Product Review: Plato EOS Turkey with Cranberry Dog Treats

ProductEOS Turkey with Cranberry dog treats by Plato

Cost: $9-12 for 12 oz of treats

Available: Chewy.com and other online retailers; small/independent pet stores

eos

Review:

My lab, Luna, developed food allergies at a young age (probably from repeated antibiotic regimes to combat recurrent urinary tract infections), sending me on a frustrating hunt for single protein dog treats. Plato makes all its treats in the USA and is one of the few companies that offers single protein treats without a bunch of weird ingredients at a reasonable price – I regularly bought their Original Meats Duck Strips for about two years. Fortunately for me, my pup and my wallet, Luna’s food allergies apparently resolved around her second birthday, so I’ve been able to branch out and try other treats from Plato.

I’m not sure if the EOS treat line is new to Plato but they are new to me! We’ve tried the EOS Turkey with Sweet Potato and are currently into a bag of the Turkey with Cranberry. Like the Duck Strips, these treats come in bricks about 1.5″x0.5″. They’re treats are very high in protein like the Duck Strips but the consistency of the treats is a little less dense and more fibrous, which makes them super easy to divide into small pieces. Both of my dogs love these treats as much as the Duck Strips (which are surely in their Top 5 Treats) but the EOS bags are a bit cheaper! I particularly like the Turkey with Cranberry because, given my pup’s past urinary tract issues, I try to stuff as many urinary tract health products into her life as possible.

While I REALLY like Plato’s EOS and Original Meats treats, I don’t recommend their Thinker Meat Treats line. All of these contain garlic, which is a toxin to dogs and cats. While there isn’t any information about its use on Plato’s website, I’ve seen other pet food companies say they use garlic in such small amounts that it shouldn’t be a problem for most pets (although individual pets and some dog breeds may be more susceptible) and garlic improves the food or treat’s flavor/smell. What happens when you feed a dog food with a little garlic in it, and also treats with a little garlic in it? If your cat food has a little garlic in it, is your cat going to get hemolytic anemia when she steals a piece of pizza that was basted in garlic sauce? My philosophy: there are SO MANY ingredients that you can add to pet treats/food to make it smell and taste better – like MEAT for instance, or rosemary, basil, oregano, lavender, sage, lemon mint, etc. etc. –  why use a known, albeit mild, pet toxin?

Product Review: Food Dispensing Cat Toys: Twist ‘n Treat, SlimCat Interactive Feeder, and Active Treat Ball Cat Toy

ProductTwist ‘n Treat and SlimCat Interactive Feeder by PetSafe and Active Treat Ball cat toy by KONG

Cost: $3-6 at online retailers like Chewy.com; $6-9 in most pet stores

Length of ownership: 1.5+ year

Review:

Let me start off by saying that I approve of all of these toys’ durability, inexpensiveness and effectiveness. They are all great ways to add activity to your cat(s)’s daily routine by getting Kitty to work for her food.

My favorite of this bunch is the SlimCat Interactive Feeder. It’s a spherical shape with that an swivel to make it harder or easier to dispense the food inside. That variable difficulty is why this toy is my favorite. With two different hole shapes (oblong and circular), it accommodates different kibble shapes and sizes. Additionally, you can choose to have the holes completely open or partially closed, which adds to the difficulty level. These toys are large enough to hold about a cup of food. A small complaint about this toy is that the lid to the toy is a tad small, which can make adding food from a measuring cup difficult. It’s easy enough to pour kibble in from your palm, so, as I said, it’s a small complaint.

My second favorite of this trio is the Active Treat Ball toy from KONG. This toy is egg shaped with an oblong hole at one end for the kibble to come out. The toy unscrews at the middle and can hold about 1/2 cup of a kibble. There is a cylinder in the middle of the toy so you can choose to put the kibble outside of the cylinder (easier to dispense) or inside the cylinder (more difficult to dispense) or both. This toy isn’t my favorite because it does hold significantly less food than the SlimCat toy and you can overload the cylinder so that the kibble gets jammed. I also didn’t see significant increases in the time it took my cats to get the kibble out when it was in the cylinder vs. the body of the toy, so this toy isn’t as adjustable as the SlimCat toy.

My least favorite toy is the Twist n’ Treat toy. This toy is an saucer-shaped toy that twists apart at the center and holds a scant 1/2 cup of a kibble. It is meant to be adjustable by screwing the two parts closer or farther apart but because it is made of hard plastic (instead of something with more grip, like rubber), as my cats batted around this toy, it either came apart or tightened up to the point that kibble couldn’t come out. It does essentially work – I’m not going to give it away (yet) – but the other toys in this post are way more effective.

Product Review: PetSafe Easy Walk Dog Harness

ProductEasy Walk Dog Harness by PetSafe

Cost: about $15 from online retailers; about $25-30 in most pet stores

Available: Chewy.com* and other online retailers; most pet stores

Length of ownership: 2+ year

Review:

After my first experience with a basic harness (my first dog, Allie, quickly realized how to escape her harness leading to three ulcer-inducing “THE PUPPY IS LOOSE IN A PUBLIC SPACE” scenarios), I was about as anti-harness as one could be. Since I think walking a dog with a regular collar is inefficient, confusing for the dog and possibly dangerous, so I was on the hunt for another harness-type option. I discovered the Weiss Walkie from my employment at a humane society, which was the perfect walking tool for Allie. (My review of the Weiss Walk is forthcoming!) Allie is an Australian Cattle Dog and grew to about 45 lbs, and I never had any trouble with the Weiss with her. Soon after the arrival of our second dog, a lab named Luna, I realized the Weiss really wasn’t addressing Luna’s needs.

It might be helpful to know my loose-leashing training strategy briefly: when my dog pulls the leash, I stop walking (or walk the opposite direction). I want my dogs to know they aren’t going to get where they want to go by pulling. I wasn’t able to perform this strategy with Luna and the Weiss Walkie because she is much bigger (70+ lbs) and more enthusiastic (read: CRAZY) on walks: Luna could pull me wherever she wanted to go even if I wanted to stop. The Easy Walk harness immediately tipped the scales in my favor!

There are three awesome characteristics about the Easy Walk harness that I’d like to highlight:

1) Because the harness clips to the leash at the dog’s chest, any forward motion from the dog gets redirected to whatever side the leash is currently on. It’s a beautiful marriage of physics and design! With the forward motion redirected off to the side, it is infinitely easier to stop Luna when she pulls. 

2) Another awesome design feature of the Easy Walk harness is it’s simplicity: one strap goes over the dog’s back, one goes under the dog’s chest and one goes across the dog’s chest. No strap in between the dog’s legs means so finicking around with getting the dog’s legs through a loop. There are other front clip harnesses that have an addition strap between the dog’s legs and I can’t see the benefit, so this is a big plus for the Easy Walk harness (in my opinion!).

3) The part that leash clips to is a Martingale collar-style strap. For those unfamiliar with this type of collar, a Martingale collar is a collar consisting of a large loop that goes over the dog’s head that is held together by a small loop, which the leash clips to. When the leash is pulled, the tension on the small loop causes the larger loop to shrink. Martingale collars are also called humane choke collars (because, when sized correctly, they could never actually choke a dog) and are often used for dogs that can easy slip a buckle collar. The Martingale set up on the Easy Walk harness similarly decreases the ability of the dog to slip the harness. In fact, I bought another Easy Walk Harness for Allie for jogging and she’s not been able to slip out of it at all! (Not that I’m encouraging her to try!)

*I regularly use Chewy.com to order dog and cat food as well as other pet supplies. I’m not sponsored by this company in any way. I LOVE them because they are affordable, have great customer service and fast shipping. 

Product Review: FroliCat Bolt Interactive Laser Pet Toy

ProductFroliCat Bolt Interactive Laser Pet Toy by FroliCat

Cost: about $20 at online retailers and in most pet stores

Available: Chewy.com* and other online retailers; most pet stores

Length of ownership: 1+ year

Review:

[Edit 11/06/2014: Please see my response to Dr. Marty Becker’s article on the safety of laser pointer toys for cats here. Out of concern for my cats’ mental health, I am reducing the frequency of their laser pointer play time and using wand toys/jingle balls/fake mice instead.)

The Bolt Interactive Laser Pet Toy is a robotic laser toy that will whirl around a laser dot for your kitties to chase for 15 minutes (it can also be used as a regular, although bulkier, laser pointer). I found this on clearance at a pet store for $10 and purchased it impulsively. Upon reflection, I have NO idea why this item was put on clearance because it is AWESOME! I mean, it’s a pretty basic idea – entertain your cat for 15 minutes with as much effort as it takes to push a button – so what could go wrong?

The Bolt toy takes 4 AA batteries, which weren’t included but have lasted over a year for me. The robotic part of this toy works by using a rotating mirror to reflect the laser point around the room. The tilt of the mirror is adjustable, which I found useful if I put the Bolt toy on a table vs. the floor. The best results that I’ve had with this toy, however, came when I put the toy in our attic crawl space (which I converted to a secret cat lair). Because the ceiling is so low, the laser point is never out of reach for my cats, whereas in a regular room, the laser point will inevitably go somewhere the cats can’t reach. This isn’t a big problem but occasionally, my cats would become disinterested in the Bolt toy if the laser point was out of reach for too long.

As much as my old cats enjoy the Bolt toy, this toy was heaven-sent when I fostered kittens and a momma cat. The kittens were endlessly amused with this toy and I was likewise entertained with their antics. After the kittens left for adoption, the momma cat had bouts of loud nocturnal activity. I turned on the Bolt toy before we went to bed and if she woke me up in the middle of the night to wear her out so that she’d sleep when we slept.

Even though I got this toy a half-price, I think it’s definitely worth $20 for cat owners! The toy does make some noise as it rotates around but didn’t keep me awake at night or similar. I would advise keep this toy away from dogs when not in use because my dog chomped on the top, which made the mirror tilt-adjustment a little wonky. (I don’t consider this a fault of the toy – it’s obviously not meant to be a chew toy!)

The FroliCat company says that this is a “pet toy”, suggesting that it can be used with dogs and guinea pigs and etc. I don’t have a guinea pig or etc. but I avoid using this toy with my dogs. I’ve heard a couple horror stories from veterinary behaviorists of dogs who developed obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) behavior in association with laser pointer play. I have no idea if laser pointers cause or contribute to OCD in dogs! However, the dogs required extensive psychopharmaceuticals and behavioral therapy to overcome their OCD behaviors in these stories. Personally, I’d rather not risk it for my dogs! They have plenty of other toys anyway…

*I regularly use Chewy.com to order dog and cat food as well as other pet supplies. I’m not sponsored by this company in any way. I LOVE them because they are affordable, have great customer service and fast shipping. 

Product Review: Busy Buddy food dispensing toys – Tug-A-Jug, Kibble Nibble and Magic Mushroom

Products: Tug-A-Jug, Kibble Nibble and Magic Mushroom by Busy Buddy (parent company PetSafe)

Cost: $7 – $13 at online retailers, $13 – $20 in most pet stores

Available: Chewy.com* and other online retailers; most pet stores

Length of ownership: 1+ year

Review:

I decided to lump all these food dispensing toys into one post because although they have different pros and cons, a lot of their attributes are very similar as they are made by the same company! On a whole, these toys are primarily hard plastic with rubber details (except for the Magic Mushroom, which is just hard plastic). All of these toys come apart so they make it easy load an entire meal – my dogs eat about a cup of kibble twice a day so I appreciate not having to load the toys kibble-by-kibble (I’m looking at you, Tricky Treat Ball).

My favorite of these three toys is the Kibble Nibble by quite a stretch. It is super basic – just an egg shape that unscrews around the middle with holes on either end. There are rubber fingers around the treat-dispensing holes that you trim so your dog’s kibble size fits through fairly easily. Your dog just has to roll the egg around until her meal falls out, which takes long enough that I can make coffee, eat breakfast, etc. while my dogs are getting their meal. When your dog gets good at the Kibble Nibble, there is plenty of room inside the egg to add a ball (or two!) to make it more difficult to get the food out. It is fantastically easy to clean because it’s just rubber and plastic. I liked this one so much that I bought one for both pups!

The Tug-A-Jug was a contender for quite a while. The dog has to work with the rope without pulling the rope too far, which blocks the treat-dispensing hole – it is super tricky! My lab developed a method of tipping the Tug-A-Jug and wiggling the rope to get the kibble out, while my cattle dog would pick up the Tug-A-Jug by the rope and throw it around until kibble came out. (Which was fine, except that she hit me in the head with it once because I was sitting on the floor – OUCH!) Unfortunately, because the rope is just a regular rope – a bundle of fabric strings – I never quite figured out how to properly clean this one. The rope was actually the demise of this toy for me because after leaving the Tug-A-Jug in our closet over the weekend, I discovered the rope had molded the following Monday. I couldn’t get it satisfactorily clean (even after running it through the dishwasher), so the Tug-A-Jug sadly went into the trash.

The Magic Mushroom – who in the world named this? – was the least satisfactory of these three Busy Buddy products. The pup is supposed to roll this toy end-for-end, making the treats fall out of the body of the toy and dispense under the mushroom cap. However, my pups weren’t able to roll this effectively on hardwood. The toy worked okay on carpet but I prefer to feed my dogs in rooms that just happen to have non-carpeted floors. But I didn’t want to change my entire feeding routine (trust me, it would have been an ordeal) just to use this toy the way it was meant! Because the toy didn’t work well in the rooms where I feed my dogs, my cattle dog started picking up the toy and tossing it, which worked okay for about a week until the cap of the mushroom broke off. I didn’t even try to fix it because I’m sure it would have broken again in another week.

These aren’t the only food dispensing toys on the market so look for more reviews on this type of product down the road. Have you tried any of these toys with your pups? What were your experiences with them like? Let me know in the comments below!

*I regularly use Chewy.com to order dog and cat food as well as other pet supplies. I’m not sponsored by this company in any way. I LOVE them because they are affordable, have great customer service and fast shipping. 

Product Review: PetSafe Manners Minder Treat & Train Remote Reward Behavior Dog Trainer

Product: Treat & Train by PetSafe

Cost: $90-110, depending on where you purchase it

Available: Chewy.com* and other online retailers

Length of ownership: 4 months

Review:

The Treat & Train (T&T ) is a remote-controlled treat dispensing tool that was designed to help owners teach dogs a down-stay behavior, particularly for when the owner needs to answer the door. The development of this tool has been published in the journal Applied Animal Behavior Science under the title, “Efficacy of a remote-controlled, positive-reinforcement, dog-training system for modifying problem behaviors exhibited when people arrive at the door.”

TheT&T comes with the actual food dispensing robot, a cue wand and stand, the remote control, an instructional guide, a quick-start guide and a DVD. It comes with a battery but you will need to purchase or already have a “down-stay” mat/bed that is only brought out for training exercises. I perused the instructional guide and quick-start guide but the DVD was most helpful for me. The DVD went through, in a 1990’s PSA style, all the steps of training with the T&T and, critically, common mistakes at each step of the way. The DVD also included a very helpful section about how to tell if your dog is overweight in the bonus material!

I bought the T&T because my husband was working 10-12 hour shifts and I was finding it difficult to work with both of our dogs on training activities. Although both Luna and Allie have pretty good “stay”s, it wasn’t very much fun to have one dog sit still while I worked with the other and someone usually got bored by these exercises. And Luna has mildly poor manners when people come to the door!

I started Luna, our 2 year old lab, with the T&T because impulse control does not come naturally for her. Before I talk about its functionality, I am super pleased with the T&T’s durability. Luna really gave that thing a lashing before she mastered the idea that she only received kibble from the T&T for sitting quietly (which is addressed in the DVD and instructional guide). I also have dropped the T&T on occasion and it has stood up admirably.

Luna and I completed the incremental steps that the first step of the T&T instructions required and I am still astounded by the results. With the T&T, Luna went from barely being able to sit still for 3 seconds to sitting patiently in front of the T&T for over 120 seconds for multiple sessions. As evidenced by Dr. Yin’s publication in Applied Animal Behavior Science, the T&T protocol absolutely works.

Because I am not diligently following the T&T protocol currently, Luna and I are still working on her down-stay with distractions with the T&T. If I had stuck to the T&T protocol, I have no doubt that Luna would be completely trained to down-stay while I answered the door, whatever distractions were present. The progress she has made with impulse control because of the T&T simply amazes me. I view the T&T as a having a personal dog trainer that I can pull out of my closet at my convenience and I couldn’t be more pleased with it.

On a separate note, the T&T can be used for many more fun games besides “down-stay” at the door. The instructional booklet has some ideas for training behaviors at a distance and using the targeting behavior of the T&T protocol for exercise and mental stimulation. As long as you understand the positive reinforcement concepts behind the T&T protocol, the limit for its use is probably just your imagination.

*I regularly use Chewy.com to order dog and cat food as well as other pet supplies. I’m not sponsored by this company in any way. I LOVE them because they are affordable, have great customer service and fast shipping. 

Product Review: Thundershirt (for dogs)

Product: Thudershirt by Thunderworks

Cost: $39.99

Available: at every pet store that I’ve ever been in and online

Length of ownership: 1+ year

Review:

I bought a Thundershirt for our lab, Luna, because her over-stimulated antics during social outings was making me choose to leave her at home more than I wanted to. Basically, I wanted to be able to take Luna into a pet store without her having a total meltdown (jumping, lunging and barking nonstop). I took a while to purchase the Thundershirt because it’s not advertised for this purpose – it’s marketed towards dogs with noise-induced anxiety. However, I realized that the Thundershirt may help Luna after I attended a talk by veterinary behaviorist Christopher Pachel at the 2014 Midwest Veterinary Conference. One of Dr. Pachel’s suggestions for low-stress handling in veterinary clinics was using a pressure wrap, like a Thundershirt or an ace bandage, to induce calm in veterinary patients. Maybe the Thundershirt could induce calm in Luna during pet store visits!

I am happy to say that I was not disappointed. I had been trying to counter-condition Luna’s overstimulation in pet stores by using treats and distracting her from things she fixated on (usually people). However, without the Thundershirt, I was only getting about 10-40% of her attention even with the highest value treats. With the Thundershirt on, Luna was calmer from the start and able to return her attention to me faster when she did get distracted by something (or rather, someone). I have since used it for veterinary visits and at home when Luna gets overstimulated or overly worked up, usually in conjunction with a frozen Kong. I was helpfully advised by an associate at the pet store where I bought the Thundershirt to put the Thundershirt on Luna during non-stressful events so that she didn’t begin to associate the Thundershirt with stress and thereby inducing stress just by seeing the Thundershirt, which i think was vital in the Thundershirt’s success for Luna.

In summary, Luna is not a noise-phobic dog in the least so I can’t attest to the Thundershirt’s ability to calm down dogs during thunderstorms or fireworks or etc. The Thundershirt was extremely effective for Luna in lowering her stress or overstimulation during pet store or vet visits as well as at home if she gets overly worked up about something. Because her stress/overstimulation level was decreased, I am able to work on desensitizing and counter-conditioning Luna to the things that stress her.

The Thundershirt did not “cure” Luna’s stress and overstimulation tendencies but enabled her to be under an emotional threshold where she could still pay attention and learn during stimulating events. Two thumbs up!