Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Treat Tuesday: Plato Thinkers

Plato's Thinkers are kinda like Slim Jims for dogs. At least, that was my first impression when I cracked open this single-serving duck-flavored treat stick. It's meaty, and has that same sort of...uh...skin. The only ingredients are duck, rice, and collagen casing. These are meaty and smelly and the dogs thing they are pretty awesome. They don't break up into little training treat pieces though, they're more for snacks.

Good For:

Single-serving Plato Thinkers duck stick
  • Stuffing in toys like the Squirrel Dude and Halfball
  • Breaking into several pieces to share with multiple dogs
  • As a special "I love you!" treat

Not Good For:

  • Breaking into tiny training treats

How Much We Like Them:

I'm glad Plato has started offering individually-wrapped Thinkers. I've been meaning to try them for ages, but the price of a whole bag can be pretty steep.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Whistle's PR Department Won't Talk To Me

Almost two months ago, Whistle announced their new GPS tracker, Whistle 3. As a Whistle 2 user, I immediately had questions. First, I tried their Facebook page. Many dog companies are happy to interact with their customers and fans through social media. I asked them my pile of questions, and the social media team responded the next day. They said they had forwarded my questions to their public relations department, and I could expect a response within a few days.

Border collie wearing Ruffwear Front Range harness in rain.Nothing.

I waited 2.5 weeks for a response and then messaged Whistle via Facebook again. They apologized and said they'd send along my info to the PR team again. 

Two weeks later, I contacted them yet again. I was told to email the press department directly with my questions. It's been two  weeks since I emailed press@whistle.com, and I have yet to receive a reply.

Their unwillingness or inability to answer basic questions about their new product makes it difficult to compare to both their existing product and to other options on the market.

The Questions

  1. Does Whistle 3 use 3G cellular networks? Does Whistle 2 use 3G cellular networks?
  2. Is there any incentive for Whistle 2 users to upgrade? (Pod claims to offer a discount for existing users wanting to upgrade.)
  3. Could an existing Whistle 2 subscription plan be transferred to the new device? If I purchased a 12-month subscription in December, would I have to buy a whole new plan for Whistle 3? Would my Whistle 2 plan be refunded?
  4. Does Whistle 3 offer a virtual leash or temperature monitoring? What features does it have that Whistle 2 doesn't?
Those just don't seem like tough questions to me. Either Whistle is lacking in the customer service department, or their PR people don't actually know enough about the product to answer. What do you think?

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Tough Toy Roundup

Is your dog a power chewer? Does he destroy every toy he gets his jaws on? Do cheap discount bin toys not stand a chance? Some dogs just require a higher caliber of plaything. Here at The Dog Geek, we're always looking for durable toys that can stand up to heavy duty recreation. This is what we've come up with so far:


Starmark Makes a variety of durable toys that resist destruction. Their Treat Dispensing Chew Ball, Everlasting Treat Wheeler, and Everlasting Treat Ball are their most toughest offerings. Outward Hound's Bionic products are also more durable than the average dog toy. Kong's Blue line of rubber chew toys are tougher than the red ones, and also show up on xrays in case your dog eats one. Planet Dog's Diamond Plate toys offer a lot of durability with a nice peppermint smell.


Extreme Black Kongs are known for standing up to some serious gnawing. SodaPup's Magnum line is also quite heavy duty. PetSafe's Budy Buddy Squirrel Dude is unusually difficult to destroy.
Australian cattledog catching extremely durable chew toy
Photo by Erin Koski


You will not find anything tougher than GoughNuts, I believe their MaXX Pro50 Ring is the toughest chew toy on the market. The inner core of the toy contains a red safety indicator, and the company will replace it if your dog manages to chew through to the red.


Despite their reputation for durability, only Kong's rubber chew toys are intended for serious gnawing. Most Kong-brand toys are not made to be super-tough, and many are quite flimsy.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Caturday: What Color Is Your Cat Really?

It's Caturday, and we're geeking out about coat colors and patterns and genetics. Well, technically I'm geeking out and the cats are just chilling. They're not that into genetics. Anyway, I recently pondered whether there was a feline equivalent to Dog Coat Colour Genetics, my favorite website for learning about this kind of stuff. Sure enough, I found MessyBeast, a site maintained by someone who, I can only assume, is the very best kind of cat geek.
Feel the love!

Color Charts

The first cat color chart I ever saw was this magnificent illustration by Joumana Medlej. I'd love to reproduce it here, but I haven't asked the artist's permission so I recommend going and looking at it yourself. Seriously. 

The first time I laid eyes on that chart, I was compelled to figure out precisely what color cats I had. I was visiting a cat-loving friend at the time, and we were both excitedly picking cat hairs off our shirts to examine. 

From that chart, I learned that James is a brown tabby. I had always described him as grey, but technically he is a brown tabby. His pattern is mackerel, and he has a white chin and belly and feetsies, so he is a brown mackerel tabby with white. Specifically, he has grade 4 white spotting.

Solstice is a tortoiseshell, which I've always known. There are a bunch of special tortie colors and patterns though. If they have tabby striped, they can be called a 'patched tabby' or a 'torbie' depending on where you live. 

Kitty colors and patterns can be affected by dilution, and various patterns can be combined. You can have a dilute tabby, or a tortoiseshell color-pointed cat (like a Siamese) that's mostly cream-colored with black and orange blotched points. The way all the different aspects combine tickles my brain in the most delightful way.

Behold, Science!

MessyBeast goes a step further, and actually illustrates all the color and pattern combinations. They also explain the genetics and developmental conditions behind various colors. Like, the reason your piebald cat's black spots look like they fit together like puzzle pieces, is because at one point during embryonic development, they did! MessyBeast even delves into hypothetical colors that have not been seen in cats, like tan points and merle, and colors observed but lost to history, like Barrington Brown.

So, what color is your cat?

Friday, February 24, 2017

Food Friday: Earthborn Holistic Duke's Din Din Stew

Earthborn Holistic makes some convenient little tubs of wet food with cute names, like Duke's Din Din Stew. Each flavor appears to be named after a dog with an incredibly common name: Lily, Chip, Pepper, Toby. These are grain-free foods with visible bits of vegetables, all packed into a resealable 8oz tub. Perfect for tiny dogs!
Resealable plastic tub of high-quality wet dog food

 Midwestern Pet Foods

I've mentioned Earthborn's parent company in the past. Midwestern Pet Foods also makes SportMix and ProPac foods. They have their own manufacturing facility, so they're more than just a marketing company. They are a subsidiary of Nunn Milling Company, founded in 1926 in Indiana and still owned and run by the same family. 

Nunn Milling Company began as a miller of corn and flour. They started making pet food in the 1940's from, presumably, mill byproducts. They still make a value-brand dog food called Nunn Better, but it's no surprise that the company isn't out shouting from the rooftops that Earthborn traces back to a milling company. Last time I wrote about Earthborn, I was puzzled over the lack of readily-available history for the company, but this information completes that puzzle nicely. Earthborn is still a super high-quality food from a reliable company with a long history making pet food, and I think that's pretty cool.

Duke's Din Din

Fish, duck, and pea-based grin-free wet dog food for picky dogs
This is a fish-and-pea-based food, the first ingredients are fish broth, fish, egg, and then pea protein. It also contains tapioca, duck, sweet potato, carrots, pumpkin, and apples. You can see the vegetables clearly, and then meat is in nice little flakes that are just the right size for tinydog mouths.

At 8oz per tub, these really only work as a meal for a very small dog. They actually last Ru two meals. I think most pet owners use them as a kibble topper, and the resealable tub is absolutely perfect for that. 

Earthborn's dry foods are all manufactured in the USA, but their wet food is produced by USPet Nutrition, in their production facility in Thailand. This isn't terribly unusual in the world of high-quality pet food, Weruva also produces their wet foods in Thailand. The foods are made in facilities that also make human foods, so they have to follow extremely strict guidelines about how the foods are handled and what ingredients may be included. A whole lot of canned fish other meat products for humans are packaged overseas, check out the fine print on a can of tuna sometime.

The Verdict

This is one of the few food that Ru will eat reliably. The tiny size of tubs is just right for him, and he doesn't pick out the vegetables or anything. It rates 4.5 out of 5 stars on the Dog Food Advisor website, and it's one that I'm happy to keep in his wet food rotation.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

1,000 Posts!

TheDogGeek.com has been around for almost three years (formerly known as Brisbane's Bark Blog), and today we reached 1,000 blog posts! That's a whole lot of products tested, food eaten, treats enjoyed, and a TON of writing! We'll be having a proper bloggiversary post next week, but this is a huge milestone so I felt the need to share.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Product Review: EzyDog Summit Backpack

The EzyDog Summit Backpack is built on their Chestplate Harness. Each side has a large waterproof compartment, with a smaller outer pocket for quick access. One side includes a clear ID sleeve for adding your contact information, the other side has little organizer pockets for keeping track of small stuff. There's a handle on top, and a velcro strap for keeping your leash contained. The padded back panel is made from breathable mesh. This pack is available in two colors and four sizes, to fit dogs with chests 16-55" around.
Australian cattle dog modeling EzyDog's Summit backpack
Photo by Erin Koski

Look, I really want to love EzyDog's gear. I do. Everything they make is rugged and durable and aesthetically pleasing, and it should be absolutely perfect. I just can't get past the fitting issues.

I purchased the Summit backpack as a daypack for Godzilla. With its 250 cubic inch capacity, it carries about the same amount of stuff as Kurgo's Baxter backpack. Great for hauling water, poo bags, leashes, and maybe a snack. I love being able to grab the poo bags out of the outer pocket without having to unzip the big one.

At 28 lbs and 22" around the chest, Sisci Godzilla should be well inside the 16-29", 15-40 lb size range for this backpack. The chestplate should be plenty long enough to keep the neck straps well clear of her shoulders, and the belly straps well clear of her elbows. The next size up should be way too big for her. So why do I have to adjust the belly straps in so far there's nowhere to even stow all the excess strap? The little elastic bands for this purpose were clearly not designed to handle those straps being adjusted down as small as possible, no matter what I do we still have 6" of loose ends flopping around. Meanwhile, the neck straps are adjusted more than halfway toward their maximum, and the short chestplate still pulls the belly straps into her armpits.

Queensland heeler wearing EzyDog's Summit backpack
Photo by Erin Koski

  • Sturdy and rugged
  • Waterproof main pockets and smaller easy-access pockets
  • Easy to put on, over the head and then snap it under the belly
  • Does not rotate around the dog
  • Compact, just the right capacity for day hiking


  • Difficult to get a good fit
  • Sizing runs large
  • Pack slides forward over dog's head easily, very easy to escape
  • Overbuilt for true backpacking, lots of extra zippers and buckles
  • Straps tend to loosen over time

Bottom Line

This can be a good daypack if you can get it to fit your dog properly without restricting their movement. Some people end up sewing the straps to their desired length to keep them from loosening up. For your escape artist, a long trip, or just a super high-quality pack with a good fit, I recommend anything by Ruffwear. All of their backpacks are built on the Webmaster harness.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Treat Tuesday: Blue Buffalo Wilderness Wild Bits

Blue Buffalo's Wilderness Wild Bits are soft little cubes that are just the right size for training. Unlike many soft treats, these actually maintain their texture for hours when exposed to air. I don't care what kind of chemist wizardry is going on with that, these things are awesome. I'm not a fan of Blue Buffalo in general, they do a lot of shady things and basically all of their food is made out of chicken no matter what it says on the front of the bag. Still, their moist treats are hard to beat.
Wild Bits moist training treats that stay soft and don't dry up.

Good For

  • High-value training treats, they would be perfect if they were about half this size though
  • Shoving in Godzilla's mouth when passing a mountain biker on the trail
  • Staying soft and non-crumbly after hours in an open baggie in my pocket
  • Dogs with food allergies, these come in chicken, duck, salmon flavors and are made out of single protein sources plus potatoes and chickpeas. One of the very few Blue Buffalo products that isn't made out of chicken meal. (The crunchy biscuits are still made out of chicken meal, though.)

Not Good For

  • Dogs with potato or chickpea allergies

How Much We Like Them

I think I need to bring some of these with me every time we go hiking. Sisci Godzilla loves them, and they don't dry out and crumble. I mean, they probably would eventually, but these didn't after many hours.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Product Review: Kong Safestix

Kong Safestix offers all the fun of playing with a stick, without the risk of splinters and puncture wounds. These fetch toys are durable, throwable, and they float, too! Safestix are available in a variety of colors and sizes.
A border collie playing with a Kong Safestix toy
Photo by Erin Koski

Ok, first lets go ahead and say that this thing looks like a sex toy. A lot. You basically can't mention this thing without saying that. They might as well call it "Safestix - Wow That Really Looks Like a Sex Toy".

Now that we have that out of the way, I can say that I'm surprised how much my dogs like this thing. I bought it on clearance and fully expected them to ignore it because it doesn't really do anything. It doesn't squeak or crackle. There's no place to hide treats. It's just a solid hunk of flexible plastic that happens to look incredibly suggestive.
Working border collie chewing Kong Safestix toy
Photo by Erin Koski
For some reason Zip thinks this is an awesome toy to play fetch with. Let's be clear here, this is a fetch toy and not a chew toy. It's pretty durable, flexible enough that I'm not worried about Zip breaking a tooth on it, but tough enough that she doesn't leave marks on it either. Still, it's not a Nylabone or a GoughNut, it's not meant to give your power chewer hours of gnawing pleasure. That's right, I just used the word 'pleasure'.
A Working Border Collie gnaws a Kong Safestix fetch toy at the park
Photo by Erin Koski


  • Flies through the air like a stick
  • Doesn't splinter into splinters like a stick
  • Floats
  • Tough enough to handle some gnawing


  • Is not ubiquitous in nature like a stick
  • Will cause your mother-in-law to raise an eyebrow when she sees it on your kitchen floor
  • Not actually intended for serious chewing

Bottom Line

This is a nice safe fetch toy that can handle a good gnaw by most dogs. It is standing up well to my low-level power chewer, but it won't survive a real mission of destruction. If your dog is a major toy destroyer, check out my reviews for GoughNuts, Black Kongs, and SodaPup Magnum toys.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Balls Are a Choking Hazard!

We're going to be putting away some of our favorite toys after an internet friend's dog nearly choked to death on a ball. Torch is a 45 pound McNab, a type of herding breed. He is seven years old, and a disc superstar. A couple of days ago, Torch and his human were at the park playing fetch with a medium-sized Chuckit ball, that's the one that's the same size as a tennis ball.
Get your dog a bigger ball!

After several catches, Torch suddenly began pawing at his face. The ball was down his throat, blocking all airflow. It was extremely fortunate that the pair had a friend nearby who could help save Torch's life. They squeezed his throat to slowly inch the ball up far enough for his owner to grab it. The ball they were using, a Chuckit Whistler, has a hole in it. This made it possible to get a grip on the slobbery ball.

By the time the ball was removed, Torch had lost consciousness. He was rushed to the vet, where he spent the night under observation. Apparently they can develop noncardiogenic pulmonary edema, fluid around the lungs, after this type of trauma.

If Your Dog Chokes On a Ball

  • Get help only if someone is immediately available, you don't have time to go find someone.
  • Expect to get bit. Your dog is panicking and can't help it.
  • Use both hands on the outside of his throat to walk the ball up toward his mouth, like you're squeezing it through a sock.
  • Seek veterinary care even after the ball has been removed, there could be complications.

Get a Bigger Ball!

Here at The Dog Geek, we have a long history of ball obsession. I've been using 2.5" balls for years, because they fit in my medium-size Chuckit ball launcher. That's the size of a standard tennis ball. I would never have dreamed that a ball that size could end up down the throat of a 45-pound dog. Brisbane was 45 pounds. 

Zip weighs a bit under 40 pounds, Godzilla is a bit under 30 pounds, and now I can't really be sure that a 2.5" ball is safe enough for them. Torch's owner thinks anything the dog can fit into their mouth behind their canines could end up in their throat and certainly the ball he choked on ended up much farther down than anyone could have expected. I am definitely putting away any ball the girls can fit in their mouths, and I'll be looking at some larger options now. In the meantime, here's what we're fetching:
Do plenty of dogs play with 2.5" balls their whole lives without incident? Sure. Have lots and lots of dogs died from choking to death on a ball? Indeed, far more than I previously realized. I've been concerned about too-small balls since childhood, when I was traumatized by a James Herriot story. The truth is that a ball is just the right shape to block a dog's airway, and once it's in there it's incredibly difficult to get out. Now I know that my previous concept of a "safe" ball was wrong, and I'll be choosing significantly larger balls and toys of different shapes. I don't need to bubblewrap m dogs, but I feel it's worth giving up tennis balls to eliminate this small but significant risk from their lives.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Caturday: What About Purebred Cats?

We all know that dog breeds were developed to perform specific tasks, and refined from there into the purebreds we know today, but...what's up with purebred cats? As far as we know, cats basically domesticated themselves, and selective breeding of cats is a much more recent phenomenon than selective breeding of dogs. Europeans bringing deliberately-bred dogs with them largely wiped out indigenous dog populations in the areas they colonized over the past several hundred years, so in North America at least, the vast majority of dogs are some sort of combination of purebreds.
Louie Armstrong, my mother's Persian cat.

Purebred Cats are Rare

Purebred cats, on the other hand, were never widespread or ubiquitous enough to replace indigenous populations. Indigenous breeds would develop due to geographic isolation, and settlers and traders would bring cats from home with them to new places, but these indigenous breeds were not nearly as distinctive or refined as dog breeds. 

What I'm trying to say here is, your fluffy striped random-bred cat looks like a Maine Coon because the founder of the breed chose random fluffy striped cats to develop their breed, not because your cat is all or part purebred. There aren't tons of purebred Maine Coons running around knocking up random female cats, those traits are just common in the general feline population. (There's even a DNA test if you think I'm wrong!) Your solid gray shorthair cat is not a purebred Russian Blue, the Russian Blue breed was developed from random blue cats. 

That's how cat breeds happen. Either a breed-developer decides on a set of traits and selects for those traits among a certain population of random-bred cats, as is the case for most "natural breeds", or the breed-developer finds one cat with a unique mutation and develops a breed around that mutation. The Cornish Rex, American Curl, American Wirehair, German Rex, LaPerm, Scottish Fold, and Munchkin breeds were all developed from a single cat with a unique mutation. These are all very distinctive-looking cats, while most of the "natural breeds" look a whole lot like random-bred cats you'll find in any shelter. Take a look at Wikipedia's list of cat breeds, there's a good chance you'll find a breed that resembles your random-bred cat. 

Cat Personality is Genetic

So why would anyone bother paying big bucks for a purebred American Shorthair or Norwegian Forest Cat if they just look like a regular cat? Why buy a cat when there are zillions of homeless ones dying in shelters, and neighbors giving away free kittens all over the place? The answer has everything to do with behavior. A large chunk of a cat's personality is determined by the genes they inherit from their parents. Early handling and socialization can make a big difference between a comfortable cat and a stressed cat when people are around, but it's not going to turn your feral-born kitten into a social butterfly. 

My family has raised two kittens with feral parentage from a very early age and both are extremely aloof. Meanwhile, The Hellions and their siblings are incredibly gregarious, bordering on overly friendly with strangers. Adopting or rescuing a cat is awesome, but it's also a total crapshoot. Will your brand new kitten grow up to be a purr-happy lapcat? Or will they take up permanent residence under the bed? You can hedge your bets by adopting an adult cat, but the temperament they express at the shelter or in a foster home may not be the temperament you see when you bring them home.


Aside from physical aesthetics, the purpose of buying a purebred cat is to get a predictable temperament. Most cat breeds have been developed in the last 60 years, but that's six decades of breeding for temperament. Unless it's in the breed standard, seriously aloof cats don't make the cut when it comes time to choose who gets to pass along their genes. Just like dogs, purebred cats have predictable traits. Why are so many social media star cats purebreds? It's partly because of their distinctive looks, and partly because they have winning personalities.

Years ago, my mother was given a Persian cat by her neighbor. She absolutely adored that cat, and was heartbroken when he disappeared. In researching the breed, I found that most of the little idiosyncrasies and personality quirks she loved about that cat were common to the breed in general. We found a breeder and got her a Persian kitten a few months later, and little Louie filled the void in a way that none of our random-bred cats could. His similarities to his predecessor were no accident, but the deliberate result of careful breeding.

There are tons of homeless cats out there, and I think cat rescue is absolutely awesome. Most people don't need or want a purebred cat, and every spring there is a huge surplus of kittens to love. However, if personality and temperament are important enough, a purebred cat may be worth the cost. Want to geek out about the genetics of cat breeds? Check out this awesome study!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Food Friday: Home Cooking?

I am looking into the possibility of cooking fresh food for my dogs, in addition to their regular dog food. It's not impossible to make your own dog food, but being a DIY dog chef is all about balance. You need the right balance of fresh food to pre-made food. The right balance of calcium and phosphorus. The right balance of protein and fat and carbohydrates. The right amount of fiber. Here's what I've learned so far.

It's Not That Hard
Not a balanced diet!

The dietary needs of dogs are not ridiculously complex. You don't have to be a veterinary nutritionist with a research lab in order to make nutritious healthy food for you pet. Every meal does not need to be "complete an balanced". Variety is the most important thing to consider, you don't want to make just one recipe and feed that to your dog every single day forever. Different proteins, different vegetables, different carbohydrate sources, the more variety the better!

I've learned that you can replace 10% of your dog's food with fresh stuff and the nutrition in their commercial dog food will provide all the balance they need. With that in mind, I cheerfully add yogurt, canned pumpkin, sardines, and leftover meats to my dogs' food on a regular basis.

It's Not That Easy, Either

When you start replacing more than 10% of your dog's meal with homemade food, it's time to start worrying about balance. I cringe when I "easy dog food recipes" that basically consist of a small amount of chicken, a lot of rice, some veggies, and nothing else. Where's the calcium?! Too many good intentions and not enough science can result in a dog with nutritional deficiencies. Many, many dog food recipes found online have major deficits. A lot of them aren't even specific enough! I already know a recipe is bad news if it calls for "1 pound of ground beef" without ever specifying whether that weight is for raw or cooked meat.

To this end, I've joined a homemade dog food Facebook group that focuses on analyzing recipes with tools like the Nutrition Data site. Outside scrutiny is really your best insurance against making mistakes, and having crowd-sourced data certainly beats doing all the research on your own. I haven't finished my research or started developing my own recipes yet, but I can share the principles I'm working by.

Homemade Dog Food Guidelines

  • As much variety in ingredients as possible. Different meats, different veggies, different grains.
  • Consider your budget. Don't let anyone tell you that everything needs to be organic, that's mostly a marketing term and there's no difference in nutritional quality. Organic produce is still grown with pesticides, sometimes with a lot more and stronger chemicals than conventional produce, as long as the pesticide is on the list of approved organic pesticides. Buy the cheap stuff and don't feel guilty about it.
  • Get help. Find a large and contentious group of people that cook for their dogs, observe them arguing with one another, and learn everything you can. Some dietary supplements come in different forms that are better or worse for certain health conditions. 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Product Review: Hyper Pet Crinkle Elephant

This Crinkle Elephant toy by Hyper Pet arrived in one of our last BarkBoxes, and I've finally gotten around to sharing it with you. This is a low-stuffing crinkly toy with a soft loopy texture and a plush head. I believe it is part of the Pet Logix brand that Hyper Pet debuted last summer.
Pet Logix Cozy Crinkle Elephant
Photo by Erin Koski

My dearly departed Brisbane never enjoyed crinkley toys. I don't remember that particular feature being common in dog toys when he was younger. In the last ten years suddenly they've popped up everywhere, and everything is crinkley.

This is a super cute toy with a crinkle and a squeak, and no stuffing to pull out and spread all over creation. It has a rope tail for gnawing, and looks super fun for puppies.


  • No messy stuffing
  • Super cute
  • Variety of textures and sounds


  • Not super durable
  • Not for big dogs

Bottom Line

Hyper Pet mostly makes durable toys for intense dogs, but this is more of a low-speed toy for small, gentle, or young dogs.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Dog Tech: Updates!

The dog wearable tech market is expanding, and there's a lot of fun new smart collars and pet trackers on the horizon. March seems to be the month when almost everything will hit the market for real, and I'm hoping to have my hands on a couple of new products within the next month.

Whistle 2 - What We're Using Now
Dog wearables and pet GPS trackers

Whistle 2 is our first pet tracker smart collar wearable, and currently the only one I have actually used in person. Zip has been wearing this activity/GPS tracker for six weeks now. With our normal weekly routine of spending all day long away from the base station, and not using the active tracking feature, the battery lasts five days.

Whistle 2 is great if I want to know what my dog was up to yesterday. The active tracking is nice when I want to know precisely where my dog was 3 minutes ago. The alerts that my dog has left the safe zone arrive approximately 8-15 minutes after she has actually left. Overall the system is pretty good as long as I don't mind waiting for information. The tracker syncs with the base station and uploads data every 12-24 hours, so I can't use it to tell if Zip needs some extra dinner after a super active day because I don't normally have that data until the next morning.

The weekly report is nice, it gives me a summary of Zip's activity and rest, and compares it to other border collies the same age. She averages about two hours of high activity, and 13 hours of rest per day. I haven't had occasion to actually use the active tracking for anything other than my own amusement yet, but so far I'm not finding Whistle 2 to be worth the $10/month subscription fee.

Whistle 3 - February 2017?

Whistle 3 will use wifi, GPS, Bluetooh, and 3G cellular signal to accurately track your pet and record their activity. The collar unit is smaller than Whistle 2, so it's possible this one will be appropriate for cats as well as dogs. Whistle 3 is in the pre-order stage right now, and is scheduled for release this month. I have a bunch of questions for the Whistle team, but so far they've been saying they've "get back to me right away" for well over a month.

Nuzzle - March 2017

I love Nuzzle so much, I ordered them for all three dogs. This is a 3G/wifi/Bluetooth collar with geofencing, temperature monitoring, everything I want in a smartcollar. It does not work with a base station like Whistle 2, it just needs me, my dog, and my smartphone. It also does not have a subscription fee. Nuzzle comes with two batteries so I won't have to take it off to charge it every few days. We were expecting our Nuzzles to ship in the middle of January, but they discovered a quality control issue that has delayed the process until mid-March. 

I absolutely love this company because they have been extremely forthcoming with information about the shipping delay. I know exactly what happened, what they are doing to remedy the situation, and how long it will take. They even provided a breakdown of the entire process, and how long each step will take. Since the original notification of the delay, I have received two addition email updates. While I'm a bit sad to have to wait long for my smart collars, I am extremely pleased with how the company is handling it.

Link AKC - March 2017

I pre-ordered a Link AKC (<- this is an affiliate link) smart collar back in December, and at the time they were not forthcoming with an expected launch date. I've been expecting to get an email about it shipping since mid-January. I finally got a launch countdown notification a few days ago, and I'm expecting our collar to ship in early March. This is another wifi/GPS/Bluetooth/3G device, and it works with a base station that can be charged in the car. It can also use my phone as a base station. Link AKC has the unfortunate combination of a sky-high price and a monthly subscription fee, so I don't know how long we'll be using this one.

Pod 3 - March 2017

Pod 3's triple-funded Kickstarter (<- this is an affiliate link) projects it's shipping date at the end of March, with the interchangeable modules shipping in May. This is the smallest pet wearable out there, it was inspired by a beloved cat that went missing. It's a wifi/GPS/Bluetooth/3G device with a monthly subscription fee. I really want one, but I can't actually to buy ALL the smart collars.

Kyon - March 2017

The Kyon smart collar can display messages like "I'm lost!", and the GPS can tell you what floor your dog is on in the building. This is another one with both a high price ($250) and a monthly subscription fee. It offers temperature sensing, which is a big plus. It also uses a base station to set a safe zone. Kyon is an actual collar to which you can attach a leash, it doesn't have a removable module that can strap onto any collar or harness. This one is expected to ship at the end of March 2017.

Scollar - August 2017

Scollar is a small smartcollar designed for cats and small dogs. Unlike most pet wearables, this one has a tappable display right on the collar. This one does GPS tracking, and has add-on modules for geofencing and vibration. There is a lot of emphasis on reminders for medication, feeding, and flea and tick treatments. This is an interesting one, but not one of my must-haves.

WUF - Summer 2017?

Wuf is unique because it is intended to be upgradable. My smartwatch isn't even upgradable! It offers tracking, geofencing, and a virtual leash, but their Kickstarter was fully funded two years ago so I'm not putting a lot of faith in the Wuf team at this point.

Buddy - Nobody Knows...

Squeaker's Buddy collar sounded amazing, it was going to have customizable LED colors and patterns in addition to all the wonderful smart collar features. They missed their October 2016 release date though, and started sending out refunds for their IndieGoGo backers four months ago. Nobody has responded to comments on the campaign page in three months, and nearly all mention of Buddy has been removed from the Squeaker website.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Happy Valentines Day!

Last weekend Zip and I competed in an AKC herding trial, and we won first place in the Started A class! The trial was Valentines Day themed, and the photo booth was amazing. Godzilla had to sit this one out, as she injured her shoulder a few weeks before the trial. She's ok now, but I wasn't sure she would be 100% in time. The trial was also very popular, so I pulled Godzilla's entry and let someone else have that spot. Zip got her first AKC herding title too!

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Science Dog Convinces Us to Change Foods

As a dog geek (and massive nerd in general), I am a huge fan of Linda P. Case and her blog, The Science Dog. She also wrote Dog Food Logic, which is currently one of my favorite books. I like science, a lot. There's a lot of crazy woo in the world of dog food, and most of it has the trappings of science with none of the substance.

Dog carrying orange plush angler fish
Photo by Erin Koski

My personal preference for choosing dog foods is largely colored by my dearly-departed Brisbane and his poultry allergies. All other things being equal, I would choose a red meat-based dog food over a fish-based food, and with my current dogs I would also choose a poultry-based dog food over a fish-based food. This is mostly because fish is stinky. There is absolutely no logical reason for this preference, but I didn't really think it mattered. 

The latest post over on The Science Dog is all about digestibility, how much actual nutrition your dog absorbs from the food they eat. Two studies measuring digestibility of different dog food ingredients are cited, comparing the digestibility of chicken, lamb, and fish, and also comparing fresh raw chicken versus chicken meal as an ingredient in kibble.

Fish Kibble for Everyone!

I highly recommend reading the entire Science Dog post, but I'll share what I took away from it. First, lamb isn't nearly as digestible as I had thought. I will be steering clear of lamb-based kibbles in the future, even if I think feeding them to my dogs is cute because we hang around with sheep all day. 

Second, foods that are advertising "real chicken is the first ingredient" are all hype. Meat meals actually provide better nutrition in kibble than fresh meat. I've always based my opinion of a given kibble on the meat meals it contains, because the cooking process means a much greater percentage of the meat meal ends up in the finished product. A food with "fresh beef" as the first ingredient and "chicken meal" as the second ingredient is a chicken-based food, no matter how many pictures of steaks are on the bag.

Third, fish meal is the highest-quality meat meal, with more available nutrients and greater digestibility. This changes my whole dog food outlook quite a bit. That's the amazing part of science, you get to change your mind based on new evidence. This information comes from peer-reviewed studies published in reputable and well-respected scientific journals, and that's enough evidence to make me look for a fish-based dog food when we reach the end of the current bag.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Product Review: Dogit Style Collar

Hagen's Dogit Style collection features collars with a variety of heat-printed patterns that won't rub off. These are classic ring-end design collars, where half the plastic quick-release buckle must pass through ring before attaching to the other half. The result is a stronger collar with less force placed on the buckle itself. Dogit Style collars are available in tons of colors and patterns, and four sizes to fit dogs with necks 10-26" around.
Heat-printed adjustable nylon collar
Photo by Erin Koski

Hagen is a company I normally associate with aquarium stuff, but it turns out they own a bunch of familiar pet brands. Most of their stuff is for exotics and aquatics, they own ExoTerra, Habitrail, and Fluval, among others.

Their Dogit brand consists of what I would call economy basics. They make just about everything, at an affordable mass-market big box store price point. I consider it a cheap brand, but more reliable than dollar store stuff. Admittedly I had never really looked at their collars until I found this one in a thrift store.

I wasn't familiar with the process of heat-printing, so I had to look it up. The process involves evaporating ink from paper onto nylon webbing. Cool! I suspect that Buckle Down products are made the same way.


  • Ring-end collar is very strong and durable
  • Comes in tons of fun prints
  • Inexpensive


  • May loosen up over time

Bottom Line

These collars are probably best used to hold tags and look cute. If you're looking for a similar collar for a dog that pulls on leash, I recommend the Rogz Side Release Collar.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Caturday: Rachael Ray Nutrish

It's Caturday, and my cats are sampling some Rachael Ray Nutrish wet food. This is the best the grocery store has to offer, and as pet foods go, it's not bad. There's no by-products, no mystery meats, and no cheating with gluten meals to boost protein content.

Powdered Cellulose?
Wet cat food

So what is in there, besides meat, broth, vegetable oil, and stabilizing gums? Powdered cellulose was the only thing that caught my attention on the ingredients list. A quick google search brings up a whole lot of horrified pet owners calling it "sawdust" and stating it has no nutritional value. It's a "filler", right? Completely useless? Actually, as I learned from Dog Food Logic, there's really no such thing as a "filler". Powdered cellulose is a form of insoluble fiber, which acts as, you know, fiber. It helps your cat poo.

You can find powdered cellulose in people food too, it's frequently in canned Parmesan cheese to keep it from sticking together. It can also be found in various high-fiber and low-fat foods. Powdered cellulose can be made from a number of different things, and it's worth noting that calling it "wood pulp" is entirely inaccurate. It could be made from apples, or corn husks, or, yes, actual wood. It's just refined down to the point that there's none of that left. I'm not sure what that means for allergies, so it's something I might avoid if that was an issue.

Ainsworth Pet Nutrition

Nutrish is actually made by Ainsworth Pet Nutrition, a company dedicated to putting high-quality pet foods in grocery stores. I really appreciate this effort, as I know plenty of people who would never even dream of walking into a pet-specific store to get cat food. This isn't the best food out there, it's possible they are getting some ingredients from China given their lack of advertising to the contrary. Still, it's worlds better nearly anything else in the grocery store. This is a product that fills a need, and it means plenty of pets are eating better. I have no problem feeding it to my cats occasionally.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Food Friday: Merrick Wingaling Canned Dog Food

We all know that dogs aren't supposed to eat cooked chicken bones, so why in the world does Merrick's Wingaling canned dog food have actual chicken wings in it? Is this some sort of mistake? Actually, the bones are cooked in a special process (involving a pressure cooker) that leaves them soft and squishy and totally safe and non-splintery. The result is an unusual treat for your dog. Safe chicken bones!
canned dog food with safe chicken bones

Merrick Pet Food

For years, Merrick was well-known for being one of the best independent pet food companies out there. They had their own manufacturing facilities, sourced all their ingredients domestically, and had been around for years. It was the sort of feel-good brand that hardly anyone had complaints about. They started out making dog treats, and then expanded their product lines to include both canned and dry dog and cat foods. I had been fond of them for years because they offered so many different flavors and varieties.

All that changed in 2015 when the company was purchased  by Purina. Now they are owned by a giant faceless corporation. While consumers have been promised that nothing will change about the facilities, production, ingredients, etc, it's a tough claim to swallow. My biggest concern is the sourcing of ingredients. Not that I think they're suddenly buying meat from China, just that they can switch to buying much lower qualities of ingredients without having to change anything on the label. Maybe they used to buy fresh apples and now they're buying giant bricks of frozen apples that have been in storage for years, stuff like that.

Wingaling Has Chicken Bones

Dog food with soft pressure-cooked chicken bones
Ok, this dog food is unique because it contains whole chicken wings, bones and all. Everybody knows dogs can't eat chicken bones! Well, raw feeders know that dogs can eat fresh, raw chicken bones, but they still should never have cooked chicken bones! Right?

Did you know that you can put chicken bones in a pressure cooker and make them soft and crumbly? It's true, and I would totally do it with all my chicken bones if I owned a pressure cooker. Such a tasty treat for dogs! 

The whole chicken bones in Merrick's canned dog foods are cooked soft, and can easily be mashed with a spoon if you are at all worried about them stabbing your dog in the digestive tract. You can also pull the bones out and throw them away, if you wish. 

I bought a can of Wingaling for Ru mostly out for novelty. This food contains a couple of chicken wings, some squishy chunks of processed food, and a whole lot of broth. Even though it's got 334 calories per can, it just doesn't fee like very much food. It's also difficult to split into multiple portions, or to use as a kibble topper.

The Verdict

I know some dogs absolutely love pressure cooked squishy chicken bones, but Ru is not a Wingaling fan. It might be because he doesn't enjoy this particular flavor, and it might be because he's been getting a little too much leftover taco meat as a snack, but I can't get him to even taste the actual wings. The girls will be finishing this can.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Movie Review: White God

I recently saw the film White God, and was so pleased with it that I felt the need to share. This is unlike any move I've ever seen before, and it's at the very least a masterpiece of dog training. The cast of this Hungerian film includes a cast of over 200 dogs. That's more dogs than have ever been used in a movie before, in case you were wondering.
This movie goes through three distinct phases, almost like changes of genre. It begins as a kid-and-dog movie. Thirteen-year-old Lili has a dog that she loves. Her parents are divorced, she has been living with her mother, and then must go live with her father for a while. Lili plays trumpet in the orchestra, and carries her instrument around in her backpack like a devoted musician. Lili's father doesn't want to keep her dog, Hagen, and she fights to make poor Hagen fit into her new life.

The second phase begins when Lili's father dumps Hagen on the street and drives away. Then the film becomes a dog's perspective movie. Hagen searches for Lili, and eventually ends up running with a pack of stray dogs living in a vacant lot. The stray life isn't so bad, but dogcatchers come to round everyone up, and Hagen ends up in the hands of dogfighters. After being transformed into a winning prizefighter, Hagen escapes along with a legion of unwanted dogs.

This is the point at which the film becomes a horror movie. The dogs run wild through the streets, exacting bloody revenge upon everyone who wronged them. The scenes in this part are absolutely breathtaking, with massive numbers of dogs moving in coordination together. They're also shockingly gory, way more gruesome than I expected given the heartwarming tone of the earlier parts of the film.

Ultimately, Lili meets Hagen and his army, and makes a brief and spectacular piece. The final scene includes over 200 dogs laying down in the street. These were almost entirely strays picked up off the streets and trained for this film, and the amount of training and skill is evident. It is absolutely beautiful.

I found this movie to be incredible from both a dog trainer perspective, and as a fan of foreign films. Beware the gore towards the end, the scenes of implied animal abuse, and remember that it has subtitles. I don't normally cry at movies, and this one was no exception, however it did make my friend cry.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Product Review: Petmate JW Megalast Bear

Petmate's JW Megalast Bear is an unusually tough squeaky toy. This is a thick and heavy toy with a recessed squeaker and a shape that's tough to gnaw. It is made in the USA from proprietary material that is 100% recyclable. It is available in assorted colors and two sizes, I highly recommend getting the larger size unless you have a really tiny dog.
Super tough durable squeaky toy
Photo by Erin Koski

Indestructible Dog Toys

Godzilla and Zip received several tough toys for Christmas, in an attempt to rein in the rate of toy destruction around here. This one looked promising, possibly the toughest squeaky toy I've encountered so far.

Most squeakies are either plush toys, or thin vinyl. Neither can handle a power chewer, and most don't survive even moderate gnawing. This thing? It's heavy, thick, and made from the same stuff as other JW Megalast toys. They aren't completely indestructible, but many power chewers can enjoy them without reducing them to tiny pieces.

Tough chew-proof squeaky toy
Photo by Erin Koski

The De-Squeaking

Durable chew toy made in the USA
Photo by Erin Koski
While the gummi bear is currently holding up to its second month of nonstop fetch and wild chomping, I can't say the same for its squeaker. Not sure what happened exactly, since it's still attached and everything. It just...stopped squeaking. I think the squeaker lasted about three days. 


  • Tougher than regular squeaky toys
  • Big enough for large and giant breeds to play safely
  • Shape makes it difficult to shred
  • Tends to last power chewers longer than most toys
  • Made in the USA


  • Squeaker may cease to function
  • Not actually indestructible
  • No guarantee of durability

Bottom Line

Durable squeaker dog toy
Photo by Erin Koski
Some dogs are still going to shred the Megalast Bear, but there are a lot of reviews from owners of power chewers stating that this is the only toy that lasts in their house. It's certainly holding up well around here! Happily, it's also pretty easy to find for under $10, so it's worth trying for your destructopuppy.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Treat Tuesday: Red Barn French Toast Flavored Bully Slices

I bought these French Toast Flavored Bully Slices because I saw them at the Red Barn booth at SuperZoo 2016 and thought they were hilarious. They've got a whole bunch of "bully coated" treats and chews, made with their special "bully gravy". Now we all know that bully sticks are some of the nastiest treats on the planets from the human perspective, and possibly the most delectable from the canine perspective. Red Barn claims to have created some sort of horrific concoction that can give other objects the essence of bully, but they could also just be capitalizing on the name. Bully sticks are expensive, bully-insert-thing-here is much more affordable, and my dogs might like it just as much! Clever Red Barn, very clever.
Rawhide chews

Good For

  • Being way cheaper than a bully stick
  • Portion control for dogs that can eat a large rawhide chew in a single session
  • Lasting about as long as any other small strip of rawhide
  • Smelling kinda like breakfast and kinda gross at the same time
  • Dog owners that only feed treats and chews made in the USA

Not Good For

  • Dogs that swallow their chews whole
  • Lasting as long as an actual decent-sized bully stick
  • Dogs with egg or beef allergies
  • Dogs with sensitive tummies

How Much We Like Them
The girls both love them, and they're good for a few minutes of peaceful gnawing. They give Zip diarrhea though, so these are going to be a Godzilla-only treat now.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Product Review: Planet Dog Orbee-Tuff Carrot

Recreational chewers rejoice, Planet Dog has added this carrot to their Orbee-Tuff Produce line! This tough toy is just the right shape for holding between your paws for a good gnaw. It's tough, smells like peppermint, and is made in the USA. Like all Planet Dog toys, the carrot is guaranteed, so if your dog manages to destroy it, be sure to let them know!

Planet Dog is Awesome

Photo by Erin Koski
I got to see this toy at SuperZoo 2016, and I knew immediately that the girls would love it. (I ended up buying it on Amazon though, so this is not a sponsored review.) The rep I talked to said the company wanted to add a gnawable shape that dogs could hold between their paws like a bone. 

We're on our way to owning their entire Orbee-Tuff Produce line, because the toys are just so cute. Also durable. They last for years, and you can recycle them when you are finally done with them. They all have space to hide treats of various shapes and sizes, and they are light enough to keep you downstairs neighbors happy if your dog is fond of dropping their toys on your hard floors.
Durable nontoxic chew toy made in the USA
Photo by Erin Koski


  • Durable enough for some serious gnawing
  • Made in the USA
  • Smells like peppermint instead of rubber tires
  • Can stuff an entire biscuit in the end
  • Seriously adorable
  • Guaranteed!


  • Long skinny shape makes it vulnerable to power chewers
  • Made in the USA durable chew toy for hiding food
    Photo by Erin Koski
  • Moderate probability of being mistaken for an adult toy (this might be a pro for some)

Bottom Line

The carrot has seen quite a lot of fetch around here, and we haven't managed to kill it yet! Zip is also fond of gnawing it, and the carrot is holding up well. I was worried at first, but so far it has exceeded my expectations. That said, if your dog routinely demolishes black Kongs/Squirrel Dudes/similar toys, you should probably start with something tougher. Or just let Planet Dog know if your dog kills the carrot, because they do have a guarantee.

What's your dog's favorite chew toy?

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Caturday: Houseplants I Am Feeding My Cats

It's Caturday, and I've expanded The Hellions' little window garden. I acquired their first plant back in October during the Enriched Life Challenge, and since then I've learned how to keep my cats and houseplants co-existing peacefully...mostly.

Cat sits on shelf beside hanging fern plantPlants vs. Cats

  • Choose only non-toxic cat-safe species
  • Hang plants so they can only nibble the tips
  • Use very heavy pots that can't be tipped, avoid plastic
I don't have a large enough space for a full-on kitty salad bar like Chirpy Cats, but I've found a way to fit a few green snacks into my small space. 

In the past, the Hellions have tackled plants to the floor, wrestled them in submission, and messily devoured them. Decorative plant stands are definitely a no-go around here, the only way plants are going to stay put is if they're anchored securely. Very heavy pots are definitely the way to go.

My cats also have zero sense of portion control, and will happily eat an entire houseplant in short order. Hanging the plants securely from walls and windowsills not only keeps them in place, it also limits access. The plants last a lot longer when the cats can only nibble the tips!
Our potted maidenhair fern after the kitties have nibbled it
Maindenhair fern looking nibbled.

The Tastiest Plants

  • Maidenhair fern
  • Boston fern
  • Spider plant
  • Basil
  • Catnip
  • Wheatgrass
  •  African violet
  • Air plants
So far, the Geek Garden only includes the first three species. However, I'm getting more creative with finding places and ways to hang them, so I hope to expand the list soon. I'm particularly fond of African violets and air plants, but basil will probably give the kitties nice breath!

Friday, February 3, 2017

Food Friday: Drs. Foster and Smith Everyday Wellness Canned Dog Food

Drs. Foster and Smith Everyday Wellness Canned Dog Food is a new brand of dog food that just popped up at Petco recently. If the name sounds familiar, it's because Drs. Foster and Smith have been sending out catalogs in the mail for almost all of eternity. Their new line of pet foods are grain-free, and the product range includes dietary supplements and dental chews.

Grain-free chicken-based dog food
Drs. Foster and Smith

Way back when I was an internetless child, mail order catalogs were the best thing ever. It was like fantasy shopping, without having to go to a store! So many things to look at! Of course pet supply catalogs were the best of the best, and I used to spend hours pouring over the pages of the Drs. Foster and Smith catalogs, because I was a giant nerd even as a small child. They've been sending those things out since 1983, so they were a household name before the internet gave us a whole new option for shopping in our underwear. 

In 1993, DFS launched their own brand, and in 2002 they started making dog food. I hadn't paid attention to them in years because the last time I considered buying something, there was a flat rate for shipping. Great if you're buying a fair amount of stuff, not so great if you're looking to buy one very small item.

The Food
Grain-free canned dog food

I'm not sure about the new food line, but I believe that the original Drs. Foster and Smith kibble is co packed by CJ Foods. There is no indication that DFS owns any kind of production facility, so this is actually a pet food marketing company, and someone else makes the product. I'm not sure who currently makes their canned foods, but it's almost certainly one of a handful of major co packers.

This is a grain-free food with chicken, chicken broth, and chicken liver as the first ingredients. It also contains potatoes, peas, green beans, red peppers, and eggs. The inclusion of egg as a second protein source means this isn't an allergy-friendly food, but none of the foods in this line are intended to be limited-ingredient except the healthy skin and coat kibble. That one is pea-based and uses hydrolyzed salmon, and actually looks like a food I'd recommend for an elimination diet.

Though not as appealing as last week's can of PureVita, the DFS wet food isn't bad. I can see the peas, potatoes, carrots, and red peppers. Admittedly, the red peppers are an unusual addition. I'm not used to seeing those on ingredient lists and I'm curious why they were included. Nutrition-wise, this isn't the best food, at 8% protein and 5.5% fat it's got to have a lot of carbs. Dog Food Advisor has not reviewed this food yet, but I'm guessing it would rate 4 out of 5 stars.

The Verdict

Ru's willingness to eat a given wet food seems to be closely correlated with how appetizing I find it as a human. He likes this one a lot, and eats it willingly. The availability of it at Petco also makes it a convenient choice, as their hours are conducive to forgetting to buy another can of chihuahua food until the last possible minute. The uncertainty about who really produces the food would make me hesitant to feed this exclusively, but I am definitely going to add it to Ru's canned food rotation. It's Finicky Chihuahua Approved!