One of the most challenging (and enjoyable) parts of being a pet parent to the energetic and brilliant Cinema is the constant quest to find toys and games that keep her mentally stimulated.
For the last few months we’ve been experimenting with the more home-grown variety, but for Christmas I was excited to drop a little hard earned cash on some awesome new puzzle toys for her. Thanks to Cinema’s joyous raid of her present collection, I’m delighted to share my findings in time to inspire (or deter) our readers!
Nina Ottosson is synonymous with puzzle toys for pets but the hefty price tag of $45 or more can be a major deterrent for pet parents on a budget. Now, I’m not too proud to admit that I’m not above knock-offs, especially when I know it’s going to be covered in dog slobber within hours of its purchase, so when I saw the Ethical Pet Products “Seek A Treat Shuffle Bone” on sale at Bed Bath and Beyond I was pretty excited. However, my excitement was short lived as I read the reviews on this product. The most disturbing of which mention that it has VERY SHARP EDGES which can (and occasionally do) cut the dog’s mouth while they’re playing with it. Additionally, the product is made out of particle board which dissolves on contact with a dog’s saliva. I can’t really think of two worse attributes in a dog toy. Needless to say, I did not purchase it. And neither should you. More importantly, it serves as a reminder to ALWAYS check consumer reviews on dog toys. They will help you weed out the highly destructible and, more importantly, the highly hazardous.
Cinema LOVES puzzle balls, However, I’ve come to suspect that it’s not because they’re challenging but because many of them are practically Pez dispensers for pups. You put the treats in one hole, they immediately fall out another, she eats them in 30 seconds, end of game. So, for Christmas, Cinema was the elated recipient of the Mazee Orbee-Tuff. The unique inner-maze provided at least 7 straight minutes of treat dispensing fun and Cinema loves the pliable outer shell. It quickly became one of her favorite toys even without the treats. Max, bless his heart, prefers to sidestep the whole “work” part and just follows Cinema around picking up the treats she’s missed. A word of advice though, this toy would never hold up to an active chewer.
Kongs And Such
Kongs have quickly become one of the most recognized dog toys. They’re durable, come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and are often the stand-by for dispensing treats. However, the most common complaint is dogs are done with them in a matter of minutes. Even frozen peanut butter doesn’t put up much of a fight. This Christmas, I decided to give Premier Busy Buddy Linkables Dog Toys a try. They were a HUGE hit! They come in three separate sections or ‘links’ and offer a progressive way to challenge your dog. Cinema loves that she constantly has a “new” toy every time I vary the connectors and gets quite a workout running with, tossing, and rolling this toy around the house. We have only had this toy for a short time and Cinema is remarkably careful with her toys, so we have no first hand negative comments, but one of the biggest complaints about this product is its fairly destructible. Pet parents of chewers or aggressive players might find the ends chewed off or the toy cracked if the fun is not supervised.
Our most successful Christmas toy was not a dog toy at all. The Discovery Kids Adventure Play Tent, which was a whopping $15, has become a permanent fixture in our living room. While I’ll never win the decorator of the year award, I will never get tired of watching both of my fur kids run in and out of the “Adventure Tunnel” while playing chase through the house. Additionally, Cinema absolutely adores using it as an obstacle in her favorite game: keep-away.
Which leads me to my final point: toys are a wonderful addition to every dog’s day, are a great way to entertain your pup while you’re trying to get chores or work done, and can provide much needed mental stimulation, but the ultimate “toy” for your dog is YOU. You will always be their favorite source of entertainment and you will always have the best understanding of what they will find fun. So, trust your instinct, read reviews, think outside of the box, and play, play, play!
We’re enjoying a fabulous day off as we gear up for a holiday full of new friends and house-mates! The fur kids and I agree, there’s no better way to spend the afternoon than to get down and dirty in the kitchen making some delicious treats. We had a vote: all in favor of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies… 1, all in favor of puppy cupcakes… 2, and so it came to pass.
So we went in search of a delicious new recipe and came up with this standout by Kristy Lynn of Sweet Insanity Bake Shop. I hope your kids enjoy them as much as mine did!
The most important thing to note about this recipe is it’s based on your own dog’s food. This will help keep them from getting sick, unlike many other recipes that introduce heaps of ingredients not commonly found in their normal diets. They are also grain free if you use your dog’s grain free dog food! Also, to combat any tummy troubles, they’re made with pumpkin, which is a miracle digestive treat for dogs.
What You’ll Need
4 cups Dry Dog Food
1 cup Canned Pumpkin (Not Pumpkin Pie Filling!)
1 cup Wet Dog Food
1 cup Peanut Butter
1/3 cup Honey
1/3 cup Canola Oil
1 Finely Chopped Apple, Core Removed (or carrot)
This recipe makes approximately 1.5 dozen pupcakes.
1. Blend the dog food into dust.
2. Core the apple, cut it into chunks, and set it to chop in the blender. You’ll want it to be just a little thicker than applesauce.
3. Toss all the ingredients into a bowl and mix well.
I used cupcake wrappers but you don’t need to as long as you PAM the pan.
4. Fill the cups until they have about a quarter inch left at the top. They will rise, but just a tiny bit. Pack it in there neatly and make the tops smooth!
5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
6. Bake for 35 minutes.
Note: They should come out a little dark, because of the dry dog food, so don’t fret. Plus, they hold together really well once they’re cooled!
7. Ice them with the pumpkin and you can top with Beggin’ Strips Sprinkles! (Just cut them up into tiny pieces.)
Note: Because each pupcake has the equivalent calorie count to 1/2 cup of dog food, I recommend using it as a meal replacement or at the very least adjusting your dog’s regular feedings to accomodate the calories in this treat.
I suggest only icing a few of them. Put the iced pupcakes in Tupperware and use them within a week or so. The rest can be put into a ziploc bag and stored for a couple months in the freezer.
Had I known science was this fun I would have changed my major! Cinema, Max, and I can’t wait to to contribute our own results… for the betterment of society, of course!
As you probably know, Eko and I are amateur scientists. Unlicensed pumpkin surgeons to be exact.
That’s why I was amazed to learn about the Horrowitz Dog Cognition Lab in New York City. The Lab studies the behavior and cognition of domestic dogs and has published research on a wide number of interesting canine considerations. I found out about the Horrowitz Lab because of their most recent study – a study which may rank as the most fun ever conducted in the history of science. Project: Play With Your Dog is exactly what it sounds like. There are a large number of studies about how dogs play with each other, but now the Horrowitz Lab wants to catalog the different ways dogs play with humans. Man, science sure is awesome!
Eko likes to play chicken with me
The best part is that the lab is looking for people…
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Holiday movies, television programs and advertisements seem to make it seem like the best time to give or get a new pet is under the tree on Christmas morning. Cute little puppies and kittens festooned with big floppy ribbons, who can resist? But what we are seeing is a very well orchestrated and edited best case scenario. Not all Christmas pets live up to the hype, and bringing a new animal into the home during such an exciting holiday can be just the opposite of a positive beginning. There are a lot of variables to consider before bringing an animal into your home.
Are You Ready for a Pet?
Before you decide to surprise your family with a new pet for the holidays, take into consideration the following to determine if your family is ready to take on the responsibility of caring for a pet:
1. How old are your kids? Different pets are appropriate for different ages. For example, your 4-year-old who is pleading for a cat is not capable of taking on the responsibility. “Just because a child begs for a cat or kitten does not mean that they are ready to have one,” says Barb Wills, who operates Cats Haven, a shelter for cats in Indianapolis, Ind. Instead, says Zawistowski, you might consider a guinea pig, which is easy to care for, likes to be held and rarely bites.
Use the following guidelines when choosing pets for your children, as provided by the ASPCA:
• Under 3 – Focus on introducing Baby to your current pets. It’s not appropriate to bring in a new pet at this point.
• 3 to 5 – Guinea pigs are a good choice, as they like to be held, seldom bite and will whistle when excited or happy. Your child can help fill the water bottle or food dish.
• 5 to 10 – Choose shelf pets like mice, rats or fish. Kids can help clean cages with adult help, though you should always check to ensure that pets have food and water and cages are secured.
• 10 to 13 – Your child is now ready for the responsibility of a dog, cat or rabbit. Your child can help feed the pet, walk the dog, clean the rabbit cage and clean the cat litter, but you should always check to be sure pets have everything they need. Participation in dog training classes is an excellent learning opportunity for children.
• 14 to 17 – Your child may have more activities competing for his time and less time to spend with a pet. Birds or aquariums are a good choice. Remember, you will have the pet once they leave to go to college.
2. Do your kids really want a pet? “Children like animals, but not all children really want to have them around the house,” says Zawistowski. Contrary to popular belief, every little boy does not want or need a dog. Just because your little one enjoys playing with Grandma’s poodle does not mean he’s ready or even wants to take on full-time care of a poodle himself.
3. Have you thought about the cost? “That’s one of the things people often fail to anticipate,” says Zawistowski. Many people don’t think past the initial fee required to adopt. But, he says, a cat costs about $350 to $400 a year and a small or medium dog costs about $400 to $500 a year, with larger dogs costing even more. In our experience, these numbers are often far greater.
4. Are you committed? Pets are not something that you can take home, try out and return if they don’t suit you. You’re taking on a commitment to care for that animal for the rest of its life. If your child is a teen, remember that the animal will be with you when your son or daughter heads off to college. “A cat can live to be at least 15 years – we have one here who is 21 years old,” says Wills. “The family has to realize that it is a lifetime commitment with vet visits, supplies needed for its care, and with time and love to be spent on the pet.”
5. Are you educated about what caring for an animal entails? Don’t forget that an animal’s an animal. That means cleaning up bathroom accidents and vomit, picked-at furniture if you want a cat and dealing with other typical animal behaviors. “There are going to be bumps in the road,” says Zawistowski. “Be ready and committed to work through those bumps.”
6. Don’t get a pet to teach your child responsibility. If your child fails to be responsible, the animal may be harmed. Instead, says Zawistowski, “It’s a great way of rewarding responsibility.”
7. Determine whether or not you have time for a pet. This means not only do the children have time, but also do YOU have time. Once the newness of this type of gifts wears off, someone is still going to have a time commitment toward it. Unlike the toy that got broken or the jeans that are soon out grown, this new pet (regardless of what type it is dog, cat, fish, bird, etc) is going to require attention for a lot longer.
8. Consider the amount of space you have. Is there room in your home for this pet? Some pets require minimal space, while others require lots of space. In addition to housing, large dogs will need a large area to run. You need to decide if you have sufficient room for the pet that your hearts are yearning for.
9. If you are renting, does your landlord permit animals and will he require an extra deposit to cover the pet? Check this out ahead of time – sneaking the pet in is not fair to anyone and will only cause heartache in the end.
10. Will this pet cause allergic reactions to anyone in the family? You should test this by visiting people with the same type of pets you are considering.
Research and Plan
Before you go pick up your new pet, get your family involved in deciding what type, size and breed of animal you’d consider. Take a trip to the bookstore or library and read up on which breed’s characteristics might fit in best with your family. I cannot express how important this step is! All breeds have very unique personalities and needs. Picking out a dog solely based on how cute it is often backfires. For example, Australian Shepherds and Border Collies are beautiful dogs, they also tend to be extremely high energy, require a whole lot of exercise and mental stimulation, and have a high herd drive that can be dangerous around young kids. Shiba Inus are growing dramatically in popularity for their gorgeous features and compact size, however, they are often very independent, stubborn, and notorious escape artists.
Once you have an idea what you’re looking for, where should you go? An animal shelter or rescue group. According to the ASPCA, each year millions of dogs enter shelters, yet of the approximately 59 million owned dogs in this country, less than 20 percent are shelter adoptees. By adopting at a shelter, you’re giving a homeless pet a new chance at life.
But there are other great reasons for going to a shelter or rescue. The cost is low, there are often discounts on spaying and neutering, and many rescues spay, neuter, and vaccinate prior to the pet’s adoption at no cost to the adopter. “They’re in the business to help animals have good homes, not to make money,” says Zawistowski. They also have a good selection of pets and knowledgeable staff to make sure you’re getting the right animal for your family.
Zawistowski also suggests logging on to Petfinder.com, either at home or at the library, which allows you to search more than 350,000 adoptable pets by breed, location, size and more. The whole family can get involved, looking at pictures and profiles to find the perfect pet.
“You can turn this whole experience into an extraordinary experience for the kids,” says Zawistowski. “It’s fun to surprise, but it’s as much fun to have kids be a part of the process.”
When you’ve done it right, your child will likely end up with a longtime friend and companion. Says Zawistowski, “A child who can have a pet, it can be one of the most magnificent parts of their life.”
Avoid The Surprise
A lot of people feel that the most wonderful way to present a new pet is by surprise, but the last thing you want is a frightened, cowering little animal that is overwhelmed by the kids’ squeals of excitement and clamoring for an opportunity to hold it. Christmas morning is an especially chaotic time, with everyone tearing into gifts, hazardous (to little animals) strings and wrappings all over, and the usual loud toys that can be disturbing to even the most seasoned holiday veteran. Worst case scenario? The new pet bites someone, bringing a pall of gloom to an otherwise loving holiday.
With all the holiday decorations, foods, and bustling around, a busy holiday-day can be a dangerous and scary time for a new dog or cat to be introduced. This is when bad habits can begin. Frightened animals will bite, soil on the floors, or will hide in difficult to reach places. Your pet’s first experience in your home with your family should be positive and calm. In addition, on Christmas day there are usually lots of ribbons and bows, candies and small toys littering the floor, all of which look to an animal like good things to chew on. You don’t want your first night (or any night) with your new pet to be in an animal emergency room with obstructed breathing or blocked intestines.
All new pets will need proper, calm, and slow introductions to the family to insure a safe and smooth transition into your home. Make sure that for the first few days of the new pet’s arrival you can be focused on their needs and training. The holidays are often filled with family, friends, and other social commitments, so it’s best to wait until the festivities are over and you have the time and patience to commit your energy to the new arrival. It is also recommended that you research introducing a new pet to the family, online or at your local library, prior to bringing home a new pet. The advice and training tips you will find will be invaluable.
Simon was feral when he was brought to the shelter. He was born on the streets with no human contact and, though still just a kitten, it was believed he’d never acclimate to life as a companion animal. Simon was slated for euthanasia when Amanda found him and took him home.
With a lifetime of experience caring for rescue animals, Amanda was Simon’s best chance at growing up to become a loving and trusting house cat. Still, she had her work cut out for her. It was over a month before Simon would come out from hiding when she was in the room, and still longer before he let her touch him.
When I first met Amanda and Simon and heard about Simon’s journey I was inspired by his affection for her and the level of trust they had built. Still, the trust that Amanda placed in me to care for him in her absence was not readily shared by Simon.
For the better part of the first week I put everything I know about cats to the test. I was careful never to approach him head on or to make eye contact with him. Every move I made was slow and controlled and quiet. I gave him the space he wanted and allowed him to be near me without forcing him to interact with me.
Today Simon and I had a breakthrough. As I sat reading to him, Simon plopped down on my lap and put his head in my hand. Moments later he was purring like a motorcycle engine. Simon had finally said “Cuddle”, and I was elated to oblige.
I’m always on the lookout for games that will entertain my genius fur-kid Cinema, I can’t wait to give these a try!
Last week we reviewed a number of apps specifically designed for pets. This week I shot some video of Eko playing with a few of those apps. Nothing beats good old fashioned toys, but if you and your pet are stuck inside on a rainy day then I think you will both get a kick out of trying a few of these. Check out Eko racking up some high scores!
Hope everyone has a great weekend.