25 ways to own a dog without going broke

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This post first appeared on Brokelyn.com

I love Amos, my Yorkiepoodle, oodles and oodles. But I’ve never known him to be able to hold down a job. Sure he is cuddly (sometimes), lets me know when someone is at the door and provides good Instagram fodder. But ours is largely a parasitic relationship, as dog poop sucks as a form of currency. Fortunately, poverty isn’t so bad when you have a roommate to lick your tears.

I work as a dog trainer at the School for the Dogs and am surrounded by a lot of nerdy dog types, all of whom don’t skimp when it comes to their doggie pals. But that doesn’t mean we spend a bundle. There are many, many things you can do to be a great dog owner without going broke. Here are some tips my scrappy dog-professional pals and I have come up with over the years.

GEAR

• Stop the poop bag habit. There are a few ways to do this. Sure, you can start saving your grocery bags; if you have a small dog with modest poops, you can cut up the bags to get more uses out of them. If you have a big dog, this might mean more Shoprite visits than necessary. For those in that camp, I suggest getting the Sunday New York Times. For $5, you can pick up excrement for a week. Viva, print journalism!

• Stock up on leashes at American Apparel. They usually have them on sale — anywhere from $1 to $5. I like their leashes because they’re pretty cheap and also they have a trigger snap, which is generally considered (by those who have opinions about such things) to be safer than the standard clasp you see on most leashes. If you have a dog who is a leash chewer, you will go through fewer leashes with a metal chain between the leash and your dog’s collar.

• Make your own toys. I’m a huge fan of “work to eat” toys, which can help dogs become better problem solvers, keep them occupied, and also promotes slower eating, which is healthier than snarfing. Really, there is no downside to these kinds of toys except for the fact that some of them are quite pricey. So, duh: Make your own: Put treats in a muffin tin, then cover them with tennis balls. Crazy fun.

– Get a big cardboard box, scrunch up some butcher paper, and toss in your dog’s food or some treats (or wrap up a peanut butter-filled Kong and throw that it in). I swear, this is like the dog version of Candy Crush.

– Cut a small hole in the side of an empty water bottle, and thread a knotted sock or a piece of rope through the hole and bottle rim, then knot again. Fill with kibble or treats. (This is a cheap-o version of the Tug-A-Jug, but actually better liked by many dogs because they have a thing for crinkly water bottles)

• When your dog tears stuffing out of a toy, replace it with an old t-shirt, or stuff his other toys inside the torn toy. You can also let them tear out a toy’s filling over and over by creating a “Destruct-o-ball”: stuff a Hollee roller type toy with treats wrapped in rags.

GETTING A DOG

• Consider becoming a part-time dog parent. At School For The Dogs, we run NY Dog Share, which is a listing of people who would like to spend time with a dog but cannot own one themselves. Some of them will come volunteer to go hang out with dogs for free; some ask for some small honorarium. This is a nice way for the non-dog owner to enjoy the pleasures of pet ownership without the financial responsibility, and it’s great for pet owners who have dogs who are anxious if left alone during the work day. There is also PAWS, which pairs volunteer pet-lovers with pet-owners who are homebound or otherwise infirm and need a hand taking care of their furry pals. (If you’re as interested in the cash as you are in the animal love, you can use DogVacay, which is like an AirBnB for dogs.)

• Do your research. If you’re looking to purchase a puppy from a breeder, some thoughtfulness early on can reduce the chance that you’ll need to invest in having a dog trainer or vet hospital solve your problems later. Start with researching to find a good breeder. How do you know what a “good” breeder is? Well, for one thing, avoid high volume breeders and ones that do not offer a lifetime return policy (they should be interested enough in the dog’s well-being to agree to take back a dog at any time, for any reason). You also want to make sure you see where the puppies were reared. Puppies raised in home-like environments rather than in kennels out back are more likely to be getting more of the important socialization that young dogs need in order to thrive later on. It is also good to ask the breeder if they do temperament testing, as this kind of evaluation can help (for instance) keep a very sound-sensitive puppy from a city apartment, or a rough one from a home with kids. Lastly, make sure you can meet the puppy’s parents and grandparents, if possible. You want to see that you like their temperaments and that they are healthy and long-lived.

• If you go to a pet store (which I don’t suggest doing), ask for a steep discount for any dog that is older than 16 weeks old. These dogs are on the outer edge of the important “socialization period.” This means you’ve missed the ideal window in which you can introduce them to all the things you’re going to want them to know in their lives. They might still end up becoming great dogs, but it’s a good reason to insist upon a discount. Also, whenever purchasing at a store, make sure to know what their policies are if you change your mind or if your pet gets sick (or dies) soon after you take him home. These might be tough questions to ask, but they can save you a lot of green (and grief) later.

• If you are considering rescuing a dog, think about fostering first. If you’re not sure that you want to make a lifelong commitment to a dog, this can be a good way to get your fix and provide a real service to a dog that might otherwise be in a shelter (or dead). A good fostering organization will often pay for the daily costs of keeping the dog, and for any vet care or grooming that will be needed. Personally, I think that the younger a rescue dog is, the better. They’ve had less time to develop behaviors or anxieties that may later prove troubling (and expensive). Look for a rescue that will ask you a lot of questions about your lifestyle to make sure the dog and you will be a good fit, and will tell you a great deal about your potential dog’s personality and preferences. We’ve seen too many needy dogs be placed with people who are out 10 hours a day, skateboard-lungers living on Tompkins Square, etc.

• Get a breed that sheds. Unless you have a clippers and are feeling brave, a shedding-dog will save you a few hundred dollars a year in grooming fees. I actually do clip my non-shedding dog myself most of the time, but this is because he is mellow about being groomed and I feel he’d be adorable even if I totally messed up. Alternatively, you can take grooming lessons. My friend Jay Andors offers these. For less than the amount you’d spend on a year of grooming, he can show you how to groom your own dog for life.

• Go small. Big dogs are wonderful (big pit bull fan here!) and some large breeds can make excellent apartment dogs, but the fact is that they tend to a eat a lot. It’s much less expensive to feed a small dog. Also: It’s a lot harder to get around cheaply with a big dog. Having a car becomes hugely helpful, and those cost even more than dogs. If you need to leave town, it’s usually easier to park a small dog at a friend’s house if you have to, rather than having to pay for boarding or a sitter. Small dogs also are often portable. Being able to often bring a dog with you can mean that you will have to spend less on dog walkers, or on a having a trainer come help you deal with the separation anxiety issues that might pop up if your pup has too much alone time. (My guy gets around by bike)

• If you have your mind set on a pure breed, check the AKC website for recommended breeders, and peruse their Canine Health Foundation, as this can give you a good rundown on diseases that can be common to a breed (and draining on your bank account). Ideally you want to pick a breed with a breed club that is actively researching how to weed out congenital issues that might be common.

TREATS

• Buy chicken livers. They cost $2 a pound and can be baked or served raw.

• Make your own jerky treats. Get cheap meat, slice thin, and put in oven at 145 degrees for six hours. You can also do the same with sweet potatoes. And probably lots of other things.

• Cut up a Redbarn food roll to use as treats. Dogs love them and a single $8 roll will last you ages.

• Restuff a toothpaste tube. Cut the end off, rinse it out very well, and then scoop in peanut butter or baby food or cream cheese. Close the top with a binder clip, and let your dog lick the end. Yummers (You could also invest in a reusable tube — I like this one).

FOOD

• Don’t rule out human food. I hear a lot of people complain about the cost of dog food, but a good diet really can reduce likelihood of health problems that are annoying and costly. If you have a well-stocked fridge, you can probably prepare a great dog meal for almost nothing. Dogs evolved to dive our dumpsters; they’re well-suited to eat many of the same things we eat. I have plenty of friends who do this, supplementing stuff they have in the fridge anyway with cheap organ meat and bulk chicken wings and the like. There is a website, BalanceIt, wherein you can plug in what you’re feeding your dog and it’ll help you make sure they’re getting all the stuff they need to stay healthy.

• Buy Evermore. This is sort of a plug, as this is this is the only brand of dog food we sell at our training center. It is made my friends Hanna Mandelbaum and Alison Wiener. This stuff isn’t cheap, but here is what makes it a money saver: Humans can eat it too! There is nothing in it that is so gross that a human wouldn’t tolerate it. Alison and Hanna once ate nothing but their own dog food for a month and neither one got salmonella. I’ve never gone that far, but I did once tuck into a container of it (topped with a chimichurri sauce) and it was good enough that I had seconds.

TRAINING

Train your dog to file his own nails. Avoid the stress of dealing with nail clippers yourself, and the expense of getting them done at the vet or groomers.

• Try group training. Seek out friends/neighbors who are interested in doing semi-private sessions with a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (you can find one here), as these will provide more one-on-one attention at a cost that is less than a private session.

• Check out YouTube for lots of free training tips. Kikopup is a good place to start.

• Ask your trainer if they give discounts to owners of rescued dogs. We do!

HEALTH

• Brush your dog’s teeth daily. This might seem crazy, but, in the long run it’ll save you a bundle. A professional tooth cleaning and extractions can easily cost close to $1,000, and as your dog gets older you might have to do it every year. You don’t even have to buy dog toothpaste: a lot of vets say that just agitating their gums a little is enough.

• Set aside some dough. Open a savings account and get a credit card that offers miles or points. Put a fixed amount of money from each paycheck into the savings account each week — $20 would be a good place to start. When pet medical expenses arise, use your points-card and pay it off from the savings account. You could also get pet insurance, but I hear mixed things about the efficacy of these plans and I’m not completely convinced it is the most financially prudent route. With the savings account/credit card route, you may get a free flight to Europe eventually, and if you have a pet that never gets sick, in the end you’ll have some cash to throw him a really lavish funeral.

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These are a few of my favorite dog treats

I’m not usually very discerning about edible things. I know nothing about fine wine or good coffee. But plop me in the treat aisle of PetCo and suddenly I could soliloquize. I’m a connoisseur.

As a dog trainer, treats are important to me. Positive reinforcement dog training is largely about rewarding behaviors you like. The reward may be praises and cuddles. It could be a game of tug. But if you want to get the job done quickly and with maximum smiles and tail wags, food is usually the way to go.

You can — and should — use your dog’s regular food for training. But it’s a good idea to have reserves in stock, for more intense training work and challenging situations (working outdoors or in a room full of other dogs, for instance). It’s not hard to find treats a dog likes without ever going to a pet supply store. Hot dogs, turkey, bacon, and cheese will all do the job. But the ideal treat should please the human as much as it pleases the dog. Well maybe not really as much, but it needs to appeal in certain key ways.

Personally, my requirement for the ideal dog treat is that it should NOT be any of the following:

  • Big. One key to effective dog training is to get a lot of good repetitions of a behavior in quick succession. It’s hard to get that kind of high rate of reinforcement if your dog has to chew and swallow a whole milk-bone.  You also don’t want them to fill up too fast. Ideal treat size is generally smaller than your pinky nail.
  • Crumbly. Because your treats need to be tiny (see above), it’s nice when a treat breaks apart without leaving you with pockets of crumbs.
  • Slimy or sticky. A treat needs to be given quickly and without a lot of extra movement or fanfare. Anything too wet (like sliced ham) or at all tacky will result in the treats sticking together, or sticking to your hands. Stopping to wipe off your hands isn’t going to help you speed up your dog’s learning process.

I’m especially particular about using the right treats when it’s wintertime and I’m working with a dog outside. Inside, I might be able to sit at a table and toss out small pieces of hot dog or bits of Kraft singles, but outside? With gloves on? In the cold? I’m not a masochist.

So, here are my favorite non-slimy, non-crumbly, appropriately-sized dog treats:

1. Lickety Stik

This is essentially a deodorant roller filled with gravy.  One or two licks is an irresistible reward to most dogs. Each lick is a tenth of a calorie. I have some dog trainer friends who’ve experimented with  making their own versions of these, which would certainly be more economical and probably healthier for the trainee. I commend their efforts.

I have one of these in every pocketbook I own. They travel very well and last a long time. When I’ve worked with people who have dogs in their offices, I’ve advised putting one of these on every desk. They’re easy to deliver and will keep your hands from getting covered in slobber.

The only downside about this thing is that it stinks. And, in some cases, it’s the stink that just keeps on stinking: gas may ensue.

But, for the novice dog trainer looking for a reward that can be delivered easily and can go anywhere, this is a winner. Fortunately, it doesn’t smell so bad when the top is on. (I lost the top of one a few months ago, and used my deodorant’s lid on it over night until I found it’s rightful top. When I returned the Ban top to its bottle, it brought with it a smoked liver stench that permeated the entire bottle and forced me to re-up on deodorant. By that point, I needed it more than ever: For a week, my dog fell asleep licking my armpits.)

2. Kong Stuff’n 

This is a tube of peanut butter with a thin nozzle at the end. It looks like something meant to decorate a cake. It’s actually made to be squeezed inside of a Kong — a rubber “Work to eat” toy. But I will often skip the toy and give the dog a lick off the end of this thing (it comes in other flavors too: Cream Cheese and Yogurt).

3. Paww TreatToob

Made from FDA food-safe silicone, the TreatToob is a refillable tube that looks like it was made for lube. But it’s actually meant to be filled with liverwurst, or whatever your dog’s poison is: baby food, peanut butter, Cheez Whiz, canned pumpkin, meat paste, whatever. One or two licks is a good reward dosage.

Like the Lickety Stik and the Kong Stuff’n, the Toob is effective at keeping one’s hands free of dog saliva. It’s reusable, which makes it the most economical offering on this list.

 

4. Tricky Trainers 

These are soft treats that are wonderfully small to begin with — about the size and shape of a tiny marshmallow — but they also can be made smaller without any crumbling. I often throw a whole bunch in my treat pouch and then will break them apart with my thumb nail as I dole them out. One treat can be broken up into at least four pieces, if not more. Zuke’s makes similar products which I like, but they’re a little more waxy than the Tricky Trainers, and tend to get hard and stale faster.

I am especially fond of the cheddar flavored variety, as they smell good. Well not good. But not as bad as my liver-y pits.

 

 

 

 

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Seven stylish ways to deal with carrying dog poop

One afternoon a couple of summers ago, I found myself in an odd situation in the lobby of a Williamsburg condo: the doorman wouldn’t let me inside because I was carrying a bag full of excrement.

Not my own. I used to work at a dog daycare in Greenpoint and was escorting home a poodle. The mile-long walk took us through a still semi-industrial part of North Brooklyn where there was not a trashcan in sight.

I explained my predicament to the doorman, and swore I had no intention of leaving the stuff in the dog owners’ apartment. I reminded him that people are carrying poop in and out of the lobby all the time (inside their bodies, but still). Despite my debate team-worthy protest, he wouldn’t budge. So, I walked outside just out of sight, put the plastic bag in my knapsack, and he waved me in.

I vowed I’d find a better way.

In New York City, awkward debates regarding dog poo are nothing new. A 2008 book, New York’s Poop Scoop Law: Dogs, the Dirt, and Due Process, chronicles the history of the subject, from a 1958 instillation of a dog toilet on 92nd and York (a Turkish toilet-style affair, plugged up a year later because dogs showed no interest), to Mayor Lindsay’s 1972 suggestion that dogs use their owners’ bathrooms. (It isn’t so hard too toilet train a cat, but dog toilet training is still a very rare and weird phenomenon, –although, after watching several YouTube videos on the subject, I’m tempted to try out the gag).

There was also “Children Before Dogs” campaign that tried to link child blindness to sidewalk dog feces (a problem which can be avoided if kids don’t rub poop in their eyes). In 1978, the passage of a so-called “pooper-scooper” law (aka Public Health Law 1310) meant that dog owners could be fined for not “curbing” their pet. I remember walking my childhood dog Mabel with my dad in Soho about a decade after that and a man yelled at my dad for not picking up after her. After that, my dad was pretty good about doing it. Back then you never saw anyone carrying a dog poop baggy. Those were the days of print media. “I remember reading a Times article on the piece of paper I was using to scoop,” my dad recently told me. “It was about some new discovery regarding the stars and planets. My deep thought was about living out, at that moment, the perfect conjunction of the glorious and the disgusting.  Needless to say, I never finished the article.”

(Journalism and furry animals have long been linked in my family. I’ve written about pets for the Times, and my father once used its Sunday edition to kill a rat in the stairway; an event memorialized in a 1986 Letter To The Editor).

Now, however, poop bags are commonplace.  And we’ve evolved well beyond the Gristedes bag: pet stores sell biodegradable dog waste bags in a variety of sizes and shapes and patterns that can be stored in designer leather cases or in customizable dispensers. But none of these have GPS to help you locate a garbage can.  Why is there not an app for this?

I asked a professional dog walker friend if she had tips on what to do when there’s no city trash can nearby. “I make sure no one is looking and I leave it on the ground. Or I sneak into someone’s garbage hoping they won’t see me,” she told me. She asked to remain anonymous.

Fortunately, there are a couple new products that are attempting to make life easier for any dog poop toting walker.

The ScooPup Pocket acts both as a glove for picking up, and a bag for holding poop.

BoggoDoggo does basically the same thing, but it’s battery-operated and has a bedazzled outer sheath. Here, a demonstration (plus a tutorial on how to make a prop dog poop).

The Doodie Pack is a vest for dogs that has a pocket that lets them tote their own waste. Its site congratulates itself for helping owners find a way to give their dogs a job. I’m all for raising the employment numbers.

I like the design of the Civic Doody –it is a cup-shaped leash handle that dispenses bags from one end and can carry dog waste bags on the other side under a lid. The only kind of weird thing about it is that it looks like it should be filled with coffee.  (Please, do not use it for coffee.)

Other products don’t work to hide the waste as much as they attempt to camouflage it with cuteness. Take, for example, the Hugo Poo Bag Holder meant to attach a replete baggy to your dog’s leash.

Designed to hang from a retractable leash handle, the DoggieDid is a more functional looking device that serves the same function.

The best solution I could find is a new product called the PoopPac, a zippered paw-shaped bag meant for transporting excrement from the sidewalk (or beach or trail) to a garbage.

The PoopPac was developed by Susan Davidson, a Brit living in Santa Barbara, CA. I called her up to ask her about her poop brainchild. Three years ago, she told me she was walking with a friend who had a dog and a newborn in tow. When the dog went, the friend, who was carrying a baby, asked Davidson to pick it up. “I said ‘I’m not that good of a friend!’” said Davidson, who doesn’t have a dog. “I was horrified! And there was no where in the preserve to dispose of it so she had to carry it.  It was right under our noses for the rest of our walk.” When Davidson had dogs back in England, they went in the yard. By the time she picked up after them, the droppings no longer smelled. “Here, people clip bags onto strollers, or they’re walking on the beach and run into a friend and stand there for 20 minutes, coffee in one hand, poop in the other,” she said.

I took the product for a test run. You can either clip it to your waist or wear a strap so it hangs like a pocketbook. There are two zippered compartments: One that holds a roll of bags and can also accommodate a wallet and keys, and then another zippered compartment for the business. This section, which is made of easy-to-wipe-clean molded plastic, contains a little charcoal filter to absorb bad smells. I found it a little clunky, but it did the job. The whole thing kind of turned me into an eight year old. When I bumped into a friend, I was a little too eager to announce that I was wearing a pocketbook filled with…you know.

Davidson has sold bulk orders of her PoopPac to dog walking companies and to organizations that give seeing eye dogs to blind people– they really can’t find garbage cans.The PoopPac is $34.95 and comes in zebra, black, or military camouflage. Right now there is just one size–a fine fit for my Yorkie-Poodle’s needs. “But we’ll do other sizes,” Davidson says. “I’ve had calls from people with mastiffs.”

 

 

 

 

 

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Six toys for dogs who need jobs

For most of the tens of thousands of years that canids have existed, they’ve been hunters and scavengers. Wolves and feral dogs may still work for their food, but most of the canines in the world today are domesticated and usually get their meals for free. For animals who evolved to use their minds and muscles to feed themselves, this kind of luxury lifestyle can lead to boredom. And boredom can lead to the destruction of your favorite slippers, barking that makes the neighbors revolt, and dogs that are living lives that are less happy than they could be. It can also lead to stress, which can cause the kind of cortisol spikes that might ultimately shorten your dog’s life.

Really, this isn’t such a different problem than one that humans face. Today, I listened to a new Marketplace podcast about how people who retire later tend to live longer; what’s more,  retirement postponement is also thought to lead to better mental health.  They quote economist  Josef Zweimuller saying: “Among blue-collar workers, we see that workers who retire earlier have a higher mortality rates and these effects are pretty large.” Retirement researcher Mo Wang says: “Working actually gives you a way to structure life, and that’s very important. Usually, people travel right after they retire. But then after one or two years, they sit at home watching TV.”

Eventually these people are carted into nursing homes. And what to they do there? Mental work that serves no outward purpose: Think jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles, Wheel of Fortune.  Readers, these are the happiest people in the world! Okay, probably not. Maybe if they’re still allowed to smoke.

Desperate for a job, your bored dog will appoint himself neighborhood  watch dog and bark his head off at people in the hallway. He’ll chew parts of his body raw. He’ll become unhappy, anxious, destructive, annoying, and paranoid. And he certainly isn’t allowed to smoke.

We can help our domesticated canines satisfy their natural urges to chew and problem-solve by giving them toys that make them work for their food.

Fortunately, there is a plethora of these kinds of toys available to dog owners.  They’re generally called “work-to-eat toys,” “puzzle toys,” or “enrichment” toys.” I’ve found that putting all or most of a dog’s daily rations into these devices can be the solution to many behavior problems, from separation anxiety to unwanted chewing and beyond.

Here are some of my favorites.

The Kong

 

The granddaddy of all work-to-eat toys, the Kong is a chew toy made of nearly indestructible rubber. It was originally based on a part of a Volkswagen bus’ suspension device that the creator’s German Shepherd found particularly irresistible. Kongs can be stuffed with a wide variety of yummies. Kong sells especially shaped treats and different things you can squeeze inside, but you can  stuff it with whatever your dogs’ weakness might be: cream cheese, Cheez Whiz, wet dog food, peanut butter, liverwurst, frozen blueberries, hamburger meat. Yummers.

There used to be a great product that operated on a timer and dispensed Kongs at intervals, so you could stuff four of them and then leave for the day and your dog would get them doled out at neat intervals. The product was discontinued a few years ago, but you can occasionally find a used one on Ebay, and they’re well worth the $100 or so that they usually sell for. Search the ‘Bay for Dogopolis KongTime Automatic Dog Toy Dispenser.

The Bob-a-Lot

This genius little device is weighted on the bottom, so it wobbles all around like those inflatable “bop bags” we had as kids. It comes in a few different sizes. The yellow part at the top screws off, allowing you to put kibble inside, or any kind of small and fairly hard treats.  If you feed your dog kibble, you can put his entire meal in this thing. It makes mealtime last ten times as long, which is a good thing for reasons both behavioral and healthful. My dog eats about four of his meals from it each week. A tiny sliding door over the outside hole and a movable flap covering the internal one makes it possible to basically set it to different levels. Kong makes a similar toy, the Wobbler, which is just as good except that there are no doors or flaps, so the levels can’t be changed.

Here, Amos demonstrates how to use it. I had the outer door flap mostly closed here, so you’ll see there isn’t much food coming out at a time. But never fear: Eventually, he did get it all.

The Tricky Treat Ball

The  Tricky Treat Ball is similar to the Bob-A-Lot. There’s a single hole in which you put in kibble or treats and they fall out as the dog pushes it. Much enjoyment will ensue. Your dog will continue to play with the ball after all the treats are gone–he’ll be holding out hope that maybe there’s still one lodged in there somewhere. He’ll also keep playing with it because, like so many humans, dogs like balls.

The Tug-a-Jug

Here, the human puts dry food (kibble, treats, Cheerios, whatever) into the bottle, which unscrews at the bottom. The food comes out of a narrow hole at the top, which has a rope sticking into it. As the dog pulls on the rope, some food gets dragged out. Your pup will have crazy amounts of fun swinging this around and tugging at it. It comes in several sizes to accommodate different size dog mouths. I find that the rope usually doesn’t last too long, but Premier does sell replacements–and sticking an old knotted sock halfway in pretty much does the same job. (I only recommend this toy if you have carpeting or really tolerant downstairs neighbors — it can bang around a lot.)

The Waggle

Stuff dry food into the sides of the barbell-shaped Waggle and the bits will fall out intermittently as your dog holds the middle part in his mouth and shakes it. Well, that’s supposed to be how it works, at least–my dog prefers to just kind of roll it around with his paws until the treats come out. That works too. There are rubber teeth in the holes on the sides that can be snipped out in order to reduce the level of difficulty. Premier also makes the Chuckle, which is similar but a little sturdier and has a squeaker inside.

The Dog Casino

The Dog Casino is a one of the many fine toys by Nina Ottosson, a genius Swedish pioneer in the world of interactive dog puzzle toys. Her offerings come in a variety of levels of difficulty and in both plastic and wood. This one is the first that my dog Amos tried out, and he loves it. I started him on it by taking out all the bone-shaped light blue pegs until he learned to pull open the drawers with his paw. When he got that, I put some of the pegs in –they act as locks. So then he had to pull out the pegs before the drawers could open.

Here he is with just one drawer left to unlock:

Many of Ottoson’s line of toys require that you work with your dog a little bit to help him along. It’s really fun to watch them solve the little mystery of each game, and to figure out how to help them get it. With Amos, I first rewarded him for just touching the handles with his paw or nose. When I withheld a few rewards, he started to get annoyed and his pawing increased until he managed to get it open just a enough to lead to the big reward inside the drawer. The magic of learnin’! To help him figure out to life up the pegs, I smeared peanut butter under them. Now that he’s a pro at this one, I often put his entire dinner in it –wet food or dry. But I only put them in some of the drawers. That’s why this is called The Casino! Amos would indeed fit in at the old age home. He just needs a cigarette. That, and a Mah Jong set.

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