Saturday, December 31, 2016

It's Caturday! Here's Some Cat Wearables!

Whilst researching dog GPS trackers, I found a variety of nifty gadgets you can use to find your cat. Loosely referred to as "wearables", these wearable bits of technology are sort of like a smart watch for your cat. Or maybe like one of those radio tracking collars they put on bears and mountain lions before releasing them into the wild. Either way, here are some high-tech ways to keep track of your tiny murder-machine:


Intended for locating your cat over relatively short distances, the best description I've found is that TabCat is a Geiger counter for cats. You know that nifty device in old movies that they wave around, and it makes more or less noise based on the presence of radiation? This radio tracking device works just like that. You put the tag on your cat, and use the little handset to play a game of hot and cold to figure out where he's hiding. This is made by the UK-based Loc8tor company.
Pros: The device comes with one handset and two tags. Highly accurate over fairly small spaces, maximum range is 400'. The tag itself beeps when you start tracking it, and many cats learn to run home when they hear it. Does not require a subscription or service plan.
Cons: Facebook and Amazon are filled with customer complaints of durability issues, and batteries sliding away from contacts inside the devices. Notably absent is any sort of customer service response. Basically, TabCat may or may not work, and may or may not fall apart within a few weeks of using it, and if something goes wrong, the company won't care.

Marco Polo

This is a pricier radio tracking system that seems to be much more durable than TabCat, though it has a hefty price tag. Marco Polo includes some features found in GPS tracking devices, like a programmable safe zone and alerts if your pet leaves that zone.
Pros: No subscriptions or additional fees. Range of up to two miles.
Cons: The price of a system is over $200. Must have the handset with you to receive alerts that your pet is outside the safe zone.


The Pod tracker is super tiny, small enough for cats and even birds to wear. This is a cellular+GPS tracker. It comes with two batteries, so you can always have one on your pet while the other is charging. Pod seems to have very responsive customer service, and they are actively improving their product with discounts for customers who want to upgrade. Unfortunately, they only use 2G cellular networks, so there's an ever-increasing lack of coverage for this device.
Pros: Requires a service plan, but comes with a year of free service. Small and unobtrusive. Allows you to set a safe zone and be alerted if your cat leaves that zone.
Cons: No 3G coverage, so won't work in many places as networks shut off their 2G.

On the Horizon...


The first 2G and 3G cellular GPS tracker just for cats...probably. Currently shipping in January 2017 if everything goes according to plan. Like Whistle, but for cats. Pretty pricey at $225 for the 3G version. Not sure why they're even offering a 2G version given that pretty much every network is planning to kill 2G by 2020. It's basically a product with a death date.


This German-based smart collar for cats was fully funded on Indiegogo two years ago. It looks cool, but I'm not holding out a lot of hope for its eventual release.

Weenect Cats

The only GPS device I've seen so far that actually lets you call your cat up and talk to him. This one appears to have been available sometime in 2015, but is not currently available for sale anywhere. You can preorder it from the website, but no ship date is given so who knows? Also there is a glowing Danish review of this product using pictures of the journalist's cat and touting the product as waaaaay better than Pod. That exact same cat is splashed all over Weenect's website, which gives me unpleasant feelings about this company and their marketing tactics.


Funded by Kickstarter, this is a GPS device intended to be small enough for even tiny cats. Shipping was supposed to happen this month, but has been delayed due to unsatisfactory results from preliminary testers. They're doing a mighty fine job of keeping their backers informed though, so I have a lot of hope for this one.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Food Friday: OC Raw Dog Freeze Dried Food

OC Raw Dog is a dog food company located in southern California, a bit south of me. They offer frozen raw dog food in a variety of forms and recipes. With limited ingredients, novel proteins, and all USA-sourced ingredients except lamb from New Zealand, this company has a lot to offer. I brought a couple of samples of their new freeze dried food home from SuperZoo.
Freeze-dried limited ingredient goat-based dog food

The Company

OC Raw Dog is a small business run by passionate dog lovers. I know this because I met them at SuperZoo, and they are sincerely enthusiastic about their product. Those gorgeous mastiffs on their website? They bred those. This is the food they made for their dogs, and sent home with their puppies. OC Raw Dog is the result of a fanbase that wanted more and more of that homemade raw dog food.

Despite their products starting out as homemade dog food, OC Raw Dog has gone the distance, and their food meets AAFCO standards for complete and balanced nutrition. They strongly encourage rotational feeding, and keep their fruit and veggie mix consistent between recipes. I really appreciate the thought they've put into their foods, with consideration given to caloric density, and protein/fat ratios.

There have been a couple of recalls of OC Raw Dog frozen products due to contamination, both in 2015. Nothing has been detected since, so hopefully they've resolved whatever issue they had with production.

The Food

OC Raw Dog is an allergy dog owners dream! Each recipe contains carrots, apples, broccoli, spinach,
Rabbit-based limited ingredient freeze dried dog food
acorn squash, beets, parsley, blueberries, and then meat, bone, and organs from a single protein source. They don't just throw chicken fat in to save money, the beef recipe is made with beef bone, beef meat, and beef organs. Cod liver oil and olive oil are added to a few recipes to boost the fat content. They offer rabbit, goat, and fish recipes that are a good fit for many dogs with multiple food allergies.

This company produces frozen raw dog food in a variety of shapes to fit various needs. They offer small "meaty rox" nuggets that are easy to measure for little dogs, not unlike Primal Pronto. They make slider patties and full-size patties as well. I was unable to find freeze-dried foods on their website, so these may not be available yet, but the samples I received were in both patty and nugget form.

The Verdict

Of course, all three of my dogs absolutely love this food. It rates five out of five stars on the Dog Food Advisor website, and I would happily feed it to my dogs on a regular basis if anyone near me sold it.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Product Review: The Coop Walker Head Dog Toy

Did you know that there are actual licensed Walking Dead dog toys? They are made by The Coop, a company that produces all sorts of fandom dreams-come-true. This is a sturdy plush toy with a rope attached, and not a lot of stuffing inside. It is labeled with the Walking Dead official logo. It's a severed zombie head. Who could ask for anything more?
Plus Walker Head dog toy
Photo by Erin Koski

This toy arrived in our second Loot Pets crate, back when they were still including geeky toys instead of just regular cheap toys. I'm not a gigantic TWD fan, but I appreciate the series a lot.

This little toy is surprisingly well-designed. Big box stores and their quick-and-dirty promotions of movies and other franchises has left me expecting licensed toys to be low quality more often than not.
Photo by Erin Koski

Our walker head has gotten quite a lot of playtime, and it has held up very well so far. The girls haven't managed to fetch it to death, and it doesn't have loose seams or anything that begs to be shredded.

Pros: Sturdy and well-made. Small enough for little dogs, but big enough for most medium and large dogs to enjoy. Zombies.

Cons: Not easy to find, The Coop may even have made this exclusively for Loot Crate. How I wish they'd go back to that model, instead of random cheap toys.

Bottom Line: The Coop also makes a bunch of Star Trek dog accessories. Their Walking Dead collection includes collars, shirt, and a Well Walker toy. Remember that one that was stuck in the well and when they pulled it out it came apart? Yeah, the toy does that too.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Product Review: Hurtta Microfleece Jumpsuit

This is it, Hurtta's Microfleece Jumpsuit is the warmest dog outfit. Is your dog a major weenie about being out in the cold? Do you live somewhere with actual seasons? Do regular dog coats leave your pup's belly and back legs exposed to the brutal elements? Hurtta makes a full-coverage four-legged fleece snowsuit for chilly dogs. It is available in multiple colors, different leg lengths, and a range of sizes to fit dogs with backs measuring 8-32" from neck to tail.
It was actually 103 degrees when we took this picture.
Photo by Erin Koski

Ru has a very long back, and there just aren't a lot of clothing options for long dogs. Most four-legged outfits are either too short in the back, or much to big in the chest and legs. I had given up on finding him a suitably warm bodysuit until now.

Got a dachshund or corgi? You probably won't find a four-legged suit that fits anywhere but Hurtta. They have fitting down to science. Their four-legged suits are available in different leg lengths, so your 12" miniature Italian greyhound and your 12" French bulldog can both have a jumpsuit that fits.

They've even added an elastic drawstring at the waist, so you can cinch the middle of the suit down to the right size. Ru has a 12" back and a 13" chest. Hurtta's 12" extra-short jumpsuit has room for an 18" chest, but with the drawcord I can shorted it down far enough to fit Ru comfortably.

I often feel like Hurtta products are designed by people who genuinely use them on a regular basis. A good example of this is the snap beneath the zipper of the jumpsuit. See, the suits has a double-ended zipper than runs the length of the back. You place all four of the dog's feet in the suit, and then zip it. Holding both sides of the suit in place while fumbling with the zipper is awkward, so Hurtta has helpfully added a little snap. Put all four feet in the leg holes, snap that one little snap on the back, and then zip the whole thing up like a pro. Thanks Hurtta!

Pros: Warm and fuzzy, like a fleece onesie for your dog. Allows freedom of movement with maximum insulation. Comes in a wide range of sizes to fit many different body types, including long-bodied dogs like corgis.

Cons: Not waterproof, so won't keep your dog dry in slush. Hurtta has waterproof coveralls for that.

Bottom Line: I can't recommend Hurtta's jumpsuits enough for long-bodied, hard-to-fit dogs that need to stay warm and dry.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Shopping for a GPS Tracker

For a variety of reasons, I would like to purchase GPS trackers for Zip and Sisci Godzilla. We spend a lot of time outdoors, hiking and working, and once in awhile the girls go out of sight. Godzilla is very good about checking in with me every so often, but Zip tends to run far and wide before it occurs to her to come and find me. In addition to leashes, beacon lights, and reliable recalls, it would be nice to have some technology to help me locate my dogs should they ever not come when I call them.

Pet vs. Hunting Dog Tracking

It turns out there are two basic types of dog tracking devices out there: those for everyday tracking of pets and those for closely tracking hunting dogs. Hunting dog tracking devices are intended to be worn for several hours during a hunting trip. They are made for larger dogs, and can be rather bulky. Designed for use in remote areas, they use radio and GPS tracking technology. Many hunting dog telemetry collars are also electronic training collars, though tracking-only collars are also available. The battery on these tends to last about a day, and the range is about five miles. Telemetry systems for hunting dogs can be a pretty big investment, starting at $300 for an inexpensive one-dog setup, or $460 for a two-dog setup. Multi-dog systems that can pinpoint your dog's location and tell you whether they are running, walking, or standing cost well over $1000.

Pet trackers are relatively inexpensive, designed to be worn all day everyday, just in case pets get lost. These pet wearables usually have enough battery life to last for several days, and are largely modeled after human wearables, with smartphone apps and activity goals. There are a whole lot of them, and they use everything from GPS tracking, to cellular phone networks, to Bluetooth to locate your pet. This is an emerging market, and there are quite a few products in development right now, as well as a few that have been available for a few years already. These feel like they would be a better fit for my situation, and they're significantly cheaper than the hunting dog systems, but I'm having trouble deciding on one.


Once upon a time there was Tagg, a GPS tracking system for your dog that used cellular netorks and GPS tracking to find your lost dog. The system worked with your phone, and sent you alerts if your dog went outside a predetermined area. Then Whistle, maker of pet activity trackers, purchased Tagg and everything went to hell. Though Tagg/Whistle has been around longer than anything else on the market, there still seem to be some major kinks that need to be worked out. 
Pros: Uses 3G cellular networks and GPS to locate pets. I get decent cellular signal at work, so this would be useful there.
Cons: The app is quite bloated. It is filled with activity tracking, social media connections, and pictures that detract from the basic locating functionality. It's not terribly accurate. It sends false notifications that your pet has left when they're safe, or fails to report when they actually leave their safe zone. It's slow, only updating every three minutes when actively tracking your lost pet. It also won't let you activate tracking when you know you pet is missing, instead you must wait until the system reads that your pet has left to begin tracking them. The battery life is only decent when near the home base station, which means having my dogs at work with me all day would rapidly drain it on a daily basis. There seem to be a lot of complaints about customer service.


I got to play with a Pod tracker at SuperZoo, and I was incredibly impressed with how light and compact it was. Like the Whistle, it allows you to set up a predetermined safe zone, and will alert you if your pet leaves that zone. However, it has some improvements over Whistle's current system.
Pros: Uses Wifi as well as cellular and GPS tracking, for more accurate indoor locations. Allows the user to set how often the location updates, and the safe zone can just be turned off to save battery life.  Is not dependent upon a base station to define safe zone, can be set anywhere. Comes with two removable batteries, so one can always be charged and ready to go. Much smaller than the Whistle tracker, small enough to out on cats and large birds and tiny dogs. The company offers a 50% upgrade to their newest product. Their customer service seems to be really good.
Cons: The Pod tracker only uses 2G cellular networks. In case you hadn't heard, the remaining vestiges of the AT&T 2G network is going down next month. T-Mobile is keeping at least some of their 2G up until 2020, but coverage is certainly not going to get any better. Pod is supposedly going to come out with a 3G version in February...maybe. At SuperZoo they were claiming it would be out before AT&T killed the majority of the 2G network. The current Pod tracker probably wouldn't be able to track my dogs while we are at work, or on hiking trips. Or possibly at all.


Tractive is another GPS+cellular pet tracker. It seems to be a bit more compact than the Whistle, but doesn't offer as many customized options as the Pod.
Pros: Does not seem to need a base station. Allows customized safe zone and alerts if pet leaves that zone.
Cons: Appears to be basically a foreign knockoff of the Whistle, with a lighter but less user-friendly interface and worse customer service. Uses only 2G cellular networks, with no plans to update to something that isn't rapidly becoming obsolete. The annual fee for the device appears to be equal to the purchase price.


The Nuzzle collar is brand new and just started shipping in the last month or two. Unfortunately, this means there aren't yet product reviews out there about the actual battery life, or other ups and downs.
Pros: Uses 3G cellular networks, GPS, and also Bluetooth. Comes with two batteries. Comes with a custom collar, but can be attached to any collar. Offers temperature monitoring.
Cons: Uses a base station, so may be intended for dogs that spend most of their time at home, like the Whistle.

AKC Link

AKC's Link collar is another brand new product that hasn't been widely reviewed yet. Unfortunately, their website is pretty short on information, so I have no idea if it uses 3G cellular networks, or experiences shorter battery life away from its base station. It sounds pretty awesome, but it's hard to tell what actual user experiences are like.
Pros: Specifically can be used to set mobile safe zones for off-leash activity or visiting friends. Temperature monitoring. Supposedly uses an algorithm to determine what counts as intense activity for your dog, versus moderate activity. 
Cons: No idea if it uses 3G or not. 

PetTronix RoamEO SeekR

This one looks like a significantly more simple product than any of the ones above. The RoamEO is not an activity monitor, it's not a smartcollar, it just tracks your pet. This one just uses GPS, so it should work both in town and way out in the backcountry.
Pros: Has customized safe zone that can be any shape, not just a circle. Safe zone can be mobile for off-leash activity. 
Cons: Has 3-5 mile range for active tracking, not sure if it also does remote monitoring.

Coming Soon...

There are some neat-looking smartcollars and pet tracking devices that may be coming out soon, but are not actually shipping yet. The Kyon smartcollar appears to be marketed toward urban dog owners, as its GPS location technology will tell you what floor of a building your pet is on. The Kyon collar is expected to ship in January 2017. Squeaker's Buddy smartcollar looks pretty amazing, with custom LED light colors and patterns for nighttime safety, as well as the usual suite of smartcollar features. However, it is being developed via Indiegogo campaign, and the updates have been few and far between. Apparently it was fully-funded over a year ago, four months ago they were shooting for a release date of December 2016, and they have not updated in the last four months. It also going to be crazy expensive, $250 for campaign backers and $450 for the general public if it ever comes to market. Wuf is yet another smartcollar with integrated phone app, that may or may not ship in spring of 2017.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from the Dog Geek! May your day be filled with family and friends, good food, and good cheer. The dogs and I will be watching A Christmas Story, Home Alone, and White Christmas, eating our collective body weights in tasty home cooking, and enjoying the company of friends and family. We also wish you happy holidays, whichever ones you choose to celebrate. They're all pretty awesome!
And feeding the sheep. We don't get a day off from that. Sheep still gotta eat.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

It's Caturday! Here's Some Cats in Christmas Trees!

Nobody loves Christmas like cats love Christmas! We haul entire trees into our homes and deck them out in dangly shiny baubles, who else could we possibly be doing this for?! I come from a family of cat-lovers, and it's basically a family tradition that kittens spend most of December living in the Christmas tree. (Also, it's the first night of Hanukkah tonight, but my Jewish best friends went out of town before I could get pictures of my dogs in yarmulkes with a menorah. Oy vey.)
Kittens in Christmas trees
Solstice is filling in for the star here.

The Hellions were probably born in September, so they were quite young and ridiculous for their first Christmas. That was the last year I tried putting breakable ornaments on a tree. 

Kitten climbing Christmas tree
James in his natural habitat.

One year I tried putting up a tiny 2' tall tree, hoping that they would ignore it since they couldn't climb it. Nope. They wrestled with it, chewed on it, and could not rest until it was laying flat on the ground.

Kitten knocked over Christmas tree
Not pictured: kitten.

About ten years ago, while living with my parents, I brought home a tiny orange kitten that my brother named Schrodinger. We suspect Schro was the offspring of feral cat, and a lot of cat personality can be genetic. Schro has always been a bit wild.

Cat knocked down Christmas tree
Pictured: kitten.

That was the year I either weighted the tree stand down with sandbags, or tied it to the wall.

Kitten perched in the branches of a Christmas tree
Ravel lives here now.

I got the Hellions from my irresponsible neighbors that let their unaltered female cat have litter after litter. Six months prior to the birth of my hellbeasts, that poor kitty had a litter of black and white kittens. The neighbors were giving them away to anyone, so I picked out a pair and gave them to my father for Father's Day. 

Pamina just hanging out.

He was annoyed for about half a day ("What made you think I needed kittens?!") and then fell in love ("I have babies!") Somehow, Pamina and Ravel are just super sweet, personable cats. I suspect the Hellions had a different dad. An evil dad.

Tucker loved Christmas!

Our first Christmas tree-dwelling kitten was my sister's Tucker. He was born in November of 1999 or 2000, and was just a few weeks old when he discovered the holiday spirit.

"If you need me, I'll be in the tree."

We lost Tucker to cancer a couple of years ago, but his memory lives on in my family's somewhat peculiar tolerance of kittens climbing Christmas trees. There's not really any good way of keeping them out, short of suspending the tree from the ceiling, so there's nothing wrong with embracing their kitten-ness, putting the breakable ornaments away for a season, and letting them enjoy the holiday. Just stick with non-toxic decorations, and avoid tinsel.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Happy Festivus!

Break out the unadorned aluminum pole, it's time to celebrate Festivus! I'm a big fan of winter holidays, and this is a particularly silly one. It's a rejection of the holiday consumerism that pervades the month of December, and gets right to the heart of family get-togethers. That's right, I'm talking about the Airing of Grievances. Let's take a moment to talk about the ways in which companies have disappointed The Dog Geek over the last year.
Feats of Strength!

Kong, your Squeezz Crackle ball couldn't handle being squeezed and crackled.

Petsmart, your Puppies backwards-R Us treat spinner couldn't handle even a tiny amount of regular dog play.

Zack & Zoey, you turned out to be a regular Pet Edge brand, and not some adorably personable company with a charming backstory.

Loot Pets, you totally abandoned your geeky premise and sent us a regular dog-themed subscription box. There are tons of regular dog-themed subscription boxes out there, I got yours purely for the geekery. You got rid of the geekery slowly, sending regular toys instead of geeky toys, and fewer items in every box, until your finally abandoned the concept altogether, and that's when you lost a customer. It was a fun six months though, and those first few crates were awesome. The pet shirts never fit right though, you must all have super wide pug-shaped dogs or something.

Sileo, you did nothing for Ranger's fireworks fear. I think we're going camping for New Year's just to get away from the possible fireworks noise.

Company of Animals, your Pet Corrector needs to come with instructions about using it in the vicinity of other pets. It has a very non-specific, area-wide effect, so it "corrects" basically every single dog in agility class when some clueless student chooses to use it for their dog's leash reactivity.

Outward Hound, your dog backpack was awkward and uncomfortable and felt ridiculously cheap and flimsy. Like, I understand making things for a certain price point, but that felt like some serious dollar store shit.

Reviews.com...your research sucks. Bigtime.

Chuckit, your Floppy Tug was surprisingly non-durable.

Zukes, your Power Bones treats show a distinct lack of knowledge about the canine metabolism. I expected better of you.

Thank you for joining me for this little wallow in negativity. the Dog Geek will be back to the usual upbeat outlook following the Feats of Strength.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Product Review: The Perfect Fit Harness

The Perfect Fit Harness comes in three separate pieces that are available in different sizes for a truly custom fit. This is easily the most adjustable harness system I have ever seen, and with the right pieces it can be constructed to fit any dog of any shape. It's kind of like Lego dog gear. Perfect Fit harness have black belly and front pieces, and the tops come in various colors. Everything is padded with fleece. The parts come in four different strap widths to properly and ergonomically fit dog with chests 9.5-48" around.
Custom-fitted harness
Photo by Erin Koski

I bought Brisbane a Perfect Fit Harness when he was battling cancer. His buckle neck Balance Harness was beginning to rub his coat, and I wanted to find something padded and comfortable that was easy to put on. It needed to open at the neck so I could keep it away from his face, and it had to allow total freedom of movement in his shoulders.

After asking around the internet dog training community, I found the Dog-Games Shop, home of the Perfect Fit Harness. This was exactly what I needed. Brisbane was a very difficult-to-fit dog. He had a very wide barrel chest, and a skinny neck. I had a lot of trouble finding harnesses that fit around his chest, sat high enough to be clear of his shoulders, and also didn't ride into his armpits. The Balance Harness was the best I had found, until I needed something padded.

Ordering the correct pieces was a bit difficult, as the website largely uses breeds to recommend sizes. I found the best way to get exactly what I needed was to email the company, and tell them Brisbane's measurements and typical fitting difficulties.
Custom fitted padded harness
Photo by Erin Koski

I ended up with exactly what I needed, and I got a harness that Brisbane could comfortably wear all day long. The harness has buckles on both sides of the neck, and both sides of the belly strap. It also has a buckle between the front legs. Everything is very well-padded and nothing rubs or sits in sensitive areas.

Each individual pieces adjusts differently. The colored top pieces does not adjust at all. The girth strap adjusts on either side and has a ring in the middle to attach to the front. The front pieces adjusts on either side of the neck, and also under the belly to allow the girth to sit further back. It also has the option of a front leash ring to make this a no-pull harness. Each of these pieces comes in multiple sizes, so it one sizes doesn't have enough adjustment, a different size can be used.

Pros: Super adjustable and well-padded. Comfortable enough to leave on all day without irritating sensitive skin. Very easy to put on without sliding over the dog's head, or touching their feet. Front leash ring can be used to discourage pulling. Lots of color options. Can fit basically any dog, or cat, or...I dunno, wallaby? Awesome return policy.

Cons: The company is based in the United Kingdom, so shipping take a while. Front and girth pieces only come in black, so no Punky Brewster-inspired color combinations are allowed. I understand why they do this, but it still makes the whole thing slightly plain.

Bottom Line: This company is awesome, staffed by real, genuine, dedicated humans who honestly want to put together a harness that really fits your dog. They helped make Brisbane's last few weeks a lot more comfortable.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A Blessed Solstice to You!

Today is the shortest day of the year, the Winter Solstice, and we are looking forward to the days growing longer! Winter is sort non-thing here in Southern California, yesterday it was 80 degrees. The most we can hope for is some light rain and the occasional chilly night. The only difference between this and the rest of the year is the length of the days.
Solstice: "MEOW!"

I work outside, so I'm super angsty about the weather, and acutely aware of how much time I have before it gets dark each day. Right now the sun drops behind the hills at around 4:30 each afternoon, and the mad dash to get everyone fed and bedded down for the evening begins as early at 3:00.

In years past, I have spent the longest night keeping the fire burning, waiting for the sun to rise in the morning. This year I will be getting a good night's sleep. Whether you celebrate the turning of the seasons with a yule log and gifts, listening for the Wild Hunt, keeping vigil over the flame, or just appreciating that the days can't possibly get any shorter, I wish you a Happy Solstice and a Blessed Yule.

(Solstice the kitty wishes you a very loud meow, as per usual.)

Monday, December 19, 2016

Product Update: Starmark RubberTuff Stump

I brought a Starmark RubberTuff Stump toy home from SuperZoo, and was unreasonably excited about trying it out. This natural rubber toy provides a very different chewing experience than Starmark's flagship Everlasting Treat toys. The new Lock & Block treats are designed specifically for the RubberTuff toy line.
toy missing chunks after 2 play sessions

Several hours after I posted my original review for the RubberTuff Stump, I realized that it was already missing chunks. The toy came with a single Lock & Block treat, and I had purchased a pack of two refills. Sisci Godzilla does not normally chew to destroy, but the toy was already taking serious damage after only two play sessions. This is a size medium toy, the package says it is for dogs 15-40 pounds. Sisci Godzilla is a trim 28 pounds, so this seemed like the correct size toy for her.

I never write off a product without contacting the company first, so I emailed Starmark with a picture of the toy. They responded by sending me a large RubberTuff Stump, for dogs over 40 pounds. Yay Starmark! I truly appreciate a company that stands behind their products.

Testing and reporting back on the performance of the size large Stump was a bit delayed because
I couldn't find large Lock and Block treat refills anywhere. That's what I get for being an early adopter. My local shops only carry the small and medium RubberTuff toys and treat refills. I finally found large treats last week, and immediately put the large Stump to the test.
Large size rubber dog toy

I am pleased to say that after two rounds of refill treats, the large Stump is holding up significantly better than the medium. It has some punctures, but the rubber is not tearing loose or giving up this time. Obviously it's not going to last forever, but it seems to be capable of withstanding the kind of chewing for which it was designed.

So know we know: Size up your RubberTuff toys! It's not a bad idea to size up on Starmark toys in general. My medium-sized dogs certainly get plenty of enjoyment out of the toys intended for dogs over 40 pounds, and 6-lb Ru loves the medium toys.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Product Review: Tre Ponti Liberty Harness

Tre Ponti's Liberty harness is a different style of step-in. This simple yet effective harness fastens at the back with a flexible and adjustable cord. The semi-rigid design stays in place, and does not twist around the dog's body, or ride into their armpits or throat. Tre Ponti's Easy Fit style harnesses are available in a wide variety of materials and styles, and seven sizes to fit dogs with chests 10-26" around.
Step-in Italian dog harness
Photo by Erin Koski

I first saw Tre Ponti harnesses a couple of years ago, on a pair of morbidly obese chihuahuas at doggy daycare. The harnesses were so totally different from anything I had ever seen before. Upon researching them, I immediately discovered that they were from Italy, and nobody online was selling them for less than $50 due to shipping fees. It's possible that the owners of those fat little dogs found the harnesses in a boutique shop somewhere local, and it's equally possible that they picked them up while traveling in Europe.

Fast forward to SuperZoo 2016, where the Tre Ponti company had a booth. I told them I hadn't been able to find their products in the USA, and they said they were just starting to bring them here.
Easy On Step-In Harness

I was delighted to be able to purchase a Tre Ponti harness at the show. Ru's harness is a size 1.5, and it looks like he could wear a size 2 as well. These are a different style that almost anything else I've seen except for the Top Paw knock offs they have at PetSmart. It's a bit like a regular step-in harness, but it's also like a Norway harness. There's not much to rub or irritate the dog's skin. The material is breathable and flexible, but also holds it's shape well enough to keep the harness in place.

Pros: Easy to put on. Very simple yet effective design. Comes in lots of colors and materials. Strap back closure helps prevent escape by tightening when pressure is applied. Very distinctive-looking.

Cons: Like most harnesses of this style, the strap laying across the top of the shoulder has the potential to limit the dog's range of motion. For this reason, I would not use this style of harness on my performance dogs for extended exercise.

Bottom Line: I use the Tre Ponti Liberty harness when Ru is wearing a big sweater, because it adjusts instantly to go over whatever he is wearing.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

It's Caturday, and There's a Learning Curve

It's Caturday, time to talk about my cats! James and Solstice, collectively known as The Hellions, are eight-year-old littermates. They are unusually destructive, especially for mature adult cats. Two months ago, I built them some wall shelves for more vertical space in which to rampage.

Wall-mounted shelves for cat entertainment
James has finally gotten the hang of it.
Despite a lot of training time spent gently coaxing them from one platform to the next, The Hellions were hesitant to use their new shelves. This was a bit weird, because normally they climb on anything and everything no matter how much effort I take to ward them off.

Maybe the concept of empty shelves was too alien? I figured they needed something truly irresistible to entice them, so I bought a small potted fern and set it on the highest shelf. Exactly two hours later, Solstice climbed all the way up there, ate the plant, knocked the pot down, and then spent the rest of the afternoon surveying her kingdom from on high. Solstice is a very relaxed cat, she knows neither strangers nor fear.

James took a lot longer to decide that the shelves were a good idea. He is generally a more cautious cat, and it takes him a while to warm up to new things. He started out using one or two of the shelves, but it took him a full six weeks to decide that the cat shelves were safe, fun, and inviting. I like to keep track of this sort of thing, as it pays to know how long it takes my cats to get used to something. Now that I know James can spend six weeks acclimating to a new thing in his environment, I won't be too quick to decide that my cats don't enjoy a new toy or piece of cat furniture.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Food Friday: Bravo Homestyle Complete Freeze Dried Dinners

I brought home all three flavors of Bravo's Homestyle Complete Dinners from SuperZoo. These are freeze dried raw meals that are complete and balanced. Add warm water and let them sit for a few minutes, and you have a highly appetizing dog food. It's all the benefits of raw without the mess, and it doesn't need to take up your entire freezer, either.
Homestyle Complete shelf-stable raw dog food

The Company

I've written extensively about the Bravo company, and I love the way they continue to expand their product lines without compromising their core values. While they've always made grain-free frozen raw dog food, they've been able to expand into canned food because they don't demonize cooked food. Raw food is great because it's great, not because cooking is evil. The company does come out strongly against grain in dog food, but unlike some companies, they don't also sell grain-inclusive dog food.

The Food

At first glance, Homestyle Complete dinners look like cubes of freeze dried meat with a few green beans and cranberries mixed in. On closer inspection, some of those cubes are actually made from sweet potato and chickpeas. The smell is rather pleasant, this stuff doesn't smell like nasty frozen raw food. 
Freeze-dried raw dog food

Actually feeding this stuff is mildly annoying, because it takes 15 minutes to rehydrate. You're supposed to add equal amounts feed and warm water, and then the food is supposed to soak up all the water. I always ended up with a little unabsorbed broth left over, and the dogs loved that part.

The big vegetables are interesting. I expected them to come out looking pretty much like they went in, but they must be cooked or something beforehand because the dogs digested them just fine.

The Verdict

I was very surprised that Ru ate the green beans. He loved this food, probably because it was rehydrated with warm water. Cold food makes him even colder than he already is. Godzilla and Zip loved the Homestyle Complete as well. It doesn't come in huge bags for feeding larger dogs, but it works well as a kibble topper after it's been soaked.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Stuff We Destroyed: December Edition

It's time for the monthly roundup of stuff that didn't survive the month! When I first started this blog, none of my dogs were destructive. Brisbane had toys that lasted most of his 11 years. Josie didn't care much for toys in general. Ru has never destroyed anything in his life. The current crop of dogs are much harder on their toys, and I'm delighted to have the opportunity to put product durability to the test.
Dog toys and gear that did not survive September

I've been in denial for a while, but I'm beginning to suspect that Zip is a power chewer. She doesn't really set out to demolish toys, but she does like to pause for the occasional gnaw while fetching. She hasn't really gone for any of our toughest toys yet, but she has managed to fetch quite a few of our fairly tough toys to death.

That's the Spunky Pup Fetch & Glow Ball up front with the hole. It's sitting in the curled remains of the Chuckit Floppy Tug, which was remarkably short-lived for a toy advertised as "tough".

The leather Aussie Naturals Squeaky Bacon toy sat neglected at the bottom of the toy bin for two years, until Zip decided it had to die. Planet Dog's Mazee, the Amaze-Ball, developed a tear at the opening, and then Zip and Sis decided to pull the maze out of the ball. I got Sisci Godzilla a Cycle Dog 3 Play happy hippo for her birthday, and someone promptly chewed a leg off. Our Nite Ize Glowstreak LED ball developed some tears in the flexible ball material, and then the entire plug that holds in the light popped off one night.

Way in the back there is our original decade-old Starmark Treat Dispensing Chew Ball. RIP. I'm pretty sure the newer material is a bit tougher. There's also a de-stuffed Mighty stegasaurus, our P.L.A.Y. king crab, a Kyjen Plush Puppies stuffed octopus that was older than Ru, and the carcass of a stuffed reindeer from last Christmas.

We also lost some gear this year, casualties of lure coursing and camping. Sisci Godzilla sometimes gets so excited in her crate that she drags in and shreds anything in reach. She got a hold of her ComfortFlex Sport harness at a lure coursing event and shredded it into many pieces. Godzilla has also taken to biting through leashes when excited, so mostly we're using steel cables these days. I got her a tug leash to match the harness, and left her tied up for a few minutes while setting up camp in the redwoods. So long, leash!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Product Review: The BoG Tag

The BOG Tag is the ultimate gender identity tag for your dog. Got a pretty boy dog? An imposing girl dog? Tired of correcting people about your pet's gender? Want to spare yourself and everyone else an awkward conversation? This tag says it all. The Boy-or-Girl tag is lightweight, eye-catching, easy to see, and doesn't jangle or rattle against your dog's other tags. It makes a statement, and that statement is, "I'm a boy!" or "I'm a girl!" or "My owner cares about gendering their dog!"
Gender identity tag for pets
Photo by Erin Koski

Ok, I first saw the BoG Tag online, and I laughed a whole lot. I guess the whole point is to avoid awkward conversations in which you must inform someone that they got your dog's gender wrong.

I routinely dress Ru in frilly pink dresses, so I'm not so much trying to avoid awkward conversation as ambushing the unsuspecting with it. I get perverse pleasure out of telling people that he's a boy, and I don't mind a bit when people call my girl dogs boys.

That said, when I was given a BoG Tag of my very own at SuperZoo, I showed it to my father and learned that he does indeed feel awkward when I misgenders someone else's pet. So I guess the tag isn't just for overly-sensitive pet owners, it's also for members of the public who really do care about that sort of thing.
proudly announce your dog's gender so everyone stops getting it wrong
Photo by Erin Koski

Pros: Large enough to be clearly visible, but lightweight enough even for tiny dogs. Made from plastic, so it doesn't make noise when bouncing around with other tags. Such an attention-getter.

Cons: I have some concerns about long-term durability. Possibly this should be worn just for outings and not 24/7.

Bottom Line: I put this on Ru every time we leave the house, because I find it hilarious. It goes really well with a pink dress and rhinestone collar, and means I don't even have to interact directly to tell people that my dog is a girly boy who likes being pretty. Though I was mostly amused at first, it has actually turned out to be a really great idea, especially for dogs that are constantly assumed to be the wrong gender.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Treat Tuesday: Zukes Power Bones

Zuke's Power Bones are sort of like an energy supplement you give your dog while exercising, maybe like those energy gels for people? Zuke's advertises these as containing fast-burning carbs for quick energy, which would be great if dogs used carbohydrates that way. Instead, they mostly use fat for energy.
Soft dog treat

Good For: Picky dogs. High-value training treats. Dogs that could stand to gain some weight via 20-calorie treats.

Not Good For: Actually providing energy during periods of high activity.

How Much We Like Them: Enough to consider actually using them as intended before researching how dogs actually metabolize carbohydrates. It's a nice idea, but dog bodies don't work like human bodies. I'll stick ith high-fat performance dog food, thank you very much.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Product Review: Buddy Belts

Buddy Belts are the snazziest step-in harnesses around. They're also the only step-in harnesses that I really like. Forget floppy straps that never fit quite right, these are made from self-supporting leather so they stay right where they're supposed to go. Originally designed to fit the creator's dachshund, this harness stays well clear of the dog's sensitive throat, and the leash ring always stays right on top. They look awesome, and they last forever. Buddy Belts are available in a multitude of colors and finishes, and twelve different sizes to fit dogs with chests 8-42" around.
Choke-free safe dog harness
Photo by Erin Koski

Ok, this is basically the best kind of dog company there is. The company is quite clearly run by real people, and not some giant faceless corporation. The product was developed specifically to solve a problem that the founders were having with their dog, and that dog is all over the website. That little black and tan dachshund? That's Buddy!

The people behind this company are super nice! I met them at SuperZoo, where they asked if I had a Buddy Belt for my dog. Though I had been wanting one since they hit the market around 2001 (I remember looking up what size my cocker spaniel would wear) I had never had the funds to buy one when the opportunity presented itself. They're tough to find used, too! When I shared that I had been coveting their product for over a decade, they gave me one for Ru! It's a purple Flash Dance color with sparkly rhinestones, and he looks amazing in it!
Soft leather body harness that stays in place.
Photo by Erin Koski

The reason that Buddy Belts are so expensive is because they are made from very high-quality leather. They last absolutely forever, and people hang onto them. I've never seen a secondhand one for sale, either online or in a thrift store, and believe me, I have looked. The company recently released a synthetic leather version, the Buddy Belt 2, that is a bit more affordable.

The reason Buddy Belts are so unique is because they were designed from scratch. The harnesses available at pet stores either didn't fit Buddy, or rode up too high and choked him. Rather than modifying those designs, Buddy's family started over and came up with the Buddy Belt.

While most dog harnesses are made from flexible straps or fabric, Buddy Belts are made from leather that holds its shape. This allows it to stay centered in the dog, keeping the cut-away section right where it needs to be to prevent pressure on the throat. This design also prevents the harness from rotating around the dog's body. You know when your leash pulls a regular harness down to the side? That never happens with a Buddy Belt.
Dog harness that does not touch the neck.
Photo by Erin Koski

Pros: Very high quality harness. Sits lower on the chest than any other harness I've seen, great for a collapsed trachea or dog recovering from surgery. Metal buckle does not trap hair. Leash ring always stays on top. Fits different from any other harness, often fits when other harnesses don't.

Cons: Can cause chafing if poorly fitted, extra padding is available to prevent this. May restrict shoulder extension, so not ideal for canine athletes.

Bottom Line: Ru has hiked for miles in this harness without complaint. I feel comfortable leaving it on him all day. It also looks brand new despite daily use over the last four months. It's just as awesome as I always imagined!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Product Review: SodaPup Magnum Can Toy

I brought this Can Toy from SodaPup's Magnum toy line home from SuperZoo. It's a good thing, since the dogs have been upping their toy destroying game lately. This is the company's toughest toy, extra-large, extra thick, and specially-designed to resist tearing. It is available is medium, large, and XL sizes, ours is the largest.
Tough rubber chew toy
Photo by Erin Koski

I love SodaPup because they are a small business competitor to the Kong empire. They're focused on making functional, durable toys with character and charm and nostalgia. It's no about pumping out anything they can think of, more like the roots of the Kong company than what it has become.

So the Magnum toy line consists of really tough toys for really tough dogs. The rubber includes a special additive to increase the tear strength, but this toy is still easy on a dog's teeth. The other Magnum toy currently available is an extra-tough version of the Bottle Top Flyer.
The toughest chew toy
Photo by Erin Koski

Like the original Can Toy, the Magnum can is hollow and has a hole for stuffing in treats or spreading peanut butter.
you can jam a biscuit in there sideways and give a food-motivated dog a project that could last half an hour or more.

The XL Magnum Can Toy bounces, and works as a fetch toy. Pretty much everything around here ends up as a fetch toy. Ours hasn't seen any serious gnawing yet. I give Godzilla and Ru Kongs stuffed with peanut butter, but Zip doesn't like it. Yup, she's weird. I need to spread some meaty babyfood in this toy and see what she thinks.
Black Magnum XL chew toy
Photo by Erin Koski

Pros: Very durable. Throwable Fetchable. Large enough for giant dogs to play safely. May be used as a food toy. Worth trying for your power chewer.

Cons: Sinks like a rock. Heavy enough that I have to be careful where I chuck it indoors.

Bottom Line: No toy is indestructible, and it's always a good idea to size up if your dog is tough on toys. This Magnum can is supposed to be for 60-90 lb dogs.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

It's Caturday! Let's Talk About Cat Acne!

It's Caturday, time to talk about my cats and their cat acne! Actually, only James gets cat acne. I had some very basic knowledge about this common feline skin condition, but only what was important for managing James's issue. When I began to delve into more scholarly sources, I found that there wasn't actually a whole lot of scientific attention pointed toward cat acne. As this 2010 paper points out, it's something that basically every vet deals with all the time, but everything from the causes to the treatments is almost entirely anecdotal. Very few people have really studied cat acne.
James is prone to developing cat acne.

The retrospective study linked above came to some very interesting conclusions. First, they found that cat acne affects shorthaired cats almost exclusively. Though for some cats it seems to be related to the food dishes they use, there is currently no clinical evidence for food bowls being causative.

For James, cat acne manifests as scabs on his chin. The first time it happened, his lower lip also swelled up alarmingly. I can easily manage his issue simply by using clean stainless steel bowls. Anecdotally, this seems to work for a lot of cats. Why does it work? There are two hypotheses to explain the relationship between plastic dishes and cat acne.

Contact Dermatitis

One theory is that some cats are allergic to plastic. It causes skin irritation on the part of the cat that most often contacts the plastic. Switch to a metal, glass, or ceramic bowl and the problem disappears. This hypothesis would explain why James is prone to cat acne, but Solstice is not. They use the same dishes, and they are littermates, so it makes sense to conclude that they would have similar reactions if hygiene was the sole cause. 


Dirty bowls harbor bacteria, which infect the part of the cat that most often contacts the dirty food bowl. Plastic is nearly impossible to clean because it develops tiny scratches that can harbor bacteria even after a trip through the dishwasher. Bowls made from stainless steel, glass, or ceramic are much easier to properly sanitize. Once a cat is using a sanitary food bowl, their cat acne tends to improve or disappear.

My Hypothesis

I think that hygiene is the biggest factor with James and his cat acne. Dirty bowls make him break out. We only have stainless steel cat dishes, because the Hellions broke all of my cute ceramic and glass kitty bowls.As long as I wash his dishes every day, James has no trace of acne. Why didn't the study find any correlation between acne improvement and changing bowls? Well, this was a retrospective study of past cases, so there is now way to control for all the variables and make sure everyone was switching dishes in an orderly and scientific fashion. There are no details given about how the bowls were changed, but I find it likely that most of the cat owners involved believe the type of bowl was the issue, rather than the cleanliness. 

I would love to see a study where owners of acne-prone cats are instructed to put their cat bowls through the dishwasher every day. I own multiple sets of kitty dishes so that a couple can be in the wash at any given time. Does your cat have cat acne? Does their chin always seem dirty or scabby? 

Friday, December 9, 2016

Food Friday: K9 Natural Beef Feast Canned Dog Food

I was given a can of K9 Natural Beef Feast dog food at SuperZoo, and I am a fan. I already loved their freeze dried green lamb tripe, they're products feel so close to icky smelly dog food while managing to be neither icky nor smelly. They currently offer frozen, freeze dried, and canned foods, as well as treats and toppers.

K9 Natural

Ok, the first thing that's different about K9 Natural is that they are based in New Zealand, land of greenery and eels and weird birds. Lots of companies source their meat products from New Zealand because that's where the best meat lives. 

I'm all for sourcing pet food products from countries outside the USA that happen to be awesome, but I'm slightly concerned with the lack of transparency on the part of K9 Natural. It's got a very pretty veneer, but the "About Us" page is seriously lacking in depth. The gist is pretty much just, "We make good pet food! See how nice?" Many pet food companies are guilty of this, and it always leaves me wondering what they have to hide.

Take Fromm for example; dive into the "About Us" section and you'll learn the history of the company, what inspired the founder to make dog food in the first place, and who is currently running the show. They are proud to announce the name of their parent company, and what other products are related to the business. Pictures of their production facilities are provided, along with the locations of said facilities.

Beef Feast meaty dog foodAfter reading the entire K9 Natural website, I have yet to find a name or face belonging to a real human behind the company. "We're a group of pet lovers like you" is all they're willing to say. Do they produce their own food? Do they own a cannery? What steps are they taking to avoid contamination?

Beef Feast

Despite all the questions I have for this company, I really like this food. It's finally ground like a pate, but not dense or firm. It mixes really well with kibble, unlike a lot of "loaf-style" dog foods. K9 Natural doesn't use any thickeners, so the food doesn't gel up in the can. 

The Verdict

All three dogs really enjoyed this food. Even Ru ate it! This would be a good food to consider if I needed to feed Ru canned food for an extended period of time. The cans it comes in are a slightly unusual size, but just right for splitting three ways as a kibble mix-in.