Friday, October 31, 2014

Puzzle Toy Review: Kyjen Yin-Yang-Yum

The Kyjen Yin-Yang-Yum is a board game puzzle toy made out of hard plastic. This puzzle requires two different problem-solving skills to complete, making it significantly more challenging than our Star Spinner. To access the large treat compartments, the yellow and red cups must be removed from the blue base. Once the cups have been removed, the red and yellow sections can be rotated out to reveal four smaller hidey holes.
Photo by Erin Koski

This was Brisbane's first board game puzzle, and it still takes him a few minutes to complete it. Removing the cups is the biggest challenge, even though he knows exactly what to do. Getting a good grip and lifting each cup out of the base is tough without thumbs. I love watching Briz work through the puzzle because he is so careful and methodical about it now.

Photo by Erin Koski
Ulysses, on the other hand, still hasn't figured this one out. The Star Spinner is still a little intimidating, and he just can't get the Yin Yang to give up its secrets. I've been encouraging him with nice smelly treats under the cups, but he is still baffled.

Puzzle Toy Rating

Capacity: 3/5
I can fit about half a cup of kibble in here, enough for Brisbane and Uly but not enough for a dog that eats a normal amount of food.

Loading Speed: 5/5
Dump in the kibble and it's ready. I can load it with the same scoop I use to measure the kibble.

Photo by Erin Koski

Unloading Speed (standard dog): 5/5
Uly and I have spent ten minutes at a time working on this puzzle for several sessions now, and he still hasn't figured it out. I've been carefully demonstrating how the cup covers the food, and he is just beginning to understand that he has to pick them up.

Unloading Speed (superdog): 4/5
Photo by Erin Koski
Brisbane knows exactly how this puzzle works, but it still takes him several minutes to work through the steps. It's a shorter activity than a frozen Kong full of peanut butter, but clearly requires more mental effort.

Size: 4/5
Ru is a bit too tiny for this puzzle, he can't get his mouth around the cups to pick them up. I would worry about using this toy with a mastiff or a Great Dane too, just because the cups are so much smaller than their massive jowls. So not toy or giant-breed friendly, but fine for regular-sized dogs.

Durability: 3/5
Since this is a supervision-only toy, it isn't made to be played with like a durable chew toy. It should hold up nicely when used as intended, but I worry about the hard plastic and moving parts sometimes when Brisbane plants his front feet on it and shoots it across the room. Large dogs who are less delicate about picking up the cups may put this toy through a lot of wear and tear.
Photo by Erin Koski

Noise: 5/5
Love those rubber feet on the bottom! This toy stays mostly in place on the hardwood and operates silently, unlike some of our particularly heavy bobbing toys.

Locatability: 5/5
The rubber feet keep it from sliding all over the house, and the fact that we play this game together means I always know where every part of the Yin Yang is.

Photo by Erin Koski

Washability: 5/5
There are no nooks and crannies for food to hide in with this toy, it's easy to scrub clean and set out to dry. It's also dishwasher safe, for those lucky dishwasher owners out there.

Hoardability: 1/5
Briz can't haul this one away to his lair, after playtime it gets picked up and put away.

Total: 40/50

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Behold! The Dog Food Wizard!

Several months ago I began compiling a list of fish-based kibbles similar to Brisbane's Shortlist of grain-free, poultry-free, egg-free foods. As I was collecting ingredient information on each brand and variety, I decided to go ahead and add information for each food from each brand. Obviously I then needed a way to search through that enormous amount of data, and that's how we ended up with The Dog Food Wizard.

As of now, it has about 700 different dry foods entered, with more to come as I add them to the database. To search the database, check or uncheck ingredients from the list on the left hand side and then hit 'go' to see a list of foods. Further changes can be made to your selections, but you must hit 'go' again for your results to reflect those changes. Feel free to shoot me an email if you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or if you find any bugs.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Project Kong Chewing

I love Kong toys and so do my dogs, but I feel like they are missing out. At this point we have maybe ten of them that I keep in the freezer, stuffed full of peanut butter and other tasty things. While all three dogs thoroughly enjoy licking peanut butter out of a Kong, none of them are very good at unstuffing the toys.
Kong's durable rubber chew toys are designed to be stuffed with biscuits, kibble, and squishy things like peanut butter. The dog can lick these goodies out of the toy, but sometimes the food gets stuck in there. Chomping down hard on the small end of the toy is the traditional move from the Kong playbook for loosening up trapped cookies. None of my dogs appear to know that maneuver, so I am attempting to teach them.

As of now, all three dogs see Kongs as food dishes rather than playthings. Once emptied, the toys lose all interest. Brisbane is not a recreational chewer, they doesn't enjoy gnawing on non-edible toys just for fun. Ulysses is also largely uninterested in gnawing non-food, with the exception of a ball during a game of fetch. Ru loves to chew his Nylabones, and also the occasional dropped wine cork.

The plan so far:

1. Play with the Kongs. This seems really obvious, but the Kong toys spend the vast majority of their time in the freezer, and are rarely on the floor and available for the dogs to play with. Since they are associated with food they could potentially become a source of conflict for Brisbane and Uly. I am addressing these issues by bringing unstuffed Kongs out for individual playtime in the yard. The dogs get to enjoy that unpredictable bouncing feature, and we both get some well-deserved one-on-one time together.

2. Size down. Since I'm trying to introduce the dogs to the concept that Kongs are made of rubber and can be chomped, I want to make things as easy as possible. Both Ulysses and Brisbane fall squarely into the large Kong's 30-65-pound range at 50 and 40 pounds, respectively. The large toy is definitely not a choking hazard, but the small end is still a bit of a stretch to get their back chomping teeth around. I'm comfortable letting them chase and chomp a medium size Kong with supervision.

3. Power down. The black Kongs are the hardest, least flexible, and most durable. The royal blue Kongs are less durable and more flexible while still being tougher than the classic red Kongs. Even softer than that are the purple senior Kongs, and the softest are the pastel blue and pink puppy Kongs. I don't like to admit it, but Brisbane can probably be considered a senior dog now. My vet thinks Uly is around eight years old, and his teeth are very worn, so he also fits the description of senior. I recently acquired (and then ruined) a senior Kong, but I thought I'd go even squishier and try out a baby Kong. (Yes, this is against manufacturer recommendations, and yes, it is potentially risky, however neither of the big boys chews on stuff for fun or tears things up or eats things that aren't food.)

So far, just bouncing a small Kong around the yard convinced Ru that this toy is good for gnawing. Hopefully this improves his toy-emptying performance. Will chasing and fetching a medium-size puppy Kong be enough to get Uly and Briz chewing instead of just licking?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Treat Tuesday: Superior Farms Lamb Biscuits

We got our first bag of Superior Farms Lamb Biscuits in a BarkBox, and loved them so much I had to get more. These are nice stinky grain-free cookies with an odor that I find rather pleasant, if meaty. The little hearts are very dense and difficult to break, and are just a tiny bit bigger than the opening of a large Kong.

Good For: Hiding in board game puzzle toys and playing games where the dogs can sniff them out. Surprise treats left in crates for dogs to find. 'Just because I love you' treats.

Not Good For: Shoving inside Kongs and other toys with holes too small for the biscuits to just fall out, at least around here. Tossing to the dogs on my way out the door when I don't want my hands to smell like stinky treats.

How Much We Like Them: Enough to keep them on hand most of the time. These were also Josie's favorite treat, and at her final vet appointment she went to sleep with her nose in a bowl of them, so I have a very sentimental attachment to these dog biscuits. Is that weird? It's probably weird.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Chihuahua Fashion Moment: Waghearted Sooo Happy! Sweater

I found this sweater at a local thrift store and fell in love with it. It's bright, bubbly, colorful, and unique! It has printed lettering on the back, and an adorable applique felt heart on the chest. Ru's Waghearted sweater is a size small, and it fits perfectly. The neck shows no signs of stretching out, so it stays in place and he can't slither out of it.
Photo by Erin Koski

I was hoping to discover a new company when I read the tag on this sweater, but it appears that Waghearted may no longer be around. Their website is down, and their Facebook hasn't been updated since 2012. At one point they had products at Petsmart and on Fab.com. Active from 2009-2012, Waghearted was an eco-conscious company with a passion for animal welfare. They made some good products, and I hope the people behind it went on to find further success.

I also love the name. Waghearted.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Product Review: Ruffwear Roamer Leash, 2014

The Ruffwear Roamer is a leash made from stretch webbing. This year's model features Ruffwear's patented Talon Clip that allows it to be attached and removed with one hand. The current Roamer comes in four colors and two sizes, medium stretches from 5.5 to 7 feet, large stretches from 7.3 to 11 feet.
Photo by Erin Koski

I've owned a couple of Roamer leashes for several years now, and found them pretty neat. My original leash makes a great gangline for attaching to a pulling harness, and works ok for running though I find it a bit long. My biggest complaint was that my first Roamer leash was beginning to lose its stretch, the elastic was getting all worn out at the end near the clip. I've been having a lot of fun contacting companies about their products, so I went ahead and shot Ruffwear an email. I mostly just wanted to let them know that their product appeared to have a shelf life, given that my leash was only used occasionally and was basically in mint condition. Their response was to request a picture, and when I sent it they declared it to fall under their lifetime guarantee and sent me enough store credit to replace my leash.

This new Roamer is a fantastic improvement, they basically fixed all of my issues with the original. My size medium leash is the perfect length, long enough for running but short enough to not drag on the ground. I really like the Talon Hook on the handle portion, it doesn't require squeezing to open. I mostly wear this as an over-the-shoulder leash, which keeps Briz close enough to stay out of trouble. I love the new Wavelength stretch webbing, but time will tell whether it holds up or does what every stretchy this eventually seems to do. Seriously, nothing stays elastic forever.

Pros: Perfect length for hands-free use, absorbs shock nicely. The new custom hardware is sturdy and easy to use even when my hands hurt. It comes in pink!

Cons: Not everybody loves the Talon Hook on the handle, and the handle/belt section fits perfectly on my 5'3" 140lb body so may be too small for larger people to use the same way.

Bottom Line: The new Roamer gets a whole lot more use than my original. I still use the old one for teaching Ulysses to pull, but the new one also works as an everyday leash.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

My Kong Marathon is Getting Chewed Up

My dogs aren't serious chewers. Ru is the only one of the three who enjoys recreational chewing, he loves his Nylabones. Brisbane has had some of his food toys for eight or nine years, and used them regularly without any damage. Ulysses is the same way, he is only interested in getting the food out of the toy, and if it's too much work he just gives up. Both dogs have been using the Starmark Everlasting Treat Ball and Bento Ball for several months without doing any damage to the toys.

So why, after only a few uses, does our Kong Marathon ball look like this? Our original Kong Marathon toy was a small blue bone, but I quickly upgraded to a large green ball when I realized the small toys were intended for dogs under 35 pounds. Briz weighs 40 pounds and Uly weighs 50, the large toys are labeled for dogs up to 65 pounds.

It is fortunate that my dogs are gentle chewers with no desire to eat pieces of their toys, because the large Kong Marathon ball is falling apart on us. It's still pretty functional, but I could pull pieces off it with my fingers easily. It may only have a few uses left, which sucks because I've put less than ten treats in it so far.

The ball is put away when not in use, and my dogs don't chew on non-edible stuff for fun. They stop playing with the toy as soon as they get the treat out, if not before. They are normally gentle with their toys, and getting gentler as they age. I am certain our Kong Marathon toy has not been abused, or subjected to more than the most gentle chewing, but it just isn't holding up to normal use.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Chihuahua Fashion Moment: Licensed Disney Tinkerbell Costume

I found this licensed Disney Tinkerbell costume in a local store three years ago, before Disney bought Star Wars and Princess Leia became a Disney Princess. There was a Snow White dress that I felt was much more recognizable, but alas they did not have in Ru-size.
Photo by Erin Koski

The costume included a removable set of fairy wings, a pair of legwarmers, and the dress itself. It's not a faithful rendition of the movie character's outfit, but the same is true for most Disney Princess costumes. The major difference here is that Ru's dress doesn't include a little cameo with a picture of Tinkerbell on the front. The little legwarmers are a nice touch, they like a bit like Tinkerbell's green shoes with the white pompoms.
Photo by Erin Koski

I'm not sure exactly what type of dog the designer of this costume had in mind, but I'm pretty sure it was a pug. The dress is very short and almost too small for Ru, but the legwarmers are much, much too big. Even though they have a very wide strip of velcro down the back to allow for a range of different-sized legs, they are still about twice as big around as Ru's legs.
Photo by Erin Koski

This year it looks like Petsmart has all the licensed Disney costumes for dogs. Princesses and fairies aren't in vogue though, it looks like Winnie the Pooh and the Muppets are the only options for aspiring Disney dogs.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Cheapass Dog Fun: Non-Perishable Kong Stuffing

Every so often I get inspired and creative and stuff my Kongs and other food toys with sweet potatoes, bananas, applesauce, green beans, and canned dog food. I will inevitably regret this later when I find said Kong under the couch and full of mold a week later.

My dogs rarely empty a Kong completely, and we are all much happier when I accept this and stuff them accordingly. Sticking with non-perishable goodies means never finding a Kong full of green fur. If I stuff the toys in a very precise fashion, I might not even need to scrub peanut butter out of them after the dogs are done.

Peanut Butter is my standard stuffing, and each time I try something new I end up going back to it. The big jar lives in the refrigerator, but this stuff is shelf-stable. A peanut butter-stuffed Kong can spend months lost under the furniture and come back looking no worse for the wear. Peanut butter feels wet and sticky, but it actually has a very low moisture content, which prevents bacterial and fungal growth. The oil in it will eventually go rancid after a year or so, but it doesn't get gross hanging out inside a Kong under the couch for a few weeks. Heck, it could probably sit under there for a few months and still come out pretty much the same way it went in.

Brisbane and Ulysses cannot reach all the way to the bottom of a large or extra large Kong with their tongues. If I smear peanut butter all the way down to the bottom, I will have to scrub a solid plug of it out when they're done. For this reason, I usually start my Kong-stuffing with something dry and bulky to fill the space. A small scoop of kibble works, but I normally like to use something less dense. Broken up Cloud Star Buddy Biscuits and Zukes Skinny Bakes are currently my favorite things to cram in there.

Next I use a butter knife to spread peanut butter all the way around the inside walls of the Kong. A few more small biscuits help fill the space in the middle, and then I seal off the opening with more peanut butter. Sometimes I stick a biscuit in the opening for them to break off before they begin the unstuffing project.
This "How to Stuff a Kong Toy" diagram is all over the internet, and it always makes me laugh because it was clearly drawn by someone with no sense of perspective. Either this is a gargantuan XXL Kong, or those bone-shaped biscuits are tiny. Our Kongs are mostly size large, and I don't think I've seen any bone-shaped biscuits significantly smaller than the inner diameter of the toy.

I've also seen those "marrow bites" dog treats they show in the "dessert" layer, and a large Kong could fit maybe one or two in there. Definitely not five. Honestly, I think my dogs find kibble to be higher value than most biscuits, those things are pretty bland, so offering them as a dessert seems kind of silly. I also like the "tantalizer" placed in the small hole at the end, my dogs totally ignore anything in there. Maybe one of these days I'll try putting something really exciting in it to see if they notice. I'm thinking Limburger cheese or something equally stinky. They love stinky treats.

My dogs need no "appetizer" sticking out of their Kongs, they're really just in it for the peanut butter. I keep trying to find something less nutritionally dense to stick in there, but apparently nothing else is worth quite as much effort. I'm not going to argue.

I do occasionally leave Buddy Biscuits sticking out of the top of the Kongs before I freeze them, but it's for my benefit rather than theirs. I don't think the dogs care. I just like seeing those little guys waving like they suspect nothing.

So far, as long as I stick with the dry biscuits/peanut butter formula, I have yet to scrub anything Lovecraftian out of a Kong toy.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Product Review: Ruffwear Climate Changer Jacket

The Ruffwear Climate Changer is a jacket made from recycled polyester fleece, and can be used as a base layer or on its own. It is machine washable and has a zipper on the side rather than on the top or bottom. This year's Climate Changer comes in three colors and six sizes to fit dogs measuring 13.25-35.75" from neck to tail.
Photo by Erin Koski

This is a serious jacket for serious dogs, fortunately they make it in tinydog size, too. These jackets are more popular in places that have actual weather and seasons instead of perfect beach days year-round. The only other Climate Changer I've seen in person was on a friend from Minnesota's dog. It's toasty for our occasional chilly mornings, but Ru could just live in it year-round.

Most sweaters for tiny dogs are designed to be cute, and maybe convenient. This one is actually intended to keep the dog warm in places where the temperature can drop below freezing.
Photo by Erin Koski

The Climate Changer is also designed to allow freedom of movement while staying in place. The sleeves keep Ru's tiny armpits warm, and he loves the thick fleece.

Pros: Designed specifically to keep the dog warm during physical activity. Fast-drying fleece is super thick and super warm. Well-placed zipper allows for easy access while requiring minimal flexibility.

Cons: Wide neck allows the jacket to slip down the dog's shoulders. I really wish it had a drawstring or something, Ru occasionally slithers out of it when he's lounging on the couch.

Bottom Line: This jacket is serious overkill for Central California weather, which is why Ru loves it. It's a great way to keep a short-haired dog toasty.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The October Allergy-Friendly BarkBox

This month's allergy-friendly BarkBox finally arrived, and it's a spooky one! I love Halloween, so this is a theme I thoroughly enjoy. Everything is Brisbane-safe this month, with no chicken, turkey, duck, or eggs. This month we got a couple of interesting new cards in our box, the first was a little note "to the dog of the house" letting Brisbane know that one of the items on the "what's in this month's box" card was a little different from the item that they sent. The second was a Scout's Honor card describing the new satisfaction guarantee. From now on, if Briz doesn't love something in his BarkBox, we can let them know and either get a replacement or credit at the BarkShop.

The info card says we have a SafeMade Dia de los Muertos skull, but our Day of the Dead skull is actually from Dex & Penny. It's a crinkly, squeaky plush sugar skull with reinforced seams. Ulysses thinks it's pretty cool.

Uly also loves the Flash & Glow Jr. ball by American Dog Toys. It lights up when it hits anything, I can get it going just by slapping it into my palm. It's pretty hard compared to our usual rubber fetch balls, but it held up well when Uly decided to give it a celebratory chew.

We're already fans of the Superior Farms heart-shaped cookies, so I'm enthusiastic about the Venison Crepe in this month's box. It's made out of deer hide, and looks like an amorphous blob of rawhide.

I'm also pleased with the Hare of the Dog Rabbit Jerky Stick. I particularly like feeding rabbit to my dogs, and this company uses all-American USDA-inspected bunnies. Also made in America are the Wet Noses Howlin' Goodies pumpkin biscuits.

The final goody in our box is a bag of Max & Ruffy's Mother Quinoa's Pumpkin Patch treats. Both these and the Wet Noses cookies are made from pumpkin. The Max and Ruffy's biscuits are also vegan.

Monday, October 20, 2014

What's with All That Kong-Brand Stuff at Petsmart?

Anyone who has set foot in a Petsmart store in the last year must be aware of the proliferation of Kong-branded products. Far from the usual toys and treats, these items include beds, crates, collars, leashes, and even life jackets. Meanwhile, the Kong Company website continues to feature their usual product line and fails to mention anything about these other items that bear their name and logo. So is that harness actually made by the same company as those beehive-shaped rubber toys or not?

Photo by Erin Koski
Technically, no. The harnesses, collar, beds, and crates bearing the familiar red KONG logo are produced by Petsmart. The Kong Company merely sold them the rights to slap the Kong name on everything. This was a brilliant move, as Kong is a household name that is practically synonymous with durability. When consumers see a dog bed or a leash with this trusted brand name on it, they assume it is another quality product by a familiar company.

The down side is, of course, that Kong designed the logo, and pretty much everything else was developed and manufactured by Petsmart and assorted third-party suppliers.
Photo by Erin Koski
While searching for the whole story behind the Kong-brand products, I happened upon this post on the Complaints Board website. The poster related an issue they had with a Kong-brand crate, and shared the reply they received from the Kong Company. Here is their explanation:

"We have licensed our brand name to Petsmart recently on a variety of products that fall out of our normal toy and treat lines. KONG has worked with PetSmart to develop these products. While these products are marketed under the KONG brand, PetSmart has retained the direct contacts with the manufacturers. Because of these contacts PetSmart would be better equipped to handle your questions with the specific products."

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Product Review: Mirage #72 Crystal Collar

The Mirage #72 Crystal Collar is a vinyl buckle collar with a double row of crystals. It comes in nine colors and eight sizes to fit dogs with necks 6-22" around.
Photo by Erin Koski

The Mirage Pet Products company makes assorted inexpensive pet products and sells them wholesale to distributors and retail sellers. They also do drop shipping arrangements where online stores can sell a collar without having it in stock, and Mirage will just ship the collar directly to the customer.

Mirage makes a variety of interesting and adorable collars for cheap. Brisbane's #72 is clearly an older model based on the shape of the post ring in the center. Ours is triangle-shaped, while the current model has a round ring. This hardware is for attaching tags rather than leashes, there is a ring beside the buckle for that.

I suspect Mirage has been around for a few decades because a lot of their products are remarkably similar to the fancy stuff carried by the local pet store when I was a kid. The vinyl sailor collars are particularly nostalgic. I found Brisbane's collar at a thrift store so I have no idea how old it is, but it has held up beautifully. I've found similar vintage collars that date from the 1970's.

Pros: Snazzy collar with crystals riveted right on so they stay put. Does not appear to age. Looks quite fancy but costs $30 or less new.

Cons: Might be imported from who knows where and be crafted from toxic metals. Pretty center ring looks like a deceptively good place to clip a leash.

Bottom Line: I had trouble deciding whether to make this a product review and not a vintage chic post because I genuinely do not know how old this collar is. That's pretty impressive.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Washing Kongs with No Dishwasher

As I always point out when sharing that a toy is dishwasher safe, not everyone has a dishwasher. My house is eighty years old and tiny, there's no dishwasher and no place to put one, so we have to hand-wash everything. This comes up a whole lot, since the standard answer to cleaning all manner of things is often "just throw it in the dishwasher". Countering this advice with "I don't have a dishwasher" gets old fast, even more so than perpetually having to inform people that I don't watch TV when they must know how I could possibly have missed that wonderful commercial everyone is talking about. It's an assumption that people with electric dishwasher don't even think about, which annoys me.

Step 1: Star with some gross dog toys.
For the benefit of those who live in dishwasherless domiciles, prefer to hand-wash their dog toys, or
find themselves needing to clean something really gross, here is how I get my dog toys clean with nothing but soap, water, and elbow grease. And scrub brushes. And vinegar. And sometimes bleach. No, actually don't bleach Kongs.

None of my dogs appear capable of cleaning out a Kong. I have mostly size large and one XL Extreme Kong, and neither Brisbane nor Ulysses can reach the very end of the inside when I stuff the toys with food. Less prissy dogs would probably chomp the thing a few times to break the goodies loose, but here they have already decided that they can't win this game. I don't tend to stuff the Kongs with anything perishable these days, but occasionally I lose my mind and decide to cram some mushy banana, baked sweet potato, or canned dog food in there.

I don't usually wash our Kongs immediately after use, and sometimes they get lost under the couch for a few days (or weeks!) and I find a mold-crusted Lovecraftian horror inside.
Step 2:Soak those things!

I have found that soaking makes everything less gross. It will disintegrate kibble and biscuits, and make horrifically decomposed meat and vegetable matter less icky and more likely to slide out. Depending on how gross the toys are, I may soak them in hot water with a healthy squirt of soap (peanut butter, dry biscuits, kibble), vinegar (rotten produce and canned food), bleach (mold!) or napalm (fish oil can go straight to hell).

The worst-case scenario at my house is a Kong or other food toy with a solid plug of horribly-spoiled stuffing packed into the small end. I get gross (and not-gross) stuff unstuck from flexible rubber toys by putting them on the floor and stomping on them a few times. This is basically what unprissy dogs do when they chomp rubber toys to get the food out.

I also bash the toys opening-down on my granite counter to work the stuffing loose. Between this and the stomping I rarely have to use tools to scoop disgusting crap out of things. I also once pounded the Biggie Bone with the smooth side of a meat tenderizer to break up a particularly stubborn wad of goo.

My arsenal.
I don't think there is any one cleaning tool that would serve all of my dog-toy-scrubbing needs, I routinely use at least three or four different brushes. Kong used to make a Classic Kong-shaped scrub brush for cleaning their toys, but the handle of mine snapped off the second time I used it. Brushes designed for cleaning assorted baby-feeding apparatus are perfect for cleaning dog toys. My baby bottle brush even came with a tiny brush that's perfect for scrubbing hard-to-reach places on stupidly-designed toys like the Starpod. The round dish-scrubber is great for getting crud and hair off the outsides of the toys, and that Christmas tree-shaped brush is awesome for cleaning tapered cavities like the ones in the Urban Stick.

My favorite thing about baby-stuff brushes is that they are intended to be replaced frequently, so they are cheap and really easy to find. My last baby brush had a suction cup on the bottom so it could be stood upright to dry.

All Kongs have a small hole in the end to prevent the toy from accidentally suctioning to the dog's face. One of the ways I de-stick food from the inside of the toy is by holding the hole against the faucet and forcing water through it. This sometimes results in water spraying all over the kitchen, but never fails to flush out the crud. This also works on the Kong Marathon, assorted Starmark toys and pretty much any toy that has more than one hole.

Sometimes a rubber toy that has been through true horror will continue to stink after all traces of its adventures have been scrubbed away. I employ various methods to remove the smell depending on the toy and what I have on hand. Normally I use environmentally-friendly biodegradable dish soap, but sometimes I break out the blue original Dawn when I need weapons-grade detergent. Smelly toys can be soaked in diluted vinegar, or even straight vinegar, though this may just make them smell like vinegar instead. Depending on the smell, this can be an improvement. I've soaked all sorts of things in bleach solution, with enough rinsing and plenty time I believe the bleach will neutralize itself, but I am waiting to hear back from the Kong Company as to whether this is a recommended method for cleaning nasty Kongs. Any toy that is dishwasher-safe should also be safe to boil for a few minutes to sterilize it.

I usually leave the toys in the dish rack or on the windowsill to dry, sometimes I skip this step and just restuff and freeze them immediately. In her Behavioral Adjustment Training book, Grisha Stewart says she skips the cleaning step entirely and just puts the toys back in the freezer as soon as the dogs are done with them. I'd probably do this if I didn't have to worry about getting dog hair in the peanut butter.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Knitting Fun: My Little Pony...Chihuahua

I have been a My Little Pony fan since the early 1980's, I even had one of the original pre-My Little Ponies, a big brown plastic one called "My Pretty Pony". I currently own roughly 300 ponies that were released both in the USA and abroad in the 80's and early 90's. The mid-90's and early 2000's reboots were kind of blah, but I think the 2010 My Little Pony is pretty awesome.
Photo by Erin Koski

I have My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic collars for Brisbane and Ulysses, but they don't come tiny enough for Ru. As the most ridiculous of my dogs, he needed to be ponified as well. I knitted him a Rainbow Dash sweater, complete with ears on the hood, wings, and a rainbow mane and tail made out of ribbons. It is utterly ridiculous. I'm not sure if I should do Twilight Sparkle or Pinkie Pie next.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Product Review: Tug-N-Toss Jolly Ball

The Tug-N-Toss by Jolly Pets is a durable ball with a handle. It bounces, floats, and will not deflate when punctured. The Tug-N-Toss comes in three colors and four sizes, from 4.5" to 10", for dogs of any size.
Photo by Erin Koski

The Jolly Ball began life as a toy produced by the Horseman's Pride company. For this reason, Brisbane's first Jolly Ball was a 14" peppermint-scented hand-me-down from Frisco, my thoroughbred. As a puppy, Briz loved chasing and biting that enormous ball. The best part was clearly the handle, and eventually he chewed it all the way off and it was retired. Not long after the demise of the giant peppermint Jolly Ball, I found this red one in a pet store. I had thought that this was the first time Jolly Balls had specifically been marketed for dogs, but it turns out that Jolly Pets has been around since 1994.
Photo by Erin Koski
The handle on our red Jolly Ball has been similarly gnawed/loved, but it has held up relatively well. I do tend to limit how much time Brisbane can spend chewing it, and I think it might be a little bit tougher than the giant peppermint ball.

This ball is seriously tough, not as tough as an Extreme Kong, but it's also not designed specifically for chewing. The ball holds its shape on its own, so it can be punctured repeatedly and spring back into ball-shape. Ours has, in fact, been punctured repeatedly and is full of tooth marks. Brisbane finds biting it to be extremely satisfying and slightly OCD-triggering. Our Jolly Ball is an 8" model, and is at least eight or nine years old now. It has been left outdoors for weeks at a time and shows no signs of fading or aging.

Bottom Line: Safe for big dogs to chase and enjoy, also fun for smaller dogs with big ideas. I'm pretty sure this ball will last forever, as long as it isn't chewed into oblivion.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Treat Tuesday: yumZies BBQ Duck Jerky Burgers

These treats from the Nootie company arrived in our September Allergy-Friendly BarkBox. Unfortunately, they aren't friendly to Brisbane's poultry allergies. Fortunately Ulysses is here to eat them. The Jerky Burgers are grain-free and made from American ducks rather than dodgy foreign meat. They come in four duck-licious flavors, we have stinky BBQ duck.

Good For: Putting in easy puzzle toys like the Star Spinner and our big Orbee ball. Training Uly.

Not Good For: Feeding Uly without supervision because he tends to lose track of a few of them. Brisbane not only never loses track of his own treats, he finds everyone else's.

How Much We Like Them: Enough to keep them around rather than giving them away to my coworkers. Definitely not enough to buy them again, though. I dunno what's up with Nootie's BBQ-flavored treats, but for how stinky they are, my dogs don't find them very appetizing.

Monday, October 13, 2014

How Not to Write a Dog Product Review

As an avid fan of pretty much all dog gear ever, I thoroughly enjoy reading user reviews. Amazon product reviews are where I first learned that the ComfortFlex harnesses fit well on dogs who need a longer chest strap than is found on the Hurtta Lifeguard or EzyDog QuickFit. While many people post useful information, not everyone seems to understand what makes a good review, and what just makes them look like a stupid customer.
Photo by Erin Koski

"My dog chewed it up."
Is this review for a durable chew toy, like a Kong, Busy Buddy Bone, or Nylabone? Great! I totally want to know that your dog destroyed it in five minutes, which parts your dog was able to remove or obliterate, and what toys actually hold up to your particular power chewer.

Is this review for a supervision-required puzzle toy, harness, leash, or other object that was not intended to be chewed? The fact that your dog destroyed when left unsupervised tells me nothing useful about the product itself, but it does give me a little window of insight into your unrealistic product expectations. Seriously, who actually thinks that a nylon Kong-brand harness is going to be chew-proof?

"My dog wouldn't play with it."

I want to know that your dog thoroughly enjoys chomping on every rubber toy she's ever laid jowls on, but weirdly avoids this one. I want to know that your dog will fetch absolutely any object you throw except this specific toy. I want to know that you tried slathering it with peanut butter, and your chow-hound still won't go near it. If your dog only likes certain styles/shapes/brands and this one didn't make the cut, I want to know what she does consider play-worthy. Just knowing that your dog didn't like it is less than helpful when I have no idea whether yours is a picky pooch or a toy fanatic.

"I bought the wrong size."
Good for you. How about writing a real review when you've acquired and tried out the correct size?

Ordering errors are only helpful to other potential customers when the cause was something other than user error. If the products run small or large, I would love to know what size your dog measured as, and what size actually fit. Experiences with hard-to-fit breeds are also extremely useful to other customers. That you ignored the sizing chart and can't believe your 80-pound dog is too small for the XXL Ruffwear gear is just a story about you the consumer.

"It smelled bad."
Well how was it supposed to smell? I am forever amazed when people complain that scented products like the JW Megalast Ball and the Starmark Everlasting Treat Ball smell like vanilla when they are specifically advertised as being scented.

Again, this information is potentially useful when it includes more detail. Knowing that you can smell the newly-opened treat ball or Extreme Kong from the next room tells me a lot more than merely reporting that it has a smell. Likewise, I would love to know what you did to eradicate that old-tire smell. I love reading "still stinks after two weeks on the porch" or "smells better after a dozen trips through the dishwasher". Knowing that you returned it because it smelled so bad is still more helpful than just reading that you didn't like the smell.

"It just arrived and I haven't used it yet."
Great! Come back and write a review when you have something to say.

The more a given reviewer has used a product, the better a review they will be able to leave. "It looks like it fits ok" is way less helpful than "it's still going strong after a month" or "it rubbed my dog's hair off after a week". That said, immediate reviews for something that has outperformed other products are always nice. I would love to know that your power chewer destroys black Kongs in five minutes but has been working on her GoughNut for at least ten. If your dog hated the last six harnesses you tried, and didn't hide under the bed when you put on the Planet Dog Cozy Hemp harness, by all means post a review.

Product reviews exist to help other consumers make informed decisions. If we all kept that in mind, review sections would be more informative about the products, and less informative about the reviewers and their unrealistic expectations or inability to read directions.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Product Review: Good Other Cuz

The Good Other Cuz is a natural rubber squeaky ball by JW Pet. It features nubby little legs without feet, unlike the traditional Cuz ball. The Cuz balls come in assorted colors and three sizes for all kinds of dogs.
Photo by Erin Koski

Brisbane's Cuz ball is usually kept up out of reach, or in my training bag. This is because the Cuz balls contain the World's Most Annoying Squeaker, and Briz knows this. His preferred way of playing with the Cuz is to wait until something very important is happening that requires quiet, like a professional phone call, and then grab the ball and squeak with reckless abandon. The Cuz is his favorite Attention-Getting Device. We use it for agility practice, he works hard when he knows he will be allowed to squeak nonstop for several minutes while standing in the water bucket.

Pros: Highly-motivating and irresistible squeaking action. A tough toy that holds up far better than a standard tennis ball. Ours is a medium, the large size is big enough that it shouldn't present a choking hazard even for giant breeds.

Cons: Hearing this thing squeak inside the house for any length of time sort of makes me want to kill myself. Recreational chewers enjoy gnawing off the tiny legs off this Cuz.

Bottom Line: Using this ball only as a training reward strikes a nice balance between giving my dog a toy he adores, and never wanting to hear it squeak ever again.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Is it Fair to Just Take One Dog?

I am unfair to my dogs. I frequently favor one over the other, and normally take only one on any given outing. I do this because I firmly believe that attempting to be "fair" to my dogs would be far worse for all of us.
Photo by Erin Koski

What does it mean to be "fair"? I meet a lot of families with multiple dogs who truly believe it would be unfair to ever do anything with just one of their pets. If both dogs can't go to the park or visit the pet store, nobody goes. Taking just one dog for a walk would be unforgivable. The fact that the excluded dog throws a fit is seen as confirmation that the dogs hate to be treated unfairly.

It's bad enough when "fairness" results in two unrelated dogs doing absolutely everything together. It's even worse when they came from the same litter and have been together since birth. The term "littermate syndrome" describes dogs from the same litter raised in the same family, who become dependent upon each other to the point that they cannot function as individuals. Many people confuse this for a close bond rather than an unhealthy codependence. Littermate syndrome dogs tend to lack confidence, sometimes neither can function as an individual, and sometimes one of the pair becomes the confident leader while the other fails to develop their own ability to cope.

Ru and I took an obedience class with a chihuahua and a sheltie who's owners tried to be "fair" by always doing activities with both dogs. The two dogs were so insecure that they were visibly stressed at having another dog in between them during obedience exercises. At work I often see "bonded" dogs where the less confident half of the pair had other anxiety-related behavioral problems. When separated, the less confident dog tends to spend a few days getting their bearings, and then begins to finally develop some confidence all their own.

Addressing behavior problems can be nearly impossible with dogs that cannot handle being separated. Positive training is most effective when the handler has excellent timing and can pay close attention to their dog. This just can't happen with two, I've tried it. When one dog is doing something I'd like to mark and reward, the other may be doing the opposite. I walk my dogs separately so I can teach them each the behaviors I would like them to know, and only include them on group walks when I know their manners are firmly entrenched. I cannot effectively teach a dog to walk on a loose leash, pass other dogs without having a meltdown, and pay attention to me when I am attempting to wrangle a second, equally unruly dog. Of course, a dog that behaves itself reliably can be a great asset for teaching manners to a newcomer. I just don't have any well-behaved dogs.

Dogs in multi-dog households also deserve to have individual playtime at least occasionally. I feel terrible for dogs that absolutely love to play fetch, but never get to enjoy it because their sibling always steals the ball, chases and bites them, or otherwise makes the whole game less fun. Brisbane will stop chasing the ball if another dog goes for it. Ru and Ulysses can't handle competition and are willing to fight for the ball.

So I am wildly unfair to my dogs. I normally only take one with me to the pet store. Only Brisbane and Ru are allowed to go to the off-leash dog beach because Ulysses gets overstimulated and bites other dogs. Ulysses gets to go on long hikes and training walks around the neighborhood. Ru gets to go on out of town trips and into stores because he fits in a purse. Brisbane and I just spent an entire weekend at a dog festival while Ru and Uly stayed home because they wouldn't have enjoyed it. They are each wonderfully unique dogs, and I owe it to them to treat them as individuals rather than parts of an indivisible unit. I think they prefer unfairness.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Product Review: Boots and Barkley Skull and Crossbones Pet Tote

The Boots and Barkley Skull and Crossbones Pet Tote is a pet carrier designed to look like a messenger bag. It features a wide strap for comfortable carrying, multiple pockets for holding things other than tiny dogs, and a subtle design for stealthy dog-toting.
Photo by Erin Koski

This dog carrier is amazing, and probably out of production, though a few can be found online. I'm pretty sure it dates from the dog boutique fad of the late 90's/early 00's. Anyway, I found mine at a thrift store and if I designed a dog purse, this would be it. Ru still favors the Pet Flys Snuggle Bug because he is a total diva, but this one definitely my favorite.

I normally wear all black for a variety of reasons, including hiding stains and wanting to make some people vaguely uncomfortable. My hair is dyed bright fuchsia and the pink/black theme extends to my phone, keys, car interior, and various dog gear. Obviously this dog carrier was made just for me. It is predominantly black with a bright fuchsia trim and rainbow-colored zippers.
Photo by Erin Koski

A lot of dog purses have no storage built into them, which means I still have to carry an actual purse. Some generously provide a tiny, flat pocket, but most just seem to be designed with the assumption that I either don't carry a wallet, phone, keys, etc, or that I will stuff those things in there with my dog. This one has a nice big rainbow-zippered pocket on the flap, and a couple more on the side underneath.

Photo by Erin Koski
While it is intended to carry a small dog, this bag does not overtly scream "HEY THERE IS A DOG IN HERE!!!" like so many others. Ru isn't normally a fan of riding in purses, so the entire purpose off such an accessory is to sneak him into places where dogs are not welcome. I don't make this a habit or suggest anyone else do it, but once in a while on a road trip it is nice to be able to pee or get a drink without leaving my chihuahua to roast in the car. Brisbane doesn't fit in a bag, but he is also perfectly willing to devour would-be car thieves so I feel comfortable leaving the engine on and the air conditioning running when he's along for the ride. At a glance, the Boots and Barkley tote just looks like a messenger bag. It is rigid and has mesh in the back and on the sides, but is subtle enough that people don't seem to realize it is a pet carrier. Or maybe we're just all pretending I don't have a dog in there, I dunno. I'm really bad at people sometimes.

I am apparently a hipster of some sort because skulls lost a lot of their appeal for me when they got popular and began appearing on everything. They really compliment this bag though, there is a keychain on the zipper in front and another painted on the mesh in back. It's not flashy or overdone, and I like the skulls as an accent rather than slapped across the entire front of the thing.

Photo by Erin Koski
Pros: Punky/gothy/edgy style that fits me perfectly. Tasteful and understated design. Smaller than most dog purses, six-pound Ru is slightly cramped. Has actual pockets for actual non-dog stuff. Solid front flap and subtle design make this tote look more like a messenger bag than a pet carrier. Fabulous hot pink lining with skulls and unicorns is pretty much the best thing ever.

Cons: Not currently in production, and I have yet to find anything nearly as functional and fabulous. The wider side of the strap is kind of loud.

Bottom Line: Dog? What dog? This is just my super awesome skull unicorn bag.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Lancaster Bark at the Park

Brisbane and I spent the weekend in Lancaster so we could attend the annual Bark at the Park. It's basically a dog festival, complete with vendors, demonstrations, disc and dock diving competitions, contests, raffles, and even carnival games for dogs. And lure coursing, which is the entire reason we were there.
This was a two-day event with a total of twelve hours of lure coursing across both days. Brisbane spent a minimum of twelve hours across two days either running, or screaming because someone else was running. I learned some new things about Briz in those two days.

1. Brisbane doesn't hurt his feet when he is running, he hurts them when he is not running. He always sticks his feet in his water bucket, ensuring that his feet, any bedding, and the floor of his crate stay wet the entire time he is screaming and tapdancing in there.

2. A 3' tall x-pen, staked to the ground, beneath a short sun shade, is enough to contain Brisbane even when the lure machine is running.

3. Brisbane's paw pads remain intact when he spends a coursing event standing on grass instead of a plastic crate pan or soaked bedding.

4. While Briz appeared to be fine wearing his Ruffwear Grip Trex boots off and on through the first day of the event, on the second day he protested when I tried to put them on. The boots had caused sores to form under his front dewclaws, and putting them on two days in a row was too painful. I am planning to get Briz some Neo-Paws boots because those can be adjusted enough that the strap will not put pressure on the dewclaw.

5. Two days spent screaming, miles of running, and plenty of downtime around the equipment failed to make Brisbane any less obsessed with the lure. Sunday evening he continued to stare at the equipment intently until every last bit was packed up and put away.

6. Brisbane will bark at the lure continuously for at least half an hour without losing interest.

7.  I am unwilling to let Brisbane bark at the lure for more than half an hour because nobody has time for that, even when we're fiddling with the equipment.

8. At the end the event, after all of that running and screaming and barking and hysterics, Brisbane is still perfectly willing to try out dock diving.

9. Despite my lofty expectations, the Prozac had no effect on Brisbane's behavior at the event. Apparently this kind of crazy doesn't respond to medication.

10. Nobody else's dog is as obsessed, intent, or hysterical as Brisbane. Dogs that are better behaved are either less driven, less interested, or belong to people with the time and means to work with them in the presence of the equipment.

A lady with a lovely, well-bred young cattledog cheerfully told me that training would fix Brisbane's behavior at the event. I didn't have the heart to tell her that I was thrilled he hadn't seriously considered biting anyone in the last two days. I'm well aware that intensive training could potentially turn him into a dog that thinks about other things in the presence of lure coursing equipment, I just don't feel the tradeoff is worthwhile. We only get to do this a handful of times each year, and I am normally helping run these events. I don't know how many of these precious opportunities we would need to use for training instead of playing, helping, and participating in order to teach Brisbane to chill out and behave himself. We might not even get there while he is still healthy and sound enough to run. I could avoid this level of crazy by simply not lure coursing any more, but I feel it's worth putting up with it in order to allow him to do something he is that crazy for.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Product Review: Kong-brand Reflective Harness

The Kong Reflective Harness is a Roman-style harness with a padded chest plate. It features heavy duty metal hardware and reflective stitching. It comes in four colors and four sizes to fit dogs with chests 12-38" around.
Photo by Erin Koski

The Kong-branded products not shown on the Kong Company website appear to be exclusive to Petsmart, which seems kind of weird. They are advertised under the slogan "tough enough to be called Kong" and range from collar, leashes, and harnesses, to beds, crates, and even life jackets. I'm not totally comfortable with the idea of products bearing a familiar and trusted brand name without actually being acknowledged by that company. Several consumers also appear to be confused, as bad reviews for this product often cite a "lack of durability" because their dog chewed through it. Harnesses aren't chew-proof....

This is a very nice harness, though. While it's not actually a crash-protection harness, it is overbuilt and extremely strong compared to the average walking harness. The leash ring is too big for the clips on my Lupine leashes, an issue I haven't had before. The harness adjusts around dog's neck and chest, but the front center section with the chest pad is a fixed length. This makes the Kong Reflective Harness slightly less adjustable, and it may not be a great fit for weird-shaped dogs. Unlike the EzyDog Chest Plate Harness, the chest plate on this one is flexible and doesn't stab my dog in the neck.

Pros: Extra strong and tough. Reflective stitching increases visibility. Metal hardware is durable and built to last.

Cons: Not terribly adjustable and extra large hardware limits which leashes can be used. Wide chest plate may rub the inside of the front legs or damage the hair on some dogs.

Bottom Line: It's a nice harness and a lot of people like it, but it isn't going to prevent injury in an actual collision. It works great for Ulysses.