Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Treat Tuesday: Dingo Better Belly Rawhide

Dingo's Better Belly rawhides are apparently what I buy when I'm in a hurry and don't take the time to read the package. I had no idea that these were from Dingo Brand until I looked them up online. I have never purchased a Dingo rawhide product before, because the vast majority of their products are made in China. The rest are made in Vietnam or Cambodia. Knowing what I know about rawhide production, I am pretty wildly uncomfortable about feeding beefhide products produced in countries that don't also produce a bunch of beefhide.
Digestible rawhide for dogs

These are made in Vietnam, probably from USA-sourced hide that must be preserved and treated because shipping makes them yucky. Like Digest-eeze rawhides, these are treated with something that makes them break down and digest much faster than regular rawhide.

Good For

  • Dogs that try to swallow things whole
  • Families that aren't worried about dog treats sourced from Asia
  • Lasting a bit longer than a bully stick

Not Good For

  • Lasting as long as a high-quality rawhide
  • Owners concerned about the quality of pet treats produced in Asia
  • Dogs with sensitive stomachs.

How Much We Like Them

I am mildly embarrassed to have purchased these. I thought they were a rawhide alternative like SmartBones. Oops.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Pet Perennials

Pet Perennials is a memorial project to help you celebrate the life of your departed pet. Part art project, part gardening, it's a wonderfully touching concept. You can even include some of the ashes of your cremated pet if you choose.
Pet memorial garden project

I met the creator of Pet Perennials at SuperZoo 2016. Just a few days later, I lost my beloved Brisbane. Then I received a Pet Perennials kit in the mail. The timing was both tragic and wonderful.

What Is It?

Pet Perennials is a kit for making shaped wafers containing seeds for pet-friendly plants. These wafers can then be planted in a pot or garden, or left on a hiking trail or other favorite place.
The contents of a Pet Perennials kit
The kit includes a clay-like base, a packet of seeds, a roller for flattening everything out, and little cookie cutters shaped like a heart and a paw. You mix the seeds and a spoonful of your pet's cremains if you wish, roll everything out, and then cut it into shapes.


When I first learned about this concept I admit I didn't really see the point. Planting flowers in memory of my dearly departed dog sounds nice, but why make a whole playdough project out of it? Isn't it kind of silly waste of time? I truly did not expect to feel any different after going through the motions. Still, I also didn't want to waste this gift. It was sitting on my shelf for months.
Flower wafers in progress

Ouch, My Heart

So finally I rolled out my growing base, and added the flower seeds (but not any ashes, can't bear to open the urn) and stamped out some little hearts and paws.

You know what? Something about doing this project for my dog, to honor his memory, made it incredibly meaningful. It's not a big project, it's not time-consuming or terribly messy, and it doesn't require any planning. Still, the act of kneading the clay and rolling it out required a certain amount of mindfulness devoted to remembering Brizzy.
Pet memorial garden

Planting Something New

I made twelve little seed wafers. Four are going in a flower pot, and the rest I may plant at the sheep ranch, at the beach, or on hiking trails that Brisbane and I loved. It's a little like scattering ashes, but instead I'll be planting flowers, beautiful little memories.

Pet Perennials is such a neat way to remember and celebrate the life of a beloved pet. It's simple enough for children to do, and it provides a way to channel grief into the making of something new. Have you found another way to honor the memory of a pet that has passed on? Please share in the comments below.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Product Review: Peeps for Pets

Peeps for Pets takes a ridiculous springtime tradition straight to the dogs with vinyl squeak toys and adorable plushies. You know those sugar-covered marshmallow monstrosities that pop up every year? The ones that nobody actually eats? The ones that are EVERYWHERE (because nobody actually eats them, unlike chocolate, which never sticks around for long)? Yeah, they make dog toys shaped like those. Seriously adorable dog toys.
Plush a vinyl squeak toys for small dogs
Photo by Erin Koski
First there were the chickies, then came the bunnies, then came stuffed animals shaped like those chicks and bunnies, and finally versions of those toys intended for dogs.

The main thing Peeps have going for them is that they are incredibly cute. Want to pretend you're eating adorable fluffy newborn chickens? Right here. Peeps for pets transposes this adorableness wholesale, from candy to puppy toys.


  • Come in lots of bright colors
  • Look amazing in your dog's Easter basket (what, your dog doesn't get an Easter basket?!)
  • Both vinyl and plush versions to suit your pup's taste
  • They also make cat toys!

Licensed Peeps dog toys
Photo by Erin Koski

  • At 4-5" tall, these are really sized for small and medium dogs
  • Not super durable

Bottom Line

Unless your dog is super easy on toys, these aren't going to last forever. However, the vinyl ones are much sturdier than your average cheap toy. Look for them at big box pet stores and stock up when they go on clearance!

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Caturday: Do My Cats Need an Exercise Wheel?

I've been seeing kitty hamster wheels all over the internet, and I am intrigued. I don't know who came up with idea, why it's spreading, or why cats even run on wheels. I guess it's not really that weird though, I mean people and even some dogs like to run on treadmills, right? I'm not sure if I could convince my indoor cats to walk on an exercise wheel, or where I'd put one if we got it. Those things take up a ton of space!

Still, I am in love with the idea, and will likely implement one of these when we eventually get our own place. Here are the options I've found so far:
Feline exercise wheel for cats

One Fast Cat


  • Freestanding modern artsy design
  • Open-sided wheel for claustrophobic kitty comfort
  • 48" diameter, helps avoid bending kitty's spine too much
  • Easy to move, wheel sits on base and can be separated
  • Less than $200


  • User-assembled, and based on their Amazon reviews, it's quite the chore
  • Manufacturing defects are common, pieces break curing assembly
  • Company seems to send out dirty, ripped boxes and possibly used products
  • Returns are a huge hassle, customer service seems to be lacking
  • Lack of a central axle means this wheel is prone to instability


Kitty Exercise Wheel


  • Very sturdy
  • Arrives fully or mostly assembled
  • Stable enough for sprinting
  • Comes in medium and large sizes if you have a monster cat bigger than the 25-pound limit of the small wheel


  • 40" diameter on small wheel, bigger is more ergonomic
  • Kinda industrial-looking
  • Costs around $500



  • Lots of tutorials and ideas available
  • Can be made to fit your space and budget
  • Color and aesthetic entirely up to you


  • Inevitably going to be heavier than the above options
  • You have to have a little bit of carpentry skills and stuff
  • And power tools, definitely power tools
What do you think? Brilliant idea? Or another expensive toy for the cats to ignore like...well...cats?

Friday, January 27, 2017

Food Friday: PureVita Beef Stew

PureVita's Beef Stew is a grain-free canned dog food that looks an awful lot like people food. The meat is shredded rather than ground, and the peas and carrots are easy to spot. This is a single protein food, there's no eggs or chicken broth in there. It does, however, contain potato starch, sweet potato, and tomato paste.
Wet food for picky dogs

The Company

I've written about PureVita and parent company Tuffy's Pet Foods before. Unlike Diamond, who failed to modernize their old conveyor belt production line until serious contamination forced recalls, Tuffy's is all about high-tech pet food processing. They opened a new production plant in 2014, with vacuum tubes instead of conveyor belts, making the system much easier to clean.

I'm less familiar with Tuffy's cannery, but the company is so invested in production quality that it's hard to imagine it's anything but awesome. I really appreciate that this company has large production facilities in the US, employing tons of people. I've heard they are a good company to work for, too!

The Food

Single Protein Source Beef Dog Food
There aren't many canned dog food that I find appealing. Usually they range from "meh" to "horrific". This stuff though, actually kinda looks like something I might eat. The vegetables and shreds of beef are visible. It also takes up the entire inside of the can, there's no big air bubble or tons of watery gravy.

This is a single-protein food with a very short list of ingredients, so it's a good choice for dogs with allergies. This is a beef and sweet potato food, with potato, tomato, peas, and carrots. It's also an all-life-stages food, so it's totally appropriate for puppies.

The Verdict

Ru had some urinary issues recently, and I decided to switch him to canned food exclusively. I got him some adorable little ceramic dishes with plastic airtight lids, so at dinnertime I just nuke his dinner for 20-30 seconds, and then stick it back in the fridge when he's done. How do I make sure there aren't any burning hot spots? I stir it with a baby spoon that changes color if it touches something above a certain temperature. Perfect slightly-warmed dog food every time. (Refrigerated canned food makes him shiver really bad.)

Ru is definitely my pickiest eater. The girls will eat pretty much any kibble, and definitely anything canned. Meanwhile, Ru has been known to skip meals. He really likes the canned Pure Vita a lot, I don't think I've seen him eat that much canned food at a time before. They also make a chicken version and a turkey version, and we are definitely going to try those soon.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Dog Tech: The Silliest Wearables

The world of pet wearables is constantly growing, and there have been some major successes and some major failures. Along the way, there have also been some that are...outside the box. Most "smartcollars" are intended to monitor your pet's location, health, or both. Let's take a look at some products that do something else entirely...
Photo by Erin Koski

DogStar TailTalk

Let's take the concept of a smart collar, but put it on the other end, ok? I'm not kidding, TailTalk was intended to strap onto your dog's tail on order to translate wagging into emotion. 

There's a surprising amount of scientific study on the topic of dogs and tail wagging. Most studies seem to conclude that dogs wag asymmetrically, and the side to which they wag more at a given moment is indicative of their emotional state. TailTalk took that concept and ran with it, creating a tail-mounted band and smartphone app to record the motion of your dog's tail. Unfortunately, their Indiegogo campaign didn't really take off. I can see why, I'm having a tough time seeing the appeal of this product. Might have something to do with Sisci Godzilla's deficiency in the tail department.


This is a another wearable that is not a collar. Inupathy is basically a hybrid between a dog harness an a mood ring. It uses heart rate variation analysis to read your dog's emotional state, and the colored and moving lights to express that emotional state. Calm? Blue. Excited? Red. Happy? Rainbows! This one also has an app that records your dog's feelings over time, plus it has suggestions for fun games for you to play together. 

I actually want one of these. At its core, Inupathy is a heart rate monitor that records for 4-8 hours at a time, and looks way more comfortable than any heart monitor I've ever had to wear. Among other cool things, the company invites other developers to use the heart rate data collected for their own apps. This one is $250, more than I'm willing to spend on something primarily cute and funny, but I'm watching carefully to see where it goes. The Indiegogo campaign missed its December 2016 release date, and has pushed the release back to March 2017.

The Cowlar

Ok, this one's not even for dogs, but I absolutely love that it exists. This is a smart collar for dairy cows. Described as a FitBit for cows, the Cowlar monitors temperature, activity, behavior, and will text you if someone is stealing your cow. This product is intended for worldwide use, and can make an automated call if the user is unable to read a text message regarding cow theft. The purpose is to improve yields for dairy farmers. The Cowlar has a six-month battery life so that farmer's don't have to worry about charging it.

I love the Cowlar, but the website leaves me with more questions that answers. Like, how easy is it to strap a collar on a milk cow? And how easy is it to get that collar off again in six months to replace the battery? What does the product actually look like? Has it been released yet? How affordable is it for farmers in developing countries? Is anybody making a smart collar for sheep yet? Why not?

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Product Review: Starmark Treat Crunching Barbell

Starmark's Treat Crunching Barbell is one of two toys that hold their new edible Treat Rods. This is a durable chew toy that comes in two sizes. It is dishwasher safe and latex-free, and it floats. Both sizes of Treat Crunching toys can be used with either size of Treat Rod. Mine is the smaller sized toy, and I haven't yet tried it with the larger rods.
Treat-dispensing durable dog toy
Photo by Erin Koski

The Treat Rods are chewable tubes into which small treats can be stuffed. Starmark's Interactive Treats can be jammed into the ends to prevent everything from falling out, and then the whole rod is shoved into the Barbell toy. The smaller sized rods fit all the way into the toy, so removing them requires the dog to chomp the toy really good. When the rod breaks, the treats fall out.

The Barbell has Starmark's signature clover-shaped opening on one end, and on either side. There is a larger opening on one end for inserting the rod, and other treats could be stuffed in there as well.
Durable food toy for dogs
Photo by Erin Koski

Our Barbell is the medium size, for dogs up to 40 lbs. The girls enjoy playing with it whether there's treats in there or not, but I think they would enjoy the larger size as much if not more. Getting the treat rod out would certainly be a bigger challenge.

Pros: The treat rods make this toy a new and different challenge. It's pretty durable, and it floats.

Cons: The shape makes it simple to gnaw the ends off if that's what the dog wants to do.

Bottom Line: It's pretty much always a good idea to size up with Starmark toys, at least for my dogs.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Treat Tuesday: Grandma Lucy's Oven Baked Dog Treats

Grandma Lucy's Oven-Baked Dog Treats are little bear-shaped cookies that, to be honest, taste delicious. No seriously, they were handing out the blueberry ones at SuperZoo and many attendees were happily snacking. That's because these are made with human-grade ingredients, in a bakery. The ingredients include wheat flour, cane juice, brown sugar, canola oil, rice starch, and pumpkin powder. No meat, no eggs, and nothing super yucky. They're even safe for some dogs with allergies!
Bear-shaped dog biscuits

Good For: Handing to dogs on my way out the door without making my hands smell all gross. Families with toddlers that like dog food. Dogs with egg, corn, or meat allergies.

Not Good For: High-value training treats. Looking normal when you eat one in public.

How Much We Like Them: I had purchased a huge bag of their blueberry cookies ages ago, and could never remember who made them until I saw these at SuperZoo.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Where's the Fetch?

A few years ago I saw this product online, and was amazed. Originally known as the iFetch, now sold as the Fetch'n'Treat, this is supposed to be a dog-powered tennis ball launcher. Sounds amazing, right? Your dog just has to drop the ball in the hole at the top, and it will come shooting out the side.
Interactive fetch and treat dog game
Photo by Erin Koski

At the time, all my dog friends were sure this would be amazing. A ball launcher that didn't require batteries or power, that would perpetually toss the ball for our ball-crazy beasts. Then we found out how it really works.

This isn't a ball launcher for your fetch-obsessed pup. It's a food-dispensing puzzle toy. Even though it's sold as a ball launcher, it doesn't actually do anything other than send the ball rolling slowly across the floor.

Interactive puzzle food toy for dogs
Photo by Erin Koski
The original iFetch, now the Fetch-N-Treat, dispenses food when a ball is dropped in the top. Most of the time. Probably. I actually had a difficult time getting it to dispense reliably, it's pretty unpredictable.

This toy concept works ok for food-motivated dogs. Mine are also quite ball-crazy, and far more interested in the possibility of a ball throw than in this thingy that occasionally drops food. It's not motivating enough for them to keep dropping the ball in though, because it doesn't actually launch anything. Roll the ball and maybe get some kibble occasionally? No thanks.

Happily, in the years since this disappointment hit the scene, the iFetch company has developed some actual powered fetch machines.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Product Review: Kong Duets Boomerang

This boomerang toy is from Kong's Duets toy line. These are toys that offer two different textures and sounds in one toy. Our boomerang squeaks and also rattles. This is an interactive toy, and not part of Kong's flagship rubber chew toys.
Ratting squeak toy for dogs
Photo by Erin Koski

The girls got the Duets boomerang for Christmas. It's brightly-colored, and I was curious how well it would hold up to insane amounts of fetch. As far as I can tell, Kong makes two types of toys; there's the really super durable guaranteed chew toys, and then there's the cheap flimsy stuff.

The information about the Duets toy line describes them as having a "loud squeaker". How loud is it? I'd say average. It's not super quiet, but it's nowhere near Cuz ball level.

Photo by Erin Koski

The rattling sound honestly is barely noticeable, but I think it could be fun for a shy or sound-sensitive dog. It creates the sound of lots of movement in a small and non-threatening package.

Pros: Both squeaks and rattles, to fit different play personalities. Pretty and sparkly. Boomerang shape is fun to throw.

Cons: The girls killed the squeak on Day 1. Now it just rattles. Nobody cares about the rattle.

Bottom Line: It's durable enough that we haven't fetched it to death yet, but I doubt it would stand up to any sort of real gnawing. It's a fun interactive toy for smallish dogs.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Caturday: TabCat Sent Us a TabCat!

TabCat sent me a kitty tracker of my very own, and so far I am VERY impressed! This is a short-range radio tracking device that helps you find your cat even if they are hiding. It comes with two tags, and two more can be added to each handset. The batteries can last up to a year, and there is no subscription fee.
Radio tracking cat locater
The tag.

When I first mentioned TabCat here on The Dog Geek, I reported that quality control and customer service were lacking. Obviously the company is working hard to correct those perceptions, as they found my post and offered to let me try it for myself.

The TabCat tags are little round plastic discs that fit inside flexible shells that are described as "splash-proof". Not something you want to stick on your dog before they jump in the swimming pool, but anything short of full submersion should be fine. The collar slides through a couple of slots on the cover, which has me mildly concerned about the rubbery material wearing through. However, the tag is quite light and my cats aren't nearly as hard on gear as my dogs. The tag does also have a hole through which I could thread a key ring or zip tie for extra security.

I saw a lot of complaints about the size of the tag, but the current model seems reasonable. It might be big for a super tiny kitten, but even the smallest cat in the household can wear it comfortably. James is accustomed to wearing a collar with an identification tag as well as a microchip tag, so he hasn't noticed his new tag.

I decided to put the second tag on my father's car, Ravel. (Named for composer Maurice Ravel, pronounced ra-velle.) Ravel and his litter sister Pamina are from the same mother as the Hellions, but are significantly smarter and less destructive. While James attempts to escape the house on a regular basis, Ravel is actually allowed outside. I hoped this would give me an opportunity to test the TabCat without waiting for James to go missing.

I read of review of TabCat that described it as a kitty Geiger counter, and after using it I have to agree. The handset shows a series of lights that change as you get closer to the tag, and it also makes noises that change with proximity. The tag itself beeps when you are actively tracking it, and the handset can be muted to allow you to listen for the beep. You can even teach your cat that the beeping mean dinner time! I have not attempted this yet because my cats are certain that dinner time is 24/7 and refuse to leave me alone.
Found it!

We got to properly test the TabCat a few days ago when Ravel came home without his collar. An initial sweep around the house got no response from the handset. A walk around the property finally revealed a weak signal coming from the drainage ditch behind the house. I had expected to find the tag just over the cinderblock wall at the edge of the yard.

The TabCat remote worked perfectly, and led me straight to where the collar was caught on a bit of chainlink fence around an apartment complex. This was at least 200' away from the house, and not only was there a block wall in the way, but there was quite a bit of elevation difference as well. TabCat advertised range is 400' unobstructed. Mine was obstructed by quite a bit of dirt and cement, but still managed to get a signal from 200' away. How cool is that?

This is a really neat product, both for indoor cats that might get out and disappear, and for outdoor cats that can be hard to find. My parents had no idea that Ravel ventured that far from the house! The system is quite easy to use, I was able to explain how to turn on the remote and start tracking in a quick text message. It's also, admittedly, really fun to play with. If you need me, I'll be over here pretending I'm fitting lions with radio tracking collars...

Friday, January 20, 2017

Food Friday: Purina Beyond Purees

Purina Beyond Purees are nutrition-packed little pouches of goop that you can squeeze onto your dog's food to add flavor, appeal, and nutriceuticals that may or may not do anything. You know those little applesauce pouches for little kids that are suddenly everywhere? This is the dog version Complete with fruits and vegetables.
Dog food and dinosaurs

The Company

It's easy, as a dog nerd, to jump on the Purina hate bandwagon. This is the epitome of a giant faceless corporation. However, it's worth noting that they've been around for longer than pretty much everyone else. They also pour a ton of funding and manpower into research, but those resources don't necessarily go toward products like Beneful or Puppy Chow. 

As a gigantic corporation, Purina makes a ton of different feed for a ton of different animals. Unlike the small, personal companies inspired by the founders' pets, Purina isn't out to make the best dog food they possibly can. The truth is that the vast majority of dog owners cannot afford the best dog food. Many cannot even afford kinda decent dog food. Like it or not, low-income households still need to be able to feed their pets. 

Not all Purina dog foods are cheap crap though, just the cheap crappy ones. They actually pour a whole lot of research into the ProPlan product line, and I know a surprising number of dog professionals that feed it because it just works so well. Not that it's right for every dog, but ProPlan seems to be the one food that breaks the crap ingredients rule. Only Purina knows why.

Beyond is Purina's entry into the world of dog owners that actually read ingredient labels. They know that a growing number of us judge a pet food largely by the list of ingredients, rather than falling for more overt marketing tactics. To this end, Purina has introduced a line of foods that are not made from byproducts and leftovers and magic.

The Food

Beef and berries
Beyond Purees come in four different flavors, two that are supposed to support the immune system, and one each for skin and coat and for digestion. I highly doubt any of them do anything other than taste good to your dog. They are all made from oatmeal and brown rice with some fruit and vegetables and meat in there. These are definitely not complete diets, they are toppers intended to compliment a dry kibble. 

The Verdict

Godzilla will eat anything, but Zip liked the Beyond Puree. She isn't always eager to finish her kibble, so I frequently add a spoonful of canned food, a splash of broth, or a squirt of something tasty. Pet food toppers are definitely a growing part of the pet food industry.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Dog Tech: Failed Smart Collars

I first read about "smart collars" before "wearables" was even a buzzword, before smart watches and FitBits were everywhere. They sounded AMAZING. Also, EXPENSIVE. I can't remember the first technological marvel I read about, but I do remember that it was supposed to be priced around $300. That may have been ten years ago, I'm pretty sure it was before we all had smart phones and smart everything else. Before the days of crowdfunding. Simpler times.
Just a regular dumb collar.
Photo by Erin Koski

I don't know if either of those "smart collars" actually made it to market. They were both supposed to monitor your dog's heath and activity, but I don't think they included GPS tracking. Since then, the world of wearables has expanded exponentially, and the idea of a smart collar that can monitor, track, and locate your dog has become much more reasonable. So has the price point for such technology. Crowdfunding is now a realistic way to get your dream project off the ground too, which opens up the doors for small startups and individuals with vision.

Unfortunately, not every dream becomes reality, and while delving into the world of pet wearables I've encountered a surprising number of failed products. Let's take a look!


Dogtelligent was an ambitious Indiegogo project to develop a Connected Collar. Features included an ultrasonic whistle noise, remotely triggered vibration, virtual fence and leash options, tracking, temperature monitoring, and bark control, all with 14 days of battery life, for under $200. It got a lot of press, and was originally set to ship in November of 2015. Then the ship date got pushed back to September of 2016. Finally the entire project was abandoned after two years, despite raising $136,332 from nearly a thousand backers.
What went wrong? It seems the project started with a really big idea, and all of the funding went towards development. Dogtelligent failed to secure funding for actual production. I'm told that a company needs to produce something like 20,000 units to get the best price for components and stuff. Unfortunately, many of the backers were led to believe that there was already a developed product, and they were just funding production, so there are a whole lot of angry would-be Dogtelligent customers.


Voyce was a health monitor collar designed to collect diagnostic data like heart rate and respiration, Tracking was not one of its features. This one actually made it to market, and began shipping in early 2015. It included the ability to interface with veterinary software. The collar cost around $300, and required a $10 monthly subscription fee,
What went wrong? Voyce shut down in December of 2016 after failing to make any kind of profit. People weren't buying it. I suspect the price and the subscription fee turned a lot of people off. As many have mentioned, human activity trackers don't require a subscription fee.

Zazu PetLink

Zazu PetLink was supposed to be a sleek, small, brightly-colored tracker and health monitor. They planned to offer a very different sort of subscription, paid on demand and only when you needed it. Despite having over 1000 preorders by summer of 2015, the company appears to have missed their April 2016 ship date. Their Facebook page has not been updated since then, and the company website is still announcing an April 2016 ship date and accepting preorders.
What went wrong? This company is based in Colombia, and I haven't found anything explaining their dropping off the face of the earth. There might be some sources that I haven't found because they aren't in english.

PetTronix RomEO Seekr

 The PetTronix RomEO Seekr was a GPS collar with a handheld tracking device and no subscription fee. It offered active tracking and a virtual leash, and did not require a cellular signal to work. It looks like they had a successful product, and were planning to release an updated one.
What went wrong? I have no idea what is wrong with this company, but they missed their spring 2016 release date, and are no longer responding to people on social media.

Beagard Activity Collar

Beagard was an activity monitor collar that could run for months on a single battery. The collar interacted with a smart phone app. The company was supposedly running a prototype and was ready to start manufacturing completed units in 2015.
What went wrong? It looks like the Beagard Indiegogo campaign only attracted six backers.

Those are my favorite failed pet wearables. There are a few more that may or may not come to fruition, but I've learned not to hold my breath. Have you heard of any others?

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Product Review: Timberwolf Sequoia Standard Harness

Timberwolf's Sequoia Standard Harness is made from the same soft braided webbing as their Sequoia collars. The straps are soft with rounded edges to prevent chafing. This Roman-style harness is available in nine colors and five sizes to fit dogs with chests 10-40" around.
Soft braided dog harness
Photo by Erin Koski

Timberwolf has been around since 1996, their braided collars and leashes have a reputation for lasting forever. It turns out they make harnesses too! Their Standard Harness is indeed a standard harness, with a buckle on the right side. The dog's left front leg must be lifted over the belly strap when putting the harness on.

This is a classic design, it allows total freedom of movement while staying in place. However, Timberwolf's version is made from soft tubular braid so it's easy on the coat and skin. This is a harness with a ring at the front, so it can be used as a front-attachment no-pull harness as well. This harness wears well, and washes up nicely.

Pros: Soft and comfortable for all-day wear. Light and breathable. Easy on delicate coats and sensitive skin. very adjustable, allows full range of shoulder movement. Comes in lots of colors!

Cons: Sizing runs a little bit small. Ru has a 12" chest, and you can see the 10-14" harness is adjusted out nearly as far as it goes. I'm not sure if this is true for the larger sizes.

Bottom Line: It's not trendy, fancy, or super technical, but this simple harness will last just about forever, and look good the entire time.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Treat Tuesday: SmartBones Stuffed Twistz

SmartBones Stuffed Twistz are rawhide alternative chews with a tasty center. These things are advertised as being made from extruded vegetables, like sweet potatoes and peas. Really, they're made from corn starch and rice starch, and the actual vegetables are pretty far down the list of ingredients. That's a bit less innovative that I thought, I used to buy cornstarch bones called "cashmeres" for my cocker spaniel twenty years ago. These are also advertised as having all of the benefits of rawhide with none of the problems.
Cornstarch chew bones for dogs

Good For: Dogs that swallow large chunks of their chews. Dogs with beef allergies. Very small dogs.

Not Good For: Lasting anywhere near as long as a real rawhide. Dogs with allergies to corn, rice, chicken, pork, sweet potatoes, barley, or peas.

How Much We Like Them: Not enough to buy more, these were basically a snack for Godzilla and Zip. Maybe five minutes of chewing. I may try to find a bigger bone at some point, but my local shops only stock large expensive bags of tiny SmartBones.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Product Review: Kurgo Baxter Backpack

Kurgo's Baxter Backpack is a unique design that allows adjustment of the height and angle of the saddlebags. Ours is an older version, the current model features a handle on the back as well as extra outer pockets on either side. This is a very stable dog pack with both front and rear belly straps, making it suitable for helping your dog over large obstacles. The Baxter Backpack is available in five colors and two sizes, for dogs 30-85 and 50-110 pounds.
Dog saddlebag backpack
Photo by Erin Koski

We are planning a backpacking trip this spring, so I'm looking at various options for the girls. Of course I adore our Ruffwear Palisades pack (how do I not already have a review for that?!) but what other options are out there?

I bought this hand-me-down Baxter Backpack on eBay, and it turns out it is an older model. This is fine with me, as the current Baxter seems to have some durability issues. Kurgo's product page is filled with reviews about the saddlebags tearing at the bottom.
Dog hiking pack
Photo by Erin Koski

That said, there seems to have been some improvement in the design, as the straps on my Baxter pack tend to loosen up while walking, while the most recent reviews state that the straps are a big difficult to adjust. I'll take difficult-but-stays-in-place over loosens-over-time any day.

The design of this pack is unique because the straps that attach the bags to the center are adjustable. This means they can ride high, or low, or anywhere in between. Since they attach with two straps, the angle can even be changed. This allows you to adjust them to ride downhill, sitting low and forward to avoid throwing the dog off balance. So awesome!

The capacity of the regular Baxter isn't a ton, 3.75L, so you don't really need to worry about overloading your dog. Think a couple of standard Nalgene bottles, those fit snugly without much room for anything else.

Pros: Very adjustable, bags can be raised or lowered for a custom fit. Rear belly strap adds stability, this pack really stays in place. Multiple buckles mean the dog doesn't need to step over any straps to get it on.

Cons: May have durability issues right now, fortunately Kurgo seems willing to stand by their product guarantee. Relatively small capacity, smaller than the Ruffwear Palisades but bigger than the Singletrack.

Bottom Line: This is a functional pack that works well for dayhikes and short backpacking trips where water is easily available.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Product Review: Last Leash by Dog Proof Gear

Dog Proof Gear's Last Leash is our new everyday leash! It is chew-proof, bite-proof, and crazed cattledog-proof. It has been put through the ultimate Dog Geek test, and survived. This is a steel cable leash with a durable colorful outer coating. It features a sturdy padded removable handle, French snap, and a couple of extra loops along its length for attaching the handle or accessories. The handle can be snapped to one of the loops to make the leash shorter, or removed completely to prevent it from being devoured when you leave your dog tied for a few minutes. Last Leash is available in five colors, including a reflective option.
Steel aircraft cable bite-proof unbreakable dog leash
This is my new favorite picture.
Photo by Erin Koski

Last year Sisci Godzilla discovered that she could neatly snip through just about any leash, and my love affair with soft lightweight leather leashes came to an abrupt end. Being a cattle dog, Godzilla largely interacts with the world by biting stuff, and leashes tend to dangle at a very convenient biting height. She also gets excited and drags stuff into her crate when it's someone else's turn at lure coursing or herding. We've been through a lot of leashes in the past four months.

I had purchased a Vir-Chew-Ly Indestructible Leash at SuperZoo, and thought it basically solved all of my problems. Then Godzilla bit through Ru's Midnight Pet string leash, and I realized that no one was safe until all the dogs had cable leashes. While shopping for a Zip-sized leash on Amazon, I came across the Last Leash and decided to give it a try.

Chew-proof steel cable leash
Photo by Erin Koski

First, let me say that Dog-Proof Gear is exactly the sort of company I love supporting. The founder had a problem with a specific dog, made a product to solve that problem, and then shared it with the world. On the company website you can find pictures of that particular dog, so it's not just a good-PR, "Once upon a time I was inspired by a dog I loved" nonspecific inspiring soundbite.

This is also a company that genuinely believes in their product and is excited to share it with their customers. I bought mine via Amazon, and was contacted shortly asking how I liked my leash, and whether I planned to write an Amazon review of it.
Photo by Erin Koski

Also, they wanted offer me a new reinforced handle for my leash. Some of the Amazon reviews mentioned the padded foam cushion on the handle giving way when subjected to a lot of pulling, so Dog Proof Gear decided to improve their product and make sure everyone who needed it got the new handle.

The handle on this leash is pretty awesome. The biggest issue I've had with my other cable leash is that it's difficult to grab when I want to keep my dog closer to me. The designers of the Last Leash have clearly experienced the same issue, because they put two extra attachment points for the handle along the length of the leash. Now when I want to keep Godzilla right beside me, I just snap the handle closer to her collar.
Indestructible bite-proof metal leash
Photo by Erin Koski

Dog Proof Gear also makes a super nifty coupler accessory that they sent me to try out. Rather than snapping onto the very end of the leash, this one attaches to the last accessory loop, making point of convergence closer to me. I did not expect to like this coupler as much as I do. It's perfect. The leash is the perfect length when I have both of the girls on it. It's a perfect, simple addition to a highly functional product. This has become our daily setup for going to and from work. I could also see using this coupler setup for a backup harness or collar on an escape artist.
Bite-proof unbreakable dog leash
Photo b Erin Koski

My appreciation for the Last Leash was cemented when we went lure coursing a couple of months ago. Godzilla has a destruction-fest whilst waiting her turn, and dragged her ComfortFlex harness, tug leash, crate tiedown strap, Last Leash, and my aluminet into her crate to shred. Miraculously, the Last Leash survived!

Pros: Highly durable, chew-proof, bite-proof. Thick grippy cable is easy to grab, additional loops make convenient and comfortable grab points. Leash handle can be attached to loops to shorten length. Can be used as a tie-out with the handle removed. Handle has chunky, comfortable foam grip. Loop end for handle attachment works very well with the Vir-Chew-Ly Indestructible Leash, the handle-end carabiner for that leash can snap onto the loop. French snap on dog-end is easy to release quickly. Coupler attachment makes the perfect two-dog leash. Comes in pink!

Cons: Kind of big and bulky, though not nearly as bulky as a heavy-duty nylon or leather leash. Too big for tinydog, and does not come in a smaller size. I'm slightly worried about accidentally releasing the French snap if I grab the leash too close to my dog's collar. The French snap can also become brittle in sub-freezing temperatures, not that we have to deal with that here on the beach in southern California.

Bottom Line: The Vir-Chew-Ly Indestructible Leash is still my choice for a leash to roll up and stick in my pocket, and for my tiny chihuahua, but Last Leash is now my primary everyday leash for the girls.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Food Friday: Diamond Naturals Extreme Athlete

Diamond Naturals Extreme Athlete is a grain-inclusive adult dog food with the highest fat content I've found so far. This is a chicken, rice, and barley-based food intended for hard-working dogs that need plenty of energy to get the job done. It's a favorite of owners of working dogs around here, as it packs a lot of nutrition without a lot of carbohydrates.
High-fat dog food

The Company

I've written about Diamond Pet Foods before. They are still crawling back from a series of recalls in 2012 caused by contamination. Their production plant was in overall poor repair, and the inability to properly clean the equipment lead to salmonella that made both pets and their people sick. 

Happily, it appears that Diamond learned their lesson, cleaned up their act, and invested in their production facility. They co pack for a bunch of different brands, and the lack of recalls seems to indicate that the quality assurance programs they implemented are working now. There are still plenty of concerned pet owners that won't feed anything made by Diamond, but it's tough to disregard everything when they produce so many decent, affordable foods.

The Food

High-energy, high-fat dog foodGrain-inclusive isn't usually my jam, but Extreme Athlete offers something I haven't found in any other food. This stuff packs a whopping 32% protein and 25% fat. Compare that to Purina ProPlan Sport, another "active dog" food, at 26/16, or Diamond's own High-Energy kibble at 24/20, or Orijen Tundra at 40/18. Humans burn carbohydrates when we are active, but dogs burn fat

Godzilla and Zip work on the sheep ranch with me, and often their jobs involve sprinting for quite a while, zooming after sheep and running wide around the flock. Most of the shepherds I know feed Diamond Naturals Extreme Athlete because it has the highest fat content out there. 

The Verdict

My dogs will happily eat this food, including Ru who is not an extreme athlete unless snuggling counts as a sport. It rates 4.5 out of 5 stars on the Dog Food Advisor website, though the Diamond Naturals grain-inclusive foods were all judged together so it's tough to tell where Extreme Athlete lost a star. It's a high-fat, high-protein, nutritionally dense food, which I think is more important than feeding a grain-free food that's mostly made from carbohydrates like peas and potatoes. Both Godzilla and Zip do great on it, they're basically furry body-builders. So muscley!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Dog Tech: Whistle Pet Tracker

Zip has been wearing her Whistle Pet Tracker for almost two weeks now, and it has been an interesting experience. This is the oldest dog wearable on the market, and the first one I've owned. Originally known as Tagg, this product finally gave dog owners the ability to track their dogs in real time.

The dog wearables market has lagged a bit behind human wearables, but not by much. FitBit has been around since 2008, Tagg came out in 2011, and smartwatches didn't really take off until 2013. They're not terribly different, either. Both human and dog wearables can track activity and location, and primarily interact with your smartphone. For some reason though, most pet wearables require a monthly subscription cost. This seems weird to me, my Moto360 works without a monthly fee.
Note that this screenshot taken at 4:18 pm
showing activity had not been logged since
approximately 8:00 am.

Anyway, the Whistle is performing approximately as expected. It keeps track of Zip's activity and location in a fairly accurate and fun manner. It gives me her average amount of time spent active each day, and sends me a weekly report comparing her activity to similar dogs. (Spoiler alert: Zip is more active than the average young border collie.) Since this is my first dog tech review, I wanted to identify some key factors with which to compare the Whistle to other smartcollar devices. Here's what I came up with:

Cost: $60+montly fee
I purchased my Whistle tracker on Amazon for $60. It requires a monthly fee of $10. There is a discount for buying an entire year of service, however that appears to be non-refundable according to various reviews. I am not yet certain I want to use the device for an entire year, so I am paying month-to-month.

  • Initial Purchase Price: $60
  • After 1 Year: $190
  • After 2 Years: $310
  • After 3 Years: $430

Accuracy: Decent
Whistle is reasonably accurate when it updates the tracker. An "Active Tracking" session only updates on her location every 3 minutes though. We've done a couple of tracking sessions on hikes with Zip running off leash, so far I've determined that the app and device could probably get me within shouting distance if she was lost. If there was some reason she couldn't come when I called, I don't know if I'd be able to find her. If she was actively running away from me, it probably wouldn't help very much at all. A dog can run pretty far in three minutes. However, when I initiate a tracking session, it inevitably reports her as being a mile away before reporting her actual location.

Coverage: Not sure yet
So far I've only tried tracking Zip in places with decent cellular signal. The app has been able to find the tracker and give me Zip's approximate location within a couple of minutes.

Safe Zone: Big, round, and static
Whistle's safe zone is defined by its base station, the user can set an acre-sized or large circular Whistle Zone. The zone cannot be smaller, and the shape cannot be changed. Setting an additional zone requires an additional base station. There is no option to set a mobile safe zone, and the app does not seem to know how far my phone is from the tracker.

Notifications: Many, some untimely
I could change this, but currently I get an email, text message, and push notification from the app every time Zip and I leave the Whistle Zone. I get a text message and a push notification every time we return to the Whistle Zone, and it also blows up my phone every time the tracker needs charging or is fully charged, and every three minutes during a tracking session. It's great, there is no way I could possibly miss something going wrong. However, the time it takes to inform me that Zip has left the Whistle Zone varies between fifteen minutes and an hour. Again, precision is not Whistle's forte.

Battery Life: 5-7 days
Surprisingly, the Whistle battery has lasted several days at a time despite Zip and I spending the vast majority of our time away from the base station. The first time I had to charge it was seven days after we started using it. This was with Zip just wearing the tracker to work, though I also took a couple of days off while getting over a cold. I had to charge it again five days later, but we also had two ~20-minute active tracking sessions in that time. It seems like active tracking eats up a ton of battery. On the plus side, it only takes about two hours to go from 20% to fully charged, and it notifies me when it's getting low. On the down side, I have to take the tracker off my dog in order to charge it.

Size: Big
This thing is kind of big and clunky, even on 36-lb Zip. It's not heavy, but it is bulky and stiff. A cat would need to wear the Whistle tracker on a harness, and there's just no way I could use it on Ru.

Durability: Surprising
My friends lost a Whistle tracker in a foot of water for well over an hour. It wouldn't connect to anything until it dried out, but now it works fine.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Treat Tuesday: Bravo Bonus Bites Freeze Dried Salmon

The freeze dried salmon treats from Bravo have been hiding at the bottom of my treat bin since SuperZoo. We've tried several different freeze dried liver treats, but this was my first encounter with freeze dried salmon. It stinks. A lot. Like, wow. These things are just USA-sourced Atlantic salmon, and nothing else. They come in nice little non-crumbly cubes.
Allergy-friendly dog training treats

Good For: Dogs with allergies. High-value training treats. Being highly visible when tossed on the ground.

Not Good For: Situations where you don't want to smell like salmon, because O.M.G. Seriously.

Bottom Line: Unlike freeze dried liver treats, the stank from these doesn't cling to your hands. It comes off with just soap and water, you don't need lava soap and an scrub brush.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Product Review: Planet Dog Strawberry

Another gem from Planet Dog's Orbee-Tuff Produce collection, the Strawberry is a tennis ball-sized durable chew toy. It bounces unpredictably, has a hole for inserting treats, and is fun to squish and chomp. Orbee-Tuff toys have a pleasant peppermint smell, and they are recyclable when your dog is done with them. The strawberry measures about 3" long.
Planet Dog's produce line
Photo by Erin Koski

I am slowly collecting the entire Orbee-Tuff Produce toy line. Years ago we had an eggplant and an artichoke. Now we have a newer, greener artichoke, a tiny raspberry, and a strawberry.

Durable chewable stuffable Straberry-shaped dog toy
Photo by Erin Koski
I love these toys because they are both durable and super cute. They can handle a whole ton of chomping and fetching without falling apart. I'm told the green stem part of the strawberry can eventually split from the red part, but ours has been holding up nicely.

The strawberry can hold about half a cup of kibble, and the shape makes it suitable for smearing with peanut butter as well.

It's worth noting that Planet Dog guarantees their products, so they definitely want to hear about it if your dog ignores or destroys one of their toys.

Pros: Durable, stuffable, and bouncy. Recyclable. Looks adorable laying on the floor. Easy to clean. Guaranteed.

Cons: Picks up dog hair like crazy, fortunately it rinses clean.

Bottom Line: What more could you ask for?

Saturday, January 7, 2017

It's Caturday! Does Your Cat Really Need a Fountain?

It's Caturday, and I'm considering buying a kitty water fountain for the Hellions. Several friends purchased them because their cats just love drinking from dripping faucets. James and Solstice aren't huge drippy faucet fans, but giving them fresh, moving, filtered water seems like a nice idea.

The Hellions enjoy a quiet moment
Remember those little tabletop fountains that made your desk seem like a tranquil zen garden? Pet fountains are basically the same thing. They run on a little aquarium motor, and move water around in order to aerate it and make it more interesting and ward off vampires and stuff.

Reasons to Acquire a Water Fountain for the Cats:

  • They come in a zillion different shapes, sizes, and materials, including easy-to-clean ceramic, and stainless steel that my cats cannot possibly break. (There's some really amazing ones on Etsy!)
  • Probably tastier and more exciting than a bowl of stagnant water.
  • Maybe my cats will drink more. Adequate water intake is important for urinary tract health, and dry food diets can make for dehydrated cats. Neither of the Hellions have ever had an issue before, but they're eight years old now so it doesn't hurt to treat their organs a little more kindly

Reasons Not to Acquire a Water Fountain for the Cats

  • They are universally a pain in the ass to take apart and clean.
  • The vast majority of them (and all of the cheap ones) are plastic, which sets off James's cat acne.
  • They require filters cartridges which must be replaced in order to get the full benefits of using the fountaind.
  • Unless it actually hooks up to a hose, it's not providing your cat with continuous fresh water, it just moves the same water around and around.
  • You have to refill them, and if they run out of water the motor can burn out. (You can buy replacement pumps for most of the nice ones though.)
  • I can get the same fresh clean water effect minus the movement by having several water bowls so I can put down a fresh clean one every day.
So that's where we're at right now. I'll let you know when I narrow down the options a bit. Do your pets drink out of an electric water fountain?

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Product Review: Gooby Fleece Vest

The Gooby Fleece Vest is the perfect lightweight solution for active tiny dogs that need to stay warm in mild winters. It has a leash ring on the back, so you don't have to worry about layering a harness over or under a jacket. The vest is breathable, and moves with your dog. It is available in sixteen different colors, and five sizes to fit dogs with chests 8.5-20" around.
Stretchy pullover polar fleece dog sweater
Photo by Erin Koski

During the dog boutique fad of the 2000's, I considered Gooby to be a high-end brand. Their little Freedom harnesses were ridiculously expensive, and they sold adorable little dog sneakers that were considered pricey compared to MuttLucks.

Since then, Gooby has gone downhill in my esteem, they're now a big box store brand rather than an upscale boutique trend. Also their quality appears to have tanked. My Gooby Epiks literally fell apart while stored in a drawer in a climate-controlled house after being worn twice. I tried contacting the company and never got any response.

At any rate, Gooby does make affordable dog clothes cut to fit moderate body types. Ru can wear both the small and the medium versions of this vest. I like putting it on him for hikes because he doesn't have to wear a harness, and the material doesn't pick up stickers or bits of grass.

Pros: Not designed for short-backed, wide dogs. Breathable, stretchy, and sporty. Durable. Doubles as a harness for wimpy dogs.

Cons: Doesn't come in larger sizes, though these would definitely need to omit the leash ring.

Bottom Line: I'm no longer in love with the company, but they still make decent dog clothes. I use this fleece vest a lot.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Goodbye Ranger

We lost Ranger two days before Christmas. He had developed a radial nerve issue over the last year, likely caused by a nerve root tumor. We kept him as comfortable as possible, and then it was time to let him go.

I pulled Ranger from our local municipal shelter ten years ago. He had been in the system for months, and was even pulled and then returned by a local "no kill" shelter. I placed him with friends who had been looking for a cattledog of their own. They owned a small shop, and Ranger got to go to work everyday with his people.

 A few years ago his people had babies, and it took some time to balance everything out. Ranger was extremely noise sensitive, and kids are noisy. Eventually everyone got along, Ranger learned to handle a certain amount of kid noise, and the children learned a wonderful lesson in empathy.

Having kids means there will be less time for your dogs, but it's important to remember that the lack of time is temporary. Kids grow up, and eventually they become people who will also pay attention to the dogs. You'll need to take precautions to keep everyone safe while your kids learn how to treat animals with respect, but it's an incredibly valuable lesson for them.

Pets help children to learn empathy, and I think Ranger was particularly gifted there. I'm so glad I helped him get out of the shelter, and delighted that I could be a part of his life up until the end. Rest well, buddy. You earned it.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Treat Tuesday: Digest-eeze Beef Hide

Digest-eeze Beef Hides are specially-treated rawhide chews that are more digestible than regular rawhides. The Dog Geek dogs have been exploring the world of alternative rawhide chews lately, and there are a lot to choose from. I found these at Petco, carefully packaged in a resealable bag touting the wonders of the product.
Digestible rawhides

Apparently, Digest-eeze chews are specially processed to make them easier to digest. Supposedly they dissolve 60% faster than regular rawhide, and are 99% digestible. This is a good thing, because these are incredibly poorly-made rawhide rolls.

A high-quality "retriever roll" rawhide chew should be made of a single sheet of neatly rolled hide. Take a look at the end, and you should see a nice spiral. Low-quality chews are made from random bits and chunks, stuffed in a tube to give the outward appearance of a roll. These are more dangerous for dogs that like to swallow things whole, as it's very easy for them to get a big piece loose.

Good For: Unenthusiastic chewers. Dogs that don't bite chunks off their chews. Dogs that don't try to swallow things whole.

Not Good For: Gulpers, aggressive chewers, most large dogs.
Inside view of a Digest-eeze rawhide, showing small pieces of hide stuffed in tube.

Bottom Line: I took a picture of a half-chewed Digest-eeze roll so you can see how it is stuffed with smaller bits. These are just little chunks of rawhide. They come apart easily and the outside skin of the roll is really the only part that presents a chewing challenge.

These are also a product of Brazil, so look elsewhere for USA-sourced digestible rawhide. My dogs enjoyed these, but I won't be buying them again.