Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Treat Tuesday: Walk About Goat Jerky

Walk About Goat Jerky is made from 100% Australian goats. These are made in Australia from Australian goats. They are grain-free and fortified with vitamins and omega fatty acids. According to the guy at the pet store, they are also pretty tasty. I haven't actually tried them myself because...well...

Good For: Dogs with food allergies. Tearing into small pieces for medium-high value training treats. Stuffing in the Busy Buddy Booya. Hiding and letting the dogs smell them out.

Not Good For: Keeping my hands clean while training the dogs. Low-value treats.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Product Review: Braid-a-Roo Custom Tag Collars

These braided kangaroo tag collars were custom made for us by Braid-a-Roo on Etsy. They are very light, and don't irritate delicate coats and skin. These collars should not break hair, and tend to disappear into the fur of larger dogs. As these are custom made, they can potentially be ordered in any size to fit any dog. The leather comes in 17 different colors, with one or two colors used per collar.
Photo by Erin Koski

A while back, I asked some of my fellow dog nerds for suggestions for tiny collars for Ru. A friend pointed me in the direction of Braid-a-Roo and mentioned that she liked them for both big and small dogs.

I never walk either of my dogs on a flat buckle collar, so the vast majority of their collars are worn purely to hold tags. These Braid-a-Roo collars are tag collars, meaning they aren't meant for attaching a leash. The slip over the head and are extra-light because they don't have a buckle. Super-simple, each collar is just a simple, fixed loop.

In order to properly fit my dogs for these non-adjustable tag collars, I had to measure two different things. First, I needed to measure the place on the neck where I wanted to collar to sit. I like these to hang a little lower than a regular buckle collar so I measured down at the bases of their necks. Next, I needed to be sure the collar would be able to slip over the dog's head. I used a flexible sewing tape measure to get the first measurement, and then just held it in a loop while I pulled it over their heads. I did also measure around their heads right over their ears to double-check that the collars would be relatively easy to get on and off.
Photo by Erin Koski

These are without a doubt my favorite collars right now. They look like tiny little strings but are strong enough to handle the occasional grab. The colors are bright, and the collars light enough for extended wear without irritating Brisbane's sensitive skin or rubbing the hair off Ru's neck. When Brisbane has hair, it doesn't even look like he is wearing a collar.

Pros: Custom-made so they are exactly the right size! Super light, super strong, super gentle on skin and coat. So many colors to choose from! Very fast turnaround! I think I received mine in the mail within a week of placing the order. True to size, they seemed a little big until I slipped them on the boys and found that they sat exactly where I had measured. Inexpensive! Less than $20 for a tiny one!

Cons: Invisible on a fluffy dog, so it can be hard to show them off unless you shave your dog.

Bottom Line: Finally, a way to keep identification on the boys without ending up with bald patches on the fronts of their necks! I can't recommend Braid-a-Roo enough, the proprietor responds to questions right away and was a dream to work with.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Puzzle Toy Review: Busy Buddy Squeak 'n Treat Booya

The Busy Buddy Booya is part of PetSafe's Squeak 'n Treat toy line. It is made from a durable, bouncy material and is designed to dispense treats randomly during play. This toy is dishwasher safe and comes in three sizes.
Photo by Erin Koski

Like several Busy Buddy toys, the Booya has flexible rubber fingers extending into the food opening. These can be trimmed to change the rate at which the food is dispensed. Of course, tiny kibbles are going to come out much faster than larger ones.

Puzzle Toy Rating

Capacity: 1/5
Maybe a quarter cup, this is definitely not a meal-feeding toy.

Loading Speed: 1/5
Most of the interior of this toy is taken up by the squeaker chamber, and there's not enough clearance in the treat chamber to use a funnel.

Unloading Speed (standard dog): 3/5
It takes Xena a while to get the last treat out of the Booya.

Unloading Speed (superdog): 1/5
Brisbane is a pro at emptying this toy, he definitely enjoys it, though.

Size: 4/5
Ranging from 6-8" long, the three sizes of Booya should be usable by most dogs.

Durability: 5/5
Several users have reported that this toy outlasted their Kongs! Definitely one to try for destructive chewers, or at least dogs that rip out squeakers immediately.

Noise: 1/5
Sure it rolls quietly across the floor, but it also makes an unholy shrieking noise.

Locatability: 2/5
It rolls a bit, and the dogs like to carry it around. It's a bit bigger than a Kong, though.

Washability: 2/5
This is a hollow toy that is dishwasher safe, so it should be fairly cleanable. It's definitely not easy, though.

Versatility: 2/5
The squeak makes this toy fun for Xhuuya the raven, but it needs to be more easily washable before I'm willing to give it to someone who eats carrion as a hobby.

Total: 22/50

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Product Review: Fido Float Life Jacket

The PetSafe Fido Float is a doggy lifejacket that is supportive, easy to put on, and very secure. It is a step-in style lifevest that closes with a zipper on the back. The smaller sizes have a single handle on the back for helping the dog out of the water, the larger sizes have two handles for more support. The Fido Float personal flotation device comes in six sizes to fit dogs with chests 10-37" around.
Photo by Erin Koski

The vest is well-designed in my opinion, but I do have some concerns about material durability. I think the step-in style is very supportive, there is a mesh panel supporting Ru's entire chest instead of concentrating all the pressure onto a few straps.

Though it's not terribly obvious from the pictures, this little life vest has two handles. When the vest is zippered shut, the handles can be grabbed together in one hand. This allows me to lift Ru without ever putting pressure on the zipper at the top.
Photo by Erin Koski

The design basically guarantees that there is minimal pressure put on the zipper. This is important because that zipper is a major weakness of the design. One bad grab that misses a handle and you've likely destroyed the zipper for good. The good news is that a faulty zipper shouldn't cause the Fido Float to fail while your dog is swimming. The bad news is that it will likely fall off as soon as he gets out of the water.

The mesh bottom between the foam panels is a clever was to make this a supportive and somewhat form-fitting design. However, it is a very wide mesh. Most dogs won't have an issue, but I've heard of several short-haired highly-active dogs getting nipple irritation after a while.

I think durability is my biggest concern for the Fido Float. It looks nice, and I even bought this one secondhand, but I don't think the orange material on the outside would hold up to that much action. It makes a great just-in-case safety device for a dog that just sits on a boat, but I would choose a sturdier personal flotation device for a pup that is going to party hard at the beach. The difference between the Fido Float and the Ruffwear Float Coat is like the difference between an inexpensive kids' life jacket and a serious fishing life vest.

Pros: Inexpensive. Brightly colored and easy to spot. Supportive and easy to put on older dogs. Design will still support a swimming dog even if the fastener fails.

Cons: Not durable enough for serious active dog use. Zipper is likely to fail under stress. Mesh bottom can irritate some dogs.

Bottom Line: For keeping a sedentary dog safe on the water, for occasional use, and for helping an old dog swim, this is an economical choice. I would not expect it to hold up to a whole lot of adventuring.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Food Friday: Wysong Archetype Rabbit Formula

Wysong Archetype is a freeze-dried raw food that has not been heated above 118F. It is a genuinely starch-free food, made from over 95% meat. Archetype comes in four different formulas based on chicken, rabbit, quail, and pollock fish.

Wysong makes a wide variety of foods for dogs, cats, and ferrets. While well-known among the internet communities I frequent, Wysong foods are not widely available in my area.

A couple of weeks ago, a reader suggested I take a closer look at the foods available from this company, so I visited the Wysong website. As soon as the site loaded, a banner popped up offering me a free sample pack. I filled out the form and included Brisbane's allergens, and a week later I received samples of three different Briz-safe Wysong foods.

I was expecting this to be a packet of kibble, but it turned out to be freeze-dried food. The only other freeze-dried food we've tried so far is Stella & Chewy's Absolutely Rabbit. Our Wysong Archetype sample is also rabbit-based. I really like that there is also a quail formula, as I haven't found another quail-based food and just used frozen raw quail for Brisbane's elimination diet.

I love that Wysong's website includes a tool that explains each individual ingredient. When I was building my Dog Food Wizard, I read the ingredient "meat protein isolate" and wasn't sure what to make of it. Thanks to the Wysong website ingredient tool, I was able to determine that this is a pork ingredient and therefore safe for dogs with allergies to other proteins.

As a pet food company, Wysong seems to have a lot of integrity. The company was founded in 1979 by a veterinarian and at least claims they use a lot of solid science and concrete evidence in developing their products. The only Wysong recall I can find any information about was a voluntary one in 2009 initiated by the company when they discovered that certain bags of food contained too much moisture and therefore had the potential to grow mold. Unlike most pet food recalls, this one was not mandated by the FDA, Wysong did the responsible thing and recalled their products themselves when they realized there was a problem.

This is a very high protein diet, and with its limited ingredients it would be a good place to start with an elimination diet. It is not, however, a food I would be comfortable feeding exclusively for the long term. I am also uncertain of how the cost compares to other freeze-dried foods since the recommended feeding amounts are measured by volume and the bags of food are measured by weight. I also have not found any mention of the caloric content on either the product packaging or the website, so it is difficult to compare Wysong Archetype to other dog foods.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Puzzle Toy Review: Boots and Barkley Treat Urchin

The Boots and Barkley Treat Urchin is a simple clattering-type puzzle toy that, yes, really does resemble a sea urchin. This toy is available in two different sizes at Target stores, ours is the smaller one.
Photo by Erin Koski

This cute little puzzle toy was spotted by a reader who shared it with me a while back. I found it the next time I visited a Target store, and I was pleased at how sturdy and inexpensive it was.

Similar to the Starmark Treat Dispensing Chew Ball, the Treat Urchin has a hole on either side with little flaps that prevent all but the smallest kibbles from just falling out.

Photo by Erin Koski

Puzzle Toy Rating

Capacity: 2/5
This is the smaller-sized toy for dogs up to 50 pounds, and it holds maybe half a cup of food.

Loading Speed: 2/5
Break out the soda funnel for this one, otherwise it will be loaded one kibble at a time.

Unloading Speed (standard dog): 5/5
Foster puppy Xena can't actually get all the kibble out of this toy, ut I don't think she's trying very hard either.

Unloading Speed (superdog): 2/5
Briz can empty it pretty quick, but he spends a while getting that last kibble out.

Size: 3/5
The small size is small enough for 6-pound Ru to use, but big enough to keep 40-pound Brisbane busy. The larger one looks big enough for a Labrador or similarly large dog provided they aren't a serious chewer. I would not give either toy to a giant breed dog.

Durability: 4/5
This is a very solid rubber toy. I'm sure a serious chewer could shred it right away, but it should hold up just fine for normal play from a dog that isn't on a mission of destruction.

Noise: 4/5
Soft rubber means no horrible noises on my hard floor, but the Treat Urchin is surprisingly heavy and solid, so it makes a big boom when tossed or dropped on elevated floors.

Locatability: 1/5
Fits under the couch. Fits under the coffee table. Small enough to be carried. Rolls with some effort. The Treat Urchin is somewhere in my house right now, but I've no idea where.

Washability: 3/5
It's a hollow rubber toy with a simple chamber inside, so I should be able to jam a scrub brush in there.

Versatility: 2/5
Xhuuya the raven can fit the tip of her beak in here, but the lack of easy cleaning limits the options for treats that can go inside.

Total: 28/50

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Product Review: BarkBox Flower Bouquet

The BarkBox Flower Bouquet is an adorable plush toy made up of four different toys. It consists of four pretty plush flowers held together by a velcro sleeve printed with some doggy news. It is available exclusively from the BarkShop and made just for BarkBox subscribers.
Photo by Erin Koski

I had seen this uniquely adorable toy in pictures of other dogs with their BarkBoxes for a couple of months before ours arrived in our April box. My expectation was that the bouquet would be a little too large and awkward for anyone at my house to really enjoy.

Happily, Brisbane enjoys chomping the flowers. Foster puppy Xena likes to carry them around the house. The bouquet might be a little too awkward for Ru to carry around.

This toy is so adorable that I haven't even tried taking it apart and handing out the individual flowers. I've been waiting for the dogs to disassemble it but they haven't shown any interest in that particular feature.

Two of the flowers crinkle, and two squeak. Brisbane and Ru really don't like crinkly toys, but they can just stick to chomping the squeaky ones here. I like that they have options.
Photo by Erin Koski

Pros: Excessively cute toy makes it appear that your dog has brought you a flower bouquet when they really just want to play. Splits into multiple toys. Velcro sleeve and multiple pieces can give smaller destruction-happy dogs a project to do without actually shredding a toy.

Cons: Probably easy for a large or determined dog to destroy in short order, lots of seams and bits to grab.

Bottom Line: This is easily one of my favorite BarkBox treasures. The dogs like it, too.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Treat Tuesday: Cloud Star Chewy Cheddar Tricky Trainers

Cloud Star's Tricky Trainers are small, moist treats intended for training time. They come in three flavors, and are made from barley flour and tapioca starch. We have the cheddar flavor, the chewy treats also come in salmon and chicken liver flavors. They remind me of Zuke's Mini Naturals, but a little more moist and stinky.

Good For: Mid-value training treats. Popping into puzzle toys. Treating the dogs without getting my hands all gross. Fast treats for medium-large dogs. Tossing across the floor to add excitement at training time.

Not Good For: Super-duper-amazingly-high-value treats for high-distraction environments. Fast treats for itty bitty tiny dogs that will actually need to chew.

How Much We Like Them: Used half the bag in one day. Need get a new bag.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The June Pet Gift Box: Jurassic Bark

On the recommendation of one of my readers, I ordered a Pet Gift Box for Brisbane last month. I had been thinking about canceling my BarkBox subscription and was looking at other options. Although this month's theme is Jurassic Bark, and I love dinosaurs, I don't think we'll be getting another one of these.
This is going to be good!

I actually knew what was going to be in this month's Pet Gift Box well before it arrived. This is because it took a total of 11 days to get here. Although I received the "your box has been shipped!" email on June 8th, the package was not processed until the 12th. It departed the original shipping location on the 13th, a full five business days after it had supposedly been shipped. From there it took another six days to arrive at my house.

Three days prior to the arrival of this glorious box, I received an email stating that the product information card might be wrong, with an image of the correct card included. Thus I knew well ahead of time that this month's theme would be dinosaurs. I approve. I think it goes well with the space-themed BarkBox.

What was inside? A bunch of cool stuff! It's worth noting that, although Pet Gift Box specializes in products that are new to the market, they do not put the details of those products on their information card. This means I actually have to have the package or tag in hand when blogging about them.

We got a purple Prehistoric Plush Pal stuffy by PetLou. Briz loves it, I think it's pretty cute myself.

 There are some adorable Dino Tracks Cookies with perfect little three-toes footprints in them. These are from Daisy and Oscar's Gourmet Bakery, or D.O.G. Bakery. Made from flour, oats, water, pumpkin, and peanuts, these are safe for Brisbane and made in the USA.

There are two different flavors of Beastie Bars in here, beef and chicken. These are made with fruits, vegetables, and honey so they are grain-free. I'm not certain my dogs need on-the-go snacks, but the idea of dog power bars is pretty cute. These are also made in the USA.

Is that a raptor claw? Nope! It's an XL Turkey Leg from Pet 'n Shape. I have serious concerns about this all-natural made in the USA chew. As an informed dog owner and experienced raw feeder, I know that raw bones in their natural moist condition are generally safe. I also know know that dry bones, whether cooked or simply allowed to sit out for too long, can splinter and hurt my dogs. This is a dry turkey leg, complete with great big thick leg bone. It is strong and solid and no doubt would splinter into sharp and nasty pieces when chewed. It looks pretty cool, but there's just no way this could be safe.

That purple bag (matched the dinosaur!) contains Paleo Tummy Health dog treats from I'd Rather Be With My Dog. These are grain-free, gluten-free, soy-free, and made in the USA with coconut oil and ginger. They are also made out of chicken. I will have to give them away.

This was a really fun box, and I'm glad I got this month's box since I really wouldn't have liked some of their more recent themes. The total value of this box is supposed to be $35, but I will end up giving away or tossing half of it. I paid $28 for this box, but only got $17 value out of it, and I truly think the turkey leg presents a serious safety concern. I have emailed the company to express my concern for the turkey leg. I don't think we'll be getting another Pet Gift Box anytime soon, but it was definitely a fun experience.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Product Review: Blue Dog Help 'Em Up Harness

The Help 'Em Up Harness by Blue Dog Designs is a uniquely-designed mobility harness for dogs. It has an ergonomic two-piece design that includes a patented Hip Lift for the back end. An assortment of handles and rings make it possible to help a dog stand up, climb stairs, or just walk. This harness has two different designs for the back piece, and comes in four sizes to fit dogs 10-220lbs.
Photo by Erin Koski

I had seen this harness online before, and even visited the company website when I had Josie the German shepherd dog. It is easily the best mobility harness on the market, and physical therapy centers like HydroPaws use them almost exclusively.

I've owned several harnesses with handles on them, and this one is easily the most supportive. There is really nothing else like the Help 'Em Up harness, even the Ruffwear Webmaster is only a distant second choice. Most harnesses only lift the front of the dog, leaving them to support their entire hindquarters with only their back and core muscles. The Webmaster has an extra strap to help provide support for those muscles, which works pretty well for dogs with relatively short backs.
Photo by Erin Koski

The Ruffwear Webmaster has a handle situated toward the center of the back to help lift the hindquarters, but it is really intended to provide a helping hand and not for lifting the entire dog. The Help 'Em Up harness is designed for comfortably lifting a dog in a supportive and ergonomic way. It was developed for geriatric dogs, but it also extremely useful for injured and disabled dogs.

A lot of thought went into this design, and it really shows. There are buckles and adjustment points all over the place. Why so many? So that the harness can but comfortably placed on a dog that is laying down, injured, or otherwise unable to perform the movements required to get into some harnesses.
Photo by Erin Koski

The Help 'Em Up Harness is padded and comfortable. It can be worn for an extended period of time. It is machine washable. Though the harnesses are sold in front-back sets, the pieces may be purchased in different sizes for those really weird-shaped dogs. Blue Dog Designs also sells a variety of leashes that can be attached to the harness in different ways to help give a dog greater mobility.

All this quality doesn't come cheap. The price tag on this harness is $100 new, and it's not easy to find a used one. I found ours at the thrift store, in pieces. The first part I picked up was the Hip Lift rear section. Not recognizing the Blue Dog Designs logo, I had nearly convinced myself it was some weird sort of child product before I peeled up a corner of the price tag on the handle and saw the Help 'Em Up logo. It was $5. The front piece was on a different shelf, but I found it a few minutes later. It was $6. The harness appears to be brand new without so much as a dog hair stuck in the velcro.
Photo by Erin Koski

Naturally Brisbane hates it. I still had foster puppy Darla when I found it. She didn't mind wearing it at all. A friend has a disabled dog and had been considering buying a Help 'Em Up Harness for him, but wanted to actually see one in person beforehand. I was able to demonstrate how incredibly awesome this product it by picking Darla up and swinging her around in it. Naturally, Darla thought this was spectacular.

Pros: Comfortable and supportive.  Highly adjustable. Range of sizes and Hip Lift options allow the Help 'Em Up Harness to fit a wide range of body shapes. Easy to put on a non-flexible dog. Recommended for elderly dogs who have trouble getting up, for disabled dogs who do not have full use of their bodies, and for injured dogs who need extra support on the road to recovery.

Cons: Expensive for a dog harness. Large number of straps and buckles can be confusing for some users.

Bottom Line: Brisbane doesn't need this level of support yet, but it is fantastic to have this harness on hand as he ages.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Core Body Strength for Dogs

Brisbane's physical therapy is going well. After several weeks of balancing on his FitPaws peanut for ten minutes every other day, he is definitely making progress. Core body strength is an important and often neglected part of physical fitness, so I'm glad we're finally getting on the balance bandwagon.

When we first started balance training, Brisbane was unable to stand up on the peanut. He would wobble hard unless I supported him, and preferred to sit on lay down instead. Being on the peanut gives him a nonstop parade of treats though, so he really loves being up there. After several weeks of diligent practice, two 5-minute sessions every other day, Briz can now stand up and remain stable for quite a while.

In this picture, you can see Brisbane's back leg sliding off the side of the ball. This is partly because the ball is a little slippery, but mostly because he lacks the core strength he needs to hold a proper sit. He has improved in this area as well, and can now sit on the ball or on a slick floor without his legs sliding out from under him.

Ru also thinks the FitPaws peanut is awesome. The peanuts come in different sizes, and it's important to have one that is big enough for the dog to stand on without compromising their posture. You can't really have a peanut that is too big though, so Ru can also balance on Brisbane's big yellow one. Ru can sit and stand nicely on it, so he is working on sitting pretty instead. He is getting much more stable when sitting up like that, and can hold the position for several seconds now instead of just bouncing up and then dropping his front feet back down immediately.

My first experience with quadruped core strength was actually with horses. My own horse lacked the right muscles for many years, so his movements tended to be big with minimal control. When a horse has the core body strength to support himself and a rider, his movements become more controlled and his steps become shorter. It turns out that dogs work the same way, and developing Brisbane's core muscles will help him support his chronically sore back.

I was rather surprised to find that people, though we walk on two legs, also engage the core muscles when we run properly. As part of our Couch-2-5K program,  I have been learning better running form. I found that I tend to look down and lean forward while. When I look toward the horizon and work on supporting myself with my core, I also take smaller and more controlled steps. This makes me move slower, but also conserves energy and makes running a lot easier and more enjoyable.

How are you and your dog getting your exercise this summer?

Friday, June 19, 2015

Food Friday: Fromm Canned Shredded Pork Entree

Fromm's canned Shredded Pork Entree is the only Fromm dog food that Brisbane can eat. He's allergic to chicken, turkey, duck, and eggs. Most of Fromm's foods are poultry-based, and they put egg in every single dry food they make.
Fromm's Four Star food line contains a wide variety of proteins, and the company has straight up stated that they do not and have no intention of ever producing allergy-friendly dog foods. The Four Star Nutritionals canned foods are their only limited-ingredient foods, and there are only two varieties, the other being chicken. They used to make a beef variety but have discontinued it due to supply issues.

Fromm is basically the oldest dog food company out there. The Purina brand is of a similar vintage, but has not been privately owned by the same company for the entirety of its existence. Fromm has never had a recall, and does a massive amount of rigorous testing to ensure their products are safe, healthy, and live up to their labels.
Thanks, Fromm.

The place I work recently started carrying Fromm foods, and we had a company representative come and extoll the virtues of from for us one evening. Previously I had spoken to a Fromm nutritionist about their egg-filled food, and was told "we only make foods for normal dogs". Still, I was pretty happy when we got these Shredded Pork Entree cans into the store because I really wanted to try a Fromm food. Despite careful opening, the easy-open ring peeled off the can so I ended up having to open it with a can opener. This made me feel just a tiny bit less charitable toward the company.

The food really is quite nice. It smells pretty good and has visible carrots and peas. This is an "all life stages" food and theoretically I could feed it to my dogs every day forever. That would get pretty expensive, though. The Fromm rep at work recommended putting it on top of kibble rather than feeding it as a complete meal.

My dogs liked it, even little Ru who doesn't like anything. I appreciate the moisture content found in wet foods and would like to feed them more often to help Ru's urinary tract health. I don't think this would be my first choice, though. For all the wonderfulness of Fromm, their Four Star Nutritionals canned foods only get four out of five stars.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Product Review: Ruff Puppies Hollywood Collar

The Ruff Puppies Hollywood Collar is a leather buckle collar with nickel hardware and Swarovski crystal decorations. It is made from California latigo leather with strong hardware. At 1/2" wide, this collar is made for very small dogs. It is available in four different leather finishes, with twelve color options for the crystals.
Photo by Erin Koski

I found this collar at Dog. Dog. Cat. in Tahoe. It is definitely the nicest collar Ru has. I was worried that the 1/2" would be too wide, but it really fits him well. Plus it's purple. And sparkly.

It's not terribly important for a teeny tiny collar, but I like that Ruff Puppies uses cast D-rings on their collars instead of welded ones. This makes them much stronger. 

This is a very sturdy collar, but it's not too heavy for little Ru. The quality is really evident, I have zero concerns about the decorations falling off. The corners of the leather are shaped so there's no stiff edge to rub on his coat. I'm basically expecting this collar to last forever, which is good because Ru's expected lifespan is around 18 years.

Pros: Very durable, made with care. Small enough for delicate little necks. Comfortable for extended wear. Sparkly, but not overdone.

Cons: Still rubs hair off the front of Ru's delicate little neck like every buckle collar, so I can't leave it on him for days at a time.

Bottom Line: So fancy! Need to get a big one for Briz.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The June Allergy-Friendly BarkBox

Our June Allergy-Friendly BarkBox arrived right on the 15th, and this one is so good that it makes up for last month's disappointment. The theme this time is "space"! I love all things sciencey, and this box feels like it was put together just for us.

We got a P.L.A.Y. star stuffy that is adorable and already much beloved by Ru. The dogs have loved every toy we've gotten from this company, and each has been wonderfully sturdy. Nobody has de-squeaked one yet, not even the foster puppies.

The other toy in our box is a Planet Dog Diamond Plate ball. We have a Diamond Plate Double Tuff toy that gets a lot of mileage, and I expect to add this ball into our rotation of food toys. It smells like peppermint and has a hole for stuffing it with treats.

Speaking of treats, we got some Bixbi Peanut Butter Pocket Trainers. These are bite-sized grain-free moist treats that look like they will be quite popular. So far I've been happy with all of the Bixbi products we've received.

We also got a bag of Your Dog's Diner Pizza Pawty Crust treats. These are big crunchy treats intended to capture the feeling of feeding your dog your pizza crusts. I know Brisbane gets quite a few pizza crusts (and occasional pizzas).

Everything in this box is delightful, but my favorite thing is definitely the BarkMade exclusive Space Bandana. This is only the second wearable item we have received in a BarkBox, and I love how wonderfully unique it is. I might even wear it myself.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Treat Tuesday: LeanLix Lickable Training Treat

LeanLix is a lickable training treat made by the Himalayan Dog Chew company. It is made from pea syrup and pea starch. We have one that is chicken-flavored, and on that is sweet potato-flavored, and also includes fish powder. There are currently eight varieties of LeanLix treats, seven of which contain chicken powder. Happily, there is an allergy-friendly flavor for dogs with poultry and egg allergies.

I was looking for a low-calorie treat to use for Brisbane's HydroPaws balance training. PetSafe's Lickety Stik treat sounded perfect, but every flavor turned out to be chicken-based. Small bits of microwaved sweet potato worked, but ended up with sweet potato everywhere.

Lately I have been finding more and more products that are basically high-quality versions of widely available, heavily advertised mass-market stuff. If I only shopped in big box stores, I would have no idea that there are so many alternative and allergy-friendly pill treats, licky treats for training, etc.

Good For: Low-calorie training treat. Keeping my hands clean. Fat dogs. Dogs with allergies. Teaching a dog to hold their position by letting them keep licking it as long as they keep sitting pretty, standing, etc. Wearing around my neck via the attached lanyard. Looking like a giant tube of chapstick.

Not Good For: Dogs unmotivated by food.

How Much We Like It: This is the strangest thing I have ever had the retail person at work special order for me.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Product Review: Petprojekt Dogegg

The Petprojekt Dogegg is a durable rubber squeaky toy. It is heavy, thick, chewable, and made from natural rubber. The Dogegg comes in two sizes, ours is the larger one.
Photo by Erin Koski

This is an interesting toy, there aren't many like it. It is very sturdy and has quite a bit of heft. It's a strong toy with a big squeak. Not unlike a Cuz ball, but with much thicker walls and no chewlicious feet.

So far nobody at my house has fallen in love with the Dogegg. I'm a little surprised. I was pretty sure that it was tickle Brisbane's slightly-obsessive compulsion to bite things, but I think it's too stiff for him.

Photo by Erin Koski

Pros: More durable than a Cuz ball. Great squeak. No easy bits to chew off. Heavy and solid, very sturdy. Bigger than a tennis ball, larger size is suitable for Labradors and other big dogs. Wobbles across the floor in an exciting fashion.

Cons: Light color starts looking filthy immediately. Large Dogegg is too big for 40-pound Brisbane to squeak.

Bottom Line:  I would get the smaller size for Briz, but if he liked it I would end up having to confiscate it for being too loud. I should probably give it to someone who has a bigger dog.

What is your dog's favorite squeaky toy.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

A Xena Update

Foster puppy Xena has been here for about six weeks now. She has adjusted rather well and continues to improve. Her last stay with us lasted two weeks, and she was basically too frightened to do anything at all. This time around she is gradually getting used to the sights and sounds of town.

Xena goes to doggy daycare with me every day, and she plays very well with other silly puppies. She knows how to swim, I even have pictures of her swimming with Brisbane. However, she sometimes forgets. She keeps falling in the swimming pool and work and forgetting how to swim, and after fishing her out a couple of times we have stopped letting her play near the pool.

I am now absolutely certain that Xena's vision is compromised, but getting her eyes checked is not a priority for the rescue, and not something I can afford to do on my own. I have been letting potential adopters know that she doesn't see perfectly, but it's obvious that she can see fairly well.

Xena spins in circles when she is excited, stressed, or confused. She always, always, always spins to the right, which makes me think there is a neurological component to the behavior. I have a theory that she may have been hit by a car or suffered some other major trauma when she was very young. That would account for the marked behavioral difference between Xena and her sisters, as well as her imperfect vision and tendency to move in circles.

In the last six weeks, Xena has learned to walk on a bungee leash with the help of a Thundershirt. She feels confident enough to walk instead of freezing, even in a busy parking lot, or while crossing a high-traffic street. She is still a little bit nervous when meeting new people, but is all wags once she gets a sniff. It takes her a while to warm up to new places, so I have been taking her on plenty of outings so that seeing new things because normal.

I have had several people ask how Xena is with kids, and until today I did not have a satisfactory answer. She was socialized with them quite a bit as a baby puppy, and she is less spooky about them than she is about big people. I don't have kids though, and none of my friends do either, so I haven't been able to see how she reacts. Her previous foster mom just told me today that her best buddy over there was the neighbor's four-year-old granddaughter. Knowing that she has spent many hours playing with a preschooler really helps.

Does your dog like kids?

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Product Review: Rok Straps Dog Leash

The ROK Straps leash is stretchy, shock absorbing, and incredibly tough. It has a solid elastic core covered with polyester fabric. It measures 54" long, and there is a non-stretching traffic handle located at the dog-end. This leash comes in ten colors and three sizes for use with dogs 10-150 pounds.
Photo by Erin Koski

This is, without a doubt, the most overbuilt leash I have ever used. I am absolutely certain that I am an average-sized person with an average-sized dog, but this leash makes me feel like a tiny person walking an Italian greyhound. Every single part of it is enormous.

Heavy leash hardware annoys me because I like to use very small finger twitches to communicate with the dog. Big clonky hardware weighs everything down and interferes with my precision. Our ROK Straps leash is a size medium, intended for dogs between 30 and 60 pounds. The clip on it could easily be used for a Saint Bernard, or possibly a small horse.

The handle on this leash is extremely stiff. With my thin leather leashes I usually flip the handle loop inside out so it sort of hugs my hand and stays on with minimal effort. There is no flipping the ROK Straps leash handle inside out. It doesn't do any hand-hugging. It's be hard-pressed to get it snug on anything smaller than my thigh. This means I either have to actively grip the outside of the loop, or stick my entire arm through it and then bend my wrist awkwardly in order to grab the stretchy part. My hands are not so great at gripping stuff well or for any length of time.

I got this leash specifically for foster puppy Xena because she would only walk on a stretchy leash at first. As soon as she hit the end of an unstretchy leash, she would drop down to the sidewalk on her belly and freeze. When I put my Ruffwear Roamer leash on her, there was no abrupt end of the line sensation so no reason for her to splat. The only problem with the Roamer is that it stretches to 7.5' long, and Xena spooks and bolts on a regular basis when we're near traffic. I had to hang onto the middle of the Roamer to keep her from running into traffic. The ROK Straps leash is only 4.5' long, and takes a lot more force to stretch. This gives Xena the shock absorption she needs to feel safe with the security I need to keep her on the sidewalk.

The big clunky clip isn't such a big deal with Xena because it is attached to a harness, and because she is pretty oblivious. Brisbane is not a ROK Straps fan at all. He walks on a loose leash 99% of the time, and is acutely aware of the tiniest movement on my part. Wearing this leash is sort of like sticking a huge pair of noise canceling headphones on my partner and then trying to talk to them. It basically deadens all communication.

Pros: Really super strong. Seriously. Can probably be used for resistance training, I am incapable of stretching this thing very far at all. Takes a fair amount of effort to stretch very far, and an enormous amount of effort to reach its 70" maximum. Absorbs the energy from a pulling dog and uses it to yank them back like a yo-yo. Eliminates shock from spooky bolting dogs and sudden movements from either dog or handler. Traffic handle is long enough to keep dog at my side without me bending over the whole time.

Cons: Extremely heavy handle and hardware feel oversized on the medium leash. Handle is very stiff and awkward to hold.

Bottom Line: I could probably use the small leash for dogs under 30 pounds on 40 pound Brisbane without worry. I seriously can't imagine breaking one of these things. It looks like I should be towing dirtbikes with it or something. I'm pretty sure this leash is made for pit bulls and similarly powerful dogs. For dogs that can rock a 2" wide collar, this leash rocks.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Food Friday: Orijen Large Breed Puppy

Orijen Large Breed Puppy Food is a dry kibble specifically formulated for growing puppies. This is a very high-quality grain-free food made from chicken, turkey, eggs, fish, peas, and lentils. The ingredient are sourced from local farmers in Canada, and used fresh without being frozen or preserved in any way.

Many dog food companies like to offer a wide range of diverse products for different life stages. This is almost entirely marketing rather than science, though. The only nutritional profiles actually recognized and regulated are for growth (also known as "all life stages"), adult maintenance, and large breed growth. Foods advertised for these life stages must meet specific requirements based on large bodies of scientific evidence. Foods advertised for seniors, small breeds, weight management, etc do not have to meet any different or special requirements, the manufacturers are free to slap those labels on any of their foods.

Large breed puppies have special nutritional requirements that have been intensively studied since the 1970's, according to Dog Food Logic. For dogs that will grow to over 50 pounds, less calcium and fewer calories will reduce the risk of developing one disease. Large breed puppy foods are therefore lower in calcium than regular puppy food or foods labeled for all life stages. They also tend to be lower in calories so big puppies can eat more without getting too much.

Orijen is made by Champion Pet Foods, and is widely regarded to be The Best Kibble. It is produced in Champion's own facilities. I consider it to be the highest quality kibble on the market mostly because it is made out of meat, meat, and more meat.

That said, I do think that Orijen is guilty of using ingredient splitting to make their already impressive list even more amazing. Most pet foods can be assessed by examining the beginning of that list, usually the first seven ingredients. Orijen Large Breed Puppy Food's ingredient list looks like this:

Boneless chicken*, chicken meal, chicken liver*, whole herring*, boneless turkey*, turkey meal, turkey liver*, whole eggs*, boneless walleye*, whole salmon*, chicken heart*, chicken cartilage*, herring meal, salmon meal, red lentils, green peas, green lentils, chicken liver oil, chicken fat, sun-cured alfalfa, yams*, pea fiber, chickpeas, pumpkin*, butternut squash*, spinach greens*, carrots*, Red Delicious apples*, Bartlett pears*, cranberries*, blueberries*, kelp, licorice root, angelica root, fenugreek, marigold, sweet fennel, peppermint leaf, chamomile, dandelion, summer savory, rosemary, Enterococcus faecium

The first 10+ ingredients are all identified animal parts, that's awesome. The second ingredient on there is chicken meal, which contributes way more to the finished product that the uncooked meats. That's also awesome. But would the list be as impressive if we called all the non-meal chicken parts just "chicken"? Here's how it looks:

Chicken, chicken meal, chicken, fish, turkey, turkey meal, turkey, eggs, fish, fish, chicken, chicken, fish meal, lentils...

So the first seven ingredients end up being chicken, chicken meal, fish, turkey, turkey meal, eggs, fish meal...and not necessarily in that order. Actually it looks like Orijen is guilty of almost the opposite of ingredient splitting. Most companies use this tactic to make their lower-quality ingredients appear further down on the list, i.e. listing peas as "green peas, yellow peas, pea starch, pea fiber..." to make that ingredient appear lower on the list than their meat ingredients even if their food is, in fact, made almost entirely out of peas. This food has a ton of meat in it, and listing the specific parts of the animals doesn't make it look more impressive than it is. It's just that impressive.

I'm not currently raising a large breed puppy, but this is the food I would choose if I needed to grow a healthy Irish wolfhound or something. Who is the biggest dog you know?

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Couch to 5K

Brisbane and I started the Couch to 5K running program last week. For those unaware, this is a fitness training program designed to gently ease the most sedentary person into the world of exercise. The idea is to go from "running makes me feel like I'm going to die" to "I can run for 30 minutes straight without passing out" in 9 weeks. In theory.

I've always been a fairly active person, and to be honest I really like running. I'm just terrible at it. Really, really terrible. In my defense, I have a whole lot working against me.

My knees are genetically horrible in a way that wasn't fixed by surgery, so they balloon up if I run in sneakers on pavement like a normal person.

Last year my pulmonologist decided I don't actually have asthma after all, and instead I have something called "restrictive lung disease" that is probably related to my autoimmune issues. This means my lungs are operating at about 60% capacity.

I also have exercise-induced acid reflux, which is without a doubt the stupidest health problem ever. Instead of getting massive heartburn and reflux symptoms when I lay down, I get them when I move around. Sometimes it gets bad enough that I end up puking stomach acid. There are not enough antacids in the world to mitigate this, and none of the other meds I've tried have helped.

At the age of ten, Brisbane needs to stay active in order to remain as comfortable as possible for as long as possible. Light jogging on unpaved surfaces is really good for conditioning, but most surfaces tear up his feet. The paw pad issue is part of the reason he has gained so much weight, waiting for them to heal made for some very sedentary weeks.

The only surface that doesn't damage Brisbane's paws or offend my touchy knee cartilage is deep, dry sand. Coincidentally, this is also the most labor intensive running surface ever. Hence the Couch to 5K plan. Ideally we should be running three days a week for longer intervals each time.

Last week we did Week 1: Day 1, which consists of a five minute warm up walk and then alternating 60 seconds of running with 90 seconds of walking. This set off my reflux so bad I started to wonder if I was actually having a heart attack (I do have medical clearance to run around on the beach like a total dork in case anyone was wondering. Brisbane does, too.) Then we took a few days off for various reasons, and today we did...Week 1: Day 1 again. Briz seemed to enjoy it more this time. Ru ran circles around us and flitted across the sand like a little pixie because he has almost no bodyweight to move around. I am slightly less refluxy than I was last time, so I think we'll move up to Week 1: Day 2 for our next run.

I don't know if we'll ever run marathons, but I'm going to celebrate any sign of improvement because I have a lot I'm working against. We may not ne running 5K in nine weeks, but we'll definitely have made some progress by then.

What sort of activities do you do with your dog?

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Product Review: Ruffwear Float Coat Life Jacket

The Ruffwear K-9 Float Coat is a life jacket designed for active dogs and extended wear. It features a grab handle strong enough to actually lift a dog out of the water, reflective trim, and closed cell foam inserts that allow for a natural swimming position. It is currently available in two colors and six sizes to fit dogs with chests 13-42" around.
Photo by Erin Koski

The Ruffwear Float Coat shown in this picture is not the current model. Ours is almost 10 years old and still going strong. It is slightly faded in a couple of places from being stored in my car, in the sun, for months at a time. I think it has a spot of beach tar on one side. It has been used extensively and remains beautiful without showing much wear.

Brisbane normally hates wearing clothing, this is one of the few things he will wear without complaint.

When Brisbane was a pup, I used to take him to a tiny beach inside the harbor where there were no waves. We could play fetch without him getting swamped by waves. The only problem was that the beach was situated near the mouth of the harbor, and so there were often boats passing by. Brisbane mostly wanted to swim out to get his ball, but occasionally he would spot a boat and decide to paddle out into the channel. I was always worried that he would get too tired to swim and just sink out there, so I got him a life jacket.

Being a total dog nerd, I wanted to get Brisbane The Best Dog Life Jacket. At the time, my options appeared to be the flimsy big box store life jackets that often didn't make it out of the store unscathed, or the Ruffwear Float Coat.  Since Briz did quite a bit of running on the beach, I really needed something that would allow him to move freely without chafing even when he was wet and sandy.

My very first interaction with the Ruffwear company was nearly a decade ago when I bought this life vest. According to his chest measurement, Brisbane should wear a size small. However, at the time the Float Coat fitting chart gave both the chest circumference and length, and by length Briz would fit into a size medium. I contacted Ruffwear to ask which measurement I should use, and they said to go ahead and get the one that fit his chest measurement. They have since updated the fitting guide with that information, while providing both the length and neck circumference for each size to help get the best fit for every dog.

Pros: Allows enough freedom of movement to wear on a long hike or a hard run. Helps boost swimming confidence for newbie dock divers and beginning swimmers. Ridiculously durable. Obviously comfortable.

Cons: The straps on ours tend to slip looser after a few hours. I believe this issue has been fixed on newer models.

Bottom Line: Hands down the best dog life jacket on the market. Better pick a color you like because you'll be looking at it for years to come.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Treat Tuesday: Zoe Pill Pops

Zoe Pill Pops are soft, smelly treats that are just the right size for hiding a pill or two. They come in three different flavors, two of which are safe for poultry-allergic and egg-allergic dogs. The more widely-available Pill Pockets are all made with chicken liver, so I had completely abandoned the idea of using medication-specific treats for Brisbane until I found these. The bag is resealable, and the treats themselves are sealed in pairs to help keep them as squishy and stinky as possible.

Good For: Hiding great big capsules for endless 20-day courses of antibiotics. Giving meds in the morning without getting a spoon covered in peanut butter. Getting Brisbane to take his pills without finding half-chewed capsules on the floor later. Dogs with poultry allergies.

Not Good For: Constant daily use, they get expensive and there's not that many in the bag.

How Much We Like Them: I had a moment of panic when I realized we were going to be out of them in a couple of days. Fortunately Amazon will get them here before I have to go back to hiding those giant pills in a tablespoon of peanut butter.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Dog Tag Silencers

There are a lot of different ways to prevent dog tags from making noise. Working at a daycare and boarding facility, I have seen a ton of creative ways to silence that jingling. I've even employed one or two of these methods in the past, but I don't anymore because I realized something. The sound of my dogs' tags don't bother me when they are just bopping around the house.
Photo by Erin Koski

The only time the sound of jingling tags starts to bother me is when a dog is scratching. Most tags are attached to the collar right beside the buckle, and when they start scratching really good with a back foot, the tags whack into the buckle and make a ton of noise.

The solution for this is not to make the tags quieter. The solution to noisy dog tags is to figure out why the dog is scratching and then fix it.

I have seen tag holders that consist of little neoprene bags that velcro around just the tags. Some wrap around the collar with a little pocket to hold the tags without attaching them to the collar itself. Many high-end collars now include a little rubber disc that goes on the split ring between the tags to keep them from banging into each other. At work I have seen a number of dogs with their rabies, identification, and license tags all taped or rubber banded together. Brisbane's Dog Tag Art tag came with a little rubber rim. There exist flat ID tags that slide or rivet onto the collar, and I've also seen regular tags riveted on.

Many of these products and hacks help reduce wear and help keep the tags readable for longer, which is a reasonable goal. I also see a whole lot of completely unreadable tags worn flat from rubbing against their neighbors on the dog's collar. However I'm pretty sure that the itchiest dogs have their tags duct taped together to keep them quiet.

Dogs itch for a lot of reasons. They may have fleas, a food allergy, or an environmental allergy. Figuring out the problem may be as simple as a dose of flea medication, a change of food, or may require a trip to the vet. Still, it's worth solving. If your dog is keeping you up all night scratching and jangling their tags, imagine how unpleasant it must be for them! Muffling the tags just makes them suffer in silence.

How do you attach your dog's tags?

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Product Review: Collars by Old Navy Dog Supply

Guess what?! Old Navy sells stuff for dogs now! Wait, no they don't. Ok, now they do again. Oops, nevermind, no they don't. Old Navy has offered dog stuff on and off for at least the last 15 years. I know this because I bought a set of booties there for my dearly departed cocker spaniel 15 years ago. I have also seen dog toys, bandanas, and shirts offered, but it's obvious that Old Navy Dog Supply stuff is not consistently available.
Photo by Erin Koski

Last year Old Navy Dog Supply reared its head again. I missed this phenomenon entirely because I am a weirdo who mostly shops online and in thrift stores. A friend found these collars on clearance for us. Currently there is no sign of dog stuff on the Old Navy website.

The first collar we got is a classic buckle collar with bones and stripes. It fits necks about 17-24" around. The collar is constructed from nylon webbing with a decorative ribbon overlay.

The first thing I noticed about this collar is how light it is. Not light-but-strong so much as flimsy. The nylon is not very thick and the buckle holes are just melted through the strap without any other reinforcement.

Photo by Erin Koski

Our second collar is another classic buckle with a paw and crossbone pattern. It fits necks about 11-17" around. This collar is the same weight and thickness as the stripey one, but it feels a little less flimsy because it is intended for a smaller dog.

The lightness of these collars doesn't actually bother me much because I never walk my dogs on flat buckle collars. I prefer harnesses or martingales for leash walking because they are much more difficult to escape. Flat collars are just for holding tags.

The third Old Navy Dog Supply collar has glow-in-the-dark skulls and a plastic quick-release buckle. It is definitely my favorite of the three. It feels a lot more sturdy because it doesn't have buckle holes that could rip under force.

Photo by Erin Koski
Pros: Cute, fun prints. Functional tag holders. Light and comfortable.

Cons: Not sturdy enough for leash walking in my opinion. Washing instruction tag says "damp wipe only" so not intended for outdoor adventures. Definitely going to be ruined by skunk spray or a roll in something dead. Two of the collars have said washing tag oddly sewn on the outside of the collar.

Bottom Line: These are a fun addition to our collar collection. I need to stick my head in an Old Navy store occasionally to see if Old Navy Dog Supply exists again.

Have you seen dog stuff at Old Navy recently?

Friday, June 5, 2015

Food Friday: Acana Singles Pork and Butternut Squash

Acana Singles are single-source protein, low-glycemic kibbles designed for dogs with food allergies. Like most grain-free dog foods, it features a very high meat content. It also features multiple legume ingredients which boost the protein level without adding a lot of simple carbohydrates.

I like Acana's foods a whole lot. They use as many fresh, local ingredients as possible, and cook the food in its own juices rather than adding water. The kibbles are dark and heavy and dense. The food smells meaty yet pleasant. Ru will actually eat it.

One thing I would like to point out about this food is that it is called Pork and Butternut Squash even though the squash is actually in sixth place in the ingredient list. Notably, it sits behind two different types of lentils. So this is actually a pork and lentil food.

Dog Food Advisor also makes note of this fact, and this food loses a star from its rating for its deceptively large legume content. The review for Acana Singles notes that the company uses ingredient splitting to make the meat ingredients appear higher on the list. The Pork and Butternut Squash food lists red lentils, green lentils, green peas, yellow peas, and garbanzo beans individually. If these were all just listed as "legumes", they might be the first thing on the list.

Acana Singles Pork and Butternut Squash only earns a four-star rating at Dog Food Advisor, but it's still pretty awesome. In building the database for my Dog Food Wizard, I noticed that Acana Singles are some of the only kibbles that don't have a litany of vitamin and mineral supplements at the end of their ingredient lists. They only add zinc proteinate, everything else comes from the food ingredients, and they still meet AAFCO standards for "all life stages" (meaning puppy) food.

I love that Acana Singles use a single protein source in each recipe, but I sort of have trouble calling them "Limited Ingredient Diets" simply because they use so many different types of carbohydrates. I've communicated with a number of different owners of dogs with weird food allergies, and some have found via elimination diets that their dogs have very specific intolerances. Some dogs can't have lentils, some can't have peas, some can't have garbanzo beans.

I think that a truly limited ingredient food should use a single protein and a single carbohydrate. This system works best for elimination diets and narrowing down possible food intolerances. The name "Acana Singles" is a little deceptive, and I was honestly a little surprised to see so many different carbohydrate sources in the ingredients.

Have you tried any of the Acana Singles foods for your dog yet?