Thursday, July 28, 2016

Four Ways to Get More Walk Out of Your Walk

Some dogs are happy with a simple daily walk around the block, but for many dogs this is simply not enough activity. Still, some dog owners have physical limitations, and just about everyone is busy. Happily, there are a few ways to make your walk MORE. More exciting, more physically demanding, and requiring more brainpower.

1. Use a backpack. 

This is my least favorite method of wearing out a dog on a walk. Strap a pack on your dog, weight it down with a couple of water bottles or cans of soup, and have him work harder. This is quite a popular idea in my area, but I dislike it because it gives the dog no choice. He's going to have to walk as far as you tell him to walk, and he's going to have to carry that pack the entire time. The weight puts additional stress on his joints, and can make him sore if the pack doesn't fit well. I think dog backpacks are great for backpacking and hiking and carrying useful things, but I dislike them being used purely to induce fatigue.
pulling harness for roading dog exercise
Photo by Erin Koski

2. Mush! 

Does your dog pull like a sled dog? Although polite leash walking is considered by many to be a crucial skill for a well-mannered dog, pulling is actually incredibly good exercise. Sometimes called "roading", pulling on leash is used to condition hunting dogs and canine athletes. It can be done with a very wide collar, but pulling is safest and most comfortable for the dog in a harness designed for the purpose. A sledding or mushing harness and a stretchy leash are easiest on your dog's body, and a wide belt is easiest on your own body. Best of all, pulling is a low-impact activity where your dog gets to decide how hard he's going to work. I allow my dogs to pull when they are wearing harnesses, but require them to walk politely on a collar.

3. Play games.

There should be more than just a leash connecting you and your dog on a walk. Everyone needs some down time to sniff, but you can add some mental gymnastics for your dog to help make the whole outing more stimulating. I like teaching loose leash walking by making leash pressure into a cue for my dog to check in with me. Even after my dogs have mastered the skill of walking politely, I reinforce the behavior by occasionally giving the leash a little tug and rewarding them for looking at me. I also reward them for offering attention without being prompted, I like having a dog that occasionally looks back at me on a walk. When we see something exciting, like a skateboarder or another dog, I reward my dogs for looking at that thing, which turns scary or exciting things into cues to check in with me. 

4. Interact with the Environment

Your daily walk can become a little adventure when you ask your dog to interact with the various objects that you pass. My current suburban neighborhood has a lot of small retaining walls and little short markers between the lawns, these are fun for my dogs to jump or stand on. Depending on where we walk, we might encounter low walls to balance on, rocks to sit and stay on, or park benches to crawl under. Even asking my dog to put her front paws on a fire hydrant or the low branch of a tree challenges her balance and makes her think. I might send her around a signpost, or ask her to touch her nose to a flower. Practicing her tricks with novel objects helps strengthen those behaviors, and provides a surprising amount of mental stimulation.

Remember, a tired dog is a good dog, but it may take more than a simple walk around the block to tire your dog out. A flirt pole or springpole is a great way to get them some exercise in a small space, and you can fit quite a bit of exercise into that walk around the block if you try.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Product Review: Ultra Paws Durable Dog Boots

These Ultra Paws Durable Dog Boots have some unique features that set them apart from the usual dog shoes. The top of the boot opens up wider than the boot itself, making it easier to cram all those toes and claws in there. The inside of the top also has foam cushions that help grip the dog's leg and make the boots more comfortable when fastened tightly. The soles and toes have nice heavy grippy rubber to provide traction, and these are specifically recommended for seniors that slip on hard floors. Durable Dog Boots are available in two colors and six sizes to fit paws 1.25-4" wide.
traction grip boots for senior dogs
Photo by Erin Koski

Ultra Paws definitely put some thought into the design for these dog shoes. They've clearly used a lot of boots in the past, and know the most common problems with various designs.

Their Durable Dog Boots are sort of a cross between bag-style boots that are the same all the way around, and shaped boots with a distinct top and bottom. They're not hard-sole boots, so they won't be super uncomfortable if they twist around.

I'm pretty sure the #1 complaint about any dog boots on the planet is that they don't stay on. Ultra Paws has addressed this issue in a couple of different ways. The first is the foam inside the boots, under the straps. This has a slightly grippy texture, and also provides some padding when the straps are cinched down tight. Each boot also has two straps that run in opposite directions around the leg. These can help them fit over dewclaws.
traction grip shoes for dogs
Photo by Erin Koski

Pros: The grippy bottom of the boots extends well up the tops as well, so if they spin they still provide traction. Easy to put on and tighten down. Seem to stay on better than most dog shoes.

Cons: Despite the name, these Durable Dog Boots are mostly recommended for indoor use with only "light duty outdoors". The way the boot opens at the top can really irritate some dogs' dewclaws.

Bottom Line: The best solution for dewclaws in boots seems to be wrapping them with vet wrap first. For Brisbane, I first do a wrap under the claw to keep it from pressing against his leg, and then add a second wrap on top to protect the dewclaw from the boot. If I wrap a little higher, I can even use medical tape or duct tape to secure the boot to the wrap.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Treat Tuesday: Caru Beef Recipe Bars

These soft, chewy Beef Recipe Bars by Caru are awesome for dogs that can't eat hard dog biscuits. These are very soft and moist, and they don't stink to high heaven either. The bars are very easy to tear into small pieces, and they can be rolled up to put inside a Kong toy. The bag is resealable, and the treats stayed moist and soft for more than two weeks after I opened the bag.
Caru moist chewy dog treats
Good For: High value training treats. Dogs that have had recent mouth surgery and can't eat hard things. Dogs with allergies to anything other than beef, beets, cranberries, blueberries, or dairy products. Picky dogs. Staying soft and moist after the bag has been opened.

Not Good For: Forgetting in Kongs under the furniture.

How Much We Like Them: I really wish they made bigger bags of these.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Product Review: Howling Dog Alaska Tough Skin Harness

Howling Dog Alaska's Tough Skin Harness is an awesome piece of gear for dog-powered sports. This mushing harness conforms to the dog's body and distributes pressure to make pulling comfortable. It is made from super light, breathable mesh fabric This is a tougher version of the company's Second Skin Harness, these are commonly used by both recreational and professional mushers. It comes in two colors and five sizes.
tough skin mushing harness
Photo by Erin Koski

Want your dog to pull you on your bike/skateboard/hovercraft? A regular walking harness just won't do, you need something specifically designed to make pulling comfortable and effective.

Traditional mushing harnesses are designed to attach to a sled at a point near the ground, so they curve back over the dog's hips. The Tough Skin harness is intended for attachment points at the same level or higher than the dog's back, making it ideal for skijoring, biking, scootering, canicross, and all sorts of other dog-powered sports.
skijoring biking mushing scootering canicross harness
Photo by Erin Koski
Pulling is a great way to build more exercise for your dog into an ordinary walk. I've taught my dogs to walk nicely on a loose leash when wearing neck collars, but they are allowed to pull in a harness. Hitched to a nice supportive belt, a dog can pull all they like without hurting anyone's arm or shoulder. I much prefer this to using weighted backpacks to make my dogs work harder. Pulling in a proper harness builds muscle and is much easier on the joints than carrying extra weight.

Pros: Tough and durable. Very visible. Comfortable for pulling. Harder to back out of than a traditional mushing harness.

Cons: They don't really make these for small dogs.

Bottom Line: This is an awesome mushing harness! It's a very different style than Brisbane's Alpine Outfitters mushing harness. I can't decide which I like better.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Paw Spa: EarthBath Oatmeal and Aloe Conditioner

I've raved about Earthbath's awesome-smelling shampoos before, and now it's time to rave about their Oatmeal & Aloe Conditioner as well. Not that every Earthbath grooming product is scented, they actually make a fragrance-free version of this conditioner and also the matching shampoo. Not everyone can handle even nature-scented bath products, and that's ok.
dogs in bathtub


Despite a somewhat excessive use of the naturalistic fallacy ("natural"=good), I like the Earthbath company because their products work well and smell fantastic. Like most grooming product companies, Earthbath makes a dozen different kinds of shampoo, and three conditioners. I like making scents match between products, and there is a shampoo that matches this conditioner. However, if I want a conditioner that matches the amazing orange shampoo, I'm out of luck.

Does It Work?

This conditioner works like I expect conditioner to work, it leaves the hair soft and brushable. It also has a very nice vanilla almond scent. There are a few reports of Earthbath products causing allergic skin reactions, but those seem to be few and far between. Brisbane has no problem with the Earthbath products despite his many allergies. 

Final Verdict

I like this conditioner a lot. It smells nice, and it's not a giant pain in the butt to rinse out.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Product Review: Alcott Essentials Visibility Collar

Alcott's Essential Visibility Collar combined bright safety yellow with reflective strips for low-light adventures. The collar is padded with neoprene, nad has a quick-release buckle. Alcott offers this collar in several other, less visible colors. It comes in three sizes to fit necks 10-26" around.
Safety yellow neon reflective padded dog collar
Photo by Erin Koski

We started carrying these at doggy daycare a while back, and we sold a ton of them. They look great! Many of our regular clients purchased them, so I've had a firsthand view of how they weather daily wear on active dogs.

I have to say, I'm not impressed. More than a year later they still look pretty good on the fluffier dogs that have some hair covering the collar. However, on the shorter-haired dogs these collars now look quite faded and dirty. Some of the reflective striping has either worn or peeled off. The neon yellow has turned sort of pastel.

Highly visible when new. Easy to put on.

Cons: Gets faded and icky within a few months when worn daily. The smaller sizes can be extremely difficult to adjust.

Bottom Line: I could see pulling this collar out specifically for low-visibility outings, but with continuous wear it loses most of its special function and just becomes a regular collar.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Food Friday: Acana Regionals Appalachian Ranch

This bag of Acana's Appalachian Ranch dog food from their Regionals product line means the food from their new Kentucky Dogstar Kitchens is finally here! Why is this exciting? Well, mostly it's because some of their new selections are safe for Brisbane's many food allergies. Someday I will no longer have a dog allergic to poultry and eggs, and I will probably stop being personally offended when companies choose to include those ingredients in their foods. For now though, I'm quite pleased whenever I spot something new for him to try.
Kentucky Kitchens dog food

The Company

Along with Orijen, Acana belongs to parent company Champion Pet Foods. They are widely regarded as making absolutely the best food on the market. I certainly want to blurt out their brand names when clients ask what the best dog food is. 

Champion Pet Foods announced that they would be opening the Dogstar kitchens in the USA well over a year ago. Then they reported that they had found a suitable location in Kentucky. Their original plant is in Canada, and their Regionals product line was based around locally-available ingredients that could be delivered fresh whenever possible. When they needed to step up their production, they decided to look for a new region with plenty of fresh ingredients available, rather than looking further afield to supply their original facility. 

The result is the Dogstar Kitchens in Kentucky. The new location means new products, as the resources locally available are a bit different than at the first plant. As a result, we now have similar but not identical foods to choose from. While I think this is super cool because the new choices are way better for my allergy dog, a lot of people are unhappy that distributors in the USA will now be distributing products made in Kentucky rather than Canada. I don't really have a preference for which of those two countries my dog food comes from.

The Food

Acana's original Canadian facility produces five foods that Brisbane can eat with his allergies to chicken, turkey, duck, eggs, corn, barley, and sweet potatoes. I like to rotate proteins and I dislike fish kibble simply because it makes my hands stinky when I use it for training treats, so I was disappointed when I found out that Brisbane was allergic to sweet potatoes and could no longer eat their Ranchlands food.

Their Appalachian Ranch kibble is the Dogstar equivalent of the Ranchlands option, and happily it does not contain yams (Or sweet potatoes. Seriously, there are two different root vegetables that both go by the names 'sweet potatoes' and 'yams' in various locales, and it's damned near impossible to figure out which one in specified on an ingredients list, allergy test, or anywhere else, so I don't feed Briz either.) Dogstar Kitchens actually makes seven different foods that Brisbane can eat. I have no idea how the new Orijen foods compare to the originals though, as that website just has "Coming Soon" instead of ingredients lists.

How does Appalachian Ranch compare to Ranchlands? The nutrient levels are slightly different, but nothing major. Both foods merit five out of five stars on the Dog Food Advisor website. Sisci and Ru like them both, and Brisbane has not yet tried Appalachian Ranch because he is still eating exclusively soft foods, but I'm sure he'll love it because Brisbane loves all food.

The Verdict

This is a food I would choose to feed my dogs continuously if there was some reason I had to stick with one kind of kibble long-term. I do sort of wonder about the name though. I guess Appalachia is supposed to conjure up "Heartland of America" feelings for normal people, but for me it means "rednecks and hillbillies" and "OMG did the farmers who supplied these ingredients have running water and shoes?!" I guess Champion Pet Foods didn't really have me in mind when they decided on that name.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Dog Geek is Going to SuperZoo!

SuperZoo 2016 will be the biggest pet industry tradeshow in the western USA this year, it's the place where manufacturers unveil their newest products for retailers and the press to admire. I usually follow SuperZoo news closely to find out about new products before they hit the store shelves. This year I'm going a step further and actually attending myself. I'm heading to Las Vegas in a couple of weeks for a firsthand look at the newest dog stuff before it's available for the general public. I'm not allowed to take pictures on the show floor, but I will definitely be taking notes!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Product Review: Holt Head Collar

This Holt Head Collar is often sold under the Top Paw and Walk n' Train brands. It features an adjustable slide lock on the bottom of the noseband, foam padding on the top of the noseband, and a safety strap that connects to the dog's regular collar. This collar is currently available in four colors, including pink!
Top Paw head halter
Photo by Erin Koski

I picked this head halter up at a thrift store for less than a dollar, assuming it to be another Halti knockoff. As it turns out, this Holt collar has a couple of features that the Halti lacks.

You can't really tell from the picture, but the inside of the noseband is padded with foam. This seems to make it rub less on the top of the muzzle, and also provides a little bit of shock absorption if the dog makes a sudden move.

One of the big features of the Gentle Leader headcollar is the slide lock on the noseband that limits how wide it can open. There is nothing to limit the noseband on the Halti, however it does have cheekpieces that help keep the band in place. The Walk & Train head halter offers the best of both worlds, with cheekpieces to help hold the noseband in place, and a slidelock that can limit how far it opens.

Pros: More comfortable than other head halters we've tried. Padded noseband comes standard. Unique combination of features allows for a secure and comfortable fit.

Cons: Adjustment features make it easier to misuse the collar, too tight and the dog won't be able to pant effectively.

Bottom Line: I had grabbed this head halter out of a drawer because I needed one in a pinch, but it has turned out to be a favorite.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Treat Tuesday: Blue Buffalo BlueStix Lamb and Apple Recipe

I got these Blue Buffalo BlueStix Lamb and Apple treats right after Brisbane had his second surgery. He had a mouthful of stitches and was eating very soft food, and I wanted to find a convenient and non-perishable treat that wouldn't hurt his mouth. A lot of treats are advertised as "soft and moist", but the BlueStix are VERY SOFT.
the softest dog treat
These are also exceptionally cool because they come in four different flavors, and three of those are safe for Brisbane's poultry/egg/corn/barley/sweet potato allergies. There are quite a few sticks in the bag, and they are very easy to tear into tiny pieces for training. I'm not normally a huge Blue Buffalo fan, but some of their treats are perfect for Brisbane.

Good For: Dogs with allergies. Dogs with sensitive mouths. Dogs with mouths full of stitches. High-value training treats.

Not Good For: Taking more than a few seconds to eat.

How Much We Like Them: Next time I need to grab a super convenient bag of training treats on my way to class, this is what I'm grabbing.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Product Review: Howling Dog Alaska Trekking Belt

Howling Dog Alaska's Trekking Belt is a nice hands-free way to let your dog pull like a sled dog without sacrificing your arms or shoulders. It spreads out the force of your pulling dogs while providing nice back support. It has a pocket and bottle holder, and a nice big ring for any sort of leash attachment. Comes in one size and one color.
mushers belt
Photo by Erin Koski

Pulling is a lot of work, and one way to help tire out a dog with seemingly boundless energy. While loose leash walking is an essential skill to have, there's a good reason to let your dog pull in certain circumstances.

I've taught my dogs to walk nicely when they are wearing neck collars. However, I do allow them to pull when they are wearing back-clipping body harnesses. I started out teaching Brisbane to never pull on the leash at all, and this turned out to be a mistake as I'd like him to be comfortable enough with leash tension to handle being on a retractable leash.

Sisci knows she is allowed to pull when wearing a harness, so she doesn't mind the tension from the Flexi leash. However, walking her on a harness can be tiring after a while. When I wear the Trekking Belt, I can hook her up with an elastic line and she can pull her heart out for the entire walk. This helps build muscle and also wears her out without putting extra stress on her joints. A lot of people put weighted packs on their dogs to help tire them on walks, but this is lower impact and better for doggy body building.

Pros: Distributes force well. Very supportive and nice on the lower back. Goes with everything.

Cons: It tends to ride up a bit on long walks.

Bottom Line: This is an affordable, durable, comfortable mushers belt.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Paw Spa: Espree Ear Care

Espree's Ear Care is currently my favorite thing for keeping Brisbane's gunky ears fresh and clean. Sometimes I see people complaining about a dog's dirty ears, blaming the problem on a lack of maintenance. Obviously the dog has yucky ears because the owner doesn't clean them, right? Actually, dog ears are supposed to be self-cleaning. If they're not, that's a good sign that something isn't quite right. Brisbane has had ear infections, yeasty ears, and perpetually gunky ears for years thanks to his multitude of allergies. I know the underlying cause and he gets medical care for his issues, but this is a nice way to help keep the gunk under control.

dog ear cleaner washEspree

This compay has been around since 1989, they originally made products for professional groomers. In the last decade they have expanded their offerings for pet owners as well. They focus on "natural" pet products, but I really just like the way their ear cleaner smells.

Does It Work?

Let's be clear here, no over-the-counter product is going to cure your dog's ear infection or solve his underlying issue. That said, peppermint-scented Espree Ear Care is a nice way to manage the gunk without irritating the delicate ear tissue. Made with tea tree oil, eucalyptus oil, and salacylic acid, it dries quickly and doesn't feel like I'm dumping rubbing alcohol into my dogs' ears.

The Verdict

I've used a few different ear cleaning products both professionally and as a pet owner, and this is my current pick for regular ear care for my allergy dog. However, it does need to be used wisely. This product contains tea tree oil and is definitely not for use in cats. It's also not a great thing to be putting on a perforated ear drum, so it really ought to be used with vet clearance once you've figured out what the actual problem is. 

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Product Review: SodaPup Original Can Toy

SodaPup's Original Can Toy is a durable, stuffable toy shaped like a soda can. It is made in the USA from natural rubber. The original Soda Pup comes in three colors and three sizes for dogs up to 90 pounds. The company is expanding their product line to include softer toys for puppies, extra strong toys for heavy chewers, and a variety of beverage-inspired toys for interactive play.
natural rubber dog toy made in the USA
Photo by Erin Koski

I started seeing these SodaPup toys around Christmas time, but didn't get around to finally buying one until they went on clearance a few months later. I mean, it's like a Kong, and I already have a gazillion Kongs. Still, I wanted to see how it compares to the direct competition. Also, it was a dog thing I didn't have yet and I have a problem.

The Can Toy is quite solid and a bit heavy. It's hollow with a hole in the bottom to dispense treats. I can jam a dog biscuit in there, or fill it with kibble. Smaller kibble falls out pretty quickly, but it larger treats work pretty good.

This toy seems at least as durable as a Kong, with the bonus of not having a smaller end to get a good grip for gnawing. I suspect a heavy chewer would be able to get their teeth on a corner and destroy it, though. The cylindrical shape does make it a little bit difficult to clean the very bottom right around the hole.

Pros: Non-toxic and made in the USA. Does not smell like new tires. Bounces and rolls. Very durable.

Cons: Somewhat difficult to clean when stuffed with peanut butter or other goopy treats.

Bottom Line: I need to have a heavy chewer test this out for me.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Food Friday: Weruva Caloric Harmony Dry Dog Food

Apparently Weruva makes kibble now, so obviously we had to try out a bag of Caloric Harmony Chicken with Pumpkin Dinner. Weruva doesn't currently make anything fit for Brisbane's long list of allergies, but Sisci and Ru were happy to eat this new dog food.
Weruva kibble

The Company

I've spotlighted Weruva's canned foods in the past. This is a lovable company run by people with adorable rescue pets that they named their business after. They do a great job of seeming like there are real, actual people with souls behind their food. I can't find any information about their brand being part of some giant investment firm's portfolio.

Weruva's canned foods are made at a human food facility in Thailand. Their new kibbles are produced in Canada's first facility to be approved by the British Retail Consortium. The BRC has some of the strictest food safety standards in the world. 

The Food

This particular selection of Caloric Harmony is grain-free, potato-free, and tapioca-free. That's pretty unusual. The Harmony line also includes a chicken/turkey/salmon food, and a venison/salmon food. Unfortunately the venison/salmon option is full of barley and eggs, so not good for Brisbane's chicken/turkey/duck/eggs/corn/barley/sweet potato allergies. 

Weruva's Caloric Melody line offers similar selections that are less expensive because they have less animal protein and more plant protein. Both Harmony and Melody rate five out of five stars on the Dog Food Advisor website.

 The Verdict

Picky little Ru likes this kibble, which is nice. It's not his most favoritest thing in the world, but he eats it most of the time. Sisci also ate it with her usual enthusiasm. The kibbles are average-sized and round, no super-exciting shapes or colors. 

I really like Weruva as a company, and I trust their manufacturing standards. Obviously I approve of them enough to buy a big bag of dog food, and I will probably try one of the other flavors one of these days. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Why Do I Have a Frida Kahlo Dog Costume?

"Try this costume weird costume on Sisci!" And then I was handed...this. It's a pink, black, and green tutu with a matching headpiece adorned with flowers...and a unibrow. I don't think you can see the eyebrow in the picture, but trust me it's there. The tag identifies it as a "Frida's Assistant" Halloween costume from Petco's Bootique line. I had to figure out what in the world I was looking at, and now I feel ridiculously uncultured.
Petco Bootique Frida's Assistant dog costume
Photo by Erin Koski

Frida Kahlo was a Mexican painter famous for her self portraits. Plagued with health problems, she often found herself alone, so she felt she was the subject she knew best. She had some minor recognition as an artist during her lifetime, but was not truly appreciated until decades after her death in 1954.

Frida Kahlo painted herself with a unibrow. The eyebrow is a very distinctive. Inmany of her surreal paintings, Frida also depicts herself wearing flowers on her head.

I'm not sure when exactlay dresing up as Frida Kahlo became a thing, but Beyonce did it for Halloween two years ago. I found a blog post about artist costumes for kids dating back to 2012. Here's a Babycenter article from 2011. A blog post from 2010. Another page from 2008. I guess dressing up as Frida isn't just a new thing.

Apparently the artist's actual wardrobe had been locked away since her death, and was not discovered until 2004. They found some wonderful things in there, and I've had a lot of fun reading about Frida and her life. She was a woman who truly embraced herself, facial hair and all, and spent her life defying cultural expectations. That's something I admire deeply, and I can't believe I didn't know who she was before I got this dog costume. I wanted to share, in case you didn't know about Frida either.

Check out the Frida Kahlo artist page on Artsy to see some of her works, as well as information on past and upcoming exhibitions.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Pet Corrector

The Pet Corrector is a product from the Company of Animals. It is advertised as a device that emits compressed gas with a loud hiss. The noise is intended to interrupt unwanted behavior. The company suggests using it to stop your dog from barking, jumping up, stealing food, chasing, and going places you don't want them to go. Not just for dogs, Company of Animals also recommends the Pet Corrector for stopping unwanted behaviors in cats, horses, and any other animal.
compressed air scary noise
At face value, this seems like a handy product. After all, it's just a harmless sound, right? When I first saw this product, it reminded me of the squirt bottles I use to make my cats be less obnoxious. They stand on my head and yowl at 5am, I squirt wildly around the bedroom in a semi-conscious frenzy, the cats decide that waking me up for breakfast isn't such a great idea after all.

The Pet Corrector differs from a squirt bottle in two very important ways. First, it is not intended to be sprayed at the animal at all. Second, it is much louder than a squirt bottle. It's pretty damned loud.

The Company of Animals has training information describing exactly how the Pet Corrector is to be used, but I have yet to see anyone in public demonstrate a thorough understanding of this information. This device is used for the purpose of positive punishment, that is, adding something unwanted in response to a behavior. Positive punishment can be effective, but is not without risks. When positive reinforcement is done wrong, nothing really terrible happens. When positive punishment is done wrong, it can have unintended consequences.

One of our classmates at our first session of agility class had a miniature poodle. Olly the poodle apparently had some issues doing on-leash greetings with other dogs. Like many dogs, he felt nervous and the tension would build until he barked and snapped at the other dog as a way to get more personal space. This is actually normal, leashed greetings are unnatural and very few dogs are 100% comfortable with them so most knowledgeable dog people avoid them entirely. However, Olly's handler felt he just wasn't being polite, and that his unwanted behavior needed to be corrected.

Enter the Pet Corrector. At class one day, a person walking their dog wandered over to ask about agility. She was walking a little shih tzu that she allowed to wander up to Olly as she spoke to his handler. Seeing the opportunity to correct an unwanted behavior, Olly's owner pulled the Pet Corrector from her pocket. When Olly couldn't figure out how to disengage from the social interaction and instead snapped at the other dog, his handler sprayed him with the canister.

In her attempt to correct her own dog's unwanted behavior, Olly's mom also punished the shih tzu that Olly had been greeting. That dog bolted to the end of her leash and stood there trembling, she may be much more nervous the next time she greets a strange dog. Olly's mom also succeeded in punishing Sisci from 30' away, this was our first class and Sisci was extremely nervous about all the new sights and sounds. A sudden loud, scary sound definitely did not help her feel like the park was a safe place.

Can the Pet Corrector be used responsibly? Sure. However, the information provided by Company of Animals fails to mention the potential for collateral damage.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Treat Tuesday: Earth Animal No-Hide

I've been seeing these No-Hide rawhide alternative chews by Earth Animal everywhere. I had avoided purchasing them because they all contain eggs, but I decided to let Sisci try one after seeing some daycare dogs devour them. Brisbane is allergic to eggs, and also happily eats anything edible he can find. Sisci isn't always great about finishing her goodies, so I monitored her carefully to make sure she didn't leave any leftovers for Briz.
Earth Animal rawhide alternative

Good For: Lasting about as long as a bully stick, but not as long as a rawhide or yak chew. Being delicious and engaging for about 20 minutes. Dogs that may gulp down the entire chew, as it is totally digestible.

Not Good For: Dogs with egg, chicken, or rice allergies. Surfaces you don't want covered in traces of white goop. Lasting as long as a quality rawhide.

How Much We Like Them: At $10, the No-Hide was just not worth the money. Bully sticks are cheaper and don't leave gunk all over my throw pillows.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Product Review: Top Paw Easy On Prong Collar

Top Paw's new Easy On Training Collar is one of the several new styles of prong collars to hit the market in the last couple of years. Unlike traditional prong collars that tighten with a chain loop, and must be unclipped at the chain or have the links themselves separated, this one uses a nylon strap that unbuckles. It is available in four sizes, and the collar can be custom fit by adding or removing links.
Prong collar with plastic buckle
Photo by Erin Koski

I don't use prong collars on my dogs, for a number of reasons. The biggest is that a prong can increase reactivity and make dogs more worried about whatever they may be reacting to. I have used prongs on some large and physically insensitive client dogs that did not have reactivity issues. They aren't torture devices in the right hands, and I like them a lot better than choke chains for average pet owners and their undisciplined Labradors.

This particular prong collar is interesting enough to be worth discussing, which is why I put it on Brisbane long enough to take a picture. I've seen a few people use these, and I always worry a little bit when I see them take the collar off or put it on. See, the prong collars with the chains that open with a snap open up all the way, and to put them on you must thread the chain back through the other end of the collar.

The Easy On prong collar does not open up all the way. The two halves of the plastic buckle do not slide all the way through the metal part, so the collar just opens up wider while remaining in a circle. To put it on, you have to slip it over the dog's head. Though the prongs are dulled, they could still potentially catch an eye or sensitive bit of mouth when pulled over the dog's head. For this reason, I strongly recommend the prongs be flipped inside out when putting the collar on or taking it off. It adds a few seconds to the procedure, but I think it's worth it to minimize poking a dog in the eye.
Petsmart plastic buckle pinch collar
Photo by Erin Koski

This is an easier prong collar for the general public to use, but I don't find it quite as versatile as the traditional ones. With a chain loop, the leash can be clipped to the rings on either side so that the collar does not tighten. This makes the collar less severe. The Easy On prong collar has a single leash ring that tightens the collar when pulled. There is no secure attachment point that does not tighten the collar.

Pros: Much easier and faster to put on than a traditional prong collar with a chain. Does not require unlinking. Easier to use with sore or arthritic hands.

Cons: Does not open fully, must by pulled over dog's head. Leash cannot be attached in a way that does not tighten the collar.

Bottom Line: Call me crazy, but I'd actually rather see a dog walking somewhat decently on a prong collar than gasping and straining against a flat collar while putting unnecessary wear and tear on their trachea and neck nerves and stuff. Use a prong, use a head halter, use a no-pull harness, use a regular harness, train them to walk nicely or use a bandaid for the problem, just do something.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Darwin's Dogs

Have you heard about Darwin's Dogs yet? This is an amazing and ambitious project to search the canine genome for small differences that correlate with changes in behavior. They are tracking dog evolution by tracing when those changes occurred.
my dogs got mail
The dogs got mail.

When did Obsessive Compulsive Disorder first show up in dogs? Is there a sitting-on-people's-feet gene? Why are some breeds more prone to cancer? There are so many questions that could have answers in DNA. This is definitely a long-term project, and we're not expecting answers anytime soon. Still, it's a wonderful project to be a part of.

So far my favorite part of being a participant is filling out the surveys about my dogs. It was basically an opportunity to geek out about my dogs, and really think hard about their behavior. Now I can go back and see how their results measure up to the rest of the 7,000+ dogs in the study. Are my dogs less dog-friendly than average? Are they more comfortable with people than most dogs? Of course, our entire living situation has changed dramatically since I filled out those surveys back in December. I would probably answer some of the questions differently now.
dog DNA swab
DNA kit unboxing

About six months after signing up for the study, Brisbane, Sisci, and Ru all received DNA swab kits in the mail. Yes, the kits came addressed to the dogs. I found that absolutely hilarious.

Inside each cleverly-designed box was a collection swab with storage tube, a wonderful little tape measure, a return label, a questionnaire about physical attributes, and a Darwin's Dogs pen. Those tape measures are particularly awesome.

I swabbed and measured all three of my dogs, sent their answer sheets and samples back, and am waiting for whatever results the team finds someday. Want to contribute to a huge, broad, glorious understanding of dogs, genetics, behaviors, life, the universe, and everything? Go sign up and join Darwin's Dogs!

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Product Review: Dog101 Body Harness

This soft step-in harness is by Dog101, yet another SimplyShe brand. It is really amazingly soft on the inside. This one has a Petco Sku, so I know where it originally came from. Ours is an extra small for bitty dogs.
SimplyShee padded dog harness
Photo by Erin Koski

SimplyShe makes a bunch of different brands and and product lines of clothes for dogs. They are the company behind Glamour to the Bone, Wag-a-Tude, and a few others. I see their stuff at Petco, Ross, Walmart, Marshalls, and various other discount and big box stores.

Ru has a bunch of SimplyShe stuff just because they make clothes that fit him. He's a bit long and a bit narrow, and a lot of basic dog clothes are just too wide and not long enough. I don't usually use little vest harnesses like this on him though, because they tend to wrap around his shoulders and make the rest of him look extra-long.

Pros: Super soft lining for delicate skin. Easy to put on, and no confusing side adjusters. Comes in tons of different colors and patterns.

Cons: Not very adjustable. The sound of the velcro opening may startle some dogs. Step-in style puts the leash ring directly over or even in front of the dog's shoulder.

Bottom Line: This harness isn't a great fit for long-bodied dogs with owners that are self conscious about their dog's long-bodiedness.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Honest Kitchen vs. Spot Farms: The Battle of the Dehydrated Foods

Honest Kitchen was the original dehydrated dog food, but Spot Farms has now entered the market with a competing product. How do they compare? Is one obviously better than the other? Just how similar are their products anyway? Having recently tried Spot Farms dehydrated dog food, I thought I would share some observations.
dehydrated dog food

The Contenders

Honest Kitchen dog food advertises human grade ingredients prepared in a kitchen that also makes
human food. Their ever-growing selection of dehydrated dog foods include both grain-free and grain-inclusive options. Honest Kitchen heavily advertises their food as being GMO-free, which is great if you don't like GMOs, and mildly distasteful if you understand science. Each Honest Kitchen recipe seems to have a nearly endless list of ingredients, which is great for a varied and healthy diet, and not so great for dogs with multiple food allergies.

Spot Farms also offers grain-free and grain-inclusive options, however they just got off the ground and don't have nearly as much variety in their product line. Overall their foods are simpler, with fewer ingredients. Their foods are also made with human-grade ingredients, but are not advertised as being prepared in human food kitchens. That said, the parent company is actually a human food company. As Perdue Foods, produces chicken, turkey, and pork, it seems unlikely they will expand to include different proteins in the future.

The Foods

dehydrated dog food
Honest Kitchen food has always seemed a little...planty to me. When I mix it up, it turns into a watery green mixture that smells like vegetables. I've fed a lot of my daycare dogs different Honest Kitchen foods, and they all seem pretty green and watery. It never looks like rehydrated meat, and if I didn't already know it was in there I wouldn't suspect it was made out of meat.

I was expecting a similar experience when I mixed up a batch of Spot Farms Grain-Free Pork dog food. To my surprise, it soaked up the water and immediately resembled canned dog food. Both foods call for a 2 to 3 ratio of food to water, but the Spot Farms absorbs it much faster and I can add twice as much without the food seeming watery. In fact, it's a bit of a challenge to get all the food stirred in because it absorbs liquid so quickly.

Though both foods contain about 470 calories per dry cup, the recommended portions are a bit different. Honest Kitchen recommends feeding 31-50 lb dogs between 1 and 4 cups per day, depending on their activity level. Spot Farms recommends 2-2.75 cups per day for dogs in the same weight range. The way Spot Farms food bulks up, even 1 dry cup makes a big bowl of food. Honest Kitchen doesn't expand the same way.

The Dogs

Brisbane eats both Honest Kitchen and Spot Farms foods with equal enthusiasm, because Brisbane eats everything. However, he did vomit one Spot Farms meal. He usually has a cast iron stomach, even during chemotherapy. I'm pretty sure I just fed him way too much food, when I cut him down to half a dry cup at a time he does fine. Sisci also eats both foods with equal enthusiasm. 

Ru the chihuahua hates Honest Kitchen. He won't touch it. He will eat the Spot Farms food though. He's not super crazy about it like he is about Fresh Pet, but he'll eat it. I've heard from at least one person who said their dogs refused to eat the Spot Farms food. Honest Kitchen offers a satisfaction guarantee, meaning you can return it to the store where you bought it for a refund. Spot Farms does not currently have this guarantee, however it is currently being sold primarily through big box pet stores like Petco and Petmart. These are notorious for their generous return policies, so it is likely that they will accept returns on Spot Farms food.

As an added note, Spot Farms grain free dog food seems like it would make a good dry ingredient for homemade pill pockets.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Product Review: Rogz for Dogz Side Release Collar

The Rogz for Dogz Side Release Collar is quite possibly the most secure flat buckle collar on the market. Our Utility collar features reflective stitching, a big round die-cast leash ring, and a locking mechanism on the buckle. The design of the collar, with one end of the buckle passing through the ring fasten the collar, makes for a stronger design than the standard quick-released buckle collar. Rogz Utility Collars are available in ten colors, and five sizes to fit dogs with necks 8-31" around.
Roz for Dogz side release collar
Photo by Erin Koski

"Overkill" is the word I want to use to describe this collar, but there are tons of dogs for whom this would be just right right amount of kill. Basically, it looks like Rogz examined every way a nylon collar with a plastic quick release buckle has ever failed, and then took measures to prevent those failures.

Working at doggy daycare, I see a lot of collar failures. Plastic quick release buckles are a definite weak point, either the plastic cracks or another dog manages to pop the release during play. The buckle on the Rogz Side Release Collar is heavy, sturdy, and curved so it contours to the dog's neck. It also has a little sliding lock to prevent accidental opening. I think this is great from a security standpoint, but I actually take these collars off the dogs at daycare because that's a place where getting a collar off in an emergency is the bigger priority. The lock is very easy to use, but might slow me down when trying to unbuckle the collar on a panicking, flailing dog. There appears to be a common misconception that this is a breakaway buckle when unlocked. This is not a breakaway collar at all.
locking buckle dog collar
Photo by Erin Koski

The leash ring on this collar is unique. It's big, it's round, and it's die-cast which means it's a solid hunk of metal. Most collar hardware is made from metal rods bent into shape. If the collar is really cheap, the story ends there, with a metal ring that can bend right off the collar when enough force is applied. Most decent collars have welded hardware, which is stronger but still prone to failure at the weld if you have a really strong dog. The Rogz Side Release Collar has a ring that is cast in one solid piece with no weak points at all.

At work, I've seen a couple of different collars fail at the stitching, usually near the buckle or at the leash ring attachment point. If the dog wears several heavy tags, the weight swinging around can even cause the leash ring itself to wear through the webbing. Some plastic quick release buckles simply open with enough force. Rogz has utilized the classic ring-end collar design to prevent that sort of failure. When the collar is unbuckled, the leash ring sits on one end and half the buckle sits on the other. The rest of the buckle is located several inches up the collar from the ring, so that the buckle end must pass through the ring in order to close. This means that force applied to the leash ring mostly goes on the nylon webbing and not the buckle itself.

Pros: Tough, secure, and stronger than standard nylon collars. Can't open the buckle accidentally. Built to last forever.

Cons: The colors fade pretty quickly, so despite being structurally sound this collar will start looking old within a few months. Even brand new, the reflective stitching isn't terribly visible at night.

Bottom Line: I've seen quite a few reviews of these that complain that the buckle doesn't release under pressure when unlocked. It's worth mentioning again, this is not a breakaway collar. The lock simply prevents the buckle from being opened at all. When disengaged, the quick release buckle functions like a normal quick release buckle, opening when the sides are squeezed. The buckle should never release under pressure at all.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Our Sileo Experience

Well, we tried the Sileo gel prescription medication for canine noise aversion, and it did not help Ranger have a quiet Fourth of July. Sileo is fast-acting and promises calming without sedation. It comes in a syringe and it given 30-60 minutes before the anticipated noise. It may be given at two-hour intervals while waiting for the noise to stop.
Ranger the heeler
Photo by Erin Koski

Though he was wearing his Thundershirt, safely cocooned in an interior bathroom, with his Through a Dog's Ear playing, and lots of white noise happening in the rest of the house, Ranger still panicked. He will hopefully be seeing Brisbane's amazing vet sometime in the next week, and we're hoping to get him on some anxiety medication as well as unraveling the cause of his ever-worsening limp.

I'm not quite ready to doubt the effectiveness of Sileo yet. Ranger has a lot of general anxiety in addition to his noise aversion. He also has some sort of chronic pain causing him to limp. If we can get those two stressors under control, it's possible the Sileo could help him get through the worst of the fireworks holidays.

Brisbane and Sisci were a bit worried but did fine with the air conditioner running along with their Through a Dog's Ear calming music. Ru and Annie didn't even notice the fireworks. I think the dogs and I might go camping somewhere without fireworks for New Years, just to give Ranger some peace.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Fireworks Freakouts

It's that time of the year when Americans celebrate their patriotic pride by blowing shit up, and our dogs hate it. Well, not all dogs. Brisbane would happily bite some safe and sane fireworks if he wasn't being restrained. Still, the random explosions, which tend to run a week or so to either side of the actual holiday around here, are disconcerting. Here's how we cope:


For dogs that aren't too spooked to eat, pairing food with fireworks is a powerful way to help quell fears or even prevent them. If you have a puppy or a new dog that hasn't been through an explosives-heavy holiday with you yet, plan on spending the Fourth of July showering them with treats every time they hear a pop or a boom. I did this with Brisbane as a baby puppy and he has been unfazed by fireworks and thunderstorms ever since. We still have treat parties around the holidays though, because more reinforcement can't hurt.
anxiety wrap for fireworks
Photo by Erin Koski


They don't work for every dog, but anxiety wraps like the Thundershirt can help some dogs feel more secure during fireworks season. I think they're worth a try, for some dogs they make a huge difference. If the price seems unreasonable, buy used on eBay. You can always get yours from a big box store with a good return policy too, if you're not sure whether it will help your dog. Or just wrap your dog up in an ace bandage.

Classical Music

"Through a Dog's Ear" is classical music specially designed for dogs. It was developed through careful study, first comparing various types of music to identify classical as the most calming, and then analyzing the different aspects of classical music. The result is what I can only describe as incredibly boring piano music that my dogs love. I play it in the car when they get antsy on long drives. I play it for the dogs at daycare when I'm there late in the evening and someone can't settle. I also play it on the Fourth of July to help everyone keep their cool.

Noise, Noise, and More Noise

In addition to our special boring piano music, I make sure there is a lot of white noise in the house when explosives are going off outside. Fans and air conditioners are great for this. Televisions are too, go ahead and turn the sound way up, just don't pick a film with a lot of pyrotechnics. Really fearful dogs may prefer a small space like a closet or bathroom in the middle of the house with their music, insulated by a houseful of box fans and televisions.

Prescription Medication

Acepromazine used to be the drug of choice for dogs with noise phobias, but recently it has fallen out of favor because it really just sedates the body, while the mind remains fully aware and free to freak out. There are actual anti-anxiety meds out there now, including a new one specifically for noise phobias. It's called Sileo, and Ranger will be trying it out for the first time this evening. Will it work? I'll let you know.

How does your dog handle fireworks?

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Product Review: PetMate JW Holee Roller

PetMate's JW Hol-Ee Roller is a one-of-a-kind rubber toy with tons of uses. Though there are many imitations and a number of variations offered by PetMate itself, the original Hol-Ee Roller remains the most versatile. This ball comes in three sizes, the largest being 7.5" in diameter.
rubber mesh dog ball
Photo by Erin Koski

The popular Jumbo Hol-Ee Roller is a a big ball that is easy to get a grip on. It flexes and collapses in a very satisfying way for dogs that like to chomp their toys. It does not present a choking hazard even for giant breed dogs.

This ball is awesome for interactive play. It can be thrown indoors or outdoors without worrying it will hit something. The large shape is easy for dogs to track and catch in the air. It can be used for games of tug as well. No matter what you do to it, the ball always pops back into shape again.
rubber hex ball
Photo by Erin Koski

The Holee Roller can also be modified in multiple ways. A rope can be tied through it for easy tugging and flinging. The holes stretch enough that a tennis ball can be jammed inside. You can even jam big chews and food items like pig ears and large biscuits in there for your dog to puzzle over.

As awesome as this ball is, there are some limitations. Rubber is easy on the teeth, but can also be chewed through very quickly. The Holee Roller is definitely not a chew toy, and won't stand up to much gnawing.

Pros: Very versatile, many different uses and ways to play.
catching the J Pet Holee Roller ball
Photo by Erin Koski

Cons: Unlike the JW Megalast product line, this toy is easy to gnaw into pieces if your dog is in a destructive mood.

Bottom Line: Better for interactive play than self-entertainment, particularly for dogs that like to chew.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Food Friday: Spot Farms Grain Free Pork Dehydrated Dog Food

When I spotted Spot Farms Grain Free Pork Recipe Dehydrated Dog Food, I was intrigued. When I read the list of ingredients I knew I needed to get this for Brisbane. He had major surgery less than two weeks ago, and still has quite a lot of stitches in his mouth. I've been feeding him canned food Honest Kitchen premix with cooked meat, and Fresh Pet Vital dog food. Having another very soft food option is awesome. As Brisbane is allergic to chicken, turkey, duck, eggs, corn, barley, and sweet potato, having a limited ingredient, single-protein dehydrated food is amazing.
dehydrated wet dog food, just add water

The Company

Spot Farms sources all of their ingredients in the USA. They use chicken, turkey, and pork raised without antibiotics. Our box of pork dog food has a picture of Ralph the pig farmer from Iowa on the back. The website and product packaging loudly proclaim the food to be human grade, but with a asterisk leading to a statement that the food is indeed for our pets and not for humans.

The lack of detailed company history or information about the founders or inspiration for their products leads me to believe that Spot Farms is probably one of several brands owned by the same company. Their contact info is for Arthur Pet Products of North Carolina. This same company owns Full Moon Dog Treats, which has a website almost identical to the Spot Farms site. 

single protein limited ingredient dehydrated dog foodFollowing the trail further, I learned that Arthur Pet Products is a division of Perdue Farms Inc. Perdue Foods produces chicken, turkey, and pork, and is indeed a family owned business. I had to really dig to find whether Arthur Pet Products was really theirs, and it is. They seem like a good business with a decent focus on meat animal welfare, it's toobad they decided to go the giant faceless corporation route with their dog food.

The Food

My first thought when preparing this food was that the recommended portion sizes for this food seemed very large. My second thought was that it seemed very much like canned dog food as soon as it was wet. It even smells like canned dog food. The food soaks up a ton of water, and gets really thick and difficult to stir. I actually had a bit of trouble getting all of the powder moistened before the whole thing turned into a giant squishy glob.
pork dehydrated dog food

Since there's no gelling agent or thickener like carageenan or guar gum in here, I'm guessing the potatoes are what gives the Spot Farms food that particular texture. Have you over over-mixed mashed potatoes with an electric mixer, so that they turn gluey? It's kind of like that. 

Bottom Line

Brisbane likes this food. It's soft enough to be safe for a dog with missing or sensitive teeth, or a mouth full of stitches. At $35 for a 3.5 lb box, I doubt it's any cheaper than canned dog food, but it's a hell of a lot lighter to haul home from the store.

Spot Farms dog food is new enough that the Dog Food Advisor website has not yet analyzed or rated their products. It looks like Perdue Foods had a recall earlier this year due to plastic bits found in chicken nuggets. They've also had recalls due to improper handling of raw chicken. All of their recalls seem to be voluntary, which means they value their customers over their reputation at least to an extent. 

This is only the second dehydrated, rehydrated dog food I've seen on the market. It is sold exclusively through Petco. I like Spot Farms because they are a people food company that has branched out into dog food.