Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Treat Tuesday: Le Petit Treat King Cake Biscuits

Le Petit Treat King Cake Biscuits are darling heart-shaped dog cookies. They are gluten-free, corn-free, and soy-free. Le Petit Treat products are made in the USA. The ingredient list for these treats consists of four items: rice flour, apples, peanut butter, and olive oil. These arrived in our February Allergy-Friendly BarkBox.

Good For: Stuffing inside Kongs. Giving my chihuahua a healthy snack. Feeding the dogs on my way out the door without making my hands smell like liver or fish.

Not Good For: High-value training treats. Dogs with rice allergies. Taking pictures of pretty, unbroken heart-shaped cookies.

How Much We Like Them: Enough to buy a box if I ever see them at the store. They're pretty cute.

Monday, March 30, 2015

How Do I Change My Dog's Name?

Can you change a dog's name if they already know their name? Does the dog mind? How will they know? When I take a foster dog to meet potential adopters, they almost always ask whether or not they can change the dog's name. This makes perfect sense to me, I'm very particular about names and can't imagine owning a dog named Buddy, or Bella, or Cooper, or any of the other super-common dog names.
Photo by Erin Koski

Names can be more or less meaningful, depending on your point of view. For dogs, a name is largely a way to get their attention. We teach them that "this set of specific sounds means you". For some people, a regular old dog name is just fine. This is why there are so many Lucys and Lolas and Rockys at doggy daycare.

We name foster dogs and teach them their names so we can get their attention. In general, rescue people and foster parents aren't expecting adopters to keep the names we gave their dogs. We expect the new owners to give their dog a name that fits their family. Some people even have a list of potential names for their future dogs. I've met someone with a miniature poodle named Mothra and a chihuahua named Gamera, obviously they are someday going to name a dog Godzilla. I personally plan to name dogs Brontosaurus and Cthulhu in the future.

What's the best way to change a dog's name? If they don't react to their current name, you can go ahead and start calling them the new one. I like to say the dog's name as I'm giving them a treat. When I have multiple dogs in the house, I like to line them up and say each dog's name as I give them a treat so they learn their own name and don't just come to anything that sounds likely.

For dogs that know their name already, a gradual change can be more comfortable for everyone. I don't worry about changing a dog's name even if they've had it for years, mostly due to one of my human friends. She was adopted at the age of 18 months and arrived with the #1 most popular little girl name of the decade. Her parents, both professional musicians, wanted to give her a more unique and lyrical name. They added the new name to the end of her old name and called her that for several weeks before dropping the old name. It works for human kids, and it works for dogs too. Hellin the foster puppy, pictured above, spent two weeks being called Hellin-Kit by her new owners and now happily responds to Kit.

Changing a dog's name can feel a little weird, but it doesn't have to be awkward. I'm certain the dogs don't mind, and they're probably happier with a name that you are happy saying. Don't ever feel obligated to keep a rescue dog's name if there's something you'd like better. In rescue we tend to give the dogs upbeat, attention-getting names, or give whole litters matching names. These are really just placeholders, though.

Did your dog ever have a different name?

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Product Review: Sleepypod Clickit Sport Harness

The Sleepypod Clickit Sport Harness is a crash-protection harness that has been independently tested and rated by the Center for Pet Safety. This harness received the Center's highest rating, and is now the gold standard for dog car safety. The Sleepypod Clickit harness surpassed all other products tested, not only for strength and integrity, but for head excursion as well.
Photo by Erin Koski

What is head excursion? It's the distance the test dummy's head travels during a crash test. Simply put, the further the head moves, the greater the chance of a head injury. Manufacturers of child safety seats have to prove that their products pass head excursion tests.

There are currently no standards for pet safety products. Let me say that again. There are currently no standards for pet safety products. As horrifically demonstrated by the Center for Pet Safety, the vast majority of car safety harnesses will either fail catastrophically in an accident, or actually cause injury to the dog. Even products that worked as intended often sent the stuffed test dogs bouncing all over the car seat.
Photo by Erin Koski
The Sleepypod Clickit is part of a new generation of crash-protection harnesses. In the crash tests by the Center for Pet Safety, the Sleepypod Clickit Utility harness outperformed every other product tested. It was the only harness that actually kept the dog on the seat, in position, with minimal head excursion.

The original Clickit Utility harness attached to the child seat anchors as well as the seatbelt in the car. These three points helped anchor the test dog and keep it on the seat in the crash test.
Photo by Erin Koski

The Sleepypod Clickit Sport harness is more versatile because it only uses the seatbelt. At the same time, it meets or exceeds all of the standards set by the Center for Pet Safety and performs as well as the Clickit Utility. The Sleepypod Clickit Sport harness is the first CPS Certified crash-protection harness. Check out that link for crash test videos if you like watching stuffed dogs bouncing around in slow motion. (I love crash test videos.)

The harness has two grey-striped loops on the back. The seatbelt is threaded through each of these loops and then buckled. To put on the harness, the dog steps into the leg holes and then two buckles are fastened at the back. In a crash, there is no force placed on these buckles. When buckled into the car, Brisbane can sit up or lay down.

Photo by Erin Koski

There are rings on either side of the top buckle for attaching a leash. Brisbane isn't a huge fan of this harness so far. He mostly refuses to walk in it, and if I try to pull him along the top strap slides up at the back of his neck. I may be able to adjust it to prevent this. We just got our Clickit Sport and I'm still fiddling with it.

Pros: Literally the safest thing I can use in the car. Comfortable for Brisbane, even if he's a bit dramatic. Easy to use, requires no flexibility on the part of the dog. Two feet, two buckles, done. Does not impede movement. Can be used in the front seat of the car.

Cons: Not terribly functional as a walking harness just yet. Threading the belt to buckle him in is kind of awkward. They don't make a Clickit harness small enough for Ru.

Photo by Erin Koski
Bottom Line: This harness is infinitely better than our Ruff Rider Roadie. I feel significantly safer with Brisbane wearing the Sleepypod Clickit harness.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Puzzle Toy Review: Planet Dog Artichoke

The Planet Dog Artichoke is a durable rubber chew toy that can be filled with kibble. It is part of Planet Dog's Orbee-Tuff Produce product line, we also have the Raspberry and had an Eggplant in our toy rotation for several years. This is actually Brisbane's second Artichoke toy, I don't remember what became of the first one years ago.
Photo by Erin Koski

Back when Brisbane was eating premade ground raw food, I used to stuff his daily ration in a toy and freeze it. One of the toys in that rotation was a Planet Dog Orbee-Tuff Eggplant. It lasted through several years of stuffing, freezing, unstuffing, and dishwasher before the rubber began to split.

The Artichoke didn't really work as a wet food stuffing toy because it has a relatively small hole set on the end of the stem. It's tough for Brisbane to get peanut butter or anything gooey out. Kibble, however, works perfectly.
Photo by Erin Koski

Puzzle Toy Rating

Capacity: 2/5
Fits about half a cup of kibble. Not a lot, but Brisbane only eats 1/4 cup a day so this actually works really well for us.

Loading Speed: 2/5
It's a pretty small hole, even a soda funnel isn't that much help.

Unloading Speed (standard dog): 5/5
The foster puppies can spend half the day emptying the artichoke.

Unloading Speed (superdog): 5/5
Photo by Erin Koski
This is the slowest-dispensing non-adjustable toy we have. Brisbane is fascinated with it.

Size: 2/5
The Planet Dog Produce toy line has everything from super-tiny to eggplant-sized toys, but the artichoke comes in just one size. This toy is small enough for Ru to roll but not carry. I wouldn't give it to a dog much bigger than Brisbane.

Durability: 5/5
Our last Planet Dog Produce toy lasted through several years of hard use, I expect this one to last a decade unless something shreds it.

Noise: 5/5
Soft rubber is wonderfully silent on my hardwood floors.

Locatability: 2/5
It doesn't roll very far, but the artichoke fits under furniture. It's not unusual for it to disappear.

Washability: 2/5
Small hole? Check. impossible to see inside? Check. I can jam a scrub brush in there, or fill it with soapy water and shake it, but I can never be sure it's really clean.

Versatility: 3/5
The small hole means that anything bigger than kibble won't just fall out. This toy is a fun shape and can provide opportunities for assorted critters to forage for their dinner.

Total: 33/50

Have you used any Planet Dog toys?

Friday, March 27, 2015

Product Review: Harry Barker Designer Collar

Harry Barker designer collars are made from recycled plastic bottles woven into tough webbing. They are durable, lightweight, and dry quickly. These collars are available in a variety of prints and colors, and come in six sizes to fit dogs with necks 6-26" around.
Photo by Erin Koski

When it comes to sustainable dog collars, I think Harry Barker might have some of the best options out there. The patterns and colors are beautiful, and the collars really last. I see these on dogs at daycare all the time, and they look beautiful even after months of surf and sun.

Pros: Bright patterns and colors resist fading. Webbing is light and thin, yet very strong.

Cons: The thinnest collars are 5/8" wide, so they look ridiculous on Ru.

Bottom Line: This is Darla's new collar, it will be going to her new home with her when she gets adopted.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Squirrel Dude Revisited

Our first Premier Busy Buddy Squirrel Dude was a size extra large. While it fit an entire cup of kibble, there wasn't much else I could put in it. Due to the sheer size of the thing, the dogs couldn't reach any food stuck in the very end of the toy. It was too large for them to bite effectively, and even tossing it was a bit of a stretch. I still use it as a roller puzzle toy, but I decided to get an more appropriate medium to size to explore the Squirrel Dude's potential as a Kong alternative.
Photo by Erin Koski

The most important difference between the Squirrel Dude and a classic-shaped Kong is that this toy has four little rubber fingers that protrude into the opening on the bottom. These prevent small treats like kibble from falling out easily.

To make the Squirrel Dude an easier puzzle, the rubber fingers can be trimmed. With time and heavy use, they tend to break off eventually. Once the rubber fingers are gone, the toy remains stuffable just like a Kong.

Photo by Erin Koski

We have a whole lot of Kongs, but only a couple Squirrel Dudes. For this reason, I am hesitant to chop the rubber fingers off our toys. With those intact, the dogs have a tough time getting peanut butter and other sticky treats out of the toy.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Product Review: Thundershirt

The Thundershirt is a dog jacket that helps reduce anxiety by applying pressure like a big hug. It is available in a variety of colors and styles, and comes in seven sizes to fit dogs under seven pounds through dogs over 110 pounds.
Photo by Erin Koski

This is a pretty awesome tool for helping dogs with major anxiety, mostly because it works instantly and with no training. Just wrap the dog up in it, and four out of five of them will chill out at least a little.

How does the Thundershirt work? It's basically like a hug. At work, when a dog is terrified of getting their nails trimmed, we have one person wield the clippers while a second person holds the dog. The most effective hole involves wrapping one arm around the front of the dog's chest below the windpipe, and the other arm around the dog's body over the shoulders and behind the front legs. When held firmly against the person's body like this, most dogs relax enough to have their nails cut.

The type of pressure applied when hugging someone, or restraining a dog like this, is called "deep pressure". This type of pressure can be used to help calm and focus autistic kids. People have been wrapping dogs up in athletic bandages to calm them down for years, but getting that sort of wrap right takes some effort. The Thundershirt just velcros on without any physical manipulation of the dog, there is nothing to pull over their head or step their feet through.

Brisbane's Thundershirt is actually a size small. Technically he should be in a size medium, but it's supposed to be tight so the small works ok. I use it for chilling him out when I trim his nails.

Pros: Easy to put on and take off. Requires no effort, unlike behavior modification training like the Relaxation Protocol. Works instantly for many dogs. Allows for freedom of movement.

Cons: One in five dogs won't feel less anxious when wearing the Thundershirt. Using a Thundershirt doesn't mean stopping other slower methods of helping dogs with their anxiety.

Bottom Line: I use the Thundershirt when cutting Brisbane's nails, but I also use a muzzle, a blindfold, prescription medication, and lots and lots of conditioning with food. Even for occasional upsets like fireworks, the Thundershirt works best as a tool to help get a dog calmed down enough for other management strategies to be effective. It's a useful tool to have in my toolbox, but not the cure-all that the Thundershirt company advertises.

Have you used a Thundershirt or other pressure wrap on your dog? Did it work?

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Treat Tuesday: EttaSays Little Bitz Toasted Coconut

This bag of EttaSays Little Bitz arrived in our most recent allergy-friendly BarkBox. We get all sorts of new and interesting treats with no beef, chicken, turkey, corn, soy, or wheat in our box. EttaSays makes two flavors of Little Bitz, ours are Toasted Coconut. These are semi-moist and itty bitty.

Good For: High value training treats that are just the right size. Smelling strong enough to get the attention of the dogs without making my hands all gross.

Not Good For: Lasting a long time.

How Much We Like Them: These may become our new go-to training treats when I don't feel like chopping up bits of hot dog or smelling like dried liver all day.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Product Review: Pawbunga Ruffhides

Pawbunga's Ruffhides are a clever solution to some of the problems with edible chews. These rubber chew-holders are designed to contain a rawhide, bully stick, or Himalayan dog chew. The toy keeps the slobbery mess off the floor, and prevents the dog from eating their treat too fast. Ruffhides are dishwasher-safe and made in the USA. They are available in three colors and three sizes.
Photo by Erin Koski

Our Ruffhide came from the Scout's Honor promise from BarkBox. When we didn't fall in love with our flat penguin toy, they let us pick this out instead. Since my dogs are fans of the Himalayan dog chews, I thought they might enjoy this.

The Ruffhide isn't for every dog, and it's not for every chew, either. It makes the chew harder to access, which can make an unmotivated dog lose interest. A serious power chewer might be able to demolish the rubber or break the chew up and pop it out in just a few minutes. However, for a motivated dog, the Ruffhide can be amazing. 

The Ruffhide is designed with big flared ends to make it more difficult to chew efficiently. Ours is the classic 5" size for dogs under 40 pounds, and it much too large for Brisbane to get his jaws around.
Photo by Erin Koski
Briz likes Himalayan dog chews, but not enough to spend the time working on the one in our Ruffhide. The foster puppies, on the other hand, have been hard at work on it. When we're ready for a new insert, I'll try a bully stick. Pawbunga makes rawhides, bully braids, and Himalayan dog chews that are just the right size to fit inside Ruffhides. I suspect I could just jam a 5" bully braid in there though. If my dogs were really interested in popping the chew out I'd stick with the Pawbunga refills.
Photo by Erin Koski

Pros: Can make an edible chew last for hours or even days. Turns a bully stick from a snack into a project. Keeps nasty slobbery chews off the floor. Pawbunga offers a one-time replacement if the dog destroys it within the first month.

Cons: May not stand up to massive power chewers. Can make chewing so difficult that the dog abandons the whole project.

Bottom Line: Worth a try for dogs that really love their bully sticks, yak chews, or rawhides. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Puzzle Toy Review: Planet Dog Double Tuff

The Planet Dog Double Tuff is a durable, stuffable chew toy. It is made from Planet Dog's extra strong Diamond Tuff Orbee material, and rates five out of five on their durability scale. The Double Tuff comes in three colors and three sizes, ours is a large. It is made in the USA.

Photo by Erin Koski
This is basically a new version of the Planet Dog Orbo. We had two of those that started splitting after eight long years of trips through the dishwasher and almost daily use. Needless to say, I was impressed. If the Double Tuff turns out to be half that durable I will be pleased.

The Double Tuff seems a lot like a Kong at first, with some minor but important differences. The inner chamber of this toy is shaped just like the outside. The bottom chamber is wide and easy to access through the opening, the upper chamber has a smaller opening. This design makes the Double Tuff difficult to clean when stuffed with peanut butter or anything else sticky. I am finding that we enjoy it a lot more when I stuff it with kibble or small biscuits instead.

Puzzle Toy Rating

Capacity: 2/5
I can fit a little over half a cup of kibble in here.

Loading Speed: 3/5
Not so bad with a soda funnel, otherwise it's basically one kibble at a time.

Unloading Speed (standard dog): 5/5
The texture of the Double Tuff means it doesn't roll very far at a time, and the opening is slightly elevated when it lays on the ground. It's good at dropping a kibble or two at a time.

Unloading Speed (superdog): 4/5
Slower than a bowl, and slower than some toys that are more complex.

Size: 4/5
The Double Tuff comes in three sizes, including a little one for Ru-sized dogs. However, the large seems well-suited to my 40-pound dog and I can't imagine giving one to a giant breed. Owners of power chewers tend to go up a size or two to give their dogs a real challenge, but that's not an option here. 

Durability: 5/5
I would give this toy to a power chewer with supervision if they didn't demolish a similar-sized black Kong. Planet Dog stuff also comes with a kickass guarantee so they're likely to replace it or something if it gets destroyed. I haven't had occasion to test this yet, though.

Noise: 5/5
Dead silent on my hardwood floors.

Locatability: 3/5
It doesn't roll very far, but it does roll. It also fits under furniture, and Brisbane can pick it up. He usually loses interest once the food is all gone, otherwise this would be under the couch.

Washability: 3/5
I used to stick my Orbos in the dishwasher back when we had a dishwasher, but that didn't always remove the plug of crud that got stuck in the top. Only using dry treats means it's pretty easy to give the Double Tuff a quick scrub, but I still have to use a bottle brush to get it really clean.

Versatility: 3/5
I could probably use this toy to challenge Xhuuya the raven. The smallest one would be great for cramming nuts into, and she might actually be able to pull stuff out of the top chamber. She'd probably tear chunks off it though,

Total: 37/50

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Product Review: Silver Paw Dog Boots

Silver Paw Dog Boots are winter boots made from highly visible safety yellow neoprene. They feature reflective straps and an overlapping construction that makes them easy to put on. The Silver Paw Dog Boots also use Silver Shield antibacterial technology to prevent odors. These boots are available in four sizes to fit dogs with paws 2 3/8" wide through 3" wide.
Photo by Erin Koski

The way these boots close at the front with the two sides overlapping really reminded me of the Neo-Paws boots, so I had high hopes. Sadly, the Silver Paws don't go nearly as far up the dog's leg, and they lack the endless wraparound strap that give the Neo-Paws their custom fit. These ended up being rather ordinary dog boots after all.

Photo by Erin Koski

Brisbane has been having ongoing foot issues for a while. It used to only happen during extreme dog sports, but now his pads get hurt just walking on pavement. While we slowly work on toughening him up, the vet has advised me to keep him in boots for activities.

We put the Silver Paws boots to the test at On the Lamb during our most recent herding lesson. As advertised, the boots were very easy to put on Brisbane's feet because they open up right down to the ends of the toes.

They did not, however, stay on. Despite some very careful fitting, Brisbane lost both front boots within five minutes of herding. It's interesting that the back boots were the ones that stayed on. My experience has been that back boots fall off more often because most dogs have smaller hind feet than front feet. People tend to size the boots for the front feet, leaving the back ones a little loose. There are a number of ways manufacturers have tried to solve this issue, from making different boots for the front and rear feet, to selling boots only in pairs instead of fours.

Pros: Very easy to put on. Extra-high visibility, easy to spot a lost boot on the trail. Supposedly don't get stinky.

Cons: Don't stay on better than other boots we've tried.

Bottom Line: These would probably ok in snow or on hot pavement, but we're going to stick with the Ruffwear Grip Trex for our dog sports.

Have you used boots on your dog?

Friday, March 20, 2015

Food Friday: Mirra-Coat O3 Supplement

Mirra-Coat, by Pet Ag, is a dietary supplement for dogs. As the name implies, Mirra-Coat will supposedly help grow hair on a dog. It contains high levels of vitamins and fatty acids to help fill in nutritional gaps and provide optimal hair-growth. It comes in a 1-pound canister and contains no egg or poultry ingredients.

I'm highly skeptical of most dietary supplements, since many seem to be fairly gimmicky and even extremely popular ones can have very little evidence that they actually work. Still, there's a decent body of evidence that omega fatty acid supplements improve skin and coat health. I give Brisbane ludicrous quantities of fish oils already, because my vet said to keep upping the dose until it causes some sort of digestive upset. As his innards are apparently made of cast iron, I think nothing of tossing him ten capsules a day. Still, his coat was very patchy.

Brisbane has a variety of food and environmental allergies, and is prone to getting hot spots. Despite a whole lot of medication, bathing, and avoidance of triggers, he sometimes scratches his hair off. We've ruled out mites, ringworm, and any other potential causes for his moth-eaten coat. As long as he stops scratching it should grow back eventually. Still, this winter he managed to give himself quite a few bald spots all at once, and they seemed to be taking forever to fill in.

I asked some of my fellow dog nerds on the internet for their favorite skin and coat supplements, and got a variety of answers. This was one of the first that came up, so I ordered a can. I realized after it arrived that it was the special organic type, next time around I'll stick with the regular kind because the organic label annoys me.

My approach to getting Brisbane's hair to grow back has been less scientific and more "throw everything at it and hope something helps", so it's difficult to tell how well the Mirra-Coat is working. I can, however, report that something seems to be helping because the bald patches are finally filling in after months of shameful nudity.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Product Review: Jax & Bones Nautical Wheel Rope Toy

The Jax and Bones Nautical Wheel Rope Toy is a knotted rope toy designed to be shredded, frayed, and chewed. It is advertised as working as doggy dental floss, and can be soaked in water and frozen to provide relief for teething puppies. Jax & Bones rope toys are colored with non-toxic vegetable dyes and come in a wide variety of colors and shapes.
Photo by Erin Koski

The Nautical Wheel arrived in our August Allergy-Friendly BarkBox. Brisbane isn't crazy about rope toys unless he is being silly during a photo shoot. Fortunately, we have foster dogs. Xena enjoyed unraveling various bits of the wheel, and Darla has also enjoyed carrying it around most recently. This is a toy that will likely go home with a foster dog rather than cluttering up my toybox.

Pros: Sturdy and resists being unraveled for a good long time. Non-toxic and fun to shred. Might be a good toy for those paper-shredding dogs, though I still haven;t found a toy that simulates that great joy.

Cons: Not all dogs love untying rope toys. Could be dangerous for dogs that eat things that aren't food. May be possible to shred into super-dangerous strings.

Bottom Line: I would assess a dog's chewing style and supervise them with this toy, at least until I am certain they aren't going to swallow it whole.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The March Allergy-Friendly BarkBox!

The theme for this month's Allergy-Friendly BarkBox is "Movie Night". The allergy-friendly version of the monthly goody box comes with no chicken, turkey, beef, corn, soy, wheat, or gluten ingredients...usually.

My favorite thing in this box is the LollyCadoodle Wool Snake. It's a good two feet long and made out of felted wool. It's also super cute! Ru likes to grab and shake it, and newly-returned foster puppy Darla has been carrying it around all evening.

The Pet Qwerks Pawpcorn toy is getting significantly less love around here. Like the flat penguin, it crinkles. I'm trying to convince Darla that it is super awesome, but we may use the Scout's Honor system to swap it for something more fun.

We got three different edible goodies in this month's box. The Healthy Dogma Bacon Hearts are adorable. They remind me of the Superior Farms grain-free biscuits, and are made in the USA.

The Etta Says Toasted Coconut Bitz look like they will be excellent training treats. These are also made in the USA.

The Nature's Bits Salmon Recipe turned out to be a bit of a disappointment because they contain chicken fat. Fortunately I happen to have a spare dog at the moment. I'm really hoping Darla gets adopted before I can feed all of these to her. In that event, I will send them with her to her new home.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Treat Tuesday: Antlers!

Deer antler are natural, unprocessed chews that are long-lasting and safe. They are available from many different manufacturers in many different sizes and shapes. Availability varies based on your location. If you live in a place where deer hunting is common, you might be able to buy them at a farmer's market or from your neighbors. If you live on the beach in California where hunters (and deer) are few and far between, you may have to actually go to a pet store.
Photo by Erin Koski

I bought an antler for Brisbane when he was a tiny, evil puppy. He chewed it off and on before finally ignoring it. I paid $20 for that 6" chunk of deer, so I kept it around even when I donated many other unloved dog toys.

Ru has occasionally discovered the antler and given a good chew before burying it in the couch. Ulysses also enjoyed chewing it. It's worth noting that the original antler is now almost a decade old. Up until the foster puppies got a hold of it, the original antler showed very little wear.
Photo by Erin Koski

The antler in these pictures is one I got from a local pet store that sells them by the pound. Here on Planet California, deer antlers can be very expensive. This one was $6, which is crazy cheap.

I'm told the best antlers come from elk. The softest have large porous marrow centers, which makes them softer and less likely to crack teeth. The soft ones get eaten faster.

Good For: Puppies. Dogs that like to chew for fun. Dogs that like novel toys.

Not Good For: Dogs that only chew things they can eat (including Brisbane, who was bribed with peanut butter to get these pictures. Dogs that chew really, really hard.

How Much We Like Them: I only bought one in ten years because it lasted ten years. I'll be looking for even softer antlers now.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Puzzle Toy Review: The OurPets IQ Treat Ball

The IQ Treat Ball by OurPets is a rolling puzzle toy. It features an adjustable difficulty level and comes in two sizes for larger and smaller dogs.
Photo by Erin Koski

This is a small but relatively complicated puzzle toy. The ball has two halves that unscrew from each other. The top is clear with a hole in the top and the bottom is opaque. Food is placed into the bottom chamber and must first fall through the adjustable hole in the white middle plate before it falls out the whole in the clear top of the ball.

Some of Brisbane's favorite roller toys are ones that require two steps to get the food out. This is why the Starmark Bob-a-Lot and the Busy Buddy Magic Mushroom are such challenging puzzles.
Photo by Erin Koski

OurPets is the company that currently owns both the Buster Cube and the Atomic Treat Ball, formerly known as the Molecuball.

Puzzle Toy Rating

Capacity: 3/5
The larger ball fits about half a cup of kibble.

Loading Speed: 4/5
Unscrew, fill, screw shut again.

Unloading Speed (standard dog): 4/5
It takes a fair amount of rolling to get the food out.

Unloading Speed (superdog): 4/5
On the most difficult setting it does take Briz quite a while to get his daily ration of kibble out of the IQ Ball. As an added bonus, he can see the food as soon as it falls through the first hole.

Size: 2/5
This ball comes in two sizes, but they both seem to have the same size hole in the top. This hole is just the right size for Ru-sized dogs to get their lower jaws stuck inside. The instructions say the ball is only for dogs too small to fit it in their mouths, but the larger size is only 4" in diameter, so it is also not for very large dogs.

Durability: 4/5
Not indestructible, but tough enough to withstand anything short of a major chewer...provided the dog in question is not big enough to fit their mouth around the ball.

Noise: 1/5
This is a hard plastic ball, it will make horrible noises on hardwood. If I didn't have all hardwood floors I would probably rate it higher in this area. Hell, if I didn't have all hardwood floors I probably wouldn't even be considering noisemaking properties of puzzle toys.

Locatability: 1/5
At 4" in diameter, this toy is basically designed to fit under every piece of furniture I own. Is it hiding under the couch? The china hutch? The desk? The coffee table? The dresser? The possibilities are endless.

Washability: 5/5
Comes apart for easy scrubbing with no annoying bits.

Versatility: 4/5
The ball pictured here actually belongs to Xhuuya the raven, who enjoys flinging it, unscrewing it, and hiding the pieces.

Total: 32/50

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Product Review: The OllyDog Olly Bone

The OllyDog Olly Bone is a durable dog toy intended for throwing, tugging, and fetching. It floats and does not absorb water. The current iteration, the OllyBone II, is available in two sizes and seven colors.
Photo by Erin Koski

This is a fun version of the classic bumper toys used to train water retrieves. The Olly Bone is thoughtfully designed with reinforced seams and a handle that wraps all the way around it.

 I was a little worried about taking the Olly Bone to the beach because it looks pretty absorbent. The worst case scenario involved me tossing it into the waves and watching it sink to the depths of Davy Jones' locker. Less catastrophic predictions involved me having to wring out a gallon of water or wait days for it to dry like the Outward Hound bandana.

Photo by Erin Koski
Happily the Olly Bone is nonabsorbent. It floats high in the water and doesn't pick up sand or dirt. After a trip to the beach, I can just shake it off and toss it in the car.

Pros: Fun to bite. Easy to clean. Easy to spot in the surf. Loop handle makes it easy to toss. Very durable.

Cons: Um...it doesn't squeak? The short handle prevent me from really launching it like the Aqua Kong or the Chuckit! Bumper.

Bottom Line: As much as I liked this toy, we didn't get very much use out of it compared to some of our other water toys. I sent each of my foster puppies off with some of our less loved toys, and this one went home with Darla.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Sheep: The Best Dog Toy

Brisbane and I have done a few herding lessons off and on, starting with his instinct test when he was nine months old. We've worked with three different instructors since then, and each has been delighted with Brisbane's natural aptitude for moving the sheep without catapulting through them like a bowling ball with feet. He has "balance", a trait defined here as the ability to move the sheep from a distance that is far enough to keep them calm, and close enough to direct them effectively.
This is not On the Lamb, I haven't dragged anyone out to take pictures for me there yet.

A few weeks ago I heard about a new place to take herding lessons, back in the town where I grew up. Some of my dog nerd friends and one of my corworkers had all taken their dogs there. The place is called On the Lamb, and when I spoke to the instructor I learned that pretty much everyone I've taken lessons from learned from her.

Instructor Robin was also pleased with Brisbane's herding ability, and suggested right away that we go to a trial. There is one at the end of April, and she doesn't normally recommend students start trialing two months after starting lessons, but Brisbane is just that awesome.

There are a lot of new dog sports open to us that weren't options back when I was trialing Brisbane in UKC obedience. Nosework, Barn Hunt, and the entire AKC mixed breed program came into existence during Brisbane's lifetime. Obedience and agility aren't the only activities available to us anymore, and I'm ready to get back into trialing. Wish us luck!

What activities do you do with your dog?

Friday, March 13, 2015

Food Friday: Evanger's Hunk of Beef

Evanger's Hunk of Beef is a canned dog food supplement, but not a complete and balanced diet. The name delivers, this contains chunks of cooked beef and nothing else. It has the dubious honor of being the most disgusting thing I have scooped out of a can for my dogs to date. I expect that someday I will work up the courage to buy them some canned green tripe, and this record will be smashed. Until then, we have the Hunk of Beef.

This is a grain-free food with an ingredient list that consists of a single item: beef. It is cooked in its own juices and looks significantly less appetizing in person than the picture on the can.

It's worth repeating that this is not a complete and balanced dog diet. It's a food supplement, meant to be added to Evanger's vegetarian canned food to make a complete diet, or added to a complete and balanced kibble. Since it doesn't have anything in it but cooked beef, it lacks calcium, fiber, and other important nutrients.
I've mentioned the somewhat colorful history of the Evanger's company before. They've had some silent recalls where product was pulled from store shelves without any information passed to consumers. There have been some recalls, but at least Evanger's owns their own packing facility.

This particular product is proudly proclaimed to be "hand packed". The website goes into further detail, declaring that the meat was placed into the can by hand. I'm not entirely certain how I feel about the value our culture places on things done "by hand". There are lots of things that are honestly better when done by hand, but these things tend to be artistic in nature. "Hand painted" and "hand carved" mean a lot when I'm buying pottery or furniture. Other things seem to be pointlessly advertised as "by hand". Obviously an ice cream shop will be serving "hand scooped" ice cream, and restaurants will have "hand poured" wine, there's not really any other sensible way to do it. I can't remember I saw an ice cream scooping machine, or a wine pouring machine.

When it comes to "hand packed" dog food, I'm sort of on the fence. It's nice to know that a real live person personally stuffed this can full of beef while presumably watching to make sure nothing weird got in there. On the other hand, automated processes can be less prone to error. I haven't decided whether I prefer my dog food to be more like art, or more like driverless cars.

Given the company's range of issues, I'm not planning to feed my dogs Evanger's Hunk of Beef on a regular basis. This is more of an occasional stinky treat.

What's the grossest thing you've ever scooped out of a can for your dogs?

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Product Review: The Instant Trainer Dog Leash

The Instant Trainer Dog Leash is a leash designed to reduce pulling. It features a ring that allows it to wrap around the dog's waist, and has a rounded plastic handle for added grip. This is an "as seen on TV" product".
Photo by Erin Koski

There is an old dog handling trick that is affectionately known as "the leash trick". It's a way to get your over-excited dog from the car to the beach, park, or whatever awesome thing is just a short distance away. This is a tactic that is best used on a trained dog that normally knows how to walk nicely on a leash, in situations where they may forget their manners. "The leash trick" is just to leave the leash attached to the collar and then wrap it around the dog's waist. A knot is tied to keep the leash from tightening around the dog's unprotected abdominal organs, and the handler than holds onto the dog via the remaining length of the leash coming off this waist knot.

The Instant Trainer Dog Leash is clearly an attempt to capitalize on the old leash trick, but it fails in a number of ways.

Photo by Erin Koski
1. There is nothing stopping The Instant Trainer Dog Leash tightening up. If it stops the dog from pulling, great! If not, I'd worry about organ damage.

2. There is nothing stopping The Instant Trainer Dog Leash from loosening up. As soon as the leash goes slack, the loop around the dog's waist goes slack. It can slide back around their back lacks, get peed on by boy dogs, and if it gets loose enough the dog can even step through it.

3. There is nothing between the hardware and the dog. The bit where the leash slides through the ring is is right in contact with the dog's back. Brisbane lost a bit of fur just taking these pictures, and he doesn't even pull on the leash!

4. The ring isn't welded. Let me say that again. The ring isn't welded. Not an issue if the sensation of the leash tightening around their abdomen doesn't bother the dog, but an obvious point of failure for any dog that pulls despite it.

Pros: This leash actually does work for some people and some dogs. It's an inexpensive product and the effect should be instant, so dog owners should know right away to stop using it. I believe it can also be used with the leash looped around the dog's ribcage, like the ThunderLeash. This would be safer for the dog, but may also put too much pressure on that unwelded ring.

Cons: This is a poorly made product, and there are tons of reports of both the ring and the snap breaking. If the dog fails to stop pulling immediately, they can injure themselves. Using this leash requires constant vigilance from the handler to keep it taut enough to stay in play, yet loose enough to be comfortable.

Bottom Line: The same effect can be accomplished safely and more effectively with a regular six-foot leash. I am confident I could create a better product with a sturdy nylon leash and a climbing carbiner.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Product Review: Busy Buddy Biscuit Bouncer

The Busy Buddy Biscuit Bouncer is a durable chew toy that can hold some types of treats. It comes in two sizes for medium and large dogs.
Photo by Erin Koski

This is an interesting food toy, we don't have anything like it. This is a very solid, heavy rubber ball with a slot all the way through it. The packaging indicates that I should shove a standard bone-shaped dog biscuit into the toy. I do not have any standard bone-shaped dog biscuits.

This seems like it could be a great food toy for a serious power chewer. Convincing a less determined chewer to use it requires a little creativity.

Photo by Erin Koski
A dog with powerful jaws could bite down hard and crunch a biscuit inside the Biscuit Bouncer. Brisbane doesn't bite down on his toys like that though, and he doesn't find dry dog biscuits to be terribly motivating.

I've been putting jerky treats inside the Biscuit Bouncer. The Bixbi Daily Essentials and Fruitables Real Jerky both work great. This makes a worthwhile challenge for Briz.

Photo by Erin Koski

Pros: Super durable! I have yet to hear of a dog destroying this toy. Works as a ball without food, too.

Cons: It's really quite difficult to mash any kind of treat in there.

Bottom Line: This is a different sort of puzzle than most of our toys, and presents a unique challenge. It's not a toy that we use a lot, but it is certainly a way to keep Brisbane busy and thinking for ten minutes or more.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Treat Tuesday: Fruitables!

Fruitables dog treats are obviously made by people who like training dogs. They are awesome for training because they are tiny, and they are made in the USA so they are likely to be safe. I've used quite a few of these treats, and these are the favorites here.

Fruitables Pumpkin Baked Crunchy Treats

Good For: Sticking in food toys. Handing the dogs on my way out the door without making my hands smelly. Doing Relaxation Protocol.

Not Good For: High value training treats.

How Much We Like Them: Enough to buy another bag every time we run out. I love the way these smell.

Fruitables Whole Jerky Grilled Bison Strips

Good For: High value training treats. Breaking into little tiny pieces along the score lines. Sticking in food toys of all sorts.

Not Good For: Keeping my hands clean and unsmelly.

How Much We Like Them: I sent a bag home with each of my foster puppies when they were adopted last week. Congrats Syd and Darla!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Product Review: Petco Squirrel Collar

The Petco Purple Squirrel Collar is a flat collar with a quick release buckle. It is available in three sizes to fit dogs with necks 9-26" around.
Photo by Erin Koski

I don't often buy collars from big box pet stores. It's not that the quality is lacking, I just don't often find things I really like there. Recently though, the major retailers have expanded their offerings beyond basic nylon dog gear. I think the popularity of collars and brands normally found in boutiques has finally caught the attention of the major pet retailers.

I've seen some super cute ribbon collars and prints at Petco recently. I see them on dogs at work, and all over town too. The pink elephants and blue whales are particularly popular. I haven't seen anyone else wearing this particular squirrel collar yet.

Pros: Dark colors don't show the dirt too quickly. Purple plastic buckle blends with the rest of the collar. Squirrels!

Cons: I'm not trusting that pretty purple plastic buckle to hold up to a serious dog play. I've seen a number of colored plastic buckles break.

Bottom Line: I think it's time we moved past the basic bone and pawprint motifs and started adorning dog gear with things that better reflect the wearer's interests. Brisbane is interested in squirrels. Also sheep and tennis balls.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Puzzle Toy Review: Planet Dog Orbee Tuff Bulb

The Planet Dog Orbee Tuff Bulb is a durable, stuffable rubber chew toy shaped like a bulb from a string of vintage Christmas lights. It is available in two colors and two sizes for largish and smallish dogs. The Orbee Tuff Bulb is made in the USA and comes with a 100% guarantee that I have not yet put to the test.
Photo by Erin Koski

I had been wanting one of these for years, and this one happily arrived in our December BarkBox. This is probably my favorite thing we've gotten in a BarkBox so far. It's basically made of nostalgia (and rubber) because it is shaped like the Christmas lights of my childhood.

Back in the 1980's, we didn't have all those fancy strands of mini lights. There were no animated three-dimensional lighted sculptures of reindeer and snowmen. Nope, back when I was a kid we all just had a single strand of these big fat bulbs adorning our houses every December. They weren't as big as the Orbee Tuff Bulb, but they were a heck of a lot bigger than the ones on all Christmas lights today. Even when I see "retro" Christmas lights now, they still aren't as big as the ones of my childhood, which are still sitting in a box in my parents' garage. Given that "things shaped like Christmas lights" are invariably shaped like those old bulbs, I'm certain this nostalgia is widespread.

Puzzle Toy Rating

Capacity: 4/5
I can fit nearly a cup of kibble in here, which is amazing for this type of toy.

Loading Speed: 4/5
A soda funnel speeds up the process quite a bit.

Unloading Speed (standard dog): 4/5
The foster puppies spent close to an hour emptying the bulb.

Unloading Speed (superdog): 2/5
This puzzle is pretty easy for Brisbane to solve, but he still enjoys it.

Size: 5/5
The smaller size is small enough for Ru-sized dogs to use, and the larger one is big enough for a really big dog. The flexibility makes it easy for dogs on the smaller end of the spectrum to carry the bulb.

Durability: 3/5
Planet Dog gives the Orbee Tuff Bulb a three out of five rating for durability. It will stand up to an infinite amount of tossing and chomping, but a determined chewer can probably demolish it with little effort.

Noise: 5/5
Soft rubber means this toy is silent on my hard floors.

Locatability: 3/5
The non-spherical and non-cylindrical shape means the bulb doesn't roll freely. This mostly keeps it from disappearing under the furniture. Mostly. It's still small enough for Briz to pick up and carry though, so it ends up in his lair once in a while.

Washability: 2/5
The skinny neck of the bulb makes it pretty tough to get the inside clean, so I only put in dry treats like kibble. Occasionally I'll fill it with soapy water and shake it up before rinsing and drying. I haven't found anything on the Planet Dog website about their toys being dishwasher safe, and I have my concerns. I know one of our previous Orbee toys melted in the dishwasher, back when we lived in a house with a dishwasher.

Versatility: 4/5
The relatively long neck and flexibility of the bulb make it a challenging toy for various animals. We haven't tried giving it to Xhuuya the raven yet, though.

Total: 36/50

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Product Review: Star Trek: The Original Series Collar

The Star Trek: The Original Series dog collar is a flat collar with a quick-release buckle. It comes in three sizes and features a rubber Starfleet logo charm. This collar comes in three colors, or departments: yellow, blue, and red, or Security, Science, and Expendable.
Photo by Erin Koski

Naturally, Ru has a red collar. He is my little Redshirt, ready to go out and suffer an anticlimactic end. This is a serious nerd collar, and I am a serious nerd. I grew up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation, and went to Star Trek conventions with my family. I've always loved the original series though, with its endless array of omnipotent beings and palpable fear of the unknown.

M favorite character is, and always has been, Mr. Spock. I would love to be as calmly logical and in control of myself. The new reboot just doesn't live up to the original though, and I am deeply mourning the loss of Leonard Nimoy.

Pros: Super nerdy way to tell the world that you, or maybe just your dog, is an Original Series fan. Easily adjustable, bright. I really love the Starfleet charm.

Cons: This collar feels kind of big on little Ru. It's 1/2" thick and bulky when adjusted to be as small as possible.

Bottom Line: I need to get a blue one for Brisbane, my logical dog.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Product Review: Flexi Mini

The Flexi Mini is a retractable leash that is 10' in length. It is intended for dogs under 18-pounds, and is also marketed for cats. The Flexi Mini comes in several colors, the most common being pink and black.
Photo by Erin Koski

I'm not a fan of retractable leashes, in fact I'm rather vehemently against them in almost all circumstances. That said, this particular retractable leash is less offensive than most for a number of reasons.

It's made by Flexi. This company basically invented retractable leashes, and theirs are much higher quality than any of the competing products. I won't use a retractable leash made by anyone else, and I cringe every time I see someone using a dollar store one. You never know when the clip on one of those is going to snap and go flying into your eye.

It's for tiny dogs. Ru is less dangerous than a real dog on a retractable leash because he generates far less pulling power. Though it may not be true for all dogs under 18 pounds, grabbing the cord on this leash is a far less risky endeavor than it would be if I had a labrador on the other end. Likewise, Ru produces significantly less inertia than a real dog when he decides to bolt to the end of his leash.

It's short. Most Flexi leash are 16 feet long, with the Flexi Freedom offering a whole 25 feet of length. The Mini is only 10 feet long, that's a third less distance my dog can be from me if I'm not paying attention. It's less space to dart out into the street or wander around a corner in a store aisle. It's less speed built up when he does finally hit the end of the leash.

Pros: Tiny leash for tiny dogs. This thing is pocket-sized. It's maybe a third the size of most competing products, which always amaze me with their hugeness when placed next to Flexi leashes. Seriously, the off-brand ones for tiny dogs tend to be as big as the Flexi ones for large and giant dogs. Can be convenient for keeping the leash off the ground and out from under the dog's feet while allowing a little more freedom than a standard 6' leash.

Cons: Too tiny for large hands. Don't expect to get more than 2-3 fingers through the handle. When used as intended, places light but continuous tension on the dog's collar or harness, so absolutely ridiculous and confusing for the dog when attached to a no-pull harness. Cord is very nearly invisible and can cut when it moves quickly.

Bottom Line: I wouldn't use this leash for a muscular terrier or really any little dog with any kind of pulling power. However, when attached to a delicate toy breed, it's a lot less dangerous and annoying than a standard Flexi leash attached to a standard dog.