Online Training: Fenzi Academy

We’ve dabbled in several formats of online training classes, and I just realized that my thoughts on those might be helpful to some of you.

Today, registration opens for the December term of the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy.

The Fenzi Academy is a fascinating concept. Denise Fenzi gathered (and continues to gather) a wide variety of experts in various fields who don’t have the fame/resources/ability to reach a large training audience on their own. Under the umbrella of her academy, they can offer their fascinating niche training classes to students outside of their local classes. Every instructor at the Fenzi academy teaches via force-free methods, without the use of verbal or physical corrections, including in some fields where force-free training is difficult to find.

These classes can also be had relatively inexpensively–far cheaper than my very mediocre local training options, although classes here are apparently unusually pricey. The academy operates on a tiered pricing schedule, with price dependent on how much individual interaction you receive from the instructor. Gold spots are the most expensive, and limited to relatively few places per class. In a gold spot, you submit weekly (or more frequent) videos to be critiqued by the instructor. Silver-level students can ask questions in an online forum that is monitored by both the instructor and your classmates. Bronze access is read only, including the ability to see the gold and silver-level forums and videos. After the classes end, you retain access to your online material for a certain amount of time, which renews if you are a recurring student in any Fenzi class. The text portion of the classes is also easy to download or print for future reference. As of this writing, gold access is $260, Silver is $130 (comparable to an in-person class here), and Bronze is $65.

Structurally, the Fenzi Academy classes that I have taken are much like in-person obedience classes. Classes run six weeks, with new classes always starting on the first of the month. The instructor posts a “lecture,” which is usually followed by one or more assignments that you are intended to practice before the next “lecture.” Some instructors use a weekly format, but some post more frequently, or will post several lectures at once. The assignments are almost always accompanied by a video of the instructor demonstrating the exercise with her own dog. I have never felt that the instruction I received was unclear or lacking in any way.

My only dislike with the Fenzi classes is that I don’t find the online format they use to be intrinsically motivating. I came to online training via Susan Garrett, who is a poster child for ADHD. Susan’s Recallers classes move fast, with short activities posted almost every day. I got used to that. (Alternatively, many people, especially those with busy lives, hate the breakneck pace of Recallers, get frustrated, and give up.) It’s easy for me with the Fenzi Academy classes to think “Oh, I’ll read that lecture tomorrow.” Or “well, this class will be in my library if I don’t finish it.” Many students take Gold or Silver level specifically to “make” themselves keep up with the work.

There are many great things about these classes, though. First and foremost, they cover an astonishing array of topics that very, very few of us could find in local classes. Shock-free snake avoidance, agility, heeling, high-level formal obedience, IPO, tricks, conditioning, nose work, you name it. The December-January term has over twenty classes. The instructors are top-notch experts in their fields. Grisha Stewart teaches BAT there now, for instance. The price is unbeatable if you are good at reading and applying on your own.

In general, I’m not sure that online classes can 100% substitute for in-person training. Live classes have the added component of your dog learning to work around other dogs, which is extremely important but difficult for most of us to replicate at home. There are also some mechanical skills for reinforcement-based training that are really best-learned in person. If your dog is a bad fit for in-person classes, though, or it you’re just interested in a kind of class that you can’t find locally, there are some real gems here.

As I mentioned above, December-January enrollment is opening right now. By the time you read this most of the Gold spots will probably be taken, but Bronze-level spots are unlimited and will be accepting students until two weeks after classes start.

Product Review: Salty Dog Canvas Toys

I don’t review a lot of products here anymore. We have a pretty comprehensive collection of well-made, long-lasting toys. Silas doesn’t eat a lot of new foods. I try my best not to buy him things just to buy them.

At the beginning of August I ran across an entire new toy company, though, and I couldn’t resist.

Salty Dog Canvas is a small Canadian company. The owner learned industrial sewing making boat sails and awnings, then got sucked into the world of dog sports. Now she makes amazing dog toys, entirely from North American components.

I bought two of them:

Salty Dog Canvas toys

(Yes, my photo backdrop is covered in dog hair.)

I love these toys. Both of the ones I bought are a Planet Dog toy attached to a bungee handle. I am a big fan of Planet Dog. Alas, we play all of our fetch indoors, which means that rubber balls either bounce into or roll under something they shouldn’t. Attach that same ball to a bungee handle, though, and it can’t roll under the sofa.

The more tug we play, the more sold I am on the bungee tug. When you have a smaller dog and slippery floors, it’s easy for you to do all of the tugging work, while the dog just holds on and slides around. A tug toy with some stretch not only offers you some shock absorption, but it also guarantees that the dog does his share. You really want that pull back in order to get the strength and balance benefits of playing tug. If you have a larger dog, I suspect that the same dynamic works the opposite way. Unlike some wimpier toys we’ve tried, these have a good, strong stretch.

I should also mention that the nylon handles on these are much more comfortable to hold than our other toys. This is a high quality fabric, with none of those scratchy nylon edges.

I wouldn’t leave these around for the dog to access unsupervised. These particular Planet Dog toys are not rated for extensive chewing, although Salty Dog does use some of their stronger toys in other models, and any determined dog could cut through the nylon handle. I have to be particularly careful with the  raspberry model, because Silas thinks the berries would be a lot more awesome without the handle. That said, they’re showing zero wear so far from vigorous tug games.

For those crunchers out there, Salty Dog also makes great faux-fur pockets for water bottles on a similar stretch handle. In fact, no matter what your dog is obsessed with (tennis balls, squeakers, braided fleece), Salty Dog probably makes a toy they would like. For good or for ill, that includes a small number of real fur toys.

I bought our Raspberry and Orbee toys at a small retail store in Canada, but the website does ship to the US.

Bottom line: a big hit.

Product Review: I and Love and You Super Power Powder

What a product name!

A few months back my local Whole Foods picked up the I and Love and You product line. As one does, I cruised through all of their offerings, which include a variety of supplements, remedies, and food. They only have a few things Silas can eat, and I’ve been slowly trying the most appealing of them.

We started with their Salmon Sauce, which is a pretty typical salmon oil supplement. Even though Silas is allergic to salmon, salmon oil seems to help more with his itchiness than any of the other fish oils. We’ve now officially switched to this one from our old pump-top bottle, because the dispenser is the only 100% mess free fish oil we’ve used. Not one drip!

I had initially bypassed their daily supplement. It’s a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none kind of mix. It has some glucosamine and chondroitin. It has some digestive enzymes. It has some vitamins. It has some micronutrients. It doesn’t have a lot of any of those things, though. To pull a random example, the product has 150mg of glucosamine in two teaspoons, which is the recommended serving for a 50-100 pound dog. I’ve seen glucosamine recommendations as high as 1000mg for a dog that size. Another example at random: Super Power Powder has 7.5 IU of vitamin E. Mary Straus at Dog Aware suggests 1-2 IU of vitamine E per pound for dogs who eat raw diets.

To be fair, I and Love and You does not market this food as a supplement to homemade raw diets. Their copy quite clearly states that they’re hoping to compensate for the natural loss of nutrients as prepared food is cooked and stored. Adding 100% of the RDA for all the key vitamins on top of a prepared food that is intended to be nutritionally complete would be too much. This same premise that makes it safe for kibble-feeders makes it a less than perfect vitamin for people who feed homemade raw.

Even though the vitamin amounts are not ideal for our needs, this supplement absolutely wins where it counts:

Silas will eat it.

The I and Love and You vitamin powder stinks (literally). But apparently one of the things it stinks of is its natural peanut butter flavor. After his initial new-food skepticism, Silas has been eating it just fine. (Although, writing this review, I’ve realized that we still aren’t up to the full daily amount.)

We have rejected a lot of vitamins over the years. The Pet-Tabs the vet prescribed when he was a puppy have failed several lead contamination tests. Ian Billinghurst’s E-Barf Plus seems to bother Silas’s stomach, even though Silas didn’t mind the taste. It also doesn’t list vitamin quantities one way or another. Silas would rather starve than eat the Animal Essentials Herbal Multi-Vitamin I bought after I exhaustively researched the most perfect supplement Silas could eat. The nice, basic-but-solid blend from B-Naturals has chicken liver, as do many of the others on the market. We used a powdered greens mix for a while, but Silas wasn’t wild about it. Many raw-feeders recommend using a human multivitamin, but Silas is too small.

The bottom line: we’re happily accepting that a less-than-ideal supplement is better than none at all. Since Silas does eat some prepared “complete and balanced” food, I’m comfortable with the compromise.

 

Fine print: I bought this myself.

 

Food Review: Ziwipeak Daily Dog

We know now that one of Silas’s safe foods is venison. The problem with venison is that it’s not the easiest thing to come by, which is what motivated me to post yesterday’s list. I can’t cobble together enough components to make a complete raw venison diet in-house, and what raw venison I can get is so expensive that I might as well buy pre-made foods and save the hassle.

My go-tos for prepared raw food are always Primal and Stella and Chewy’s. Now that Silas can eat venison, there’s also Ziwipeak.

The first thing I bought by Ziwipeak was their venison treats. These are handy little flakes of dried venison, and Silas loves them. One day I did the math, though, and realized that the Ziwipeak Air-Dried Venison food was the same texture and probably the same taste, but much cheaper per ounce. (For my allergy peeps: do note that while Ziwipeak’s jerky treats are pure venison, the food also contains green-lipped mussel.)

Then we went on vacation. Prepared food is the easiest thing to travel with, so I grabbed all his venison foods. In a total rookie move, though, I grabbed the nearly-empty bag of Stella and Chewy’s instead of the full one, AND the bag of frozen Primal turned out to be almost empty. Fortunately the Ziwipeak was almost brand new. With a dog like Silas you do NOT do trial-by-fire with new food, but we didn’t have much choice.

Fortunately, Ziwipeak saved the day.

I first realized its magic while we were still driving. We were still driving at dinner time. I scooped out his scoop of Ziwipeak, and he dove in nose-first and ate it straight from the measuring cup while sitting in a moving car. He also ate every bite when my husband and I left him with my parents over night, which is unusual. Remember, this is my dog who doesn’t really like food, especially not when he’s stressed.

Travel, in my opinion, is where this food really shines. It’s apparently delicious, and it’s basically like feeding kibble. Scoop, dish, go. Unlike regular raw food, or even the frozen stuff, I would have no qualms at all leaving this food with a dog in boarding, with a house sitter, etc.

There are a few drawbacks. First, this food stinks. When you open the bag, you get a blast of really strong meaty smell, like sticking your head inside a bag of beef jerky. I don’t think it’s terrible, just strong. My mother said she almost gagged. It also seems a little hard for Silas to digest. Visibly everything was okay, but let’s just say that he was not the most pleasant companion for the 12 hour drive back home. I think our next bag will be the venison and fish. Maybe since it’s a white fish it will make the food a little easier on him to process.

Another downside is the price. Venison is expensive. According to our package, the 2.2 lb bag would last Silas, weighing in at 32 pounds, a week, and it costs (brace yourself) between $32 and $39, depending on your source. For venison, this is definitely within the range of average, which is why Silas only eats venison one week out of five. Still, if your dog doesn’t need exotic proteins, I can’t imagine that being appealing. If you do need a pure-convenience, no-refrigeration-required venison food, Ziwipeak is actually a good bit cheaper than Stella and Chewy’s Freeze Dried.

The Ziwipeak Daily Dog food comes in Beef, Lamb, Venison, and Venison & Fish flavors. Beef and Lamb are somewhat cheaper.

 

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Fine print: I bought this my own self, but I wish someone had given it to me.

My New Favorite App

Technically, my new favorite smart phone app has nothing to do with dogs. Not even by a stretch.

It’s a housekeeping app.

Stay with me.

Home Routines is basically the app version of the Fly Lady cleaning system, which it seems like everyone has heard of. The premise is that you create habits by pinning certain tasks to certain times of the day. You already do this with some of your most ingrained behaviors–brushing your teeth before bed, for instance.

The strength of Home Routines is that, while it is based on housekeeping, it’s customizable to be pretty much any routine behavior that you want. It comes pre-programmed with Morning, Afternoon, and Evening routines that are pre-filled with standard chores, plus a rotating weekly list of specific areas of your house to clean. You can change any of that, though.

Here’s a screenshot of my main page, to make this all more clear:

App

And here’s where it surpasses any mere list app that I’ve ever seen: it automatically resets at the time of your choosing. You can even set different intervals for different sections. I wake up every morning and see a clean slate for my daily to-dos, but my list of weekly stuff only resets on Tuesdays.

I was pretty happy with it as a reminder to do my chores, when I had what I think of as a stroke of genius.

We all say that we want to do some kind of training every day, or get in a certain number of walks a week. Saying does not equal doing, though, as we all know. Putting Silas’s relaxation protocol right there between putting away the laundry and sweeping means that it gets done more often than not. I at least look at the app several times a day (you can set reminders), which means it’s on my mind. No more “drat, it’s bedtime and I forgot to work with the dog!”

So I thought I would pass this along to you. There may be other apps out there that do the same thing, but this is the one I have.

Fine print:
Alas, nobody paid me for this. Right now the app is Apple only, but they say an Android version is in the works.

Dog TV

My parents have fancy satellite television. One of their new channels this season is Dog TV. Apparently it’s meant to be what you leave on for your dog while you’re away from home.

The minute or two I watched were calming classical music, which is scientifically proven to have a positive effect on dogs, accompanied by pictures of dogs lolling in meadows or what have you. The nice thing I could see about Dog TV is that it gives you something to turn on quickly that, at least in the “relaxing” program that I saw, isn’t likely to have trigger noises like barking or doorbells. Until the last six months or so, Silas freaked out whenever a doorbell rang on a TV commercial. Silas has never seemed to actually watch anything on TV, so I assume the pleasant dog pictures exist mostly to make the owners feel better. As weird as it seems, the Dog TV people have their head in the right place–they even suggest you make sure to watch the programs with your dog the first time, to make sure that he enjoys them without becoming too excited. Not something that I’d pay for, but it seems harmless enough.

One afternoon while I was running some errands, Mom got the idea to turn on Dog TV for Silas. She felt bad for him, because he was just sitting on the couch, “looking sad.”

After a few minutes, he got up, went to the other room, and got into his crate.

There goes my lucrative spokes-dog contract.

Untitled

I don’t watch just any old TV program.

DAP Comparison Notes

Some part of Silas’s progress lately is attributable to our new buddy:

The behaviorist recommended this Adaptil Collar for us. It isn’t a magic bullet. She said that some dogs would show a dramatic improvement in a day or two. Some dogs wouldn’t be any different at all. More common than either, according to her, is a kind of faint improvement. Many owners don’t notice much difference until the collar wears out, and then they think, “Oh, hmm, maybe it was helping a little.”

Adaptil (also known as DAP) is a synthetic simulation of a pheromone that mother dogs release while nursing puppies. The theory is that this scent, imperceptible to humans, is comforting to dogs at an instinctive level.

I’ve noticed one distinct, absolutely attributable improvement: Silas has always been fine in the car at highway speeds. In town, though, he can sometimes get the nervous shakes. He is much better since we put on the DAP collar.

Otherwise, we’ve seen some improvements that could be the collar, or could be training, or could be total coincidence. (Like yesterday’s encounter with the baby.) To give another example of the ambiguous-type improvements: a few weeks ago I accidentally took him to the park in morning rush hour trying to avoid the heat. He was totally okay. It could have been the DAP, or it could have been that he’s familiar enough with that park to dismiss the traffic.

The part of our experience that I thought would be the most useful to you guys, though, is that we have also tried the plug-in diffusers with very little success. My musings on the differences:

Your dog obviously doesn’t have to wear the plug-in diffuser. You don’t have to worry about it getting pulled off or wet, and it doesn’t interfere with your dog’s regular collar. A dog with separation anxiety should not be left alone while wearing any kind of collar, in case they panic and get tangled. I would also guess that the plug-ins put out a more consistent quantity of pheromone, since they’re electric with a fan mechanism.

If you have multiple dogs, the plug-ins would probably be cheaper. The pricing is complicated by the huge difference between online and retail prices. The collar is not as significantly discounted online. If you shop in bricks-and-mortar stores, the collar is significantly cheaper per month. If you shop online, one collar is roughly the same price as one diffuser refill. One plug in is good for 600 square feet, so most people will need multiples for whole-house coverage unless the dog spends most of his time in one room or area.

The main benefit of the collar, as opposed to the plug-in, is that it goes with your dog everywhere. It’s in the car, and on vacation, and at the park. Silas is more anxious away from home, so this is important for us. It’s probably a smaller dose, but it is more consistent exposure for a dog who is out-and-about a good bit. Also, consider your architecture. Our main living area has a loft-style ceiling that I think interfered with the diffuser’s effectiveness, even when we were running two.

The form we haven’t tried is the spray, which is designed to be used in small or temporary spaces, like cars or hotel rooms.