Reviews | Reviews Reviews en-us Fri, 12 Dec 2014 08:00:00 -0800 Fri, 12 Dec 2014 08:00:00 -0800 Orion <![CDATA[Win The Loving Bowl and Make Mealtime Easier]]> My sweet Dolly loves to eat. Kibble, wet food, treats … you name it, she'll give it a taste. She long ago reached senior status, though, and has had a few teeth removed. That, combined with her Boston Terrier smushy face, has made mealtime more challenging in recent years. So when makers of The Loving Bowl offered to send their product to approve as a Friday Freebie, I jumped at the chance for her to try it.

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The Loving Bowl filled with Dolly's breakfast.

The bowl was designed for brachycephalic breeds to make eating much easier. Instead of the even rim and flat bottom of a traditional dog bowl, it has a lowered opening on one side that faces a sloped ridge inside. These features allow a dog to enter at an angle and to use the raised surface as a knife, of sorts, to the fork of their mouth. The result: a more pleasant dining experience and less mess, both on the dog's face and around the bowl, as fewer bits are pushed up and out. 

Now, I'll turn it over to Dolly for her review:

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Dolly Thought Bubble: Why am I eating breakfast in the well-lighted kitchen instead of my normal spot? And why are you lying on the floor aiming your phone at me? Oh no, this is for work, isn't it. If you think I'm going to let you take photos of me while I'm eating ...

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Dolly Thought Bubble: Fine, but only because I'm really hungry. I haven't eaten since yesterday.

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Dolly Thought Bubble: I like this new bowl. The kibbles don't try to escape, making me eat them off the floor.

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Dolly Thought Bubble: Don't you dare use that photo!

She approves -- of the bowl, not the above pic -- so I'll be buying another for Spot and a third to use for water; the company says the slope also makes drinking easier, especially for senior dogs with dental or jaw issues.

Would you like to win The Loving Bowl for your dog? Follow the directions below for a chance to win one of three we have to give away!

How to Enter

  1. Create a Disqus account, if you haven't already, and include a valid email. It takes just a minute and allows you to better participate in Dogster's community of people who are passionate about dogs. If you already have a Disqus account, check it to ensure the account includes a valid email.
  2. Comment below using your Disqus account, telling us about your dog and why he or she needs The Loving Bowl. Also tell us which color you want: blue, pink, or white. Our favorite comments win. You must be a resident of the U.S. to score this prize.
  3. Check your email for a "You've Won!" message from us after noon PST on Thursday, Dec. 18. We'll give each winner two days to respond before moving on to our next favorite.

Good luck!

Read more about dog products with Dogster:

Fri, 12 Dec 2014 08:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/win-loving-bowl-dog-products-brachycephalicbreeds-freebies-giveaways
<![CDATA[Dogster Reviews: Cloud 7's Collection for TUMI Luggage]]> Here at Dogster, we always root for the underdog, and we love seeing small mom-and-pop pet brands succeed. So we were excited to learn that our friends Todd and Petra Jungebluth, the husband-wife team behind tiny pet lifestyle brand Cloud 7, had scored a deal with luxury luggage giant TUMI.

Petra is a Berlin-based design maven with roots in the fashion industry (names like Tommy Hilfiger and Liz Claiborne dot her resume), and an eye for clean lines and product shapes that blend seamlessly with the modern home. So when she and Todd visited our San Francisco HQ last year and hinted that a collaboration with TUMI might be in the works, we weren't terribly surprised. The travel brand honestly couldn't have found a more complementary aesthetic. Observe:

"The story behind it is that the TUMI CEO Jerome Griffith had gotten in touch with Petra last year asking if she would be interested to design a special dog travel line for the brand. Petra then designed a full range of various products and TUMI chose three of them to go in production," Todd tells us in an email.

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Their final picks included a flight carrier for small dogs, a folding travel bed, and a water-resistant travel bowl for the road. TUMI was nice enough to send the first two items along for us to play with, and Beasley (Community Manager Lori Malm's pup) and my own Mr. Moxie got to put them to the test.

Todd and Petra had forwarded many fine product photos, but we thought it would be fun to stage our own little photo shoot, because our Social Media Manager Liz Acosta has a background as a pro photographer, and we like to utilize all her skills when we can. (Check out her photography site over here.)

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We set up shop in Lori's living room and let Beasley inspect the carrier. Let me just say that there's something poetic about seeing a rescued, one-eyed, senior Pekingese in a $375 dog bag. She was a big fan of the plush lining (a removable feature), and we liked the way we could unzip the front end of the bag to make more room. Beasley is built like a small tank, and she fit nicely (with room to spare) when the piece was all zipped up.

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The carrier has a detachable shoulder strap that doubles as an emergency leash, which we thought was a neat addition. We also found it to be well ventilated, with four air vents as well as mesh panels on the top, front, and back. There's even a little pop-up feature, in case your pup feels like sneaking in a vertical stretch.

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Aesthetically, my favorite aspect was the roll-down shade at the front, held up by two leather straps. Petra knows how to make things functional yet pretty darn easy on the eyes.

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TUMI also sent its medium-size travel bed (it also comes in large) for Moxie to lounge on, and it didn't take much coaxing to get him to sprawl out on its wool lining. 

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It's fairly compact folded up. See?

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Dogster Scorecard for Cloud 7 + Tumi's Collection

  • Quality: Above and beyond most things we've encountered on the market, and that's saying something. These are pieces that have been designed to last.
  • Style: A+, a study in timeless taste and minimalism. This is really not a surprise considering who designed it.
  • Function: You can tell Petra put a lot of thought into how useful these items would be. The beauty of this collection is in the details, and many marry form and function seamlessly (small leather upgrades double as a slot for documents, and then there's the detachable leash option on the carrier, as mentioned earlier on). 
  • Creativity: The collection is creative without being over-designed, and that's high praise in the pet market.
  • Value: Definitely on the pricier side of the spectrum. But hey, this is TUMI, so that's not a surprise either.

Anyway, because you've read this far, here's an outtake from our little shoot. Don't Lori, Beasley, Moxie, and I make the best fake couple and furmily?

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More stories by Janine Kahn:

Wed, 05 Mar 2014 10:00:00 -0800 /doggie-style/cloud7-tumi-luggage-dog-carrier-travel-blanket-review
<![CDATA[Nostalgia Trip: Dogster Remembers "The Adventures of Milo and Otis"]]> When I announced that I'd be writing an article about The Adventures of Milo and Otis, my friends went bonkers, deluging me with fond recollections of this childhood classic about a "curious cat and a pug-nosed pup." The year it came out, 1989, was a big film year for me, seeing the release of several movies -- Dead Poets Society, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Weird Al Yankovic's UHF, and Tim Burton's Batman -- which all rank high among the media that helped shape the way I saw the world as a tween.

Milo and Otis slipped under my own radar, so I was pretty thrilled to have a chance to watch and write about it for Dogster.

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Excerpt from poster for the American theatrical release of "The Adventures of Milo and Otis." Posted by frenchmichael on Tumblr.

The origins of Milo and Otis

The brainchild of writer-director Masanori Hata, The Adventures of Milo and Otis debuted in Japan as Koneko Monogatari (A Kitten's Story) during the summer of 1986. Featuring limited narration interspersed with occasional poetry and a beautiful soundtrack by Oscar, Golden Globe, and BAFTA-winning composer Ryuichi Sakamoto, the film took four years and more than 40 hours of footage to craft in its original form. Also called The Adventures of Chatran, the film centered on a tabby kitten, Chatran (pronounced "Sha-toh-ran"), and his puppy pal, a Pug named Pusuke (pronounced "Poos-kay").

Rescripted by Mark Saltzman, heavily edited, given a new soundtrack, and with redubbed narration by English actor Dudley Moore, the film was released in America as The Adventures of Milo and Otis in August of 1989.

Where the original version was largely quiet, meditative, and yet unflinching in terms of the struggles and challenges the young cat and Pug puppy faced in the wild, the English-language version is boisterous, joyful, and chatty. In the words of Dan Crow's folksy, cheery theme song, "We're gonna take a walk outside today," or at least down memory lane, and "see what we can find" in the incredible world of Milo and Otis.

Milo and Otis: friendship is magic

The Adventures of Milo and Otis starts out as a frenetic, rambunctious movie about innocence, exploration, and friendship. We are thrust into the story with the birth of Milo, a tiny orange kitten living on a busy but well-ordered farm. Taking his first tentative, if already mischievous, steps outside of the barn loft where he was whelped, Milo meets Otis, a baby Pug. Once Milo is provisionally satisfied that Otis is not, in fact, a cat, the two agrarian urchins become fast friends. Immediately inseparable, Milo and Otis wrestle, tend a chicken egg, and learn to navigate the boundaries of their bucolic world.

Just when the pair are most comfortable and content, a game of hide and seek goes awry and Milo drifts downriver in a box. Expressing instincts of pure love and selfless affection, Otis sets off in search of his best friend. After providing a midstream defense of Milo from a bear, Otis does not see his friend again for half the film's running time. Their reunion is short-lived, however, as not even four minutes later, Milo meets Joyce, a lady cat, and falls in love. As fall turns to winter, and Otis feels increasingly alone, we're reminded, not only of the rapid maturation of cats and dogs, but also of the all-too familiar and mutable nature of friendship itself.

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As they age, Milo and Otis discover that perhaps the greatest adventure is the changing nature of friendship. Posted by lissetfsf on Tumblr.

The fantasy world of Milo and Otis

Milo and Otis' adventures seem to take place over the course of a single year, spanning a remarkable variety of landscapes and environments. This is nothing less than an enchanted fantasy world, like J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth or George R.R. Martin's Seven Kingdoms. It is the world of quest romance; following the river away from the safety of the farm, Milo and Otis's voyages take them through forest and fen, to the desert and the ocean, within sight of the mountain foothills and into the broad plains. Together and by themselves, Milo and Otis encounter beasts large and small, familiar and outlandish. They meet, befriend, and contend with animals that go on four feet -- deer, hedgehogs, and foxes among them -- as well as a menagerie of two-footed and footless creatures including birds, snakes, and fish.

The memories of Milo and Otis' early friendship sustain them during their long and often perilous separation. While Milo finds temporary solace in an owl's nest or among a litter of piglets, he must also defend himself against antagonists that range from raccoons to bears. He leaps from a cliff into the ocean to avoid a relentless seagull bombardment, and just manages to avoid the film's only (unseen) human, rocketing toward him in a single-car train.

Otis's adventures are no less fraught, as the Pug puppy must cross the Deadwood Swamp, a place that reminded me powerfully of the Swamps of Sadness where the horse Artax found death in The NeverEnding Story (1984). Far off Milo's trail, Otis is later caught on an offshore rock as the tide comes in, only to be rescued, in my favorite scene, by a benevolent if world-weary sea turtle.

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Original art, "Otis," by Jen Lee, used with permission. Read her animated dog comic, Thunderpaw!

Share your Milo and Otis memories!

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the lingering and persistent Milo and Otis controversy. Unsubstantiated and unproven allegations of animal cruelty have dogged The Adventures of Milo and Otis since its 1986 Japanese release. The end credits attribute "Animal Care and Supervision" to the "Mutsugoro Animal Kingdom" and assert that "The animals used were filmed under strict supervision with the utmost concern for their handling." Thirty years on from its original filming, one can only hope that any misdeeds have long since been atoned for, and that excellent care is afforded to animals in contemporary filmmaking.

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Every work of art has lessons to teach; none to me more important than this. Subtitled screencap from the Japanese version, Koneko Monogatari.

Films like Milo and Otis survive because they affect us. For you, it might evoke wistful childhood memories. In my case, I found myself transported, for just a little while, like William Wordsworth in Tintern Abbey, away from the "dreary intercourse of daily life," or like John Keats in the Ode to a Nightingale, from the "weariness, the fever, and the fret / Here, where men sit and hear each other groan." What did you get out of it? Share your favorite scenes, memories, and the lessons you learned from Milo and Otis in the comments!

Read more about dogs in movies:

Check out these adorable stories on Dogster:

Tue, 04 Mar 2014 04:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/the-adventures-of-milo-and-otis-movie
<![CDATA[Freebie! Win an Autographed Copy of "How Dogs Love Us" for Christmas]]> Anybody who’s ever loved a dog has witnessed that emotion coming back a hundredfold in wagging tails and wet faces. But there’s only one guy who noted the phenomenon with his own pack and decided to turn it into a groundbreaking neurological study.

Dr. Gregory Berns, a neuroscientist at Emory University in Atlanta, initiated and conducted a first-of-its-kind functional MRI test of a fully-awake, non-restrained dog. He discovered that an area of the brain, called the caudate, reacts to positive stimuli the same way that a human brain does. The results were not that surprising to dog lovers –- of course our fur kids recognize and are emotionally connected to us. But to have that validated by actual scientific data is pretty nifty. The study itself could lead to better training and treatments for both dogs and humans.

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Dr. Gregory Berns with a dog named Callie. Photo by Bryan Meltz

The results also led Berns to write a controversial New York Times op-ed piece titled “Dogs Are People, Too,” arguing that since dogs are at least as sentient as your average infant, canines should be given some form of personhood under the law, and no longer treated as mere property. Needless to say, the article sparked plenty of debate, spawned several local news stories and even became monologue fodder for Ellen DeGeneres.

Now Berns’ full-length book is out, and it describes in engaging detail how he came up with the idea for the experiment. It was inspired by his relationships with his own dogs -– his Pug Newton and rescue terrier Callie -- the vast differences in their personalities, and his desire to discover what was really going on in those furry little heads of theirs.

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Dr. Berns with Callie, his rescue Boston. Image courtesy Gregory Berns' Twitter feed

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Win this book!

Complete with pictures, How Dogs Love Us is a really interesting, easily understandable –- and often very funny -- account of how Berns developed an entirely new and ingenious protocol that insured the dogs would not suffer any undue injury or stress due to the experiment. In fact, the study would be treating animals like human subjects instead of mere property for the first time in a university setting –- the canines would have the absolute right to opt out if anything disturbed or upset them, or endangered their health and well-being. Their training partners, aka "owners," signed a release akin to one used for children in similar situations.

Of course, this required quite a bit of hoop-jumping on Berns’ part with the university lawyers and other interested parties, but he persevered, in part to prove to his middle-school-age daughter Helen that science could be exciting and interesting. And from this nail-biting account, it most certainly is.

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Callie in the simulator. Courtesy HPBerns Photography

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Tigger enjoyed the mock MRI so much that he brought his favorite toy. Image courtesy Gregory Berns' Twitter feed

Once the experiment was approved, there were still big obstacles to climb -– each step of the process presented its own tense challenges. The biggest one, of course, was whether Berns and trainer Mark Spivak could get a dog to willingly climb up into the big scary machine and then stay stock still long enough to run a usable scan. This undertaking involved a lot of trial and error, including Berns getting his wife to agree to let him build a life-size model of an MRI in their living room and figuring out a way to protect the dogs’ hearing from the sounds of the machine.

During the very cool training regimen that he and Callie went through, allowing for her and other dogs to be awake, alert and safe within the noisy confines of the MRI tube, Berns and Callie bond in a way he’d never experienced before. It only strengthens his basic premise –- that dogs and humans share a very special connection, one that definitely runs both ways.

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Dogs' MRI scans. Image courtesy Gregory Berns' Twitter feed

The Boston Globe’s glowing review of How Dogs Love Us picked up on that theme as well: “This book’s abundant appeal and value come from following Berns through the challenges of constructing the experiment and especially of training his dog to participate. ‘Like a catcher and pitcher,’ he writes, he and his dog ‘became a team.’ The satisfaction of that relationship perhaps explains why our two species have lived together so long and happily.”

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The tube used to simulate an MRI. Courtesy HPBerns Photography

With the success of the initial data, Berns is moving forward with the study, and is looking for a wide cross-section of dogs to participate –- different ages, breeds, temperaments and more. My dog niece Layla actually trained to be a subject, before the noise got to be too much. And though, as you might expect, therapy dogs and certain breeds like Border Collies turned out to be good matches, star students also include a Boston Terrier named Tigger and Huxley, a Brittany Spaniel mix.

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She's not saying goodbye, she's actually giving important hand signals to the dog. Courtesy HPBerns Photography

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The dog's ears are taped to hold earmuffs in place -- MRIs are noisy. Image courtesy Gregory Berns' Twitter feed

According to Berns, the types of dog personalities that seem to do best are “calm, good in novel environments, good with strangers and other dogs, inquisitive, unafraid of loud noises and heights, and able to wear earmuffs.”

Let us know in the comments if you think your dog would be a good candidate for a study like this, and why or why not! And please consider picking up a copy of How Dogs Love Us for a fellow dog lover this holiday.

How to Enter

Would you like the chance to win a copy of How Dogs Love Us -- autographed for us by Dr. Berns? If so, please do the following:

  1. Create a Disqus account, if you haven't already, and include a valid email. It takes just a minute and allows you to better participate in Dogster's community of people who are passionate about dogs. If you already have a Disqus account, check it to ensure the account includes a valid email.
  2. Comment below using your Disqus account, telling us a little about what your own dog's MRI scan might reveal. Our favorite comment wins. Bonus points for photos! Also, you must be a U.S. resident to win.
  3. Check your email for a “You've Won!” message from us after noon PST on Tuesday, Dec. 17. We'll give the winner two days to respond before moving on to our next favorite comment.

Good luck!

Tue, 10 Dec 2013 10:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/freebies-win-how-dogs-love-us-book-gregory-berns-christmas
<![CDATA[No Wonder My Fourth Novel Stars a Rottweiler -- I Grew Up in a Menagerie of Cats and Dogs]]> Editor's Note: Michael has kindly agreed to give Dogster readers three signed hardcover copies of his new book, Rotten. Find out how to enter below!

It was probably inevitable that I would write a book about a boy and his dog -- and also that the dog would be a rescue. The house I grew up in was a menagerie. My mom was an animal-lover to the nth degree, and my older brother, Matt, and I were carried along. She had a passion for adopting animals, and we had as many as eight at a time. About half were cats and half were dogs; half were rescues and half the pick of someone’s litter (often our own).

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With Winston, a canine pal, in New York City.

The cats included an uncommonly loyal Maine Coon and a truly devious Siamese, but it’s the dogs I remember best. Growing up among so many made an indelible impression on me -- sometimes literally. Running to get the phone one afternoon, I made the fateful decision to hurdle a dog gate protecting the front of the house from the soggy depredations of our latest arrival.

I was a freshly minted teenager and thus convinced that the call was vitally important (and for me). The decision seemed sound, and the leap was more than adequate, but our house had been built in the 1800s, when life was simpler, people were shorter, and doorframes lower. I hit the crossbeam mid-skull and was knocked out cold.

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I came to on my back in the living room, with Fluffy heroically licking my face. She was a Poodle my mom had coaxed off a street during the year we spent living in a rough patch of Hartford. Her fur had been so filthy that we didn’t realize it was white until she’d had a thorough bath and clipping. Now this rescue dog was attempting to return the favor, using the only medical equipment at her disposal.

Fluffy was the exception among my mom’s rescues. Most of the others, canine or feline, came from the Little Guild of St. Francis in West Cornwall, CT. That’s probably where mom got Max, too, but I can’t be completely sure because I was in college at the time.

Max had some enormous paw prints to fill. He was replacing a black Lab mix named Little Bit. For my brother and me, “Boo Boo” had been the great dog of our childhoods. He was our Lassie, our Skip, not to mention an escape artist for the ages. His back legs had finally given out (a phrase that still guts me) shortly after I’d left for New York University. It was as if, after seeing two boys up and out, his job was done.

Max was a Brittany -- at least he seemed to be (he was suspiciously large for the breed). More to the point, he was a rescue who’d been abused. My third young-adult novel, Rotten, is dedicated to both of them -- “To Little Bit and Max, two great dogs, two good boys” -- but it was Max who made it possible for me to write the book.

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Max made it possible for me to write my book.

Rotten is about a troubled teen named JD and a rescued Rottweiler named Johnny Rotten. I had long known that every dog has its own personality, but Max opened my eyes to how years of abuse can both shake and shape those psychological foundations. One example: He responded to the first safe, loving home he’d ever known by constantly trying to escape. That first summer Max was with us, we practically had to build an airlock on the front door.

At first, his escape attempts made no sense to me, but then I realized that, after years of wanting nothing more than to get away, Max couldn’t just walk into a new place and flip a switch. He had to learn to trust us in order to feel safe. And we had to give him the time he needed, and to try to understand not just what he did, but why he did it. It took a while, but we got there. Max became a prince of a dog, and a tremendous comfort to my mom during her final battle with cancer.

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In Rottweiler Platz in Germany. Ironically, dogs are not allowed.

Maybe I could have learned those lessons earlier, from Fluffy. She’d also had a rough go of it, but I’d been too young to fully grasp the changes in her -- from tiny dog shaking in the corner to valiant face-licker -- and I was always hitting my head back then, anyway.

When the time came to write my third novel for teens, I decided it would be about a rescue dog. I knew early on that I wanted to write about one of the so-called “bully breeds,” because they are subject to the same sort of knee-jerk suspicion and distrust that teen boys often encounter. Here in NYC, I’ve seen people cross the street to avoid both.

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Showing some Rottie love with stickers and shirt for the book.

And, frankly, the idea that some dogs are inherently dangerous based only on their breed drives me a little crazy, as do breed-specific laws. It’s worth remembering that when I was a kid, German Shepherds were still widely vilified.

For this book, the Rottweiler jumped out at me (so to speak). Less overtly politicized than Pit Bulls these days, Rotties still get a bum rap. But dog-lovers know that the breed is famous for its courage, obedience, and devotion. They have huge hearts and love to work. They were bred to herd. They’re also my dream dog, for the day I no longer live in a fourth-floor walkup.

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Rottweilers are still my dream dog. Many Rotties by Shutterstock

I did a lot of research on Rotties -- I met some amazing dogs, quizzed their owners, and even visited their home turf in Germany -- but I also thought a lot about Max and Fluffy and the rest of the menagerie. I thought about how much they changed and grew, based on nothing more than their own personalities and some decent treatment.

Seeing those things with my own eyes and then hearing about supposedly irredeemable dogs was a disconnect I needed to explore. A young adult novel seemed like the perfect venue. Teens have an acute sense of right and wrong. It’s a dramatic and not always fair age -- and, of course, they love an underdog.

How to win a signed copy of Rotten

Would you like the chance to win Michael's book? If so, please do the following:

  1. Create a Disqus account, if you haven't already, and include a valid email. It takes just a minute and allows you to better participate in Dogster's community of people who are passionate about dogs. If you already have a Disqus account, check it to ensure the account includes a valid email.
  2. Using your Disqus account, comment below using your Disqus account and tell us how a dog changed your life when you were a teen. Our favorite three comments win! Note: You must be a resident of the U.S. or Canada to win. 
  3. Check your email for a “You've Won!” message from us after noon PST on Monday, April 22. We'll give the winner two days to respond before moving on to our next favorite comment. 

Michael Northrop's Rotten is published by Scholastic and available at your local independent bookstore or online from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Michael tweets doggedly at @mdnorthrop.

Mon, 15 Apr 2013 08:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/novel-rottweiler-grew-up-menagerie-cats-and-dogs
<![CDATA[The Fifth Paw: A Reader Review]]> Editor's (Rather Long) Note: This post was a long time in the making, so thank you for your patience. For those who don't know, a few months ago we offered readers the chance to win our review version of "The Fifth Paw," a poop-holding leash attachment, in exchange for a review. It was to be our first reader review ever, and we were excited -- so was our audience. We got 77 responses to our offer, and in the months that followed, many e-mailed our community team wondering what the heck happened to the review. So, what happened?!

Well, we picked a winner and sent off the review unit, only to have that winner (who we shan't name) flake out (a.k.a. just stop responding to our e-mails). Lame. So we had no review unit AND no review! We felt bad for the small business that had sent us the product, so we bought a second Fifth Paw and sent it to another reader who had responded to our initial post: the awesome Ace's Mama. This is her review. -- Janine, EIC

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As Janine summarized above, after Dogster’s chosen reader couldn’t handle the pressure of such a prestigious appointment, I answered the call. And how appropriate that the No. 2 choice (heh) should review a poo bag holder! The Fifth Paw is a handy tool that clips onto your flat leash and holds as many as three bags of your pup’s crappy cargo. I was eager to see how The Fifth Paw could improve my walking experience over the course of a week on the streets of San Francisco.

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Ace takes her job as poo producer very seriously.

I recruited my 1-year-old Boston Terrier, Ace, as my companion and poo producer. In exchange for copious treats, fame, and glory, she allowed me to stow her stool and write about it. We’ve been using The Fifth Paw for more than week, and while Ace hasn’t noticed a change in the ease of our walks, I have found this little device to be well made and useful.

The instructions for attaching The Fifth Paw to the leash were easy to follow. It can accommodate two thicknesses of leash, one on each side of the device. I was concerned The Fifth Paw wouldn’t work on my small leash, as the package recommends using a medium to large width leash (mine is half an inch or about 13 mm wide). The device would be more stable on a wider leash, with occasional adjustments I found it worked quite well for me.

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It can take a few tries, but the bags are quite secure once attached.

The Fifth Paw is made of hard orange-and-white plastic. I like the cheerful color combination and would love to see additional colors. Adding it to my leash alongside the ubiquitous bone-shaped bag holder made the leash a bit cumbersome and weighty. When I removed my bag holder, the leash felt more manageable in my hand. Over time, I got used to the feeling of having both products plus a few bags of poop attached. 

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The Fifth Paw can be used in addition to a bag dispenser, but can be a bit cumbersome at first.

During walks, I found it took a few tries to finesse the bag into one of the three clips. This is because each clip is strong and rigid, which, once the bag is attached, allows it to hang securely. The easiest method was holding the knotted end of the bag in one hand and the business end in the other, sliding the neck of the bag through the clip. Be sure to leave your knot a bit loose, as the thickness of the knot keeps the bag from falling through the clip. Once attached, the bag hangs freely, straight down, no matter which clip you use, because the clips rotate with the weight of the bag.

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We make The Fifth Paw look cool.

I most appreciated the product most when Ace and I took long, rambling walks through parts of the city where garbage cans are scarce. I imagine that folks living in the suburbs or in rural areas, or people hiking with their dogs, would find The Fifth Paw a welcome convenience for this reason. If you walk more than one dog at a time, or if your dog tends to bless you with double doody (I’m looking at you, Ace), you too should consider The Fifth Paw. 

About Ace’s Mama: When she isn’t reading Dogster or evaluating the physics of dog poop transportation, Ace’s Mama blogs about Ace at

Mon, 24 Dec 2012 09:00:00 -0800 /doggie-style/fifth-paw-dog-poop-bag-carrier-review
<![CDATA[You Helped Fund the Konalu City Lead, Dogsters! Now Here's Your Chance to Win One]]>
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In September, I wrote about how Karensa Durr and Brandon Hatcher, a design-savvy couple from the New York area, were raising money to produce the Konalu City Lead, a new breed of leash named after their dogs Kona and Lucy. 

I loved the design because it features quality hardware and would be a safe alternative to the retractable leash, which longtime readers know is a sore subject with me. (I think retractables are dangerous and you can't convince me otherwise; end of story!) 

Karensa and Brandon needed $5,000 to push their leash prototype into production, and their Indiegogo campaign allowed them to croud-source the funds while letting supporters pre-order the city lead. A few days after our post on the Konalu went live and was shared 762 times on Facebook, the campaign was fully funded and it ended with more than $6,500. 

I had hoped that Dogster readers helped make a difference, and when I got my Konalu leash in the mail over the weekend, the designers had left me a nice handwritten message that confirmed it:

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Hooray for Dogsters and small business owners! The leash, which I'd ordered in gray, was exactly what I hoped it'd be: expertly crafted with durable hardware, and all the functionality promised -- adjustable length without the danger of retractables, and a smart handle that lets you wear it as a belt at the dog park or tether your pup next to you at a cafe. 

As a small thanks to you guys for being so awesome, I'm going to put my Konalu City Lead (purchased with money from my own pocket during the fundraising period) up for grabs. These leashes aren't available anywhere yet, so you'll be ahead of the pack.

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How to win:

If you want my brand-new gray Konalu leash, leave a comment below with your Disqus account telling me why you'd like it. I'll pick my favorite answer on Wednesday, Dec. 5, at noon PST, and contact that reader via e-mail. If you win, you'll have two days to get back to me, after which I'll pick another winner.

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Creating a Disqus profile and avatar just takes a minute and is a great way to participate in Dogster's community of people who are passionate about dogs. Please note that if your Disqus account doesn't contain a valid email address, you can't win because we can't contact you. That stinks! So, pretty please, check your account.

Thanks again, everyone!

Tue, 27 Nov 2012 08:00:00 -0800 /doggie-style/konalu-city-lead-giveaway
<![CDATA[New Book "Rabid" Charts the Cultural History of Rabies]]> Rabies has always occupied a mythically scary place in human existence. It has the distinction of being the most lethal transmissible disease of humans and dogs. Everything about it is interesting, from its mechanism of transmission to its effects on the nervous system and its effects on human culture, so I jumped at the opportunity to read Rabid: A Cultural History of the World's Most Diabolical Virus, by Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy. 

It turns out that a cultural history of rabies must also be a cultural history of dogs. Rabies, dogs, and people have always gone together. The book fascinatingly charts the impact the disease has had on the relationship between dogs and people for thousands of years. 

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Dogs have long been humanity's best friends, but rabies historically impacted that friendship. Before the advent of canine rabies vaccines, the overwhelming majority of human rabies cases were the result of dog bites. In places where rabies is still a significant threat, dogs remain the main source of human infection. Long before the cause of rabies was clear, people understood that a family pet could transform from a docile companion to a carrier of a horrible death.

The book tracks the history of rabies and dogs from some of the earliest recorded times. The authors take some time to describe the Greek word lyssa -- a very special, overwhelming, and all-consuming mindless rage -- as it is used by Homer in The Iliad, which puts the fact that rabies is in a genus of viruses known as lyssaviruses in context.

Suffice it to say that Homer's contemporaries did not hold dogs in the same esteem we modern Westerners do. The book reveals that the same could be said throughout the Middle Ages. Even through the Renaissance and into the 19th century, rabies was a chronic threat to the lives and bonds between humans and dogs. The book provides plenty of cultural examples of the terror and damage caused by rabies, and links rabies to cultural curiosities such as werewolves, vampires, and zombies.

The book addresses Louis Pasteur's remarkable efforts to devise a rabies vaccine, which succeeded in creating vaccines for both humans and dogs. Those efforts also sparked the antivaccine movement, which is alive and well to this day (and whose members would be well served by watching the ending of Old Yeller).

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Barking dog outdoors by Shutterstock

The rabies vaccine fundamentally changed the relationship between dogs and people in developed countries. We now share our beds and lives with our dogs without placing ourselves at any real risk of contracting the disease. Human exposure to rabies is astonishingly rare and comes most often via the teeth of bats.

In countries where rabies vaccination is not common, dogs are necessarily kept at arms' length or further. Feral dogs roam the streets. Even owned dogs are generally marginalized and viewed as potential risks. Rabies outbreaks are often treated with mass canine slaughter.

Wasik and Murphy spent two years researching the book, and their coverage of the subject is comprehensive but never boring. I took some interest in their sections on rabies in modern times. For instance, physicians have recently had some success treating human rabies with medical comas. The authors include not only descriptions of the success rates and controversies in the treatment, but also a description of the tactics employed (for those who are curious, the main treatment is a ketamine-midazolam infusion).

They also devote a fascinating chapter to a recent rabies outbreak in Bali, where they describe the efforts of a determined crew who promoted vaccination over extermination -- and where the authors actually see a rabid dog firsthand (something that I, to my knowledge, have never seen).

Rabid is a book that will fascinate any person who loves dogs, whether they are curious about rabies or not. I devoured it in less than a day, and I strongly recommend it. 

Tue, 20 Nov 2012 07:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/book-rabies-vaccine-rabid-bill-wasik-monica-murphy
<![CDATA[Win a Copy of Lisa Edwards' Book, "A Dog Named Boo"]]> CONTEST ALERT: Lisa has very kindly agreed to give one lucky reader a chance to win a signed copy of A Dog Named Boo! See the contest details at the end.

When I rescued my dog, Boo, I had many goals for him. But because of who he was -- the developmentally delayed runt of the litter, later diagnosed with cerebellar hypoplasia -- and what he later showed me, I had to devise a different approach to training him. 

In my book, A Dog Named Boo: How One Dog and One Woman Rescued Each Other -- and the Lives They Transformed Along the Way, I detail many of Boo’s limitations, our training hurdles, and the amazing things he did without being perfect.

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The concept of successive approximations is often applied only to a specific behavior or trick. Successive approximation means that we have a goal in terms of what we are trying to teach a dog, and if if the dog’s behavior lands anywhere along the path to this goal, it is good and worthy of reward. 

Anyone who has potty-trained a puppy has used a type of successive approximation. We let puppies out often so they can make the right pee and poop choices. A puppy’s bladder size and muscle control requires us to lower the bar for them to succeed; then we slowly raise the bar to achieve our final goal. We succeed by patiently increasing the length of time between persistent outings while accepting and rewarding closer and closer to perfect behavior.

In this short video clip, I talk about what I hope my book can do for dogs like Boo:

This is successive approximation on a micro level -- one behavior. However, Boo taught me that patience, persistence, and perfect-is-not-all-it’s-cracked-up-to-be -- the Three Ps -- needed to be applied on the macro level to the whole dog. 

As I wrote in A Dog Named Boo, I had to use the Three Ps when training Boo on every level. It was a year before he understood to signal us that he had to go out for a pee or poop. Another year and a half was spent teaching him to take treats outside the house and to lie down in a public place.  

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Lisa and Boo. Photograph by Brooke Jacobs.

The lessons of Boo are vast, but the biggest training lesson he taught me always comes down to the Three Ps. They apply to dogs who have special needs, like Boo; reactive or stressed dogs; those who need remedial socialization; and pretty much any dog who is destined to work as a service or therapy dog.   

1. Patience

This refers to starting out with an assessment of the dog as an individual. Who is this dog? What is he telling me? What does she like? What scares him? What motivates her?  

The answers are not always on the surface. Take your time and let your dog show you who he is. Boo’s physical and cognitive limitations made it difficult for him to answer these questions quickly -- or at all.  

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Lisa and Boo meet with fans at a recent book reading.

When Boo wouldn’t lie down on command, I was told to just make him do it without thinking about why he wasn’t doing it. When he was afraid in my truck, I was told to just let him work it out on his own. I had to be very patient and slow down his training. I would ask Boo what he needed, then shift things to accommodate him, so he could learn at his own pace.

2. Persistence

In Boo’s case, this meant more than just repetition. It did require practice, but Boo showed me it has to be done at the speed and intensity that each different dog can handle. If it takes your dog a year to get where other dogs get in three months, then so be it.  

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Sister Ann Elise at Maryknoll Sisters retirement facility, who sang to Boo on his visits there.

We get caught up in comparing dogs, yet one of the greatest gifts you can give your dogs is to compare them only to where they started and how far they’ve come.   

For Boo to achieve his goal of visiting kids as an animal-assisted therapy dog, it took almost two years of outings that slowly worked on his basic skills and treat-taking abilities in public. I had to craft alternative cues that Boo could follow and understand, much as I advise clients whose dogs are visually or hearing impaired. Such dogs can and will learn their basics, and maybe even more than you might imagine, but not necessarily from traditional cues and signals.

3. Letting go of perfect

This is probably the hardest part of this equation. Each dog reaches his fullest potential -- in other words, his "personal perfect" -- once we simply focus on each successive approximation as its own victory.   

When I ask Boo for the paw command, he swipes his paw in the air as if he is searching for a light switch. It in no way compares to the easygoing dogs who leisurely reach out and gently place their paw in your hand. When Boo does it, you can see his effort and sense of accomplishment in his simple, wobbly gesture. It makes me smile in spite of the imperfection, and probably more so because of it. It's like everyone cheering for the Little Engine Who Could -- or, in this case, the Little Dog Who Could.

As canine advocates and guardians, our job is to patiently observe what our dogs tell us; then persistently, and at their speed, craft a training routine that suits them, so they can become the best they can be, given who they are.

Like Boo, all dogs have potential. Our job is to find it and nurture it. 

Lisa J Edwards, CDBC, CPDT-KA, has been a dog trainer and behavioral consultant since 2000. She, her husband, and their son live in Carmel, NY, with Boo, Porthos, Pinball, and Freya the cat.  A Dog Named Boo: How One Dog and One Woman Rescued Each Other -- and the Lives They Transformed along the Way (Harlequin Nonfiction) is available at bookstores or online in hardcover, large-print, audio, and Kindle versions. 

Contest Time: Win a Signed Copy of A Dog Named Boo

How to Enter

First, go to the Facebook page for A Dog Named Boo and "Like" the page. Then come back here and leave a comment below, telling us how your dog helped you get through tough times. We'll choose our favorite comment, check to see that you also "Liked" the Facebook page, and then contact you. We'll give the winner a couple of days to respond -- if you don't, we'll pick another winner. Sorry, that's the deal! 

The contest closes on Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012, at noon PST. It is open to Dogster readers worldwide. 

To be eligible for prizes, you must use your Disqus account to comment below. Creating a profile and avatar takes just a minute, and is a great way to participate in Dogster's community of people who are passionate about dogs. Note that your Disqus account must have a valid email address associated with it. If it doesn't, we can't contact you if you win -- simple as that!

Tue, 09 Oct 2012 12:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/a-dog-named-boo-book-lisa-edwards-contest
<![CDATA[Watch Dog Book Review: "Just One More Day" by Geoffrey Bain]]> Full disclosure. Unlike my previous reviews of Soldier Dogs and Get the Cookie, Paco!, I did not choose this book myself. Just One More Day: A Dog Lover’s Guide to Saying Good-bye was recommended to me by Dogster Community Manager Lori Malm and our Editor-in-Chief Janine Kahn. So while my other book reviews were prompted by my own curiosity or interest in the particular subject matter of the book, this review basically began as an assignment. That is not how it ended, because Just One More Day was not what I expected it to be. It was more –- much more.

I was expecting Just One More Day to be the story of Geoffrey Bain’s final weeks with Abby, his beloved Australian Shepherd. While it does relate Abby’s story very tenderly, the book is really about Geoffrey’s odyssey to deal with his heartache and pain and longing. It’s about a journey to find peace.

The last part of the book’s full title should have tipped me off, that it's a "guide" to saying goodbye. Abby’s story is certainly an important part of the book, but her story is arguably not the most significant part. We meet Abby in the book’s introduction, and almost as soon as we get to know her sweet spirit, she is gone, not to appear again other than in casual references until Chapter 7, where we find her Dogster Diary. In between, Geoffrey offers a compendium of information related to, preparing for, and dealing with the death of a pet.

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The topics encompass valuable information such as quality of life, euthanasia, grieving, and the final farewell. Rather than expecting Abby’s story to provide blanket observations, Geoffrey has solicited dozens of pet owners to share their stories. He also includes the perspective of veterinarians and other experts.

Along the way, Geoffrey shares some compelling, even alarming data: 60 percent of all dogs over age 6 will develop some form of cancer. With more dogs getting seriously ill, it stands to reason that more families are finding themselves facing hard decisions.

I was surprised to learn that a survey by a large pet insurance company showed that accidents accounted for about 5 percent of dogs' deaths; natural death took another 8 percent, and illness was the cause of death in an additional 35 percent. What surprised me was that for 52 percent of dogs, euthanasia was the cause of death.

I was surprised, too, but once I thought about it, I realized I shouldn’t have been.

This is a very good book, filled with excellent information. That said, it doesn’t strike me as casual reading. It’s not a coffeetable book for your guests to thumb through prior to a dinner party. Just One More Day is part reference, part therapy.

Depending on your circumstances, Geoffrey Bain’s book can prepare you to make the difficult decision none of us wants to be faced with, or counsel you in regard to a decision you are still wrestling with from your past. Some may find the book useful to read from cover to cover, while others might only need a single chapter, such as the one on grieving.

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Mastiff by

Just One More Day was not what I was expecting. I found myself reading the book out of sequence, jumping from place to place. This is not a fault of the book, but a strength. You will find yourself shedding tears on one page and smiling on another. Most of all, you will find the reassurance which comes from knowing you are not alone.

The dogs of my youth, Pal and Curly Jean, both lived long and happy lives, but I did not have to deal directly with their passing. Pal spent his last years at a bird sanctuary with one of my dad’s friends, and I had long since left home when Curly Jean passed away. Sterling is who I thought of while reading Just One More Day, because I had to deal directly with his quality of life in his final years and then his passing. Reading Just One More Day has been helpful with those memories. In a few years -- hopefully more than a few -- I suspect I will need Geoffrey’s book again for Jackie the guinea pig.

Alistair Begg put it well when he said, “There is a last time for every journey. And so it is good to make much of our partings. And it is good to make much of our hellos.” Begg was actually referencing people as he lamented our culture’s tendency to take the comings and goings of family too lightly. Dogs don't have this problem. They don’t like seeing us go when we leave them behind. And when we return, is there anything quite like the joy our dogs greet us with when we walk through the door?

A dog’s unbridled joy and unconditional love makes final partings that much harder on us. Geoffrey Bain’s book can help you cope with the dread of impending loss and the grief we carry for the pets which are no longer with us, yet carried forever in our hearts.

I leave you with the title. Is there not one of us who has not felt the pain and anguish of desperately wanting Just One More Day?

Thu, 20 Sep 2012 07:30:00 -0700 /lifestyle/book-review-just-one-more-day-geoffrey-bain
<![CDATA[Meet Mabel, Who Walked Across America With Her Human, Tyler Coulson ]]> Tyler Coulson exited his house one morning to take his dog for a walk. Eight months later, the duo returned. It was anything but an ordinary jaunt for the corporate lawyer and his dog, Mabel. It was a journey.

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Mabel served as a source of inspiration for one man's journey.

On March 11, 2011, Tyler and Mabel left Rehoboth Beach, DE, and kept walking until they reached San Diego on Nov. 8. Coulson was far from happy, personally and professionally, the day he put one foot in front of the other. He hoped the walk would help him get to a better place in life. Besides, he always wanted to do something grand, epic, and maybe a bit crazy. Armed with his pooch and a plan, off they went.

The preparation (or lack thereof)

“I did not prepare for the walk well at all,” Coulson says. “I basically gained a bunch of weight and walked about five miles a day with a fifty-pound weight vest for a few months. It was all a waste of time. If I were doing it over, I would train differently.”

Mabel was never much of an exercise pooch. A rescue dog, she now loves to walk and run more than anything else in the world. Having entered the lawyer’s life at age one, she recently turned three.

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Naptime on the West Virginia Rails Trails network.

He is calm and self-assured in describing the process of soul searching and reasons for taking the roads less traveled. “To be honest, I think that most people who do something like this are profoundly unhappy -- there has to be something missing in your life before you can just pack up in a backpack and go walking,” he reflects.

The accommodations 

Like nomads journeying across America, the two camped frequently and stayed with friends -- and stayed in hotels far more than originally planned.

At first, the pair followed the American Discovery Trail, but faced inclement weather and lost a lot of time as a result. Once in Ohio, they followed the straightest roads they could find.

“We traveled about 3,500 miles (not all in a straight line) and walked about 3,200 of them,” Coulson recalls. “We had car support in the desert sections, though -- a friend of mine lent her car, and another friend of mine came out to the desert and was there in case of emergencies.”

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An initial campsite for the duo; Mabel was eventually too hot to carry her pack.

The unexpected incidents

Coulson remembers the bear that entered their camp and destroyed their gear, as well as another time when, attempting to escape winter weather in Utah, dog-loving motorists coaxed them into a ride.

They did encounter rattlesnakes, but most memorable were the people they met along the way. Coulson says, “I guess the most amazing experience of the whole thing was just seeing the broad range of reactions you get from people when you do something so out of the ordinary -- we saw the best and the worst in people, and I learned a lot from that.”

The friendships made

Coulson admits loving dogs since a young age, but he considers Mabel his friend and teammate and not a pet anymore.

Some people they met ended up being very good friends, including one man who allowed the duo to stay in a storage shed behind his house in Delaware.

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View from the C and O Canal in Maryland where the duo stayed.

Climate control

At the mercy of the elements, Coulson and Mabel saw and felt it all: rain and cold, extreme heat and storms. “As much as possible I was careful with the weather, because dogs are not as adaptable as people,” he says. “Like in Iowa and Nebraska when it was so hot -- I probably could have walked most of those days, drunk a lot of water, and been fine so long as I had a wide-brimmed hat, but Mabel couldn’t do that.”

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Mabel in the pocket of La Boca Arch, just north of Arches National Monument in Utah. She raced up into the Arch and then sat there and waited for Coulson. Good girl, Mabel!

Repeat road warrior?

Would he do it again? Yes and no, Coulson says. If he did, it would be for speed, so he would not bring Mabel. However, he is certain he would not have finished this walk without his trusty canine companion.

Coulson has finished a book about the journey, By Men or By the Earth, with 10 percent of the book sales until December 31 going to no-kill animal shelters. The book recalls what led to the walk and how it affected Coulson. He calls it a “tremendously personal book: pretty raw and honest.” He wants to help dogs in need.

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Coulson was a man on a self-searching mission.

Advice for others

Thinking of taking a walk and not coming back for a while, trusty canine pal by your side? “Be very careful before you do something grand and crazy like I did,” Coulson says. “The payoff for something like this is, on a personal level, just so vast that you can’t imagine it ... but the costs are pretty high, too.”

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All roads lead to home for Coulson and Mabel.

Most folks cannot risk their whole lives and financial well-being to take off like this, so he advises you to think ahead, especially if you work behind a desk. “I’d say just try your best to get out there on the weekends with friends or family, get active, get moving, see some great stuff, and try to be good to people.”

Walk on, Tyler and Mabel, walk on.

What’s the most daring and off-the-beaten-path thing you’ve done with your dog? Would you take a long walk like this with your pooch? Let us know in the comments! 

Thu, 20 Sep 2012 03:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/tyler-coulson-mabel-dog-walk-across-america
<![CDATA[We Road-Test the Auggiedog Hands-Free Pooper Scooper]]> Michael Celiceo is Director of Communications at Dogster's parent company, SAY Media. Follow him on Twitter

As a condo resident and the owner of a 70-pound Lab named Indo, I have to take my favorite canine out day and night, in rain or snow, whenever nature calls. For whatever reason, I have never gotten used to scooping up his warm (and often streaming) "leave-behinds" with a plastic bag. Rather, I recycle used coffee cups and carry them with me to collect and dispose of Indo’s waste. It works for me, but for a great many people facing a similar situation, this is a less than ideal solution.  

Recently, however, I could not believe my eyes when I walked into the office and saw the Auggiedog. It's billed as a way to clean up after our canine friends in a clean, eco-friendly way, without ever having to stoop over and pick anything up by hand. Is technology neat or what? 

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Indo the Lab kindly volunteered to test the auggiedog for Dogster.

How it works

The Auggiedog is a tubular device that works like a vacuum, and it's lightweight (less than 3 pounds), which makes easy to take to take on walks. To get started, you need to adjust the telescopic shaft to the desired length, and then charge it up (the company claims one charge lasts several days). Then you're ready to start scooping. 

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The magic moment!

I tested the Auggiedog over a three-day period, cleaning up after Indo on surfaces like grass, sand, and bark, during both day and night. The Auggiedog had no trouble collecting his specimen on any of it.

To collect a stool, all you need to do is to hold the “collection end” of the Auggiedog over the stool, select the “Collect and Lift” switch, and it’s sucked away like magic. To dispose of the droppings, just visit a trash can and depress the “Pickup/Release Button,” and off goes the poop. It’s that easy.  

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Hovering over the poop with the auggiedog tool.

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If you're out on a hike, you can empty the auggiedog into the nearest trash container.

Cleaning the Auggiedog is easy, but not perfect. It comes with a foot-operated cleaning station and a biodegradable cleaning solution. While it was easy to fill up and dispose of the waste water, I noticed that not all of the waste residue came off the device, which required me to clean it several times to get it just right. This concerned my significant other, who suggested that I keep the Auggiedog outside.

Finally, the Auggiedog comes with a light, which was strong enough to illuminate the area where Indo laid down his droppings -- very helpful at night. It’s also equipped with an obedience training whistle and a stand, where you can keep the unit when it's not in use. 

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If you use the auggiedog nearer home, empty the dog waste into the receptacle/base stand.

Should you buy an Auggiedog?

If you never want to stoop down and pick up after your dog again, the Auggiedog is for you. And while I can easily see how the Auggiedog can make dog park employees, doggie daycare professionals, and those with back problems very happy, it’s not for me. The thought of having to carry (and then clean) the Auggiedog several times a day is just too much to ask, in my opinion. So I’ll keep recycling my coffee cups and collecting after Indo in my usual way. 

Fri, 24 Aug 2012 11:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/auggiedog-hands-free-pooper-scooper-review
<![CDATA[Want to Review "The Fifth Paw" for Us?]]> We get all sorts of things in the mail here at Dogster World Headquarters, and we don't always have enough hands on deck to review them all. So now and then we'll invite you, our awesome readers, to get your paws on what's in our mailbag in exchange for a review of the product. You'll get to keep what we send you (or regift it if it's not your cup of tea) and you'll become a published Dogster Magazine author when we run your review and photos.

Last week, we got a product called The Fifth Paw in the mail. It's a small device you slip onto your dog's leash that you'd later attach a bag of poop to, keeping your hands poop-bag-free until you hit a trash can on your walk. Here's what it looks like in the packaging:

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The Fifth Paw packaging.

And here's a product demo, courtesy the Fifth Paw website:

Are you in? Leave us a comment below telling us why you'd rock as our first ever reader reviewer! We'll pick our favorite response and contact that person via e-mail. All comments must be received by Tuesday, Aug. 14, at noon Pacific time. And we'll even send you some Dogster swag.

Speaking of which, please make sure your Disqus account is tied to a valid e-mail address so we can get in touch and find out where to send the review sample. Thanks, guys!

Tue, 07 Aug 2012 10:00:00 -0700 /the-scoop/pet-products-fifth-paw-poop-holder
<![CDATA[7 Green Poop Bags Reviewed ]]> I don't use plastic bags to pick up dog poop. Plastic takes about a thousand years to degrade -- no exaggeration -- and as a nature-loving Taurus, I just can't do that to my guardian planet. But taking a closer look at some "green" poop bags can get a Dogster reader wondering. Some bags are made of genetically modified (GMO) corn. Yes, it biodegrades, but as it does, it releases whatever chemical pesticide was combined with the corn's DNA in the genetic engineering process.

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Pet waste sign by

I stopped one day to consider the bright-blue hue of the poop bags I used to favor, then looked closely at the packaging they came in: It's made of PVC, aka polyvinyl chloride, one of the most environmentally incorrect substances. Yes, I'm talking about Bags on Board. What, exactly, is the point of purchasing a biodegradable poop bag if it's packaged in such a toxic material? At least I was buying the unscented version -- Bags on Board also markets scented poop bags, which release chemical fragrances into the atmosphere, too. Nice! And the bags are sold in rolls, each of which contains a black plastic core that's not recyclable. That adds up to a lot of unrecyclable plastic cores assaulting the planet.

By this point, the "green" poop bag exercise felt pitifully defeatist, if not outright anti-environmentalist. So, I wanted to know: Is the road to hell paved with good intentions? Am I headed there in a handbasket for using Bags on Board all those years? Is there even such a thing as a truly green dog poop bag? If you're wondering how green is your dog waste bag, here's a list of seven options. Read the straight poop before you scoop.

1. BioBag 

This plain, brown bag is made of Mater-Bi, the first completely biodegradable and compostable bio-polymer, invented by the Italian research company Novamont. It's made from "renewable raw materials of agricultural origin" and from non-genetically modified starch. This bioplastic also reduces gas emissions and the consumption of energy and non-renewable resources. As it biodegrades, it doesn't release pollutants. Plus, it's packaged in recyclable cardboard. The city of San Francisco (home of Dogster HQ) selected this brand (in kitchen bag form) to promote its residential food waste collection program, delivering more than 100,000 rolls of BioBags to residents within the county to help raise awareness about diverting food and other biodegradable waste away from landfills.

2. PoopBags

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Made in the U.S.A., this thick bag is green in color as well as concept: Composed of renewable resources such as corn, the product meets ASTM D6400 specifications for biodegradability and compostability, and is compostable by California standards. Also, it's packaged in recyclable cardboard. The company's website states that "PoopBags is committed to supporting the U.S. economy and reducing our carbon pawprints through shorter transportation time and renewable resources.

3. Earth Rated PoopBags

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This Canadian company prides itself on making bags "big enough even for a Great Dane's pile," and they're naturally scented with lavender to make picking up an aromatherapeutic experience. Rolled onto a recycled-paper core, the bags are formulated to speed up the disintegration process "many hundred times faster than ordinary plastic bags." The company promises their bags are completely broken apart into natural carbon dioxide and water in as little as 24 months.  

Flush Doggy 

This company's motto is "Save Our Planet, One Poop at a Time." Its signature product doesn't look green -- it's actually translucent whitish in color -- but it actually is green in concept: a water soluble poop bag that's not only biodegradable, but (as its name suggests) flushable, too. It's made of polyvinyl alcohol (PVA), a water-soluble synthetic polymer that is odorless, non-toxic, fully degradable, and dissolvable.  

5. Harry Barker "No. 2" Bags

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These cutely named bags (a witty fashionista reference to the iconic fragrance Chanel No. 5) are biodegradable. They come in packages of three or eight rolls (each roll containing 15 bags, secured with a paper wrapper), packaged in plastic with a paper label. However, a package of 18 rolls comes in a recyclable paper box, with no plastic -- so it's more environmentally mindful to buy these in bulk.


These "oxo-biodegradable" bags, found in dispensers at many dog parks around the country, are made with an additive that allows them to oxidize then biodegrade into CO2, water, and biomass. "Our bags release less CO2 than a leaf," the company proudly states. "We also chose to avoid the 'corn controversy' by not using corn based additives or films in our bags .... [The bags] are not made with unnecessary size or thickness that only leads to unnecessary material, with no real consumer benefit, being disposed of in landfills."

7. Eco Dog Planet Doggie Waste Bags

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While these bags do not claim to be biodegradable, they are made from tapioca starch, a renewable resource and a non-GMO crop. Plus, the dye used to color the dark green bags comes from natural sources. So they're presumably preferable to chemically dyed and scented, so-called "green" bags. What's more, they are rolled up tight, without an irritating plastic core to worry about adding to the Earth's load, and their manufacturing process leaves a low carbon footprint.

Have we given you some new ideas for green bags? What do you use? Let us know in the comments!

Wed, 18 Jul 2012 12:00:00 -0700 /doggie-style/dog-poop-bags-green-review
<![CDATA[The 5 Best Things About Week 5 of "Dogs in the City"]]> Last week, Dogs in the City faced the Olympic Trials. Ratings-wise, the Trials blasted everyone out of the water, sticking the landing after a tape-breaking dismount over the finish line -- no splash. Still, with 4.6 million viewers to last week's 4.9 million, Dogs in the City medaled, in third. But third place is just second-loser, in my world. (My world is a dreary place.)

Here are the best five things about the episode. 

1. The Fat Puggle 

When we first meet the owners of the fat Puggle, they're holding the dog down and shoving second-breakfast into its mouth. Well, no. But what a fat dog. At 40 pounds he's at least 15 pounds overweight. 

Justin settles into the couch and imagines he's on CBS daytime opposite The Chew (Justin thinks he can take The Chew). In eight seconds, the woman who fattened up her Puggle like a prize pig is in tears, sobbing over her own battles with weight as Justin admits to being fat as an adolescent. 

In Burbank, a CBS network executive picks up a red phone and whispers one word: "Daytime." 

Seriously, this is a good segment. The woman used to be obese and is using emotional transference to fatten up her dog. Justin knows all about this stuff; he uses the term "emotional transference" several times, with authority. Dr. Phil is freaking the hell out. No, he's not. 

Best of all, the segment gives Justin the opportunity to do an exercise montage, in which he bounces around a park barefoot and happy -- and we finally get witness, we finally get to behold, the full breadth and glory of Justin Silver's upper-arm tattoos. 

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What is under that sleeve? Photo: Craig Blankenhorn/CBS ©2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.

2. Don't. Stop. Now. 

I won't. Perhaps several months ago, possibly in a production meeting in the 85th-floor executive washroom of the CBS building in New York, Justin Silver might have rolled up his sleeve and exposed his shoulder to the director of plots, ideas, and episode arcs, Mr. Brian Robe. 

"Hey, Brian, have you seen my -- BAM!"

"Justin! You have a tattoo of a GIANT elephant on your shoulder!"

"A COLOSSAL elephant!"

"A MASSIVE elephant!" 

"A GIGANTIC elephant!" 

"America needs to see this elephant, Justin, which is truly MAMMOTH!"

"Hey, Brain, take a look over here, have you seen my other -- BAM!"

"Justin! That's a GIANT BUDDHA HEAD on your other arm, on the inside of the biceps!" 

"That's exactly WHAT and WHERE where it is!"

"But it's not as big as the elephant." 

"No, the elephant is truly ginormous. The elephant is all-encompassing and everything. It is mountainous. It is Yahweh."

"Both go on the schedule now."

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Shed Media/©2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.

3. The Dog Who Hates Men

In this segment, two gay men own a dog, and the dog hates men. There's a great joke in there but if I wade into it I'm pretty sure I'm going to screw something up and offend everyone on the Internet, so let's leave it at this: A dog who hates men is living with two gay men. Nope, it's not a sitcom -- yet. It's just a dog who hates men living with two gay men. 

The sitcom is not called My Furever Home-o-Sexuals.

So, Justin's plan for the dog who hates men is to introduce the dog to more men. Men come at all hours, ringing doorbells and edging nervously around the dog and slyly pointing at Justin and mouthing "Who's your friend?!" to the two guys who own the dog. Oh, the dog: The dog is fine. But My Furever Home-o-Sexuals segment is a perfect opportunity for the producers to clarify a few points about Justin by introducing ... 

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Photo: Brian Friedman/CBS ©2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.

4. Justin's Ex-Girlfriend!

Who is a very nice woman who fosters dog and flirts with Justin on the sidewalk for about 10 minutes. Every so often on DITC, amid the noise and the clangor and the leaky pipes, you realize that this show has an undercurrent of people who really love and rescue dogs, like the heroes you read about on Dogster. Justin and his ex are some of those people. 

5. And These Next People Aren't

Next we meet a couple with dog who eats the walls of the home -- literally eats the walls of the home -- because it gets no exercise and is left at home all day. The dog is bored -- heartbreakingly, eating-the-walls bored -- and Justin is forced to half-heartedly crate-train the dog and tell the owner to get outside and throw a ball to the dog every once in a while damn it.

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Photo: Shed Media ©2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The dog also wants to have a threesome. That's not what the owners say BUT THAT IS WHAT I SAW.


Read Michael Leaverton's 5 Best Things About Dogs in the City, including the Premiere, Week 2, Week 3, and Week 4.

Tue, 03 Jul 2012 11:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/dogs-in-the-city-week-5
<![CDATA[Watch Dog Book Review: "Soldier Dogs" by Maria Goodavage]]> [Full disclosure: Because we've both worked for Dogster the last several years, Maria and I have had numerous e-mail exchanges regarding potential blog material, but we had never met or even spoken on the phone until the interview for this review.]

I love dogs and grew up reading many of the classics like Call of the Wild and Big Red, but as an adult, I tend to be utilitarian. The reviews of All I Know About Management I Learned From My Dog and Get the Cookie, Paco! were prompted by their affiliation with the subject of communication, which I have taught for over thirty years. My decision to review Maria Goodavage’s New York Times’ best-seller, Soldier Dogs, was also utilitarian because: (1) Maria writes for Dogster Magazine (how could we not do a review of her book?) and (2) there’s still some of the little boy in me who grew up building models of battleships, tanks, and fighter planes.

So I was prepared to like the nitty-gritty details of soldiers marching off to war with a modern day combination of Rin Tin Tin and Old Yeller at their sides. And while Soldier Dogs doesn’t fail to deliver on that count, I’m pleased to report Goodavage’s book is much more than the sweat, blood, and heroics of combat.

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Air Force Tech. Sgt. Adam Miller carries Tina in 115-degree heat. Photo by Jared Dort.

You know the drill. It’s one familiarized by Hollywood movies which follow young recruits from life on the farm to boot camp where Sgt. John Wayne toughens them into fighting men. Then it’s off to the war zone for the real action, replete with soul-searching and moralizing about how “War is hell” and “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.”

Maria covers much the same ground from the military working dog team’s point of view. We meet the dogs and their handlers and follow them through rigorous training under the stern tutelage of Marine Master Sergeant Kristopher Knight at Yuma Proving Ground. Then we’re in the field with Military Working Dogs (MWD) Davey N532 (a female, btw), Lex L479, Fenji M675, and others as they search out IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) saving the lives of countless soldiers and innocent civilians in the process.

She introduces a subtle point when she asks whether her dog, Jake, has the right stuff to be a MWD. 

"But military dogs have something Jake doesn’t: a job. It’s something dog experts say is lacking with many pet dogs today, and it is the root of many problems. Boredom can lead to destructive or anxious behavior. At best, it’s just not much fun."

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Marine Gunnery Sgt. Kristopher Knight gets a feel for a dog's natural aggressive instincts. Photo by Maria Goodavage.

The farther I got into Soldier Dogs, the more striking the “has a job” observation became. As Maria points out, dogs don’t start wars. They don’t plant bombs. They have no philosophical stance to defend. While countries and armies are at each other’s throats, Military Working Dogs like Davey, Lex, and Fenji are just playing the game they learned back at Gunny Knight’s school: find the smelly thing (explosives) and you get to play with the toy (usually a Kong toy or tennis ball). There’s no right or wrong to the battle -- just the toy.

Because reading Soldier Dogs changed my thinking, I wondered whether Maria had changed as a result of writing the book.

"I've always loved dogs, but since researching and writing Soldier Dogs, I have a profound respect for dogs and what they can do. I learned so much about any dog’s ability to do more than we think they can do, and I have a completely different view of Jake in terms of his normal, everyday behaviors. There's a lot more to Jake and other dogs than meets the eye. I think differently of all animals now as a result of being intimately exposed to the life of our military working dogs."

The most fascinating personality to emerge from the book, for me, was Knight. He comes across like Leroy Jethro Gibbs (NCIS) -– a no-nonsense gunny not afraid to press to the edge when he knows he’s right and that a particular training method will save lives. Evidently I am not alone in this assessment. Maria confesses that she finds herself “channeling Gunny Sgt. Knight with Jake.”

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Student handlers at Lackland Air Force Base spend time each morning bonding with the dogs they've been assigned. Photo by Robin Jerstad.

Before you envision Maria nose to nose with Jake, like Sergeant Carter and Gomer Pyle, understand that while Knight’s methods are exacting, abuse of man or beast is not tolerated at Yuma Proving Ground. The course is universally lauded as the best and most demanding training course for MWDs and handlers –- one that pushes everyone to their physical limits. On those rare occasions when a handler goes too far with a dog, Marine Captain John “Brandon” Bowe says “most cases never go to court-martial but are taken care of in a process called nonjudicial punishment (NJP)."

Dogs are central to the training; central to the program; and central to the high risk work of detecting and neutralizing explosives. The bond developed between handlers and their dogs is incredibly strong. Entire units of soldiers, whose lives have been saved by a MWD finding and preventing them walking into an IED trap, often consider the dog assigned to their unit its most valuable member.

Maria reveals that during training, military dogs spend lengthy times in their kennels versus when they are deployed to duty stations and get to be with their handler pretty much 24/7. Rather than cover this less than ideal set of circumstances, Goodavage seemed to deliberately move the narrative in the direction of successful training stories. I asked if this was a conscious decision on her part.

"To a certain degree, yes. I chose to report on facts, and not, in most cases, how I think things should be; how life for a military working dog is factually versus taking on the role of crusader. The facts can do the talking and people can form their own opinions. There were a few things, though, like the fact that the military still considers dogs to be 'equipment,' that I just couldn't remain quiet about. I once again let the facts do the talking, but it's pretty evident where I (and just about everyone in the book) stand on that very unfortunate idea."

I wish I had time to cover other key elements of the book in detail, but there just isn’t time to do justice to the stories Maria tells of courage and valor on and off the battlefield. Be sure to have a box of Kleenex handy, but please don’t think the tears will all be from sadness. There is much joy in Soldier Dogs.

You’ll cheer for Gunny Knight as he molds men and dogs into true teams. You’ll be laughing at some of the antics of the dogs, who are singularly able to be themselves at all times, finding time for important dog stuff like “lifting a leg” at the start of a mission. You’ll be holding your breath as Corporal Max Donahue and Fenji go fearlessly into harm’s way. You’ll be rooting for the commanders fighting to extend funding for the program and looking for the most successful ways to adopt out MWDs who can no longer be deployed. 

Every page is a story that grips you. Every chapter makes you proud of the dogs and men who serve our country. I have a hard time imagining how anyone could read this book and not be changed, whether or not they love dogs. It’s that compelling a story. This book deserves a better review than I am able to write.

Maria’s webpage for Soldier Dogs has more information and photos, as well as links to purchase the book. And her blog has an update on the MWD program, which I am happy to report has been extended through 2014 via the efforts of Marine Captain John Bowe.

Now it’s your turn. Maria has graciously offered a copy of the book for one of our readers. In the comments section, post your thoughts about MWDs. The deadline to enter is Wednesday, June 27, at noon PST. We’ll select our favorite response and contact you via e-mail to secure a proper shipping address.

Til next week,

-john d.-

Thu, 21 Jun 2012 07:30:00 -0700 /lifestyle/soldier-dogs-by-maria-goodavage
<![CDATA[The 5 Best Things About the "Dogs in the City" Premiere ]]> Last week CBS slipped a surprising show onto its primetime lineup: Dogs in the City. It's surprising because we don't generally see dog shows on network TV at dinnertime, and we haven't for years, maybe not even since Greatest American Dog in 2008. What's even more surprising is that the dog-training show led the time slot, with 6.7 million viewers, edging out So You Think You Can Dance with host Cat Deeley. (Hah! Dogs beat Cat! Er, sorry.)

It also beat the Stanley Cup finals, which surprised no one, because the Stanley Cup finals is a hockey game.  

So, it must be pretty good, huh? Well, sorta. Here's five of the best things about the show, which can also be the worst things, if you're more into hatewatching dog-training shows instead of just watching them. 

1. City Dog Montages 

I don't know about you, but I can sit around all day and watch montages of city people walking around with their city dogs, carefully crossing streets, getting waved to by doormen, eating hot dogs, having breakfast at Tiffany's, paddling rowboats in Central Park. Well, maybe not all day. To tell you the truth, by the end of Dogs in the City I was worried that my interest in montages of frolicking city dogs was about to wane -- I had seen so very many of these montages in the past hour, you see. You have a good thing with your montages of dogs in the city, Dogs in the City. Try not to overdo it.   

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Host Justin Silver. Photo: Heather Wines/CBS ©2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc.

2. Host Justin Silver 

Affable, handsome, funny, with a New Yawk accent barreling through at the right moments, Silver seems like a star cable host who got kicked up to the big leagues. He's a dog trainer, to be sure, but he's also a stand-up comic and a former personal trainer, so he knows how to talk to people and put them at ease. Who knows how well he can train, though. Dog-training shows are all smoke and mirrors and massive editing, anyway. All the dogs get trained in the end, period. It's in the contract. In any case, Silver trains dogs by training people. Which brings us to:

3. City People Are Fancy and Crazy

To make a show work, you need super interesting and/or crazy people just as much as super cute and/or crazy dogs, and it picked the right city, because NYC is full of super interesting and/or crazy everything.

In the three segments, we get a retired cop living with the most precocious and witty 9-year-old you've ever seen outside of a Wes Anderson movie (but who is likely average among Upper East Side peers); striving newlyweds, in which the groom seems more in love with his famous skateboarding Bulldog than his bride (yes, famous skateboarding Bulldogs live in nice apartments in NYC); and the most perfect New York person ever: a crazily defensive working woman who brings her aggressive dog to work. Where does she work? She owns a model-staffing agency. 

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Not a Wes Anderson movie. Photo: Brian Friedman/CBS ©2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc.

4. The Crazily Defensive Model-Staffing Woman

More on this NYC diamond. She is wonderful. Her dog lunges at everyone who enters the office -- models, mostly -- and poor, crazily defensive model-staffing boss simply can't have all these attacks taking place, taking up valuable time. What is wrong with all these people, getting bitten? "STOP MAKING MY DOG BITE YOU!" she screams at an H&M catalog model. Well not really, but very close. 

Anyway, Silver gets her to realize that she is the problem, and she peers into her soul and descends into madness. Well, no. They tie up the dog inside the office -- WHAT AN IDEA! -- and problem solved. Or is it? I would have liked to see how they were doing later, like after the crazily defensive model-staffing woman watched this premiere and woke up her psychiatrist by screaming outside his window at 4 a.m. 

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The famous skateboarding Bulldog. Photo: Brian Friedman/CBS ©2012 CBS Broadcasting, Inc.

5. It Hardly Shows Any Dog Training

This is not necessary the best thing! It is likely the worst thing, if you care about dog training and really want to learn something. But be reasonable. This is CBS. This is primetime. Like all reality shows, Dogs in the City is really about the drama -- the crazily defensive model-staffing woman, the rocky newlyweds, the 9-year-old ABSOLUTE GENIUS living with a retired city cop (that's another show right there), and the dogs are there to make you go, Awwww, look at the widdle puppy wibbing in New York Widdy! Silver does some training montages and -- poof -- dogs are suddenly trained, but mostly his job is fix the owners and charm middle America. 

I'm pretty charmed. Not fully charmed, but charmed enough to tune in next week. Are you, too? Let us know in the comments!

Tue, 05 Jun 2012 12:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/dogs-in-the-city
<![CDATA["Quill: The Life of a Guide Dog" Is a Tribute to All Dogs]]> Even before the blockbuster, multimedia Marley and Me phenomenon made the yellow Labrador Retriever synonymous with raucously naughty mischief, a quiet little Japanese story revealed -- in typically quiet, Japanese fashion -- that this charming, irrepressible breed also possesses a noble, stoic side. Now that understated story is the subject of director Yoichi Sai's film Quill: The Life of a Guide Dog.

Based on the novel Modoken Quill No Issho by Riyohei Akimoto, the movie has shades of the Hachi legend -- and it's a touching tribute to the dignity and dedication of a dog who is called upon to serve as the eyes for a blind person.

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Quill as a puppy. Courtesy of Music Box Films

Now, fully eight years after it was made, Quill is seeing limited release in New York City and Chicago, starting today: Friday, May 18. If you're in or near those two cities, this is an event you definitely won't want to miss. Also, the film will be available on Amazon on July 10.

The movie takes a respectful, documentary-style approach to the story of a guide dog, following him from puppyhood (ironically, when we first see baby Quill, his eyes are still screwed tightly shut) through his first year of foster care with a kind couple of volunteer "puppy walkers." These charming early scenes play like a live-action version of Cute Overload, Japanese edition, complete with extremely kawaii shots of adorable pups against a background of cherry blossoms, or trotting around getting tightly tangled in toilet tissue.

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Mr. Watanabe and Quill. Courtesy of Music Box Films.

Things get more serious as the audience sees some of the complicated training that goes into preparing a guide dog for duty. Finally, we see the adult Quill, all grown up into a fine specimen of a working canine, paired with cranky Mr. Watanabe. For added dramatic effect, Watanabe is a professional advocate for the disabled who sniffs at the very idea of a smelly "mutt," insisting that he much prefers getting around with his trusty walking stick. Naturally, Quill and his handler win over Watanabe, and the blind man and his eyes-on-four-legs become fast friends.

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Quill, waiting patiently. Courtesy of Music Box Films.

Quill is a tribute to all dogs, whether or not they're expected to make great sacrifices for us mere humans. One of the virtues that sets Quill apart -- besides the unusual mark on his flank -- is his astonishing ability to lie there and wait patiently whenever asked. In the end, all dogs wait: for us to come home, to make time for them, to recognize the profound gift of their compassion and care ... before it's too late.

This movie is mostly subtitled, but fear not if you find foreign flicks a turnoff: The exchanges between people and dogs, i.e., the training commands, are in English. "Japanese is too confusing," the head dog trainer explains. But in the case of this film, it's not confusing at all.

Fri, 18 May 2012 07:30:00 -0700 /lifestyle/quill-the-life-of-a-guide-dog-movie
<![CDATA[Postcard from Madrid: An Appreciation of Velzquez, History's Greatest Dog Painter]]> If you travel tovisit Madrid and you make time to meander through themagnificent Museo del Prado (wise move), you'll notice that everything about that place is artful. You could easily spend three whole days in there before scratching the surface of just what an incredible destination for art appreciationthis museumis.

Even the sign outside warning visitors not tobring dogs into the building is artful, likethe hippest, wittiest contemporary sculpture! I'ddefinitely dig havingthat in my house (minus the red lineacross the dog, of course).

But the real items of interest to Dogsters may be foundindoors, in the galleries that showcase the work of Diego Rodrguez de Silva y Velzquez (1599-1660) or just Velzquez to you, me, and his many fans over the centuries and around the world (who have includedsuch famous creative colleagues as Manet, Goya, Sargent, Degas, Renoir, Bacon, and Picasso).

Not only wasthis "painter's painter"one of history's greatest artists, Velzquez was also history's greatest dog painter, a masterful K9 portraitist. It's fair to say that no painter in the history of art has ever put K9s in such esteemed company.

For proof, look no further than this portrait of King Philip IV; the monarch is depicted with a dog sittingat attentionby his side. The same care lavished on the king's likeness is evident in the depiction of theroyal huntsman'sfaithful four-footed companion. Both figures represent power and prestige and innate nobility, yet the dog is so much more than just an accessory to the man, or a convenientdevice conveying the king in hunting mode. The dog is a regal figure in his own right, as worthy of the spectator's lingering gaze asEl Rey Cazadorhimself.

Meanwhile, Velzquez portrays little Prince Baltasar Carlos (above) in the company of not one, but twodog guardians. To El Prncipe's right is a sweetly sleeping hound, evidently lying down on the job; but to baby Baltasar's left is a hunting K9 depicted as very much awake and alert aserious sentinel dutifully looking out for his boy.

Now consider Velzquez's masterpiece, Las Meninas (The Ladies in Waiting). This much-admired painting has been called one of the greatest artworks of all time. And there, at the forefront of the composition, is (you guessed it) a dog.

Not just any dog, but a Dogster's dog:another beautifully, lovinglypainted animal who takes his (or her) rightful place amongst those closest to the Infanta Margarita, the little princess who will ascend to Spain's royal throne.This pup is a K9 courtier.

Even a royal princess especially a royal princess, a childborn to carrya very grownup burden on hertiny shoulders needs a faithful friend. And Velzquez wants us, his admiring audience,to rest assured that the Infanta hasjust such an allyinher strong, silent, watchful dog.

Interestingly, the Infanta's dog doesn't appear to be an aristocratic purebred; rather,s/he resembles an ordinary mutt, which only makes this already compelling painting more fascinating still. Velzquez doesn't seeminterested in portrayingthis dog as a flashyemblemof wealth and power, but instead as a plain, brown symbol of unconditional love and loyalty.

In his essay, "LAS MENINAS: The World's Best Painting," Michael AtleedescribesVelzquez's earliest portrait of Felipe Prospero (below): "The prince rests his hand on the chair, symbol of royal status and power. In that chair, a sweet dog rests happily."

Atlee goes onto quotephilosopher and art historian Arthur C. Danto of Columbia University:

"Given the chair in the rigid semiotics of courtly etiquette in Spain, something is being conveyed beyond the fact that spoiled dogs climb into furniture in which courtiers would not dare to sit. Some metaphysical joke? Or the suggestion that dogs hold some rank in nature higher than slaves or even courtiers: All I know is that a dog in a chair is not innocent naturalism."

Danto is correct; the little dog's presence makes an already great painting huge, exalting it from the exquisiteto thesublime. Why? Because thatlittle dog in that opulentchair likeevery K9 conjured by Velzquez's divinely inspired brush is proof that the great artist and his noble subjects were Dogsters.

Reason enough to warrant a visit to the Prado, pronto. Viva Velzquez!

Mon, 09 Jan 2012 11:20:49 -0800 /lifestyle/postcard-from-madrid-an-appreciation-of-velazquez-historys-greatest-dog-painter
<![CDATA[The Dogs in New Shakespeare Movie "Anonymous"]]> Director Roland Emmerich's new film Anonymous, which advances the theory that William Shakespeare's plays and poems were actually authored by Edward De Vere, the multitalented 17th earl of Oxford, is a gorgeous spectacle whether or not youbelieve its controversialpremise.

It hasn't even opened yet, but already it's the talk of Twitter and Facebook, and deservedly so. View the trailer here, and by all means go see this Columbia Pictures flick when ithits theaters on Friday, October 28.

Me and the Bard go way back. His works have always brought me great joy.If an actorcanplay Shakespeare convincingly and timelessly, he wins my heart instantly and for life.Royal Shakespeare Company actors are rock stars, in my humble opinion.Over 20years ago, I fell hard forthe youngman playing Iago in a New York City production of Othello (sadly, Juilliard-trained actor Michael Louden died in 2004). Andeven before that — long before he was famous for playingMagneto or Gandalf, long beforehecame out asopenly gay— I carried a torch for the sublimely gifted Ian McKellen because of Acting Shakespeare, the brilliant one-man show he wrote, conceived, and performed to great acclaim on stage and TV.

So trust me when I say thatAnonymous does justice to Shakespeare's immortal words as few other films ever have. There are moments in this movie whenthe famous lineswe've all heard so many times soundso movingly, thrillinglynew that Ifound myselfon the verge of tears. "Did my heart love 'til now? Forswear it, sight!" never sounded so compelling.

This film lets contemporary audiences experience what it must have been like to be among the firstgroundlings toexperience Shakespeare's magical artistry. It's a splendid celebration of the magic of the theater in all its Sophoclean power to amaze, inspire, and — at times — horrify. The message is lessabout "Was Shakespeare a fraud?" and more about the playwright's — any playwright's —astonishing ability to bring tragedy, comedy, history, and romance to life.

The film's visuals are lip-smacking eye candy, from the costumes and set decorations to the dazzling beauty of several of the actors (especially the ones portrayingDe Vereas a boy and as a young man).

And then there's the dog action. There isn't much, butDogsters will surelytake note of what's there.

Before we even see aK9 on screen, we hear one referenced by the mature earl, played to perfection by Rhys Ifans,who says to fellow playwright Ben Jonson (a key character in this story), "Don't look at me like I just gutted your pet dog!"

A key scene meant to bring new insight to the infamous curtain-stabbing in Hamlet reveals a glimpse of a tapestry — and on that tapestry is depicted a white hunting dog resembling a Greyhound,complete with wide, martingale-style collar.

Later, in another scene, we spot a handsome Bloodhound.

And sadly, because the cruel practice ofbear-baiting was popular in Elizabethan times — it wouldn't be abolished untilthe 19th century —we also see a poor bear chained up,with slavering dogs about to be released to attack the defenseless giant beast. Happily, we know that neither the bear nor the dogs were actually hurt during filming. That'sbecause all animal action was monitored by officers of American Humane, which awardedthis filmits prestigious "No Animals Were Harmed" end credit.

So, Dogsters — any thoughts on Shakespeare and dogs on film? Please share in the comments!

Tue, 25 Oct 2011 05:41:31 -0700 /doggie-style/the-dogs-in-that-new-shakespeare-movie-anonymous