Saturday, October 29, 2016

Heading for the Redwoods

Today Godzilla, Zip, Ru and I are hitting the road with some friends, and going camping in the great redwoods of California. We don't have many epic trees here in southern California, and our forests tend to be dry, spiky, and frequently on fire. I absolutely adore the redwoods, so we are headed up to the Avenue of the Giants to commune with the biggest trees in the world.
Dog in Coastal Live Oak tree
Brisbane loved climbing trees, this is a Coastal Live Oak.

Though I didn't take Brisbane to see the Avenue of the Giants, I did take him to see the Sequoias. We also went camping in the redwoods in Big Sur. I like taking my dogs to visit big trees.

Before we set off an an adventure, I always make sure my dogs are up to date on their vaccinations. I keep copies of their shot records with me, along with their microchip numbers. One of these days I'm going to get really fancy and put all their records in a little binder with recent photos of them as well.

Camping with dogs in California isn't like camping with dogs in other places, as far as I can tell. Lots of people talk about going backpacking or hiking and letting their dogs run free, but there are pretty strict leash laws in California state parks, and dogs are barely allowed in many places. A lot of campgrounds only allow dogs on paved roads and in the campground itself, you can't take your dog hiking on the trails or actually do anything fun. Before booking a reservation or choose a place to visit, it's a good idea to do some research and find out where your dog is actually allowed.

I was a bit disappointed that nobody took pictures of me and the girls at our herding trial from hell last weekend. I'm bringing my nice camera on our adventure, and hopefully I will make up for it with nice pictures of the dogs. Maybe I'll even end up in some pictures.

Friday, October 28, 2016

It's the Tihar Festival!

Today is the second day of the Tihar festival in Nepal! The Kukur Tihar is a special Nepalese portion of the Hindu Diwali festival, in which dogs are honored for their many contributions to human society. I had no idea dogs figured so prominently in Hinduism, but there are some really neat parts of the sacred texts featuring dogs. My absolute favorite is the epic in which Yudhishthira refuses to enter heaven without his dog.
Hindu festival honoring dogs
By Originally uploaded by Swapnet (Transferred by Wiki-uk) (Originally uploaded on en.wikipedia) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Dogs are traditionally honored on the day of the Kukur Tihar with flower garlands, red tika marks on their foreheads, and tasty food offerings. I fully intended to make flower garlands for my dogs, and spend the day appreciating them. Unfortunately, life  got in the way and we spent the week housesitting, recovering from our hectic herding trial, and preparing to leave on a camping trip tomorrow. I'm pretty sure they know they are appreciated, though.

I think my favorite thing about the Kukur Tihar festival is that it honors all the dogs, not just the lucky ones belonging to devoted owners. Even stray dogs, and village dogs, are honored just for being dogs. I wish my own culture had this sort of deep appreciation for dogs and all of their past and present contributions. Maybe if we keep talking about it, the Kukur Tihar will rub off on the rest of the world a bit.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

First AKC Herding Trial!

We attended and helped host our first ever AKC herding trial over the weekend, and it was a LOT of work! The trial had both sheep and geese to herd, and was held at a local park that has horse arenas. We had to build the holding pens for the animals, sheep-proof the arenas, and practically terraform the place on Friday. Then on Sunday we had to take it all down again. Various bumps in the road on the way to success included the person making our awards bailing two weeks before the trial, poisonous castor bean plants growing on one of the competition fields, and finding a baby rattlesnake hanging out in a sheep pen on Saturday morning.
working Australian cattle dog
This is an old picture, I didn't have time to get pics at the actual trial.
Photo by Candy Lidstrom

Oh yes, and Godzilla and Zip and I actually competed in this trial! I was so busy helping that actually participating felt like an afterthought. The girls did great though! They were both entered in Started A, the most beginning of the big kid herding classes. There were more than 20 other dogs in the same class, many of them handled by herding instructors and people with a whole lot more experience than I have. Amazingly, Zip and I won third place on Saturday! We scored 93 out of 100, which is pretty amazing given that scores over 90 are considered very, very good. Godzilla and I got a qualifying score of 71, I'm more proud of that than Zip's placement. Moving sheep nicely is so, so hard or Sis!

Sunday didn't go quite as well. Zip and I got a qualifying score of 94, better than Saturday but no placement because everyone else did amazingly well too. Godzilla was seriously under exercised by the time her turn arrived, and we were dismissed from the ring for too much sheep biting. I laughed, told my dog she was wonderful, and paraded out of the ring like we had completed a perfect run. I know my dog will always do her very best for me, and I want her to feel like a million bucks every time we walk into a show ring of any type.

So Zip now has two legs towards her first AKC herding title. Godzilla has one leg, and I know how we can do better next time. The trial is over, and we are spending the week resting. And putting stuff away. So much stuff. Only three months till the next trial!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Paw5 Enriched Life Challenge: Day 5

Yesterday was the fifth and final day of Paw5's Enriched Life Challenge! Paw5 has challenged dog owners to make their pets' lives even better, through several different types of enrichment. We've spent the last five days taking trips, visiting friends, and trying new toys and games. I have included my cats in the challenge because I think indoor cats could really use some thoughtful enrichment activities.

environmental enrichmentYesterday was super busy, as I spent the day helping set up for a herding trial, but we still managed to fit in some enrichment. I took James and Solstice out to explore the yard on a harness and leash. I found that an XXS Ruffwear Webmaster harness works very nicely for my cats. Taking indoor cats outside requires some planning and foresight, they don't tend to want to follow you like dogs. Getting outside to nibble the grass and explore the yard provides the Hellions with a ton of sensory and environmental enrichment.

Ru stayed home with my mother while I was out setting up for the trial. She has music students on Fridays, so he got to listen to some piano and clarinet duets. Fridays at home provide some sensory and social enrichment for Ru.

Godzilla and Zip went with me to set up for the herding trial. They got to run around and explore at the park, and see lots of our good dog and human friends. Zip even got to see three of her litter sisters! They also got to watch the geese that will be herded in the trial. There were fifty of them. That's a lot of geese! It was a day filled with sensory, social, and environmental enrichment for the girls.

The dogs and I have had a lot of fun with the Paw5 Enriched Life Challenge. It has inspired me to think more about enrichment for Ru and the cats, and made me appreciate how much Godzilla and Zip get out of our daily routines. We still haven't tried DogTV yet though, I will have to report back when we have the chance.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Paw5 Enriched Life Challenge: Day 4

This is our fourth day of the Paw5 Enriched Life Challenge. Paw5 has challenged dog owners to make their pets' lives even better, through enrichment of all sorts! The company has provided tons of suggestions for activities and projects to keep dogs busy throughout the day. Paw5 makes the Wooly Snuffle Mat, and the Rock N Bowl, two really neat puzzle feeders, but the Enriched Life Challenge focuses on homemade puzzles and DIY toys. I've included my cats in the challenge, because indoor kitties can definitely use enrichment!
Hand feeding dinner


Ru the chihuahua usually stays home while Godzilla, Zip and I go to work. He often hangs out with my mother, and today he got some extra social enrichment when my niece and nephew came to visit. The kids don't have dogs at home, and aren't confident with dogs that are big, loud, or fast. Ru is just their speed, he is tiny, mellow, and respectful of personal space. 

Ru went for a walk around the block with the kids, and my seven-year-old niece had the big responsibility of holding his leash the whole way. When they got home, my four-year-old nephew played tug and fetch with him. It sounds like it was a big day of environmental, sensory, and social enrichment for everyone!
Food container puzzle toy


Godzilla worked on her disc catching skills today. She also showed Zip how to run through two poles as a foundation for learning weave poles in agility. I made her a food puzzle out of a takeout container, and it was a totally different shape than any of our store-bought toy! She has been having some back pain recently, so Godzilla also got a nice relaxing massage today.

Upside Down Muffin Tin DinnerZip

Zip isn't very familiar with food puzzles yet, so she was fascinated with kibble poured on an upside down muffin tin. It's food! And it's not in a bowl!

Zip and I also worked more on running through a pair of poles as a foundation for weave pole training. She's not terribly food motivated, so teaching her the early foundations for tricks and agility requires som creativity on my part. 

The Hellions

Kitty garden
My cats, James and Solstice, love to eat houseplants. They are eight-year-old littermates, and for the last eight years I have referred to plants as "cat salads" and only successfully grown them inside terrariums. However, a post on the Chirpy Cats blog got my thinking that they could use a little kitty garden of their own. We're pretty tight on space right now, but I decided to start off with a hanging spider plant in the hopes that they would just devour the dangly bits and let the rest of it live.

Placement of things for the cats requires some consideration around here. There's not a lot of floor space, so most cat-specific things are elevated. I'd love to get them some potted plants, but anything in a plastic pot is likely to get knocked down, and anything in a breakable pot is most certainly going to get broken. We can't have nice things. It looks like hanging and wall-mounted plants are going to be our best bet. So far the hanging spider plant seems to be a success, as there was still some plant in reach when they eventually stopped eating it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Paw5 Enriched Life Challenge Day 3: Beach!

Today is Day 3 of the Enriched Life Challenge, Paw5's challenge to dog owners to make their pets' lives even better! They've given us six categories of enrichment to add to our days, and some neat plans and DIY ideas. This five-day event is all about games, toys, and adventures. I am also including my cats in the challenge, because kitties need enrichment too!

The dogs and I had a big outing today, we visited Petco, the beach, and took Godzilla to the vet. We met up with my friend Liz, did some training in the backyard, and learned that Godzilla has a paradoxical reaction to Valium. Such fun!
Environmental Enrichment
Photo by Erin Koski


Ru doesn't get to go on as many outings as the girls, so I was pleased to be able to bring him along. We stopped at Petco to pick up some more Cats Incredible litter, and Ru got to hang out with one of his favorite people. Ru and Liz are always cold, they both love sweaters and electric heating pads. Liz says Ru is her spirit animal.

Ru and I also worked on his tiny repertoire of tricks. He can sit, sit pretty, stand on his hind legs, and spin in a circle to the left. I've been trying to teach him to circle to the right as well, but he is very, very slow to catch on. We've been at it for about eight months now. Teaching him to spin to the left took about six months.
Toy and environmental enrichment


Zip thoroughly enjoyed our pet store visit and trip to the beach. She was also happy to see Liz, who she has only seen a handful of times so far. Zip was all about chasing a ball on the beach, though she did go for a swim.

Though she's not terribly food motivated, Zip will do absolutely anything for a tennis ball or a disc. This makes training slow, thoughtful behaviors a challenge, because she's often so amped up about the toy that she can't really think. I've been working with her on offering behaviors to get me to throw the ball. This evening we worked on front and rear foot targeting on large platforms, and also running between a pair of weave poles. Zip does a whole lot of zooming around, but occasionally she gets a flash of inspiration and actually offers a behavior. Hooray for progress!
Toy and training enrichment


Today Godzilla was supposed to get her hips and spine x-rayed. The vet wanted her to be nice and relaxed, so she was prescribed some Valium to be given before the appointment. Today we learned that Valium does not make Godzilla relaxed at all. Instead, it turns her into an uninhibited wrecking ball. The vet staff knew as soon as we walked in the door that Godzilla would not be getting an x-ray today, as she was just as wired and ready for action as ever. 

While the medication did not remotely diminish her drive or enthusiasm, it did make her extremely uncoordinated. She was merrily crashing into furniture and falling off things until confined for her own protection. She stole and shredded an entire bag of treats out of my purse, attempted to steal or shred everything else in reach, and forgot about housetraining briefly. I made her and Zip each an Unstuffaball so they could get their fill of destruction.

The Hellions

James and Solstice got some training enrichment today. They're extremely slow learners, and haven't quite figured out how to move from one newly-installed cat shelf to another. I've been patiently coaxing them along with spoonfuls of canned food, but they'd probably be more motivated if I just put some breakable stuff up there.


Today the dogs all got some environmental and social enrichment on our trip to the beach with Liz. Ru, Zip, James, and Solstice each got some individual training enrichment. Godzilla and Zip had a round of their new favorite destruction toy enrichment. Godzilla...had a very interesting day.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Paw5 Enriched Life Challenge Day 2: The Unstuffaball!

Today is the second day of Paw5's Enriched Life Challenge. Paw5 has challenged dog owners everywhere to make their pets' lives even more awesome through the use of enrichment of all kinds. This five-day challenge comes with some suggested games and schedules to keep dogs happily engaged throughout the day. I love all the plans and ideas, but they are a little difficult to follow for those of us that must leave our pets home during the workday. I am adapting the Enriched Life Challenge to fit my own schedule, and I've included my indoor cats because I think they can benefit too!

We all started the day with a little bit of sensory and environmental enrichment, because it RAINED last night! This is big news here in drought-stricken southern California, we haven't seen rain in nearly nine months. It was really incredible to walk outside to find everything wet, and the rain brings up an amazing range of smells.
Toy and puzzle enrichment with SodaPup's Cantoy
Photo by Erin Koski


Ru got some puzzle toy enrichment today, in the form of a peanut butter stuffed Can Toy just his size, from Soda Pup. Ru doesn't usually go to work on the sheep ranch with me, so I feel he gets significantly less enrichment than my working dogs. He usually stays with my mother during the day though, and today he got some social enrichment with two little boys who come for piano lessons. 


Today was a big day at the ranch for Zip and I, we moved and sorted a flock of 40 sheep! This was our biggest task so far, and it really wore Zip out. Herding sheep takes a ton of brainpower. Today's task was a giant chunk of sensory, environmental, and training enrichment. Go Zip!

knotted fabric puzzle

One of the DIY projects Paw5 suggested for the Enriched Life Challenge is called the knotted fabric puzzle, however I have renamed it the Unstuffaball. This homemade toy hits that sweet spot between a pull toy, and just unstuffing a stuffy. For this project you need some fabric that can be cut up, and some sort of ball with holes in it. A Holee Roller is ideal. 

Cut the fabric into strips, tie knots in some of them, and then cram then in the ball. That's all there is
to it. I used some fleece that I had around, cut into strips of varying lengths and thickness. Some I tied big knots in, some got knotted up together, and some I left untied. I cut enough to stuff the ball pretty tightly.

Paw5 suggested adding some treats to make pulling the strips out of the ball more rewarding, but Godzilla thought this toy was amazing without any food required. I think tugging all the fabric out of this ball may have been more fun for her than unstuffing a plush toy.
Unstuffaball DIY pull toy
This toy was much more engaging than our many toys that can be stuffed inside other toys. It really seemed to hit that destuffing sweet spot. Cleanup was also super easy, I just rounded up all the strips, stuffed them back in the ball, and put it away for next time.

Making this toy was incredibly easy, and Godzilla loved it so much that I am now looking for other ball-with-holes toys in order to make more of these. The Unstuffaball provided all the joy of shredding and disemboweling a stuffy, with none of the mess.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Paw5 Enriched Life Challenge Day 1: Playdate!

Paw5's Enriched Life Challenge has begun! We are kicking things off with a playdate and some fun DIY projects. I built some wall shelves for the cats, and we visited some friends for tea and tennis balls. None of these projects was elaborate or time-consuming, but all of them added some major value to everyone's day. Here's what we did:


Doggy playdate!Ru the chihuahua doesn't get to go with me to as many classes or events as Godzilla and Zip, so a playdate with friends provides him with some much-needed social enrichment. We went to visit my human friend Kim, her dogs Penny and Ernie, and her cats Freya, Hoshi, Martian, Chulla, and Pluto. Kim lives at the top of a mountain, and the chance to run through the woods provides an enormous amount of sensory and environmental enrichment. Ernie, Godzilla, and Zip spent our visit racing wildly after tennis balls, while Ru hung out with Penny and visited with the kitties.

There is so much for the dogs to do at Kim's house! They love to search through the woods for forgotten tennis balls, and splash around in the pond. Since there are no busy roads up there, and the dogs all stick close to me, they get a whole lot of freedom to play and explore. We did a little bit of property maintenance while we were out, and even ran into some neighbors and their three dogs! Kim sent us home with some nice fresh catnip for the Hellions, along with some freshly-picked limes and persimmons. I got some catnip seeds too, so hopefully I can grow my own!
Providing cats with vertical space

Cat Shelves

Paw5's Enriched Life Challenge is all about making your dog's life even better, but I wanted to include my cats too. Indoor life can get pretty boring, and cats most definitely benefit from enrichment! James and Solstice have had their share of dried catnip before, but today I'm providing them with some sensory enrichment in the form of freshly-picked catnip. This was a totally new experience for all of us, and I was hoping they'd get a bit silly with it. I was slightly disappointed when they both gobbled it down like every other plant they'd ever encountered.

For environmental enrichment, I installed some wall shelves for the Hellions. These provide them with some much-needed vertical space for climbing, jumping, and just hanging out. They have a litterbox station on one side of the room, and a feeding station on a windowsill on the other side. The shelves now link the two areas and allow them to travel from one to the other without ever touching the ground.
Environmental enrichment for cats

The shelves are attached to the walls via various brackets. The smaller ones are mounted with drywall anchors, the largest is screwed directly into the wall studs. I cut up a rubber-backed non-skid rug and used a staple gun to attach it to the shelves for traction. I hung a total of four shelves, and the entire project took less than an hour. My shelves are sort of a hodgepodge of things we had in the garage, but decorative brackets are easy to find and shelves can be purchased or painted to match any decor. 


On Day 1 of Paw5's Enriched Life Challenge, my dogs had a wonderful outing and playdate that provided all three with social, environmental, and sensory enrichment. My cats got a new sensory experience nibbling/devouring some fresh catnip for the first time. They also got a big new environmental source of enrichment from their new wall shelves. We didn't quite follow any of Paw5's daily plans, but I think we're getting into the spirit of the challenge anyway!

How are you providing enrichment for your pets this week?

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Product Review: Yup! HalfBall

Yup! decided to do something unpredictable, and made the HalfBall. Billed as "half the ball but twice the fun", it's full of surprises. The shape makes it bounce and roll unpredictably, but it never rolls too far.The star-shaped hole on the flat side allows the HalfBall to be filled with treats or spread with peanut butter. Made from natural rubber, it is dishwasher safe and smells like vanilla instead of old tires. This toy is available in two sizes, for wee tiny dogs and regular-sized dogs.
durable rubber chew toy
Photo by Erin Koski

This is another of the wonderful toys the Sporn company sent us home from SuperZoo with. I think it's a good example of the kind of innovation I've come to expect from this company. The idea is pretty simple, yet it manages to be completely different from all the other balls in the house.

The shape of the ball means it rolls unpredictably, and bounces all over the place. It can be swatted with a paw and flipped into the air. It's easy for dogs to get into their mouths, without being small enough to present a choking hazard.
durable rubber food toy
Photo by Erin Koski

The star-shaped opening on the flat side of the ball is pretty cool. I feel like it would be less likely to get stuck on a dog's lower jaw, and maybe easier to remove if they did manage to get it jammed on there. Rather than a solid ring, it's a star that can sort of expand if necessary.

Pros: Vanilla scent is nice and appealing. Made from natural rubber. Top-rack dishwasher safe. Relatively easy to clean if it does get super yucky. Durable enough to handle some serious chomping. Different enough from all of our other toys to keep the girls very interested.

Cons: Bigger size may be too small for giant breeds. Does not come in a power-chewer-friendly super-tough version yet, though I haven't heard of any dog demolishing one yet.

Bottom Line: The HalfBall is a welcome addition to our toy collection!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Product Review: Starmark Treat Dispensing Squeakee

Starmark's Treat Dispensine Squeakee squeaks, floats, bounces, and dispenses food! It's pretty incredible. In retrospect, I'm a bit surprised nobody thought of combining all of those things earlier. Though not indestructible, this is a pretty darned sturdy squeaky toy. It's not really horribly loud, either. I believe the Squeakee is only available in one size and color at this point.
Squeaking floating food toy
Photo by Erin Koski

This is another product that I feel was created to solve some really common problems with squeaky toys.

1. My dog ate it.

While certainly not indestructible, the Squeakee is significantly tougher than any of our other flexible vinyl squeaky toys. It's thicker than the Squeeki Tiki. It's more flexible than Han Solo encased in carbonite. It doesn't have any super-gnawable feet like the Cuz balls. I expect it to stand up to occasional chewing better than similar products.

2. It sounds dreadful.
tough floating squeaking food toy
Photo by Erin Koski

Ok, the absolute worst squeaky toys on the planet are those foam-filled latex ones that sloooowly suck the air back into them. The second worst squeaky toys on the planet at the Cuz balls. Starmark's Squeakee is a whole lot more tolerable, mostly because it contains its own squeak.

See, the toy had an opening for inserting treats at one end, and the treat chamber takes up most of the toy. The squeaker part is at the other end, and it squeaks into the treat chamber. This muffles the sound a bit, which is really quite nice.

3. My dog won't play with it.

Not every dog sees the point of non-edible toys, especially if those toys cannot be unstuffed. Starmark made their squeaky toy hold treats, which doubles the attraction. Dog not that into getting the fod out? Squeak that thing for more excitement? Dog doesn't care for flexible vinyl squeaky toys? Hey look, it drops food too!

Pros: Squeaks without making me want to light it on fire. Can hold kibble and other treats, and the Starmark clover-shaped opening can be altered to make it drop food faster. Floats, so your dog can take it on every adventure.

Cons: I bet I could make it sink if I squeaked it underwater.

Bottom Line: My enthusiasm for this toy may diminish over time as I hear it squeaking more and more.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Treat Tuesday: yakyChurro

Yakkety yak, it's the yakyChurro from the Himalayan Dog Chew company, the same people who brought us Yaky Charms and the Yaky Stick! I was given this yakyChurro at SuperZoo, and I knew Ru would love it. The original Himalayan Dog Chew, made from hardened yak cheese, can be a little too hard for some dogs to really enjoy. Tha yakyChurro is made with the same yaky goodness, but with potato starch added to made a softer chew. In addition to the original yak flavor, yakyChurro is available in fish and vegetable flavors.
edible dog chew made from yak milk and potato starch

Good For: Smaller dogs and less enthusiastic chewers. Dogs with allergies to anything but dairy and potato. Dogs that sometimes swallow their chews whole.

Not Good For: Huge power chewers, this would basically be a quick snack.

How Much We Like It: I don't think Ru the chihuahua has ever chewed anything for so long in one go. He ate the entire thing.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Six Different Types of Enrichment

In preparation for Paw5's Enriched Life Challenge on October 17th, we are exploring all the different types of enrichment that can be added to a pet's life. Paw5 has come up with six different categories for dog owners, but I think these can be applied to nearly any pet's environment. The categories are: sensory, feeding, toys/puzzles, environmental, social, and training. There are quite a few products and activities that fit into multiple categories. I'm a big fan of feeding via toys and puzzles, and I love training my dogs to do tricks. I'm using the Enriched Life Challenge to expand into other categories for my dogs and my cats. What sort of things does each category include?

rolling in the grassSensory

Sensory enrichment is basically anything that activates your pet's sense of smell, touch, taste, sight, or sound. Paw5 suggest rolling in the grass and playing in water, as well as dog tv, music developed specifically for dogs, and scent discrimination activities like nose work. For pets that live primarily indoors, a simple trip to the yard can provide a lot of enrichment. 

A wading pool, sandbox, or digging area is a great way to liven up your dog's outdoor area. Adding toys can help motivate them to explore. 

Sensory enrichment for my cats will be a bigger challenge. I use a Ruffwear Webmaster harness to contain them for leashed trips to the yard, but I may also get them some kitty grass and other ct-safe plants to nibble indoors. Maybe they'll enjoy hearing bird sounds on YouTube? I definitely need to add catnip to my shopping list.


Puzzle toyMy favorite form of enrichment! Feeding enrichment can include hiding food around the house, or tossing kibble out of the lawn for the dogs to hunt. It can be a new kind of treat or chew item. Bowls are boring! There are tons of manufactured and homemade options for feeding enrichment for dogs, but what about cats? James and Solstice are currently eating out of a puzzle bowl, but I can probably find some new ways to liven up their dinnertime. I need to come up with a way to tether a Kong in a spot that's out of reach of the dogs.


Not every puzzle toy involves food! Sure, we have tons of different food puzzles, but my dogs also thoroughly enjoy pull toys. These are toys that can be pulled apart, or have smaller toys pulled out of them. Food can be added, but Godzilla and Zip very much enjoy disassembling toys just for fun. Paw5 has a bunch of ideas and plans for making different puzzles, and I can probably modify at least a few for the cats.


Adding something to a pets environment, or taking them into a new environment, is a great way to provide enrichment. Playgrounds for kids can be a lot of fun for your dog, as long as there are no kids there. Watch out for some of the grate-like surfaces though, sometimes toes can get caught. Hiking in a new place, and asking your dog to hop up on rocks or logs can also provide a lot of environmental enrichment. It's also great exercise!

Environmental enrichment for cats can be a little different. I'm not going to take the Hellions hiking, but I do plan to build them some wall shelves to climb around on. Heck, they're pretty thrilled with a paper bag or cardboard box!


Social enrichment can include interacting with other animals, or just humans. Some dogs really love to play with other dogs, others are more selective. Just hanging out in a busy park and getting treats for seeing people may be enough for some dogs. Other dogs thoroughly enjoy a trip to the pet store. It's important to stay in your dog's comfort zone though! Zip really enjoys restaurant patios, while Godzilla finds them scary and stressful. Ru loves to play with other chihuahuas, but finds many bigger dogs intimidating.

Don't forget about cat socialization! It's an area that is often overlooked. Solstice absolutely loves new people, but James spent years hiding from all visitors until we started having people over on a daily basis. Now he is willing to come out and meet new people from time to time. This might sound weird, but try having a night in with friends, play some board games or watch some movies, and let someone else feed and play with your cat.


Training is my favorite thing to do with my dogs, but some days we don't quite squeeze it into our schedule, and Ru often gets left out because he's a bit slow. I'm going to spend some time during the Paw5 Enriched Life Challenge to run Ru through his tiny list of tricks. I'm also going to do some clicker training with my cats, because they are food crazy, if seriously uncoordinated. What will we accomplish in five days? I can't wait to find out!

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Product Review: Nite Ize Glowstreak LED Ball

I was given this Nite Ize Glowstreak LED Ball at SuperZoo, and my dogs are absolutely thrilled with it. This is easily the best nightime ball we've tried, and it solves all of the problems we've had with similar products. It's grippy, bouncy, waterproof, holds up to chomping, and is bright but not too bright.
Finally a perfect night ball
Photo by Erin Koski

The Glowstreak ball seems like it was designed by people who had the same problems I have had with light-up balls. Glow in the dark balls have to be charged ahead of time, they don't glow very brightly or very long. Hard plastic LED balls don't bounce very high, and they hurt to catch.

Nite Ize already makes fantastically durable carabiner lights with replaceable batteries. The Glowstreak ball is basically an extension of that technology. The Glowstreak ball is motion-activated, after it hits something it flashes for a while before eventually shutting off.

Unlike a lot of light-up balls, this one is waterproof and bouncy. It's the size of a tennis ball, but with plenty of grooves to give it a good grip and make it easier to dislodge if a bigger dog gets it stuck in their throat. (Safety tip, don't let your big dog play with a small ball!)
bouncing waterproof LED light ball
Photo by Erin Koski

The heart of the Glowstreak ball is the removable core, which must be unscrewed. The core contains the lights and also the batteries. It seals inside the rest of the ball, making the entire thing waterproof. It's really quite durable too! Zip managed to unscrew it once, and the ball isn't any worse for the wear.

Pros: Soft, bouncy, bright but not blinding. Waterproof. Batteries can be replaced. Can take a bit of chomping, I let Zip gnaw it for a bit and though she unscrewed the core she didn't hurt anything.

Cons: Only comes in tennis ball size, no larger option for larger dogs.

Bottom Line: Now that the days are getting shorter, we are getting a lot more use out of our Nite Ize Spotlit beacons. We have them in pink, green, and blue so I can identify the dogs by color in the dark. Fortunately our Glowstreak ball has red LEDs.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Caturday: Lotus Just Juicy Stew for Cats

It's Caturday, and the Hellions are in with with Lotus's Just Juicy canned cat food. I got a couple of cans from the Lotus booth at SuperZoo, and I also got to sit down with a representative and see some pictures of their production facility. I even got to see some of their employee training material! The process their meat goes through before becoming pet food is pretty much what I'd want my food to go through.
super high quality venison canned cat food

Lotus Pet Foods

Lotus is a company started by independent pet store owners that were tired of  the good foods selling out to big businesses. Does thaat sound familiar? Yesterday's Food Friday feature was Grandma Mae's, a pet food company with the exact same story. Well, not quite the exact same story. See, Lotus actually provides names and places to go with their story, which makes it much more believable for a skeptic like myself. Go Lotus!

So basically, meat arrives at the Lotus Pet Foods micro cannery ooking like a big slab of meat you'd buy from the grocery store. Said meat is then slapping on a cutting board and carefully chopped into little cubes by a real person with a real knife. This allows them to check each piece of meat and make sure no yucky stuff ends up in the food.

Just Juicy Stew for Cats

The Just Juicy product line consists of chunky stews thickened with potato starch and agar-agar. The ingredient lists are very short. Unlike a lot of canned cat foods, this stuff actually smells pleasant. You can see the cooked meat, and it really reminds me of something I'd make at home in my crock pot.

Naturally, James and Solstice devoured the Just Juicy stew as fast as they possibly could. This is a chunky food, so it may not be accepted by the diehard pate lovers. However, the consistency is so much more like people food, and not icky wet cat food, that I think it's worth trying a can even if your cat is super picky.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Food Friday: Grandma Mae's Country Naturals

I was given a sample bag of Grain Free Venison Meal Recipe kibble at the Grandma Mae's Country Naturals booth at SuperZoo. This is an allergy-friendly food with a limited ingredient list. IT is specifically recommended for picky eaters and sensitive stomachs. Developed by a group of independent pet store owners looking for a brand that wouldn't sell out to a giant faceless corporation, Grandma Mae's is all about genuine high-quality ingredients.

Grain Free Venison Meal Recipe dog food for allergiesGrandma Mae's Country Naturals

This pet food company is unique because it is owner by independent pet store retailers. The company was started by a group of pet store owners that kept having the same issues with their favorite brands selling out to large corporations. This happens like clockwork, a rally good family-owned food company will sell their brand to a giant faceless corporation. The new owners claim that nothing will change, but after a while the bags get smaller, the price goes up, and a lot of pets that formerly did well on the food start to have issues. 

Bringing in a new brand is tough for a retailer. Not everyone cheerfully embraces the new and unknown like I do, and many people don't even notice the other products when they get their usual bran off the self. Properly introducing a product to existing customers so that it sells well, and training staff to be able to answer questions about that product, takes time. It sucks to have to start that whole process over when an old fahvorite sells out, so Grandma Mae's Country Naturals was formed. It's owner by the retailers, who are committed to making a good food that will never be in danger of becoming a business conquest.

At least, that's what the Grandma Mae's website claims. It's a little thin on names, places, and other identifying information. I would think that if I was one of the store owners involved in developing this brand, I would want my name plastered all over the website. Instead we get a nice little story with zero indicators that it is actually about real people. That's just my thoughts on it.
Venison Meal dog food with tiny kibbles

Venison Meal Recipe

This is a food that Brisbane would have been able to eat, with his many allergies. They've skipped the fresh meats that make the ingredient list sound good without adding much substance, so the first ingredient is actually venison meal. It also contains peas, lentils, chickpeas, and tapioca. Sunflower oil, fish oil, and some pork meal are really all that's in there aside from some veggies. 

I like the size and shape of this kibble, it consists of tiny squares. This makes it toy-breed-friendly. Like most high-end foods, it contains probiotics and prebiotics and chelated minerals. The Dog Food Advisor website rates this food 4.5 out of 5 stars. This is a 25/13.5 protein/fat food, so it's a bit lower-energy than Godzilla and Zip need. However, it may be a good choice for an older dog that can't handle the outrageous amount of protein in some super high quality foods.

The Verdict

All three dogs ate this food happily and without hesitation. This is a little unusual for Ru. The protein and fat ratio isn't too bad for His Tinyness. Unfortunately, nobody in my state currently carries Grandma Mae's Country Naturals.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Paw5 Enriched Life Challenge!

On October 17th, Sisci Godzilla, Zip, Ru, and I will be taking part in Paw5's Enriched Life Challenge! Enrichment is all providing your dog with experiences that engage their senses in new and different ways. It's easy to follow the same routine every day and find yourself stuck in a rut, but I can pick up a new book or try a new restaurant when I feel my brain cells dying. My dogs don't have that option. They're stuck with me and whatever I decide we're going to do every day.
Visiting human and doggy friends!
Playing with a friend!

What is Enrichment?

Enrichment means to add richness, to make something more valuable. Coming from a zoology background, I'm very familiar with the concept of enrichment for captive animals. Zoo animals that do not receive adequate enrichment tend to go a bit stir crazy in confinement. To prevent them from pacing and self-harming, we add new and different things to their environment. This can be as simple as hiding their food around the enclosure, or stuffing it inside bamboo tubes for them to fish out, or dragging in whole tree branches for them to strip the leaves off. Thanks to dedicated and creative zookeepers, enrichment often gets a lot more creative. Have you seen pictures of tigers lounging in cardboard boxes, or elephants stomping on pumpkins? That's enrichment in action!

Enrichment doesn't just mean adding things to an animals environment, though. It can also include social interactions, and visits to new and different places. Australia Zoo (remember the Crocodile Hunter?) has multiple opportunities for guests to interact with their animals, not just because people enjoy it, but because it provides the animals with novel experiences and social interaction. Most zoos also train their most intelligent animals to comply with routine medical procedures, both because it makes caring for them easier, and because training is so good for their brains.
Whether it's carrying a couple of water bottles, or pulling a cart, dogs know when they are being useful!
Doing a job!

What Does This Have to Do With My Dog?

Ok, so your dog probably doesn't live in a cage in a zoo, but he still exists in a somewhat limited environment. Is his world is limited to the yard, house, and a walk around the same block every day? Life can even get a little blah Godzilla and Zip, my working stock dogs. We get up in the morning, go to the ranch and work some sheep, chase some squirrels, fetch some tennis balls, come home and eat dinner, and often that's it.

Our dogs are stuck as long as we settle for doing the same thing every day. Enrichment means breaking out of that rut, and adding some things that adding value to their daily activities.

The Enriched Life Challenge

Paw5 is challenging dog owners to commit to daily enrichment for five days. Even though I spend a whole lot of time coming up with new and different things to do with my dogs, it can be tough for me to break out of my comfort zone of toys and treats. Fortunately, Paw5 has come up with six different categories of enrichment, with ideas and activities for each one. They've got a whole menu of sensory, social, and environmental enrichment ideas, and I can't wait to get started!

I think Ru is really going to enjoy the Enriched Life Challenge, he tends to get left behind a lot when I'm doing things with the big dogs. I'm also going to include the Hellions in the challenge, because cats deserve enrichment too. The fun starts on October 17th, want to join us?

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Product Review: Solvit Car Cuddler

Solvit's Car Cuddler is a seat cover with a bolster that helps your dog ride comfortably and securely in the car. It basically turns your back seat into a luxury dog bed. This thing is sturdy, seat belt compatible, and comes in two sizes so you can use it with both bench seats and bucket seats. It is machine washable, and comes apart for easy washing.
Surveyor Chevyvan camper

Disclaimer: Solvit sent me this product free in exchange for my review!

I recently acquired a second vehicle. It is a 1975 Chevy camper van, and it is awesome. It is also loud. Sometimes parts fall off. I call it the Tardis. Right now it does not have air conditioning, so in the sweltering California autumn I always drive it with the windows down. The roar of the engine and the wind blowing around makes a ride in the Tardis a bit hair-raising for my sensitive little herding beasts. Since I brought the van home, I had been trying to find a way to introduce the whole concept to Zip and Godzilla without making them think the Tardis was going to eat them.
Car seat cover with bolster

They layout of the van is interesting, it has a big bench seat on one side, and a sink, refrigerator, bathroom, stove, and closet on the other. The safest way to have the girls ride in the Tardis is on the bench seat with seatbelt harnesses. While I plan to retrofit the vehicle with three-point seatbelts, for now it only has lap belts. I wasn't sure how well our supersafe SleepyPod Clickit Sport harnesses would work without shoulder belts, so I opted to use safety restraints designed to connect to a single point. Zip wears the Ruffwear Load Up harness in the van, while Godzilla wears the AllSafe harness.

bolster bed bench seat vehicle cover

The safety harnesses do a nice job of keeping the girls on the bench seat, but that doesn't help them feel more secure about the whole adventure of riding in the Tardis. Since the seat folds out into a bed, it's pretty flat. There is nothing for them to brace against or snuggle into, so the harnesses just sort of trap them on this weird bench.

This is where the Car Cuddler comes in. I don't know why somebody didn't come up with this idea sooner. It basically turned my weird camper bench seat into a snuggly and secure bed. I installed it before bringing the girls out to the van for the first time. They were a little concerned about jumping into the vehicle at first, but as soon as they saw the Car Cuddler they knew it was for them. It became an instant home base in our home away from home, so if I'm gunning the engine trying to keep it alive, they just snuggle in a bit deeper and don't freak out about the noise.

Pros: The dogs somehow automatically know that this is a dog bed. The bolster gives them something to brace against, and helps keep them on the seat. Has openings for seat belts! Fits securely on the seat with a combination of straps and tubes you push into the crack at the bottom of the seat. Is designed for seats with headrests, but was easy to anchor even on my totally-nonstandard seat. Sturdy with thick fabric that doesn't slide around like crazy on the seat. Machine washable, and the bolster and bottom pillow both come out so you can just wash the cover without the bulky parts.

Cons: The zippers that hold the pillows are very small, if I was planning a lot of zipping and unzipping I would be worried about how well they'd hold up.

Bottom Line: The Solvit Car Cuddler successfully convinced Zip and Godzilla that the Tardis was a pretty cool place to be.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Bark at the Park 2016!

We are finally back from Bark at the Park in Lancaster, California. This annual event crams the maximum amount of dog fun into a single weekend. I enjoy it a lot because it draws both serious dog sport people, and average pet owners. I was there to help run Tired Dog Good Dog's lure coursing program. American Diving Dogs hosted a dock diving competition. Disc Dogs in Southern California held a disc competition. Do More With Your Dog did a tricks demo. There were flyball demos and agility demos. Southern California Working Snow Dogs had an urban mushing booth. Doggie Fun Zone set up their...thing. There were contests of all sorts, from best trick to best singing dog, and vendor booths too!
On the Lamb Zip chases the lure
Sisci Godzilla, Zip, and I tried out a few of the activities together. Godzilla and I have been trying to get the hang of urban mushing for a while, but she's just not ok with the concept of pulling and having anything follow behind her. Zip, on the other hand, is fearless. I figured I could probably harness both of them up together, and have Zip convince Sis that this whole setup was ok.

The urban mushing booth had harnesses in every size. They also had a two-dog line to attach to the scooter, and a neckline to attach the girls together at their collars. Sure enough, Zip was quite happy to run around with the volunteer holding the leash and me on the scooter. Sisci Godzilla still wasn't totally convinced, but she was a lot more comfortable with the whole concept. Progress!
lure coursing fun run

Dock diving wasn't quite as successful. Despite both being tennis ball crazy and avid swimmers, neither of the girls took to it right away. We signed up for practice diving time with the instructor, who had me start by rolling the tennis ball down a ramp and into the above-ground pool. Zip was happy to walk down the ramp into the pool and grab the ball, but then she was more interested in swimming laps than coming back to shore for another round. According to Godzilla, that pool eats little cattledogs. She wouldn't set foot in it. Apparently several other dogs refused to jump that day, so maybe they knew something we didn't.
Zip wins first place in the 2016 Crusty Classic Novice Class
One week prior to Bark at the Park, I threw a couple of discs for Zip. She caught my terrible throws, so I figured we had better enter the disc competition the following weekend. We entered the Novice Toss and Catch competition, which involves throwing discs a certain distance and having the dog catch them and bring them back. Each round is timed, and you only get a minute to throw your disc.

I showed up early, got lots of disc-throwing pointers from the people in charge, and practiced as much as time allowed before the competition. It was super windy out there. In the first round, Zip caught one disc and Godzilla did not catch any. In the second round the wind was even worse. Godzilla still didn't catch any discs, but Zip caught five! I wasn't expecting to do anything at the competition other than have fun with my dogs, but Zip and I placed first in our class! Sisci Godzilla and I scored no points at all, but I'm told we were fun to watch. I always walk my dogs out of any competition like they just won the entire thing, no matter how we did.