Team Unruly Reads: Rin Tin Tin: The Life and Legend (Susan Orlean)

“…dark, slim-nosed, with unexpectedly dainty feet and the resigned and solemn air of an existentialist.”
-Susan Orlean, describing Rin Tin Tin (I)

Welcome to the first virtual meeting of Team Unruly Reads, our experiment in putting together an online book club themed around dog books. This month, we’re talking about Susan Orlean’s recent book, Rin Tin Tin: The Life and Legend. We’ll keep this post open for comments through Monday, October 1st (it went up a little late because I, your humble moderator, have had a trying week; sorry about that.)

In any case, the floor is now open to anything you’d like to discuss! Tell us how you felt about the book generally, your favorite parts, things that sparked your interest, whatever.

If you need some discussion inspiration, here are some of the thing the TU writers found most engaging about the book: feel free to weigh in on any/all of them! Continue reading

Tug Toy Redux: Kongs!

Disclaimer: The products reviewed in this blog entry were provided to us by the Kong company to review. Team Unruly does not receive any money for product reviews and strives to provide objective and honest critiques of quality dog products.

Faithful Team Unruly readers will remember our epic “Favorite Tugs” post published a few weeks ago. The response we received was amazing and we’re so grateful to all those who participated and gave their recommendations! We forwarded the post on to some of the companies mentioned in by our readers, and the great folks over at Kong sent us a few of their other tug products to try out – to take for a “test tug”, if you will. Between Katie and Bex, there are three bullies and two Border Collies, so we figured we’d see how Kong’s products hold up to a bit of rough treatment.

The first product is Kong’s Ballistic Tug. This is a plushie tug made from three layers of fabric and stitched in a diamond pattern across all the fabric areas. It feels pretty sturdy. The product information says it floats, but I didn’t try that out — we haven’t had a really good swimming day that coincides with any of my limited free time! It also says it’s washable, but I haven’t washed mine yet.

"For... me?!"

“For… me?!”

Cerb loved this tug. He was pretty fixated on it when it arrived – it was the first toy he pulled out of the shipping box and he stared at it when I put it up on a shelf to keep him from destroying it right away. It makes for a really good tug toy – if you can get your dog to stay on one end, you can slip your hand through the circle on the opposite end and get a really good grip!

The circular ends are well-stitched and durable. Cerb hasn’t done any damage to the ends at all. Unfortunately, he zeroed in on the tug’s soft belly-area in the middle and ripped through the fabric in his destuffing frenzy. I think this product is a great tug toy and it might hold up really well with a more gentle dog, but for added durability I would love to see the middle area of the toy toughened up a little bit. Maybe extra fabric or stitching here would help.

The next toy is Kong’s Safestix. This is a rubber tug and fetch toy that can replace regular sticks and tree branches, which can be a dangerous choking or puncture hazard.

Okay, yes. This toy looks hilarious. It is the first thing everyone says when they first see it and it resulted in quite a few bawdy jokes from my family members when I showed up at my mother’s house with this toy hanging out of my luggage. Let’s move past that.

This toy is pretty awesome. I love the idea of trying to replace sticks and branches, because I have nightmares about Cerberus getting a stick lodged in his cavernous maw. This toy comes in several sizes, too, so you can get something appropriate for your dog. It’s really durable, as we have come to expect from Kong products – even super-chewer Cerberus hasn’t managed to do much damage, just a few tooth-marks on the ends. He really enjoyed tugging on it and flinging it around.

That’s the one drawback to this toy: This is an outside toy. This might not be such an issue with the smaller sizes, but we got the large and Cerberus delights in whipping it around in a frenzy. Those ball-shaped ends hurt when they collide with your shins, knees or groin (yes, groin – sorry, honey!) at high speed. For the sake of your lower extremities, your walls and your fragile home decor, I suggest playing with this one outside or at least in a room with lots of open space – but those are the best places to play, anyway!

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Serious puppies need serious tug toys.

Alright, let’s turn things over to Katie:

I will admit, when I signed on to take a plush tug toy, I wasn’t that optimistic. My dogs are hard on tug toys. Heck, I started my own tug toy making business because of how hard my dogs are on toys. But when I opened the box and laid hands on the Kong Tuggerknot, I was pleasantly surprised. This toy is solid!

It has a nice plushy, cute exterior (ours is a moose), but underneath it is all super serious knotted goodness. I expect this toy may loose some cutesy feet and ears, but it is a toy that looks like it will hold up to heavy-duty tugging. A rope handle on each end allows the human end of the equation to get a double grip, making it even more appealing to the owner of a heavy-tugger. I hate tug toys that only allow me to tug one-handed with my pit bulls, because they are so darned strong, especially when Mushroom turns on the full-body thrashing. (Unfortunately, my pit bulls have decided to be crotchety old farts and neither one of them will engage with this toy, so you’re stuck with a picture of an adorable Border Collie puppy, who immediately claimed the toy as his very own.)

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It’s a ball! It’s a tug! It’s a happy Collie!

The other toy I received was the Squeezz. The Squeezz. Really, what more could a dog want? It’s a BALL! It’s a TUG! IT SQUEAKS! I have flyball dogs. This toy was built for them. There are actually several different designs of this toy, but ours has a ball on one end and a handle on the the other. And it is a nice handle. It is cushy and comfortable to hold. It is also anchored to the rope, so it doesn’t slide around, which I appreciated.

The Border Collies loved this toy, though the puppy grabbed onto the rope instead of the ball. Steve clamped his jaws around the ball, delighting in the squeak, and went to town. And killed the squeak in about five minutes, much to his dismay. (I told you they’re hard on toys!) But other than that, this toy is a ton of fun and is holding up beautifully. It throws well, it bounces, and because my dogs are so ball-oriented, they’re inclined to grab their end instead of slobbering up my end. The rope has a few pulls in it from vicious puppy teeth, but other than that, it looks like new after several sessions of backyard play.
This is not something I would have chosen to purchase in a store based on looks alone. I had no question that my dogs would like it, but I would not have expected it to survive them. So far, I have been very impressed by the sturdiness of both of the Kong toys that we tried out, and the Squeezz has become such a favorite that I would consider replacing it once it reaches the end of its lifespan.

Glen Highland Farm’s Canine Country Getaway: A Dog’s Dream Vacation

Recently Kelsey mentioned Glen Highland Farm in her post about Dog Shaming and I thought I should tell you a little about this amazing place.

Glen Highland Farm is a wonderful Border Collie rescue located in NY’s Central Leather-stocking region (translation for those of you who are not from the state: “Upstate” NY, which essentially means “somewhere other than NYC”). Back in February, I was perusing the collies that were available for adoption on their website (as I often do) and came across a page I somehow had missed in all my times there: the page for their Canine Country Getaway.  Now, I admit I went over there and started looking at it with the thought of “someday we might be able to afford this” because every time I run across something like this sounds awesome, it’s a week-long camp that costs $1000-1500 or more.  A bit pricey for folks like us.  And while I dream of being able to go to such a camp (Glen Highland Farm offers one as well), I discovered the Canine Country Getaway was something quite different.  People can book tents, cabins, cottages or RVs for as little as two days or as long as they want to.

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Dog Shaming (or, you know, not.)

I just discovered the blog Dog Shaming a few days ago; I’ve now read it cover-to-cover (or whatever the blog equivalent of that is) and as I was reading it, there were couple of times when I laughed so hard I practically cried. As a person with, uh, ‘quirky’ dogs (and I know a lot of you out there can relate), there’s something so cathartic about seeing other dogs who do the same dumb stuff that your dumb dogs do. We all know there’s nothing worse than the moment when you come home to, say, a couch that now has a bunch of suspicious holes in it; you look at your dog, and you think about the money, and you start feeling this terrible combination of despair and sadness about your total failure as a trainer and slight anger at your dog, even though you know it’s irrational, and a little shock that somehow you let this couch-eating monster into your house, you thought your life was going to be so different, you never got that apartment in Paris, and now look at you, you can’t even keep a dumb couch in one piece….so anyway, it’s probably better for all of us that we can now go look at a bunch of Dachshunds next to overturned trash cans and laugh our heads off instead.

We’ve got a lot of different viewpoints on a lot of different things here at Team Unruly. However, there are a few key points that we can all agree on. The first is that you’ve got to know your dog: you’ve got to have a good sense of your dog’s likes and dislikes, you need to know what his triggers are, what scares him, what annoys him, how much of any given thing he’ll tolerate, what he loves, etc.  And that’s your specific dog: not the breed, not all-the-dogs-you’ve-had-before, the actual animal sitting in front of you (possibly with couch pieces in his mouth.)  The second is that it’s really important to be your dog’s advocate: it’s your job to know your dog well enough that you can keep her out of harm’s way, that you can manage situations that might stress her or freak her out, that you can get her the food and the treatment and the special squeaky balls that she needs regardless of what anybody says, and most importantly, that you can prevent problems before they happen and set your dog up for success. (The third point, incidentally, is that Ella’s Lead makes awesome collars.)

I believe in these principles. They are at the heart of any advice I’ve ever given anyone about their dogs, and they’re in the back of my mind every time my dogs and I are in a new situation together.  I’ve also been thinking a lot because lately, I have been beginning to fear that I’m using them as a crutch.

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Book Review: The Pit Bull Placebo by Karen Delise

Title: The Pit Bull Placebo: The Media, Myths, and Politics of Canine Aggression
Author: Karen Delise

Year published: 2007

Like the pharmacologically inactive sugar pill dispensed to placate a patient who supposes it to be medicine, eradication of the Pit Bull is heralded as the cure for severe dog attacks. However, a placebo is administered to appease a person’s mental duress. In the present day climate of fear and misinformation about Pit Bulls and dog attacks, eradication of the Pit Bull is the placebo administered solely to appease the public’s mental anxiety.

And so it goes. The Pit Bull: locking jaws, biting and holding while grinding, the dog that attacks like a shark. These are all media myths designed to demonize one particular dog breed.

The Pit Bull Placebo traces the media’s coverage and the reality of dog bite attacks from the end of the 19th century through to today. Drawing on real cases and quoting from the newspapers’ accounts of these cases, Karen Delise makes an incredibly simple case: There have always been dog attacks, some severe, some fatal. But it is the media’s focus that has twisted the public’s perception of the Pit Bull.

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No more excuses!

Without going into too much detail, the other day I watched a trainer fit a toy breed puppy with a near-$200 shock collar because his owner claimed he was “naughty.” I don’t live with this woman, so I can’t speak to how “naughty” this little puppy really is, but in the few minutes I interacted with him he seemed absolutely lovely. A little bit hyper in that young-puppy way, but absolutely nothing out of the ordinary. I was absolutely dismayed that this was the training method his owner was pursuing and that there are dog trainers out there who think that a shock collar is appropriate for teaching a puppy basic obedience.

Later that day, I was relaying this story to a group of dog owners – with the goal, I guess, of commiserating. I expected them to join me in thinking that this was awful, and I shared that I really believe in positive-reinforcement training. After all, it’s worked wonders for my dog, who is large, powerful and rambunctious. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the response I was looking for - instead, I got a litany of excuses that I hear over and over again.

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Product Review: Red Dog Tugs

Tayla is my three year old Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and she LOVES to play tug. She’ll tug with anything that will stand up to her jaws of death longer than five minutes.

It literally started the day I brought her home.

When buying tug toys for their dogs, Staffordshire Bull Terrier owners develop one of two habits: you either purchase lots and lots of flimsy tug toys from pet shops, supermarkets and discount stores that are destroyed from anywhere within five minutes to a day, or you save your money and investigate slightly less convenient, mostly more expensive but ultimately better value options.

Then Team Unruly’s Katie opened her Etsy store: Red Dog Tugs. (If you’re on Facebook, she also has a page here.) The tagline caught my attention: “Tug toys for dogs who mean business. Tough fleece tugs to hold up to strong tuggers and crazy flyball dogs.”


Katie square-braids these tugs herself, from thick and soft fleece material. The Pitbull Seal of Approval was enough to convince me to give them a go. So I toddled over to the online shop for a stickybeak.

Tayla feels that pink is quite complimentary to her colouring, so when she saw this pink and black medium sized tug, she knew she had to have it.

Wanting to be free to review the product honestly despite being friends with Katie, I bought this tug at the standard fee.

That’s the first rather important point. The tugs are very reasonably priced. I paid $12.00 USD, plus $10.00 USD shipping. Which brings me to the second rather important point. Red Dog Tugs ships worldwide and doesn’t charge an arm and a leg!

I bought the tug from the US on 13 August and it arrived in Adelaide on 29 August. So the turnaround was just over two weeks. Not bad, for something coming over from the other side of the world. I ordered another unrelated product from the US on Etsy at exactly the same time as this purchase – it took a week longer to arrive!

Fresh out of the box! Er… mailing satchel.

The tug looked exactly as it did in the product photo. What you see is what you get with Red Dog Tugs, as each tug is a hand-braided one-of-a-kind. My tug is approximately 11 inches long and 1 1/4 inches square in the braid. It felt very thick, solid and a little stiff when I handled it for the first time. The stiffness was only temporary and the tug softened up considerably (without compromising it’s durability) once we started to play with it.

Do you want to see pictures of the tug in action? Of course you do. Read on! Continue reading

Needed: Retirement homes for old dogs.

Siren, going for the classic French look.

If you had told me that my first dog was going to be a Miniature Poodle, I never would have believed you. And doubly so if you’d told me that Poodle was going to be 15 1/2 years old when I brought her home. But I am one of those people who believes the adage that you don’t always get the dog you want, you get the dog you need, and so it was that I brought home an ancient Miniature Poodle from work. And I loved her. She was senile, not really housebroken, had congestive heart failure and weakening kidneys, but she was mine.

Who dumps an elderly dog? Well, an elderly woman who was no longer able to care for herself, much less a dog with her own laundry list of medical conditions and pill organizers full of pills. (No lie, she was on five different pills as well as eye drops by the time it was all said and done.) She had made arrangements in advance: her young poodle went to her groomer to place, and Siren went to her veterinarian. She lived in the kennel at work for awhile, and I would let her out with me at night (I worked nights by myself, and it was usually fairly quiet- paperwork, housekeeping, monitoring hospitalized patients, sterilizing surgical instruments and gowns). At first I couldn’t stand her- she paced and paced and pottied on the floor and paced some more. But with time, she got comfortable with me, and her pacing changed to wandering around looking for toenails to eat, and then settling in her basket to snooze.

She was not an easy dog. She didn’t deal well with being left alone, she was not at all housebroken, she didn’t see well, she didn’t hear well. But she loved life and she loved people, and I’d take her for carries around the neighborhood because she could only walk for a block or two.

Siren gave me a great gift: she gave me a love for old dogs. I love my young dogs too, don’t get me wrong, but there is something that feels really good to me about giving an old dog a place to live out whatever time she has left.

So a number of years after Siren, despite already having two pit bulls at home, I started trolling Petfinder for another old dog, and adopted Harv. Harv’s story was a bit more harsh. He was seized by animal control as a cruelty case (though I didn’t know this until after he’d passed). He was evaluated as adoptable, but nobody wanted an older black pit bull, so he lived in the shelter for over a year. He was finally at long last adopted, only to be returned a year later, a victim, this time, of divorce. And there he sat for another several months until I showed up. And even though I didn’t fit the general requirement that pit bull adopters need to live in the same county as the shelter, they let me take him home. (And I want to give a shout-out to the York County SPCA for housing and caring for a not very adoptable black, elderly pit bull until somebody showed up who wanted him. I would guess that in a depressing number of places, my old man never would have had a chance. But they were rooting for him, and so many of the employees and volunteers who were there when I went to meet him and then to pick him up were overjoyed that he was finally going home.)

How could I leave this face in the shelter?

Harv was an epic dog. I only had him for fourteen months until a brain tumor claimed him, but it seems like so much longer. He was the most wonderful old fart of a dog. We went to beginner obedience class and changed some minds over what pit bulls are like, though I think all he actually learned was sit and down. He was kind and gentle and loved everybody. He tried so hard to play with the other dogs but he was endlessly awkward about it. He spent a lot of time not really knowing what was going on, but he was Happy! He would run back and forth through the house and bite my butt while I was getting dog meals ready, and I could never correct him for it because it made me laugh so hard.

A lot of people have asked me how I could do that to myself– bring home an old dog I knew was going to die soon. You know, nothing is ever certain. I had a puppy die too. It’s different, I think, to bring home an older dog, and I think my relationship has been different with them, but I didn’t love them any less, and the time we shared… I wouldn’t give that back for anything.

They have certainly been high maintenance. Bringing home an elderly dog means bringing home a dog right in the midst of what is probably going to be the most expensive time of his life. Siren had her heart failure and she also had an ugly bout of pancreatitis. Harv, whom I swore I would not spend a lot of money on, developed excruciatingly painful glaucoma (high pressure) in one of his eyes, probably secondary to an old injury. I had his eye removed, since he couldn’t see out of it anyway. I could hardly put him to sleep for something we could fix! And then one of his teeth abscessed, so even though he was already having seizures from his brain tumor at that point, we put him under anesthesia and took that out, because again, it was something that needed to be fixed. Oh expensive dog!

A little rough around the edges, but happy til the end.

Training is a ittle iffy with an old dog whose mind is not as sharp as it used to be, but at the same time, training is one of the very best things you can do with an old dog. If you don’t use it, you lose it. Harv loved his food-dispensing ball, and it was good for him to have to interact with it to get his food. We did obedience class because I’m an obedience class junkie, but I am glad that we did.

I do think old dogs can be a bit less flexible about things, and they can get very attached to their routines. I think that’s simply one of those things that goes with old age. But at the same time, they’re mostly pretty darned content to just be. Harv spent a lot of time crashed out, snoring, on a dog bed. He didn’t really want for anything else. An occasional romp around the yard, some walks around town, his dinner, a bone to chew. He was good.

I have shared my stories of Siren and Harv with a lot of people, and my hope is that if I can keep sharing it, more people will consider giving a home to an older dog. There are so many oldsters in our shelters and rescues who are there through no fault of their own. Yes, it can be hard. Yes, it can be heartbreaking. But it is also an incredible joy to cherish and spoil an old soul, and to give a good old dog the comfort he deserves for the time he has left.

Pet Photography Tip #3: Background

We’ve talked about lighting. We’ve talked about composition. You KNOW we’re going to talk about the dogs themselves, but let’s talk about the third thing that makes a photo a good photo, and that is… background. There’s nothing that makes or breaks a photo like what is in the backdrop. We’ve all seen those funny Facebook memes where people are posing for a photo and someone has their pants down in the background. It just totally detracts from the point of the photo. That example is obvious, but there are many more subtle things that make a good (or bad) background for a dog photo.

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Product Review: Busy Buddy Rip ‘n Tug by Premier

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you: my dogs’ new favorite toy.

So let me begin this review by saying that I have terriers (yes, I know, I brought it all on myself). Terriers have a pretty diverse working history, but by and in large, nearly all of them were built to be rodent hunters of some sort. This is to say that what they are designed to do, and what they LOVE to do, is to ignore the person yelling at them to come back RIGHT NOW work independently, chase down little skittering things, murder them quickly by grabbing and tugging and shaking them and then chomp them in order to see if there are any tasty bits inside.

Lots of toys are built for dogs who enjoy doing some simulacrum of their ancestral job (go to Petsmart and look at all the tossable floaty water toys designed for retrievers, who like to Leap! In! Water! and Bring! Things! Back!). If my dogs’ complete glee over it is any indication, this toy, the Premier Rip ‘n Tug from their Busy Buddy line, is totally a toy for terriers.

It’s a little hard to see in the picture above (which is from Premier’s site and shows both the small and large size of the toy), so let me explain how this works: basically, it’s a ball on a sturdy rope with a handle that allows for it to be either tugged or thrown. It’s the ball part that’s genius: the ball actually divides into two sections (it’s held together with pretty sturdy Velcro) and each section has its own little Velcro pocket, into which you can put a lot of tasty foods.

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The ball, unvelcroed. Professionally photographed on my bed (shut up, the wrinkles make it look artistic!)

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And the little pouch on each side (my dogs want me to tell you that their freeze-dried liver is not included)

The joy of this is when your dog gets the ball, they can rip it apart satisfyingly and then they can rrrrrrip! into the insides and get something yummy. According to my dogs, chasing a ball is fun, but getting to murder the ball after you chase it is WAY more fun (and indeed, when we play fetch with a tennis ball, I usually have to take it away after a few minutes or they’ll just rip it up instead of retrieving it). I don’t know what kind of super space-age Velcro they are using in this toy, but my dogs have been tearing this thing apart at least five or six times a day (each!) for about a month, and it’s all still in one piece and holding together, which, believe me, is a miracle.

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Mr. Wubba cosigns this statement.

The game, as my dogs like to play it, is that they bring me the toy (which is to say that they come over to me while I’m doing something else and start smacking me in the leg with it like it’s a mace), we play some ferocious growly tug, I win the tug after much terror and strife (or I get sick of tugging and ask them to ‘off’), I throw the ball as far as I can, they tear after it in a flurry of awkward legs and fur, they pounce on it and then proceed to TEAR IT UP and EAT ITS HEART (which usually means they find the bits of kibble that I stuck in there yesterday and forgot about). And then I magically restore it to life (aka velcro it back together) and we do it again! (and again. and again.)

I tried to photograph some of this action today, and in part because I am not great at taking motion shots and in part because it was CARNAGE, all I got were these ferocious black and tan and purple blurs. But what inspired me to write this post in the first place is that Nellie ‘won’ the last game we played and has been triumphantly carrying around the ball all night: just now, she came in to go to bed, flung the ball up first and then settled in on top of it, presumably to prevent the cat from stealing it in the night.

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It may look like I’m sleeping, but that is because you have not tried to steal my toy yet.

Wait, you got the clickybox out. IT doesn’t want to steal my toy, does it? (note: Nellie also endorses the MacBook Pro, the banjo and Sarah Vowell’s “The Wordy Shipmates”)

She finally let me have it back, so in lieu of the action shots from earlier, I can at least present you with photographs of my dogs ripping it apart one last time before bed.

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After a long day of hunting, the mighty lion of the savannah casually consumes its prey.

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OM NOM PREY!

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And the baby lion of the savannah gets to help!

So in conclusion, the Rip ‘n Tug is officially approved by the dogs that live in my house, and probably also by terriers everywhere. I am very impressed by its durability and its lasting amusement value for my guys. I am also very excited to use it as a tug substitute for Nellie in flyball: an ordinary tug is apparently no fun to come back to, but a tug full of food? Probably a different story.

[Note on sponsorship: I paid for this thing with my own cash, and Premier didn't ask me to write about it: the only impetus for the post is that the product gives my dogs a happy.]