sweater. I made it for him last Halloween, and it is still one of my favorite projects. Look how spiky he looks!

The trick to knitting a decent dog sweater is to make sure the neck is small enough. If the neck is too big, the sweater will slide down and get stretched out. After that I just knitted it big enough, and long enough. The spikes are doubled and sewn together, and anchored to a strip of buckram inside the body of the sweater. They don't stand up very well, and in the future I might make him a new Stegosaurus sweater with boning or buckram inside the spikes to keep them up.

Monday, June 23, 2014

June BarkBox

This month's BarkBox was a bit of a bust. Our first couple of boxes were big winners, with Brisbane-safe treats and stuffable toys. The more recent ones have been a bit more disappointing, with duck and chicken treats and chews. I've given away two bags of egg and poultry treats, and I have a lonely bag of Chicken Cordon Bleu biscuits sitting on the counter.

The biscuits are from Bocce's Bakery, and they look delicious. Brisbane would love to eat them. I could try feeding them to Ru, but he has a tendency to bury his treats between the couch cushions instead of eating them. Brisbane always checks the couch for hidden cookies.

The La Petit Treat Quiche Lorraine cookies are the best thing in this box, Brisbane thinks the only thing wrong is that there aren't more of them. It's a tiny bag. Ru loves them too.

The other two items in this box are toys by Harry Barker. The Eiffel Towel is cute, it's made from cotton canvas and stuffed with recycled plastic fiberfill. The rope ball is machine-washable and uses earth-friendly dyes. It's machine washable for when it gets all gross and slobbery. Brisbane is totally unimpressed with either of these toys. Ru briefly considered playing with the rope ball, but found it a little too heavy and intimidating.

What will BarkBox bring us next month? Hopefully something poultry-free! This month's box was Paris-themed, next time Brisbane would like something Australian, or maybe German.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Product Review:Made by Tawny Pink Dino Collar

Made by Tawny is my coworker's own collar company, featuring flat buckle collars with grosgrain ribbon trim. She makes collars in tons of different designs and three sizes to fit dogs with necks 10-24" around.
Photo by Erin Koski

I love dinosaurs with the fiery fury of a thousand death comets, and there just aren't that many cute dinosaur collars out there. The ones that I see are usually terribly cartoonish, or have a pattern so small that it's unrecognizable, or have a background in an unappealing color that is sure to look filthy right away. Enter the Pink Dino Collar. It's bright, it's bold, and it gets right to the point, which is dinosaurs.

This one was originally made for Josie, who went to work with me every day. As her neck was only a couple of inches larger than Brisbane's, he has inherited it. This is easily my favorite collar, so Briz wears it a lot. Josie wore it nonstop for several weeks. It still looks brand new. I like to wear a hot pink athletic shirt and my stegosaurus necklace to events like lure coursing so we can match.

Pros: Durable enough to handle scratching from Brisbane's death talons without taking any damage. Dries nicely and doesn't collect dirt easily. I'm pretty sure I've also sent it through my washing machine by now. Also, dinosaurs.

Cons: Doesn't quite come small enough for Ru, though I may just get him a 10" collar and have it be 2" too big because seriously, dinosaurs.

Bottom Line: This is definitely my favorite collar, I am absolutely delighted that it has held up so well.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Yuppie Puppy vs. Sporn: The Battle of the Simple Control Harnesses

Wait a second, did I really do two different reviews of the same Simple Control harness? Kinda. The Yuppie Puppy and Sporn brands are owned by the same guy, Joseph S. Sporn. This is the guy that invented the original Sporn no-pull harness back in 1992, when I used it to walk the neighbors' oversized Weimeraner. He also opened the first dog daycare in the United States back in 1987, I like his style. (I will someday do a review on the original Sporn harness as I do own one...in just-barely-big-enough-for-Ru size. Every time I see it laugh.)
Photo by Erin Koski

At face value these products are incredibly similar. Actually, the same picture is used for both products on the Yuppie Puppy and Sporn websites and packaging. The Yuppie Puppy harness is also packaged and sold as the Sporn harness, and it's possible that this design has replaced the earlier Sporn design. At any rate, here is a side-by-side comparison of the two products.

The red harness bears the Yuppie Puppy logo on its neoprene sleeves and tag. It has bright stainless steel hardware and a plastic quick-release buckle. This harness has a martingale-style loop that tightens both the neck and chest straps when pressure is applied. The buckle is placed down on the side by the dog's elbow.

The black harness bears the Sporn logo on its tag and buckle. It has brushed metal hardware including one half of the quick-release buckle. The chest strap of the Sporn harness tightens by pulling part of the chest strap through a ring attached to the neck strap. The neck strap on this harness does not tighten at all. The buckle is located up high by the leash ring, well away from the dog's elbow. The tightening action on this harness is not very smooth or quick due to the end seams on the strap.

I acquired both of these harnesses from thrift stores. If I ordered the Sporn Simple Control Harness from the Sporn website, I am not certain which product I would receive. I suspect that the red harness is the current design, and the black one is an older model. It doesn't seem to work as well.

As neither of my dogs pulls on the leash, I have sent these to a friend with small but mighty dogs. They may not be fancy or fabulous, but they're about as simple as harnesses come.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Product Review: Sporn Simple Control Harness

The Sporn Simple Control Harness is a back-clip no-pull harness designed to discourage pulling without choking or causing pain. It comes in two colors and four sizes to fit dogs with chests 11-42" around.
Photo by Erin Koski
This is a very easy to use harness that discourages pulling without being horribly aversive. It does not tighten around the dog's neck whatsoever, and the only part of the harness that does tighten is the strap that goes around the chest behind the front legs. The neoprene sleeves help distribute force over a wide area while protecting coats and delicate skin. The buckle on this harness is place up high, right beside the leash ring, where it is least likely to chafe or rub.

This is a very simple design, it's basically a Norway harness that tightens around the middle. I'm not a huge fan of the way this harness tightens. This one is a size small, and the mechanism probably works better on a larger scale. Basically, there is a short length of strap that is pulled through a ring to tighten the strap when the dog pulls. On the small harness, there is perhaps an inch of single-thickness strap, and half an inch or so on either side that is doubled over and sewn to attach it to the rest of the chest strap. This means the strap does not slide smoothly or evenly through the ring, and it often gets stuck when four layers of nylon are jammed in there. The harness does not tighten without a good tug, you can see in the picture that it is lifting away from Ru's back with leash tension.

Pros: This harness is easy to put on, and definitely won't tighten around sensitive necks and collapsed tracheae.

Cons: The harness does not tighten easily or smoothly, and does not loosen immediately either. This may work better on the medium and large sizes, but since the harness is not that aversive I wouldn't rely on it to control a really zealous puller or a pony-sized dog.

Bottom Line: This would be an easy solution for a mild or moderate puller, but I am not impressed with the no-pull feature. That said, it would still be my choice for an easy everyday harness if avoiding neck pressure was paramount.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

TBT: Oakley

Oakley was my first dog, her previous owners lived around the corner from my parents and I used to take her for a walk nearly every day. When I was 12 years old, Oakley's owners asked if I wanted to keep her because they were moving to a rural area with an active coyote population and no fenced yard. Oakley was four years old.
This is a horrendously dorky picture, but I love it because it is among the first of me and Oakley. I had been begging for a dog since I could talk, and this was a dream come true. Oakley was everything I ever wanted in a dog, she followed me everywhere and curled up with me on the couch. She patiently learned tricks and put up with my backyard agility courses and horrible home haircuts. We helped children overcome their fears of dogs, and visited nursing homes.

Oakley was with me for 11 years, she was blind for the last four and it only improved her temperament. Children who were terrified to be near dogs found her non-threatening because she would sit patiently while the touched her, not even moving to sniff. I know that there is no such thing as a dog that doesn't bite, but she was about as close as they come.

About a year before she died, I began putting together an Oakley scrapbook. The pictures chronicle not only our time together, but the many changes around us and in our lives. Oakley was with me as I began junior high school, all the way through my college graduation. The last year of her life was the first year of Brisbane's, and she passed just two weeks after he turned 1. At the front of Oakley's scrapbook is a little window for a picture. This photograph was trimmed by my sister for an old photo collage, and in the pre-digital photography age I don't have a better copy. I mounted it on a pink square of cardstock and added an embellishment that sums up how I felt back then.

I have never wanted anything so badly, for long, and I don't think I ever will again. Not having a dog was painful, there was never a moment in my childhood where I was not acutely aware of that void. With Oakley I was finally complete.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Product Review: Yuppie Puppy Simple Harness

The Yuppie Puppy Simple Control Harness is a no-pull harness where the leash attaches in the back. It uses a martingale-style loop that tightens both sections of the harness when the dog pulls. The Simple Control Harness comes in two colors and four sizes to fit dogs 11-42" around.
Photo by Erin Koski

I like the Simple Control harness because it is exactly as advertised: simple. This is basically a Norway harness with an anti-pulling feature that causes the harness to tighten when pressure is applied. It super easy to put on even a squirmy, excited dog. Since it is such a simple design, it is easy to use even for the spatially-challenged and those with limited mobility.

All no-pull devices are aversive, but this is one of my favorites because it is one of the least aversive. It does not pinch or choke, does not need a long slow introduction to have a hope of being accepted by the dog, and causes no anatomical discomfort or limitation. It's comfortable, look at those big neoprene sleeves! The force is distributed over a large area. The Simple Control Harness functions merely by making pulling feel kind of funny, that's it. It's a good way to get the attention of a dog that is accustomed to pulling in a regular harness.

That said, this device also does not discourage pulling very much. I would not put this on a giant breed dog and expect it to prevent him from dragging me into traffic to see a dog on the other side of the street. However, I would put this harness on a smaller dog to take some stress off an older handler. One of my friends has a very bad back and can't really handle any pulling at all from her 15-pound dog, this is a simple and easy way to get the two of them out walking again.

This is a size Small harness for dogs 15"-20" around. Ru is actually 13" around so this one is slightly big on him. Adjusting it as small as possible was a little tricky because the neoprene sleeves take up most of the strap length and must be slid to one side or another while adjusting the size. Once sized properly, it is effortless to put on and take off.

Pros: Comfortable and extremely easy to use. Minimally aversive. Tightening feature could be exceptionally useful with escape-artist dogs that back out of equipment.

Cons: Does not discourage strong pullers, particularly large and physically insensitive dogs. May ride up and choke dog if the fit is poor.

Bottom Line: I have some concerns about this harness, primarily that it will ride up and tighten around the dog's neck. As Ru does not pull, I have not been able to test this theory. I am sending this harness to a friend with small but enthusiastic dogs, so hopefully I will have a field test report in the near future. I like the quality of this harness and wish I had had it back when I was fostering a dog who could escape from everything.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Phrases We Can Retire: "My Dog Ran Away"

There are quite a lot of different idioms and catch phrases used in the dog world, and some I think we could really do without. The world has moved on, we have a better understanding of learning and how it works, we know that you can indeed teach an old dog new tricks. One particularly outdated phrase irritates me each and every time I hear it: "my dog ran away", also "my cat ran away", and the avian version, "my bird flew away".
"Sweet freedom!"
The reason the term "ran away" bugs me so much is that I feel it implies some sort of agency on the part of the pet. What runs away, other than pets? Angsty teenagers? Cheating spouses? Stating that a dog ran away is essentially stating that the dog is capable of the higher thinking required to make a decision and then pack up and go.

This works if you think of dogs as responsible adults, or even teenagers with enough responsibility to babysit and hold down part-time jobs. The fact is, dogs are approximately as smart as toddlers. Think about that for a minute. Toddlers are people who can't be trusted not to run into the street, who don't understand that the stove is hot, or that electrical outlets contain pain and death. We have a wide variety of containment devices and safety measures intended to prevent toddlers from killing themselves, from strollers to baby gates to cabinet latches. Aside from the fact that they can be left unattended for hours and will never grow up, dogs are essentially two-year-olds. They need to be contained, they need to be taken care of.

This is why it bugs the crap out of me when I hear "I used to have a beagle, but it ran away." Nobody says "My two-year-old ran away" because toddlers don't run away, they get lost. When a two year old shoves a chair up against the front door so they can reach the doorknob, and then wanders down the street or off into the woods, the child is reported as "lost" or "missing", but never as a "run away" because toddlers lack the agency to deliberately leave.

Likewise, pets do not "run away", they get lost. Sometimes they accidentally escape, sometimes careless keepers let them wander the neighborhood and they fail to report home. That beagle did not get tired of his dad's drinking and decide that living on the streets was a better alternative, he followed his nose and when he finally lost the scent he didn't know where he was or how to get home.

I think that the concept of pets "running away" gives people license to not search as hard as they could for their missing animals. Why bother reporting a lost dog to the authorities when you believe, even on a subconscious level, that it might have gotten tired of living there and decided to go somewhere else? Not all lost pets are recovered, some owners spend months searching and publicizing their missing pet with no news, but I feel that we would have fewer strays in the shelter if we could retire the phrase and concept that pets can "run away".

My dogs are like toddlers, they are not allowed to run the neighborhood unsupervised, they aren't even allowed in the yard unless I'm home and listening for trouble. If they went missing, it would be a five-alarm, stop the presses EMERGENCY. I absolutely cannot imagine having the mindset that dogs should be free to roam unattended, or that they sometimes just leave of their own accord. How about you, how do you feel?

Monday, June 16, 2014

Chihuahua Fashion Moment: Glamour to the Bone

Glamour to the Bone is another clothing line sold almost entirely at Petco. Like Wag A Tude, Smoochie Pooch, Glamour to the Bone is a trademark owned by Simply She. Other brands in the family include Simply Dog, Wagby, Lulu Pink, Pup Crew, Life's Furtastic, Wagwell, Ruff Lux, Hansome Pete, and GoDoggy. Simply Dog is found at WalMart. I think these all came from Ross, so it's possible Petco is no longer carrying the brand.
Photo by Erin Koski
So yeah, basically all of my favorite pursedog clothing brands are related. I swear this chihuahua does wear some really cute Etsy stuff, it's just that his everyday outfits tend to be inexpensive and mass-produced. Just like people clothes, only his come from Petco instead of Target or Old Navy. Anyway, despite their ubiquitousness there seems to be very little information out there on these brands, so I wanted to contribute what I know. I'm sure PetSmart has some really cute clothing lines too, but theirs seem to be slightly more expensive, and generally don't fit Ru as well.

Photo by Erin Koski
The Glamour to the Bone line consists almost entirely of girly little dresses and pink sweaters. Ru has three different Glamour dresses, and they all fit very well. The two pictured here are size Small, they are cut small enough that he doesn't slither out of them, and long enough to go all the way to his tail. The black one is made from fuzzy material. Ru also has a pink and red dress with strawberry print, in a cotton jersey fabric. That one is a size small and is a tad short, but has a nice snug fit.

The pink dress shown here is made from swimsuit material and serves as Ru's beach dress. He wears it on hot days when he doesn't need his beach jacket. I could let him run naked, but he is the same color as dry sand so it's tough to keep track of him. I love this dress because it dries quickly and doesn't get all sandy and crusty like his other outfits.

With a long back and tiny chest, not every clothing brand fits Ru particularly well. Often I have to choose between clothes so big they fall off, or so short they end halfway down his ribcage. Glamour to the Bone is a nice happy medium, with clothes that stay put and look good on his freakishly long back.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

In Which My Dogs Get Covered in Tar

Off the coast of Santa Barbara, there are natural oil seeps that dribble crude oil out into the ocean. The Native Americans used to gather this tar as it washed up on the beaches, they used it to waterproof their boats. This is important to know because, as I have learned in adulthood, tar is not a ubiquitous beach experience.
The dots running parallel to Brisbane's pawprints are tar.

On Friday the dog beach was tarry as hell. I'm used to getting a few spots of it on my feet, but this was nuts. I had to stop periodically to scrape tar sandals off my feet. There were wave-shapes squiggles and dots of tar outlining the maximum reach of each wave upon the shore. I have never seen that much tar on the beach before. We do have active oil fields off our coast, and people like to blame those for the tar on the beaches, but the truth is that the oil slicks and beach tar predate European records of the area. It's a feature.

Tar all over my feet.
By the time we left the beach, the bottoms of everyone's feet were completely covered in tar. Fortunately this isn't a huge issue, and locals all know that the solution for tar-removal is baby oil. Mineral oil, vegetable oil, and olive oil are also popular solutions. Basically, oil is the solution to sticky. I've heard of people scrubbing their dogs' feet with Goo Gone and rubbing alcohol, but those are overly harsh and completely unnecessary. Trust me, oil is where it's at. Around here it's not unusual to see people at the grocery store buying a case of beer, some ice, maybe some chips, and a bottle of baby oil.

Tar all over Ru's tiny feetsies.
To remove tar from a dog's (or person's) feet, pour baby oil on a rag or paper towel or something else that can be thrown away because that thing is never going to get clean. Rub the feet with the oil, and switch to a new towel/rag and fresh oil whenever the old one gets completely gross. The tar is literally being transferred onto the rag so there needs to be a liberal supply of rags to get all the tar off. Keep working at it until the big black deposits are gone and only a light brown residue remains. Brisbane isn't crazy about me scrubbing his feet with oil, so I like to cup the rag in my hand and pour a small reservoir of oil in which to dip his foot.

In the case of dogs, "rub until the tar is gone" actually means "rub as long as they will let you". In either the case of humans or dogs, the result will be brownish oily feet. The next step is to wash those with soap and water. I like to use dish soap because it cuts grease so well. I used a wet and very soap rag to scrub Brizzy and Ru's feet until they got tired of me messing with their feet. After that, I just rinsed their feet off with the hose.

My feet came perfectly clean with minimal effort. Brisbane and Ru both still have slightly tarry feet, but are no longer caked. In any case, the best way to remove tar from a dog's feet is baby oil and lots of rags or paper towels, followed by normal soap and water. 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Product Review: Kong Harness

The Kong Harness is a Roman-style harness with a nifty handle on the top for keeping a good grip on the dog. It features buckles on both sides of the chest strap so there is no need to lift the dog's feet through any part of the harness. The Kong harness is available in four colors and four sizes to fit dogs with chests 12-38" around.
Photo by Erin Koski

This is actually the harness that came with foster dog Uly, but it's quite nice so I thought I'd share. Many Roman harnesses only have clip on the chest strap, the harness is put on by dropping the neck strap around the dog's neck, lifting one front leg over the bottom center strap, and then buckling the chest strap.

Photo by Erin Koski
The Kong harness buckles on both sides of the chest strap, so putting it on means dropping the neck strap around Brisbane's neck, pulling the center strap between his front legs, and buckling each side of the chest strap. The design is similar to the Kurgo Go-Tech Adventure Harness.

The Kong harness is highly adjustable, everything but the back center strap can be adjusted to fit
the dog. The bottom center strap is not adjustable on many Roman harnesses, which can mean the difference between a good fit and an ok fit. Happily, this strap can be adjusted on the Kong harness, allowing it to fit stocky, wide, and narrow dogs. Both sides of the neck and chest straps can also be adjusted, making five different adjustment points.

These harness fit a pretty wide range of sizes as well. Brisbane is wearing a size Medium and the neck strap and chest strap are each adjusted to about 2/3 of their maximum length. The Extra Small harness has a chest strap with a range of 6", the Large has a range of 14". Brisbane would fit in both the Medium and Large harnesses, while Ru would fit in the Extra Small.

Pros: Highly adjustable to fit a wide range of body types from sighthounds to bulldogs. Handy handle on top for steering blind/geriatric dogs, or restraining dogs for flyball, lure coursing, or any other super-exciting dog sport. I imagine this would also be a good choice for a mobility-assistance dog.

Cons: The sizing sliders on this harness slip a little bit, so it loosens up over time. Not a big deal for the most part, but could be a potential issue for escape-artist dogs. High-profile handle could potentially get stuck on things during everyday wear, particularly while hiking.

Bottom Line: This is not a harness that I feel the need to own personally, however I see a lot of applications for a highly adjustable harness with a big 'ol handle on the back. If I could only have one harness for Brisbane, this would be a good choice.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Book Review: Dogs Are From Neptune

Jean Donaldson's Dogs Are From Neptune is the sequel to The Culture Clash. The first book was aimed at destroying the myths our society holds about dogs as moral beings, and explained how dogs do what they do because they recognize good things happening for dogs. Culture Clash offers obedience training advice broken down into simple steps. Dogs Are From Neptune explains how to deal with behavior problems.
Photo by Erin Koski

When I first brought Brisbane home, I thought I knew a whole lot about dogs and how to train them. I knew all about socialization and basic obedience. What I didn't know was what to do when things didn't go as expected. Dogs Are From Neptune is a wonderful book because it is all about various common behavior problems.

This book is actually a compilation of answers to questions submitted to Jean Donaldson's website. Each answer was so thoughtful and detailed that she decided to put them in print. The solution for each problem is not at all simple and straightforward, and Donaldson gives a number of options for each case. She stresses over and over that the root of nearly all behavior problems is fear and stress, or simply a lack of training. A dog reacts aggressively toward certain people because it is afraid. It jumps up on people because it has not been taught to greet politely. The underlying reasons are simple, but addressing the issue is often very complex.

The first half of the book is about aggression, which is easily the most severe behavior problem in my opinion. The very first question is about a dog who is aggressive toward men. I really like how Jean Donaldson explains classical conditioning, that the dog can learn to feel less fearful around men by having good things happen when he sees men, regardless of his behavior. I often hear people chastising others to not reward bad behavior when classical conditioning would help tremendously. At work I frequently pet and praise dogs that are barking, humping, or engaging in other stress behaviors. Typically the dogs gradually relax and the frequency of the undesirable behavior decreases.

Dogs Are From Neptune is a great read for anyone that works with dogs. Owners of well-behaved dogs can prepare themselves for potential issues and add some behavior management tools to their arsenal for future problems.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Product Review: RC Pets Clip Collar

The RC Pets Clip Collar is an adjustable flat buckle collar. It features a plastic quick-release buckle, and RC Pets exclusive trims. This collar comes in five sizes to fit dogs with necks 6-25" around, and is available in 39 different patterns.

Photo by Erin Koski
This is yet another of my beloved RC Pets products in the Maltese Cross pattern. Ours is at least 8 years old and looks fantastic. I really can't say enough good things about this company. Their collars are very popular, I see them all over the place, and I have yet to see one that looks faded or worn. Brisbane wore this collar to the beach many times, and it has been through the washing machine a whole lot. It has even been scrubbed after a particularly horrific roll in a dead sea lion.

A lot of collars with ribbon trim don't hold up very well. We had some very pretty ones that were destroyed when Briz scratched his neck. It shouldn't be a huge surprise, he has very long nails and also allergies that make him itchy. The RC Pets Clip Collar trim still looks amazing though. Brisbane was wearing it before I figured out his food allergy issues, back when he was super-itchy and developing hot spots. If it's durable enough for that, it's durable enough for anything.

Photo by Erin Koski

Pros: Super-durable and highly adjustable with no fading, Sizing stays true and does not slip. Tons of patterns and matching training collars, leashes, and harnesses for big and small dogs. Has a reflective patch next to the leash attachment.

Cons: They discontinued flame print. Honestly that's all I can come up with.

Bottom Line: These are more fun than a plain collar, with plenty of unique patterns to choose from. I love the Maltese Cross pattern.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

DIY: Snoozer Carseat Hack

Ru has a Snoozer Console Car Seat that I got so he could be close enough to touch me in the car without actually riding on my lap. Bucking him in the back seat inevitably resulted in nonstop screaming, which was more distracting than having him sleeping in my lap, but this is a wonderful compromise. The thing buckles down on top of the arm rest between the front seats, and has a tether to attach to his harness. I'm still waiting for the Center for Pet Safety to test how well dog car seats hold up in accidents, but I'm cautiously optimistic about this thing being able to withstand the forces a 6-pound dog would exert in a major collision.

The stock Snoozer Console.
Anyway, after living in the car and serving as a giant cupholder and fuzzy arm rest along with its intended purpose, the sheepskin on the Snoozer was starting to look a bit gross. Washing the cover failed to improve the gray color or generally worn appearance, so I decided to make a new cover. As an added bonus, I could make an interesting and pretty cover that would go well with the seat covers in my car.

My first step was to visit the fabric store and pick out some snuggly fleece fabric. I liked the soft, pastel bubble fleece intended for baby stuff, but I'm pretty realistic when choosing fabrics. Pastel baby colors are going to get gross really fast. I needed a busy pattern in a predominantly dark color. The fabric pattern also needed to be of a small enough scale to show up on the seat cover. I found some lovely fluorescent dinosaur fabric, but each dinosaur was so big that they wouldn't be recognizable on such a tiny project.

Ru approves my fabric choice.

It's worth noting that Snoozer does sell replacement covers for their car seats, or at least they did when I checked their website a couple of months ago. Right now the product category is still there but empty, so they may be reorganizing the site or they may have abruptly discontinued offering replacement collars. I also found a few people on Etsy making replacement covers for some of the original Snoozer seats.

I did not disassemble my Snoozer seat cover, and I didn't make a pattern either. I just turned the cover inside out and measured the seams to determine how to cut my fabric. It's really just a fabric box with gathered elastic at the bottom. I cut five pieces of fleece (bottom rectangle and four trapezoid sides), and one long rectangle of black quilted fabric.

The skeleton of the Snoozer.

When I took the cover off the Snoozer, I was surprised at how simple the construction was. It's basically just a box of foam, with a little shelf built into the back to keep it from sliding forward during a fast stop. There are metal eyelets to keep the straps from sliding through the foam, and that's it. I could probably build one of these from scratch.

I like the strap construction of this seat. There are two big loops that hook around the bottom of the front seats, and those attach to the tether strap that attaches to Ru. Another strap clips around the console lid to keep the front of the seat down so it doesn't tip backward. I like that Ru is anchored to something really solid in the car. Of course, the plastic hardware and jewelry clasp aren't nearly strong enough to keep a real dog in place in an actual accident, but a chihuahua doesn't generate a whole lot of force even at high speed.

Very simple construction.

I've done a lot of sewing, but I don't really enjoy it because it takes forever. Cutting and sewing the fleece for this project took maybe 30 minutes total. The last step, sewing the fleece to the quilting, took at least two hours. It was a very simple seam, but I used the wrong stitch on my sewing machine so I had to pick it out and start over. It turns out that sewing stretchy fleece to unstretchy quilting requires a specific unstretchy stitch, otherwise the fleece stretches and ends up significantly longer than it should. The solution for this problem is apparently to call my seamstress sister, who has the same sewing machine, and ask her which stitch works best.

Total yardage: Less than one, I think I bought half a yard of each fabric and I still have quite a lot of fleece left over.

Total cost: $12

Total Time: 2.5 hours, would have been closer to 1 if I had done it right the first time.

Result: Totally stylin' Snoozer.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Product Review: Lone Wolf Martingale Slip Leash

The Lone Wolf Martingale is a combination slip-on leash with a martingale-style collar. It comes in two webbing widths, two lengths, and 16 different color combinations. Lone Wolf makes a variety of webbing products in each width, including traffic and traditional slip leads, and regular leashes. The company also make round nylon braid leashes in a variety of colors.

Photo by Erin Koski
I have several dozen different collars for Brisbane, but maybe ten leashes because those do a lot more than just hold tags. Briz walks nicely on a loose leash 99% of the time, and then once in a while he explodes. I mostly use 3/4" wide leather leashes for their superior grip, when I buy a leash I try to imagine what it will feel like to have it violently ripped through my hands. Lone Wolf's flat braid is soft and grippy, and wide enough to grab comfortably even with sore hands.

Slip leashes are extremely versatile, and very popular in agility where dogs aren't allowed to wear collars while they run. I like martingale slip leads because they are limited-slip rather than choke collars. They also tighten more evenly than a collar that slips through a single ring. The Lone Wolf martingale lead has a leather slide to keep it from opening too wide. Brisbane's is a 4' long black and purple martingale in 5/8" wide flat braid.

Pros: Easy and convenient to put on. Requires no opening or closing of hardware and is made from big, beefy braid so I believe it would be comfortable for arthritic hands. Seriously, the 5/8" wide braid is at least 1/4" thick with nice rounded edges. This might be the greatest leash ever for people with limited hand mobility. I also love the variety of colors available. Comes in 4' and 6' lengths., and mine is big enough to fit a dog with a 42" neck.

Cons: The collar is non-adjustable. My 5/8" martingale has a 16" collar and Brisbane has a 17" neck, so it is snug when tightened and he can't back out of it. I'm just lucky it worked out that way because the collars don't come in different sizes. If he had a bigger neck, the collar would choke him when pulled tight. If he had a smaller neck I would have to use the smaller size, which has a much shorter collar. Ru is too small for the smaller martingale.

Bottom Line: I use this leash for agility class and quick trips when I don't feel like putting a harness on Brisbane. It lives in my dog event bag and goes on various trips with us. I know several people who use them as their primary leashes.

Monday, June 9, 2014

RuffWear Grip Trex versus Lure Coursing

Last time I took Brisbane lure coursing, he tore his feet up pretty badly. Last weekend we had another Tired Dog Good Dog event, and I wanted to protect his feet while letting him run until his legs fell off. Briz has several different sets of dog shoes, ranging from $10 Old Navy rain booties to $70 RuffWear Grip Trex.

I usually have a couple of sets of Briz-shoes in the car, so I started him in his zippered Gooby Epiks. Three out of four Epiks went flying at the first turn, I didn't even get a chance to take a picture before they were all scattered around the field.

For the next run, I wrestled Brisbane into his RuffWear Grip Trex. Briz is very intense when lure coursing, so I didn't have high hopes for these boots either. Happily, they stayed on for the entire three laps without slipping or twisting.

As soon as I put him back in his crate, Brisbane dipped one of his front feet in his water bucket. I had read some reviews from people who had difficulty keeping wet Grip Trex boots on their dogs, so I was prepared to go hunting for lost boots on the course.

On his second run, every single boot stayed put again, including the wet one. Brisbane normally hates wearing shoes, but lure coursing is so exciting that he forgot all about them. He wore the boots just fine in his crate for a couple of hours between runs without losing or twisting any boots, except the one he managed to get wedged between the bars of his crate. He was fine and I was right there to see it happen, but this was a possibility I had not anticipated.

Safety Tip: Don't leave boots on an unattended crated dog.

Brisbane also wore his RuffWear Webmaster harness to make handling him easier. Briz cannot think in the presence of lure coursing equipment. I would feel worse about my unruly and untrained dog if I didn't see pretty much every other cattledog owner carrying their dog off the field too. The Ruffwear Harness just makes it easier because it has such a convenient handle.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Product Review: WoofWear Collars

WoofWear collars are decorative leather flat buckle collars that come in an enormous variety of sizes and styles to fit dogs with 7-24" necks. The company also makes matching leashes and cat collars.

Photo by Erin Koski
WoofWear collars are pretty freaking fancy, and they last forever. Guaranteed to make your dog look like a million bucks, the fancier collars come with an equally fancy price tag. I have two Woofwear dog collars that I bought for my dearly departed cocker spaniel more than ten years ago. One of these is currently sitting on the tin that contains her ashes, as a little memorial to my very first dog. The other is big enough for Brisbane, so he gets to wear it now and then.

This collar graced the neck of my beloved Oakley for well over a year before I replaced it with a lighter and thinner collar of the same design. Briz has worn it on and off for his entire life, and it still look fantastic if slightly broken in. I see these on dogs at work all the time too, and they seem to handle water and wear remarkably well. My only complaint is that eventually the lighter pink collars begin to look a bit dirty. My stupidest cat is currently wearing a darker pink PuddyTat by WoofWear collar though, and it still looks amazing.

Brisbane's Classic Heart collar is about as plain as WoofWear gets. All of their designs come in 24 different suede, metallic, cowhide, and leather colors. Classic Collars come in four different widths and 26 different designs that start with a simple row of hearts/bones/paws/dogs/conchos/Texas stars/buffalo nickles and range to heavy combinations of studs, spikes, studs, and grommets.WoofWear Bling Collars combine all of the above with swarovski crystals for a very fancy look. Some styles incorporate pearls and moonstones. WoofWear's TinyWide collars are incredibly fancy 1.5" wide selections for small dogs with 8-12" necks. Mega Collars are 2-4" wide spiked affairs for dogs with 18-32" necks.

Pros: These collars last forever and are of outstanding quality, I have never seen one missing a stud or crystal. They have some very unique designs and a ton of options for a perfectly customized creation. WoofWear products are also widely available, I have seen them in many different stores.

Cons: Holy price tag shock Batman! A crystal-studded Tiny Diva collar for Ru would cost $120, which is why Ru does not have a crystal-studded Tiny Diva collar. Also, not all colors age the same. I have seen some very tired-looking pastel pink and lavender collars. It is important to measure carefully for fit because these are traditional buckle collars and each size only adjusts a couple of inches. I have found the WoofWear leashes to be far too stiff and heavy for my tastes.

Bottom Line: I would have a ton of these if they weren't so danged expensive. I'm slowly outfitting my cats with them because they are amazing for constant wear. If I had to pick just one collar to put on each of my dogs and leave on them all the time, I would definitely pick these.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Congratulations Ulysses!

Last week Ulysses and I drove way down to Orange County to meet the person who helped coordinate his rescue from the shelter. Uly had gone from unwanted and unadoptable to rescue superstar, with ten applications to adopt him within a week of him appearing on the rescue's Facebook and website.
Photo by Erin Koski
We met a couple of different families who had passed the approval process. With so much interest in this angelic boy, we were able to pick our favorite family. Ulysses is now named Cal, his new family has a red heeler named Tex. We loved how Tex's dad interacted with him, very patient and extremely positive. Tex's mom also adored him, and Cal liked sitting on her feet for petting.

The family also includes a baby and an older boy, around 8. He lamented that Tex only cuddled with his parents. Cal figured out right away this the kid was an easy person to beg for petting. I think he's going to end up bonding with the kids very nicely.

We don't know a whole lot about Cal's history. He came into the shelter as a stray, and acted like many things were very new. He had clearly never seen the ocean or a swimming pool before. He may never have been on a leash or in a house before, but he was so good-natured that he figured it all out very quickly.

Cal has been with his new family for a few days now. He is rapidly bonding with his new people, and warming up to them much faster than he did with us. It took him a week to get comfortable enough to play fetch with us, but he was playing ball with Tex and his new family on his second day home. Cal is in for a long life as a beloved family member, full of trips to the lake and snuggles on the couch. He's a naturally well-behaved dog, and he deserves such a wonderful life. I am delighted that I could be a part of his rescue and help him on his way home.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Product Review: RC Pets Training Collar

The RC Pets Training Collar is a martingale with a chain loop instead of a nylon webbing loop. This is also known as a limited-slip collar, and can be used like a choke chain. It is adjustable and machine washable. This collar comes in 39 patterns and four sizes to fit dogs with necks 7-26" around.

Photo by Erin Koski
This is the collar we used for obedience training. Brisbane and I did UKC obedience for nearly five years, and Briz does Utility obedience, which is the most advanced level. Unfortunately, he only does his obedience performance outside a showring, and at competitions and practice matches he suddenly forgets who I am and wanders off. After several years of work with zero titles or legs toward titles, or even qualifying scores, I gave up. Brisbane has his AKC Canine Good Citizen title and that's it.

Our obedience classes used positive training because aversive obedience training mostly results in dogs that look unhappy in the showring. I've read that many obedience competitors use aversive methods that include pinching ears or hitting dogs, but I would never hurt my dog like that. Brisbane's life has been blissfully free of choke chains and collar corrections.

Photo by Erin Koski
So why the chain training collar? The chain section makes a nice noise when I move the leash, allowing me to get Brisbane's attention just by jiggling or lightly tugging. A fast tug will make a distinctive zippy noise, but it won't hurt him because the collar is only tight enough to keep him from backing out of it.

A real choke chain collar correction involves a collar that gets much tighter, and a seriously forceful yank. A "collar pop" that doesn't hurt is just supposed to be a reminder that a much more painful correction can be used. Most people are using choke chains wrong. Any kind of choke or limited-slip collar can strangle your dog, but that's not a real deterrent to pulling.

Anyway, I have two of these collars. I thought mine were sizes Medium and Large, since I have a 1" wide flame-print (discontinued!) collar and a 3/4" wide Maltese cross collar. Both of these collars are at least six years old though, and it's distinctly possible that the sizes have changed since the current 3/4" collars top out at 14" and Briz has a 17" neck. I used the smaller collar for obedience classes, we tried the larger one once and Brisbane got a dewclaw caught in the chain during an off-leash exercise.

Pros: Awesome RC Pets patterns including my favorite Maltese Cross, so I can make everything match. The patterns don't fade and they continue to look awesome forever. These chains on these collars are long enough to make a good zippy noise, but not so long that the collar hangs super-loose. (I'm looking at you, Premier!) There is a separate ring on the collar for hanging tags without interfering with the chain.

Cons: The noisy chain can spook shy dogs. RC Pets advertises this collar as a pulling deterrent, demonstrating that they don't actually know how choke collars should work. Also, flame print has been discontinued.

Bottom Line: I used this collar every single day when Brisbane and I were doing obedience training. I got several years of use out of my Maltese Cross collar and it still looks great. I don't use the training collars often these days, but I still carry one in my training bag for times when I want to do some peppy heelwork with Briz. There's definitely something to be said for having a special type of collar for training time.