Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Treat Tuesday: Loot Pets Questrips

The Loot Pets Questrips arrived in our April Pet Loot Crate. They are beefy, moist treats that smell meaty, but not in a bad way. These are easy to tear into small pieces for training treats, and they stay moist for a good long time. From Loot Crate Labs, Questrips are made in the USA out of beef, vegetable glycerin, salt, mixed tocopherols, and rosemary extract.
Questrips treats by Loot Crate Labs

Good For: High value training treats. Picky dogs. Dogs that don't chew very well. Dogs with poultry or grain allergies, or stupid allergies like sweet potatoes.

Not Good For: Lasting longer than the .1 second it takes to inhale them.

How Much We Like Them: They are even more exciting than the Ziwi Peak dog food I usually use for training.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Product Review: Kurgo Muck Collar

The Kurgo Muck Collar is a waterproof flat buckle collar that is non-absorbent.It can be wiped clean and will not absorb odors. This collar is available in a variety of colors and patterns, and three sizes to fit dogs with necks 10-25" around.
waterproof non-absorbent plastic dog collar
Photo by Erin Koski

This is another stink-free type of collar, like our Dublin Dog and Fraggle Rock gear. It's not as thick and chunky as our Dublin Dog collar, but I have to say I'm not impressed.

See that leash ring? It also doubles as a bottle opener. This is a trend that I'm pretty sure CycleDog started. At least, I saw bottle openers on their dog gear years before anyone else started doing it. I guess it's a somewhat handy, but the one on this collar sticks straight out. Tucking the excess strap underneath it, as it was seemingly designed for, causes it to sit rigidly upright, sticking out perpendicular to the collar. It seems like it's just waiting to get caught on something.

The sizing of this collar also seems to have some issues, there's not a lot of overlap so if the medium is just a tiny bit too small, the large will be enormous. Fortunately the collar can be modified with heat, so extra holes can be punched with a heated nail, and excess strap can be cut off and the new end sealed with a lighter.

My personal issue with the Kurgo Muck collar is actually that it came, like many collars, zip-tied to a display card. It was the original packaging, and the collar was folded pretty tightly. When the zip ties were removed, the bends in the collar remained. I know the ones in the stock photos look properly round, but mine is all wavey and weird, and I have not been able to make it assume a round shape. It looks like the product has been through a redesign since I acquired mine, so maybe this issue has been resolved.

Pros: Waterproof and non-absorbent. Durable. Comes in lots of colors and patterns.

Cons: Pokey bottle opener leash ring. May require modification if your dog is in between sizes. Very stiff and remains in the shape in which it was packaged.

Bottom Line: I can imagine having all those random bits of collar poking into your neck feels good, so this collar has not become part of out adventuring gear. Hopefully the redesign has solved at least some of the product issues.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Product Review: Zack & Zoey Fleece Lined Hoodie

This Zack & Zoey (there is no official Zack and Zoey website) Fleece Lined Hoodie is basically the ultimate sweater for long skinny dogs. More than just a sweatshirt, it has a warm lining that makes it super thick, super warm, and super soft. This hoodie comes in plain colors that can easily be customized or embellished with paint or patches. It is available in a variety of colors and six sizes to fit dogs with chests 14-35" around.
Photo by Erin Koski

When I set out to write this review, I first went looking for the official Zack & Zoey website. I see this brand all over the place and associate it with high quality dog clothes. Obviously this must be one of those brands named for the creator's dogs, right? I was totally expecting pictures and tales of the real Zack and Zoey.

Sadly, I was disappointed, and the cute names are nothing but marketing. Zack & Zoey is actually just another Pet Edge brand. Their main website only lists hoodies by Casual Canine, Guardian Gear, and Kong, but Ru's Zack & Zoey sweatshirt had the name Alpha Key on it, which led me to this Pet Edge dealer page. It turns out that Zack & Zoey is a Pet Edge brand only available to certain sellers, along with Cruising Companion, Be Good, Grriggles, Savvy Tabby, Clear Quest, UGroom, and Wise Rewards. This is why there is no official Zack & Zoey website, and the brand's online presence is limited to assorted online stores.

Branding and marketing aside, I really love this sweater and Ru does too. Ru measures 13" around his chest, and 12? from the base of his neck to the base of his tail. He looks silly in a lot of short, wide clothes, and stays warmest in things that cover most of his back. This hoodie is a side small, with a chest measurement of 15" and a back length of 12", and it is absolutely perfect for Ru. I was worried he would be swimming in it but it's fluffy enough that the 3" difference between the sweater and his body works just fine. The extra large size would probably fit both Brisbane and Sisci comfortably.

Pros: Super warm, super soft, super comfortable. Sized for long backs rather than wide chests. Has velcro at the neck to make it easier to get on, this also prevents it from sliding down the shoulders.

Cons: It might be too warm for the impending record-setting California summer.

Bottom Line: This hoodie appears to have been designed by someone who actually used it on a regular basis on actual dogs. It's a simple but thoughtful product, and I appreciate that even if the brand is actually part of a giant faceless corporation.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Food Friday: Honest Kitchen Instant Goat's Milk Plus Probiotics

Honest Kitchen's Instant Goat's Milk Plus Probiotics is a great way to get all the microbial goodness of yogurt without refrigeration. This was another fabulous product for Brisbane when he was recovering from surgery and on massive doses of antibiotics. Those wreck havoc on the gut flora, and probiotics are a great way to help get things back to normal. My vet usually recommends yogurt with live cultures for a few weeks after antibiotics, but this was less than convenient when I was taking Briz to work with me and feeding him lunch.
dinosaur milk

The Company

I'm a big fan of Honest Kitchen, even more since they expanded their product line to include allergy-friendly egg-free poultry-free foods. I'm not crazy about their stance on GMOs though, I'm a big fan of better crop yields through science so I am anti-anti-GMO. Yay genetically modified organisms!

Honest Kitchen is both super honest and super responsible, which is why they had a recall for salmonella in 2013. None of their products tested positive for it, however a batch of their human-grade parsley was recalled by the supplier so they recalled everything it went into out of an abundance of caution. They could have decided their food was ok after testing it, they could have waited to see if any dogs got sick with a link to their food, they could have put their image first, but they didn't.

dinosaur milkThe company has added some new products recently, including their Propper Toppers for adding a special treat to meals. Unfortunately these are made from either chicken or turkey so Brisbane can't have them and therefore I am too annoyed to buy them for my non-allergic dogs. They also make a dry digestive supplement called Perfect Form that sounds like it works a lot like pumpkin only way more expensive. They also recently added an instant beef bone broth which proves they've been stealing my ideas.

The Food

When I opened my can of Instant Goat's Milk, I was rather surprised to find it contained a plastic bag. A half-full plastic bag. I know these things are sold by weight not volume, but this was seriously like buying one of those big boxes of candy at the movie theater and opening it to find like five Skittles.
two sets of twin baby goats
I love kids!
This stuff mixes up like any powdered milk, with tons of stirring and some lumps no mattered what you do. The dogs like it ok, and the probiotics worked as well as any probiotics do, which is to say Brisbane's tummy issues showed a regression to the mean (normal poo) that may or may not have happened in the absence of the probiotics. 

The Verdict

This is way more convenient to carry around than yogurt, and great when you only need to add probiotics now and then because it's non-perishable. It's also super expensive, at $20 for a can that's maybe 1/4-1/3 full. The can makes 12 cups, I'm pretty sure I could buy 12 cups of goat's milk for less than that. Or maybe I could just milk some goats.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Product Review: Petego Hot Pants

PetEgo's Hot Pants are a super fancy way to deal with a dog in heat. These are step-in style bitch pants that velcro over the tail. Petego sells their own Hot Pads to go in them, but regular pantyliners work just fine. These are by Italian designed Emanuele Bianchi, the guy behind PetEgo. They were originally available in at least six sizes but may currently be out of production.
Emanuele Bianchi bitch pants
Photo by Erin Koski

Ok, first can we talk about the rhinestone bling heart on these panties? Sisci was not the most cooperative model, so I just have to tell you that there is a heart on these pants right under her tail. It's so cute I can't even stand it. There's also a hot pink bow on top of her tail, and lace around the leg holes. It's like frilly little girl panties, or possibly lingerie for dogs, I can't decide which and I'm ok with that.

Functionally, these were not Sisci's favorite pants. The step-in style is difficult to get on without a lot of cooperation on the part of the dog. Also, it means the leg openings are not adjustable and that doesn't make for a great fit. Based on the various dog pants we've tried, I'm forced to conclude that Sisci has enormously beefy thighs for her size.

The fit on these isn't great, Sisci's pre-spay waist was 14" around (she may have filled out a tiny bit since then, I haven't come at her with a tape measure recently) These are a size XL for 16-inch waists, and they were a bit tight all around. The largest size, XXL for 18" waists, may have fit a little better but may also have been huge in the waist.

Pros: Easily the cutest dog panties ever. There's a sparkly heart. On the butt. Very light, flexible, and washable.

Cons: For small dogs only, will fit a very limited range of body types. Not for super-athletic meaty thighs. Step-in design can be difficult to get on.

Bottom Line: We liked the Thongs for Dogs a lot better, but these are definitely the cutest. Hearts! Bows! Rhinestones! Lace!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Loot Crate May Pet Crate

Our Loot Crate May Pet Crate is so disappointing I kind of want to just send it back. It's an even bigger letdown after last month's crate of awesomeness. If this were the sort of thing I expected every month, there's no way I would be subscribing. Yuck.
Loot pets subscription box

What did we get? Not much, to be honest. There's a Kong AirDog dumbell, because we totally can't just walk into literally any pet store and buy that.

There's a bag of Chicken Chargers soft jerky treats from Loot Pets Labs.Brisbane can't have them, but Sisci and Ru will enjoy them. This is by far the best thing in the crate.

There is a Power collar charm in black and gray rather than the detailed colorful enamel we've gotten so far. I mistook it for aluminum at first, but it seems to be slightly sturdier than that.

There is another sheet of trading cards describing everything we got, which is fun. These are
April's shirt versus May's shirt
April's shirt vs May's shirt
numbered 7-12. These were new last month, and I am delighted to see they've been continued.

Another big change last month was the sizing of the pet shirts, along with the first human shirt to be included in the box. This was super awesome because all the previous pet shirts had been much too wide for Ru to wear. I had considered ordering a bigger size and making Sisci or Brisbane wear it, but they would still be either swimming in it or just look like it was a crop top because these shirts are cut incredibly wide and short.

Each month Loot Crate sends me a survey and I complain about the cut of the shirts, and it seemed like someone was finally listening because our April crate arrived with a shirt made for dog-shaped dogs. Also a shirt for me, so we could match. I had high hopes for this month, but our crate arrived with the widest and biggest "size small" shirt yet. Seriously, it looks like it was make for a small child or possibly a Build-A-Bear.

I don't even think I can sew this one small enough to be wearable. It's cut for a pug, french bulldog, English bulldog, chow chow, or just a really super fat dog, I guess. I included pictures to illustrate the
February's shirt vs May's shirt
huge difference, the gray shirt in the picture is almost twice as wide as the Adventure Time shirt. It's even wider than the Deadpool shirt from our February crate.

Up until last month the sizing had been pretty consistent. I'm guessing the wide variation last month and now are Loot Crate's way of finding the size that will make the most people happy. Hopefully I'm not the only customer asking WTF.

I am, admittedly, not a Mega Man fan, which makes this crate even more disappointing. We got a shirt for a barrel-shaped dog with an enormous neck, a charm, a bag of treats, and a mundane dog toy. Definitely not worth either the money or the wait.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Book Review: Shorty and I

I had high hopes for Jean Mueller's Shorty & I: A Guide to Raising Young Herding Dogs in the City, recommended to me as a guide to teaching herding skills like flanks without the livestock I had always considered essential. "You can teach herding training in your living room," they said. "Just ignore the dominance theory training stuff," they said. Well, the book turned out to be 50% personal experience dealing with chronic illness, 48% force-based training, and 2% slightly useful information.
Shorty & I by Jean Mueller
Photo by Erin Koski

The author, Jean Mueller, lives with a chronic illness that often leaves her very tired. She had several dogs with issues she was unable to solve before she got sick, and ended up dogless before Shorty the Australian Kelpie came into her life. This book is basically about how she raised Shorty to be a herding dog when she often didn't have the energy to do more than sit on the floor with him.

Unfortunately, Jean suffers from the same misconception that has haunted dog training for decades. She thinks that dog social structure relies on physically dominating lesser members of the pack, and that silly things like who goes through a doorway first have everything to do with who is the boss in the dog-handler relationship.

Slightly more educated dog owners know that dominance theory was debunked by the same scientist that originally described the whole concept. We know that dogs like to run through doorways because it's fun, and we teach them polite door manners by deliberately teaching them what we want them to do when the two of us arrive at one.

reading to my dog
Photo by Erin Koski
Ms. Mueller teaches door manners by pressing her puppy down to the floor and holding him there until he gives up trying to walk through the door. She believes that this teaches him to respect her as the leader, but actually it just confuses the hell out of him until he finally figures out that she won't manhandle him if he waits at the door. She also forgoes teaching a leave-it cue or anything resembling it, in favor of thwapping her puppy with a fly swatter whenever he tries to investigate anything on outings. She teaches a down-stay by standing on a leash attached to the puppy's collar, preventing him from getting up for 30 minutes or more, until he is resigned to his fate and learned helplessness sets in.

It's worth noting that all of the author's training tips rely on the handler being able to physically overpower the dog. This is one of the major flaws in training based on dominance theory. Her methods really only work on young and malleable puppies, and then only on the really biddable ones. Many adult herding breed dogs are too strong to hold down by standing on their leash, or to shove flat on the floor. Few would tolerate that sort of unfair handling, either.

The bits about herding training are also somewhat forceful, and entirely the opposite of the way my dogs and I are being taught. Mine start by learning the joy of moving stock, and we gradually shape that drive and joy into control. Ms. Mueller teaches her dogs control first, how to approach a toy very slowly and only move toward it when given permission. Again, this is via forceful methods that require the handler to physically overpower the dog and may not be regarded as fair by an adult dog. The only useful thing I got out of this book was the half a page or so on teaching flanks by sending the dog around a large object like a chair with a toy as a reward.

Overall I was not impressed with this book. The title really ought to be "A Guide to Raising Young Herding Dogs in the Suburbs Where You Can Keep Ducks in Your Yard". The bits about the author's illness were moderately interesting, but in general the anecdotes felt like they were stuffed in there to fill out the page count. The author's accounts of her difficulties with previous dogs made me feel a bit sad. The overall message there was not really one of triumph over adversity so much as how you can give up on your broken dog and start over with a new puppy.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Product Review: Outward Hound Thermovest

One of Outward Hound's product line from this past winter, the Thermovest is part harness, part toasty warmth. This is more than just insulation, the vest actually reflects heat like a space blanket, thanks to its reflective interior lining. Currently on clearance, the Thermovest is available in five sizes to fit dogs with chests up to 41" around.
space blanket for dogs
Photo by Erin Koski

This is a weird product. It's shaped a lot like a Ruffwear Webmaster harness, but the inside is all shiny. There's a handle on the top, and little pockets on the side. Very little pockets, in the case of our extra small vest. I could maybe fit one poo bag in there.

The sizing seems a bit off, this one is described as fitting dogs 5-15 pounds, but it is definitely too big and long for 6.5 pound Ru. Also the rear strap covers his junk. It's a fairly supportive harness, it just doesn't adjust down far enough for a super tiny dog.

Sorry Outward Hound, but my experience with dog gear has led me to associate your brand with cheap stuff. The Thermovest is no exception, the straps feel flimsy and the adjustments feel loose. I'm not sure I would trust this thing to stay on an actual dog-sized dog without loosening up enough to allow escape. The design should be escape-proof in theory, but in practice I wouldn't trust this at all. Apparently it is also prone to coming unstitched around the leash if your dog pulls a lot, so I would really classify this as clothing no matter how much it looks like a sturdy and secure dog harness.

Does it work? My Reynaud's-suffering friend (who is also my dog-treat-tasting enabler) said it did make her body feel warmer wherever she touched it. It's sort of a slow warmth though, it just reflects your own heat back. I wore it on my head for a while and it did eventually warm up, so I believe the actual technology to be sound.

Pros: Provides warmth without restricting movement. Very adjustable, fits a wide range of dogs at every size. Convenient handle for lifting bitty dogs. Supportive design includes rear strap that sits behind ribcage.

Cons: Quality is lacking, as is durability. May fall apart with regular use. Sizes run large.

Bottom Line: I bought this for $9 at Ross to see if it would work for Ru, but he doesn't produce a ton of body heat on his own and it's too big anyway. I'm interested to see what Outward Hound rolls out with this coming winter.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

What Your Doggy Daycare Wishes You Knew

People who leave their dogs at doggy daycare or boarding facilities, on behalf of all the people working at such establishments, I would like to ask you, our beloved customers, to please STOP WAVING AT YOUR DOG FROM THE OTHER SIDE OF THE FENCE.

boy chihuahua in pink
I get it when you're coming to pick your dog up. It's cute when you see your pup drop whatever he's doing when he hears your voice, like a small child running from their friends at the playground to greet their mommy or daddy. The thing is, he can't get to you right away, and he almost certainly finds this distressing. You, as the human half of this partnership, understand that your dog will have to wait until a staff member retrieves him for you. Your dog, however, just knows that you're RIGHT THERE and he can't reach you. It's not so much like a preschooler running from the monkey bars shouting "Hi Mommy!" as it is a preschooler bursting into tears because Mommy is just out of reach.

I don't get it when you're dropping your dog off and try to get his attention and wave goodbye. Seriously, stop doing this. Either your dog is getting comfortable and starting to enjoy his friends, or he is taking a few minutes to acclimate and settle in. Neither of these processes is going to be helped by forcefully reminding him that you, his favorite thing, are now out of reach. You wouldn't pull your toddler away from a fun game with a babysitter to make a big fuss about how you're walking out the door, at least if you wanted to avoid tears. Do you expect your dog to wave back and then go back to bouncing around with his pals? Nothing makes a happy playgroup sour faster than someone realizing that they are stuck in here while their owner is out there.

Trust me on this, do your big goodbye kisses before you hand the leash over, and save the big happy reunions till your dog can actually touch you. Your dog loves you a whole lot, and he's infinitely happier and safer when he can focus on the daycare environment rather than his proximity to the Best Human Ever. More than likely he isn't just whining in anticipation out there, he's actually having an emotional meltdown. Meltdowns aren't exactly safe when the other kids sometimes ask "What's wrong?" with their teeth.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Food Friday: Avoderm Revolving Menu Beef Recipe Canned Food

 This can of Avoderm Natural Revolving Menu Beef Recipe dog food is one of a small handful of Avoderm products that Brisbane can eat. He is allergic to chicken, turkey, duck, eggs, barley, corn, and sweet potatoes. Following his surgery in March, he spent several weeks eating only soft foods while we explored the wonderful (and expensive!) world of canned dog food.
dog food and dinosaurs

The Company

More than just a marketing company, Avoderm dog food and treats are part of the Breeder's Choice pet food company. The business also owns and produces Pinnacle pet foods. Their business and manufacturing facilities are in California, so they are somewhat local to me. Like a set of Russian nesting dolls, Breeder's Choice is a brand owned by Central Garden and Pet. This company also Owns Nylabone, Four Paws, Feliway, and Adams Flea Control. Interesting!

Breeder's Choice may have made other foods under that brand name at one point, but currently Avoderm and Pinnacle seem to be the only brand names on the packages. They've been around since 1947, and Avoderm dog food has been around since 1982. The only recall I can find from Avoderm is from 2012 and was voluntary when they had reason to believe a certain batch of food could be contaminated with salmonella. I do not believe there were any reports of people or dogs being sickened as a result.

The Food

Avoderm dog food contains avocado. I see avocados listed all the time as food that may sicken your dog, and I always laugh. Here in sunny California, we have lived in a house with an avocado tree growing in the yard. Growing up here, I knew people who had entire orchards in their backyards. The only detrimental effect I've ever seen is that avocados make your dog fat. If you don't pick up the fallen fruit, your dog will probably eat it and end up a blimp. I've heard warning about the skin and pit of the fruit, but I've never heard of an actual case. 

Avoderm makes a small handful of foods that Brisbane can eat with his allergies. There is this beef recipe and also the lamb recipe Revolving Diet canned foods, along with the dry grain-free Salmon and Potato Formula, and the Oven-Baked Lamb and Brown Rice Formula. Obviously we can't make use of their Revolving Diet plan since Brisbane can only eat two of the eight options.

Bottom Line

This is a good food from a good company. They make their own food in their own facility and have only had one recall in recent years. Several of their foods have relatively low scores on the Dog Food Advisor website due to their heavy reliance on plant proteins, but the ingredients are all good. I am uncertain where they source their ingredients, however.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Puzzle Toy Review: Puppies R Us Adjustable Treat Spinner

I found this Puppies 'R Us Adjustable Treat Spinner on uber-clearance at PetSmart, and for $2 I couldn't say no. It's part of the ultra-cute "make puppy toys look like baby toys" concept that capitalizes on our desire to humanize our dogs as much as possible. This toy looks like an adorable spinning top. It is intended for kibble and kibble-sized treats, and can be adjusted to make it drop more or less food as it moves.
Puppies R Us food dispensing toy
Photo by Erin Koski

Puzzle Toy Rating

Capacity: 1/5
It's really quite difficult to load more than ~10 pieces of food into this toy without it all spilling out.

Loading Speed: 3/5
We learned from the included instruction sheet that the clear part on top can be unscrewed, but it took an enormous amount of effort accomplish that. Doesn't make it much easier, though.

treat dispensing dog toy
Photo by Erin Koski
Unloading Speed (standard dog): 3/5
Most of the food just sort of falls out of it as soon as you touch it, even with the aperture set quite small.

Unloading Speed (superdog): 2/5
It took Brisbane slightly longer to empty this toy than it does for him to eat a bowl of kibble.

Size: 2/5
This to is marketed for puppies, but would work well for small dogs too. Ru could certainly use it with ease. It's a bit small for anyone bigger than Brisbane, though.

Durability: 1/5
It turns out all that soft plastic is super fun to rip off, according to Sisci. I had originally taken this to be a fairly durable toy that could be left unattended with normally non-destructive dogs, but Sisci spent about ten minutes shredding the rubbery coating off the bone-shaped top bit. The bottom is
It only looks like a chew toy.
covered in blue rubbery stuff which also took some damage. Structurally the toy is fine, but aesthetically it's not quite as cute now.

Noise: 4/5
All that soft rubber makes this a fairly quiet toy on hard floors. At least before they shred it off.

Locatability: 3/5
The fact that it's a top means it tends to stop rolling before it ends up under the furniture. However, the convenient bone/handle on top makes it very easy for the dogs to carry around and drag away to their lairs.

Washability: 5/5
Comes all the way apart for easy cleaning. Not dishwasher safe, though.

Versatiliy: 4/5
The size of this toy makes it usable for rats, bunnies, and other small animals. The complexity makes it usable by ravens and crows, and we will be passing it along to our friend Xhuuya the raven now that Sisci is done demolishing the pretty bits.
baby top dog food toy
Photo by Erin Koski
Total: 28/50

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Product Review: Holt Control Harness

The Holt Control Harness, currently available from Coastal Pet Products, is a slightly different version of the no-pull string harness. This one-piece design slips over the head and then both front feet are stepped into the harness and the toggle is tightened up. The Holt harness allows total freedom of motion, and does not rub under the armpits. It is available in three sizes to fit dogs with necks 8-26" around, and chests up to 36" around.
Holt no-pull solution
Photo by Erin Koski

The Holt Harness was originally sold by the Canadian company Pet Valu. Coastal Pet Products acquired them in 2009. There don't seem to be a lot of Holt-branded products out there, but this is definitely the most recognizable and unique. It uses rounded cords to concentrate pressure like the Sporn Halter and the Yuppy Puppy Anti-Pull Harness. However, it does not run the cords through the dog's armpits.

This is one of the few no-pull harnesses that allows total freedom of motion. It does not block the motion of the shoulder or upper arm at all, and it sits well clear of the armpits so it will not rub. The round cords also disappear into the dog's coat, making this harness less likely to contribute to matting on hairy dogs.
Holt no-pull harness
Photo by Erin Koski

Like the other string harnesses we've tried, this one is not strongly aversive. At least, Sisci did not mind towing me over to a tennis ball in it. You can see it sort of riding into her armpits in the pulling picture, but it is actually very adjustable and I could make those cords sit much further back. Like the Balance Harness, the top section on this one can be adjusted so it can be made to fit all sorts of weird body shapes.

My only complaint about this harness is that, like most string harnesses, it tightens down with a toggle for a secure fit, leaving any extra length of cord to dangle. This means a smaller dog in the size range could have a foot or more of extra cord hanging around, while a larger dog may not have any. I don't like having the leash clip swinging around in my dog's face, and I also don't like having a big floppy bit hanging off the harness when my dog is off leash.

Pros: Rounded cords slide into long coats. Seriously adjustable in every dimension. Likely most effective on larger dogs. Allows freedom of movement and stays out of the armpits. Does not choke.

Cons: Toggle fitting system leaves a big length of cord swinging around, needs a leash attached to prevent leash ring from hitting a running dog. May seem a bit complicated for newbs to put on. Requires a bit of flexibility to get into as the dog must step over cords.

Bottom Line: Simple and kind of classy. A minimalist no-pull solution.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Product Review: Canine Friendly Crash-Tested Car Harness

The Canine Friendly Crash-Tested Car Harness by RC Pets is another product that was tested by the Center for Pet Safety. This harness serves as both a crash-protection device and a walking harness. It is fleece-lined, adjustable, and easy to put on. I believe it was originally available in four sizes, but I can't find anything on the company website at the moment so it may be discontinued.
dog car safety travel harness
Photo by Erin Koski

This is probably Brisbane's favorite crash-tested car harness. It is comfortable and non-restrictive, with two buckles on the belly strap so I don't have to lift his leg over a strap to get him into it. The chest plate is nice and long, so the straps sit well behind his armpits. This is definitely my pick for a car harness that does double duty as a functional walking harness.

Like the AllSafe harness, the Canine Friendly car harness did not actually achieve Center for Pet Safety certification. Like many of the products tested, it suffered catastrophic failure of the largest size. However, the small and medium sizes kept the weighted stuffed test dogs on the seat, and head excursion measurements were within acceptable limits.
crash-tested car harness
Photo by Erin Koski

The Canine Friendly harness did have some hardware integrity issues, with some pieces bending due to the force of the crash test. Still, the small and medium sizes held together well enough to make this harness worth using.

Pros: Easy and uncomplicated to put on. Fits and feels very much like a regular vest harness. Small and medium sizes can survive a 30 mph crash without allowing the dog to fly off the seat or strike anything in the vehicle.

Cons: Large size is inadequate for crash protection. Not as strong as other products on the market that can survive a crash with zero damage.

Bottom Line: For small and medium dogs, I think this is an acceptable compromise between a comfortable walking harness and a protective seatbelt harness. It's not the highest-rated thing out there, but it might be the easiest to use.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Loose Leashes and Unicycles

Teaching your dog to walk on a loose leash is like learning to ride a unicycle. Some dog-handler teams get it really fast, for some it's a lengthy and frustrating process. Some dogs never get there, and some handlers choose not to spend their training time on it at all.
loose leash walking
Photo by Erin Koski

I recently was part of an online discussion about no-pull harnesses in which someone repeatedly dismissed the entire concept in favor of "just training your dog". While training is my favorite solution for teaching loose leash walking, I readily recognize the value of training tools in this process. I also value harnesses in general for their ability to prevent injury and escape.

This particular contributor to the discussion proudly stated that they had trained their border collies to walk in heel position at all times, and therefore everyone else should do the same. Some of us mentioned our veterinarians' advice to use a harness for health reasons. The Heel Nazi insisted that such measures were unnecessary, we should just train our dogs. Some of us said our dogs were fearful or prone to escaping. The Heel Nazi insisted that training would prevent our dogs from ever attempting to bolt. Some of us mentioned working with dogs that could physically overpower us. The Heel Nazi said we just needed to train our dogs.
Photo by David R. Tribble

I think loose leash walking is a lot like learning to ride a unicycle. Some people have good balance or easy dogs and pick it up quickly. Some people have non-optimal circumstances and must work very hard to achieve it. Some need training wheels to get started, and some will never take them off. Some people never feel the need to take them off, others keep them on for safety reasons. Some master the skill only in select environments, others can do it everywhere.

Teaching loose leash walking is not easy for most people, just like learning to ride a unicycle is not easy for most people. Yes, in a perfect world every dog would be able to maintain a loose leash in the face of squirrels, strange dogs, and car accidents happening on the street right in front of them (this is my favorite example of a random unpredictable emergency situation that is difficult to proof). However, we live in an imperfect world where some dogs are poorly-bred or poorly-socialized, and some people are small, weak, or suffer compromised health. 

Teaching loose leash walking takes time, it's a process. So is learning to ride a unicycle. I can't imagine saying "You shouldn't need to wear a helmet, just learn to ride the unicycle and it will be unnecessary." Likewise, I wouldn't say "You shouldn't need to use a harness to protect your toy breed's trachea, just teach him to heel at all times and it will be unnecessary." There's probably lots of other dog training unicycles, so I try to avoid invalidating someone else's experience with "Just train X..." like it's no big deal, just because it wasn't for me and my dog.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Product Review: AllSafe Car Harness

Klein Metall's Allsafe is a German-engineered crash protection car harness. I features doubleback buckles and a padded chest piece to distribute force. The Allsafe dog seat belt comes with a second piece that attaches to the vehicle belt via a pair of steel quick links, with a heavy bolt snap that connects to the harness. The harness may also be used for walking and sledding.
crash tested dog harness
Photo by Erin Koski

So I've basically acquired all of the top performers from the Center for Pet Safety's 2013 Harness Study. The SleepyPod Clickit Sport is currently the only car harness certified by CPS, but some of the other products tested performed adequately under certain conditions.

Most dog safety harness testing is static, the manufacturer pulls on the harness until it breaks and then reports how much force their product could take. Julius K9 advertises their IDC Powerharness as crash tested using this test. A static test only measures the strength of the product, a dynamic sled test demonstrates how it actually performs in a collision. I do not consider the IDC Powerharness to be crash tested, and feel that Julius K9 is making a false claim.

The Center for Pet Safety has some pretty rigorous testing criteria for products undergoing their dynamic sled test.  Manufacturers usually test their products with a 30 lb weighted stuffed dog, and declare their product effective if it does not break. The Center for Pet Safety actually considers the motion of the test dummy on impact, and whether it flew off the seat and presented a danger to other hypothetical passengers in the vehicle. They test the car harnesses at all available sizes, and even consider a measurement called 'head excursion'. That's the measure of how far your head moves on impact, and is an important measurement for child safety seats.
AllSafe crash tested harness
Photo by Erin Koski

The AllSafe car harness normally comes with an adjustable tether that is several inches long. When the harness was tested with the seatbelt run through the back of the harness instead of using the tether, it kept the heaviest dog on the seat. With the tether, the dog launched off the seat. The tether shown on both the tests and the Klein Metall website is adjustable, however the one that arrived with my harness is not. Still, the tether is about 6" long, and not short enough to minimize head excursion and potential brain injury in a crash.

It's worth noting that Klein Metall and their USA distributor 4x4 North America still include the tether with the harness. However, the 4x4 North America product page now includes the vital information about the harness being much safer without it.

This harness probably would have passed the CPS certification requirements had it been tested without the tether. The harness suffered no damage in the testing, demonstrating its strength and ability to not squish or behead my dog in an accident. It is light and comfortable enough to be used as a walking harness, and Brisbane doesn't mind wearing it.

Pros: Crash tested and actually crashworthy when used without the tether. Fits enough like a regular harness that my weird-stuff-hating dog is willing to walk in it.

Cons: It fits a little bit closer to Brisbane's armpits than I'd like for a walking harness. The doubleback buckles make it slightly less convenient to put on. It's also at the top of the crashworthy harness price range at $120-150.

Bottom Line: Not Center for Pet Safety certified at this point, but performance seems comparable to the SleepyPod harnesses. The AllSafe is a bit more versatile than the Clickit or Roadie, and works better than either of those as a walking harness.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Food Friday: Diggin Your Dog's Firm Up

Finally, Diggin Your Dog brings us Firm Up, the non-perishable dried pumpkin powder we've all been waiting for! No more hauling cans of pureed pumpkin home from the grocery store! No more moldy leftovers because we actually only needed a spoonful or two! Made with apple fiber as well as pumpkin fiber, this shelf-stable tummy supplement has been pretty awesome so far.
shelf stable dried pumpkin for dogs

The Company

Diggin Your Dog actually makes quite a few different treats and supplements. They have a joint powder made from New Zealand green lipped mussels. Most of their ingredients are sourced in the USA. Their treats are made in California, and the supplement are produced in Nevada. Their products are surprisingly affordable, and 100% guaranteed if you hate them.

The Food

This stuff is pretty amazing if you don't use canned pumpkin on a regular basis. After his first round of chemotherapy, Brisbane had some poo issues. He also needed medication several times a day, and to eat lunch for the first time since he was a baby puppy. I was taking him to work with me and wanted something convenient to mix into his canned food.

dried pumpkin powder for dogsFirm Up is a pretty good substitute for canned pumpkin, if you are using it to help with diarrhea or constipation. Mixed with equal parts water and powder, it turns into a tasty goop. It can also be fed dry, or just mixed into wet food without adding water.

The Verdict

For handling occasional tummy upsets, Firm Up is amazing. It's also fabulous for travel. The only thing I wouldn't use it for is adding fiber to make a dog feel full white adding calories. Brisbane has always been on a restricted diet because he turns into a blimp when I feed him like a normal dog. I combat this by adding frozen vegetables, canned green beans, or canned pumpkin to his food to fill up his tummy. Firm Up is clearly not intended to be used this way, the company recommends only feeding it once per day at a dosage of a tablespoon or two.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Privilege in Dog Training

As life takes me in some interesting directions, I have become more and more aware of the different types of privilege found in the world of dog training. In my review of When Pigs Fly, I observed that many authors of dog training books take it as a given that we all have a large fenced yard. They recommend we practice agility foundations and loose leash walking, and not venture off the property until we have mastered these skills at home. Great if you've got fenced acreage, but the authors rarely touch on what to do if you have a very small yard, or no yard at all.
chihuahua wearing large stuffed squeaky toy
Most of my product photos are taken in parks because my yard is tiny and ugly.
Photo by Erin Koski, who also has an ugly yard.

Most also assume that readers have a number of local friends or family members willing to assist with training exercises, or access to an outdoor space with few distractions. Does your family hate your dog? Just moved to town and haven't made any friends yet? Don't own a car with which to drive to a park that isn't crazy busy during all daylight hours? I guess that author's book just isn't for you.

Pointing out these sorts of assumptions often opens one up for criticism. I've been told I'm uncooperative and difficult for pointing out that Dr. Karen Overall's original Relaxation Protocol calls for the handler to take 30 steps to both the right and left of the dog in the same exercise, but my tiny house is only 40 steps from one end to the other. In that same discussion it was suggested that I take the clearly obvious step of renting a room in an indoor training center. I guess they didn't know that dog training is almost exclusively an outdoor activity here in sunny California, there isn't such a place in my entire county.

I think the world of dog training could become a little more inclusive by acknowledging that our individual experiences are not universal. There are plenty of devoted dog owners living in tiny apartments and rented rooms. Not everyone owns a car, especially in urban areas. Dog training infrastructure varies enormously between geographic areas. In some places activities like agility may happen almost exclusively inside dedicated indoor training facilities, while in other areas it happens largely in people's yards and in public spaces like parks. Some cities have high population density with very little open space available. One person may have tons of helpful friends and neighbors willing to help with training exercises, another person may be rather socially isolated.

Privilege means failing to recognize how awesome your situation is, and that the same may not be true for others. The result is that some of your audience, large or small, can end up feeling invisible, or like they have no business owning a dog at all. Or they might not feel that your message is for them at all. While I love Jane Killion's work, I rarely feel like I can apply it in my world of pavement and tiny yards so obviously she must not be writing for people like me. She's writing for people who have enough land to meet their puppy's exercise needs without going for walks off the property, without so much as acknowledging I exist.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Treat Tuesday: Turduck'nstein Menacing Meat Treats

March's Loot Pets Versus box from Loot Crate arrived with these semi-moist Turduck'nstein Menacing Meat Treats. They come linked up like natural casing hot dogs, and don't smell horribly offensive. Like most of our Loot Pets treats, these were produced by the Loving Pets company. Brisbane can't have poultry, but Sisci and Ru both thoroughly enjoyed these treats.

Loot Pets treats
Good For: High-value training treats. Dogs without poultry allergies. A nice snack for a really tiny dog. A highly visible treat for throwing during agility practice.

Not Good For: Dogs allergic to poultry. Feeding one at a time.

How Much We Like Them: I had to save a couple for pictures, otherwise they would have been gone in a day or two.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Product Review: Ruffwear Doubleback Harness

Ruffwear's Doubleback Harness is literally the dog-lifting harness to end all harnesses. Often purchased as a mobility aid, this thing is actually built for hoisting your dog up cliffs. "Strong, safe, and secure" are understatements. Modeled after serious human climbing harnesses, it features doubleback fasteners, secure attachment points, and is strength rated to 2,000 lbs of force. The Doubleback Harness is available in four sizes to fit dogs with chests 17-42" around.
Strength-rated climbing safety harness for dogs
Photo by Erin Koski

secure rappelling dog harness
Photo by Erin Koski
Let me start by saying that this harness is way to big for Brisbane. It's a L/XL, for dogs with chests 32-42" around, on my 26" dog. It's actually covering his bits so he would definitely pee all over it. Ruffwear's fitting video specifically states that the bottom pad on the harness should not go further back than the ribcage. Brisbane would wear a size small Doubleback harness, we happen to have this one because I snagged it on ebay for $45, listed as a Front Range.

The specialized Doubleback differs from other harnesses in a number of different ways. First, there's no leash ring at all. I'm assuming this is to prevent climbing accidents. The small tie-in loops at the front and back of the harness work decently with a regular leash, and Ruffwear's Knot-a-Leash has a big carabiner that works beautifully with the main handle. I think the lack of leash ring really drives home the point that this is a purpose-built piece of gear and not just a redesigned walking harness.

The doubleback fasteners are another climbing safety feature that a lot of people complain about when they purchase this for other uses. Plastic buckles have no place on a strength-rated harness, and the last thing you want halfway up a rock face is anything quick-release. Instead, the straps must be carefully laced through the buckles in a specific pattern for maximum security.
belaying absailing harness for dogs
Photo by Erin Koski

The rear leg loops are the most obvious unique feature on this harness. These attach with the same doubleback fasteners, and can be stowed in a little pouch at the rear of the back plate when not in use. There is a handle that sits on top of the hips and allows for two-handed lifts that support the entire spine.

Ruffwear released a new 2016 updated version of the Doubleback harness earlier this year. Ours is the older style. The main difference is that the top and bottom pads on the newer harness enclose most of the straps that are sewn on top on the older style. The updated version also got rid of the red stabilizer pads on the rear leg loops, making the whole rear assembly significantly less bulky.

Pros: Strongest and most secure dog harness on the market. Actually escape-proof. The only purpose-built climbing harness for dogs. Allows for a comfortable lift that supports the entire spine.

Cons: Basically everything that counts as a con has either been fixed in the 2016 version or is related to off-label use of the Doubleback harness. The super-secure buckles mean the harness takes longer to put on than one with quick-release buckles. The back leg loop assembly on my harness is a bit bulky, but has been slimmed down in the new version along with the entire design.

Bottom Line: Even in a way-too-big Doubleback, Brisbane is totally cool with being lifted. I think the Help 'Em Up makes a better mobility harness, but this is definitely the safest piece of gear for adventuring.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Book Review: Sophie, The Incredible True Story of the Castaway Dog

I first read about Sophie in a news article, and when I learned there was a book I knew I had to read Sophie, The Incredible True Story of the Castaway Dog, by Emma Pearse. I like to think of this as a story that illustrates the toughness of cattle dogs. How tough are they? So tough they can fall off a boat in rough and shark-infested waters, swim to a tiny island miles away, and successfully hunt for food for five months before being captured.
Sophie the Castaway Dog book
Photo by Erin Koski

News articles got the basics down, but there's a lot more to the story. Enough to fill an entire novel? You bet! We start with the first time a member of the family laid eyes on Sophie in the window of a pet store, and go from there. Along the way we learn about Sophie's empty-nesting owners, how they met and what family life was like before and after Sophie entered their lives. We hear about their history of dog ownership, their first Australian cattle dog, and how their attitudes changed from "dogs belong outside" to "I guess she can sleep in the armchair in the living room since she looks so comfortable up there". By the time Sophie falls off the boat, we are very much aware of her place in the family and how her loss affected them.

Sophie's adventure itself is absolutely filled with amazing and agonizing little details. The small chain of islands where she washed up have their own fascinating history. St. Bees, the island where she was finally captured, is home to a population of koalas with some unique behaviors due to the lack of predators. Sophie was first sighted on a different island, and to get to St. Bees she had to swim through a particularly treacherous strait that has claimed the lives of several experienced seamen.

The most fascinating part of the story to me was the discussion on the tides and currents around the islands where Sophie was stranded. Based on tide charts and known currents in the area, it is estimated that Sophie was swimming for twelve hours, possibly even an entire day. Unlike people, dogs can't just float for a bit when they get tired. The place where she fell off the boat was five miles from the islands, and the ocean was quite choppy at the time. It's also worth mentioning that this all happened off the coast of Australia, so of course there were sharks everywhere.

I found this book to be extremely well-written, it was very readable and flowed nicely. The pace was nice, and I didn't get bored reading the backstory before the really dramatic bits. There was a wonderful amount of science, and Emma Pearse very accurately conveyed the emotions felt by Sophie's family. News stories had informed me that Sophie was successfully trapped and returned to her family, and that upon arriving home she promptly resumed sleeping on the couch like a dog that hadn't just spent five months hunting feral goats. Still, there was a delightful amount of suspense as I read about the various coincidences leading up to her return, and the urgency with which she was captured. To me, that's the mark of a good storyteller.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Product Review: Doggles Jean Harness Dress

This adorable Jean Harness Dress is made by Doggles, the dog sunglasses company. The neck and belly straps have velcro closures. It is available in two colors and four sizes to fit little dogs with chests 9-24" around.
small dog dress
Photo by Erin Koski

I usually avoid vest harnesses for Ru because his back is so long. Most garments are either too short in the back to look good, or too big around the chest. This Doggles harness dress is actually long enough to look adorable on him, without making him look awkwardly long. The leash ring is set back pretty far, so it puts most of the pressure on the belly strap rather than the neck strap.

Pros: Excellent fit for longer backs. Leash ring is not placed at base of neck or directly above shoulders. Wide straps distribute force. Belly strap sits well behind armpits.

Cons: Sizes tend to run a bit big. Velcro sound may scare noise-sensitive dogs.

Bottom Line: This is the only harness dress that actually looks good on Ru.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Food Friday: Party Animal Cocolicious Wholesome Pork Canned Dog Food

Cocolicious is Party Animal's highest quality, most limited-ingredient product line. It contains wonderful, magical, fabulous, all-powerful coconut oil. It's also 95% meat and comes in 14 different recipes. I really appreciate that they have combination recipes like 'lamb and fish' and 'pork and salmon'. Most companies just do 'chicken and (insert protein here)' for everything. Brisbane can have 8 of the Cocolicious foods, which is pretty amazing. These are grain-free, egg-free, limited ingredient foods. They aren't kidding about the coconut oil either, it's the third or fourth thing on the list of ingredients.
dog food and dinosaurs

The Company

As I've mentioned before, Party Animal sources all their ingredients from the US except the lamb and venison they get from New Zealand. While they offer a unique product, they do use Evanger's as a co packer. Evanger's was cited by the FDA for being absolutely disgusting back in 2011, and the complaint was only closed in 2013. Hopefully things are better now. Party Animal itself has never had a recall.

The Food

dog food and dinosaursFollowing his recent surgery, Cocolicious was one of the few foods that Brisbane would reliably eat. Briz is allergic to chicken, turkey, duck, eggs, corn, barley, and sweet potatoes, so finding canned food he could even have was a challenge. To make things even more interesting, he became incredibly picky and wouldn't eat the same food two meals in a row, so I couldn't buy an entire case of anything. I would walk into a store, read every single label, and walk out with maybe three cans.

Fortunately, Brisbane ate Cocolicious every time it was offered. He particularly likes the venison kind, but will happily eat any of them. I even sent a couple of cans with him to his first chemo session, when he stayed with the vet for a few days.

The Verdict

Party Animal's Cocolicious canned dog food rates five out of five stars on the Dog Food Advisor website. This product line offers some novel protein sources, and a lot of variety for dogs with allergies. There's a lot of organic hype around the food, but I think I'm becoming dead to that so it's cool. I'm not sold on the miraculous benefits of coconut oil yet, but as long as nobody goes off the deep end and tries to make a food out of nothing but coconuts, we're probably ok.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Product Review: Death Star Pull Toy

This Death Star pull toy is probably the cutest thing that ever came out of the Star Wars franchise. I mean seriously, how much cuter could this be? None more cute. The big, sturdy stuffy has a rope handle and three holes that connect with each other inside. It comes with one little plush squeaky Darth Vader, and two little plush squeaky storm troopers. These can be pulled out of the space station endlessly and adorably. So. Cute.
tiny plush Darth Vader
Photo by Erin Koski

I've always liked pull toys, they seem to give my dogs the satisfaction of unstuffing something without actually destroying it. Cleanup is much easier, and the toys can take so many different forms.

The first pull toys I can remember seeing were the Egg Babies by Kyjen. These were stuffed animals with inner cavities that contained three squeaky eggs. Kyjen also sold extra eggs to replace any that went missing. We never had an Egg Baby, but Brisbane used to have a birdhouse toy with three different colored plush birds. He loved it for a while, but eventually the novelty wore off. I ended up passing it along to the animal shelter after Ru joined the family. He kept getting his head stuck in it, and I mean seriously stuck. I nearly had a cut it off him.
Death Star plushy
Photo by Erin Koski

Unlike the bird house and Hide-A-Squirrel toys, the Death Star does not have a big inviting space for chihuahua heads. The interior is pretty heavily stuffed, so Darth Vader and the storm troopers fit snugly inside. This makes them more challenging to get out with less risk of entrapment since Ru would have to moosh his head into a stuffed space and not just a big empty hole.

Pros: Sturdy fabric. Rope handle makes the space station easy to carry. Storm troopers and Lord Vader are very detailed and easily recognizable. Overstuffed toy makes this puzzle more challenging that open-cavity type pull toys. Treats can be hidden inside for added interest.

Cons: They should sell extra Vaders and storm troopers to replace the ones that get lost.

Bottom Line: This is currently my favorite dog toy. It is also Sisci's current favorite dog toy, which is pertinent since she is actually a dog. There also exists a Millennium Falcon pull toy with Han Solo and Chewbacca. I need to own this.