Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Bark Off - As Seen on TV

    I've never really gone in for infomercial shopping, but I do admit to every once-and-awhile taking a spin around out local "As Seen on TV" outlet store.  As many of you may have seen on TV recently they're advertising a product called the 'Bark Off' that the manufacturers claim will bring an end to all those annoying noises your dog makes to ruin your TV watching experiences.  It's not typically something I would rush out to get, but when it was in the store (no shipping & handling fees) and at 50% off the original price ($4.95), I thought why not.

    Cassie is an attention barker, which as a positive trainer I would normally handle by just ignoring her, even when she progresses to some heavy mouthing.  I've tried squirt bottles, bad smells and the only thing that has ever seemed to deter her are my threats of beating pots and pans together, which as you can imagine makes for a perfectly delightful evening!  I don't like painful or stringent punishments and simply crating her only staves off the problem, so sound aversion didn't really bother me as a concept, especially since it had been so successful in our pots-and-pans past!  Having a version that I didn't have to carry around or even listen to was like music to my ears (pardon the bad pun).   I should have been clued in to the 'Bark Off's possible faults when the cashier of the store said he had not heard the best reports from other purchasers as a means of explaining the heavy discount.

What it is:
   The 'Bark Off' is a plastic encased device that sets off a high pitched squeal (imperceptible to human ears) anytime it detects a sound it considers to be within a typical dog-bark frequency.  The 'Bark Off' is equipped with two levels of sensitivity, so that, if you choose, it will only react to strong loud barks, as opposed to softer whining and yips.  The intensity of the squeal it puts out is meant to never change.

  My only real concern, besides it not working at all, was that it would not be very selective about setting off the that a dog bark on the TV or a similar sound to a bark might set it off when Cassie hadn't even done anything wrong.   Not such a big deal when it's only Cassie around, but in a multi-dog home when only one of the dogs is a barker, how would you keep from punishing the whole group?

How It Worked:
   Regardless, home I went and started searching for a 9 volt battery, happily finding one at the back of a drawer.  I let the dog out, placed the 'Bark Off' on a low shelf about five feet away switching it to the 'low' setting and waited to be serenaded!  Within minutes the 'play with me' dance started and I ignored it for the sake of study.

    Cassie then gave a very loud and pronounced bark and then stopped, turning her head to question what had just come from the bookshelf.  She'd definitely heard something that gave her pause and then proceeded to experiment with the sound in what can only be described as a game of "Barko-Polo!"  It did stop her from barking the first night, a little.  She didn't like the sound and was clearly confused by it, but after having it set to varying intensities for the last few days she now seems content to ignore the strange noise and has gone right back to barking her head off whenever she feels like it.

   I've tried it on Tobey and his 'killer dogs walking past the house' barking routine and he too just doesn't seem to care about the strange noise...he's too focused on scaring away that big German Shepherd Dog from down the street!  How dare it go to the bus stop to pick up its children each day!

Final Verdict:
   The final verdict on the 'Bark Off' is that if you can find it cheap why not give it a try on your dog, if you're ok with aversion tactics.  If you're suffering from insomnia one night and see it on TV, I really wouldn't waste your time.

   If you've had success with the 'Bark Off', please let me know and I'll update with your comments.

Monday, April 11, 2011

It Pays to watch the Today Show: THE NEATER FEEDER!

   As you may have heard, I've wanted to a Neater Feeder for awhile, but just couldn't justify spending that kind of money (up to $66 if you need leg extenders for the Large size) on a product that I wasn't completely sure would standup to Cassie and her messy water-slopping ways!


 I think I should begin with some explanation:
  The Neater Feeder is a feeding station that simply suspends two metal bowls over a reservoir into which run off water is diverted.  The surface into which the bowls are inserted slopes gently toward a grate at the front that leads to the reservoir below. The reservoir is large enough to contain the contents of both bowls, but small enough to not make the feeder excessively tall.   The design is fairly simple, while the reservoir collects the spilled water, splashing and dripping are minimized by the tall walls at the front and sides and a neck-height lip at the front.  The body is made of a smooth but durable plastic and the bowls are your standard metal fare. The Neater Feeder comes in S, M, & L sizes and leg extenders can be purchased for taller dogs.  They even make a version for cats.

Bowl surface and grate

The Old Way
   Cassie's not a very messy eater, but she has a way of sloshing, dripping and slinging water that has to be seen to be believed...sometimes I wonder if there is something wrong with her mouth that so much water ends up on the floor.  In addition to being a sloppy drinker she has a what I call her 'doggie beard' that always seems to end up in her water bowl and results in a Hansel-and-Gretel style trail of droplets.  I've tried many products in the past, from doggie placemats, to bowl stands/holders and nothing made the problem better.  In fact the placemat collected water underneath and after about a week's use I was left with a mat-shaped watermark on my hardwood.  For months we'd been making due with a Tuperware tub and Pyrex bowls, because this was the only way to give some bowl height, that was easy to clean and that had a lip to prevent some of the water run off.

Hardwood Damage
   Regardless of my attempts, my hardwood has progressively become more damaged, until I now have several boards that are actually splitting and pealing away at the edges.  I'm not a big fan of these manufactured floors (they were in the house when we moved in and have proved less than durable), but the water problem has done nothing but exacerbate the damage.

    Then as if the Dog gods had heard my anguished cries, I was sitting on the couch eating my breakfast, watching the Today Show and low-and-behold the weekly 'Jill's Steals & Deals' segment featured the Neater Feeder.  When I heard that I could purchase any sized Neater Feeder for $15, I nearly spilled my coffee in the race to the computer.  After checking out the details and trying in vain several times to get through to, I decided I should make sure you all knew about it too!  Then for the next 30 min I repeated the process of getting through until my order had been successfully sent!  In total, I spent $24 for a large-sized Neater Feeder (including shipping and handling)!

  A couple weeks later and the Neater Feeder has arrived!   Since that moment not a single drop of water has hit our floors.  I'm at a loss to say much other than that it works perfectly!  Even Cassie's beard dripping has ceased.  What had kept me from rushing out to purchase this product in the past (besides the price) were these thoughts:

 1) With the Neater Feeder being made of plastic will Cassie just start chewing on the corners? This happened to the placemat on several occasions and ended with Cassie upsetting entire bowls of water on the floor!
 2) What size should I order?? The size recommendations suggested the Large, but that sounded so big for a medium sized dog.
 3) Will this be just another clunky thing taking up room in my house...along with the collections of mats and bowls??
 4) Will Cassie like drinking out of it? The tall walls made me worry she might be wary of sticking her head in to get a drink.
 5) Will it actually work for all the water dripping or just prevent big spills?? I really doubted the beard trails would ever be preventable.

The Good Things About The Neater Feeder:

   It does exactly what it says it will do, nothing more, nothing less!  From the moment I ripped it out of the box and set it up next to the old Tuperware tub Cassie showed not the slightest hesitation about eating and drinking out of it.  In the past she has been grumpy about using metal bowls and so I've used pyrex instead, but with these she seems to have gotten past that phase.  She's also not so much as nibbled on the edges, so either she doesn't see it as something worth chewing or she's just biding her time. Though it's big for a feeder, it's almost exactly the same size as our Tuperware tub and is much more attractive.
   Most importantly, it works!  I've left it out for days and my floor is completely free of water marks.  I've given it some swift kicks, sending water cascading out of the bowls like Old Faithful and its all swirled down the drain and into the reservoir, marring neither the floors nor the walls.  Even the beard trails, which I thought were a just fact of life with a long haired dog, have disappeared!  We have a miracle!

Facts That Are Going to Take Some Getting Used To:

  When I bought the Neater Feeder I knew I was going to loose the one big advantage of my Tuperware tub: the fact that I had an all-in-one kibble storage/serving device.  The Neater Feeder is not a storage/feeding device and it's not an automated feeder.  It's a mess-free feeding product, plain and simple!  That isn't so terrible.  I'm just going to have to find a more attractive way of hiding the dog food, while keeping it tolerably accessible.

The Only Real Area For Improvement:

  All that said, I do have one small quibble you should be aware of before ordering your own Neater Feeder (besides the fact that you can no longer pick one up on the cheap like I did):  the sizing recommendations can be confusing.  As I mentioned, the Neater Feeder comes in three sizes (S, M, L) and you can buy extenders for taller dogs.  However, strangely the size-recommendations the company provides are all figured by the weight of the dog with a minimum height, instead of a range for both.  For instance, they suggest that the Large suits a 35-100+ dog with a 15-20" shoulder height.   But what if your dog doesn't fall into those ranges?

  I know at least one of you got in on the deal with me, because Elizabeth over at The Chronicles of Cardigan blogged about it last week and noted this sizing conundrum.  Unlike Cassie, who the size recommendation ended up working out for fairly well (though I was nervous), Elizabeth's Cardigans are...well let's just say atypically-shaped breed.  They are shorter than you would expect them to be for their weight.  This is true of several breeds (standard Corgis, Bulldogs, etc) basically any dog that is longer than it is tall I think will result in some size confusion with the Neater Feeder.

  A simple solution is for the company to develop a weight-height comparison chart and suggest sizes for the various ranges (a bit like sizing pantyhose).  Better still would be a generalized breed appropriate size suggestion list like those commonly found with other products such as head halters, harnesses and some toys and chews.  I think this update would make customers more confident that they're purchasing the right size for their dogs.  I always think more information is generally better than less.

For your immediate assistance I've provided a photo of a recognizable dog standing next to a Large size without leg extenders:

Overall, I love the new Neater Feeder!  It's fit into my home with such immediate satisfaction that I can't help but be a little smug each time I pass it!  If you have a messy eater/drinker whose destroying your hardwood like mine was, I would dare say it's worth the investment!  I shudder to think what replacing this hardwood is going to cost when we go to sell!

 [I'll upload some video as soon as I can get the Cassie Dog to cooperate!]

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Neater Feeder Has Arrived

   You may remember that a few weeks ago I blogged about a great deal on the Neater Feeder that ran on the Today show.  It took a little patience, but our Neater Feeder arrived yesterday and so far so good!  We will be blogging about it early next week after Cassie has had a chance to put it through its paces.   A couple of our readers seem to have gotten in on the offer as well, so I'll be including links to their blog-posts, along with my own review!  I love it when we can all interact over our love of dogs!  Till then, you can check the Neater Feeder out at!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Wildcatch For Pets Salmon Jerky

    Jeff, the owner of our local organic pet food store (Bentley's Specialty Pet Foods) clued us into the new Wildcatch For Pets Salmon Jerky treats the last time I was in and I have to confess the dogs really loved them!  Wildcatch normally spends their time manufacturing for the human population, so you can be pretty sure that the quality's going to be high.  They boast that 47% of the Salmon Jerky comes from protein and of that 95% comes from all natural sustainable wild salmon.   What's in the other 53% of these treats is always of note for me, because I try to feed as grain-free as possible.  The answer: mostly organic Brown Rice flour.  Since they're just for a treat I'll let them get away with that.  I should note that this formulation seems to be somewhat new for Wildcatch, which had been producing a product called Wild Sky Sockeye Salmon Jerky Treats that look very similar to this and are still the only thing advertised on their I think it's just a marketing change.

    I brought these home the day before Jinx came to stay and from the video I think you can tell how popular they were.  I nearly lost some fingers there Mr. Jinx!  I mainly judge the quality of the treat by how well the dog works for it and how much focus it generates...this one was a clear success!

   The real test came a few days later when Cassie had her first hydrotherapy appointment.  We're still trying everything to work on this puppy sit, which is getting better, but just won't go away (we're still working out on our FitPaws Donut, with some success).  Cassie's not afraid of water, but she's never been terribly fond of swimming.  Therefore, keeping that doggie-nose pointed forward and walking on the underwater treadmill for the first time required some very powerful motivators, namely: cheese and Salmon Jerky.  I wish I could have taken video, but I was so focused on keeping her moving in the pool that I didn't have a free hand.

     Once she was harnessed up and inside the tank the water was filled up to just below her withers and she was huddled in the corner of the tank giving me an annoyed look as if to say: "What are you doing to me now?"  The goal was to turn her around, align her on the treadmill and then keep her walking for the next 20-30 mins.  We started with dry biscuits the physical therapists kept on hand.  Needless to say an epic failure, but I let them try it anyway.  I then moved onto Pure Bites Liver, which was still not enough to entice her normally greedy butt out of the corner of the tank.  Finally, I switched to string cheese and finally we had movement!  She was very slowly lured away from the corner and onto the treadmill, but once the belt started moving she quickly lost interest even in cheese.  So, I brought out the big guns: Wildcatch Salmon Jerky!

    As soon as I dropped my hand over the edge of the tank she was instantly moving forward, led by her ever curious twitching sniffer.  That the best thing about these treats: they're super smelly!  The physical therapists even commented on how strong smelling they were.  I say if it worked, it worked...we all seemed to survive the stench!

  Without a doubt, these treats are great motivators.  The dogs loved the taste and the smell and the jerky texture was solid enough that you could break them up with little-to-no mess.  What I didn't like so much was the price.   I paid almost $10 for a 5oz bag.  That means I probably won't buy them too often, but instead saving them for special day treats.  Anytime I have a competition, a really hard trick, or a place where I'm going to need extra focus Wildcatch Salmon Jerky is a great treat!