Saturday, November 29, 2014

Product Review: Ruffwear Front Range Harness

The Ruffwear Front Range Harness is a Roman-style harness that allows freedom of movement while remaining comfortable for extended wear. It is currently available in four colors and five sizes to fit dogs with chests 13-42" around.
Photo by Erin Koski

Since Brisbane has developed some hip arthritis, he hasn't been quite as enthusiastic about his Norway-style harnesses. I think it is because the front strap on those sits across his upper arm and causes him to put more weight on his sore back end. At any rate, he was visible unhappy wearing his Comfortflex and rolled leather harnesses, so I needed to find a really good alternative. Something that would fit him really well, leave his upper arms and shoulders free to move properly, and that wouldn't require me to touch his feet while putting it on.

Ruffwear delivered all that and more when they released the Front Range harness this summer. This might be the most comfortable harness in Brisbane's wardrobe, I also think it looks pretty snazzy. The Front Range girth strap has a clip on either side, so I don't have to pick up Brisbane's foot or thread a strap through a small loop to get it on. The straps also have a little bit of stretch down where they attach at the bottom, so the section has some give and moves with him.

Photo by Erin Koski
The neck section can be adjusted so that it is properly tight. I recently learned some things about harness fitting and changed the way I adjust my dogs' harnesses. To keep the shoulder straps from altering their gaits, I adjust the neck of Roman-style harnesses down so tight they just barely slip over their heads. This means the chest piece that goes between Brisbane's front legs must be long enough to reach all the way from the base of his neck down past his elbows. Not every harness can adjust small enough in the neck without pulling the girth strap into Brisbane's armpits, but the medium Ruffwear Front Range fits perfectly.

Other cool features of this harness include the front loop for leash attachment, and the hidden pocket for ID tags on the back. I don't need a front-attachment harness for Brisbane, but Ulysses could easily wear this as well.

Pros: Padded all over without being bulky or picking up dead grass and crud. Ergonomically-designed to allow free shoulder movement. Front leash attachment option is much easier on the shoulders than the Premier Easy Walk harness. Tag pocket silences the jingling so other dogs in the neighborhood don't know we're passing through. Slightly stretchy section of girth allows for greater freedom of movement and absorbs some shock. Plus it comes in pink.

Cons: Smallest size is still an inch too big for little Ru. Relatively small range of adjustment for each strap means this harness may not fit well on dogs with small necks and big chests. The front leash attachment point may not hold up to continuous pulling indefinitely. I am slightly concerned that the stretchy section will eventually wear out and make the harness fit differently.

Bottom Line: This harness seems to have been made for Brisbane. If the straps were black it would also match my phone case, car keys, seat covers, folding chair, travel mug, chihuahua purse, and hair.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Food Friday: Rotational Feeding Fun

A lot of dog food companies like to advise their customers to stick with a single food for the life of their pet. Some recommend switching flavors or formulas based on the dog's age, weight, and activity level. Some actually have multiple flavors to rotate through to prevent allergies or just plain boredom. Still, the message is the same, "feed your dog this, and only/mostly this".

I know that people have been studying dog nutrition for longer than almost any other animal, so by now we have a pretty good idea of what our dogs need. On the other hand, I've also fed a variety of pets, from tiny parrots to absurdly large amphibians, animals that haven't been routinely kept in captivity long enough for us to even have a good idea of their expected lifespan. I have discussed, both online and in person, the care and feeding of amphibians, reptiles, rodents, and birds with some amazingly knowledgeable people, and have found that everyone agrees that a varied diet is essential. The attitude is that we don't know what we don't know, so it's best to offer a variety of foods to avoid gaps in the diet of any pet. It's not enough to just feed the packaged, preserved food sold by the pet store, no matter how much the company insists that this is a complete and balanced diet that meets all the nutritional needs of my hamster/gecko/finch/tortoise/rat/parrotlet/newt.

How can I apply that attitude to feeding my dogs? I've fed raw and homemade diets in the past, and Brisbane was exclusively raw fed until he was five or six years old, but I've gotten past my "Kibble is Evil!" phase and now I feed everything. Dry dog food is the most convenient everyday staple, but I also do some raw food, homemade cooked food, canned food of all sorts. I also feed my dogs a variety of treats, supplements, and table foods. It's not that I don't trust the dog food companies to make a quality product, I just feel like hedging my bets. Maybe they put everything my dogs need in there, and maybe they missed something. Maybe my dogs don't have identical nutritional needs, maybe Brisbane processes red meat a little better than fish.

As long as my dogs can tolerate a variety of foods, I think the best way to assure myself that they are getting everything they need while avoiding nutritional gaps and the perils of pet foods of all sorts is to feed them lots of different foods. There aren't a ton of foods that Brisbane can eat, but I try to buy a different brand or flavor each time. I primarily feed Acana, Orijen, and Taste of the Wild, but I'll try anything Brisbane can eat. Ru and Ulysses also get the occasional egg or poultry product. I think it keeps things interesting for everyone, and I feel better knowing that any given problem with quality, taste, freshness, or contamination will only last as long as the bag. My dogs' diet doesn't just rotate, it goes exploring.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Product Review: Fraggle Rock Biothane Harness

Ru's new biothane harness was custom made for him by Fraggle Rock Designs, and it is beautiful. This material is nonporous, and will not absorb water, sand, or beach funk.
Photo by Erin Koski

Our Lupine beach gear is still going strong despite being a bit rusty, but I am getting tired of the piles of sand that fall off it after every trip. With hard floors throughout the house, the sand gets everywhere, and the only way to prevent it is to rinse the entire pile of leashes, collars, and harnesses. Of course, then I have to leave it all out to dry, and run it through the washing machine if it smells funny.

I wanted to replace our beach stuff with something that required less effort on my part. It needed to be totally non-absorbent, as well as sand-proof, tar-proof, and dead-sea-lion-proof.

Photo by Erin Koski
Does such a thing even exist? Yes, yes it does. Biothane is a totally kickass material that has been used for synthetic horse tack for years. It's a pretty awesome everything-proof substitute for leather, plus it comes in fun colors! 

Once I found the perfect material, all I had to do was order gear for my dogs, right? Wrong. Biothane has been used in horse tack for ages, but it's also popular for hunting dog collars. Guess who doesn't have purse dogs?
Photo by Erin Koski

I had no trouble at all finding biothane collars for dog-sized dogs, and multiple retailers carry biothane leashes as well. Biothane harnesses are a lot harder to find. Leather harnesses, and therefore synthetic alternatives, are popular for protection dog training. Nobody does Schutzhund with a toy breed. I managed to find one biothane harness in Brisbane-size but nothing even close to what I wanted for Ru.

I could have possibly found a biothane slip leash for Ru, but what I really wanted was an easy-off, easy-on Norway-style harness. There was nothing even close available on the market, but Fraggle Rock came to the rescue with a custom-made one-of-a-kind tiny biothane harness in purple, made just for Ru.

Pros: Easy to take off when everyone is ready to go charging down the beach. Easy to put back on when I'm rounding up sandy beasts. Rinses clean, and won't pick up sand or suspicious beach smells. Fits perfectly because it was made that way, I even added a little extra to the girth measurement so it fits over his beach outfits.

Cons: It's not pink. Seriously, that's all I can come up with.

Bottom Line: I need to order some more beach stuff from Fraggle Rock. A slip lead for Briz, a collar for his tags, a tag collar for Ru, a matching leash for Ru, maybe a long line...

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Treat Tuesday: Twistix Yoghurt Banana Dental Chews

I hate banana-flavored candy with the passion of several Christs, and immediately felt bad for my dogs when I looked at this picture and realized I had fed them banana-flavored treats. It's ok though, because the Twistix Yoghurt Banana Dental Chews are actually made with real bananas instead of the artificial banana-flavor that haunts my dreams. I'm not crazy about real bananas and I'm not supposed to eat them either, fortunately my dogs quite enjoy them and are willing to handle any and all banana emergencies that may arise. These arrived in our March BarkBox, had I picked them out myself I would have gone with Vanilla Mint or Pumpkin Spice or literally anything other than banana.

Good For: Occupying Brisbane and Ulysses for about ten minutes and making them smell slightly minty.

Not Good For: Lasting longer than a similarly-sized bully stick, actually cleaning teeth.

How Much We Like Them: Enough to chew them until they're all the way gone, unlike rawhides and yak chews. I just ordered a bag of Vanilla Mint ones. My husband also just reminded me that I routinely toss my banana, coconut, and bubblegum-flavored Jelly Bellies to Brisbane, so I guess I shouldn't feel bad about feeding them banana treats. I'm just mildly perturbed that banana-food managed to sneak into my house under false pretenses.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Puzzle Toy Review: Kong Genius Mike

The Kong Genius Mike is one of two durable rubber roller puzzle toys in the Kong Genius toy line. It consists of a ribbed tube with cross-shaped openings in either end. The Kong Genius Mike can be combined with two Kong Genius Leo toys for an even more challenging puzzle. It is available in assorted colors and three sizes, small for dogs up to 20 pounds, large for dogs 15-40 pounds, and extra large for dogs over 35 pounds.
Photo by Erin Koski
Once upon a time, seven or eight years ago, Brisbane had a Canine Genius Leo toy. He was never that interested in it because he doesn't like to chomp on tough rubber toys, and one day he began actively avoiding it. I'm not sure what happened, but I assume he had some sort of bad experience. I eventually gave it to a friend. I was quite surprised when the Kong Genius toys hit the shelves of my local Petco a few years later, because I definitely remembered the toy being made by an independent company and not by Kong. The Canine Genius website is still up, but most of the links redirect elsewhere now.

I find the size recommendations on these kind of ridiculous. Our Mike toy is a Large, which puts Brisbane at the very top of the recommended range, and Uly over it. The XL is enormous, and I think the boys would enjoy the Small size more. They bat these around and roll them across the floor, but nobody is gnawing it. I cannot imagine a 25-pound dog being able to do anything but roll this toy around, they definitely couldn't compress it enough to get anything bigger than kibble out.

Puzzle Toy Rating

Capacity: 5/5
I can fit at least a cup of food in here, maybe two.

Loading Speed: 3/5
It should totally work with a bottle funnel, except that the food falls out the other side immediately. I can either jam a few larger treats in there (which I will have to pry out later because the dogs can't get them) or attempt to wedge the funnel in the opening while holding the toy at an angle and...nope.

Unloading Speed (standard dog): 5/5
It takes Uly something like 15 minutes or more to get half a cup of kibble out.

Unloading Speed (superdog): 4/5
Brisbane is adept at emptying the toy and figuring out which treats cannot be removed without brute force, but it still takes him a good while to get even a few treats out.

Size: 4/5
I really think the size limits on these things are too cautious and I would have no problem giving my dogs the small size for dogs under 20 pounds. The XL toys are just huge. According to the size chart there should be Kong Genius toys for every size of dog, but the small feels too big for toy breeds.

Durability: 5/5
This toy probably can't handle extended chewing by a dedicated dog, but the durable rubber should stand up to quite a bit of gnawing.

Noise: 5/5
This toy is intended to roll, but the rubber makes it quiet on my raised foundation and hardwood floors. The dogs don't tend to fling it, and they are silent when emptying it inside a crate.

Locatability: 3/5
Rolls, fits under furniture, and small enough to carry. I haven't lost it yet because I keep pretty close tabs on food toys right now, but it's only a matter of time.

Washability: 4/5
Dishwasher safe (grumble grumble) and a bottle brush and some soap work too. This toy is intended for kibble so it shouldn't get too gross anyway.

Hoardability: 4/5
Small enough to carry, Brisbane likes to take this to a bed to empty.

Total: 42/50

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Product Review: Lone Wolf Slip Lead

The Lone Wolf Slip Lead is a simple slip lead made from a wide, soft synthetic braid. It is available in 4' and 6' lengths in a multitude of colors and combinations. Ours is a 5/8" wide 4' purple/black slip lead.
Photo by Erin Koski

I love Lone Wolf's soft, wide slip leads, we have a matching 4' martingale lead that is Brisbane's primary leash. I don't normally use full slip leads for my dogs, but I do keep them around. I bought this one specifically to use at work.

The wide flat  braid material is nice and grippy when my hands hurt. I find it easier hold than Mendota's round braid leashes, and less rope burny than Timberwolf's slip leashes.

Pros: Comfortable and easy to hold. Ring slides freely and leather stop prevents leash from opening wide enough to allow escape. Wide webbing distributes pressure comfortably both on the dog's neck and on my hands. My favorite slip lead for days when my hands are sore.

Cons: Strands of the braided strap can get caught on things and pull little loops loose.

Bottom Line: Loved my martingale lead so much I got a slip lead just like it.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The November Allergy-Friendly BarkBox

The November Allergy-Friendly BarkBox finally arrived, and it is, of course, Thanksgiving-themed. Everything in it is pretty cool, and I'm a little curious what the normal Bark Boxers got.

The Caru Real Pork Stew is the most unexpected thing in this month's box. I've never encountered their products before. It is delightfully Brisbane-safe with no poultry or egg ingredients. Caru also makes other flavors of stew, including turkey. I bet everyone else got turkey stew. Did you guys get turkey stew?

Don't worry, that's not a real raw chicken leg, it's just a squeaky toy from PetProjekt, packaged to look like raw poultry. It is so delightful I don't even want to take it out of the packaging yet. I need to leave it in a few more unexpected places to weird people out before I actually give it to the dogs. PetProjekt also makes some phenomenally realistic sea shell squeakies, and I have been coveting a nautilus for some time. Yes, I covet dog toys. I buy them based largely on what they will look like strewn across my floor. It's like interior decorating for lazy slobs.

We got a squeaky carrot from P.L.A.Y. that is adorable and will probably go over at least as well as our crab and squid. I finally bought a squid. I will do a review on it eventually.

Is that a bag of lamb biscuits from Superior Farms back there? Why yes it is! While I'm delighted, this is another one that I'd like to compare notes on to see what the non-allergic pups got.

The last thing in this month's box is a little keychain container of SafeMade Apawthecary Cleaning Wipes for touching up yucky dogs. We don't get anything resembling snow around here so we don't have to worry about salt on delicate feetsies, but these could up being useful anyway.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Product Review: Hurtta Cooling Coat

The Hurtta Cooling Coat is a blanket-style coat that uses evaporative cooling to keep dogs from overheating. It is available in several colors and many sizes to fit tiny through enormous dogs. There is also a cooling vest that offers a closer fit for use during activities.
Photo by Erin Koski

Dogs don't sweat. Well, actually they do, a little, through their paw pads. They mostly lose heat through respiration, meaning they pant out hot, horrible dog breath. Humans, on the other hand, sweat all over our naked pink bodies to make use of evaporative cooling. As water evaporates, it cools the surrounding air. This cooling coat allows dogs to make use of the same technology as swamp coolers and sweaty guys at the gym.

We don't normally get horrible temperatures at home on the beach, but we often go inland to events in the desert. Winter is our opportune time for outdoor events because the temperatures are livable. Nobody likes doing a trial or match in 90+ degree weather. I got this cooler specifically for Lancaster's Bark at the Park festival because the forecast was for triple-digit temperatures and we were supposed to be lure coursing for two days straight. Brisbane spends most of our coursing events screaming his head off and bouncing, so it's important to do everything I can to keep him cool. Normally I just soak him down periodically, but when it's hot enough he dries almost immediately.

Brisbane's cooling coat is a few inches too big. I had a choice between a few inches too big and a few too small, and I went with this one because the tail end of the coat is shaped with a dart to make is cup around his butt. I figured the too-short option would fit awkwardly. The coat is very thick and holds a lot of water, I was dumping a gallon on it and only squeezing out a bit. The instructions say to wring it out until it stops dripping before putting it on, but I just put it on sopping wet. The top dried out pretty quick, but the underside stayed wet and cool for a couple of hours. That underside bit is long enough that he could pee on it, but it's also removable.

Pros: Lots of coverage for lots of cooling. Drawstring at neck in belly strap that adjusts down to nothing allow for a custom fit even for a dog much smaller than intended for the coat. Stays cool and comfortable for an hour or more, and Brisbane was cool to the touch every time I checked him.

Cons: Looks like my dog is wearing a nice warm coat in 103-degree weather. Also acts a bit like a warm coat if allowed to dry and not removed.

Bottom Line: Not gonna lie, I was walking around with this thing on my head whenever I didn't have it on my dog. It is amazing and wonderful and really eases my concerns about doing stuff with my dog in the summer.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

TBT: Puzzle Toys We Used to Know

Brisbane can be picky about his toys, some fail to pique his interest while others lose their novelty after a while. Brisbane was my only dog for five years, and I didn't start fostering dogs until after Ru pranced into our lives, so I didn't used to keep toys around just because someone else might like them. A couple of times we have run out of storage space and just rounded up neglected toys and donated them to the local shelter to make room for new toys. Whether they were destroyed, donated, or simply vanished, here are the puzzle toys we had at some point in the last ten years:

Busy Buddy Tug-a-Jug.
Concept: Unscrew the bottom to load with kibble, then screw it back on. The dog can roll the toy or toss it by the attached rope to make kibble fall out the hole in the top.
Fate: Brisbane unscrewed the bottom and then gnawed the threads into oblivion.
Verdict: Would buy again. That was a cool toy and we used it all the time.

Concept: Drop kibble or other treats into the hole and they will fall out as the dog noses the toy around.
Fate: Originally bought for Oakley my dearly departed cocker spaniel in 2004, Brisbane could empty kibble out of this thing faster than I could empty it by turning it upside down and shaking it. Was either donated to a shelter or sent off to a friend for her excessively destructive blind senior German shepherd, Kole.
Verdict: Too easy, would not buy again. Puzzle toys have come a long way in the last decade.

Buster Cube
Concept: Drop kibble through the hole and spin the center shaft to change how easily the food drops out.
Fate: Nobody knows.
Verdict: Will not tempt fate again.

Hi Q
Concept: L-shaped pipes can be interconnected and stuffed with kibble, peanut butter, and assorted other treats. Flaps at the ends prevent food from escaping too easily.
Fate: I used to stuff these with ground raw dog food for Brisbane. When I quit feeding him that way, I sent our red, yellow, and blue Hi Q pipes to Kole.
Verdict: I don't think these are even in production anymore. If they were, I might give them another try.

Busy Buddy Twist-N-Treat
Concept: The two halves can be filled with kibble or small treats or stuffed with peanut butter before screwing them together. The tighter it is screwed, the harder it is to get the food.
Fate: This was the first food toy I bought for Oakley, and after 10+ years it started to look a big aged so I tossed it.
Verdict: Would not buy again, though at the time it was amazing.

Canine Genius Leo
Concept: Fill it with treats and they will fall out as the dog paws and chew the soft rubber.
Fate: Discovered that Brisbane would not chew or bite the toy to get the food out, no matter what was inside. Made a somewhat decent kibble-dropper but was somehow intimidating so we sent it to Kole who enjoyed it very much.
Verdict: Now being sold as the Kong Genius, we have a related toy and I will probably give the bowling pin one another try.

Starmark Everlasting Fireplug
Concept: Holds two Everlasting Treats with space in the middle for extra goodies.
Fate: The only toy Brisbane has ever outright destroyed rather than defeated like the jug. Within a day he had chewed the entire lip around the top off. This toy went into the trash and made me leery of Starmark products for years.
Verdict: Would not buy again, there is clearly a design flaw and plenty of other non-destructive chewers have killed this one.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Product Review: Canine Hardware Travel Bed

The Canine Hardware Travel Bed is a compressible, packable dog bed that unfolds into a floofy cushion. It has a slick fabric on the bottom that repels dirt, hair, and those stickers that always get stuck in your socks while camping. The other side is soft and flannel-like. The travel bed comes with a matching stuff sack to keep it clean and mooshed down into a space-efficient package.
Photo by Erin Koski

I love this travel bed largely because it looks like a sleeping bag. It is also had a bit more padding than the Ruffwear Bachelor Pad bed, though it doesn't pack as small. It is also a lot bulkier and provides a lot more cushioning than Ruffwear's Highlands bed, which is a similar style to the Canine Hardware Travel Bed.
Photo by Erin Koski

Over the last few months, Brisbane has developed some arthritis in his hips. He now has a prescription pain medication, and it is important that he have soft, warm places to rest. Briz is a house dog on the beach in Central California, so he doesn't have to deal with anything approaching freezing temperatures. Still, I like having this bed for exercises like the Protocol for Relaxation.

The Canine Hardware Travel Bed is not an orthopedic bed, it isn't very supportive and has little padding compared to a regular pillow bed. Still, it's pretty comfy for something that packed down a little smaller than a regular sleeping bag.

Pros: More portable than a regular dog bed, more comfortable than a blanket or a towel on the ground. Makes cafe visits and outdoor classes a little nicer for spoiled, spoiled dogs. Machine washable. Doesn't pick up ground crud like regular bedding.

Cons: Kind of thin. Packs slightly smaller than a regular adult sleeping bag, which makes ultralight backpackers cry.

Bottom Line: Awesome for camping and going places, convenient to keep in the car. This bed will be going with us on camping trips, but probably not backpacking.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Puzzle Toy Review: Kyjen Tic-Tac-Twirl

The Kyjen Tic-Tac-Twirl is a board game puzzle toy that is particularly fun for bulldogs and other flat-faced breeds. It has four spinning flaps the hide four treat compartments. The Tic-Tac-Twirl is unusually versatile in that it can be solved at least three different ways, and does not require the dog to retrieve their treats from a small cup or cavity.
Photo by Erin Koski

I've done it! I found a puzzle toy easier than the Kyjen Star Spinner! This one is particularly fun for Ulysses because he barely has to touch it for treats to come flying out. Literally, not kidding about the flying treats. This is what makes this game so accessible for brachycephalic breeds like bulldogs and pugs.

To properly understand how the Tic-Tac-Twirl works, it helps to know that the cavities underneath the spinning squares are shaped like half-pipes. There is just enough clearance for each square to spin, and that's it. Each cavity also has a little hole to the outside world in the side of the toy.
Photo by Erin Koski

The toy is loaded by spinning each flap vertical, dropping the treats inside, and then rotating the flap horizontal to cover them. None of the flaps stays flat, they all sit at a slight angle. Here are three methods for solving the Tic-Tac-Twirl puzzle:

1. Rotate each flap 90-degrees and slurp the treats out of the compartment.

2. Rotate the flap by pressing the inner edge of the square down first so that it sweeps the treats out of the hole in the side of the puzzle.

Photo by Erin Koski
3. Rotate the flap 180-degrees by pressing the outer edge of the square down first so that it sweeps the treats up onto itself.

This versatility makes this puzzle workable by dogs of all sizes and shapes, as well as a variety of other animals with hooves, paws, and beaks. Xhuuya the raven thinks it's pretty fun to explore as well. For a puzzle-savvy dog like Brisbane, this toy presents no challenge at all, but for a timid or less experienced dog it provides a fun and non-threatening game. It is certainly more accessible than some of our toys with the tiny treat compartments.

Photo by Erin Koski

Puzzle Toy Rating

Capacity: 3/5
I can put more than half a cup of food in here, but it is probably going to go spewing everywhere as soon as anyone touches it.

Loading Speed: 4/5
Dump and spin. The only thing that slows me down is trying to keep all the treats inside long enough to let the dogs have a go at it.

Unloading Speed (standard dog): 3/5
It doesn't take Ulysses very long to get the treats out, but the variety of ways they come out surprises him. The novelty provides a lot of enrichment.

Unloading Speed (superdog): 1/5
Briz utilizes method #1 and spends about the same amount of time emptying this as he would emptying four small bowls of kibble.
Photo by Erin Koski

Size: 5/5
The durability and mechanisms of this toy should make it usable by teeny tiny toy breeds and giants alike. Also large birds, and probably ponies or something.

Durability: 4/5
Unlike our other Kyjen Dog Games, the plastic base on this one is reinforced and quite heavy and thick. It won't stand up to real chewing, but it should be able to take quite a bit of dropping and kicking.

Noise: 5/5
Rubber feet keep it from sliding on the hardwood, and the rate of reinforcement for poking at the spinny bits makes it less likely that the dogs will be kicking this one across the floor in frustration.

Locatability: 5/5
Supervision required, no removable pieces, and no toy-flinging means I always find it right where I left it.

Washability: 2/5
Know how I said it has a reinforced base? This is accomplished by nesting two pieces of plastic together, making a nice thing place for water to seep in. Getting this toy properly dry is going to take a lot of shaking and waiting, and if it gets super gross there's probably no hope of salvaging it.

Hoardability: 1/5
Not going anywhere with Brisbane.

Total: 33/50

Friday, November 14, 2014

Product Review: Mendota Dog Walker Martingale Lead Combo

The Mendota Dog Walker is a slip lead that ends in a martingale collar instead of a slip collar. It comes in 3/8" and 1/2" soft round rope, in a wide variety of colors.
Photo by Erin Koski

I love my Lone Wolf martingale lead for Brisbane, right now it's his default leash. However, the collar on that one is just barely small enough that he can't escape it, so it cannot be used on a smaller dog. Lone Wolf also makes a teensy tiny martingale lead, but I think it's much too tiny to use on a big dog.

My Mendota Dog Walker, on the other hand, can be used on any size dog. Seriously, any size. I use it at work all the time on Bernese Mountain Dogs and assorted mastiffs. The collar portion is 5/8" wide and measures 8.5" from end to end, tiny enough to use on Ru if I ever used any type of slip collar on his neck.
Photo by Erin Koski
The Dog Walker works well on Brisbane, it will choke him if leash pressure is applied, but there is no way he can back out of it. The loop that runs through the collar measures 18" when folded in half, allowing me to slip this leash onto any dog with a head circumference less than 24". A leather keeper slides down the loop to prevent the dog from popping their head through the remainder of the loop and losing the martingale effect.

That huge martingale loop is one of the reasons I love using this leash at work. I can cinch the keeper down to keep the dog securely in the collar, and then hang on right where the loop meets the rest of the leash when I need to keep the dog really close. It's like a nice little traffic leash that won't give me rope burn if the dog suddenly decides they're going somewhere in a hurry.

Pros: Fits just about any standard dog, just not the outliers on the "rodent" and "hippopotamus" ends of the spectrum. Soft, comfortable, and durable. Ends of the flat webbing collar are sewn on the outside to prevent irritation.

Cons: Slightly more complicated than a slip lead, occasionally baffling coworkers when I toss it to them. Harder to lasso difficult dogs with than a standard slip. If the keeper is not employed, some dogs can pop their heads through the martingale loop such that they are then wearing the fixed loop around their heads with the collar doing nothing.

Bottom Line: The collar on the 1/2" rope Dog Walker was big enough for Brisbane to escape, so it clearly isn't this versatile. Right now this is my favorite slip lead martingale universal escape-proof leash thingy.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Puzzle Toy Review: Kyjen Doggy Blocks Spinner

The Kyjen Doggy Blocks Spinner is a hard plastic board game puzzle toy. The puzzle includes four removable square blocks that each hide a food compartment. Once all blocks have been removed, the yellow disc on top spins freely to reveal four more small treat compartments.
Photo by Erin Koski

Solving this puzzle takes a similar set of skills as solving the Yin-Yang-Yum, though I think this one may be easier. For starters, the colored cups sit a little looser in their holes, making it easier for the dog to wiggle them around and realize they can be picked up. The top disc on this one also spins very easily once the cups are removed, and the thin yellow disc seems to be more intuitive than the thicker lids of the Star Spinner or Yin-Yang. Both Brisbane and Ulysses figured out right away that spinning the disc would uncover the treats.
Photo by Erin Koski

Ulysses still hasn't quite figured out how to pick up the blocks to uncover the food, but I think he might be getting closer with the Doggy Blocks Spinner. The square blocks seem easier to pick up than round cups. I usually pick up the blocks to show him the treats first, and sometimes I even put the blocks on the floor by themselves with treats underneath to help him with the concept. He has seen this toy once now, and the Yin-Yang several times and he might be starting to catch on.
Photo by Erin Koski

Puzzle Toy Rating

Capacity: 3/5
It holds a bit more than half a cup of kibble, far more than my monsters usually eat at once.

Loading Speed: 5/5
Pick up blocks, spin disc, dump in food, reassemble. There's a lot of parts, but zero effort.

Unloading Speed (standard dog): 5/5
Ulysses might starve if this was his only dinner option. It takes him 10-20 minutes to solve this puzzle depending on how much I help.

Unloading Speed (superdog): 4/5
Brisbane solves the Doggy Blocks by methodically moving each block, with no hesitation. Still, it takes him a good five minutes or more to completely open the thing. I could put just one treat in there, in one of the compartments under the disc, and it would still take him almost as long.

Size: 4/5
A huge dog might have trouble getting the blocks into his mouth. A tiny one may also have the same issue, though I'm pretty sure Ru could dig the blocks out of here if he really wanted to.

Durability: 2/5
The hard plastic won't stand up to chewing, and the yellow disc is pretty flimsy. Both Brisbane and Uly first tried to move it by bending it away from the blue base instead of spinning. That said, this is a supervision only toy anyway, so nobody is suggesting a dog be left unattended with it. This is an interactive toy that we use with me sitting on the floor cheerleading.

Noise: 4/5
Put it on a rug and it's pretty darned quiet. Rubber feet on the bottom keep it from sliding too much. It does have the potential to make a racket though, given how much the dogs want to violently shove it backwards across the room with their front feet.

Locatability: 4/5
While this is a supervision-only toy, it also has four, count them, four removable pieces. We generally get this out and play with it and then stick it back in the toybox but...it's really only a matter of time until one of those boxes wanders off. (Does anybody else have a Monopoly game in their closet that's missing the shoe? It's like that.) This is an even greater certainty in households with dogs that enjoy hiding things.

Washability: 4/5
Dishwasher safe, blah blah. Also not terribly annoying to hand scrub and dry, this is where those removable blocks are kind of helpful.

Hoardability: 1/5
This is a supervision-only toy so there will be no hoarding.

Total: 36/50

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Product Review: Gooby Epiks

Gooby Epiks are high-tech dog boots with memory foam insoles and different shoes for front and rear feet. They appear to have been discontinued, but were made in blue, red, black, and pink. Epiks came in sizes to fit dogs with itty bitty through gigantic feet, and can still be found on eBay occasionally.
Photo by Erin Koski

I had high hopes for these shoes when I ordered them. Brisbane has extremely sensitive feet and is prone to a variety of injuries ranging from cuts to friction injuries to broken toenails. His Ruffwear Grip Trex work pretty well, but he is unhappy wearing them unless there is lure coursing to think about. I had hoped to find shoes that stayed on as well, but made him less emotional. Briz hates shoes in general, and the Epiks did nothing to change this opinion.
Photo by Erin Koski
These stylish sneakers are made out of something resembling suede, with contrasting-colored vents and snazzy little zippers up the front. I loved the idea of having different shoes for the front and back feet, since most dog shoes come as a set of four identical ones that are either too big for the back feet or too small for the front. Neo-Paws probably has the right idea, selling pairs so people can purchase separate sizes for the front and back.

My experience with dog shoes tells me that they won't stay on with just elastic. This is why none of the dog socks we have ever tried have been a success. The Epiks lack any kind of custom fit, they have elastic around the ankles, and a front zipper, and nothing to make the boots fit tighter on skinny legs and looser on big fat legs. This means they fly off as soon as Brisbane does anything more extreme than trot in a straight line.

Pros: Super cute! These are the prettiest dog shoes I have seen, the lack of a tightenable ankle strap leaves them looking very clean. Cushy inner soles and shoes marked specifically for the front and back feet really make these seem really well-designed.

Cons: The zippers were impossible to operate without lubricating them. Guess who got zipper lube all over the shoes? Even all greased up, they are very difficult to zip even when I'm not cramming a dog foot inside them. Also they don't stay on very well.

Bottom Line: I can expect to find them on Brisbane's feet at the end of a slow hike, but he is less than enthusiastic about wearing them for low-key adventures and they don't stay on well enough for anything worth doing.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Treat Tuesday: Wet Noses Howlin' Goodies

Our little box of Wet Noses Howlin' Goodies arrived in our October Allergy-Friendly BarkBox. The super-cute little cookies were shaped like pumpkins, ghosts, and bats. Halloween is my favorite time of year, and themed dog treats were a neat little detail.

Good For: Sticking inside Kongs. Smearing with peanut butter and hiding inside puzzle like the Yin-Yang-Yum for extra motivation.

Not Good For: Breaking into smaller pieces. These things are seriously dense.

How Much We Like Them: They were gone within a day of opening the box.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Product Review: Top Paw Pink Leather Spiked Rhinestone Collar

The Top Paw Pink Leather Spiked Collar is a decorative flat buckle collar by Petsmart's house brand. Top Paw collars are available in a variety of sizes, colors, and styles.
Photo by Erin Koski

I'm not a terribly classy person, I tend to dress casual and comfortable. Sometimes I feel like putting on something fancy, though. Sometimes I wear a tiara just for the hell of it. This Top Paw collar is a lot like that. We have a lot of fun and functional collars, but this one is fancy. In between the stainless steel spikes are diamond-colored rhinestones. Also it's pink. Yes, my dogs are all boys. Boys can wear pink.

As far as leather collars go, this one is in the middle of the range. It's not high fashion like Coach. It's not an uber-fancy top-quality collar like the ones from Woof Wear. Still, it's a solid collar with reliable hardware and nice-quality leather. It's pretty and fancy and looks nice. The color will last a long time, and I expect the rhinestones will stay on through normal wear.

Pros: Made from durable, quality leather. Top Paw branded stainless steel hardware will stand up to just about anything. Spikes and rhinestones on the same collar are awesome.

Cons: Made from single-ply leather which can stretch over time.

Bottom Line: I wouldn't use this as a walking collar for a dog that pulls, but as a tag collar it's lovely. I wish they made one in Ru-size.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Puzzle Toy Review: Busy Buddy Magic Mushroom

The Busy Buddy Magic Mushroom is a disappointingly non-psychedelic purple puzzle toy by Premier. It is wonderfully challenging for Brisbane, and almost easy enough for Ulysses to use. The Magic Mushroom comes in two sizes for smaller dogs and larger dogs. Ours is the larger size.
Photo by Erin Koski

As far as food-dispensing puzzle toys go, this one is my absolute favorite. It is the best thing ever. It can be loaded in seconds with an entire cup of kibble, the difficulty level can be adjusted to dispense food with more or less effort, it rolls quietly across my hardwood floors, and the entire thing can be taken apart and scrubbed thoroughly. As an added bonus, it has a ridiculous name and is purple. I don't think I would be nearly as drawn to this toy if it were, say, yellow and named The Food Ball. I don't think Brisbane actually cares about any of this, but Premier knows they have to get me, the human, to buy their toys. Premier is pretty good at appealing to me, the human.
Photo by Erin Koski

One of the things I love about the Magic Mushroom is that it requires more than one movement to get the food out of the toy. The bottom of the toy unscrews to allow a bunch of food to be scooped in, and there are three holes at the top for dispensing food when the shroom is turned upside down. Without the mushroom cap, this would be a somewhat easy bobbing puzzle toy. The half-sphere mushroom cap is what makes this toy magical, while the shroom is weighted, it isn't nearly as heavy as the Starmark Bob-a-Lot, or even the Kong Wobbler. As a result, the Magic Mushroom spends as much time upside down as it does rightside up. The kibble-dispensing holes in the shroom are located underneath the cap, so the food falls into the cap and the toy must be rolled upright again before dispensing its payload.
Photo by Erin Koski

The fact that this toy requires to separate actions to solve makes it absolutely fascinating to Brisbane.

Puzzle Toy Rating

Capacity: 5/5
I can fit at least a cup of kibble in there, probably more. Definitely way more than anyone here eats at a time.

Loading Speed: 5/5
Unscrew the huge base, dump in kibble, done.

Unloading Speed (standard dog): 5/5
On the easiest setting, this one is very challenging for Ulysses. He is likely to need a break before he empties half a cup of kibble out of it.
Photo by Erin Koski

Loading Speed (superdog): 5/5
Not only does this toy take 30+ minutes for Briz to empty, it keeps him happily engaged the entire time.

Size: 4/5
I wouldn't give the large shroom to a giant dog, but the small one is certainly reasonably-sized for a toy dog like Ru. Actually there's no reason he can't use the large one, either.

Durability: 5/5
Our shroom came from a thrift store and I have no idea how much abuse it took before arriving here. For hard plastic, this thing seems to absorb a lot of shock without clattering around horribly like our Kong Satellite.
Photo by Erin Koski
Noise: 4/5
It's not dead quiet, but pretty close. I'm impressed how little noise this makes on my raised-foundation hard floors.

Locatability: 5/5
Doesn't fit under the couch, and I always find it right in the middle of the room.

Washability: 5/5
The whole thing comes apart into four pieces for perfect scrubbing access. It's also top rack dishwasher safe, but this is one toy that I can get squeaky clean just hand washing.

Hoardability: 1/5
Briz can't actually pick this one up, so it never ends up in a crate or on the bed.

Total: 44/50

Friday, November 7, 2014

Product Review: Purple Senior Kong

The Senior Kong comes in the same shape as the classic red Kong, but in a softer rubber that is easier on the mouth. Purple Kongs for senior dogs come in three sizes for small, medium, and large dogs.
Photo by Erin Koski

Brisbane has been slowing down and showing his age a bit in the last few months, but that's not actually why I got him a purple Kong. The real reason is that I love the color and really wanted to add some purple to our Kong collection in the freezer.

The original senior Kong rubber was a swirled white and purple that I always thought looked a bit dirty. The puppy Kong toys also started out with this swirly rubber, first it was white and teal, then it was changed to white swirled with either blue or pink. I never really found these toys visually appealing, to me they always looked sort of dirty.

Obviously somebody at Kong had the right idea, because the puppy Kongs are now solid pastel blues and pinks, and the senior Kong is a nice vibrant solid purple. The only ones I have ever seen in my local stores were the yucky-looking swirly ones, and as soon as I saw the bright purple Kong on the company website I wanted it. This absolutely makes me a crazy dog lady, as well as a dog nerd of the highest order. But look how purple! My Kong collection is getting a bit silly though, I've almost managed to collect one of every color. I'm planning to get Brisbane an orange Aqua Kong next.

Pros: Purple! Look how pretty! Softer rubber is easier for older dogs to chomp and squish, making chewing more fun for geriatric dogs. As always, Kongs are stuffable, freezable, and bounce all crazy.

Cons: Less durable than classic red Kongs, and there's no real reason to switch to these when my dogs still thoroughly enjoy those. Old but powerful recreational chewers may well demolish a senior Kong, so these softer toys should be introduced with care.

Bottom Line: Kong couldn't make a more me Kong unless they made it out of dark pink/fuchsia rubber like the color of Brisbane's leash. I wish I had more to say, but I really just like the purple Kong for the color.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Puzzle Toy Review: Planet Dog Mazee Ball

The Planet Dog Orbee-Tuff Mazee Ball is a roller-type puzzle toy. This is a step up from the basic ball-with-a-hole food dispenser, with a clear rubber outside that allows the dog to see the treats rattling around in the hard plastic inner maze. It's not a terribly difficult puzzle, so it's a great way to introduce the concept of pushing stuff around to make food happen. This is my new favorite puzzle toy for Ulysses now that he has mastered the Orbee ball with the big hole. We call it the Amazeball.
Photo by Erin Koski

Puzzle Toy Rating

Capacity: 5/5
I can fit at least two cups of kibble in here. None of my dogs eats anywhere near two cups of kibble.

Loading Speed: 4/5
I can dump food in pretty darned quick with a soda bottle funnel, but I can't just scoop it directly into the toy.

Unloading Speed (standard dog): 4/5
Ulysses can spend twenty minutes or more getting half a cup of kibble out of this toy.

Unloading Speed (superdog): 2/5
Brisbane takes slightly more time to unload the Amazeball than it takes me to unload it by turning it upside down and shaking it.

Size: 5/5
Big enough to be enjoyed by giant breeds, light enough to not crush toy dogs.

Durability: 4/5
The Amazeball isn't meant to be chewed, but will survive a bit of chomping and an infinite amount of rolling across the floor.

Noise: 5/5
The soft rubber outside of the Amazeball makes it amazeballs for hardwood floors. Silence, glorious silence.

Locatability: 4/5
It's a bit big for Brisbane to carry around, and it doesn't fit under most furniture.

Washability: 2/5
The Amazeball can be cleaned by filling it with hot water and shaking it. A bit of nontoxic dish soap probably wouldn't hurt. There's no way I'm getting a scrub brush in there, but at least the clear outside lets me see if there's anything really vile inside.

Once it's empty, it's dead. This isn't really a crate toy, it's made to be rolled around on the floor. Sometimes Brisbane will choose to roll it around on a bed, though.

Total: 37/50

DIY: Using a Regular Harness as a Front-Clip Harness

Front-clip harnesses, where the leash attaches to a ring in front of the dog's chest instead of behind their shoulders, have become popular training aids in the last few years. They discourage pulling by changing the angle and direction of leash attachment so that the dog has minimal leverage when moving forward. When the dog pulls forward, the harness uses that force to turn the sideways or back toward the handler.

Photo by Erin Koski
The current front-clip harness lineup includes the Premier EasyWalk, the Freedom harness by 2 Hounds Design, the SENSE-ation harness by Souftouch Concepts, the Walk Your Dog with Love harness. the Walk-in-Sync harness, the Walk Right harness, the Halti harness, the Lupine No-Pull Harness, and probably a few that I haven't heard about yet.

What do all of these harnesses have in common? They each have a ring in the front where a leash can be attached. Know what else has a ring in the front? A Roman-style harness. Mesh and vest-style harnesses don't normally have a front ring, but plain old walking harnesses tend to have one where the straps on either side of the neck meet the strap that goes between the front legs.

Normally the leash would attach to the D-ring at the back of this harness, but it can also attach to the O-ring at the front. Ta-da, it's now a front-clip harness.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Product Review: Freedom No-Pull Harness

The Freedom No-Pull Harness, by 2 Hounds Design (formerly Wiggles, Wags and Whiskers)  is a unique piece of equipment that doesn't really fit into any of the categories by which I usually classify dog harnesses. It's shaped more like a step-in than anything else, but goes on like a Roman harness, with the neck loop around the neck, center strap passed between the front legs, and the belly strap clipped around the dog's middle. The Freedom Harness comes in twenty different color combinations and two strap widths to fit dogs with chests 14-44" around.
Photo by Erin Koski

This harness has a martingale loop on the top that serves to tighten the chest strap around the dog's girth. The tightening strap discourages pulling without choking or hitting sensitive pressure points. While most no-pull products use some sort of pain or discomfort to discourage pulling, this one does not appear to bother extra-sensitive Brisbane.

One of the things I like best about the Freedom harness is the velvet lining on the straps under the armpits. This makes it very popular for off-track greyhounds and other dogs with sensitive skin. Brisbane's armpits are pretty much naked, so I am very careful with harnesses that have straps anywhere near that area. I'm pretty sure the original Wiggles Wags and Whiskers harness was designed specifically for greyhounds.
Photo by Erin Koski

Another unique feature of the Freedom harness is a front leash ring. This attachment point does not tighten the harness when leash pressure is applied, unlike the ever-popular EasyWalk harness.

Ideally, the leash should be clipped either to the back ring only, or to both the front and back rings at the same time. This can be accomplished with a double-ended leash, a regular leash with a carabiner snapped to the handle, or or even two leashes. This allows the handler to primarily use the back attachment point to discourage pulling, and the front ring just for turning the dog around.
Photo by Erin Koski
The Freedom harness has been awesome for Ulysses. He doesn't really pull on the leash, but he does fixate on things like other dogs in the distance. The front ring allows me to turn him around and walk him away in a manner that does not trigger him to react. This is the harness that I recommend now for people who have issues with pulling or reactivity.

Pros: No-pull feature does not make my uber-sensitive Brisbane act uncomfortable, meaning it is not a hugely negative pulling deterrent like a prong collar or string harness. Really does deter pulling, though I have not tried it on a strong dog yet. Does not require picking up the dog's feet to put it on, and the neck loop is big enough to go on without touching sensitive ears. Does not hang loosely, can be worn without a leash attached. Soft velvet on straps behind the legs help prevent chafing, and the harness does not sit too close to the elbows.

Cons: The front strap sits pretty low, probably low enough to interfere with shoulder movement. Brisbane recently developed some hip arthritis, and suddenly became visibly unhappy when wearing any harness that touches his shoulders. Our harness is a size large, I tried going down to a medium in hopes of having the strap sit higher, but the back loop section is actually the same length on both sizes. I'm also not in love with the sizing, with the large harness we have almost every strap adjusted as short as possible, with the medium they were all as long as possible. I wish there was more overlap. This harness is also sort of complicated for the uninitiated to put on the dog, though it gets easier with practice.

Bottom Line: This is my new favorite band-aid for pulling, and for managing reactive dogs. It has been wonderful for Ulysses and I plan to use it for future fosters as well.