Monday, February 28, 2011

Starmark Everlasting Fun Ball: A New Way to Pass a Rainy Day

   It's been raining cats and dogs here (no pun intended)...we've even had a tornado warning this morning!  As a result, I've had to pull out all the stops to keep the Cassie dog from becoming bored.   A few days ago I determined that a treat ball would be a great new way to keep her busy for awhile.   So to Petsmart I went and was actually surprised by the incredible number of options there are on the shelf.  Everything from wobbling giant-sized Kongs to hard plastic cubes to stuffable bouncy balls and even one that claims to talk!  Needless to say I was there a little longer than I had intended to be.

    I went into the store planning on picking up the Kong Wobbler having seen it on other sites, but in the store I recognized instantly that Cassie would become frustrated with the design very quickly and this combined with the fact that she's not too fond of dry biscuits told me I would be left with a fairly expensive toy that would just be taking up space in my house.

    I moved on to the Buster Food Cube, which was both double the price of the Kong Wobbler and also made of a stiffer, but seemingly less durable plastic.  I worried: 1) that Cassie would be bored by the design and 2) that she would actually break the cube due to her fondness for picking up toys and dropping them to get the food out (she has mastered her regular Kongs in this manner).

     After looking at a few ball designs I settled on the Starmark Everlasting Fun Ball Dog Toy, which seemed both durable and simple enough for Cassie to figure out and remain interested.   I liked the bounciness of the ball and and its obvious durability.  It's light enough for Cassie to pick up and drop without causing damage to my hardwood and still enough of a challenge that it keeps her busy for an extended period of time (depending on how many treats I put in it).  The surface of the ball is variegated for easy grip and, though the large one I bought is probably a bit big for her mouth, Cassie seems to have little trouble picking it up before slamming it on the floor.  The Starmark Fun Ball is also a breeze to clean and though you can't open it like the Kong Wobbler to clean the inside a few dunks in a some warm water seem to be all that's required.

     This ball is easy to fill with just about any treats.  I've been mixing up her regular kibble with smaller soft treats, so that she doesn't get too fat from my laziness.  It's true, I could be getting up to play with her every time she's bored, but if I did I would be on my feet at her beck-and-call all day long.   The treat ball is a great alternative (one that I am trying not to abuse) and is better than crating her when she is becoming fussy.  I also find that it's oddly satisfying to watch your dog working for something.  She has fun while I relax!  That sounds like progress to me!

   As I mentioned, you can use any treats you've got lying around, as long as they aren't too big or awkward to get stuck inside for good (though I would suggest sticking with ones that retain their shape fairly well).  Starmark do make treats that are designed to work with the Fun Ball called Starmark Every Flavor Treats.  They are soft and come in a variety of flavors like chicken, beef, liver and even vanilla (which I find odd).  I normally don't like to give Cassie treats with additives and artificial colorings, but in this case I opted to buy a bag out of convenience.   She does seem to really like them (typical kid liking junk food), so I will probably pick up another bag to mix in with the kibble and keep things interesting.

    I realize that I'm not really doing a review of the other products, so maybe you've tried them and can let me know your thoughts on the Kong Wobbler and the Buster Food Cube (or any other treat dispensing toys).   They probably do work for some dogs, but for Cassie the Fun Ball was cheap and simple and clearly lots of long lasting fun!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Fox-On-A-Stick: I Just Found Out You Can Buy It On Amazon!

   One of Cassie's favorite games is "fox/duck on a stick."  I picked this one up from Victoria Stilwell and it was a great way to allow Cassie to chase something crazily and burn off a lot of steam quickly.   It also happens to be great fun!

   I (like Victoria) simply made my own version by tying a stuffing-free fuzzy fox toy to the end of an old lunge whip I had around from my horseback riding days.  This worked great if you had access to a tack shop, but otherwise a bit of an ask to tell people to go out and hunt down a lunge whip....happily someone decided to make a purchasable version specifically designed for dogs that is actually cheaper than going out and buying the lunge whip/fox combo.

The Kyjen Tail Teaser Dog Toy is just what I described before
(a little shorter and more manageable than my makeshift version), but it is cheaper ($16) and comes with refill animal toys.  I can't vouch for it's durability (I'm going to stick with my old version since I already have it), but it looks almost exactly like what I made myself.   When the snow is gone I'll have Chris tape Cassie and I with the fox-on-a-stick outside; it's a game best left for the out-of-doors.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Bacon Bubbles...Fun with Kids' Toys

   Though most of the time I blog about products specifically manufactured for the dog market, there are certain toys made for kids that are fun for dogs too.   Most of the props I've picked up for our tricks class have been kids toys and Cassie has never seemed to realize!   Another toy that I have used just about every sunny day is our bubble blower.  Most dogs love to chase things that move and floating, swishing bubbles are almost irresistible.  They're actually a lot of fun for owners, as well...I have trouble not laughing at the excitement a little dish soap can produce!

   You have several bubble options when you walk into the kids aisle at any local store (Walmart, Target, ToysRUs).  There are bubble machines that sit on the ground and blow a constant stream of bubbles, there are hand held bubble guns that shoot bubbles at your whim without much mess and there are the traditional old fashioned loop on a stick bubbles.  I use a bubble gun mainly out of convenience and the fact that they are still pretty cheap.   I paid only $3 at Walmart for the one I use, unfortunately mine seems to be out of manufacture now.

   If I were to pick up a new bubble gun it would be something like the Sizzlin' Cool Exstream Bubbles, available from ToysRUs for about $7 or the Toy Galaxy Bubble Blower Gun available on Amazon for a comparable price.  I like a bubble gun, because it allows you the freedom to direct the flow and direction of the bubbles, helping to ensure that your dog doesn't jump to high and that the game can instantly stop when you say.  The problem I've found with the stationary bubble machines is that the dog doesn't chase the bubbles, but instead will stand right in front of the blower trying to bite them as they come out (and that's not nearly as amusing as running wildly around for them).   Also, the gun will encourage you to stay out with the dog instead of leaving it alone with a tray full of bubble liquid in the bubble machine (that could cause a very upset tummy if lapped up all at once).

     The great thing for dog owners is that thanks to the geniuses at the Happy Dog Toys company you can purchase bubble liquid that is flavored for your dogs.   These bubble replacement packs come in Sizzlin' Bacon, BBQ Chicken and Peanut Butter flavors and are only $5 for a pack of two.  You can get hours of play out of each bottle.  Amazon suggests some "puppy" bubble guns and machines, but don't spend the extra money.  Just buy the cheapest bubble gun you can find and then keep one of the bottles it came with; you can clean that out and then fill it up with the flavored bubbles to use with your gun.

    Normally the dogs are a little less distracted and more focused on the bubbles (it was a windy day).  This game will keep your dog amused and moving on a sunny afternoon for as long as you can keep from dying of laughter...The only word of warning is that you will want to supervise children and dogs with the bubbles, because your dog will probably get very excited and a child could be mobbed as the bubble source (you can see what I mean at the end of the video)!  Always better safe than sorry!

Monday, February 21, 2011

My New Favorite Thing: H2O4K9 Water Bottle

   This product, I promise, is for every dog owner that ever leaves the house with their pup in tow.

    Since Cassie was a puppy she has always had a problem with overheating very suddenly.  Australian Shepherds are known for being very sensitive to heat and humidity (mostly due to the thick coat and large amount of muscle), but it's still worrisome when your dog lies down in the middle of the road after a 10 minute walk on a crisp cool morning.  This tendency led Chris and I to start taking cool water with us even on short walks, a somewhat cumbersome task when you are just out for a morning stroll.  We tried just about everything:

- Sigg bottles and a collapsible bowl in a backpack
- Camelback and a collapsible bowl 
- Bags of ice cubes
- Plastic water bottles and a cupped hand

   Everything we tried was either messy, complicated, cumbersome or all of the above.  

  In addition to the walks, I need to take water with me everywhere I go with Cassie including: the dog park, classes, competitions (we're only spectating), hiking, etc.   What I did for the longest time was the Sigg-and-Collapsible-bowl-in my-purse routine, but it was annoying having to carry two bulky items in my small bag and then awkwardly take them out during a class and pop open the bowl, take the lid off the Sigg, pour water in the bowl and then set it down on the floor or (more often than not) hold the bowl in front of Cassie's face to get her to drink.   What should be such a simple thing could turn into a time consuming ordeal, especially if Cassie doesn't feel like cooperating. 

   On top of that, what do I do if she doesn't finish all of the water in her bowl?  I can't just pour it back into the Sigg, because the bowl's too wide and the Sigg's mouth is too narrow.  So, I was often left with a bowl half full of water or at the very best still too wet to be put back into my purse...which led to me carrying a wad of paper towels around in my purse on top of everything else.   Enough said...what I was doing wasn't ideal, but was getting us by.   Then I found the best solution ever:   

The H2O4K9

   It's a simple Sigg-like water bottle with a lid that acts as a dog nose shaped cup.  The metal body of the bottle curves inward for a comfortable grip and the hard plastic lid fits snugly around the bottle and has a loop at the top that comes with its own carabiner.   I can stick it in a bag, loop it to a backpack or belt loop or simply carry it with us on walks.  There are two sizes: A large 25oz bottle that works great for big dogs (especially those with long snouts) and a 9.5oz version for smaller dogs and those with smushy faces (This one's so popular it's out of stock until next week).   

   The bottles have wide mouths that make pouring undrunk water back into the bottle a snap.  They are pretty much mess free and you don't waste any of the water you brought with you by pouring out the excess after each drink stop.  You can also easily plop ice cubes through the mouth to keep your water cold on long days out.  This is important, because unfortunately the stainless steel welds will not allow the bottles to be frozen.

   H2O4K9s come in a wide and very attractive variety of colors (we picked the Tree Frog Green).  You can even purchase a matching neoprene shoulder bag called the Neosling, which H2O4K9 claims will keep your water cool and insulated.  

   The company states that the bottles are made of food grade stainless steel and all plastics are BPA free. That's all an added bonus, but I'm much more interested in the design and price, which even for the big bottle (at $20) is cheaper than just buying a comparably sized Sigg...We love it and won't leave home without it ever again...I think this is a winner for all of us who love our furry friends.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The ORKA Flyer: Great Chew Toy (Just Not A Great Disc)

    In light of the fact that Valentine's was this week (and I forgot to say happy Valentine's to everyone), I thought I would make this post center around my husband.

   As many of you know, I am always on a quest for the perfect frisbee/flying disc dog toy.  Though I think I've come pretty close to finding it with the Hartz Tuff Stuff Flyer, the Tuffy Ultimate Rings and the Kong Frisbee, my all-college Ultimate Frisbee champion husband seems to think I need to keep looking.   His biggest gripe is that my soft "unofficial frisbees" don't fly "reliably" enough.  That may be true dear, but they work just fine for me...Enough with the familial discord, I invariably keep buying discs for him to test out with the Cassie dog.

   Last week, before the cold-that-will-not-end set in, we were at Target together in the pet aisle buying chewies and my easily distracted husband picked out his own flying disc that he felt "looked better than the useless one's you pick out." Such a kind and supportive man.

   His disc of choice was the Petstages ORKA Flyer and my initial reaction was impressed.  Off the bat I thought the ORKA looked durable.  It's made of a chewy-soft clear rubbery material that the ORKA brand is based upon.  I was pretty sure that even Cassie wouldn't be able to take it apart easily.   It was bendy enough not to hurt my hands/thighs when it was returned and looked easy enough to throw, being that it has a smaller circumference than a regular frisbee.  Like the Kong Flyer it lacks a hole in the middle a feature that I tend to enjoy in a dog disc, but that Chris thinks "slows the disc down" and makes it unreliable.

 The second we were in the door Chris made straight for the backyard and I waited for his official verdict on the new toy...he and Cassie were only outside a few minutes when Chris was back (demonstrably dogless).   His review (and subsequently mine) was this: the disc is too heavy to fly fast or far and the rubber came out of the box slightly warped, making it unpredictable.  That, however, was the least of his complaints.  The biggest problem was trying to get the disc back from the dog after she made off with it.  Cassie has always been a pretty good retriever, bounding back to us excitedly and sometimes slamming into us with all that Aussie energy.  With the ORKA Flyer she didn't seem to want to come back, instead she preferred to lie in the grass and happily chew on the edges of the disc.  From the video you can see that I've had to walk over to her to take it away and then when she goes to fetch it, she just stands there mesmerized (sorry about the grainy focus of my old camera).

   A week on we are still allowing her to have her way with Flyer and it still has not a single tooth mark.  It is incredibly durable and easy to clean and many other wonderful things, except a good frisbee disc.  Lesson:  If you want a great long lasting chew-toy the ORKA Flyer is a great option.  If, however, you want to play a wonderful and tiring game of frisbee with your should probably look somewhere else.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Sick In Bed

  Hi all,
    Just a message to say that I'm sorry for no post today...Cold is back and I'm going back to bed...hopefully, I'll see you all tomorrow!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


  By a narrow margin treats have beaten out wubbas as the next topic you would like my opinion on...That's great, I love treats (talking about them...not eating them).  I also have a plan for wubbas, since they received some votes, as well.

   Treats are perhaps our greatest tool in dog training...a clicker can be replaced by the verbal cue, a piece of rope will work as an impromptu leash, but the treats (or motivators) you select will determine so many things about how your training session will go.  If the dog becomes full to quickly then it will loose interest in training.  If the smell of the treat is not appealing to the dog she won't work for it.  If it's so messy that it gets all over your hands you will fumble with it or drop it or worse confuse the dog.  If you have to spend three seconds breaking a treat into pieces you have missed your window to treat following a click and your training has just become useless.  So in the theme of High are my Top 5 All Time Greatest Treats:

   1) Zukes Mini Naturals (Salmon):
         Zukes are great all natural/high protein treats.  The minis are the perfect size for training sessions with any sized dog, because they pack a big taste into a small low-calorie bite sized treat.  Unlike many small treats they are moist and chewy.  The chewiness amps up the flavor, though when Cassie was a puppy I found that she would spend a little too much time chewing them.  Unlike other moist treats, I have never had the problem of them disintegrating in my pockets or covering my fingers in residue.    
   Though Salmon is Cassie's favorite (and the most smelly) they also come in Chicken and Peanut Butter flavors.  The Zukes brand offers a wide variety of treats, from crunchy bites to bigger jerky pieces and all are made with the best ingredients.  That said, they are a little expensive.  I alternate between buying from my local organic dog food shop (yes there is one on my doorstep, even in WV) and buying from a friend who gets them wholesale.  They can be picked up on Amazon for what I consider a very fair price (a $2 savings over my local shop and only $1 more than my wholesaler).  If you are training with your dog, I think you will see the benefits.

   One word of warning:  The bag must always be sealed tightly and the treats should never be left out to the air or they turn into little rocks.  I have even taken to putting them in a ziploc for class, because I have noticed they are less moist by the end of a training session.

   2) PureBites Beef Liver:
       Ok, another expensive choice...but well worth it, if you can afford it.  PureBites treats do exactly what they say on the they are made of 100% freeze dried beef liver.  They are high protein (obviously) and only 10 calories per treat.   Unlike the Zukes, they are more like a crunchy treat, though not exactly a biscuit.  They have a wonderful earthy smell that you have to become accustomed to, but I actually really like it now.  Also unlike the moist Zuke Minis, the PureBites Liver treats don't go off in your pocket.  I've found some in old coats and they are just the same as new.  I tend to go through several in a session, but I break them up turning each treat into about 5 mini-bites.  They also work for training obedience, because one big piece can be nibbled at very easily when walking at heel.
   PureBites come in many flavors other than beef liver, including chicken breast, cheddar cheese and various fish combos.  I've tried all the others and though they're wonderfully healthy, I find the liver works best for training, because it doesn't disintegrate easily.  You will have some liver dust in your pocket, but the freeze dried chicken and fish are just plain messy and difficult to work with.  I've also found Cassie prefers the taste of the liver to the other flavors.
    The only thing that might put some people off (besides the smell, which I promise you will come to love) is that because these treats are literally just freeze dried pieces of liver, they are not always of a consistent size or shape.  Some of the 'edge' pieces can be large and difficult to break up...I use these for "jackpot" treats!
   The price on Amazon is a good one...only a few dollars more than my wholesaler and whole lot cheaper than my local store.

   3) Dogswell Vitality (Chicken Breast):
    My last budget breaker is the Dogswell Vitality line.  Like the PureBites, these are just dehydrated pieces of chicken breast, but unlike the PureBites chicken version they're more of an infused crispy jerky than a crumbly piece of flaky chicken.  Dogswell also infuses their chicken treats with omega 3's from flaxseed, which I think has added a sheen to Cassie's already pretty coat.  They also claim that the chickens are all cage free, non-antibiotic, no hormones or fillers...etc...though I'm a little more practically driven (ie how well does the dog work for it), these are all good things.  What I really like is the smell, which is just that of cooked chicken it should be.  I'll admit, I've popped them into my own mouth and they do taste nice (though I did spit it back out).
   I like to take these on walks, because I can pop two or three in my pockets and then break it up into about 20 little treats per slice.  If you break them up in your pockets like I do, you will start to notice some chicken dust in your lining, however not nearly as much as with the PureBites version.  Otherwise, they are not messy and are very convenient.  They last a long time, so a big bag can go a long way, but it is important to keep the bag well sealed!
   Dogswell makes similar treats in duck and sweet potato, some of which are focused on older dogs and dogs with hip problems.  I have only tried the Chicken breast so far, because it's been such a success.

   4) Nutro Natural Choice Crunchy Fruit Treats (Apple):
    I haven't actually used these in awhile, though when we did Cassie really liked them.  Nutro is a good brand and these treats were recommended by a clerk at our local Petsmart, so I gave them a try.   Cassie isn't normally into dry crunchy biscuit treats, so I was a little worried she wouldn't take to them.  I also try to keep her away from as much grain as possible, but what got me again was the smell.  They really smell like apples (the favorite fruit of the Cassie dog) and have a very light texture making them easy to carry and break up into smaller bites.
    When we use them now it tends to be for 'good night' get in your kennel and have a treat! They also work well as treats to hide under a finger when you are doing things like training a 'nose bridge.'   If you've ever seen Celeste Meade on youtube, then you will know why it's often difficult to find treats of an appropriate size and texture for what she does.
   Going back to the smell, they are also good for playing games like Kyra Sundance's 'Shell Game,' where the dog has to find a hidden treat under a cup.  The apple smell is very distinctive and I've found much easier for the dog to isolate than meatier treats.
   They are very delicate though, even for a crunchy treat.  I've pulverized several trying to break them up, so you will probably have to empty your pockets of dust more than once in awhile.  They're a good healthy alternative to meat based treats and offer the dog a little something different.

   5) String Cheese:
    For everyone out there who, like me, is always spending a fortune on dog treats I have to say we're really wasting our time and money.  Nothing will ever top the simple string cheese!!!  Not a lot needs to be said here.  As long as you buy the low fat, low sodium (this is very important) version you can buy as cheaply as you want.  It all seems to taste the same to the dog.   It works well in just about every training situation, whether you chop it up into little bits for tricks class and agility or you simply twist off large pieces to teach heel work in obedience, string cheese is a winner and what all my trainers use.  I've hid it in Nina Ottosson toys, chopped it up and put it in food release toys and even stuck a whole stick down the middle of a kong full of wet dog food and frozen it.  As long as I have cheese, Cassie will never stop working.  I normally go through about three or four sticks per hour long class if I'm not using any other treats.  Though for digestion, it is often best to intersperse other treats between cheese sticks.   They are cheap and easy to find and probably the best thing on the market.  The only draw back is that you will sometimes get messy fingers and they don't keep outside the fridge for too long before turning into a gooey mush.

 I'll keep trying treats and update you off and on about you have a favorite that I've missed???

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Oh, Leashes I Have Loved (& Hated)!

   There are few things more essential in a dog owners tool kit than the basic collar and leash.  I am particularly particular about my leashes, because I believe that they either greatly enhance or completely ruin what might otherwise be a wonderful walk/training session!
   With Cassie I always have to be careful about selecting leashes that are appropriate for the task at hand.  For instance, your average nice leather leash might work fine in the obedience ring, but take one on a walk she will be both out of control and overly enthusiastic about using it as a chew toy!  Therefore, I thought I would just say a bit about the leashes I have now or have purchased in the past and why I do or don't use them now.

   1. Top Paws Luxurious Nylon Leash:
Graduating from Petsmart
          These leashes are available at Petsmart (so I thought it fitting to show Cassie wearing it during her one Petsmart Puppy class) and are probably the most versatile leash you can purchase. It's just your bog-standard nylon leash, but unlike some nylon examples it doesn't seem to burn or blister the hands as much.  They are also very sturdy, so work well for strong pullers or for obedience training (as there is little to no give).  The Top Paws brand in general is middle-of-the-road, but the basic leashes are of good quality.  Cassie had a pink Top Paws Nylon leash as a puppy with a matching harness. Unfortunately, she decided it would be fun one day to chew her way through the leash and another day she chewed straight through the harness in a matter of minutes.  The last one was my fault, having just washed the harness and not fitted it properly before putting it back on her.
    We've gradated to a heavier gauge 6' nylon and love it.  I almost feel nervous taking a walk without it.  It's both a good weight and a good length and the material is just thick enough to be strong, but not cumbersome.  It's a great everyday leash!

   2. Premier Eco Leash:
       I've written about my unhappiness with the Premier Eco Line in general, but in particular the leash is probably the worst product I've ever purchased.  In theory, Premier has done a good thing by sourcing their Eco line from recycled materials.  I have to admit what drew me to this product originally were the bright colors (especially the granny smith green) as opposed to the more muted shades of the traditional line.  I was to be disappointed on many fronts. 
   Firstly, a cursory look at the Amazon comments will show that many people are upset with the quality and durability of the product.  It's very light weight, but not strong enough to stand up to any medium/large sized pulling dog and it won't withstand even the lightest chewing.  It also stretches to a degree that makes it useless for Obedience training. Worst of all, I took it to an agility class (because it was light enough for a puppy to drag without getting caught on obstacles) and before we got in the door a squirrel sent Cassie on a tear and ended up costing me several bandaids worth of cut fingers and blisters.  The leash sliced right through my skin and basically ruined our evening before it had begun.  I know that some pain may have been caused by any leash when a dog takes off full sprint, but the thinness of the leash mixed with the material acted almost like a knife.  This has never happened with any other leash I've owned (even the cheap ones from Walmart).  I wouldn't by the Eco line from Premier in any form or for any function.  It just isn't worth the money (or the pain).

   3. Kong Control Grip Plus Leash:
     After our escapade with the Premier Eco leash I had to find a substitute that would ensure I wouldn't be injured again on my way to class!  Thankfully, this was almost the exact week that Kong came out with their new line of leashes.  We picked up the Control Grip Plus in pink and have had it ever since!
     The people at Kong really knew what they were doing (for the most part), the leash loop is padded with a soft spongy material and the loop itself actually has a release buckle so that if necessary it can act as an instant tether.  I haven't had to use this feature much, but once on a walk with Cassie my husband came across a neighbor's dog running loose.  He quickly released the buckle and snapped Cassie to a mailbox, while he chased after the other pup (he had gotten loose while they were leaving for work and hadn't been noticed as missing!).  So the Kong leash saved the day!
    In addition, the manufacturer has added a sort of brake to the leash.  This bone shaped piece of heavy duty flexible plastic can be easily positioned at any point on the leash and with a little bit of thumb pressure can instantly be used as a soft extra-strong handle to hold back the more exuberant pup.  It really works and has been very helpful in encouraging Cassie to sit politely for petting (without having my arm pulled off).
    What I also like about this leash is that it has a very sturdy (almost industrial looking) clip that can be snapped onto a D-ring with two fingers.  The snap is a little heavy, so I wouldn't use it with a head halter (or 'choke'-style training collars, for those who use them), but for a standard collar it keeps a perfect amount of resistance on the dog's collar without having it flopping around during the walk.
   The leash only comes in four colors (grey, red, pink, blue), which is a bit boring, but all have strips of reflective material stitched in for added safety in dim light.  The only downside I've found is that the longest length you can buy the 1" in is 4 feet, while the light weight 5/8" leash comes in 6 feet.   It makes no sense to me why the heavier gauge wouldn't come in a 6 foot version, as well.  My husband is 6'5" and can't use the leash without keeping Cassie constantly at heel.   Still a great product that I think every dog owner would enjoy!

 4. A Fleece Agility Tugger:
      These leashes from Clean Run are lovely for certain things, but not for everyday use!  I'm almost of two minds on this one.   It's made of braided fleece with a loop at one end and a basic clip at the other.  My friend Tracey won one at a Flyball show and I was so taken by the softness of it that the green-eyed monster I am went straight to Clean Run to pick it up!
      Like I said, it's good for some things like: agility training and tricks class.  It is very light and so doesn't slow Cassie down or catch on things (like tunnels) when we are moving through a course.  I can keep a leash on her while she's working and then because of it's fleeciness, use it as a tug reward at the end.  If you've ever seen agility competitions, the dog is not allowed to have a collar on, let alone a leash, but at the end of the course you will leash your dog and most people have a tuggy-leash that acts like a play reward.  This leash is great for that and is approved for use by AKC agility!
    What this leash is not, however, is a walking leash or a "transition" leash for people who's dogs pull or lunge.  By a transition leash, I mean a leash you use to move your dog from one area of an event to another.   At agility competitions, you will often be moving your dog around a lot: lining up before your turn, leaving the ring, getting to your seat, getting to another course.  So you need either a well controlled dog or a leash without a great deal of give...this leash is all about give!  It's soft braided material is loose and almost like a bungee. Therefore, if your dog pulls he will keep going after the "end" of the leash has been reached.  You won't have any leverage to stop him!  That give is what makes it so much fun to tug with, but not so much fun to walk with!  Still a great tool if you need it!

Poll Closes Tonight: Please Break the Tie!

   Hi folks, our poll closes tonight, so please get your votes in...otherwise we will end in a complete tie!  Not a big deal really...I'll just do both reviews, but still not nearly as fun as having an out right winner!  Get to voting!

Monday, February 14, 2011

I'm Sick: Here's Another Book Review

   Hi everyone!  I've come down with a little cold and so haven't been feeling myself the past day or so...therefore, instead of chasing Cass around with the camera today, I'm going to talk about another book I've found valuable to our training!

   Pat Miller's Power of Positive Dog Training:

     Pat's lives in my local area, my hometown actually, and runs a really wonderful (from what I've heard, I've never actually been there) training center called Peaceable Paws.  I was directed to her work by the owner of the training facility I frequent when we were having the "herding mommy" problem, which I'm happy to report seems to be reaching an end.

     Pat has written several books, but this one's about building the foundation of a good relationship with your dog through positive training.  It's great for the owner of a new puppy, a new rescue or someone who (like me) needs to go back to the beginning on some things.  I read it in a day and by the end had decided I needed to start training walking on a leash from's made all the difference in the world!

    By and large, PPDT seems like your average positive training techniques book, but within the broader lessons Pat provides hints and brings out finer details that make positive reinforcement training not only reliable, but I would wager more productive than 'traditional' training methods.

   The real revelation for me was Pat's leash training technique.  I've taken instruction on leash training using positive techniques in puppy classes and several obedience classes and though I had heard "reward the good behavior, ignore the bad," over and over, for some reason I wasn't taking it far enough.  One problem we had was that Cassie isn't a natural puller, at least not in a straight line.  Our walks were always more of a meander than a training exercise and though the leash was quite often taut, it never really felt like pulling to me.  I liked that to an extent, the fact that we could both just go out and as long as she wasn't pulling me headlong down the road, mindlessly explore and sort of run wild.  However, with the "I'm out having my own walk and mom is just following along" scenario came the "when mom tells me it's time to move along or pay attention I don't really have any reason to listen" scenario.
   This became a problem when I allowed her to sit and watch the world for too long, let her sniff all the plants in the field (as she darted from one side of the road to the other), or when we came across other dogs or people (particularly children).  When I said it was time to get back on the road a temper tantrum would ensue (with rolling over, lying on her side, digging her feet in, lunging and dragging and helicopter jumping toward said dog/person, and finally biting me).  I had tried the drag her off in the other direction technique, the stand behind her with a taut leash and wait for her to sit technique, the keep her moving and encourage her down the road technique and the have her sit and then when necessary stand in front of her to block her view technique, all were more or less failures.

   The main issue was that once her focus was lost, I couldn't get it back.   The other was that she didn't seem to feel any motivation to listen to me in the first place and was actually affronted that I thought I could push her around...Herding dogs, I don't know.  Chapter 4 of PPDT entitled: 'A New Leash On Life', totally changed the way I think about positive training and explained why I had never been as successful as I should have been.  The main lessons for me were:

 1) Click-and-treat the dog when it's doing the right thing (including when it's on the brink of doing the wrong thing):  This was a big deal for me.  I would click-and-treat when Cassie was at heel during a walk, but not when she was still with in the confines of a loose leash.  As soon as she would step out of heel I would stop the clicking and unconsciously wait for her to make a mistake (so that I could then correct it).  What I was doing was teaching her to fail at heeling, while ignoring our real goal: loose leash walking.  The Solution:  Click-and-treat no matter where she was within the loose leash if she is just about to hit the taut leash click-and-treat!  She'll hear the click and guess what happily turn and come back to you for the treat....which led to lesson 2...

  2) Don't be stingy with treats.  They are markers that tell your dog she's done something right!:  Though I had always liked positive techniques, somewhere in the back of my mind I was still always thinking...I can't keep treating her like this forever, it's time to wean her off the treats.  So what happened...each walk I would bring fewer and fewer treats and each day I would get less and less focus (and more tantrums)... Pat points out the treat is like the dog's paycheck...eventually you can make it an occasional reward, but when behaviors are not yet reliable you need to keep a high rate of reinforcement.  I now take a big pocket full of treats (of various kinds) and the result is a much better behaved dog who still gets treated more than before...but really not that much more.  To quote Pat: "There is not a shred of doubt in my mind--I would rather have cookies in my jacket pockets than a chain around my dog's neck."

   After a few weeks of high reinforcement on our walks I have a dog that both walks and runs to heel without biting (well most of the time) and one that even focuses when moving past other dogs (even the scary lunching German Shepherd on an electric fence) and children without so much as blinking.  PPDT covers the gamut of basic dog training from the beginning with explanations of types of behavior and response, to using the clicker, through to addressing behavior challenges such as separation anxiety and biting.  Each chapter is a full lesson that is presented to your dog as tricks or games, so that it doesn't feel like training and there is no need for correction or punishment.  It's a great book that opened my eyes to a new level of positive reinforcement training in ways that other books had not.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Just A Reminder There Is Still Time To Vote

   There is still time to vote in our poll...just look to the right!

FitPAWS and a Visit from Our Friend Jinx

'Puppy Sit'
   For the past month in both Obedience and Agility our trainers have commented on Cassie's rear end/core weakness, which has resulted in a stubborn tendency toward what I call a 'puppy sit'.  It's probably not something skeletal (we've had x-rays done), but rather a failure on my part to enforce 'proper' sitting.  It wouldn't be that big of a deal to me, but it's a sign of her overall fitness.  So we've been working on it with exercises of various
kinds and I'm now considering buying a device from the FitPAWS series.

   FitPAWS are basically just oddly shaped exercise balls that you inflate (like my $10 one from Target), except that they are designed to work your dog's muscle groups in a manner that's easy and safe.  The other main difference is that the plasticky material is much thicker than that of an ordinary exercise ball and, therefore, is able to stand up better against trimmed dog nails.

   FitPAWS are a bit expensive for the average canine enthusiast (coming in between $30 - $110 depending on the size and product), but I've heard of many people having real success with them.   They are targeted at two main audiences: owners who need to rehab injured or older dogs and owners who do any sort of sport with their dogs.  I'm not sure they are a must have for everyone, but there are many of us who could find them helpful either to fix an existing problem or to prevent damage to our pets' joints through total body strengthening.  We exercise to prevent damage to ourselves, so it only makes sense to do the same when we are asking a lot of our dogs!  Personally, I have dogs on both ends of the spectrum (Cassie needs strength for agility/obedience, Lilly needs rehab for her arthritis and coordination), so it's worth a try.

   Because even I like to 'try before I buy', my friend Tracey very kindly agreed to visit with her dog Jinx and two of the FitPAWS products she has purchased.  Jinx is already very strong due to the fact that he competes in both agility and flyball.  He also happens to be an Aussie of similar size to Cassie, which helped with figuring out product sizing.  Tracey had never put Jinx on the FitPAWS, so what you see in the video are his first attempts.  Tracey has purchased both the FitPAWS Peanut (size 60 cm) and the Donut (size Large).  Both are intended as the introductory products in the FitPAWS line.

   All three dogs (Jinx, Cassie & Lilly) had a go, but Jinx was the only one we filmed because of a combination of camera angle problems and Lilly not liking other people touching her.  Jinx was also the strongest and the best listener.  He's also quite handsome!

  We put a towel over the FitPAWS initially, because Cassie's nails are a bit long right now and I thought Lilly might need some extra grip...Jinx did fine with the towel and better without it, so I think in future I'll remember to trim Cassie's nails before we have a go!  Cassie also didn't seem so eager to bite the FitPAWS when the towel was on!

   My thoughts:  The FitPAWS took awhile to get inflated (thank goodness Tracey has strong arms), but once it was inflated it seemed very sturdy.  We had a lot of fun with the product and it did seem to tire the dogs, which is a good sign that they were working.   You can see with both products that Jinx is constantly having to readjust his position, meaning that he was constantly working many muscle groups at once!  I liked the Donut best for Cassie & Lilly, because it's both more reasonably priced and I would be able to work both dogs (one at a time, haha) on the Large size by myself.

  The Peanut was also easy to use and made the dogs work harder, though I think if I bought it for Cassie I might step up a size to the 70 cm.  Tracey intends to use the 60 cm for both Jinx and her Jack Russells, so it made more sense for her to have an inbetween size.    The Peanut was a little cumbersome to use with one person and worked better when there was a 'feeder' person at the front and a 'manipulator' at the back.  Though with more practice we might be able to manage alone.  Maybe it was just the natural exuberance of the Aussie, but unlike the dogs on the DVD Jinx and Cassie were very excited about doing something new and needed a extra guidance.  They certainly did not just lie there and allow us to bounce them up and down.

   Do I think they are worth the money?...yes, to some people.   Am I going to buy one myself?...yes!  I'm putting my order in for the Large Donut today!  We're going to fix this 'puppy sit' if it's the last thing I do!  I'll keep you updated on our progress.

Do you think your dogs could benefit from some added fitness?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Poll Instead: Let Me Know What You Want!

I'm trying to put together a really nice review of FitPaws for tomorrow...which is becoming a little involved... So I thought I would take your pulse and see what you would like to see a review of in future:

     2)  Frisbee Overview
      3)  Agility Equipment
                                                                    4)  Treats

Feel free to leave comments, to participate in the poll to the right or both!  I'll leave it up for a couple days and then write on the result!  Thanks guys!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Training Books I Love!

  The market seems flooded lately with dog training books and rightfully so, as our pets are becoming more and more important in our lives.  I have bought so many books, I now have a whole bookshelf dedicated to dog training, so I thought it was about time to list my favorites below.
   I'm not a professional dog trainer, so I need all the help I can get to keep Cassie calm and interested.  I also work exclusively with positive methods.  I'm not going to say I never utter a correction, but I do try to be a solid and kind leader...which isn't always as easy as it seems.

  My Favorite Training Books:

 Kyra Sundance's Do More with Your Dog series:
    After a couple puppy-related books, this was the first set of books I picked up for Cassie.  We started taking a Tricks class at our local training facility and these books were the basis of it.  Tricks, as Kyra notes, are a great way to start a puppy on the path to loving learning and to thinking for itself.  Cassie started out in the class at about 10 weeks old and has stayed with it throughout her first year!  It has done wonders for her focus, especially around a class full of other dogs and has helped me ensure that she's curious about new things instead of frightened of them.   Though she still doesn't like the sound the wagon makes when she pulls it behind her.  We're currently training the 'get me a beer from the fridge' trick...which is on the expert level!
Sorry about the little brown nose in the corner!
  Let's face it, these books are great!  Kyra is a fun and enthusiastic teacher, who guides you through increasingly more advanced training while teaching your dog to learn through play.  Best of all: Your human/dog team can earn titles from Kyra's website!  Cassie and I are almost ready to test for our Advanced Trick Dog title.  With the completion of a level, you can receive a very pretty certificate, a Do More with Your Dog bracelet and with Kyra has sent us encouraging hand written notes!  The DMWYD books are available in most big bookstores or from Amazon and now both a workbook and DVD's are also available (those are on my birthday list).

Kyra is just about to come out with a new Tricks book.  I've seen some of the photos already and it looks like this will be another winner! So look for that when it arrives at your local bookstore or on Amazon!

MORE TO COME IN A LITTLE WHILE, including: Leslie McDevitt's Control Unleashed and Pat Miller's The Power of Positive Dog Training!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

To All My Lovely Readers

   Cassie and I have just completed an interview for Pet Blogs United's Talkie Tuesdays!  It's up and running now!  Pet Blogs United is an organization that helps to bring the online pet blogging world together and gets the word out on new/popular pet blogs!  They also have some great features of their own!  Head on over and give it a glance!

A Playful Attempt at Treibball!

   This isn't really a review of anything in particular, more a reminder that even regular household items can also be a lot of fun for our dogs!  For those of you who don't know, and I'm guess that's lots of you, Treibball is a new dog sport out of Germany that involves teaching your dog to herd large balls.

How it should look

   It's designed to work herding dogs (or any dogs really) that don't have a flock of their own to tend.  That pretty much sounds like us!  We tried to get into the class at a local training facility (not our usual one), but it filled up so fast!  Instead we had a go in our basement with an exercise ball my husband bought for $10 at Target.   Chris must have found a deal because I can't find it on the Target website for that price anymore.  Cassie loved it!  She even scored a goal...sort of.  
   This was a cheap and easy way to work on her herding instincts, (attempt) to teach her not to bite things that move and to get some fun indoor exercise on a day when the backyard looked like a mud hole.  Can't wait to get better at it!  Maybe someday she will start taking direction...though I doubt it!  Give it a try and let me know what you think!  Are there any other household items that work as dog toys?? Let me know!

Our 1st Attempt

Monday, February 7, 2011

Nina Ottosson's Interactive Tornado!

  I found out about Nina Ottosson like I often find good products: watching TV.  Victoria Stilwell of It's Me or the Dog fame had a young couple with a bored puppy on and introduced them to one of Nina's toys!  I got on Google pretty fast and started reading about Nina and her philosophy on dog toys and really liked it.  Cassie got the Tornado for Christmas, which is a spinning three-tiered bone with compartments for food/treats and three insertable covers that make the game harder.

  Any time I need a few minutes of alone time or  any time Cassie is having a restless moment, I pull it out and fill it up (usually just with dog kibble, but sometimes with treats or cheese) and set her loose on it.  It doesn't take her very long to finish it now that she's figured it out, but it is still fun and rewarding for her.  She still has to think about how to figure out each level.  The games tire her brain out for awhile and give her a nice incentive to use her nose as well!  Sniffing dogs are tired dogs, which means happy dogs!

   Each game (there are several) comes with a training dvd and instructions, but Cassie pretty much figured it out right away and the Tornado is on the hardest level of difficulty.  My friend Tracey bought another Nina game for her dogs and the Jack Russell figured it out right away, while the Whippet puppy is still working on it!

   They are a little pricey (around $40), but are very durable (Cassie has only put some tooth marks in it). They can be purchased through Amazon, Nina's website or I'm told even in store at Petco under the Company of Animals heading.  I'll put up more reviews of individual games as they come along!  Hope you like them as much as we do!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Haltis, Easy Walks & Muzzles: I'm Just Being Honest

The Easy Walk
   I've already expressed my profound love of the Premier Easy Walk harness.  Cassie, like many medium-large dogs, was an instant puller.  She actually used to pull in both directions (backwards and forwards) and she would become very excited during classes and would charge through the door and race for other dogs.  A great deal of time, patience and training has helped to bring an end to all these issues (for the most part) and the use of the Easy Walk in the early days did a great deal to help!  What I liked best about it, as one of my trainers pointed out, is that it doesn't put any pressure on the fragile muscles and bones of the puppy's neck and head, instead transferring all the pressure to the chest.  The Easy Walk made Cassie more manageable and, therefore, easier to focus for training.  It wasn't a long term device (though we do still pull it out for large crowds and lots of children), but was instead simply a short term management tool and training device.  Once the training was completed and there was no longer any bad behavior to manage the device went away and we are now on a very nice martingale collar (she still likes to pull backwards from time to time).
The Halti
   Now that Cassie is a year old and a good walker, I decided it was time to start training a new behavior...running!   This brought on a new set of issues that needed to be curbed and corrected, namely her herding instinct.  Many people will tell you about herding dogs (Border Collies, Aussies, etc) that will nip at the heels of fleeing children.  My herding dog, unfortunately, chose to herd me during our brief stints of unbridled running.  It was becoming such a problem that even our agility practice in the backyard was becoming a daily onslaught of nips and increasingly upsetting bites.  So with my arms black-and-blue, I went to my trainers in tears.  They suggested moving onto the next step in the harness line: a head harness. My trainer recommended starting with the Halti, so that is where we started.

   The Halti is a fairly simple device that fits over the dog's nose and secures behind its head.  It's not a muzzle, but it can be used to slip a hand up the nose loop and close the dog's mouth while turning its head away for a moment.  That should be enough to control the episode of nipping, while not harming the dog in any way.

  One of the key elements of the Halti (or any head collar I've seen) is the need to desensitize the dog to its presence.  So, over the past two weeks that's what we've been working on.  We're up to the point where she'll happily wear it around the house with a leash trailing.   We haven't yet gotten to the point where we could resume our walks (let alone our runs) with the Halti.   In the meantime, I have resorted to a somewhat more drastic management device: a muzzle.

The muzzle
   I'm not happy about it.  The muzzle I purchased makes her look like a dead ringer for Hannibal Lecter and I'm acutely aware of the looks we get from the neighbors, but it has allowed us to start desensitizing Cassie to the movement of me running.  For the first time we're able to run like a normal pair without my having to worry about soaking bruises afterwards.  I'm not going to recommend the muzzle I bought from Amazon.  The basket is made of cheap plastic and the straps are very flimsy, but what is most inconvenient is that the buckle that allows you to resize the neck strap is useless.  It constantly slips loose and the whole muzzle comes off.  So I'm going to look for a better one, unless I can phase out the muzzle completely before then.   Like I said this is a temporary management tool; we're going to wean her off the muzzle and onto the Halti and then hopefully onto nothing at all.  Training devices can't become crutches, I'm aware of that, but this seems to be the best solution for the time being.  We'll keep you updated on our progress.  Now stop looking at us like that!

Friday, February 4, 2011

An Update on Petunia

Petunia Pig is still alive and fairly well!  After three days of a full on love affair between Cassie and Petunia, the poor pig has lost a tail, the better part of two ears and her cute piggy snout is quickly disintegrating!  But for the most part, she is right as rain!  Unfortunately, someone (me) left the door open and Chris found the poor pig out back in a big mud puddle.  He's now cleaning her up and hoping she can be saved from the washing machine!  I'll report back soon!

Petunia has been saved!  She cleaned up pretty well actually!  Good on you Mighty Dog toy company!

   I thought a big photo might show the extent of the damage (not so much really)!  Pardon the obstruction in front of the poor pig!  Someone (ahem) literally couldn't keep her paws off of her pig long enough for me to take a photo!

The Pet Carrier That Nearly Ruined Christmas!

   Since the moment we brought Cassie home I tried to acclamate her to simply lying in the back seat of the car while I'm driving.  Well, that was fine when she was ten pounds and I could still drive with one hand and hold her at bay in the passenger seat with the other.  However, now that she is 50 lbs and very excited about car rides leaving her loose in the car is just not an option.
    We've tried seat belt harnesses, dividers and putting her in both the front and the back seats.  Finally on one 5 mile drive home from training when I had pulled over for the 3rd time to get her back in her seat belt (she really is a houdini dog) I decided that it was time to buy a crate.  Well, maybe Christmas time wasn't the best time to try it out, but I am a glutton for punishment.  So one day on the spur of the moment I picked up a collapsible dog crate from Target and brought it home to try it out...what a mistake:

The Boots & Barkley Large Pop Open Dog Kennel:
    I start in my defense:  At this point I still wasn't sold on the idea of carrying a dog kennel around in the back of my car, so the facts that it is 1) cheap ($25) and 2) collapsible had the impulse shopper in me interested.  In addition, I was increasingly desperate for an end to my daily stops along the side of the interstate to re-fit a seat-belt harness.  I brought the Pop Open Kennel home on a whim and carefully read the brief instructions (that were also unclear).   From the beginning, I was never able to get the thing back into the tight circle it came in (even though that was meant to be a selling feature).  It wasn't frightening to Cassie, but I did do some work with getting her used to being inside the kennel when it was zipped up. She seemed fine.
   On Christmas morning my husband sat in the passenger seat straddling a bucket of brining cornish game hens while holding Lilly, who was instantly asleep in his lap and Cassie jumped right into the Pop Up Kennel that my husband had meticulously fitted into the backseat.   To say she didn't like it was an understatement.   We made it to the end of our neighborhood before trouble started with scratching and clawing at the filmsy material of the kennel walls.  The next problem came a quarter mile down the road, when Cassie somehow tipped the kennel towards the footwell, which resulted in her becoming trapped within the collapsed sides of the kennel in the footwell screaming frantically for help.   It was a terrible start to Christmas morning!  I pulled over, extracted my dog from the kennel and ripped it out of the car, folded it as much as possible and threw it in the trunk...My husband spent the rest of the ride to my parents' house in the backseat with Cassie, while Lilly slept by herself in the front seat.  When we finally pulled into my parents' driveway, I had to wait with Cassie until my father could bring Tobey's old Crate up from the basement so we could enjoy opening presents without chew marks!

  Moral of the story folks: If your dog won't sit still in the car and can get out of seatbelts like mine can, just buckle down and buy the biggest hard-sided crate that will fit in your car.  I did (The Petmate Kennel) and I've not seen the shoulder of the interstate since.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Cassie's 1st Birthday!

     Today is Cassie's 1st birthday, so in recognition of how much she's grown I've added a few pics below.
    For the occasion we went to Petsmart so that she could pick out a present!  After ten minutes of trying out everything from squeaker balls, Jolly Balls, rope toys and a few plush items she kept coming back to one choice: the Mighty Dog Toys Pink Pig.  I also picked out something I thought she would benefit from the Tuffy Ultimate Tug-o-War.  In the mail (and hopefully arriving soon thanks to the weather) is a new agility tunnel, but she doesn't know that yet so please don't tell her.

  1. The Mighty Dog Toys Piglet:
      What can I say she picked out something that she clearly loved.   When I told her it was ok she picked it up, carried it to the front of the store, handed it to the gentleman at the counter and waited patiently until we got back in the car where I handed it over.   She hasn't put it down since.
     The pig ranks an 8 on the Dura-scale provided by, which they state means it’s "Long lasting and really durable."  It seems to be true (so far).  It's constructed of several layers of dense fleece and has no edges to encourage chewing and she really likes just carrying it around and chasing it across the floor.  By the time we got home the tail was gone, but that I expected.  Time will tell whether it is a long lasting favorite.  PS:  It also makes a good pillow!

  2.  The Tuffy Ultimate Tug-o-War:
        Can't comment on this too much yet, she is still too fixated on the pig.  I picked it up mainly to encourage backward tugging that might strengthen her thigh muscles (her trainers think she is weak in the inner thighs).  So we'll see how it goes.

Just a note that I've signed up to be a product tester for  Every other month I will now be purchasing one of their toys and telling you (and them) about it.  The incentive is that it comes with a 45% discount on their toys, but you have to agree to buy one ever other month (you can increase or decrease the frequency, but the discount also shifts).  In this age of transparency I thought I would let you know!  You can join too, it's not like it's an exclusive club.  You just have to agree to follow the plan (it really is a good discount on a wide variety of toys!)  Happy shopping! And Happy Birthday to My Not-so-little Puppy!