Friday, February 27, 2015

Food Friday: Natural Balance Limited Ingredient Diet Potato and Rabbit

Natural Balance Limited Ingredient Diet Potato and Rabbit is a kibble intended for dogs with food allergies. This is a grain-free food suitable for all life stages, so it should be fine for puppies. It contains 21% minimum crude protein and 10% crude fat, and provides 350 kcal per cup. Dog Food Advisor gives it 2.5 stars.

(I meant to post this Food Friday last week but apparently missed hitting the actual "Publish" button. Oops.)

Once upon a time, Natural Balance was a pretty decent pet food company. Not the best, but a lot better than the average grocery store brands. A couple of years ago, Natural Balance was sold to Del Monte, makers of canned pineapple and also a whole bunch of grocery store brands of pet food and pet treats. Pretty much any time a decent pet food company gets sold to a giant corporation, that company's products go downhill. Formulas change suddenly, ingredient quality goes down, and the food becomes increasingly similar to other brands owned by the same company.

The Hype
Natural Balance is one of those brands that cashes in on our culture's current fascination with all things "natural". That's a pretty tough quality to define though, and kind of makes me want to market an "unnatural" dog food. There are also plenty of claims about omega atty acids added to help maintain a healthy skin and coat...but a good food should probably have those already.

Following the Trail
Prior to the Del Monte acquisition, Natural Balance pet foods were part of the massive, horrifying 2007 pet food recall that made me so very glad I was feeding my dog home-prepared raw food. It was also affected by the 2012 recall, along with numerous other brands. This is because Natural Balance dog food is made by Diamond Pet Foods in Diamond's facilities. They make a lot of foods for a lot of companies, including Canidae, Wellness, and Solid Gold.

This sort of setup, where the pet food brand is actually just a marketing company, always feels a bit shady to me.

The Good Stuff
This isn't a great food. It's plant-based and uses a fairly low amount of meat, hence the 2.5 out of 5 stars on Dog Food Advisor. Still, it does have a limited ingredient list and can be helpful as part of an elimination diet, and for dogs with tons of food allergies. I prefer to think of this as a stepping-stone food, one that is probably safe to feed while figuring out what a dog can eat without reacting. I like giving my dogs variety, so I include some Natural Balance products occasionally, but this is not a food I would choose to feed my dogs exclusively.

Have you used any Natural Balance foods?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Product Review: Simply Fido Penguin

The Simply Fido Penguin is a flat stuffingless plush dog toy with a crinkly belly. It is made in soft pastel colors from organic cotton.
Photo by Erin Koski
This toy arrived in our December BarkBox. It is not a toy I would personally have picked out, and is the first item I've used the Scout's Honor promise on.

The Scout's Honor guarantee seems to be a new thing that started with the opening of the BarkShop. This is basically a satisfaction guarantee, the company will replace one item per box by giving you store credit at the BarkShop for the value of the item. They request that the unwanted item be donated to a shelter or rescue for less fortunate and/or spoiled dogs.
Photo by Erin Koski

Brisbane does not approve of crinkly toys. I think the whole concept of crinkly paper and water bottles inside toys came about sometime after he was a baby. At least it wasn't nearly as popular or widespread. It's just as well, I'm not totally on board with the idea of convincing my dog that every discarded water bottle is actually a fun toy.

Simply Fido has some really cute toys, including owls, giraffes, and alligators. I'm not a huge fan of the pastel color scheme though. Frankly, I'm not a fan of pastel colors at all. Give me bright, bold, and dark colors that hide the dirt!
Photo by Erin Koski
Pros: Earth-friendly, adorable, and totally cute. Comes in eco-friendly packaging and is certified safe and nontoxic by a bunch of different organizations. No stuffing to scatter about the house. Crinkly texture is lots of fun for puppies.

Cons: Crinkly things are not things that Brisbane willingly puts in his mouth. Pastel color gets dirty easily. Omitting the stuffing feels like robbing my dog of one of life's greatest pleasures.

Bottom Line: The Simply Fido Stuffingless Penguin is currently entertaining assorted foster puppies, with whom it is quite popular.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Treat Tuesday: Max & Ruffy's Blizzard Bites

These Max & Ruffy's Blizzard Bites came in our winter-themed January BarkBox. They are molasses and ginger-flavored, and smell very gingery. They are made in the USA, and contain buckwheat flour, olive oil, molasses, and spices.

Good For: Dogs with food allergies. Handing to the dogs as I walk out the door, without making my hands smell like death and horror. Being a low-value treat for training.

Not Good For: High-value training treats, Super-picky chihuahuas. Non-food-motivated puppies.

How Much We Like Them: Probably not enough to buy them again, but enough to keep them and use them rather than foisting them off on my unsuspecting coworkers.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Problem with Dog Socks

Dog socks are totally adorable, but they have some design flaws that make them less than perfect. Knit socks should be a convenient way to keep little feetsies warm. Grippy socks should provide traction on slick floors. Dog socks can also be used to protect feet from obsessive licking.
Photo by Erin Koski

Ru has a set of tiny pink socks that are excessively cute. They have little grippy dots on the bottoms, and little argyle designs at the tops. I bought them at a little Japanese import store in a mall in San Jose.

I can't remember who made these little socks, but I bought them about a year before I started seeing similar dog socks in big box stores like Petsmart and Petco. These came one size smaller, but this was as small as I could realistically expect to get on Ru's little feet.

Putting socks on a dog is harder than it looks. Coordinating all those toes and toenails and directing them down a stretchy tube takes a little bit of work. Despite these being snug-fitting little chihuahua socks, they don't stay on.

I had a similar issue with the PMP Waterproof Outdoor Socks. The elastic knit sock fabric just wasn't tight enough to keep them on. Smaller, tighter socks would have been difficult to actually get onto the dog. These and those are the only dog socks I've tried. I have used baby socks on Brisbane to protect foot injuries, and those stayed on about as well as these just-for-dogs socks.

Have you found any dog socks that actually stay on?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Product Review: Starmark Everlasting Treat Wheeler

The Starmark Everlasting Treat Wheeler is a durable chew toy designed to hold a long-lasting edible Everlasting Treat. The toy can hold two of these treats, and small treats or kibble can also be pushed into the grooves. The Wheeler comes in three sizes for small, medium, and large dogs.
Photo by Erin Koski

This is the most durable Everlasting Treat holder that I am aware of. Similar to the black Extreme Kong, though probably not quite as tough. The shape also makes it difficult for a lot of dogs to chew effectively, which makes it last longer with power chewers.

A lot of dog owners report that this is the only Starmark toy their dog hasn't demolished in the space of hours. I doubt it's a coincident that this is also the most difficult toy to get the edible treat into, in my opinion. It can hold two Everlasting Treats, but getting that second one in there was nearly impossible. The instructions claim that I can fit some kibble in between the two treats on our small Treat Wheeler, but I'm pretty sure they're lying. The medium and large toys might be different.
Photo by Erin Koski

Pros: Holds up better than most Everlasting Treat toys. Tire/donut shape makes destructive chewing difficult.

Cons: Difficult-to-chew shape may make it unrewarding for some dogs to chew. A few dogs are super good at popping the treats out of this toy. It is also a pain in the butt to clean, we got sand in the grooves while taking these pictures and no amount of individual scrubbing of each crevice has succeeded in removing it.

Bottom Line: Definitely worth a try for power chewers, especially those that need an edible reason to gnaw on a toy.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The February Allergy-Friendly BarkBox

The theme of the February Allergy-Friendly BarkBox is Mardi Gras! Not being Catholic or even slightly religious, we think of Mardi Gras as a big weird party that happens to other people. That's ok though, the dogs are thrilled with this month's box. As always, nothing in here contains any chicken, turkey, beef, corn wheat, soy, or gluten. Happily, this month's box also didn't include anything with duck or eggs.

Ru liked the Harry Barker Stuffed Mardi Gras Mask with Rope. It's a good size for him, and he enjoys dragging around rope toys.

Brisbane immediately stole the Delca Jester Ball and has been nose-punching it to make it squeak all evening. This is a stuffy with a spiky ball inside.

There is also an Aussie Naturals Salmon Half Cigar, which is slightly less stinky than the Fish Strips we got in last month's box.

We got some gluten-free Le Petit Treat King Cake Biscuits. These are so cute, but there's only a few in there. It's a tiny box, we went through the last one in a couple of days.

The most interesting thing in this month's box is a package of Petsafe Indigo Catfish Po'Boy treats. These are super high-value treats that must be refrigerated after opening and consumed within three days. I haven't opened them yet, but they're probably pretty stinky.

This month's box contents are all from familiar companies, and we've gotten similar things in previous boxes. In fact, our January BarkBox had a plush Delco toy and Aussie Naturals fish skin treats, so this month feels a tiny bit like a rerun. Come to think of it, our June box last year contained both a Harry Barker plushy and some Le Petit Treat biscuits as well. Do these things always come paired?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Product Review: Outward Hound Cooling Bandana

The Outward Hound Cooling Bandana is filled with absorbent gel that is intended to help keep the dog cool. It comes in three sizes for small, medium, and large dogs and closes with velcro.

While the rest of the country is supposedly buried in snow, we're having an 80+ degree heat wave on the beach. Ru never actually needs to be cooled down and rarely pants even in triple-digit weather, so I tested this bandana on myself.

The directions say to soak the bandana in cold water for 15 minutes. I followed the directions and stuck mine in a bowl of cold water, and was shocked to return 15 minutes later to find it bloated and enormous. It weighs more than a pound wet. While the dry Cooling Bandada fits Ru perfectly, I can't imagine putting something this heavy on a dog this tiny.

I have a Hurtta evaporative cooling coat for Brisbane, and had thought that the bandana would work the same way. Obviously the Outward Hound Cooling Bandana doesn't use evaporative cooling, because it is still hugely swollen two days later. It's been hanging up to dry in my kitchen, and I'm afraid to stick it in a drawer because I'm not sure if the gel inside will fully dry before it turns funky.

Pros: Easy to use, and can be frozen to enhance the effect.

Cons: Seems to only get as cold as the water in which it was soaked. Cold water from the tap only got me  a few minutes of cooling before the bandana got as hot as my neck. It's ridiculously heavy and so far impossible to dry.

Bottom Line: This does not use evaporative cooling and is significantly less effective that our Hurtta cooling coat.

Have you used any sort of cooling gear for your dog?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Treat Tuesday: Aussie Naturals Fish Strips

We got these Aussie Naturals Fish Strips in our January BarkBox, and they have been stinking up my  treat cabinet ever since. They are made from salmon skin and nothing else. Just 100% sockeye salmon, a great allergy-friendly chew. Did I mention they smell like fish? A whole lot? They come in a resealable plastic bag to help contain a small fraction of the fishy smell, and are made in the USA.

Good For: Dogs with allergies to almost everything. Small dogs who enjoy a good chewing session. Mid-sized and large dogs who enjoy a brief chewing session. Shiny healthy skins and coats.

Not Good For: Ripping into smaller pieces. Lasting Brisbane longer than five minutes. Extremely picky chihuahuas. Feeding the dogs on my way out the door when I don't want to arrive at my destination smelling like fish.

How Much We Like Them: Well Brisbane thinks they're super awesome. They are also supposed to do amazing things for his skin and coat. I'm trying to get his hair to grow back after a particularly bad round of allergy issues, and he needs all the omega-3's he can get.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Happy Valentines Day!

Valentines Day is one of those candy holidays, and one of the most chocolate-intensive celebrations. I think most people know by now that chocolate is bad for dogs, but beyond that the details tend to get a little fuzzy. Should I be worried if they lick my face right after I put on chocolate-flavored lip gloss? What if they snag a dropped chocolate chip cookie? Can they have white chocolate?

How Much Chocolate Does It Take to Kill a Dog?
First, it's important to know how much chocolate is in your chocolate. When it comes to chocolate toxicity, quality is everything. The most dangerous substances contain high percentages of actual cocoa. That chocolate-flavored lip gloss? They could eat the whole tube and be fine. Chocolate-flavored breakfast cereal? I'm not worried unless Ru somehow manages to eat an entire box.

According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, white chocolate is an insignificant source of theobromine, the compound in chocolate that is toxic to dogs but not humans. The lethal dose of theobromine can be as low as 100 mg per kg of dog weight, with mild effects occurring in some dogs with as little as 20 mg/kg. Serious cardiac effects are more likely at 40 mg/kg or more. Dry cocoa powder can contain as much as 800 mg/oz of theobromine. Unsweetened baking chocolate has about 450 mg/oz, while milk chocolate has around 64 mg/oz.

Ru weighs about 3 kg, so an ounce of milk chocolate could be enough to make him sick, and two ounces could make him really sick. A Hershey's Kiss weighs 0.2 ounces, it could take up to five of those to make him queasy, and if he eats less than ten he's unlikely to have serious heart rhythm issues. Since Ru doesn't really like food, I'm not seriously worried about him eating enough milk chocolate to make himself sick.

Of course, different dogs feel the effects of theobromine at different doses. Brisbane has a stomach of steel and would have to eat a whopping 360 mg of it before he got so much as a tummy ache. That's 28 Hershey's Kisses. It would take nearly an ounce of cocoa powder to put him in the cardiac danger zone, and more than an ounce of baking chocolate. I happen to know that Briz tolerates theobromine remarkably well, as he has eaten half a flourless chocolate cake off the counter on two separate occasions with no ill effects. He got a tummy ache once from eating an entire bar of 85% chocolate bar. I feed him the occasional M&M, secure in the knowledge that the theobromine will be out of his system within a day or two.

Chocolate is really nothing to freak out about, though it can hide in unexpected places. Coco mulch is sometimes used in landscaping and also sometimes eaten by undiscriminating dogs with unfortunate results. I think it's wise for dog owners to have a rough idea of how much theobromine is in chocolate, as well as a general estimate of how much it would take to harm their particular dog. That way we can all stop freaking out when a lucky dog snarfs a stray piece of candy off the floor.  PetMD has a really cool chocolate calculator for those who find all that math a bit daunting.

Has your dog had any close encounters with chocolatey goodness?

Friday, February 13, 2015

Food Friday: Taste of the Wild Pacific Stream Puppy

   Taste of the Wild Pacific Stream Puppy is a grain-free fish-based kibble specifically intended for growing puppies. This food contains 25% minimum crude protein, 15% minimum crude fat, and 360 kcal per cup. It rates four stars on Dog Food Advisor and contains no poultry or egg ingredients.

From Dog Food Logic I learned that there are only two legally-defined terms for dog food: growth and maintenance. All dog food is technically either adult maintenance food, or puppy growth food, based on its nutrient profile. Thus all food that is labelled as "complete and balanced for all life stages" is actually puppy food. A lot of food companies like to produce puppy-specific formulas as well as their "all life stages but actually puppy food" formulas. With the exception of large breed puppies who have some specific nutrient requirements, I generally feel that the best foods don't really need to have a specific flavor just for puppies. Still, I have been asked to feed Xena puppy food. This is a grain-free, egg-free, poultry-free food that is safe to have around Brisbane.

It's actually not much different from the regular Taste of the Wild Pacific Stream kibble, which is the only Taste of the Wild product Briz can eat since they added eggs to the Sierra Mountain formula last year. Pacific Stream Puppy has the same number of calories as the adult version, the same fat content, and 2% more protein. The puppy version has slightly less calcium, and therefore phosophorous, per serving. The puppy kibbles are also smaller, pea-sized.

The Hype
Taste of the Wild's packaging prominently features wolves and prey animals in natural settings to help drive home the message that this is a "natural" product. While the bag says "with smoked salmon" and salmon is the first ingredient on the list, ocean fish meal is the second ingredient and smoked salmon is ninth. This is an ocean fish-based kibble. Those wolves should be on the beach.

Following the Trail
Taste of the Wild is co-packed by Diamond Pet Foods and was affected by the massive recall of 2012, along with Solid Gold, Wellness, Natural Balance, Canidae, and a few others. In my mind, this makes Taste of the Wild more of a marketing company and less of a total-package dog food company. I still use their food, but it makes me think a little less of their products.

The Good Stuff
Taste of the Wild is one of the most inexpensive grain-free dog foods, and the quality is a great value. I refer to this as a gateway grain-free food, it's an awesome way to introduce people to the concept of better food than they can typically find in the grocery store. While I love my Orijen and Acana, Taste of the Wild is less likely to give people who have been feeding Beneful sticker shock. For itchy dogs, Pacific Stream can be a good way to eliminate some common allergens. It's a nice compromise for times when money is tight, and one of the few foods I have fed my dogs for several months at a time. They're always done well on it.

Have you fed Taste of the Wild?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Xena, Warrior Princess

This is Xena, she is Darla and Hellin's sister. Hellin got adopted last week, Darla went back to her original foster home, and Xena came home with me.

Xena is, to be honest, a really strange little dog. At six months old, she has been in rescue since the age of four weeks. She has had the same individual socialization and foundational training as her sisters. Unlike her happy, outgoing, well-adjusted littermates, Xena is extremely nervous and terrified of everything. She has been learning to walk on a leash for months, but still doesn't really get the concept and turns into a flat pull-toy every few steps.
When they first arrived, Darla marched triumphantly into the house and went to wiggle and lick at the kitties. Hellin took about a day to adjust to the hardwood floors and decide they were safe to walk on. Xena has been here over a week and still freaks out a little about the slippery floors.

Xena is terrified of cars while walking on the sidewalk or through a parking lot. Unfortunately I live in the middle of town and cars are everywhere at all times.
For over a week I've been watching Xena slink along on her belly with her tail tucked, so far over threshold she wouldn't even take treats. Today we went to a new swimming spot in the river, and once we were away from the road and general city life she really perked up.

She loved following Brisbane into the water, though she had zero interest in retrieving toys. She did  lot of bouncing and splashing and was generally a happy, if serious,
Based on her behavior and sound sensitivity, I am beginning to suspect that Xena can't see very well. She can navigate a somewhat novel room in the dark, but loses track of treats once they are more than a couple of feet from her face. She crosses her eyes when looking up at me, and occasionally bonks into things for no reason.

At the river today I watched her explore and got the distinct impression that sometimes she was moving as if she wasn't entirely certain what she was walking into. Hopefully we can get her eyes checked out soon and see if Xena is seeing properly.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Product Review: Premier Sure-Fit Harness

The Premier Sure-Fit Harness is a Roman-style harness that does not restrict shoulder movement. It features two buckles on the girth strap, so I don't have to lift up Brisbane's feet to put it on. This is a highly adjustable harness, in addition to the adjustable neck and girth straps, the central chest strap that runs between the front legs is also adjustable. The Sure-Fit Harness is available in an impressive twelve colors and five sizes to fit dogs with chests 12-42" around.
Pardon my fat dog.
Photo by Erin Koski

This is one of the first harnesses I bought for Brisbane, way back when he was a baby. I had thought it was long gone, donated to rescue with assorted other silly things, until I found it in my car. Nothing makes me feel sillier than discovering something that has been hiding in my car for years, though in my defense it was stuffed in the spare tire compartment with assorted other things I used to use when I picked up dogs to send to New York.

Photo by Erin Koski

This is a great harness that does not restrict shoulder movement in any way. It was mentioned by name when I emailed Dr. Christine Zink for harness recommendations, and she's basically the expert on such things so I take her word for it.

I have a green medium Premier Sure-Fit harness, and recently picked up a purple large harness at a thrift store. I'm beginning to think I'm a bit weird about harness fitting, because I pretty much adjust the center strap on any harness to be as long as possible. I just want the straps to sit as far away from sensitive armpits as possible. On Brisbane, the medium Sure-Fit is adjusted with the necks straps at about half their maximum length, the chest straps each about an inch short of their maximum length, and the center strap adjusted as long as possible. On foster puppy Darla, the neck and chest straps are all adjusted nearly as small as they go, but the chest strap is still set to its maximum length. I did the same thing with the Red Dingo harness, so it's not something about this particular brand. On Brisbane the large harness fits loosely with every strap adjusted as short as possible...except that center strap.
Photo by Erin Koski

When properly fitted, the neck straps of the Sure Fit harness should sit way up high on the neck, well away from the shoulders. I try to get it just below where a collar would sit.

Pros: Highly adjustable for a good fit. Comes in tons of colors. Two buckles make it easier to put on, I don't have to put any feet through any straps. Front ring allows it to be used as a no-pull harness.

Cons: There's not a lot of overlap between the larger sizes. I almost feel like the front center strap isn't quite long enough on the medium, but the large doesn't adjust small enough.

Bottom Line: It may be plain, but the Sure-Fit harness is a great non-restrictive option for canine athletes, dogs who run with their owners, and really almost any dog. I like harnesses. This is a good one. Since I rediscovered it we have been using it a lot.

What's your favorite harness?

Monday, February 9, 2015

Treat Tuesday: Beef Trachea

Beef tracheas are edible dried cow windpipes. They are also known as "moo tubes" and are easily identified by the cartilage rings that make them so delightfully chewy.

These are pretty far up on the gross scale, they're usually pretty greasy and smelly.

Good For: A longer chew session for average chewers. Keeping Brisbane busy for 20+ minutes. Being exciting enough to be worth chewing.

Not Good For: People who mind feeding their dogs recognizable animal parts. Nice carpets. Dogs that swallow things whole.

How Much We Like Them: Enough to buy them occasionally for Briz, but not enough to not exclaim over how disgusting they are every time.

Have you ever given your dog a beef trachea chew?

Product Review: Wag A Tude Bandana Collar

The Wag a Tude Bandana Collar is a flat buckle collar with a little decorative bandana attached. This is a Petco house brand, these are available seasonally in assorted prints ans sizes.
Photo by Erin Koski

I'm not normally a fan of bandana collars, but this one isn't too bad. The leash ring is placed in the center of the bandana, so it will stay in proper position when a leash is attached. I wouldn't use this as a tag collar because the tags would pull the bandana to the front. To me that looks backwards. The bandana should be at the back of the dog's neck like a cape, or at a jaunty angle to the side.

There is no way I would use this as a regular tag collar, but as a fashion accessories it's pretty damned cute. The bandana is big enough to get the point across, but not so gigantic that it gets bunched up.

Pros: Cute and colorful for good visibility. Totally adorable print.

Cons: Looks stupid when worn with identification tags.

Bottom Line: This is the only bandana collar I own. I doubt I will acquire any others.

How do you feel about bandana collars?

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Puzzle Toy Review: Starmark Everlasting Groovy Ball

The Starmark Everlasting Groovy Ball is a durable chew toy. It holds one edible Starmark Everlasting Treat and can be filled with kibble or small treats. This toy also features grooves around the sides that can be spread with peanut butter, or cheese, or stuffed with additional small treats. It comes in three sizes for tiny through large dogs.
Photo by Erin Koski

Photo by Erin Koski
I am obviously a big fan of Starmark's products, and I particularly like their everlasting treat toys. While they all serve more or less the same function, each toy presents different problems to solve and different challenges. This toy is a lot like the Bento Ball in that it holds one Everlasting Treat and holds kibble in the other side. The Everlasting Groovy Ball holds a lot more food though, and those ridges are fun to shove kibble into. This is currently our favorite Everlasting Treat vessel.

Puzzle Toy Rating

Capacity: 4/5
Less than a cup fits in our medium toy, but not much less.

Loading Speed: 4/5
Very fast via soda funnel.

Unloading Speed (standard dog): 5/5
The foster puppies spent all day on this project.

Unloading speed (superdog): 5/5
It takes Brisbane close to an hour to empty the kibble out because the treat is so much fun to gnaw. The food in the grooves is also time-consuming to remove.

Photo by Erin Koski
 Size: 4/5
Large is large enough for most large dogs. Small is small enough for Ru, who is very small indeed.

Durability: 4/5
A determined chewer will devour this thing, but it'll stand up to pretty much anything less.

Noise: 5/5
Soft rubber makes it sound nice on my hard floors.

Locatability: 2/5
Small enough for Brisbane to carry, plus it fits under the couch. I usually find it in his crate or on his bed.
Photo by Erin Koski

Washability: 4/5
Dishwasher safe, but the stuff that keeps the kibble from falling out makes it a pain in the ass to hand wash.

Versatility: 5/5
This would be a good toy for Xhuuya the raven, I could hide nuts in the middle and jam kibble in the grooves for her to retrieve.

Total: 42/50

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Product Review: Baskerville Ultra Muzzle

The Baskerville Ultra Muzzle is a basket-style muzzle by The Company of Animals, makers of the Halti head collar. It is made from flexible rubber, and is designed to allow the dog to eat, drink, pant, bark, and even play with certain kinds of toys. This muzzle comes in black and pastel blue, and is available in six sizes to fit almost any dog.
Photo by Erin Koski

Muzzles are pretty awesome, and I'm glad there are groups like the Muzzle Up Project dedicated to normalizing and encouraging their use. A lot of people see a dog in a muzzle and immediately assume that it is unsafe to be around that dog. The reality is that a muzzled dog is often much safer to be around than an unknown dog with nothing on its face. When I see a muzzle on a dog in public, I am delighted to see that someone is taking the responsibility to protect both their dog and the public.

Just because my dog doesn't routinely need to wear a muzzle right now, it doesn't mean that he won't need this skill at some point in the future. Like crate training, muzzle training is a proactive way to reduce stress in unforeseen situations. Someday I might need to prevent him from eating things off the ground. Someday we might need to evacuate in close quarters with many strangers. I already know that Brisbane needs to be muzzled for certain veterinary procedures. He might as well think this whole face cage thing is awesome.

To be fair, I do sometimes use a muzzle purely for the "yikes!" factor. When Brisbane is wearing his Baskerville Ultra Muzzle, people that would normally shout "It's okay, he's friendly!" suddenly gather up their off-leash out-of-control dog while apologizing.

Photo by Erin Koski
The Baskerville Ultra Muzzle is basically the best muzzle ever. The holes are wide enough that I can easily feed Brisbane lots and lots of treats. The adjustable strap has a zillion little holes and is super long so it will fit around tiny heads and giant heads. There is a loop on the bottom for attaching the muzzle to the dog's regular collar for extra security. The Baskerville Ultra Muzzle also comes with a removable top strap that runs between the dog's eyes, but ours was missing from the package.

The basket itself is somewhat flexible, but not enough to allow the dog to bite. It is very strong and mostly holds its shape. For a custom fit, it can be dunked in hot water, shaped, and then cooled off. Over at The Muzzle Up Project, I've seen some cute fleece and felt cozies made for the top for extra comfort.

Pros: Comfortable! Highly adjustable and very secure. Difficult to escape. Designed to be comfortable enough for extended wear. Easy to feed treats for training. Dogs can still toss and carry toys like ropes and stuffies. Did I mention comfortable?

Cons: A lot of dogs don't like the strap that goes between the eyes, fortunately that part is removable.

Bottom Line: Brisbane hates having stuff on his face, but is totally chill when wearing the Baskerville Ultra Muzzle. This is partly the result of training, and partly because this muzzle really is comfortable enough to not bother my special snowflake dog.

Is your dog trained to wear a muzzle?

Friday, February 6, 2015

Food Friday: Primal Pronto Beef

Primal Pronto is raw dog food that is almost as convenient as kibble. It comes packaged in a resealable bag, and the food itself is in pellet form. It's still raw ground meat, just shaped into small pieces so it can be scooped out of the bag. This also allows it to defrost almost immediately, taking all the inconvenience out of raw food that comes in patty or loaf form.

Brisbane was exclusively raw fed for about six years, until the inconvenience, expense, and difficulty with portion control became too much for me. I did some prey-model raw, and some pre-made raw. Primal was one of the first commercial raw foods available in my area, and the first one I tried for Brisbane. At the time it only came in large patty form. I was perpetually forgetting to defrost the next day's food, or defrosting too much and having it go bad. Prying the frozen patties apart was a pain in the butt.

Obviously the people at Primal had some of the same issues. Primal Pronto addresses basically every issue I had with the inconvenience of raw food. This stuff is literally as convenient as kibble to feed. Open bag, scoop into bowl. The only difference is that this is raw meat, and so I need to wash the bowl, the measuring scoop, and my hands after feeding it.

Primal Pronto is also pretty pricey, at $25 for a bag. It's 64 calories per ounce and 64 ounces per bag. Since Brisbane subsists on a mere ~150 calories per day (plus however much pizza he can steal), theoretically this one bag could last me around a month. Primal makes quite a few single-protein raw foods that Brisbane can eat with his poultry allergies, including beef, lamb, pheasant, rabbit, and venison. Unfortunately, Primal Pronto has significantly fewer selections and only offer beef and lamb for Briz.

The Hype
Primal's website actually has significantly less hype than I expected. Despite all the claims in the raw feeding community that raw food is infinitely superior, there haven't actually been controlled studies or anything resembling scientific proof. I love scientific proof. The website does talk a bit about the diet of animals in the wild, but in a sort of unassuming, plain text fashion. I like it.

Following the Trail
Like all the awesome pet food companies, Primal makes their own food in their own facility. Their ingredients are human grade and the meat they use is all from USDA-approved sources in the USA and New Zealand. Not only do they not use any ingredients imported from China, they also do not get their meat from animals fed on imported feed from China.

The Good Stuff
This is a really amazing food, with incredibly high-quality ingredients and lots of options for dogs with allergies. I just can't get over how convenient it is, too. Easily the easiest raw diet ever.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Puzzle Toy Review: Busy Buddy Twist 'n Treat

The Busy Buddy Twist 'n Treat is a roller-type treat-dispensing toy. It is made from durable rubber and comes in four sizes. This toy is also available in a softer rubber for teething puppies, and there is a cat version as well.
Photo by Erin Koski

The toy shown here is an extra small that we borrowed from Xhuuya the raven, we don't currently have one of our own. I did get one for my dearly departed cocker spaniel a few years before I got Brisbane, and that toy lasted us well over a decade before the rubber started to get a bit weird.

The Twist 'n Treat consists of two halves that screw together and come apart completely for easy cleaning. The toy can be filled with small treats and made more difficult by screwing it together tighter. I used to smear it with peanut butter and fill it with kibble.

Puzzle Toy Rating

Capacity: 2/5
Our old medium-sized Twist 'n Treat held less than a quarter cup of kibble. I know the large holds more than that, but not a ton.

Loading Speed: 4/5
Untwist, dump food in, re-twist. It can be tough to get it closed when filled to max capacity, however.

Unloading Speed (standard dog): 3/5
The peanut butter made it last a bit longer, but this was never a time-consuming project for Oakely.

Unloading Speed (superdog): 2/5
There was a reason I stopped using this long before it began to degrade.

Size: 5/5
Comes in Ru-sized all the way up to Doberman-sized.

Durability: 4/5
It'll stand up to all forms of flinging, squishing, and biting. Not hard chewing, though.

Noise: 5/5
Soft rubber means it can be bounced all over the hardwood without waking the neighbors.

Locatability: 1/5
It rolls, and the medium was small enough to fit under most furniture. Was often found in Brisbane's lairs.

Washability: 5/5
Unscrews all the way for easy scrubbing. Also top rack dishwasher safe.

Versatility: 5/5
The various sizes and flexibility of this toy make it good for a variety of creatures. Premier markets it for dogs and cats, it is also raven-approved and could potentially be used for enrichment for a variety of animals. The fact that it can be unscrewed gives it huge potential, and it has no hard parts of sharp edges.

Total: 36/50

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Product Review: Ollydog Nightlife II Collar

The Ollydog Nightlife II Collar is a flat buckle collar with an incredibly reflective strip down the middle. It features durable nylon webbing, a quick-release buckle, and a rubber tag muffler. This collar is available in nine colors and three sizes to fit dogs with necks 8-29" around.
Photo by Erin Koski

When it comes to visibility, this collar is tough to beat. That wide reflective strip is pretty impressive at night. It picks up flashlight beams and car headlights and throws them back in a way that makes it look like the collar itself is glowing.

Ollydog makes some neat outdoor dog gear, and while I'm not as madly in love with them as I am with Ruffwear, I still like the company a whole lot. These collars last a long time, can handle anything from beach sand to serious mud, and are really nice collars for active outdoor-enthusiast dogs.

I especially like that little rubber tag silencer. It goes between the ID tag and county license, rabies tag, religious symbol, etc, and keeps the tags from clanking together. I don't find dog tag noises to be particularly annoying, but obviously a lot of people do. There are a ton of different products intended to solve this problem, and I think this is one of the simplest and most durable solutions.

Pros: High visibility in low-light conditions. High durability. Stays bright and colorful for a long, long time. Comes in tiny through ponydog sizes.

Cons: That reflective tape is the same width on every collar, so it looks a whole lot skinnier on the larger sizes.

Bottom Line: An excellent utilitarian collar, and probably my favorite reflective piece of dog gear.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Treat Tuesday: Twistix Vanilla Mint Dental Chews

Our original bag of Twistix Dental Chews came in our March BarkBox last year. This is the only reason why we had Yoghurt Banana flavored dental chews. Blech. Sure, the dogs liked them, but I had flashbacks to all the horrible banana-flavored Laffy Taffies and Jelly Bellies I've ever suffered through. These Twistix Vanilla Mint Dental Chews are much less bananariffic.

Good For: Occupying Brisbane for maybe five minutes. Giving him nice minty breath for a little while.

Not Good For: Actually cleaning teeth in a meaningful way. Fixing the actual causes of nasty horrible dog breath. Lasting a good long time.

How Much We Like Them: Obviously enough to try a non-banana flavor. Also enough to swap them into a different bag when I realized the current one had a giant price sticker across the front.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Product Review: Gooby New Freedom Harness

The Gooby New Freedom Harness is a mesh vest harness for small dogs. This is an updated version of the original Gooby Freedom Harness, it is not the Freedom Harness II. Does that make sense? No? That's ok. This current iteration comes in nine colors and five sizes to fit dogs with chests 10-24" around. Ours is a small.
Photo by Erin Koski

Gooby made the first mesh harnesses that I saw in stores, way back when Brisbane was a little baby. I have one of their original Freedom harnesses, and it looks like they've made some improvements.

The first thing I noticed about this harness was the buckle. Like Planet Dog, Gooby most likely discovered that metal side-squeeze buckles don't last. The springs inside them degrade too quickly. The updated Freedom Harness has a standard plastic quick-release buckle.
Photo by Erin Koski

The big rubber logo on the original harness is also conspicuous by its absence. Instead there is a much sleeker patch on the back. I'm not positive about it, but I suspect that the area at the front has also been narrowed a bit where it goes between the front legs.

This is a very comfortable harness, I can leave on Ru all day and it doesn't rub marks on his almost-naked skin.

Pros: Soft and light. Does not choke, distributes pressure evenly across tiny chests. Allows great freedom of movement when properly fitted.

Cons: Not adjustable in neck, may not fit some funny-shaped dogs. Lighter colors get dirty quickly. May cause hair to mat when worn for extended periods by dogs with actual hair.

Bottom Line: This is the best-fitting mesh harness I've used, and Ru is exactly the sort of dog the Gooby Freedom Harness is intended for. We'd use it a lot more if it worked better over clothes, the Midnight Pet Pet Lite and E-Z Harness is still the best for my tiny fashionista.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Brisbane and Pizza Hut

A Pizza Hut just opened in our town a few weeks ago, not far at all from our house. Cheap pizza can be pretty awesome, and they've really expanded their menu range in the years since we lived within delivery range. This led to use ordering pizza from them three times within one week.

Brisbane at a trim 40 lbs.
Photo by Erin Koski
Brisbane is a diabolical mastermind dog, fortunately his trainwreck of a build prevents him from causing too much havoc. Briz can't jump high enough to get onto the counters (without help) so it's usually safe to leave food out as long as it's pushed all the way back against the wall. Except pizza. I'm not sure exactly what he did, but Briz recently expanded the "unsafe zone" and now things have to be put on top of the toaster oven to be safely out of range.

Briz also figured out how to get pizza out of a box on the stove without actually disturbing the box, leading my husband and I to accuse each other of hogging all the pizza until we caught him snarfing down a slice.
"Did you feed that pizza to Briz, or did Briz feed that pizza to Briz?"

Our pizza binge began the week Pizza Hut opened, and the new business obviously had some growing pains. We're basically dream customers for delivery drivers, we tip well and understand that no matter what goes wrong, it is rarely the driver's fault. I'm hoping this made life a little less stressful for the ones stuck being the only driver on a busy night. One time our order was an hour late, and they brought us entirely the wrong pizza. We tipped both the original driver and the one who brought us the corrected order.

40 lbs + 4 lbs of pizza.
Photo by Erin Koski
We also enjoyed trying the wide variety of crusts, sauces, and other random stuff they put on pizzas these days. Not everything was delicious, but the experience was a lot of fun. All this is to say that, between ordering an ungodly bacon-stuffed-crust monstrosity, and getting extra free pizzas, we had a lot of extra pizza laying around. We sort of use Brisbane as a garbage disposal and feed him all sorts of fun stuff, but I'm smart enough not to feed him entire pizzas all at once. Brisbane, however, is smart enough to figure out how to feed himself entire pizzas.

By the end of the week, Brisbane has stolen and devoured most of a large pepperoni pizza, half a bacon-cheese-stuffed-crust pizza, and random assorted slices. Basically enough to make up at least two entire pizzas. In a week. He gained four pounds. Briz is now on a diet, Pizza Hut has lost a bit of its novelty, and we've been sticking stealable food in the oven for safekeeping.