Sunday, February 18, 2024

First Impressions of Scentwork

I have been wanting to get into scentwork for years. I took a couple of private lessons a decade ago, but couldn't continue for various reasons. I have been actively attempting to get into a scentwork class either in person or online for the past two years with no success. I now own a book on getting myself started and am working through it, but I'm not really enjoying the process and so far I am massively underwhelmed by this sport. Here are my impressions of scentwork as a completely inexperienced outsider attempting to get into the sport:

Patiently waiting to be released to eat treats off the floor.
1. We don't want newbies. Scentwork as a whole is trying to keep new people out. This seems weird at first, both online and in person training programs for scentwork are everywhere. My local kennel club has half a dozen different classes every session. There are clinics and seminars everywhere all the time. BUT, the prerequisite for all of these things is to have taken the intro beginner class. The beginner class is only offered once a year. The class at my local kennel club only has space for six dogs and has filled up in under 15 seconds one year and under 26 seconds the other year I tried to get in. I know this because that's how long it took me to fill in my information and hit the submit button when registration opened. So I started looking for an online class and found a great website for a great trainer with all sorts of online classes. BUT, she only offers her intro class once a year and it was last month so tough luck. This is proudly announced both at the kennel club and with this online trainer, they are very open about how few people they introduce the sport each year.

2. Odor is a sidequest. Scentwork is mostly just sniffing around for treats. My outsider impression is that scentwork is almost entirely about finding food. I had originally believed it was modeled after narcotics detection rather than foraging around on the floor for crumbs. A friend who managed to make it into the kennel club class reported that after a year of classes they were still hunting for food with no plans to look for anything else. My book teaches searching behavior entirely with food and says you don't ever need to teach them to look for anything else unless you want to compete. Another training website I looked at had a bunch of different exercises and said they could all be done with food and even if the dog can search for a specific odor they should mostly still be searching for food.

3. There is surprisingly little sniffing involved. I am working my way through the book with Sisci right now, and three weeks into it the "searches" consist entirely of scattering food on the ground around various objects. The dog is supposed to learn to carefully sniff around the object to find the treats, but Sis just cannonballs over and slurps them all up as if the object isn't even there. She can clear the room in seconds even when there are several objects to be searched. We can use up her entire daily ration of kibble in five minutes of "searching" and it takes less time than if I just threw it out on the lawn. I'm probably doing something wrong here, but so far I'm not seeing the fascinating searching behavior and puzzle-solving that I keep hearing about from scentwork fans. Maybe at some point the book will instruct me to start hiding the treats instead of just scattering them on the ground around boxes and bags. But then, having had multiple completely food-obsessed dogs in the past, I'm also not entirely comfortable encouraging my dog to forage everywhere for potential food. 

So there's the current state of our scentwork journey. I am throwing treats on the floor for my dog to eat while ruminating on why the sport doesn't want new people to get involved and wondering how this is even a sport in the first place. I am currently looking for an online class or program that isn't entirely about searching for food in the hopes that eventually I will discover why so many people like scentwork. Feel free to set me straight in the comments if your opinion differs.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

My Dog is Always Wet

 This is Puff. Puff likes water. We live on a farm. There is lots of water on the farm. There are stock tanks and water tubs all over the place. There is also a pond. It rains a lot, so there are also puddles. Lots of puddles. Puff loves puddles. 

When we lived in the desert, rain wasn't a thing most of the year. There wasn't ambient water just laying around. Puff would jump in stocks tanks and water tubs, and then dry off very quickly in the single-digit humidity. Now she is perpetually wet. This has caused some unexpected issues. The first is her collar. 

Obviously biothane was the obvious choice for Puff's collar. It's waterproof,  non-permeable, doesn't soak up nasty swamp water, and lasts forever, right? I usually see it touted as an analog to leather for dog gear and horse tack, and I have leather tack that's older than I am. In practice, I keep seeing people say that a couple of years is a good lifespan for a biothane collar. However, a lot of websites that sell biothane collars say they will last a lifetime with proper care. The biothane collars I have on my sheep tend to get stiff after a while, but that probably doesn't count as proper biothane care. 

Puff has been wearing a Farm Diggity Farm-Proof collar for three years, and it has been wet for three
years. The biothane material itself is still going strong, but the rivets are rusting out. This is not a dig at Farm Diggity, almost all my dogs are wearing their collars and they are incredible. I also have several of their dog tie-outs and some farm-proof crooks. I have nothing but good things to say about the company and their products. But farm-proof is apparently not Puff-proof.

I could just replace the rivets and wait for them to rust out again, but I am also exploring other collar options for the perpetually damp dog. Maybe stitched biothane from a company that makes horse tack. Maybe I'll have a go at making my own biothane collars. Maybe I'll have Puff DNA tested to see if she's all dog and not part seal or otter. (Just kidding, the DNA test said 100% border collie without any fun surprises.)

Sunday, February 4, 2024

The Changing Landscape of Dog Products

 Since I started this blog almost a decade ago (it will be a decade this March) the world of dog products has changed dramatically. There used to be a relative handful of companies and makers, making distinctive products. I purchased many of the products featured on this blog in secondhand stores, but they generally came from identifiable companies with an online presence that I could link to. Often those companies had their own stories, and I have loved researching them as I go along, finding out who merged with who and which products they kept in the lineup (spoiler alert: Outward Hound buys everything) post acquisition. 

When I started this blog, there were two manufacturers of inflatable donut cones. Today there are dozens of different products available from dozens of different manufacturers. There was one recovery suit, and it was not available for sale but had to be purchased from a veterinarian. Today you can find hundreds of different products in all sorts of designs. They are easier to find, less expensive, and becoming more common and popular because they get shared a lot through word of mouth. 

As the products become more commonplace and widespread, the companies behind them are all sort of blurring together. In writing up my recent posts on dog pants and recovery collars, I found that several of the products I had purchased or screenshotted were no longer available on Amazon. In fact, some of the companies were nowhere to be found. The current trend I am seeing is lots of similar or identical products offered from various different companies, with a slightly different brand logo or no logo at all. Obviously they are all coming from the same overseas manufacturers. 

Imported products are nothing new. What has changed is the quality of some of those products. Our familiar and beloved manufacturers like Ruffwear and Lupine and Hurtta haven't gone anywhere, and nobody matches their quality and customer service. But there used to be those guys, and the affordable pet store stuff, and then stuff from unfamiliar overseas manufacturers. That stuff was reliably poor quality. I know most of the dog products I buy from familiar and well-established brands are also manufactured overseas, but those had the security of being from a familiar company with a reputation to uphold. 

Today, I can buy a recovery suit, cone, collar, leash, bowl, toy, etc from an unfamiliar foreign brand on Amazon and be relatively certain it will hold up at least as well as the affordable pet store option. My no-name dog pajamas do not have a familiar company standing behind them, and they don't have the design consideration or quality found in my Medical Pet Shirt. I may not be able to find that company or product again when I want to share it with a friend or write about it here, but there will be ten more just like it waiting for me. Maybe even more, in even more different styles.

So what am I paying for when I buy a RuffWear Front Range harness instead of a RabbitGoo harness from Amazon or  a no-name harness from Temu? I am not only paying for quality and customer service. I am also paying for innovation. Companies like RuffWear are the ones creating not only new products, but new kinds of products. We didn't have mass marketed, high-quality escape-proof harnesses or structured, padded walking harnesses until RuffWear showed us how great they are. Everyone else is copying. 

Saturday, January 27, 2024

Dog in a Cast

 My dog broke her leg and I am here to share with you the products and activities that are making our lives easier as we navigate eight weeks of crate rest. It's going to be a long eight weeks.

This is Moon. Moon knows how to herd sheep. Moon knows to run a big circle around the sheep so she can get behind them and fetch them to me nicely. Moon sometimes decides to freestyle it and run through the middle of them. In a total freak accident, Moon found herself under a particularly large sheep, and got her tiny little leg stepped on. Both bones were snapped, fortunately it was a clean break and the vet said it went back together very easily so she should be back up and running again eventually. In the meantime, she is on total, absolute crate rest. I carry her out to te yard for a brief potty break every few hours, and then it's right back into the crate. 

In this picture, Moon is modeling the Ruffwear Flagline harness. It has a rear belly strap and a lighter, lower profile than the Webmaster harness. The handle on the back is well placed for using this harness as a mobility air, and really helped me keep a grip on a wiggly border collie as I carried her outside. Until she ate it. RIP Flagline harness.

Since she is going to be in that splint until spring, I wanted to keep it clean and also jazz it up a bit. I bought a pack of child's kneesocks that fit perfectly. They are colorful, fun, easy to put on, and washable. Why have a boring cast when you can have a unicorn cast? I also got this durable cast cover by MediPaw from Chewy, but it's a lot more difficult to get on and off and Moon doesn't seem to like it. At least she puts up a fight every time I try to put it on.

Keeping a cast or splint dry is essential, but how? Grocery bag? Bread bag? Plastic wrap? I found this unicorn print waterproof cast cover on Amazon and it is incredibly useful. Easy off, easy on, durable enough to handle some hobbling around on the grass, and reusable. Also totally waterproof, which is very helpful since I left the desert and relocated to somewhere that actually has rain. Real rain. And me dancing around in it with glee while the natives shake their heads. It's been three years and the novelty of water falling from the sky has yet to wear off.

Moon is also modeling my Zumi Dual Lead in this picture. The length is perfect for short potty breaks with limited movement. It also matches her new pink harness. The keyword for finding harnesses with a rear strap and a handle is "escape proof". It has fewer adjustment points and is lower quality and has less resale value than the Flagline harness she ate, but the price was right. One big functional different I anticipate is that he straps will loosen over time and need to be adjusted on a regular basis. To avoid further gear-eating incidents, she also now sporting a neck donut which prevents her from chewing on her splint or harness without taking up all of the space in her crate.

To keep Moonbaby busy, she has lots of fun things to gnaw on. We are also having a go at learning how scentwork works, which is its own future blog post. I'm not doing very well with it and I have a lot of feelings about the sport. We have plenty of time to delve into it though.

Friday, January 19, 2024

Can We Talk About Cones?

A cone, also known as a recovery collar and an Elizabethan collar if your are feeling particularly fancy, is a great management tool for a lot of different dog problems. Injuries, surgery, hot spots, any reason you need to keep your dog's face away from the rest of their body, or their feet away from their head. There are lots of different kinds to choose from, I currently own and use three types. This is continues my series of accident-prone dogs having accidents. Mostly border collies. Because border collies. Their giant brains are filled with sheep and problem-solving and there's no room left for self-preservation. But also the cattledog because she got hurt recently and has had me running through my collection of recovery solutions.

IT is a pretty flower.

Option 1: Soft Cone
These come in a variety of designs like flowers and clouds. I own one flower cone and one lion mane cone from Alfie Pet but can't currently find a link.
Pros: Totally adorable. Fits in a crate. Doesn't hurt when your dog runs into the backs of your legs. Works exceptionally well for pointy-eared dogs with ear injuries as it prevents their ear from slapping into their skull when they shake their head. 
Cons: Easy to get out of. There's no way to attach the ones I have to a collar, they just velcro around the neck and the dog can slip it off if they want to. Flexible so a clever dog can scrunch it out of the way if they want to. Not going to deter a very determined dog.

Option 2: Donut Cone
Sis is much happier in the donut.

These inflatable rings also come in a variety of designs including rainbows and the obvious donut. I own two of these, a Large and an XXL. 
Pros: Also totally adorable. I mean look at this. Also fits in a crate and doesn't hurt or break things when your dog is catapulting around the house in it. Works for restricting access to the dog's body. Can be sized up for more protection. Very secure as it has loops to run through a snug collar. Easy to store when not in use.
Cons: Protection is only as good as its ability to remain inflated. A determined dog would be able to pop it. Also scares the bejeezus out of certain other dogs in the house.

Maximum cone:dog ratio.

Option 3: MegaCone
The good old classic you come home from the vet with. Cheap and effective.
Pros: Maximum protection for your dog's entire body plus everything else if the cone is big enough. That mouth isn't getting near anything. I might try this for nail trims. Very secure, this one is zip-tied to a snug collar and could be zip-tied to a harness for a noodledog that slips collars. Maximum cone:dog ratio.
Cons: Does not fit into a crate, or my house, or anywhere else. The world is not big enough for this cone. Your house is definitely not big enough for this cone if you have a dog that runs around with reckless abandon. Prone to cracking and breaking with too many impacts. A lower cone:dog ratio may not provide adequate protection for a dog determined to reach their tail or paws. 

Of course there are lots of other options out there these days. DIY options with pool noodles. Cones that are more secure than my pink flower cone but made from nylon fabric and buckram so more flexible than the basic plastic cone. Face shields that sit in front of the ears and are narrower than a basic cone. Neck braces that limit flexibility. There are new companies producing new sizes and styles all the time!

Sunday, January 14, 2024

If a Dog Wore Pants...

 Since I began herding sheep and training dogs full time, I have a cause near and dear to my heart: Injured dogs. Mostly border collies. This is not a breed with self-preservation of any kind built in. We've had all sorts of injuries on the farm, from the mundane to the bizarre. The vet should offer frequent flier miles of some sort at this point. 

A brief rundown of non-dog vet visits since we relocated cross-country:

  • peahen with eye infection
  • ram rammed something immovable and rammed his horn right off, leaving a gaping hole in his head
  • small, hairy goat was losing a significant amount of hair
  • sheep sliced her shoulder open on a sharp bit of fencing wire

Our delightful country vet practice only takes walk-ins, and they know whatever we roll in with is going to make everyone's day a little more interesting. But they see the dogs a lot more than they see the livestock. 

I have discovered, through a ridiculous amount of experience, how much opportunity there is for accessorizing when it comes to an injured dog. From recovery suits to inflatable cones to mobility harnesses, there is something out there to solve every problem. And I'm going to buy it. I think it might be a coping mechanism. 

Last summer, Zip went out to the pasture to get the sheep during the construction of our duck barn. There was a piece of metal roofing on the ground, and she sliced her leg open on it as she ran out to gather the flock. Being a serious working border collie, Zip completed her mission and went about her evening as if she did not have a 6" slice on the side of her hock. Naturally, this happened on a Saturday evening so upon discovery the next morning there was an emergency vet visit.  The dogs prefer to time their disasters well outside normal vet hours as often as possible.

Zip came home from the emergency vet in a cone, with stitches in her leg, and an order for two weeks of crate rest. Crates and traditional lampshade cones are a bad combination, I would need to put most of my dogs in a 42"+ crate for them to be able to turn around wearing a giant cone. We only have one size of cone around here and that size is giant. Several inches past the end of their nose. They can't reach any part of their body. Better safe than sorry. But it's a very big cone.

I love recovery suits, but the vast majority of products out there are intended to cover the abdomen rather than the legs. The ones with legs are rarely long enough to cover all the way past the hock. So I embarked on a journey to find pants for Zip. I'm inviting you to join me on this journey. Ready?

1. Dog leggings. I can't find this particular set to link on Amazon, but these are a lot like https://walkeepaws.com/ and I can't get those to stay on to save my life. These would not go up high enough to securely cover the hock.

2. Fou Fou Dog Bodyguard Pants. These actually look like a pretty good idea for mud. A plausible option for Zip's injury.

3. Mozzie Pants. These could also work, but reviews say they don't really stay on that well.

4. Comedy option legwarmers. There is no way these could cover or protect a hock injury. But I laughed. 

5. The Onesie. I actually bought this one and it worked great. I've been able to use it for other dogs injured in other places since it covers the entire dog.

6. SurgiSnuggly with legs. I have the no-legs version of this suit and it works well. I also bought this one for Zip and it worked well.

In the year and a half since Zip's injury, there have been a few more products released that could have worked to protect her stitches. The key search word is apparently "recovery".