Hiking with your Pooches

 I absolutely love hiking with the girls.  They have the best time chasing squirrels and chipmunks, and I have the best time watching them.  And the bonus is that we all get a GREAT workout.

Things to consider when you take your dogs hiking.

Find a forest where you are allowed to have your dogs off leash.  Check with state/federal parks for places where you can take your dogs.  If you are in a large city, this may mean that you will have to drive quite a distance to find something suitable.  No matter where you go, respect the area.  Always leave a forest exactly how you found it.

Sharing the Trail
Be prepared to see other hikers, other dogs, mountain bikers, dirt bikers, people on quads, people on snowmobiles (in the winter), and people on horses.  So make sure your dogs are under good voice control before you venture out into a forest.  When you encounter other trail users, get your dogs out of the way and let people pass you.  When my dogs hear an engine, they're pretty good at running to me.  We stop by the side of the trail and let people go by.  Be aware that horses spook easily and may injure themselves trying to get away, so be extra careful.  Bottom line: share the trails, be polite, and be friendly.  

Let Them Run
Let your dogs run around.  They will chase chipmunks and squirrels and bunnies.  They are not likely to catch them.  Don't call your dogs, just keep hiking.  Let them keep track of you.  My dogs run around through the trees and I don't see them, but if I stop to tie a shoe lace or get some water, they come running.  They get the best workout when they run like that.

Consider the Weather
If it's going to be really hot, don't take your dogs on long hikes.  It is usually cooler in the forest because of the shade, but avoid hiking during heat waves in the summer.  In the winter, pick clear sunny days.  Be aware that your dog may need a jacket if it's really cold.  Also, consider the conditions you will be hiking in.  If your dog is used to lawns and concrete, they may not do so well running around in the desert hot rocks and gravel, so they may need shoes or an adjustment period.

In the summer I bring 1 Liter of water per dog per hour of hiking.  That means that I'm carrying 4L of water for the dogs for a 2 hour hike.  Plus water for me.  Give them a bit of water often, as opposed to a big drink less frequently.  I give them water about every 20-30 minutes, depending on the temperature.  In the winter we don't bring water, because they don't get as hot and they eat the snow.  I don't bring food.  I feed them before we head out, and again when we get home.

Your Dog's Physical Condition
You may have to ease your dog into hiking if all they get is leash walking.  Off leash dog parks are a great transition.  Also start them with short hikes.  Always pay attention to your dog.  Winded is good, exhaustion is bad.  Water breaks will help.  You may need to let them chill for a bit and give them a breather.  You can hike with puppies too, but on short hikes and not in extreme weather.  

Have Fun
Our dogs pick up on our emotions.  Your dog will have more fun if you have fun too.  Also keep in mind that your dogs are less likely to try to protect you and be aggressive towards anyone else you may encounter on the trails.  So relax, breathe, and enjoy.  It will be good for both you and your furry companion(s).

So find areas near you and go explore.  You'll have a blast! 


Training the Small Dog

Small dogs are easier to handle.  They make smaller messes.  They are less destructive.  If they get out of hand, you can just pick them up and carry them off with you.  When they jump on you, they don't ruin your favorite suit.

But a Toy Dog is still a dog.  Don't let the word 'toy' in the title throw you off.  And like all dogs, little dogs need training too.

For example, we were at the dog park today splashing around in the creek.  I was skipping rocks and Millie was stalking them and trying to catch them.  It has been her favorite game lately.

A lady brought her small dog.  It was fully grown, very cute and very friendly and playful.  BUT.  This dog, we'll call her Lucy, was completely out of control.  She got all wet and muddy and then proceeded to jump all over me - getting me all muddy and wet.  Her owner kept calling her name "...Lucy...Lucy...Lucy...Lucy..." (as per my last post), but Lucy didn't respond.  Just kept jumping up, trying to play.  I told Lucy to "stop" and "off" and "no" sternly.  Nothing.  Lucy was completely non-responsive.  I got out of there as fast as my now water logged and muddy sandals could carry me, with Lucy still following me and jumping all over me.  

Now I know Lucy was friendly.  I know Lucy was trying to play.  And I was by no means wearing my best clothes to the dog park.  But I did not appreciate getting all dirty.  I did not appreciate a dog jumping all over me like that.  

Why was Lucy not put on a leash right away?  Why was she not controlled? Why does Lucy not know that no means no?  Does being small give a dog license to jump all over people?  I'm pretty sure the Lucy's owner would have been PISSED if one of my 85+ pound dogs jumped all over her.  Even if they were clean and dry.  Even when all they wanted to do was play.

The sad thing is, I see poorly trained small dogs all the time.  My friend has one that is 5 years old and still not house trained.  Not cool.  She had the hardest time getting someone to take care of that dog when she was out of town.  I wouldn't do it.

Don't let your small dog develop bad habits.  Train it to respond to you, to come when called, to know the meaning of no, and to potty outside.  I house sat a Pomeranian named Peanut that was trained like that. Coolest dog ever.  He played well with dogs of all sizes, sat for his treats, played fetch and heeled like a champ.  But Peanut grew up in a house with two big labs.  His owners knew better.

Training is great for both you and your dog.  It ensures that you and your furry friend speak the same language.  It causes fewer problems.  It causes less stress for both of you.  Well trained dogs are happier dogs.  Period.  

So while I was walking at the dog park today, watching my girls play and my pants dry, I thought fondly of Peanut.  And out of the corner of my eye I saw a dirty, muddy, and wet mess run through the bushes.  When I turned the corner I saw Lucy's owner still calling "...Lucy...Lucy...Lucy...Lucy...Lucy...".  She finally pulled her leash out of her bag.  I think it was time to go home.  Now all she had to do was locate Lucy and put a leash on her.  

Yeah, Lady.  Good luck with that!


Dog Tuning You Out?

 I see this all the time at our dog park.  

The dog, let's call him Buddy, is off the leash, walking in the grass and through the trees, sniffing around and exploring.  The owner, let's call him Jim, is walking along the path.  Buddy is moving in the same direction as Jim, and is consistently about 20 feet from him.  All is how it should be.

Then why is it that I hear Jim call Buddy over and over again for no reason?

"Buddy.  Buddy.  Buddy.  Buddy.  Buddy.  Buddy.  Buddy........"

Now, Buddy is not doing anything wrong.  He is aware of Jim's location and is within direct line of sight at all times.  So why does Jim feel the need to call Buddy's name over and over?  Does Jim want Buddy to come to him?  Doesn't look that way. Is it because he expects Buddy to walk right beside him?  Probably not.  Is it because Buddy is not looking at him?  Maybe.  Does he NEED buddy to look at him?  No.

And yet the calling continues.

"Buddy.  Buddy.  Buddy.  Buddy.  Buddy.  Buddy.  Buddy.  Buddy.  Buddy........"

It's like Jim is the proverbial nagging wife, and Buddy is the beer swigging, football watching husband who completely ignores her.

"Buddy.  Buddy.  Buddy.  Buddy.  Buddy.  Buddy.  Buddy........"

Unfortunately all Jim is doing is teaching Buddy to tune him out.  If he suddenly has a reason for calling Buddy over to him, he will get no response.  Furthermore, Buddy no longer has to see where Jim is, because he can hear him.  This allows Buddy to wander farther away.

"Buddy.  Buddy.  Buddy. Buddy.  Buddy.  Buddy.  Buddy.  Buddy........"

I hike with my dogs all the time.  I let them run all over the forest, and chase squirrels and bunnies.  There are many times when I don't see them or hear them.  But they hear me.  They hear my foot steps.  How do I know?  Because I've never seen two more concerned faces running towards me at top speed as I did the day I had to stop to adjust my sock and re-tie my shoe.

So resist the urge to call your dog's name repeatedly.  Recognize that you are doing it for your own comfort and not the dog's.  And don't worry, your dog knows where you are and will not let you get away.  After all, you're the one who serves up the delicious meals, and yummy treats!


H2O4K9 Water Bottle Review

As the weather heats up, it's very important to have water available for your furballs.  And when it comes to doggie outdoor hydration, there is nothing better than the H204K9 water bottle.  I picked one up at the Toronto All About Pets Show and loved it.  Well worth the $20 I paid for it. Unfortunately, someone at the dog park loved it too, and it disappeared from the bench while we were playing fetch.   When I contacted the company for information on who carries these bottles in my area, they were super sweet and sent me a replacement!  And I got to pick a color - pink of course.  They also sent the neoprene sling for carrying.  YAY!

I have been using this bottle almost every day for the last month or so, and we love it.  My dogs really like drinking from it, I don't waste as much water as I did with other water bottles, and the drinking vessel is built right into the cap, so I don't have to carry any extra pieces.  And the whole thing is stainless steel, so I don't have to worry about BPAs or any other plastic nasties contaminating the girls' water.  It even comes with a carabiner, which I use to hang the bottle from my Timbuk2 dog park bag.

Here is Amelia, having a drink at the dog park.  
 The cap actually holds a good amount of water, so you don't have to keep refilling it.  And the sides keep the water contained so the dog doesn't slosh it around.  We don't waste as much water with the H204K9 as we did with a standard sports water bottle.  Nothing more annoying than carrying fresh water only to have it end up on the trail.

And whatever water is left, is easily transferred from the cap back into the bottle.

There is a gasket in the lid that keeps the water in the bottle and not all over your stuff.  I have not had any problems with leakage, even when I've had some sand stuck in the lid.

The neoprene sling is very comfortable for carrying the bottle around and still have your hands free for fetch.  The neoprene is very soft, and the strap is adjustable, so it's very comfy.  It's also great for carrying a standard bottle of water and some sunscreen, as we found out on our last trip to the forest. 

My sister joined us, but forgot to bring her own water.  Didn't bring sunscreen.  And didn't bring a pack.  Dummeh!  So we hooked her up with a water bottle, a tube of sunscreen, and the sling.  A nice walk in the woods, and not a single complaint about it being uncomfortable, or rubbing, or anything.  And she's high maintenance, so if it wasn't comfy, we'd hear about it.  Probably more than once.
So if you're in the market for a bottle that your dog can drink from, then pick up a H204K9 bottle.  I think you and your furry friends will like it as much as we do.  And if you don't carry a bag at the dog park, the sling is great for carrying the bottle and keeping your hands free.

It was so hot today that we had to stop so everyone could lie on the cool sand in the shade for a bit.
 Hey internet people, don't judge!  Chasing squirrels and chipmunks all over the forest ain't easy, especially when it's hot!


The Cutest Bowl Stand

I have been looking for some cute bowl stands for a long time.  Everything is either too modern or too boxy, or just plain ugly. 

But then I saw this:


I'm now going to be on the lookout for two small chairs.

Or maybe I'll repurpose a different piece of furniture for a bowl stand.

This would be good...

Then you get some storage too!


Dog Park in the Rain

It was drizzling slightly when we went to the dog park the other day.  But it was still warm and bright outside. 

Unfortunately, we only saw one other doggie family.  We joked around that the dogs that come to our dog park don't poo when it's raining.  Or on Friday evenings - but that's another story.

The girls were a little sad that they were the only ones in the park when we got there.  They just walked side by side, moping.  This was SO not the dog park adventure they had envisioned.

They were all squinty so that the rain didn't get in their eyes.

And at first, they weren't too thrilled about getting wet.

They didn't want anything to do with their favorite swimming spot.

So what's left to do?
Wrestle around and play of course!

So next time you look out the window and the weather is not cooperating, ignore it and make a rainy day doggie play date.  Your dogs will love it!

What do you do with your dogs when it's raining?


Treats We Love

Dogs love treats, all kinds.  Unfortunately, some treats are better for your dog than others.  For my dogs, it's meaty type treats all the way.  My dogs get treats on average every other day.  It varies - sometimes they get something daily and sometimes they'll go a week with no treats.  Depends.  And of course, the smaller the dog the less treats they should get, and the smaller the treats have to be.  But all the treats I mention here can be cut up or broken up into smaller pieces for the 'lill ones.
PureBites liver treats are freeze dried liver treats.  Ingredients: liver.  Simple.  My dogs love these treats.  They're small and can easily be broken up into even smaller pieces, so I use them for training a lot.  We practice our sits, stays, and even high fives with these bites of liver goodness.  We have also tried and enjoyed the chicken PureBites, but the liver ones are the favorites.

For a larger treat we have two that we alternate.

The girls go crazy over the Merrick Texas Tooth Picks.  However, they're pricey, so they're more of a 'special treat'.  It takes them a while to chew one of these, and they get a decent tooth cleaning out of it.  Amelia does not do so well with rawhide, she tends to throw up big chunks of rawhide, but she's ok with the tooth picks.   And the ingredients?  Beef tail.  That's it.  Love it.
Dehydrated duck or chicken breast strips are another regular treat.  These don't do much for cleaning the teeth, but are apparently delicious.  Ingredients:  duck breast, or chicken breast.  Awesome.

And the most well received treat the girls get is a beef knuckle bone.  This is the joint part of the beef femur bone cut in half.  I get these from my local butcher.  Some butchers charge a nominal fee for these and some will give them to you for free.  Some may even ask how big your dog is and cut it up for you accordingly.  Others will need you to tell them to half the bone, or quarter it, depending on the size of your dog.

  I try to give them each a beef knuckle at least every two weeks, but more often once per week.  I like the knuckles over the femur bone with the soft bone marrow because they have to work harder at the knuckles, and it cleans their teeth much better.  Also, be careful of the femur bone, because Amelia once chewed through the dense side and then got it wrapped around her jaw pretty tight - luckily I was able to remove it.  But I have heard of instances where the vet had to remove it with a bone saw.  So make sure if you give them femur bone parts you watch them carefully and discard the bone once it's a clean ring of bone (marrow and meat removed).

I know that giving raw bones to your dog is controversial but I highly recommend it.  Bone not only cleans their teeth, but it also is a great source of minerals for your dog.  They enjoy chewing them, and hence are not chewing your shoes.  Raw bones do not splinter the way cooked bones do, so it shouldn't be too hard on their digestive system.  People also often ask me if the bones are stinky or messy.  They're not stinky at all.  Smells like raw beef.  They are a bit messy.  My advice is to give them to the dogs outside when and if the weather is right.  Or do what I do.  Designate a cheap area rug as 'the treat rug' and teach your dogs that they can only eat their bones on those rugs.  If they move, take the bone away and put it back on the rug.  It doesn't take long for them to get the hint.

And if you ever see a pack of coyotes around a campfire roasting a chicken, let me know - we can consider giving our dogs cooked bones.  Until then, raw is the only way to go.  Cooked bones of any kind produce shards and can damage your dog's digestive system.

Also remember, raw bones go bad very quickly, so give them to your dog as soon as you get them from the butcher or you can also freeze them. So if I get more bones, I'll wrap them individually and throw them in the freezer.  Then I just give them to the girls frozen.  They don't seem to mind.  Do not store raw bones in the fridge, they will get smelly and bad very quickly.

So bottom line on dog treats: keep it simple.  My girls will not touch a dog biscuit (unless it's homemade - but that's another post).  The good stuff is more expensive, but that's life.  Better to get fewer good treats than more crappy ones.  Which also happens to be my philosophy on chocolate - for myself of course!

What are some of the treats your dog loves?


Two Dogs - Twice the Work?

Yesterday, a dog park friend asked me if having two dogs was twice the work of having one dog.  She is the proud mamma of the sweetest and gentlest grey hound ever.  And he needs a doggie buddy.

My family has always had only one dog.  Three kids and one dog was my parents' limit.  And even though my dogs are litter mates, I got Amelia first.  Kitty just kind of joined our pack later, and we just didn't have the heart to give her up.

I'm glad I have the two dogs now, and would not have it any other way.  They are definitely not twice the work of having one dog. It's not twice the work to take two dogs to the dog park.  You're already going, so whether there are two dogs or one is not that different.  As a bonus, on the days when you're the only ones at the dog park, your dogs can still run and play together, and get more excercise than just one dog would.

And it's not twice the work to train two dogs.  I find that my dogs will learn from eachother.  And if one sits quick and gets praise or a teat, than the other one will sit right away.  Doggie peer pressure.  Also, if I call them and one comes running, the other will most likely follow.

Of course having two dogs is more work than one dog.  I have to cook twice the amount of food each month.  I have to wash two dogs when it's muddy, and I have to clean twice the amount of dog hair.  The price tag of two dogs is also higher, especially at the vet. 

But I think the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.  My dogs are so much more active because they play together and chase squirrels on our hikes together.  They also keep eachother company when I'm not there.

So if you're considering getting a second dog, I highly recommend it.  Millie, Kitty and I are having a great time together!


Dog Kibble Rating Scale

 Like everything else we buy, quality of kibble on the market varies tremendously.  A lot of times, the 'you get what you paid for' rule applies, but dog kibble can be tricky.  Sometimes you end up paying more for the advertising and not the quality of the ingredients.  And unfortunately you're not eating the kibble yourself, and your pooch can't tell you how the kibble tastes and how they feel after eating it. 

A while back I found a scale that is very useful for evaluating the ingredients in kibble.  Here's how it works:

Start with a grade of 100:
1) For every listing of "by-product", subtract 10 points
2) For every non-specific animal source ("meat" or "poultry", meat meal or fat) reference, subtract 10 points
3) If the food contains BHA, BHT, or ethoxyquin, subtract 10 points
4) For every grain "mill run" or non-specific grain source, subtract 5 points
5) If the same grain ingredient is used two or more times in the first five ingredients (i.e. "ground brown rice", "brewer's rice", "rice flour" are all the same grain), subtract 5 points
6) If the protein sources are not meat meal and there are less than two meats in the top three ingredients, subtract 3 points
7) If it contains any artificial colorants, subtract 3 points
8 ) If it contains ground corn or whole grain corn, subtract 3 points
9) If corn is listed in the top five ingredients, subtract 2 more points
10) If the food contains any animal fat otherthan fish oil, subtract points
11) If lamb is the only animal protein source (unless your dog is allergic to other protein sources), subtract 2 points
12) If it contains soy or soybeans, subtract 2 points
13) If it contains wheat (unless you know that your dog isn't allergic to wheat), subtract 2 points
14) If it contains beef (unless you know that your dog isn't allergic to beef), subtract 1 point
15) If it contains salt, subtract 1 point

Extra Credit:
1) If any of the meat sources are organic, add 5 points
2) If the food is endorsed by any major breed group or nutritionist, add 5 points
3) If the food is baked not extruded, add 5 points
4) If the food contains probiotics, add 3 points
5) If the food contains fruit, add 3 points
6) If the food contains vegetables (NOT corn or other grains), add 3 points
7) If the animal sources are hormone-free and antibiotic-free, add 2 points
8 ) If the food contains barley, add 2 points
9) If the food contains flax seed oil (not just the seeds), add 2 points
10) If the food contains oats or oatmeal, add 1 point
11) If the food contains sunflower oil, add 1 point
12) For every different specific animal protein source (other than the first one, count "chicken" and "chicken meal" as only one protein source, but "chicken" and "" as 2 different sources), add 1 point
13) If it contains glucosamine and chondroitin, add 1 point
14) If the vegetables have been tested for pesticides and are pesticide-free, add 1 point

94-100+ = A
86-93 = B
78-85 = C
70-77 = D
69 = F

For more info, check out The Dog Food Project.

Based on this scale, here's how some of the kibbles on the market score:

Authority Harvest Baked / Score 116 A+
Bil-Jac Select / Score 68 F
Canidae / Score 112 A+
Chicken Soup Senior / Score 115 A+
Diamond Maintenance / Score 64 F
Diamond Lamb Meal & Rice / Score 92 B
Diamond Large Breed 60+ Formula / Score 99 A
Dick Van Patten's Natural Balance Ultra Premium / Score 122 A+
Dick Van Patten's Duck and Potato / Score 106 A+
Foundations / Score 106 A+
Hund-n-Flocken Adult Dog (lamb) by Solid Gold / Score 73 D
Iams Lamb Meal & Rice Formula Premium / Score 73 D
Innova Dog / Score 114 A+
Innova Evo / Score 114 A+
Kirkland Signature Chicken, Rice, and Vegetables / Score 110 A+
Nutrisource Lamb and Rice / Score 87 B
Nutro Natural Choice Large Breed Puppy / Score 87 B
Pet Gold Adult with Lamb & Rice / Score 23 F
ProPlan Natural Turkey & Barley / Score 103 A+
Purina Beneful / Score 17 F
Purina Dog / Score 62 F
Purina Come-n-Get It / Score 16 F
Royal Canin Bulldog / Score 100 A+
Royal Canin Natural Blend Adult / Score 106 A+
Sensible Choice Chicken and Rice / Score 97 A
Science Diet Advanced Protein Senior 7+ / Score 63 F
Science Diet for Large Breed Puppies / Score 69 F
Wellness Super5 Mix Chicken / Score 110 A+
Wolfking Adult Dog (bison) by Solid Gold / Score 97 A

Although I personally cook most of the dog food my girls eat, they do also free choice feed on kibble.  I feed them either Kirkland brand kibble or Nature's Variety Prairie food.  Both good quality but one significantly more pricey than the other.  My girls definitely prefer the Nature's Variety, but digest both well.


Homemade Dog Food Recipe

The question I am most asked is what I feed my dogs. The answer is both simple and complex.  They eat dog food.  But about 80-90% of the dog food they eat is cooked by me.  Not because I spoil my dogs and have nothing better to do, but because good quality dog food is hard to find and expensive, and I like to know exactly what my dogs are eating.  I, myself, try to avoid boxed/packaged/processed foods as much as possible.  Why wouldn't I want that for my dogs?

And the other 10-20%?  They free choice feed on some high quality kibble.  This way they can supplement their caloric needs on days when they have been more active.

So how does one make dog food anyway?

I buy what is in season (tends to be cheaper and fresher), what looks good in the store, and what is priced well. I try to buy good quality ingredients. As such, the food does vary somewhat from batch to batch. The dogs do not react to this variation in any way. Feel free to vary ingredients depending on what is available in your area or what you have in your freezer/fridge/pantry. It helps to be friends with your butcher to get good meat variation at great prices.  The key is to stick to the proportions of Meat, Vegetables and Grains.

Ingredients: Meat (approx 40% total by volume)
Pork (including: shoulder, hocks, chops, leg)
Beef (roast, stew, shank, tendons)
Chicken (stewing hen from farmer's market)
Turkey (legs, wings)
Veal (breasts, chops)
Other as available (venison, moose, bear, lamb, etc)

Wash meat and add to boiling water, skin, bones and all. Cook until falling off the bone. Lately we have been puttng the pot into the oven and letting it cook slowly overnight. The beef tendons should be very soft and signifcantly smaller. Take meat out of pot and chop when cool enough to handle. Strain and save liquid. Discard all bones as cook bones are brittle, often break into shards, and can cut up your dog's digestive system. Add cut up meat back into pot.

Ingredients: Vegetables (approx 35% total by volume)
Sweet Potatoes
Purple Yams
Chinese Broccoli
Butternut Squash
Brussel Sprouts
Green Beans
Chinese Long Green Beans
Any other veggies in season (avoid: onions, eggplant, peppers, tomato, citrus, corn, soy)

Fresh or Frozen Parsley

Process all veggies in food processor, until chopped. Most veggies can be shredded in your food processor. Shred cabbage first, add back to meat and simmer until well cooked (while you process the rest of the veggies). Add water as needed. Add some salt, though it should be very underseasoned by human standards. After cabbage is cooked, add the rest of the veggies and bring to a boil. Simmer with veggies for 5-10 minutes.

Ingredients: Grains (25% total)
Roasted Buckwheat (10-15% total)

Make sure there is enough water in your pot to completely cook the grains and that the pot is boiling. Add grains to pot and bring to a boil agin. Add garlic and parsley. Stir and cover and let sit in a 250oF oven for 30-40 minutes, or until grains are cooked.
Cool completely before giving to your dog.

We make huge batches of this food and freeze in portions. Defrost and serve.

Welcome to The Playful Pooch!

I love dogs. All dogs. I have had dogs since I was a child. When I was in graduate school, and way too busy for a dog, I earned precious extra cash dog sitting. I got to live with, take care, and play with over 50 different dogs of all sizes and breeds. I created this blog to share with you what I have learned, what I've observed, and the dog gear I've tested along the way. 

I just started this blog today, so it's still in construction.  Check back soon for exciting changes and lots of new posts.