Product Review: K9 Closet Smoothie Tag Collar

I can’t believe I haven’t reviewed this before.

Silas has a beautiful leather collar. It makes him itch. I’m not sure if it’s the weight against his neck or an allergy to the metal buckle, but he scratches a lot when he wears it. So much that his neck, where he doesn’t have a lot of hair, was always red and clawed up.

I had a lot of trouble finding an alternative, though. I didn’t want to give up the security of metal hardware in favor of a plastic buckle. We’ve also had a lot of trouble finding collars and harnesses the right size for Silas. The 10-14 inch size doesn’t usually have enough slack, while the 14-18 inch size comes off over his head.

I was excited when I ran across K9 Closet. They offer lots and lots of collar styles at custom sizes, guaranteed to fit your dog. We picked the “Smoothie Tag Collar.” This is not a walking collar. There is no leash ring, so one less thing to irritate Silas’s sensitive skin. His name and phone number are embroidered on in letters large enough to be visible from a distance, which is fantastic. While I’ve had to edit my phone number out of a few blog photos, I know that Silas is probably too skittish to let a stranger read his real ID tags. On this width collar, the phone number is legible even with him at the end of a six foot leash. He’s microchipped, but avoiding the step where he has to go to the animal shelter seems like a good idea.

Most importantly for Silas, the collar is lined with a soft fleece fabric:


It’s very light, and sits comfortably against his neck:
collar 3

Because you slide the collar on over his head and then tighten it, there is some metal hardware. The structure of the collar keeps it mostly away from his skin, though:
collar 4

So far there has been no additional itching or irritation of any kind, and Silas has worn this collar 24/7 since early November.

The absolute simplicity of this collar has been wonderful. It’s also a little frustrating, though. Even if you’re like me and never go for real walks without a harness, sometimes you just need a quick clip for a leash. I’ve been known to cheat and clip my leash around the fabric, but I doubt that would work on the wider sizes. I’m thinking about ordering him a martingale style next, just so we have a more reliable back-up for his harness.

Bottom line: if your dog can’t handle regular collars, and you aren’t down with the nylon collar+plastic buckle look, these collars are worth a try. If your dog wouldn’t let a stranger read his tag information, they might be a lifesaver.

Product Review: Through A Dog’s Ear, Volume 1

I never thought I would see the day that I bought my dog his own music. Really.

CD Cover

That was then, this is now, as they say.

The “Through a Dog’s Ear” CDs are acoustically engineered to be soothing for dogs. They’re not just pretty piano pieces; they’re selected and modified in various ways to maximize your dog’s relaxation. I, personally, don’t notice anything obviously different about them. The effect is, I think, mostly in pacing and selection.

There is some debate about how generally effective these are. Lisa Spector, a pianist, and Joshua Leeds, a “psychoacoustic expert,” post some fairly compelling data on their own website. Patricia McConnell, on the other hand, recently blogged about a new study that found the engineered pieces less soothing to shelter dogs than “regular” classical music. (She notes that the study played one track on a loop, which is not how the Dog’s Ear pieces are meant to be used.)

Here’s the thing: I don’t care what the research says. This CD is not magic. It doesn’t tone down Silas’s overall behavior at all. While I don’t find these tracks to be generally soothing, though, they do one thing incredibly well. That thing is stopping what I call the anxiety spiral. Sometimes when Silas gets tired, he can’t sleep because he’s worried. The more tired he gets, the more anxious he gets. He’s been in this loop for an hour or two now. I turned on this CD, sat down to write this review, and he was asleep by the end of the first track. If he isn’t in “the loop,” like I said, I don’t find them to make a huge difference. But they’re just enough to calm him down enough to help him sleep. If that sounds like a weak endorsement, you’ve never had a nervous dog.

I do play other classical music, as well as other “regular” music in a pretty wide range of genres. This CD is more effective than the others, although any background noise is preferable to none. I will say that the classical music my husband and I like is on the clash-y modern side. Less Brahms, more Stravinsky, if you will. I would be interested to see if more traditional recordings of the same or similar pieces, with their full orchestral backing, produce a similar effect. If you don’t already have a library of gentle classical music, or know what to buy, the Through a Dog’s Ear CDs are definitely handy.

Book Review and Giveaway: Raw and Natural Nutrition by Lew Olson

Book Cover

One day last week, I dropped an e-mail to the customer service department at The person who answered was Lew Olson. Our exchange was helpful enough that I went ahead and tossed her book in with my order.

In the end, I was quite glad I did.

If you already feed a raw diet, there’s very little in here that will be brand new. What I like it for the most, for myself, is that there’s pretty comprehensive treatment of supplements, with a full explanation of dosages and occasions that you might want to give them. Unlike my other favorite raw-food resource, Dog Aware, Olson makes these things seem approachable, rather than overwhelming. Olson also has a quite logical, practical way of dealing with things like feeding an adequate variety of foods.

This is the only raw feeding book I’ve read that would really be enough information, and confidence inspiring enough, to actually start a new diet.

It isn’t just a raw-feeding diet, though. Olson also offers that rarest of beasts–information on how to feed a completely grain free cooked diet, with plenty of examples and (again) a logical treatment of supplements. Most of the cooked diet recipes I’ve seen seem very much like a recreation of the average kibble, including all the parts I tried to avoid when I was buying kibble, like oats or rice. I’ll say right out: if I’d had this book when Silas had to go on his allergy diet, one of Olson’s cooked diets is where I would have started.

If, instead, all you want is to make your dog a few meals a week, or add a few tasty morsels to her kibble, there are also guidelines for that, although it’s a slim chapter. I also imagine that after reading Olson’s history of kibble, which stops short of all the newer high-end kibbles, you’ll be less than excited about it.

The second half of the book is devoted to specific nutritional needs to specific ailments. Olson lays out in separate chapters how diet can help your dog with kidney problems, liver disease, arthritis or other joint problems, cancer, and even allergies. (Seasonal/inhalant allergies, that is. Olson is firmly of the “food allergies are so rare your dog can’t possibly have them” camp, even when she and I spoke directly.)

My one qualm with this book is that Olson recommends a lotof the B-naturals products. Now, I like B-naturals. I’ve ordered from them a few times, and I’ve yet to be disappointed. But there is definitely a lack of clarity about her relationship with them. She is listed on their website as their nutritional consultant. The author bio in the back of the book says that she “has designed several nutritional supplement blends for dogs, under the name of Berte’s Naturals.” I’m not sure how much she benefits from individual sales, or if she’s simply a salaried employee. Which, I guess I’m of two minds about. On the one hand, it seems a little sketchy. On the other hand, if I’d gone to considerable trouble to develop a product line, I would want to recommend it, too. And, the truth is that most of the things she recommends are blended products. Vitamins with minerals and probiotics, for example, or a blend of sea vegetables. None of the recommendations seem forced or illogical, and unless you want to give individual human supplements there aren’t a ton of reputable dog nutrition supplements out there. In fact, if you do want to give individual supplements, if can be hard to find them in a dose that can be split small enough for a dog under 50 pounds. If that side of the book bothers you, Olson does explain why she recommends these particular items, and there is ample information to help you made a different choice.


Now, for the giveaway part! I liked this book so much that I want to buy another copy and have it sent to you. (I will not be doing the mailing. I never seem to make it to the post office.) All you need to do is comment below. Selection will be random, BUT you will get two entries in the drawing if you are either really interested in starting to feed raw or home cooked food or if you have a dog with one of the health issues listed above. Maximum of two entries per person. I don’t get hundreds of hits in a day, so you’ve got a good chance to win. Drawing will close on Friday, January 25, 2013 and is open to anyone, although I can’t promise speedy delivery outside of the US.

Product Review: The World’s Best Ball?

Planet Dog Recycled Balls

We may have found the world’s best ball.

We grabbed Silas this set (not this exact set; this isn’t my photo) of Planet Dog’s Orbee-Tuff RecycleBALLs for Christmas. At the time they were something of an afterthought, as our local store had a bigger discount in their holiday sale if we bought one more toy. It turns out that they’re perfect. We had the more typical Orbee ball that looks like the globe, but it’s just too hard for playing indoors. A misplaced throw or a high bounce, and something was going to get broken. The RecycleBALLs are softer. That might be a downside if you have a serious chewer, but it makes them infinitely better for playing fetch indoors. They also still have great bounce, which is crucial.

Our ball criteria:
1) Bouncy
2) Not guaranteed to break whatever they hit
3) Small enough to fit in Silas’s mouth, but not so small as to present a choking hazard.
4) Not impossible to get back from Silas, who thinks all games are tug in disguise.

My general list of awesome toy traits:
1) Made in the US
2) Washable
3) Durable

It’s a little early to tell about the durability, but so far everything else has been spot-on. The recycled rubber is a very awesome bonus. To make these balls, Planet Dog grinds and reprocesses the rubber left over from their other toys, so that nothing goes to waste. The rope is off-spec leftovers from a neighboring factory. I think Planet Dog expects you to keep the balls on the rope, but I assumed it was just packaging. (In the spirit of the thing, my husband put it with his bike emergency supplies.)

Bottom line: highly recommended. If you have a bigger dog, I’d size up to the individually packaged version. The balls in the two-pack are slightly smaller than a tennis ball.

The Purple Hedgehog

Sometime in early November I broke the “no more toys until Christmas” rule in favor of a purple rubber hedgehog.

Silas was having a blast playing with the sweetgum tree balls in my parents’ yard. For those of you not from the American Southeast, a sweetgum ball looks like this:

Sweetgum ball

They are sharp, like a very tiny, very pointy pinecone. Which Silas also loves to play with.

So when I spotted this toy by Hugglehounds

Purple hedgehog

I knew he needed to have it.

It’s turned out to be a very good buy for quite a few reasons. We play most of our fetch indoors, which means we can’t use a toy that is too heavy or too bouncy without the risk of breaking things. (Looking at you, Orbee ball.) Toys that aren’t bouncy at all aren’t any fun. Painted toys can leave marks on our white walls. Some kinds of plastic are too hard to get back from Silas, who is still working on the “giving” part of fetch.

Hedgehog is perfect. Silas loves the spiny texture (it is quite soft, just very nubbly.), and we love that it’s a great balance of soft/bouncy/light. The material is supposedly a blend of natural rubber and corduroy fabric. Whatever it is, we like it. I’m not sure how it would stand up to a serious chewer; Silas never chews with purpose on rubbery or plastic toys. A month of serious fetch hasn’t hurt it at all. I think I’ll look for another one or two shapes when we go back home for Christmas.

The only downside is that Purple Hedgehog is made in China. Hugglehounds says that the paint and materials are safe, but I’ve been increasingly skeptical of toys lately. I’m hoping that after Silas opens his Christmas gifts I can post some reviews of toys that were made in the US.

HuggleHounds offers these in sizes, and I’m honestly not sure which one we have. Probably the smallest one. I wouldn’t have even remembered the brand. Fortunately “purple hedgehog dog toy” doesn’t yield very many search results.

Product Review: Wet Noses

Wet Noses Little Stars Treats are my new BFF.


If you’ve been around here long, you’ve heard me complain that all the treats Silas can eat are too big for training. They’re both too big and too expensive for things like counter-conditioning the yard maintenance. They don’t fit in kibble/treat dispensing toys, like the Buster Cube.

These “tiny organic training treats” are perfect. Each little star is about the size of my smallest fingernail. Even in Silas’s small size Buster Cube, the treats both go in and come out easily. When the lawn people come, I can toss a whole handful onto the ground. They still aren’t incredibly cheap–they’re about $7 for an 8oz package–but his turkey-based treats run $10 for half as much. The tiny size also helps to stretch them a lot further than similar weights of other treats.

The only downside is that they aren’t a really high-value treat. He’s more than happy to eat them at home, but they aren’t something that he’ll work for in training class or eat outside. They also aren’t grain free, which I’m not wild about.

These are listed as 6 calories a treat, so don’t let the tiny size talk you into giving too many.

Organic Rye Flour
Organic Ground Peanuts
Organic Whole Eggs
Organic Canola Oil
Organic Molasses

Product Review: Honest Kitchen Embark

Thanks largely to M.C. over at The House of Two Bows, we tried The Honest Kitchen’s Embark food last week.

Honest Kitchen Embark

It looked so perfect. The ingredients are: Dehydrated cage-free USDA turkey, organic flaxseed, potatoes, celery, spinach, carrots, organic coconut, apples, organic kelp, eggs, bananas, cranberries, rosemary, tricalcium phosphate, choline chloride, zinc amino acid chelate, vitamin D3 supplement, vitamin E supplement, potassium iodide, potassium chloride, iron amino acid chelate, copper amino acid chelate.

Good for the allergies, which seem to be entirely protein related. Good for staying with the family, who are freaked out by the dog chowing down on assorted turkey parts. (Our original plan for the trip was to stay with my in-laws, who are both vegans and germophobes.)

It was, indeed, a wonderful, easy food to travel with. If you haven’t seen the Honest Kitchen foods before, they’re a powdered, dehydrated raw food. Just add water, wait five minutes, and serve. Much easier than raw, much more compact than kibble. I had visions of how very easy it would be to go places now, without having to worry about the cooler and the turkey parts. The clouds parted, and the sun shone down upon us.

Except Silas hates it.

For most of this trip, he was getting ten times the exercise he usually gets. He was convinced that he was starving. And he still wouldn’t eat the Embark. Added peanut butter. No. Added eggs. No. Added pumpkin. No. Put treats on top. No. Did all of those things in one meal. Still no. In fact, all that I managed to do was make him extremely suspicious of his food again and re-teach him that if he walks away from his food I will do something to make it “better.”

It wasn’t, in all fairness, the most slow and gradual introduction to a new food, especially for a dog who is already suspicious. We did have other food with us, and we did mix small servings of the Honest Kitchen food with those, but it’s possible I should have started even smaller.

He will eat it mixed with his tripe, so that’s how we’ll use up the box. (Tripe hoarding status: 50 cans.) Half a can of tripe is slightly skimpy for one meal, so it will be a nice way to round that out. Maybe if I’m lucky it will also teach him to like it in a larger quantity.

Book Review: Help for Your Fearful Dog

Help for Your Fearful Dog: A Step-by-Step Guide to Helping Your Dog Conquer His Fears, by Nicole Wilde.

Nicole Wilde

I forget how it happened, but in a little internet serendipity a few weeks ago I found myself at Nicole Wilde’s blog. I read around for a while, and thought, “I like her. I wonder if she wrote a book?”

Not only did she write a book, it turned out, but she wrote a book on kind of my pet topic. And my, what a book it is.

I’ll go ahead and get my niggle out of the way first: one of the first things Wilde recommends is that you “establish a firm foundation for your dog” by “becoming a good leader.” If your dog has to ask for permission to do anything he wants, he will understand his place in the world, see you as a benevolent leader, and magically become less anxious. Cue my NILIF groan.

Otherwise, this book is very, very good. (And I do think anxious dogs need structure; I just have a long list of gripes about strict NILIF as a panacea.)

In fact, for the casual reader, this book may be too good. I read the Kindle version, but the print copy is listed at a hefty 432 pages. All this room lets Wilde take a three-pronged approach. First, she outlines the causes of fear in dogs and some basic strategies, from a veterinary exam to some training cues, that you should undertake as a foundation for the rest of the book. Wilde also takes the time to discuss things like body language and the various appearances of fear in dogs.

The second section contains specific treatment plans for a variety of fears. What I loved about this is that she really does cover all of the biggies. Noises, people, dogs, thunder, grooming, riding in the car. I haven’t seen another book that is so comprehensive. She does make the standard counter-conditioning assumptions that you have both a dog who will take treats in stressful situations and an endless variety of friends and dogs to help you. I found it less obnoxious here than I have elsewhere, for some reason. If your dog has a specific fear, and you struggle to generalize counterconditioning advice to that situation, you should check to see if Wilde covers it.

The third section was the most interesting for me. Here Wilde details all those touchy-feely helps for fear like massage, T-touch, compression wraps, herbal remedies, homeopathic medicine, and even acupuncture. There’s also a short section about conventional medications. While the information is mostly intended as a primer and a basis for further research, it was, again, impressive in the breadth of coverage. You can’t do more research about a remedy if you don’t know it exists.

This is not a great book for an average dog owner. The last book I posted would probably be better for someone who isn’t really interested in all the details. It isn’t that Wilde gets bogged down in esoteric details. The book itself is quite readable. It’s just that it is a big book. Also, I could easily see an unsympathetic reader getting to something like Wilde’s discussion of homeopathic medicine, disagreeing with her, and then discounting the rest of the book. “If she believes that, she must be a quack about all the other stuff, too.”

Bottom line: I liked it.

Product Review: Fresh Is Best Dried Treats

I’m starting to feel like food allergies are my one area of dog expertise. In the spirit of playing up my assets, watch for a few reviews here for our staple allergy-friendly products.

Beginning at the top, we have the thing that every dog owner is looking for: the high value treat. Not just a regular-old treat, but the thing your dog goes crazy for.


If your dog can’t eat 95% of the treats on the market, high value treats are hard to find. Silas is also a picky eater who notoriously turns down food when he’s stressed.

Enter Fresh is Best freeze-dried treats. We seriously would not have made it through the summer without these. A lot of people seem to just skip treats during a food allergy trial diet, but that wasn’t a good option for us. I think most dogs tend to develop food allergies somewhat later in life. Silas needed to go back through obedience class this summer, and he still gets treats around the house for this and that.

So, the good: these treats are apparently delicious. Silas has a slight preference for the Turkey Giblet Rounds, but he also loves the Turkey Hearts. The hearts are nice and tidy. No crumbs in your pockets or anything. Turkey Giblet Rounds are so good that Silas will eat them outside. They come in a handy resealable package. Most importantly for us, they’re a single ingredient. There just aren’t a lot of turkey treats out there, especially that have zero other ingredients. Since a food allergy can be to anything, including binders, fillers, or flavorings, this is incredibly important on an allergy diet.

The bad: the size. Turkey Giblet Rounds are the size of a half dollar and at least a quarter of an inch thick. There’s more variation in the hearts, but most of the pieces are similarly large. That’s well and good for a special-occasion treat, but not a good size for training a small-medium dog. The giblets are apparently a ground/formed/dried product, rather than being a dried piece of meat. They’re easy to break into quarters, but any smaller than that and they turn into powder. They also leave a powdery mess in your pockets and treat pouches. The hearts don’t fall apart in the same way; they’re just hard to break.

The neutral: the price. A 3 to 4oz bag (depending on the product; they base bag sizes off a pre-dehydrated 1lb weight) of Fresh is Best treats is $10 at my local retailer, or $9.99 on their website. If you desperately need a one-ingredient treat, you’re probably willing to pay that and break the treats up to stretch the bag. It is more or less going-rate for similar treats, but I would certainly understand if that price were out of your dog’s budget.

Bottom line: These will always be a staple, but I sometimes grumble a little.

Fine print: I am not famous, so everything I review here comes out of my own pocket. If your dog is on a “hypoallergenic” kibble, rather than a novel-protein diet, stick to using the kibble as treats. Fresh Is Best treats come in beef, turkey, chicken, duck, and salmon varieties; this review is for turkey only.

Review: Dogs Naturally Magazine

I did something I never do and bought a blind subscription to Dogs Naturally Magazine. I’d never seen an issue in person, although I’d been linked to an article or two that I liked pretty well.

Imagine dog owners as operating along a continuum of veterinary preferences. At one end, there are people who exactly follow the promptings of the most old fashioned, conservative vets, down to buying the Purina he recommends. On the extreme other end, you have the raw-food and exclusively holistic medicine crowd. At this extreme, the “routine medical care” of the other extreme is seen as downright poisonous.

Most of the people here, I’m guessing, are somewhere in the middle, as am I. My own doggie medicine cabinet ranges from homeopathic allergy medicine to prescription antihistamine/steroids; from aloe to chlorhexidine. Silas eats raw food not so much because I’m a purist as because it’s the best way to handle his allergies. In any case, I think about the severity of the problem and the urgency of the solution and decide on a case-by-case basis whether it’s time for a “natural” solution or a “conventional” one.

Dogs Naturally magazine does not think like I do. Some of the articles in the one issue I’ve read so far (I chose the digital subscription) were genuinely helpful. There was a quite nice piece on herbal remedies for mild stomach upsets, a really useful article about adding additional proteins to a raw diet, and a few general interest pieces. Some of the articles just weren’t applicable to me, which is fair enough and happens in every magazine.

The rest of the articles were really problematic for me. A lot of the Dogs Naturally contributors, based on the author bios, are traditionally trained vets who left their practices at least ten years ago for holistic medicine. More than once in a fairly short magazine, it became deeply obvious to me that these people haven’t kept up at all with the advances of conventional medicine. Some serious vitriol was directed to practices that my 100% conventional vet would also be uncomfortable with. (Using Ketamine for surgical anesthetic, for example.)

Then there’s the vaccine paranoia. I think there are great reasons to question giving your adult dog vaccines every year. I absolutely think that individual owners need to talk carefully to the vet about the needs of their individual dogs. Blaming everything from thunderstorm phobia to post-traumatic behavior changes on vaccines seems irrational to me, though.

I’ll keep reading the issues I’m signed up for, but I think I’m just too skeptical for this magazine. (I snorted in a most undignified way when it was suggested that I perform Reiki on my dog’s water to improve it’s taste.) I’ll stick to the much more moderate Whole Dog Journal for my less-eyebrow-raising read.