Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Product Review: MuttGear Vir-Chew-Ly Indestructible Leash

MuttGear's Vir-Chew-Ly Indestructible Leash is a fabulous combination of strong, comfortable, and bite-proof. I purchase mine at SuperZoo. It is constructed with steel aircraft cable, fitted with trim and accouterments so it doesn't, you know, look like a steel cable. There's a comfortable nylon web handle and a carabiner at the handle end, and somehow it all manages to not be clunky. This one-of-a-kind leash comes in 4' and 5.5' lengths, and four different strengths for dogs up to 300 lbs.
Chew-proof steel cable leash with features!
Photo by Erin Koski

I'm a fan of tiny leashes. I like them small, light, and easy to stuff in my pocket. Sisci Godzilla, the Australian Cattle Dog, likes biting stuff. A lot. Like many cattledogs, when she gets excited her brain sort of short-circuits and she just starts biting whatever's in reach. You know what's frequently in reach? That's right, leashes.

My Midnight Pet single paracord leash and Stibbar utility leash have been recent casualties. Both were snapped in a single bite, and I was seriously considering getting some big fat clunky leashes just to slow her down a bit.

Chew-proof, bite-proof, dog-proof leash
Photo by Erin Koski
When Brisbane was a baby, we went to a playgroup at our local dog park. One of the regular attendees was a scenthound mix named Stubbs, who was known for snapping leashes in a single bite. His owner, a jolly retired man, went to the hardware store and bought a coated steel cable and hardware, and fashioned himself a bite-proof leash. It wasn't perfect, the handle was just a loop of cable that was pretty uncomfortable to hold, but it was bite-proof.

The Stubbs-proof leash wasn't pretty, either. It had big clunky hardware, and the clear coating on the cable started yellowing and looking icky almost immediately. MuttGear's version of the aircraft cable dog leash is clearly designed by someone who started from the same place, and then asked themselves how they could make it better.

The result is my new everyday leash. The Vir-Chew-Ly indestructible leash has a colorful coating with a grippy texture, so I can comfortably grab it anywhere along its length. The hardware is strong enough to do the job, light enough to not bonk my dog in the head, and sealed so it doesn't even look like hardware. The handle is removable, and attaches via a carabiner that is just the right size and weight.  It doesn't tangle up, it coils perfectly to slip into my pocket, and I use it to tether my dog at least a dozen times a day. It also doesn't soak up water or slobber. What more could you ask for?

But is it actually bite-proof? I got to find out the first day we used it, when Sisci Godzilla decided it was actually an awesome tug toy. I went ahead and let her. She chomped, she tugged, she gnawed...and the leash held up beautifully.

Pros: Chew-proof, bite-proof, grippy, tangle-free, water-proof, stink-proof. Lighter and easier to grab than a chain, and probably stronger too. Removable handle means it stays unchewed even when your dog is tethered. Carabiner on handle end is integrated into the leash so it doesn't dangle or swing around. Handle end can be clipped back to the leash, or to a chain link fence at agility class, or to the handle of another VirChewLy Indestructible Leash to walk two dogs. Light and easy to coil up, takes up less space than most leashes.

Cons: The ultra-light, slim design could be uncomfortable to grab on a dog that pulls hard, so it's probably wise to go up a size and get a fatter leash if you need to work on your loose leash walking skills.

Bottom Line: As advertised, this is a virtually indestructible, extremely functional leash. I bought it mostly out of novelty, because it was new and different. Now I used it all day, every day.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Treat Tuesday: Caru Alligator Recipe Baked Bites

A representative from Caru gave me a bag of their new Alligator Recipe soft treats at SuperZoo so I could write a review. These are a soft-baked jerky treat that is grain-free, gluten-free, and super allergy friendly. The first ingredient is alligator, followed by garbanzo bean flour, beet molasses, vegetable glycerin, dry milk, and potato flour. The treats are soft enough for Ru to chew up easily, and can be broken up into the perfect size for training treats without getting all crumbly. They're also tasty enough to tempt picky dogs.
Soft meaty allergy-friendly dog training treats!

Good For: Dog with allergies to everything but dairy and potatoes. Picky dogs. Breaking into training treats. Handing to the dogs on my way out the door without making my hands smell all meaty.

Not Good For: Low-value training treats. Long-lasting chewing.

How Much We Like Them: Gonna ask my local shops to carry these if they don't already, because I like the idea of feeding my dogs alligators.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Puzzle Toy Review: Paw5 Wooly Snuffle Mat

I picked up this Wooly Snuffle Mat from Paw5 at SuperZoo because I had never seen anything like it before. Is it a doormat? A sound muffler? It's actually a puzzle toy. A very different kind of puzzle toy. I want to call it a low-impact foraging toy. It's made from fabric remnants that would otherwise be going in the trash, the fabric is sort of a stretchy bathing suit material. The idea is to hide kibble or treats on the mat, you can pour it on and just wiggle the thing around a bit so it sinks. Then the dog has to sniff around and find the food in all the fabric curls.
Nose-powered foraging toy
Photo by Erin Koski

I admit, I was a bit skeptical when I bought it. There was a substantial discount at SuperZoo, but I did pay for the privilege of owning a Wooly Snuffle Mat. I like Paw5, they report that these mats are made in rural Thailand by a progressive woman-owned company. That's an industry I can get behind.

I also like how accessible this toy is. The dog only needs to be able to sniff to use it. Blind dog? No problem. Limited mobility? Wooly Snuffle Mat isn't going to roll away. Super skittish dog? It's silent and non-threatening.

PuzzleToy Review:
Low-impact foraging dog puzzle toy
Ozzie the Bichon hunts for treats.

Capacity: 4/5
I can put more than a cup of food on this thing at a time. Putting 3 or 4 cups of kibble on it would work, the motion of the dog eating would push a lot of the food further into the mat.

Loading Speed: 4/5
Dump food on mat, maybe shake mat a little. The only downside is that I can't load it up on the counter and then move it without dropping kibble everywhere.

Unloading Speed (standard dog): 5/5
The first dog to try out my Wooly was a client dog, Ozzie the Bichon. Ozzie is ten years old, and very food motivated. I hid four or five treats at a time, and Ozzie spent almost ten minutes intently searching for them, and then checking to make sure there weren't any more. I don't think I've found anything else that resulted in that much sustained activity for that few treats.

Unloading Speed: (superdog): 5/5
I fed Annie several meals on the Wooly, and she went from being the fastest eater to the slowest!

A totally different kind of puzzle toy that looks like a shag carpet
Photo by Erin Koski
Size: 5/5
Tiny baby chihuahua? Great Dane? Bunny? Pony? Everyone can use this mat. It's too big to be a choking hazard, and doesn't have to be moved in order to work. I suspect that some dogs might learn to pick it up and shake it, though.

Durability: 5/5
It's really well put together. I guess a dog could shred it if they really wanted to, but nothing approaching "normal use" is going to damage this thing.

Noise: 5/5
Dead silent.

Locatability: 5/5
It's a mat, nobody is taking it anywhere.

Washability: 5/5
Machine washable. 

Versatility: 5/5
Cats. Rabbits. Guinea pigs. Rats. Bearded dragons. Geckos. Goats. Horses. Toddlers. Parrots. Xhuuya might just pick it up and shake it, but I could probably secure it to a surface for her.

Total: 48/50
This is the most highly-rated puzzle toy I've reviewed on The Dog Geek.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Product Review: Squeaky Han Solo Frozen in Carbonite

This squeaky Han Solo encased in carbonite is part of Petco's extensive Star Wars product line. Like the Death Star treat ball, this is one of those products that just makes sense to me. Unlike those eggs with pictures of characters on them, or plushes with giant heads, which feel like the result of several panicked people rushing around going "We have GOT to come up with more ideas!!! Quick! Somebody just shout something out!"
Unique-shapd Star Wars Han Solo dog toy
Photo by Erin Koski

This? This is art. Han Solo frozen in carbonite has been the inspiration for a ridiculous number of products. ThinkGeek.com currently offers an ice cube tray, shower curtain, business card holder, mini fridge, throw rug, and cutting board featuring Jabba the Hutt's favorite trophy. There also exists a bottle opener, smartphone cradle, giant door decals, and probably lots of stuff I didn't even find on my brief but intense Google search. Sideshow Collectibles even offers a lifesize replica complete with film-accurate details, for only $7k. Such a deal!
Star Wars Han Solo frozen in carbonite squeaky
Photo by Erin Koski

This toy speaks to me because it isn't something they could make half a dozen character variations on. They can't just slap Darth Vader and Chewbacca and BB-8 in there and call it a day. There are dozens of cheap, unimaginative toys in this product line, but just a few that shine as thoughtful, unique creations. The Death Star pull toy is one of these. Han Solo frozen in carbonite and equipped with a squeaker is another.

Pros: Nice solid vinyl squeaky with enough detail to be clearly recognizable for what it is. Has a compelling squeak, according to Sisci Godzilla.

Cons: Sized more for smaller dogs, a potential choking hazard for giant breeds.

Bottom Line: I'll never look at rectangles the same way again.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

It's Caturday! Do You Know About Da Bird?

It's Saturday, time to tell you about the best cat toy ever, Da Bird! It's a fishing pole toy with a little feather thingy on a string, but it's not just another fishing pole toy. This one has some small, simple, but highly significant technology behind it.
The only cat toy that makes that flappy sound.

First though, I have to tell you about my canary. She was found by a neighbor of a friend of my mother's. The canary flew into their garage and they caught it in a cat carrier, but couldn't figure out what to do with it. I ended up bringing it home, it was a female canary, and I named her Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne the Majestic.

The Hellions were under a year old when Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne the Majestic came home. I knew that I needed to keep the canary safe from them, so my then-husband and I set out to teach the cats that the bird was bad news. We stationed ourselves in front of the cage, armed with squirt bottles. The cats heard the canary flutter around in her cage, and immediately turned into drooling cat zombies. Every time they headed for the bird cage, they got a face full of water. This did not dissuade them in the slightest. Half an hour later we had two soaking wet cats sneezing water out their noses while lurching toward the cage every time the bird made a sound. We shut the bird cage in another room and then bought a bird fortress the next day.

Fishing pole cat toy makes mesmerizing sounds
What was it that turned off the water-hating part of their tiny cat brains? It was that flapping sound that small birds make when they fly. The sound seemed to flip a switch in their heads, and that switch said BIRD. The creators of Da Bird have discovered a canary-friendly way of flipping that switch.

At first glance, Da Bird looks like all the other fishing pole cat toys. It's a stick with a string attached to one end, and at the other end of the string is a bunch of feathers. Here's where the design is important: Da Bird's feathers are arranged a bit like a propeller, and between the feathers and the string is a tiny swivel. When you move the toy around, the feathers spin and make that magical flapping sound!

As the child of a puppeteer, I find this toy almost as much fun as my cats do. I can make it fly laps around the ceiling before divebombing the cats. It can fly lazy circles just above them, or zoom from one end of the room to the other. I keep it locked up when not in use because James and Solstice would shred it or eat it given the opportunity. It would be ok if they did though, because Da Bird makes refills! You can just buy a new feather propeller and hook it on there!

So that's our favorite cat toy, what's yours?

(Also, a quick cat litter update: I managed to procrastinate about scooping the Cats Incredible litter for nearly a week. It did not smell. Not even a little bit. It definitely, definitely worked as advertised, and I'm never buying another kind of litter ever again.)

Friday, August 26, 2016

Food Friday: Maximum Bully by Elite K9 Nutrition

I was given a sample of Elite K9 Nutrition's Maximum Bully dog food at SuperZoo, and I like their unique design and targeted approach so much that I wanted to tell you about it. Maximum Bully is formulated for multiple breeds in the molosser and bull-and-terrier families, with a couple of stocky guardian breeds thrown in there for good measure. This is a high protein, high fat, performance dog food to help active dogs build and maintain healthy muscle.
Elite K9 Nutrition's Maximum Bully performance dog food

The Company

I got the meet the guys behind Elite K9 Nutrition at SuperZoo, and I appreciate how genuine and down-to-earth they are. Their story is essentially that they wanted to make the best food for their own dogs, and once they found what worked they wanted to share it with other dog owners. 

Lets be clear here, breed-specific dog food is a genius marketing tactic. Royal Canin has used it for years. They like to pretend there's a bunch of science behind it, but it's hard to ignore the fact that their list of "breeds that need special nutrition" is suspiciously similar to the "most popular breeds in America". That said, I'm kind of ok with this. One of my clients has a German shepherd puppy, and knowing that large breed puppies can benefit greatly from large breed puppy food, I asked what they were feeding her. They said they went to the pet store and found Royal Canin's German shepherd puppy food. Win! Are there higher quality foods out there? Sure, but it's world's better than most grocery store brands, plus Royal Canin made it really easy for them to find an appropriate food for their rapidly growing puppy.

So back to Maximum Bully. Elite K9 Nutrition recommends this food for American bulldogs, English bulldogs, Boston terrier, French bulldogs, bull terriers, American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, bullmastiffs, Great Danes, Doberman pinschers, mastiffs, rottweilers, German shepherds, Cane corsos, akitas, boxers, chow chows, and Nuvi bulldogs. Some of those are unusual, I'm not actually sure what a Nuvi bulldog is, but many of them are extremely popular. Based on registration numbers reported by the American Dog Breeders Association, the American pit bull terrier may actually be the most popular breed in the nation.
Maximum Bully performance 32/22 dog food

Like my clients mentioned above, owners of bully breeds can walk into a store, see this food, and make an easy choice. And I'm ok with that, because frankly, this is a good dog food.

The Food

Ok, so lets talk protein/fat percentages. The guaranteed analysis for Maximum Bully states that it contains 32% protein and 22% fat. Despite containing rice, barley, oatmeal, and millet, it also has a below-average carbohydrate content according to the Dog Food Advisor. Unlike us perpetually-dieting-yet-still-fat American humans, dogs need both protein and fat for energy and muscle-building. Highly-active performance dogs really need a high-octane food.

A slightly old-school way of describing a dog food is to just state the protein and fat content. Maximum Bully is a 32/22 food. What's a lower energy food for less active dogs look like? Fromm Classic is a 23/15 food, lower in both protein and fat. Here's a few other foods to compare: Royal Canin's French bulldog diet is a 24/15 food. Purina ProPlan has a 30/20 performance food, and a 28/18 regular food. Original Orijen is a 38/18 kibble, super high in protein but lower in fat than some performance foods.

It's worth noting that the Dog Food Advisor gives Maximum Bully a rating of four out of five stars, but states that they would have rated it higher if the food did not contain a synthetic form of Vitamin K. I'm actually ok with synthetic Vitamin K, but might not be if this was all I planned to feed my dogs for years on end. I really love that the ingredient label reads, "meat meal, meat meal, fat, grains". None of that sneaky, "fresh meat, plant protein, different form of the same plant, meat meal, fat" to make consumers think their food isn't mostly made out of plants. Maximum Bully is definitely a meat-based kibble.

The Verdict

Sisci happily ate the Maximum Bully kibble, and so did Ru. That's pretty impressive. A high-protein, high-fat diet is particularly appropriate for dogs that have trouble maintaining their body weight, so this would be a reasonable choice of food for my chihuahua. I like this company, and I hope they continue to expand and grow by pandering to the legions of bully-breed owners in order to sell them a high-quality dog food. It may not be appropriate for every pit bull, but if your dog is pulling cars around, hunting feral hogs, or swinging from a tree branch by his jaws for fun, by all means get him some Maximum Bully.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Xhuuya the Raven

Our puzzle-solving corvid friend!
Photo by Erin Koski
I mention Xhuuya the raven a lot when discussing puzzle toys and how they can be used for enrichment for more than just dogs. Xhuuya is an educational ambassador for Luzonica: Birds of the World. This educational outreach program is run by my photographer friend, the same person behind pretty much all oft he really good pictures here at The Dog Geek. I spent a lot of time with Xhuuya when she was a baby, and coming up with new toys and puzzles for her is an endless project..

Her name is pronounced "Hoo-ya", and comes from the mythology of the Haida people of the Pacific Northwest. In the mythology of many Native American cultures, the raven plays the role of the trickster. In some, the raven is considered a creator. In Haida mythology, the raven is both a trickster and a creator, and one of raven's names is Xhuuya.

Ravens are crazy, scary smart. Keeping one legally in California involves a stack of paperwork that includes permits on the city, state, and federal level. It also involves coming up with enrichment activities to keep that raven busy in captivity.

Dog food puzzle toys can be used for ravens
Photo by Erin Koski
There's not actually a market for raven puzzle toys. Food toys for birds and intended for large parrots. Some of these work for Xhuuya, but there's not a huge variety out there, and most are too easy for her to take apart. Some dog puzzle toys also work incredibly well, and it is this perspective that has led me to add the "versatility" rating to my puzzle toy reviews.

Xhuuya solves puzzles in a very different way than my dogs. She has a long pointy beak that can reach way down into narrow spaces. While the dogs essentially have meat grinders on their faces, Xhuuya effectively has a screwdriver. She can pry things open, and even unscrew them.

So what sort of puzzles work best for a raven? The Cycle Dog 3 Play Hippo is a favorite, along with the Planet Dog Snoop. Most of our JW Pet puzzle toys were borrowed from Xhuuya. Busy Buddy's Twist & Treat is another toy that works well. Unlike dogs, ravens tend to poop all over their toys, so washability is a huge consideration. Unlike parrots, ravens do not tend to shred things for fun, so they can have soft and flexible toys.
Outward Hound raven problem solving treat spinner
Photo by Erin Koski

 Considering whether or not a toy will work for Xhuuya has led me to consider other species as well. Can a toy be pushed around by a guinea pig? Can it be picked up and tossed by a rabbit? Is it hard enough plastic to keep a rat from just chewing through it to get to the food? Would a goat be able to use a toy without breaking it? How about a horse?

Environmental enrichment is important for every captive species. Xhuuya presents an extreme challenge, and I hope that by discussing our experiences with puzzle toys, I can inspire some other pet owners and zookeepers to consider what they can do to keep their charges busy.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Product Review: Top Paw Angler Fish Stuffy

Normally when I walk into Petsmart, I don't even notice the racks of Top Paw and Grreat Choice plush toys. I just find most cheap mass-market plush toys to be totally unappealing. Emoticons? Sports balls? Anthropomorphic food? My inner hipster shouts "No way!" But a few weeks ago I found a plush angler fish amongst the more typical starfish and seahorses.
Top Paw angler fish squeaky plush
Photo by Erin Koski

So at this point I should probably confess that I have a collection of stuffed sealife. No, not normal stuffed animals like otters and sea turtles. I have an octopus, a manta ray, a manatee, an ocean sunfish, and probably a few I can't recall just now. It's a very specific niche into which the Top Paw anglerfish fits perfectly.

Do I still think the vast majority of dog toys look incredibly stupid? You bet! Loofah dogs? Misshaped alligators and teddy bears? Hedgehogs in every shape, size, and color? Everything has been done to death, and the toy companies try to liven things up by giving their animal toys huge heads, or round bellies, or long necks. It's just not an aesthetic I find appealing.

At this point, most of our stuffies are either dinosaurs, stuff we got in subscription boxes, or toys my mother randomly give the dogs when I'm not looking. There's nothing better than arriving home to a shredded teddy bear and not being sure if we've destroyed a family heirloom. (But seriously my mother is awesome for spoiling her granddogs!)
unique offbeat anglerfish squeaky plush dog toy
Photo by Erin Koski

Pros: It's an anglerfish. How often do you see a plush anglerfish, let alone a plush squeaky dog toy anglerfish?

Cons: That little fishy lure didn't hold up very well, though to it's credit it's still attached and recognizable.

Bottom Line: I don't actually wish that companies would make more offbeat plush toys that appeal to my weird little foibles, because that would mean those toys were actually popular, and if they became popular I wouldn't like them nearly as much.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Treat Tuesday: QChefs Puffed Power Cracker and Puffed Fitness Cracker

QChefs was kind enough to give me samples of their new digestible chews at SuperZoo, and these are so unusual that I had to share them here. We got a Puffed Power Cracker and a Puffed Fitness Cracker. Power Crackers are made from cottage cheese, buckwheat, and coconut oil. Ours had a fairly light and air consistency, and I was surprised how long it took Sisci to chew it up. Fitness Crackers are made from rice and hard cheese, as well as coconut oil. Ours was very hard and took quite a bit of gnawing to demolish.
hard cheese edible dog chew

Good For: Up to 20 minutes of intense chewing for the little Fitness and Power crackers. Dog with protein allergies. Dogs that like to swallow their chews whole. Being more exciting than a Himalayan yak chew.

Not Good For: Dogs with rice, buckwheat, or dairy allergies. Being more exciting than a bully stick.

How Much We Like Them: I need to find a local shop that carries these because the dogs love them.
digestible edible long-lasting dog chew

Monday, August 22, 2016

Puzzle Toy Review: Toys 'R' Us Pets Treater Totter

The Toys'R'Us Treatter Totter is a simple, easy puzzle. Load up the middle with treats, and they will come pouring out as soon as your dog touches it. Better be careful setting it down too, it's really easy to accidentally spill it. The Toys Backwards-R Us dog toy brand is a Petsmart exclusive private label, and many of their toys are obvious rebrands. This one looks like it might be a failed Outward Hound puzzle toy.
Treatter Totter pet food puzzle
Photo by Erin Koski

Puzzle Toy Rating

Capacity: 2/5
I can maybe fit 1/4 cup of kibble in here if I'm really careful.

Loading Speed: 4/5
Twist off the yellow lid dump in the food, try really hard to keep it in there while you close the lid again.

Unloading Speed (standard dog): 1/5
Basically you touch it and all the treats immediately fall out.

Unloading Speed (superdog): 1/5
Might as well just throw the kibble in a bowl.
pet food puzzle toy
Photo by Erin Koski

Size: 1/5
Most dogs are going to knock this over immediately. It's best suited for really little guys that will nudge it very gently. The box says it's for all ages and sizes of dogs. I'd love to see their data.

Durability: 3/5
Small gentle dogs, guinea pigs, and bunnies aren't going to damage this toy. I seriously doubt it could take a large dog stepping on it, you know, like dogs do when they're using puzzle toys.

Noise: 2/5
It's hard, clattery plastic.

Locatability: 5/5
Since it takes 1 second to get all the food out the dogs lose interest immediately.

Washability: 2/5
You can open it up and stick a bottle brush in there, but this is really designed for dry treats. I seriously doubt cleaning crossed anyone's mind when they designed it.

Versatility: 4/5
Surprisingly, this toy actually works well for little pets like rabbits and guinea pigs. Rats could probably use it with supervision. 

Total: 25/50

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Product Review: Spindrift Fleece-Lined Cozy Collar

Spindrift's Fleece-lined Cozy Collar is made in the USA, as evidenced by the American flag right on the label. This collar is made from strong, soft tubular webbing. The fleece padding is comfortable for sensitive skin, but I believe the current version is lined with neoprene. Spindrift collars currently come in three sizes to fit necks 17-26" around, I believe they are reworking their smallest size right now. The collars come in a variety of fun colors and patterns.
padded dog collar made in the USA
Photo by Erin Koski

I first started noticing Spindrift's products in stores because they were so clearly different from everything else on the shelves. The company started with one guy just making stuff that worked for him and his dog, and he didn't want to make something he could just buy at the store. I can appreciate that sort of thinking.

Spindrift collars are not folded back on themselves to provide for size adjustment. This is important for a padded collar, as with a typical nylon quick-release collar the padding made just end up touching itself instead of the dog. Instead, each collar has a 3" non-padded adjustment section. The strap slides through the adjuster and a keeper prevents the end from flopping around. This ensures that the padding is what touches the dog most of the way around, the drawback is that it reduces the size range of each collar.

This is a distinctive-looking rugged outdoor brand. My collar came from a thrift store, and it is faded and dirty but still serviceable. I have no idea how much wear and tear it took for it to look like that, but if I bought one new I'd likely go with a darker color to avoid it looking too dirty too fast.
padded cushioned dog collar
Photo by Erin Koski

Pros: Comfortable lining is easy on sensitive skin and coats. Made in the USA. Adjustment design keeps padding against the dog. Comes in some really fun colors.

Cons: Not padded at the buckle or tag attachment points, which is where my dogs are most likely to have issues. Each size only adjusts 3". Sizing seems to run very small, though this issue may have been fixed in more recent versions.

Bottom Line: Order big, the closer you adjust the collar to its minimum size, the less unpadded part there is on your dog's neck.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Caturday: Aikiou Stimulo Feeder, Cats Incredible Litter, and Solid Gold Purrfect Pairings

It's Caturday, and Solstice and James have finally figured out how to use their Aikiou Stimulo puzzle feeder! We just tried out Solid Gold's new mousse wet food, and a bag of Cats Incredible litter from Lucy Pet Products. The puzzle feeder has worked miracles, I cannot believe how quickly the cats went from bored and obnoxious to happily amused.
cat puzzle bowl

The Aikiou Stimulo Feeder

This amazing bowl has a base with a bunch of little wells, and a set of plastic tubes that slide into those wells. Food goes in the tubes, and the cats have to reach down with their little cat hands and snag one kibble at a time. This makes eating take a lot longer, and actually engages some problem-solving braincells. Prior to learning how to use the Stimulo feeder, James and Solstice were actively restless. Their yowled all night, tried frantically to bolt through any door, and randomly fought with each other. 

Lucy Pet Products kitty litter with smell squasherThere is a learning curve to using the Stimulo bowl. I started with no tubes attached, and just put food in the little wells so Solstice could reach it and not starve. James was already an accomplished paw-grabber before I introduced the bowl. After a couple of days I added some of the shorter tubes, and I waited until I saw Solstice pulling food out of them before adding the rest. Now we have all the tubes in place, I load the bowl up every night, and they spend many hours a day fishing for kibbles. They are getting along again, less obsessed with the doors, and they let me sleep. I bought this bowl out of the clearance bin at my local Petco.

Cats Incredible Litter

I met the people behind Lucy Pet Products at SuperZoo. They make a variety of grooming products, and also Cats Incredible litter. This litter has a proprietary ingredient called "Smell Squasher" that is supposed to keep ammonia from forming. It's a clay-based clumping litter that is not flushable. I'm a little worried about James and his Cat Asthma, but Cats Incredible is 99.9% dust-free so I'm hoping it doesn't bother him. I'm usually good about scooping the litterbox on at least a daily basis, and I am extremely lucky to have cats that use the box every time no matter how bad it gets. I'm told the Smell Squasher requires an ammonia-free environment to work, so I dutifully scrubbed out the box this afternoon and filled it up. I'll let you know how it works. Lucy Pet Products uses all of their profits to help homeless pets, and they are very local to me. I paid full retail price for this cat litter at my local pet store because I want to support this company.
soft mousse wet cat food

Solid Gold Purrfect Pairings

Solid Gold's representatives were super excited to show me their new mousse cat food at SuperZoo. They said it was the only wet cat food that was a mousse. I didn't have the heart to tell them about Tiki Cat's Velvet mousse. Purrfect Pairings has a bit more structural integrity than Velvet, it's slightly thicker but still velvety smooth. I like that it comes in a cup that's just the right size for one kitty meal. It's a lot easier to get all the fluffy mousse out of than a pouch. Solid Gold did give me one of each flavor to try, so I was compensated for this review. My bottomless pits really like this stuff though, so I'll probably end up buying them more.

So there's our Caturday. Those of you that have cats, what litter do you use?

Friday, August 19, 2016

Food Friday: WellyChef Dehydrated Raw Dog Food

I got to meet the WellyChef folks at SuperZoo, and experience their dehydrated raw dog food in person. They had bowls of rehydrated WellyChef food out on tables where the curious could poke it with a spoon and examine the aroma and texture. Obviously this was effective, as here I am writing about it.
dog food and dinosaurs
Honest Kitchen was the first company to bring us dehydrated raw dog food that we could rehydrate at home for a tempting meal. A lot of dogs love their food, but to me it seems very green and plant-filled. My picky eaters won't touch it. Spot Farms was the next dehydrated dog food that I encountered, and it seemed much more meaty. Spot Farms looks like canned dog food when rehydrated.

I'm not sure how long WellyTails has been making their WellyChef dehydrated dog food, but it's new to me. This food looks like something I might eat myself. It's meaty, is smells pretty tasty, and I can see the vegetables in it.

The Company

WellyTails has been making dietary supplements for pets since 2009. This is a Canadian company, but they opened a United States production facility in 2012. Their primary focus is on supplements and vitamins intended to improve skin, coat, joint pain, or longevity. I like their view on ingredient sourcing. The website says they use human-grade stuff whenever possible, but sometimes feed-grade ingredients are the only option, and sometimes feed-grade ingredients just make more sense. They do not use anything labeled as pet food grade.

The Food

This is some of the best-smelling dog food out there. It's just really appetizing, there's gotta be some spices and stuff in there to make it smell that good. The vegetables come in a very specific size, big enough to see but small enough to actually be digested. It uses the same food-water ratio as Honest Kitchen and Spot Farms, two parts food to three parts water. Like Honest Kitchen, it seems pretty watery for a few minutes before it really sets. WellyChef offers two food recipes, beef and turkey. With sweet potatoes and eggs included in both options, I would not consider either of these to be a limited ingredient food.

The Verdict

Sisci love the WellyChef beef food sample I brought home from SuperZoo. Ru was mildly interested, but not enough to eat a whole bowl. However, I am officially calling bullshit on their claim of vegetable chunks small enough to be digested. I can assure you, they came out looking the same as they went in.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Puzzle Toy Review: Planet Dog Snoop

Planet Dog's Snoop is one of those puzzle toys that is elegant in it's simplicity. It's a flexible rubber bowl with a lip that extends all the way down to the bottom of the bowl. Basically, kibble dropped in the bowl is most likely to end up way under the lip rather than falling out. There's no weights or hinges or anything on this toy, but it's still a challenging puzzle. It gets significantly more difficult when you jam a Nook ball in there. I love toys that can work together like that!

combination food puzzle
Photo by Erin Koski
Puzzle Toy Rating

Capacity: 3/5
I can put at least half a cup of kibble in this thing, but a lot will fall out right away. 

Loading speed: 5/5
Dump in food, pull up lip, tilt Snoop around till it all falls in.

Unloading speed (standard dog): 5/5
It takes the dogs a while to get every last treat out of here. Adding the Nook ball makes it a whole project just to get a few kibbles.

Unloading speed (superdog): 3/5
Even with the Nook in there, Brisbane could empty this thing within a few minutes.
soft flexible food hiding toy
Photo by Erin Koski

Size: 5/5 
Light enough for Ru to push around without hurting himself, but too big to pose a choking hazard for large dogs. The tiny guys can shove it and flip it around, really big dogs might pick the whole thing up and smoosh it. I wouldn't add the Nook ball for dogs over about 40lbs though.

Durability: 4/5
This is not a chew toy, Planet Dog doesn't even list it on their durability scale. It's a supervision-only toy like the Mazee ball. (Note: I left my Mazee rolling around the house and Sisci helpfully enlarged the opening.) That said, it's a soft rubber toy and will withstand an infinite amount of rolling, smacking, and chomping unless your dog decides to rip chunks out of it.

Noise: 5/5
Hooray for soft puzzle toys! The only sound from the Snoop is the occasional clatter of kibble onto the floor.

Locatability: 4/5
It doesn't roll very far, but it does fit under the furniture.

Washability: 4/5
It's dishwasher safe, but the lip makes it a bit tough to get really clean and dry. It's definitely for dry treats only.

Versatility: 5/5
The combination of Snoop and Nook makes a challenging puzzle for a variety of animals. Our raven friend Xhuuya loves prying to ball out and then fishing treats out from under the lip. The Snoop alone can be fun for bunnies and guinea pigs. 

Total: 43

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Product Review: Harness Lead

The Harness Lead is a combination slip lead and harness that is incredibly versatile. It fits any body shape, regardless of the number of legs your dog has. It can be put on without touching your dog's feet, and the neck can open very wide. This combo leash tightens around the chest when your dog pulls, but does not choke. The Harness Lead comes in a variety of colors and two different sizes for dogs 14 pounds on up.
slip lead harness combo
Photo by Erin Koski

The first time I saw this product, it was advertised as "Escape-Proof!" I laughed evilly and bought one to test with Annie the Escapologist. (Paid full retail, not being compensated for this review.) Communication between product reviewers and the company basically boiled down to "the product should be escape-proof if you use it right but we're not actually guaranteeing anything". I'm pleased to see that the Harness Lead is now described as "Escape-Resistant!", because they don't know Annie, and Annie laughs at escape-proof products.

The Harness Lead Company seems pretty cool. They give a lot of their proceeds to charities and rescues, and they have designed a product specifically to be used with kindness. This is not a tool to be used for giving leash corrections. No jerking, no popping, let the dog self-correct by pulling and tightening the leash themselves. I really like the big disclaimer all over the website advising dog owners that if their dog keeps pulling, this product isn't really working for them.

So the basic idea is that this is a slip lead with a couple of extra features that allow it to be turned into a harness. There are a couple of rubber stops that limit how big or small the neck loop can get. Immediately adjacent to the sliding ring is a loop in the fabric, and a rubber disc. Drop the neck loop around the dog's neck, then wrap the rest of the leash around their chest and pull it through the fabric loop to form a harness. The disc keeps the harness from getting too loose, and the stoppers make sure it only tightens around the chest. It's a little bit like this no-pull device, or that trick where you wrap the leash around the dog's chest, but way better.

Does it work? Yes, about as well as any device like this works. The stopper configuration makes sure the chest loop stays up around the ribcage, so there's no worry about the dog pulling sharply and squeezing their abdominal organs. It definitely made an immediate difference in Annie's pulling, both how much effort she put into it and how it felt on my end. She spent quite a bit of time rolling around in the grass and the Harness Lead did not loosen up. Is it escape-proof? No, but the design makes it difficult for many dogs to back out of. If your dog is shaped like a torpedo and is already an expert escape-artist capable of popping out of tools like the Freedom Harness, they won't have any trouble weaseling out of the Harness Lead either.

Pros: Excellent design, reduces pulling and transfers force away from the dog's neck. Soft rope design has no rough edges and seems to be gentle on skin and coat. Fits any dog, including tripods! Can be put on without touching feet or legs. Sits well clear of the shoulder and allows freedom of movement. Company seems to have good customer service, and will happily send a new rubber disc if yours meets misadventure.

Cons: Soft rope is prone to snagging, these can be snipped off and a lighter run over them if they bother you, they're only cosmetic. (The Harness Lead website has a video.) Like a slip lead, this cannot be left on the dog without a human on the other end. Flexible rubber disc seems to be really fun to chew, and may be prone to tearing.

Bottom Line: It's really convenient and seems to actually work for a lot of dogs. I like the company, but they seem to be responding to every bit of criticism by posting a disclaimer on their website. There's a lot of things to be said about this product, so there's a lot of disclaimers. I personally feel that there is room for improvement in the product design, the rubber disc could probably be made from something a little more durable and some color-coding might make it a little more user-friendly for the general public. Still, it's a pretty nifty minimalist harness.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Treat Tuesday: Bravo Bonus Bites Duck Feet

Bravo sent me home from SuperZoo with a bag of Dry Roasted Duck Feet. Weird? Definitely. Tasty? Well, the dogs sure think so. These are made in the USA from domestically-sourced ducks. They're more like chews than biscuits, even though they're part of the Bonus Bites treat line.
roasted duck feet dog treat

Good For: Handing to the dogs as I run out the door. Taking several minutes to devour. Small dogs that like to gnaw. Picky little chihuahuas. Dogs with beef allergies. Slightly macabre party decor.

Not Good For: The squeamish. Dogs with poultry allergies.

How Much We Like Them: Enough to make them tap dance across the counter before feeding them to the dogs.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Chihuahua Fashion Moment: Vintage Evans Split Jeweled Collar

I found this little sparkly jeweled collar at a thrift store, and it took me right back to the late 80's. I've loved going to pet stores to look at dog gear since early childhood, and vinyl rhinestone collars always caught my eye. The hardware and general quality of this collar led me to believe it was a true vintage piece and not a modern reproduction. It was quite obviously worn for an extended period of time, yet the vinyl has not separated, and every stone is still in place. The tiny buckle has a rounded tongue rather than a flat tongue.
vintage fance rhinestone dog collar
Photo by Erin Koski

I failed to google any information about this collar. There just doesn't seem to be any information about dog collar manufacturers of bygone decades. It's quite possible I'm the only person on the internet who cares about that sort of thing.

I had nearly given up in my quest for information when I spotted the same collar at SuperZoo. It was perfect, the same split center and rhinestone design, with the same ribbed crimp beads. Upon chatting with a representative for the company, I learned that Evans Collars has been around since 1957. They have a factory in Missouri, where they produce all sorts of decorative dog collars.

One of Audrey Hepburn's dogs wore a Dandy collar by Evans. They also made vinyl sailor collars that I saw in stores in the 1980's. They've reintroduced those, as well as this split design. I sent Evans a picture of my jeweled collar, and they recognized it as a design they made in the 70's and 80's. They just reintroduced it at SuperZoo.

As an added bit of intrigue my thrift store collar came with an identification tag for a dog belonging to a man who died in the area last year. I found an obituary that mentioned a different dog than the one that wore this collar. This leads me to believe that the dog named on the tag had passed, and that the collar was kept as a memento until the death of her owner. The address listed on the tag is for a home that had not been sold since 1977.

Conclusion: This collar is probably from post-1977, but definitely before the 1990's.

Second Conclusion: I'm kind of creepy.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Product Review: Outward Hound Daypack

I'm going to be honest here, I got this Outward Hound Daypack for Sisci so I could put my phone it it and let her hatch Pokemon eggs in it for me.It has the all-important strap between the front legs to prevent it from rotating around her body, plus a handle on top and a second strap further back to help lift her over obstacles. With expandable pockets and a breathable harness, what's not to love? This comes in three sizes for dogs 15-32" around the chest.
dog backpack
Photo by Erin Koski

The small Outward Hound daypack is listed as fitting dogs up to 30 lbs and 20" around the chest, while the medium fits dogs over 30 lbs and greater than 20" around. Sisci weighs 28 lbs and measures 22" around the chest so I bought the medium.

Admittedly, I bought this because my Ruffwear Palisades pack is in storage, and I wanted a dog backpack quick and cheap. Unfortunately, Outward Hound exceeded my expectation of low-quality and sent me something so flimsy I'm surprised it survived being adjusted and tried on for fit.

The straps are made out of very coarse and loose nylon webbing. This construction pretty much guarantees that the weave is going to warp, run, or tear as soon as they catch one of those big loose threads on anything. I ended up pulling a big unsightly loop out of one just catching it slightly with the velcro used to keep the strap ends from flapping.

Adjusting the daypack wasn't easy, It's not really made to fit my dog. I had to make the neck strap as tight as possible to keep it from sliding down onto her shoulders. This made it very bulky with nowhere to tuck the loose end. Even though Sisci is at the very bottom of the measurement for this pack, the strap between her front legs wasn't long enough. With the neck and front chest piece sitting in the proper place, this center strap pulled the one behind her legs into her armpits. I am absolutely certain that the lump bumpy straps would have chafed her horribly had I left it on.

Pros: Inexpensive, this is just about the cheapest dog pack on the market. Stability, obviously modeled after the Ruffwear Approach pack built on the Webmaster harness, this pack is not going to rotate or slide to the side

Cons: Very poor material quality. Lack of durability, there are lots of reports of the pack ripping in various places with minimal use. Looks uncomfortable for wearing for extended periods.

Bottom Line: I put this on Sisci and she refused to walk. She has been endlessly patient with me dressing her in all sorts of silly things, so I took that as a sign. Flimsy, cheap construction and my dog hates it? Returned.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Caturday: Night Wailing, Dry vs Wet Food, and Tiki Cat Kibble

It's Caturday, time to share my experience with Tiki Cat's Born Carnivore dry food, and emote about how my cats won't shut up at 4:00 AM. Ready?

Dry versus Wet Cat Food

Wet cat food provides some pretty significant benefits over dry cat food, but there are also some compelling reasons to stick with kibble. A lot of cats end up with failing kidneys in old age, and proper hydration is better for their urinary and renal health. The trouble with dry kibble is that it requires quite a bit of moisture to break down. If your cat or dog doesn't like to drink a lot of water, they can end up perpetually dehydrated. However, crunching dry food is supposed to be good for their teeth. Kibble is also, lets face it, way cheaper and more convenient than opening cans every day.

Tiki Cat Born Carnivore

So knowing the above info about pet food, it seems surprising that Tiki Cat would offer a dry cat food along with their fish-heavy wet options. The literature the company gave me at SuperZoo explains their reasoning. Basically, it comes down to consumer preference. While wet food is generally better for kitty health, most people stick with dry diets for convenience and cost. Why not make a food for those cats too?

A whole lot of cat foods use plant proteins to boost the protein content of their products without adding more meat. The cheaper foods use wheat gluten meal, or corn gluten meal. The more expensive ones tend to use pea and potato proteins. Tiki Cat decided not to use any plant proteins at all in their dry food. All the protein comes from actual meat. That's pretty cool.

This is also a baked kibble rather than an extruded product, which means it can start out with wetter dough. Most dry pet foods are extruded, and that process requires a fairly dry dough. I have no idea whether my cats prefer baked over extruded kibble because they immediately wolf down anything I throw in their bowl, no matter how much I put in there.

When Your Cats Won't Shut Up At Night

bowl of cat food

My cats would prefer to run wild through the house at night like deranged little poltergeists, but our living arrangements decree that they must spend the night locked in the bedroom with me and the dogs. The Hellions do not approve of this arrangement. They express their disapproval by trying to turn the doorknob while wailing at 4:00 AM.

I love them to pieces, but by 4:30 I tend to start thinking some pretty dark thoughts. First I tried calling to them and reassuring them that I was in there with them. This did not appease their desire to run loose and break stuff in the rest of the house. Next I tried filling their food bowl all the way up with kibble under the theory that they started crying when they emptied the bowl. That was the night the two of them polished off four cups of kibble.
time-consuming puzzle bowls for cats

Eventually I tried spraying them furiously with the squirt bottle every time they meowed. This resulted in slightly more annoyed meowing. If I chased them around the room with the water they would quiet down for a couple of minutes, tops.

During the day, when I was more or less lucid and sane, I devised a plan to wear out their little bodies and minds. I walked them around the yard on leashes for half an hour each. I ran them around the house with their favorite fishing pole toy until they were panting and exhausted. Then I fed them right before bed, hoping they would eat, wash themselves, and then sleep. They slept in till 4:30.

Last night I used a combination of nice and punitive tactics to get some actual sleep. In addition to lots of playtime during the day, I put their food in two different puzzle feeders. One has tubes they have to reach into with their paws for kibble, the other is my Outward Hound Fun Feeder bowl, dribbled with Tiki Cat Velvet Mousse. I even spread some mousse in a couple of small Kongs and jammed those in there. I set out Project Dinner immediately before going to bed.

The Vacuum Trick

Vacuum cleaners come with very long cords. Unless you have an enormous bedroom, you can probably set the vacuum beside the door and run the end of the cord all the way to your bed. This also works with the machine right outside the door and the cord running under the door. If you turn the vacuum on but leave it unplugged, or plugged into a power strip that is switched off, you should be able to turn it on and off without getting out of bed. This is a terribly evil thing to do to an animal, but I haven't found anything else effective for cats determined to wail at a closed door all night.

Between Project Dinner and one brief round of the Vacuum Trick, I actually got some sleep last night. 

Friday, August 12, 2016

Food Friday: Bravo Chicken Fricassee Canned Dog Food

This Chicken Fricassee canned dog food is from Bravo's brand new Canine Cafe product line. These are grain-free, gluten-free, and come in three flavors each of fricassee and 95% meat. There's even one that would have been safe for Brisbane's many food allergies.

* The Bravo representatives at SuperZoo were kind enough to load me up with a whole bunch of foods and treats to try, so in the interest of disclosure I wanted to mention that I didn't actually pay for this food. But I would have if I had spotted it in a store first, because Bravo totally rocks.
dog food and dinosaurs

The Company

I am a longtime Bravo customer, their limited ingredient premade frozen diets were easily the most convenient and affordable raw dog food on the market ten years ago. I used to stuff Brisbane's daily portion into Kongs and various other toys for him to unpack while I was at work. When I started identifying his many food allergies and couldn't manage portion control with a poultry-free homemade prey model raw diet, Bravo was basically the only choice. Other options were prohibitively expensive, and often included poultry.

That was back in 2006, four years after Bravo began making their frozen raw food blends. They were one of the first companies to offer a premade raw diet, and they've only gotten better since then. Today their product lines include frozen, freeze-dried, and canned diets, as well as freeze-dried treats, frozen bones, and a variety of dry-roasted chews.

It's worth noting that Bravo has had recalls, but has also changed their food safety procedures in response to those recalls. They are also extremely, almost overly, cautious with their voluntary recalls. One package of one food tested positive for salmonella? They recalled not only that entire batch, but also every single product made in the facility on that day. Their products undergo routine third-party testing for pathogens, and their recall history makes it extremely clear that unlike some companies, they prioritize safety over their reputation.

The Food

dog food and dinosaurs
I was surprised when I opened the can. I'm not sure what I was expecting exactly, but I was immediately impressed. I want to comment on the way this food smells, but my nose is completely stuffed up right now so I have no idea how anything smells. It could be amazing, it could be dreadful

This is a shredded-style canned food with chunks of meat and vegetables. It scoops very nicely out of the can, and comes in small-breed friendly little chunks. 

The Verdict

As soon as I opened this can, I was mobbed by cats. I explained to The Hellions that this was dog food, but they ignored me as per usual. Ru really liked the Bravo canned fricassee, probably because he doesn't have to wrestle with chunks of food the size of his head. He's not always crazy about canned food, but he was immediately interested in this so I may end up feeding it on a regular basis. Sisci ate it immediately and without hesitation, but she's also significantly less discerning when it comes to food. 

Has the new Bravo canned food hit independent pet stores near you yet?

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Product Review: Kong Cloud Collar

Kong's Cloud Collar is an inflatable alternative to those big plastic lampshade cones. It comes with a soft machine-washable cover, and does not leave bruises when your puppy smashes it into your leg. Comes in five sizes (ours is a Large).
donut cone collar
Photo by Erin Koski

I used this collar while Sisci was recovering from her spay surgery a few months ago. I had originally tried a soft head cone for her, but it was too scary for her to move around in. The Cloud Collar doesn't obstruct her vision or make the world sound weird, so she was perfectly happy to wear it around the clock for three weeks (The clinic said two weeks but I was feeling paranoid).

I had thought that this size large collar was significantly larger than the recommended size for Sis, but according to the package it is exactly the right size. It works just like the ZenPet Procollar, but the Cloud Collar is a bit bigger and I feel it provides more protection.

Pros: Way more comfortable than a rigid or flexible head cone. Does not obstruct vision or impact hearing. Can size up for more protection. Easy to store when deflated.

Cons: Not as reliable as a big plastic head cone, pet can still reach some parts of their body. Can be popped and then provide no protection at all.

Bottom Line: Sisci can be spooky about backpacks and other bulky things that I make her wear, but she literally does not notice the Kong Cloud Collar.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Finding Words.

It has been four days since I said goodbye to Brisbane. The grief comes in waves, and the smallest things feel like a punch in the gut. Preparing for agility class and realizing I'm still set up to take two dogs. Realizing that I no longer have to read ingredient labels carefully. The good memories come in waves too, though. Briz pushing his head into my chest and leaning hard when greeting me. Kissing his ginormous floofy ears.
Here's a happy picture of Sisci and her buddy Ernie that I took yesterday.

The first couple of days, I had a lot of disorganized thoughts running around in my head. Some of them surprised me. I think it's important to maintain positive self-talk, and give myself space to feel all of these big feelings. Humanely euthanizing a suffering animal is an absolutely agonizing decision, and it hurts a lot.

"I killed my dog." I think everyone who goes through it thinks this at some point. For me it is an extremely intrusive thought that I find quite distressing. I cope with it by calmly telling myself, "Cancer killed my dog, I chose to end his suffering." I don't deny the original thought, just accept it and respond with that affirmation.

"It's not fair." This is a relatively weak feeling for me. I'm pretty accepting of the ephemeral nature of life, and I feel that by choosing to have dogs in my life, I must acknowledge that they will eventually pass. I was expecting 4 or 5 more years with Brisbane, but I don't feel wronged by the universe or anything.

"My baby is gone." I don't have a good mental response to this one because it simply is. This feeling doesn't come with any pent up rage or frustration, just a deep and weighty sadness. Not so much sadness that it stops me from doing anything, but more sadness than I've ever felt before.

There will never be another dog like Brisbane. I am immensely relieved that Sisci came into my life before he got sick. She got to follow his lead and learn how to be my dog, which is a very big job. For me, having an old dog and a young dog is ideal. I can't imagine not having a dog to do activities and sports with (sorry Ru, you don't count), and Sisci is really helping me keep myself together.