Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Treat Tuesday: CloudStar Original Buddy Biscuits Peanut Butter

I've been buying CloudStar Original Buddy Biscuits for my dogs since I first spotted them at Trader Joe's in 1999. They are a nice alternative to Milkbones and other dog biscuits because they don't contain any eggs. Brisbane can't have the Roasted Chicken flavor, but the rest are delightfully Briz-safe. These just contain flour, oil, and peanut butter.

Good For: Goodbye cookies and quick rewards that don't require me to wash the treat-stink off my hands. Brunching up and cramming in the medium-sized Starmark Treat Dispensing Chew Ball and other puzzle toys. Not getting disgusting when left in toys that get lost under the furniture.

Not Good For: Motivation. Dogs will not work very hard for unstinky treats.

How Much We Like Them: Enough to buy a 4lb bag of them.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Product Review: JW Megalast Ball

The JW Megalast Ball is a durable, chewable rubber ball made from JW's special "megalastomer" material. It bounces, floats, and has a center tube that can be filled with treats. It also smells pleasantly of vanilla.
Photo by Erin Koski

Our Megalast Ball arrived in one of the spring Bark Boxes, either April or May. I originally was not terribly impressed with it. Brisbane has very little use for anything that isn't a fuzzy tennis ball or a Chuckit! Ultraball. I tried to convince him to chase it, but failed completely.

Fast forward several months, when I began crating and rotating Brisbane and Ulysses, and needed more stuffable toys to keep them occupied. I filled this thing with peanut butter and stuck it in the freezer. It has been in our freezer toy rotation ever since. I like it because it can hold a modest amount of peanut butter, for a small but intense project. As Brisbane isn't always eager to go to work with me, sometimes I smear it with peanut butter in the morning and use it to bribe him into the car.

Pros: Durable and floatable. Smells nice. Unusual shape makes it interesting to bite. Larger-than-a-tennis-ball size makes it safe for even huge dogs. Made in the USA in a solar-powered facility.

Cons: Not as exciting a tennis balls and similar-sized objects around here. Many nooks and crannies make it difficult to clean.

Bottom Line: I'm not sure I would buy another one, but I certainly appreciate the Megalast Ball we have.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Product Review: Gentle Leader Head Collar

The Premier Gentle Leader is a head collar, or head halter, made by PetSafe. The basic nylon webbing version comes in five sizes and nine different colors to fit dogs of all sizes. The deluxe version features a fleece-lined nose loop with a ribbon overlay, it comes in three colors and includes a matching leash.
Photo by Erin Koski

The Gentle Leader is probably the easiest to find head collar, and might be the easiest to use. I find them at thrift stores on a regular basis, and currently own three or four. Many dogs really hate wearing a head collar, but for the dogs that don't mind, this can be a really excellent bandaid for pulling on the leash.

The Gentle Leader became popular and easy to find in stores in the late 1990's, but it had been around for at least a decade before that under a different name. The Promise Collar was touted as a "natural" training system designed to work with the dominance-based pack structure believed to be the key to dog training at the
time. As the science of behaviorism began to influence dog training, and reward-based positive training surged in popularity, the Promise Collar was rebranded as the Gentle Leader. The Authority Loop became the Leader Loop, and the training tool was no longer intended to dominate subordinate pack members.
Briz is not a fan/

I sort of love and hate this collar. I love that I haven't paid more than a dollar for any of the many I have owned and given away. I love that this collar is incredibly adjustable, one side of the neck strap is a fixed length and the other side as well as the nose loop can be adjusted all the way down to nothing, so Brisbane can wear a medium, a large, and possibly even an extra large Gentle Leader. I love that there are only two loops, so it is relatively simple to put on.

At the same time, I hate that most dogs fight this collar even when it has been carefully introduced. I hate seeing long leashes and even retractables attached to these. I hate seeing dogs back out of them at the worst possible time, and I hate how pretty much everyone has them sized wrong. The neck loop is supposed to be very tight, so tight even a single finger can't be slid under it. Most dogs hate this, and most of their owners do, too. The thing is, the neck strap needs to be super tight, sitting right up behind the ears, in order to keep the nose loop in place. If the neck strap is too loose, the nose loop can slip off, and most people respond by making the nose loop too tight.

A correctly-fitted Gentle Leader should fit tightly around the neck, but very loose around the nose. The plastic adjuster on the nose loop should be positioned so that it is barely not loose. Most dogs will not be able to back out of the collar when it is super tight, but I use a martingale or slip collar as a backup in case they do manage to escape the Gentle Leader.

Pros: Easy to find, easy to use, and each size fits a wide range of dogs. Definitely the least-confusing and most user-friendly head collar.

Cons: Most dogs hate it at first, many continue to hate it even when properly introduced. Difficult to adjust correctly, and may be uncomfortable for the dog when the neck strap is tight enough. No backup or safety feature in case dog backs out of collar. Unlined nose loop tends to rub marks on dogs who wear the Gentle Leader often.

Bottom Line: There are head collars I like better than the Gentle Leader. There are head collars that many dogs like better than the Gentle Leader. However, this is still my best bet for introducing people to the whole concept without overwhelming them with a tangle of straps.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Product Review: Busy Buddy Bouncy Bone

The PetSafe Busy Buddy Bouncy Bone is a durable chew toy with ends that can be unscrewed to add Busy Buddy treat rings. It comes in four sizes for tiny through large dogs.
Photo by Erin Koski

The Busy Buddy Treat Rings are made from ground up rawhide and probably some other stuff. They are digestible and not terribly tough, but they fit on all sorts of Busy Buddy toys and come in various sizes. There are also thicker treat rings for use with certain toys. These are fairly low-value chew around here, Brisbane and Ulysses don't find them exciting enough to fight over, and everyone tends to ignore them when they are used with toys like the Build-a-Bone.

If the treat rings were more exciting for my dogs, I would buy them a lot more often. I would also love to find a recipe or method for making my own. There are probably jerky treats or something that I could stab the Busy Buddy toys through for a more exciting activity. Ru likes to gnaw on his Bouncy Bone, it's a lot like a Nylabone and that makes him happy. He won't chew the treat rings off it though, but Briz is quite skilled at removing them without damaging the toy.

Pros: Holds Treat Rings to encourage chewing. Durable bone material is sturdy enough for average chewers. Comes in a super tiny size for super tiny dogs.

Cons: Treat rings are ridiculously easy to remove from the toy, so this is only a challenge for beginners and low-effort dogs. The bone ends are fairly hard, and tend to develop sharp ridges when heavily chewed, these can cut a dog's gums.

Bottom Line: It's cute and colorful, but not for power chewers. I believe it to be less durable than a Nylabone.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Puzzle Toy: Kong Wobbler

The Kong Wobbler is a bobbing-type puzzle toy designed for use with kibble and other small, dry treats. The Wobbler comes in two sizes for large and small dogs. The base of the toy unscrews from the body to allow for fast-filling and easy cleaning.
Photo by Erin Koski

This is a pretty basic bobbing toy, but it is also one of the most widely available. Kong has basically introduced this type of puzzle toy to the general public, as it can now be found in big box pet stores. Back in Brisbane's youth, we had to buy our nifty puzzle toys from specialty stores and online.

On the one hand, this toy is incredibly easy to fill and clean. The toy opens at its widest point, allowing for full scrubbing access. On the other hand, the hole is a fixed size, and a seasoned puzzle-solver like Briz can empty it in mere minutes.
Photo by Erin Koski

Puzzle Toy Rating

Capacity: 4/5
We have the large, which is advertised as fitting a cup of kibble but actually holds a little more. The small is supposed to hold 1/2 cup.

Loading Speed: 5/5
So very, very fast and easy.

Unloading Speed (standard dog): 5/5
Uly can spend half an hour or more getting his dinner out of the Wobbler.

Unloading Speed (superdog): 3/5
Brisbane is a master of efficiency, he can empty this thing as fast as I can without unscrewing it. The hole is very wide to make kibble fall out easier.

Size: 4/5
The small is small enough for Ru to manage. The large is big enough for a big dog, though it feels a bit undersized for giant breeds. Then again, most toys feel undersized for giant breeds.

Durability: 5/5
Unless Brisbane decides to unscrew the top and then chew up the threads, I can't imagine this toy breaking or getting damaged. It is hard plastic though, so it probably wouldn't survive being dropped from a decent height.

Noise: 3/5
Because they are weighted, bobbing toys pretty much all make a hellacious amount of noise on hard floors with raised foundations. The addition of dry kibble inside hard plastic also means this toy rattles quite a bit. Lighter toys make less noise though, so the small should be quieter than the large Wobbler, and our large is definitely quieter than the Starmark Bob-a-Lot.

Locatability: 4/5
Bright red, and too big to fit under the furniture. Uly likes to shove it behind doors and into remote corners of the house, though.

Washability: 5/5
Dishwasher safe for those lucky enough to have a dishwasher. Also super easy to open up and scrub thoroughly. This is probably the easiest to clean puzzle toy I have ever seen.

Hoardability: 1/5
Since Briz can't lift or carry it, it tends to stay wherever it ended up when emptied.

Total: 39/50

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Product Review: Harry Barker Eiffel Tower Dog Toy

The Harry Barker Eiffel Tower Dog Toy is a plush squeaky toy made from cotton canvas and stuffed with recycled plastic fiber. It is available in three colors and two sizes for large and small dogs.
Photo by Erin Koski

This toy arrived in our June BarkBox, and at the time I completely failed to get Brisbane or Ru interested in it. While Briz will normally bite a stuffy at least once out of obligation, this one he straight up avoided from the very beginning. I squeaked it, I tossed it, I wiggled it across the floor. The dogs looked at me like I had lobsters crawling out of my ears. I left the toy on the floor.

Not long after our disappointing BarkBox arrived, Ulysses came back from his first adoptive home. The Harry Barker Eiffel Tower was the first toy he ever picked up and played with on his own. It went with us to all of Uly's home visits and has remained one of his favorite things.
Photo by Erin Koski

I am not a huge fan of this style of toy, it strikes me as ultra-modern, with an emphasis on being tasteful rather than fun. I don't know what exactly it is about this toy, but it just doesn't seem to be as attractive as many other stuffies. Uly likes it, but he doesn't squeak it.

Pros: A big, firm mouthful of squeak. Machine washable. Made from non-toxic, recycled and environmentally friendly materials. White color is attractive for dogs that like to shred paper, apparently. Tasteful, understated style is attractive for minimalists and those who dislike having their houses strewn with brightly-colored dog toys.

Cons: Lacking in some sort of "fun" quotient for 2/3 dogs here. White color means it looks dirty right away.

Bottom Line: I don't like it, but Uly likes it, so we're keeping it. Well, Uly is keeping it. The Harry Barker Eiffel Tower will be going with him to his forever home.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Types of Puzzle Toys for Dogs

Puzzle toys are a great way to entertain dogs and make them work for their food. Brisbane has spent his entire life eating out of puzzle toys instead of a bowl. He does have a food bowl now, but we only use it for things that are impractical for putting into food toys, like fish oil, and things that Briz doesn't feel are worth working for, like green beans. Puzzle toys aren't just for dogs, either. Zookeepers have been using food puzzles for years to provide enrichment for captive animals, and everyone from otters to giraffes enjoy turning meals into games. Animals in the wild spend most of their waking hours eating, foraging, or otherwise finding food. When we throw an entire meal down for them to gobble immediately, we leave them with nothing else to do with their time.

Photo by Erin Koski
In addition to providing entertainment and the opportunity to problem solve and work for their food, puzzle toys slow down the pace and help reduce the issues that come with eating too quickly. It's tough to inhale an entire cup of kibble when it's dropping onto the floor one piece at a time. There are dozens of different puzzle toys, but they can all generally be classified into a handful of categories. Each toy or type of toy teaches a new skill. Brisbane is a pro at many different puzzles and types of puzzles, while Ulysses is just beginning to learn how puzzles work. Because I love collecting and organizing data, here is my classification of puzzle toys:

Photo by Erin Koski
These are toys that can roll across the floor, and are intended to be filled with kibble or other small treats. A roller has one or more holes, when the toy is rolled the kibble falls out of the holes. A roller puzzle can be round, like the Planet Dog Orbee Ball and the Starmark Treat Dispensing Chew Ball, it can also be cylindrical, like the TreatStik. Generally the size of the treat-dispensing hole is what makes a roller more or less challenging for the dog, and difficulty can only be altered by putting larger or smaller pieces of food inside. I consider rollers to be the easiest puzzle toys to use, and a good way to introduce the concept to new dogs since they only need to nudge the toy to start it moving and get the food dropping. Ulysses has recently figured out how basic roller toys work, and can now reliably empty them. Some rollers have inner workings that make them more complex and difficult to solve, and some have adjustable openings to change the rate of reward.

Photo by Erin Koski
These are toys that work on the same principle as rollers, with one or more holes that randomly drop kibble, but clatterers don't roll. The Buster Cube and the Kong Satellite are both clattering puzzle toys, as is the Grriggles Treat Jack. and the Starmark Treat Dispensing Jack. I generally consider these toys to be slightly more difficult to solve than rolling puzzles because they require more effort. A rolling toy can be sent across the room with one nudge, dispensing several rewards along the way. A clattering toy lands and stops moving immediately. Hard plastic clatterers are extremely noisy on hard floors, and this can frighten some dogs.

Photo by Erin Koski

A bobber toy is weighted to keep it upright, and has a hole somewhere in the side or top to dispense treats. In order to get the food out, a bobber toy must be tipped over in a certain direction. Bobbers can be a little spooky for sensitive dogs because they move on their own after they have been tipped. Unlike rollers which roll comfortably away from the dog, bobbers often tip right back at them. Most dogs need to be introduced to the bobbing toy concept by watching another dog or a person tip the toy to make the food come out. The weighted bottoms of these toys can be noisy on hard floors, and may scratch hardwood.  The Kong Wobbler is a very simple bobber toy, the Starmark Bob-a-Lot and the Busy Buddy Magic Mushroom are more complicated bobbers with an adjustable difficulty levels.

Photo by Erin Koski
Stuffable toys might be the oldest type of dog puzzles, we've had the Kong since the 1970's. I don't generally do puzzle toy ratings on these because they pretty much all work the same way, and most work better with soft stuffings like peanut butter than with kibble dinners. All stuffable toys are flexible and chewable. Some toys hold edible chews, like the Kong Marathon and Starmark Everlasting Treat toys. The SafeMade Biggie Bone, Bionic Urban Stick, and Kong Quest toys are all stuffable puzzles. The Busy Buddy Squirrel Dude can be used as a stuffable toy and as a roller puzzle.

Photo by Erin Koski
Board Games
Board game puzzle toys are not meant to entertain unattended dogs. These puzzle toys sit flat on the floor, have moving parts for the dog to manipulate, and are intended to be used under close supervision. They don't generally include a gameboard and dice, but they are definitely intended for dog-and-human play rather than simply dog entertainment. Kyjen makes a wide variety of board games, including our Star Spinner, Yin Yang Yum, and Treat Triad. Other companies, like Kensington Kennel Club, make board games out of wood. Each game requires a specific set of skills to solve, and the difficulty can vary from super-easy to super-difficult. The Star Spinner only requires the dog to understand how to spin parts of the toy, other board games require lifting of flaps, removal of cups or pegs, sliding parts, and assorted other fine manipulations. Ideally, a board game puzzle is solved by the dog with the handler sitting right beside them, watching, encouraging, and helping them play. When the food has all been uncovered and eaten, the puzzle toy is picked up and put away for next time.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Product Review: Halti Head Collar

The Halti, by The Company of Animals, is a head halter or head collar. It comes in six sizes to fit nearly any dog, and is usually made from black nylon webbing. Haltis can occasionally be found in red, and I swear I've seen them in blue and brown at some point in the last 20 years.

Um yes, that's a nice flattering expression Uly.
Photo by Erin Koski
This is the first head collar I can remember seeing in a pet store, way back in the 1980's. It would be years before I would see any other type, and for a long time I thought "Halti" was a synonym for "head collar".

The safety strap on the Halti is a relatively new addition, the original didn't have any sort of backup system if the dog managed to pull out of the collar itself. I appreciate this feature because I have seen many dogs escape from these thing. Some companies claim that no dog should be able to escape from a properly-adjusted head collar of their brand, but these ignore dogs like sighthounds and also Brisbane, who have heads smaller than their necks. No matter how tight I make the neck strap of the Halti, Brisbane can still back out of it when he really wants to. I usually use a second leash or a Euro lead attached to a harness as a backup for a head collar, the safety strap is still useful though.

The nose loop on the Halti sits a bit lower on the dog's muzzle than some other head collars. This makes it more comfortable for some dogs. So far the Halti is the head collar Brisbane is least unhappy wearing. Given that it is often easier for dogs to accept, it was also the first I tried to use with Uly. After spending a couple of weeks teaching him that having the head halter on his face meant happy fun treat time, I tried to take him for a walk in it. Aside from occasionally pawing at his face, Uly was fine until he went into a death roll two blocks from the house. While thrashing wildly he managed to get the nose loop all the way down to the tip of his nose, and then caught or twisted it such that it cinched tight. The loop pinching the tip of his nose made him sneeze continuously and thrash even harder until I got the halter unbuckled and pulled it off. Since the other end of the leash was attached to his harness, Uly was still safe and we were able to resume our walk immediately.

Pros: Soft and gentle on delicate faces. Sits well away from the eyes to help protect delicate facial structures. Seems to be more comfortable that other popular head halters for some dogs, including Brisbane. Closes the dog's mouth when pulled tight, which can be useful when managing a dog that may bite. Safety loop helps keep the dog safely leashed even if they manage to slip out of the Halti.

Cons: Easier to escape than some other head halters. Does not come in fun colors. Low placement of nose strap can lead to slightly alarming nose entrapment on certain klutzy ridiculous dogs.

Bottom Line: What makes for a happy head halter experience for one dog will not necessarily make for a happy head halter experience for another. The tradeoff for the kinder, lower, more comfortable nose loop is that the Halti is easier to escape and can somehow cinch down on the end of the nose in somewhat bizarre circumstances. It's still one of the two easiest to find head halters though, and I have no plans to stop using or recommending it anytime soon

Monday, September 22, 2014

Treat Tuesday: Zukes Skinny Bakes Pumpkin 'n Sweet Potato Crunch

Zukes Skinny Bakes are currently a staple in our household because they are so darned useful. These are low-calorie treats so I can feed a lot of them. They are generally fruit, nut, or vegetable-flavored rather than meaty, and they smell nice.

Good For: Sticking in each of the small holes of the large Kong Quest Starpod. Stuffing into the bottoms of puzzle toys to keep squishy things like sweet potatoes from getting stuck down there. Bribing Ulysses into crates. Quick rewards or goodbye cookies that don't get my hands all stinky.

Not Good For: Serious training motivation. Tempting picky dogs.

How Much We Like Them: Enough to keep a large bag in the cupboard at all times.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Product Review: Starmark Pro-Training Clicker

The Starmark Pro-Training Clicker is a button clicker used for clicker training. I can probably jam the word "clicker" into that sentence a few more times, but I will restrain my enthusiasm.
Photo by Erin Koski

This might be the prettiest clicker I own. Look at that embossed running dog decoration! Unfortunately, this clicker seems to be mostly built for looks rather than function. Unlike box clickers, which tend to have a solid plastic box containing a metal strip, button clickers have a top and bottom half with the metal sandwiched between them. The issue with the Starmark clicker is that the two halves aren't particularly well attached, so the clicking action tends to separate them over time.

Pros: The loudest button clicker, but easy to muffle by holding the button against my palm. Wider and flatter than the i-Click, and louder too.

Cons: Appears to have quality control issues. More difficult to hide in my hand. Less reliable than the i-Click with a tendency to fall apart.

Bottom Line: I just don't use it that much, and for the price the i-Click is a much better value because I can buy three or four of them. I lose clickers all the time, I need more than one. Brisbane will respond to pretty much anything that clicks, though.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The September Allergy-Friendly BarkBox

Our September BarkBox arrived on Tuesday, and I am relatively pleased. It's not an all-star lineup, but we should be able to use most of the things inside. The theme this time around in football, which is not my favorite thing. It's not so much that I have a problem with football in particular, I just disapprove of the entire institution of professional sports. Still, this BarkBox had some interesting goodies.

I think my favorite thing in this month's box is the PetProjekt Football Tretball. Most of this company's products are along ultra-modern design lines, with plenty of bright colors and unique shapes. Many of their toys look like they were designed with a specific dog in mind, or a specific problem to solve. I like the Tennisbal rubber grip that fits over any standard-sized tennis ball and helps hang onto slippery, slobbery balls. Their YapCap screws onto any water bottle and turns it into a squeaky toy. We have their DogLog and Squeeki Tiki toys, and I'd like to get their Tretcon and a Furchun cookie puzzle toys. The Tretbal Football is interesting, it kind of reminds me of the Busy Buddy Kibble Nibble. The holes are too small to let most kibble fall out, so the intention is to have dogs squash, crush, and flip the toy inside out for their treats.

Ulysses particularly liked the FabDog Pom Poms. They're supposed to be cheerleader pom poms, I'm curious whether other BarkBox subscribers got the same or different colors. If I were not willfully ignorant about teams, I would probably know who these colors represent. This particular toy was specially made for BarkBox, it doesn't look like FabDog normally carries tennis-ball-on-rope toys.

We got an Etta Says Duck Chew, which Ulysses has already devoured. Brisbane is allergic to duck, and Ru won't eat most poultry, fortunately Uly is here to pick up the slack. These things are a mixture of duck feet and rawhide, and the company also makes them out of beef, deer, and probably some other stuff. One of our local stores recently started carrying a whole bunch of different Etta Says stuff, so we will be trying more of their goodies. I have long been a fan of their liver treats.

Duck was apparently a big thing this month, it's the only meat in the allergy-friendly lineup that Briz can't eat and this month we got two duck things. The second one is a bag of BBQ Duck-flavored yumZies Jerky Burgers from Nootie. The company primarily makes shampoos and bath products for dogs, but also produces yumZies dog treats.

The last thing in our September BarkBox is a box of bacon-flavored PetSafe Indigo Smokehouse Strips. These were vacuum-sealed and need to be refrigerated because they are totally perishable once they're open. BarkBox recommends using them within three days. I've been stuffing them into toys and so far nobody is complaining.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Product Review: Aussie Naturals Squeaky Bacon

The Aussie Naturals Squeaky Bacon is a stuffed toy made from leather. It contains a squeak and is bacon-scented.
Photo by Erin Koski

The Squeaky Bacon arrived in our March BarkBox, and was promptly ignored by everyone until Ulysses arrived in May. I like the Aussie Naturals company, their products are made with a focus on the natural and sustainable. Leather, jute, coconut fiber, wool, cotton, and natural gum rubber are their primary materials, and they aim to produce quality products with a minimal carbon footprint.

I like the concept, but I can't help but notice that the Aussie Naturals website has changed recently. AussieNaturals.us is a very professional-looking web store with a wonderful backstory about the original company, ABO Gear, and how they branched out into the pet market. The new site, AussieNaturals.org, is done primarily in Comic Sans, with an abbreviated "about us" page and an overall rough and unpolished look.

Photo by Erin Koski
The company and their website aside, the Squeaky Bacon is pretty amusing. Brisbane and Ru ignore it entirely. Uly will occasionally toss it around. Nobody here has gnawed on it yet, but a friend got the same toy in the March BarkBox and reported that her Jack Russell Terrier mix ate it. As this was the only toy that particular dog had ever felt the need to devour, it appears to have some sort of strange attraction.

Pros: Biodegradable, non-toxic, environmentally-friendly toy made without plastics or petroleum products. Sturdier than fabric squeakies, and the leather provides a novel chewing texture for most dogs.

Cons: Small size make it unattractive for dogs that love great big mouthfuls of squeak. Some dogs consider it a snack. Manufactured in India by a company that is based in Georgia, nowhere is Australia involved except in the name.

Bottom Line: It seems to be a good company making quality products. I wish they were manufactured in the USA as I have some concerns about quality control and the potential for toxic materials in the leather. Not something I would have purchased on my own, but the Squeaky Bacon is certainly a welcome addition to the toybox.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Guilt-Free Dogs

The internet is in love with guilty dogs, and it makes me sad. Countless videos and pictures flood blogs and social media, featuring a mess or an angry human along with a dog that clearly know he's been bad. The thing is, dogs don't feel guilt, they just anticipate bad things happening. They don't even have a concept of "wrong". That sad-but-hopeful look isn't a dog that knows he's done wrong, it's a dog that is expecting something bad to happen.

Dogs are pretty amazing, they are sensitive, emotional creatures who rely on us for absolutely everything in their lives. Food, water, sunlight, even life are in our power to give or take away. While they often amaze us with how much they understand, some things are simply beyond their grasp. Take, for example, a dog that pees on the carpet. The dog may understand that, when humans come home and find a yellow spot on the rug, they yell, point, scruff the dog and drag him to that spot, and perhaps even hit him, They may shove him outside and leave him alone in the yard after all those hours of being alone in the house. Two hours ago, the dog knew he had to pee and that this spot smelled like the bathroom. Now the humans are walking through the door and that yellow spot means bad things are about to happen.

The thing is that dogs don't make the connection The presence of pee on the floor makes bad things happen, therefore I should not pee on the floor. They only know that pee=bad, they don't even have to be the guilty party. The dog doesn't regret his actions, he is just scared.

A "guilty" dog is actually a frightened dog that is desperately trying to appease his superiors. He doesn't know he did wrong, he is just begging for mercy and asking his people not to hurt him. Knowing this, I decided that I do not want to have "guilty" dogs. What I want is completely shameless, confident dogs who know they are safe with me. While I can't prevent all bad things from happening to them (a baby gate fell over on Brisbane today, it was very traumatic) I can make sure that they do not see me as the source of those bad things.

Does this mean that my dogs live completely out of control lives with no rules or limits? Nope, they have definite rules and acceptable behaviors, I just don't enforce those by doing scary things. Does this mean I never shout or scold my dogs? Nope, I am expressive to the point of being melodramatic, I just don't direct that toward the dogs without mitigating it in some way.

Dogs don't learn a whole lot from being shouted at, so I reserve shouting for two occasions. I might give a quick "no!" or "hey!" when someone is about to pee on the floor or steal something off the counter, followed immediately by switching to a happy voice and directing them to go outside or come or sit, or otherwise do something good. I also shout when I am angry or upset, but in a very nonthreatening manner. I don't loom over Brisbane when I appeal to the sky for an explanation as to why I have been cursed with the worst dog ever. I look up, I walk away, sometimes I even give him treats while bemoaning his horribleness. I often use a sweet voice to tell Ru was a dreadful little rodent he is.

Four years ago I walked into my kitchen to find Brisbane standing on the counter. He is incapable of jumping up there due to his abysmal build, so this was an unprecedented sight. It turns out he had rearranged some of the furniture to build himself a little staircase. If he was a "guilty dog", afraid of my response when he was clearly in a place he had no business being, he might have attempted to escape by jumping off the counter. He could have broken something or hurt himself in the process. Instead, I told him to stay while I grabbed my camera from another room. I snapped a picture of him on the counter and then gently lifted him down and then rearranged the furniture to keep him from getting up there again.

I love this picture because it is a perfect, unstaged, "caught in the act" pose of absurdity. I often get asked how I got him to stay for the picture, and the simple answer is that I told him to stay, and he didn't have any reason not to comply. He knows I don't want him stealing stuff off the counters, but he also knows that the penalty for doing so is a quick "hey!" or "what the hell are you doing?" followed by immediate praise and release of pressure when his feet hit the ground. With nothing to worry about, he had no reason to bolt off the counter.

I might be missing a bit of what some handlers call "respect" in my quest for guilt-free dogs, but as Eric Brad so effectively points out in this 2011 article, I don't need respect. I have thumbs. While I've done plenty of things wrong in the process of raising the Worst Puppy Ever, I feel wildly successful at raising a dog that is not afraid of me.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Product Review: Collar Direct Rolled Leather Harness for Fluffy Dogs

The Collar Direct Rolled Leather Harness is a Norway-style harness. It is intended for long-haired breeds like the Chow Chow, Samoyed, and even Australian shepherds. The thin rolled leather gives it a minimalist look, and on longer coats it blends nicely. The rolled sections are 10mm in diameter, and the harness comes in brown and black. There are three sizes available, small fits dogs 24.5-28" around the chest, medium fits dogs 28-31.5" around the chest, and large fits dogs 32-35" around the chest.
Photo by Erin Koski
This is currently Brisbane's favorite harness. Putting it on does not require touching his feet or ears, and nothing on it jingles. There is no velcro like on the ComfortFlex harness, and the front strap is nice and long, unlike the EzyDog QuickFit.

Like a rolled leather collar, this harness slides through fur smoothly, and is less likely to cause mats when worn for extended periods of time. It is gentle on delicate hair, and does not choke the dog.

I bought this harness on eBay for $15, Brisbane is wearing a small. Collar Direct is a huge factory in Ukraine that primarily produces leather collars and leashes. Their products are available directly from the website as well as on eBay and, inexplicably, Etsy.

Pros: Lightweight leather and metal with no plastic. Gentle on coats and nonthreatening for nervous dogs. Easy to put on without manipulating ears, head, or legs.

Cons: Comes in a limited range of sizes and it the least adjustable Norway harness I've tried. There are three sizes, they either fit or they don't. Mass-produced in eastern Europe, so leather source and quality, as well as labor issues are possible. Featherweight construction may not hold up to large, strong dogs.

Bottom Line: I am slightly grumpy that Collar Direct floods Etsy with mass-produced goods at cheap import prices, undercutting artisans who actually make their own goods. That said, nobody else seems to make a rolled leather harness. It's a unique harness that can solve problems for dog owners dealing with sensitive, fearful, or mobility-limited dogs, plastic allergies, and dogs who just plain don't like harnesses.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Puzzle Toy: PetSafe Busy Buddy Squirrel Dude

The PetSafe Busy Buddy Squirrel Dude is a durable rubber chew toy with a hole at the bottom for dispensing food. The Squirrel Dude comes in four sizes suitable for most dogs.
Photo by Erin Koski

So this is basically an off-brand Kong in a lot of ways. It's a hard, durable rubber toy that is hollow inside, but it's shaped like a squirrel. The hole is in the bottom, so the squirrel basically poops kibble. Erin wanted everyone to be very clear about this.

So how is the Squirrel Dude different from everybody's favorite durable rubber chew toy? For one thing, the cavity inside is longer and narrower. We have a large Squirrel, intended for dogs over 50 pounds, and Brisbane and Ulysses can never get all the goodies out of the very bottom.
Photo by Erin Koski
The hole (in the Squirrel's bottom) is also smaller in diameter than the ones in our non-animal-shaped Kongs. This makes the Squirrel Dude a little safer for smaller dogs, who can get their lower jaws stuck inside the biggest Kongs.

The Squirrel Dude is made from harder rubber than Kongs, I think it's actually less flexible than our XL Extreme Kong. The large Squirrel is surprisingly heavy and while PetSafe claims it has a fun unpredictable bounce, I would be worried about head injuries and broken windows if this thing started bouncing anywhere nearby.

So what makes the Squirrel Dude a puzzle toy and not just a stuffable rubber toy? It's the four little prongs poking out around the butthole. These prevent kibble from pouring out and turn the toy into a challenge rather than a simple unstuffing task. The prongs can be trimmed to widen the hole, and are flexible enough that I can violate the squirrel with a bottle brush in order to clean it. Stuffing this thing is a bit of an art though, particularly since the large Squirrel is a bit oversized for my dogs. The fastest way to stuff it with a soda bottle funnel, which jams the prongs open. With heavy use the prongs may eventually break off, but the squirrel can still be stuffed with peanut butter and other goodies. I've had to abandon the idea of jamming larger biscuits inside our Squirrel because Briz and Uly can't get them out, and even with thumbs I have a tough time of it.

Puzzle Toy Rating
Capacity: 5/5
I can fit an entire cup of kibble in this thing.

Loading Speed: 5/5
Jam a funnel in the hole, pour in the kibble, done.

Unloading Speed (standard dog): 5/5
Ulysses, the dog who recently mastered the ball with a hole in it, can spend all day getting a meal out of this thing.

Unloading Speed (superdog): 4/5
Brisbane never gets a whole cup of kibble because he would turn into a blimp, but it takes him an appreciable amount of time to get his daily quarter cup out. It doesn't require a whole lot of effort, but it's tougher than a ball with a hole in it, and doesn't randomly dump most of its load at once.

Size: 5/5
Comes in Extra Small for tinydogs and large for big guys. I might have been happier with a medium, but the large is a nice addition to my collection of heavy duty toys.

Durability: 5/5
This is one of the few puzzle toys I actually would give to a power chewer. It's not indestructible, but it's also not made from hard plastic like many puzzles. It's a seriously heavy duty toy, and often one of the only ones a power chewer can enjoy without demolishing. Careful supervision is required for a while, but the Squirrel Dude is one of the first toys I feel comfortable leaving a new dog with unattended. Is the Squirrel Dude tougher than the Extreme Kong? It seems to depend on the dog, many destroy one and not the other.

Noise: 4/5
While I don't relish it thudding repeatedly on my hardwood floors, it's much quieter than heavy bobbers and hard plastic toys.

Locatability: 4/5
It's small enough to be shoved under the furniture, but the woodland creature shape prevents it from rolling under the furniture most of the time. It's also big enough to prevent the boys from carting it around the house.

Washability: 3/5
Dishwasher safe, whoopity-doo.(I don't have a dishwasher) The prongs make scrubbing a bit annoying, and since Briz and Uly can't get bigger stuff out I end up scrubbing this thing quite a bit. The small hole is great at preventing kibble from dumping out, not so great for getting the Squirrel squeaky-clean inside.

Hoardability: 2/5
Brisbane and Ulysses can both pick the Squirrel up, but it's kind of awkward and heavy so they tend to just empty it in place. I'm more likely to find it on the kitchen floor than in a crate or bed.

Total: 42/50

Monday, September 15, 2014

Product Review: Kong Wubba Classic

 The Kong Wubba Classic is a toy designed for tugging and tossing, consisting of two balls covered in ballistic nylon, with four strips hanging off the end. The Wubba comes in three sizes and a variety of colors for dogs of every size.
Photo by Erin Koski

Sometimes Kong comes out with  things that make me wonder whether anyone involved in the design process actually took the product home and used it on a regular basis. I am absolutely certain that anyone with hard floors would rapidly take the Satellite right back to the drawing board in less than a week, and nobody involved in the making of the Starpod ever tried to washed the damned thing.

And then sometimes Kong comes out with a spectacular invention that makes me wonder how I ever lived without it.
Photo by Erin Koski
The Wubba if definitely in the second category. Like the company's flagship product, this one feels like it is filling a void in the otherwise huge selection of dog toys. It is a durable, floating squeaky toy with flappy tails. Brisbane thoroughly enjoys biting it, even after it has ceased to squeak. The tails, along with the weight, make it easy to throw a very long way. It's soft enough for indoor play, quiet enough for hardwood floors, and tough enough to last for years longer than a stuffed toy. The tails also make the Wubba incredibly fun to shake and "kill". Most dogs seem to figure this out right away, I like to cheer them along with encouragements like "That's right! Break its neck!"

We have several Wubba Classics in both the large and small sizes. There are several variations that range from "great idea" to "trying way too hard". The floating water Wubba with the neoprene fabric? Totally awesome until Brisbane feels compelled to rip the fabric off. Fleece Wubba with stuffed animal heads? Quit while you're ahead, guys. Wubba Classic is the only worthwhile Wubba.

Pros: Super durable, strong enough for a good game of tug. Squeaks for a while, but not in a fashion that makes dogs want to tear it apart to kill the squeak. Sturdy enough to swing the dog around during a good game of tug. Super fun to shake, throw, and catch. Does not inspire dogs to disassemble it. Soft and quiet enough for indoor play on hardwood floors, tough enough to muddy water play and rustic games of fetch.

Cons: I've never had a Wubba squeak for more than a few days. I have no idea what happens to them, Briz doesn't compulsively chomp them like he does tennis balls, they just rapidly cease to squeak. Most iterations beyond the Wubba Classic are just stupid.

Bottom Line: I haven't found anything quite like the Wubba, and it is a cherished part of our toy collection.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

"My Dog Doesn't Like Everlasting Treats"

I am a big fan of Starmark dog toys, but sometimes it's hard to get my dogs on board. I know there are more natural, healthier things for them to gnaw, like raw bones, but I can't beat Everlasting Treats for their ability to remain ungross while spending weeks lost under the furniture. We do raw bones pretty frequently, but outdoors or in bare crates. I'm not about to give anyone the opportunity to gnaw a beef rib on the couch.

Everlasting Treat Ball with treat inserted upside down.
As far as raw bones versus Everlasting Treats go, the dogs are strongly in favor of the bones. They're all willing to gnaw an Everlasting Treat on its own, but put it in an Everlasting Treat Ball or Bento Ball and it suddenly ceases to be worth the effort. I tell them "Look, you and I both know that you would be happier spending the day blissfully gnawing this thing than just staring at the wall in your crate." But they refuse to touch them, sometimes for weeks. Putting smelly, exciting treats and peanut butter in the middle does not spur them to start chewing. I tried dribbling fish oil into an Everlasting Treat Ball once, which inspired Briz to gnaw for hours but also got smelly, impossible-to-clean fish oil all over the crate, bed, floor, and Uly.

When I watched Starmark's Everlasting Treat video recently, I noticed that they sometimes had the Everlasting Treats inserted into the toys upside down. The treats are dome-shaped, and normally go in the toy with the domed side facing out to provide a nice chewing surface. An upside down treat leaves very little to grip and also leaves a handy little bowl.
Upside down treat filled with peanut butter.

I filled that bowl with peanut butter and froze the whole thing. By the time Uly had slurped off all the frozen peanut butter, the treat had gotten to that slobbery, smelly state where it apparently become irresistible. He spent several hours working on this project, ate one of the Everlasting Treats and started working on the second when he had to take a nap to recover from all that effort. The Treat Ball is quite scratched up and no longer looks brand new, but that just means it is finally being used as intended.

Most of my local stores only carry chicken-flavored Everlasting Treats, which Brisbane can't have and Uly and Ru won't eat. Lemos carries liver flavored treats, and Petco carries the interlocking nut-and-bolt Everlasting Treats in chicken flavor, but nobody has non-chicken Everlocking Treats. I ordered this one from Amazon. These are easier for the dogs to get a grip on, and aren't as good a value as the original Everlasting Treats, but sometimes I buy them just for the cool factor. This time around I put one of the treat "nuts" inside the Bento Ball dome-side down, screwed the bolt through it, and then wound the second "nut" on the outside. Brisbane might find this setup worth chewing, but I made it even more exciting by squirting some canned cheese in the bowl and through the bottom before sticking it in the freezer.

I am beginning to wish I had gotten a large Treat Dispensing Jack instead of the medium, since the holes in the medium are small enough to make funnel-filling it ineffective. Brisbane and Uly don't like getting anything bigger than kibble out of it. I bet they'll enjoy getting the Cheeze-Wiz out. Not sure I'm going to enjoy washing it when they're done, though.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Product Review: WaLk-e-Woo Signature Polka Dots Collar

The WaLk-e-Woo Signature Polka Dots Collar is a nylon flat buckle collar with a ribbon overlay. It opens with a quick-release plastic buckle. The Signature Polka Dots Collar comes in an abundance of colors, and five sizes to fit dogs with necks 8-28" around. Matching 5' leashes are also available.
Photo by Erin Koski

I like WaLk-e-Woo collars because they last a good long time, and look great for ages. I have seen an occasional dirty or faded WaLk-e-Woo, but those have usually been on the dog for years without being washed. I see lovely collars from this company last through years of beach trips with minimal care. They come in wonderfully bright patterns, and tons of colors. I think the Signature Polka Dots are my favorite, though.

WaLk-e-Woo says they use a proprietary heat sealing method to make their colors so durable. They are all made in Colorado, and it's a family business started by a stay-at-home mom. Brisbane's WaLk-e-Woo navy polka dot collar have a charm on it, but the ones I see in stores now do not. This probably means his is a bit older.

Photo by Erin Koski

Pros: Durable, colorful, high quality. Made in the USA. Friendly company run by caring individuals rather than a faceless corporation.

Cons: The lighter colors tend to look dirty faster. The smallest collars aren't stupidly tiny enough for stupidly tiny dogs. They'll fit Ru, but are still a tad wide for his tiny frame.

Bottom Line: These are a bright and colorful addition to Brisbane's collar wardrobe.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Kong Quest Revisited

Now that I've owned the Kong Quest toys for several months, and used them on a regular basis with multiple dogs, I have a lot more to share about them. We have a large Kong Quest Starpod and a large Kong Quest Wishbone. I never got around to acquiring the Kong Quest Bone, and I will likely be able to resist purchasing the newly-released animal shapes. After my experiences with the Wishbone and Starpod, the Kong Quest Critters just aren't that appealing.
Photo by Erin Koski

Kong Quest Starpod
It is difficult to express my feelings about the Kong Quest Starpod without using profanity. Seriously, who designed this thing? What exactly were they planning on putting in it? I demand that they find me a dog that takes more time to unload this toy than it does for me to load it.

See those eight little circles? Those are eight little circles of pure inefficiency. The sides are deeply curved to hold peanut butter and other lickable treats. They also make hand washing it an act of pure frustration. I need at least two different specialized scrubbing tools to get this thing clean. It takes far longer to wash it than it does for the dog to empty it.

I had nearly retired the Starpod to the toybox in frustration when I found a couple of dry treats that fit in it so perfectly that I was compelled to keep it in the food toy rotation. Fruitables Crunchy Pumpkin Baked treats pop nicely into those little wells with just a little bit of shoving, as do Zukes Skinny Bakes. Both of these are small, low-calorie dry treats that don't leave my hands smelling vile. Sometimes I also dab some peanut butter in each well and stick the whole thing in the freezer. The discovery of these treats has significantly sped up my Starpod loading time, and saved it from the depths of the toybox.

Kong Quest Wishbone
The Wishbone is another nightmare clearly designed by someone who owns a dishwasher. I hate that person. I also feel at least slightly uncharitable toward anyone else who owns a dishwasher. The edges of the cavities in the Wishbone hang over and trap crumbs and bits of goop in such a way as to be nearly impossible to scrub. I assume the toy is designed this way to make it challenging for the dogs to get to the tasty stuffing, but at some point they either have to give up and abandon the Quest or tear it apart. I would like to tear it apart myself sometimes.

The Zukes Skinny Bakes also fit really nicely into the Wishbone, and I usually stick a Superior Farms heart-shaped biscuit in the center of each side. Sometimes I put a strip of jerky or other higher-value item underneath the Skinny Bakes. When I stick peanut butter in this toy, I usually load it up with dry biscuits and then smear just a little bit of peanut butter on top. This makes scrubbing it slightly less nightmarish.

Bottom Line
These toys are obnoxious to load and horrendous to hand wash. They are somewhat challenging for Ulysses to use, but Brisbane empties them out instantly. Until I found appropriately-shaped cookies to put in them (not the ones by Kong) I was ready to chuck them. While I currently use the ones I have, I won't be buying any more of these no matter how many I see in the clearance bin for $1.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Product Review: Busy Buddy Build-a-Bone

The PetSafe Busy Buddy Build-a-Bone is a durable plastic chew toy with ends that unscrew to allow various rubber and rawhide discs to be added to the center post. It comes in two sizes for medium and large dogs.
Photo by Erin Koski
The Busy Buddy products are an extensive line of puzzle toys by PetSafe. They last a long time, I had a Busy Buddy Twist'n'Treat for over a decade before I decided it was kind of gross and tossed it. It was a favorite of my late cocker spaniel Oakley.

The Build-a-Bone is similar to several other Busy Buddy toys. The Bouncy Bone and Bristle Bone have the same twist-off ends. All of these toys use the Busy Buddy rawhide rings. These are made from ground and pressed rawhide, so they are digestible even if swallowed whole. They come in different sizes to fit the different Busy Buddy toys, and PetSafe also makes extra-thick rings.
"You want me to do what?!"
Photo by Erin Koski

The Build-a-Bone is a special Busy Buddy toy that is custom assembled from a selection of parts at a special store kiosk. There are two different sizes of bone ends and center posts to choose from, and then various rubber shapes to go in the middle. Busy Buddy rawhide discs can also be added to the center to entice dogs to chew and play. The toy in the picture features a pink heart, a yellow flower, and two purple teeth-cleaning shapes. It also has at least one rawhide disc between the purple spikeys,

Photo by Erin Koski

We a have a lime green ring and another pink heart on our second Build-a-Bone. The video on the Busy Buddy website also shows a red spiked disc and a blue textured disc, but I have yet to see these in a store. Our bones came from Lemos, a local pet store with a fantastically helpful staff. Both of our Build-a-Bones are the smaller size, these don't come in tiny-little-ratdog size and Ru ignores them. Brisbane only finds them interesting when they have rawhide rings on them, and like the Everlasting Treat Ball will often ignore them for weeks before suddenly deciding to chew.
Photo by Erin Koski

Pros: Fun and customizable, buying a second bone gave us more options. Far more durable than the Busy Buddy Bristle Bone, and more challenging than the Bouncy Bone. Brisbane enjoys gnawing this thing, and he doesn't care for Nylabones or other durable chew toys unless they are stuffed with tasty food. The Build-a-Bone provides a different type of puzzle for him to solve.

Cons: Brisbane tends to solve this puzzle by unscrewing one end and sliding off all the rings. Sometimes I can tighten it enough to prevent him from taking it apart. The reason I bought the second bone was because one day he decided the gnaw the end of the center post after disassembly. This seems to be a pretty common issue for users, others have had issues with the end of the post shearing off while tightening. The hard bone ends can develop jagged ridges that can cut the dog's gums.

Bottom Line: Obviously I like this toy enough to have purchased a second one. I usually have a package of rawhide rings for it in the cupboard. It's not a particularly high value item around here, but the dogs enjoy it. Definitely a toy for some dogs and not others, this is not a toy for serious power chewers.