Toy Review – Ruffwear Gourdo

February 19, 2009

Lindsay and I made a trip to REI last night, and despite my intentions of not spending any money, I came home with a new backpack for Kaylee and a new toy to try out for dockdiving.

For dockdiving, it’s important to have a toy that floats and which is easy to throw. I’ve experimented with tennis balls, sticks (Kaylee’s actual favorite, but finding sticks of the right size, that float, and which aren’t TOO filthy or slimy is sort of a hit-or-miss proposition.  The toy that I picked up is called a Gourdo, which comes in 3 colors and two sizes. (I paid $11.95 for the large size at REI in Dallas.)

The body is made of soft rubber, and reminds me of the Planet Dog Orbee bones. The blue version is scented  (vaguely minty?) like the Orbee bones too, and while none of my dogs seem to care, it’s a nice touch. The black version is made of 30% reclaimed rubber, too,  and the materials in all colors are billed as ‘eco-friendly’. It’s a pretty substantial toy, and seems fairly tough as far as the plastic part goes. The rope is a soft nylon rope which seems very unlikely to fray, but which does make this a toy that’s not meant for unsupervised play- I suspect most dogs would strongly enjoy giving it a nibble or two.

This toy is GREAT to throw- it’s substantial enough that you can really fling it quite a long way, and it’s highly visible with good contrast on a variety of surfaces. Kaylee and Mal both seem to like the unpredictable way it bounces, and it’s quickly becoming a coveted toy at our house!


Gear Review – Blackdog Wear Backpack

August 5, 2008

Kaylee’s new backpack arrived (last month) and has undergone a few outings worth of stress testing now, so I figured it was time to post a review.

Purple and black pannier-style dog backpack

Blackdog Dog Pack in Purple

The testers: Kaylee (17 month old rough collie, 23″ at the shoulder and 48 pounds), Strauss (4 year old GSD, 28″ at the shoulder and 85 pounds), Grady (7 year old Dalmatian, 22.75″ and 50 pounds) and Caden (15 month old Dalmatian, 23 7/8″ at the shoulder and 60 pounds)

The gear: Blackdog Dog Pack in Regular size, purchased here. $49.98AU.

General notes: This pack is small but ULTRALIGHT and well-made. The material is very durable, the seams are all nicely finished, and the overall fit and finish of the product is very nice and far superior to other entry-level products. The zippers, hardware, and stitching all seem to be very high quality. The panniers are shallower than any other pack we’ve seen on the market. Marketed as a ‘day pack’ sized to prevent overloading, we do have to agree that it’s excellent for that. The size is perfect for sticking a handful of business cards and some poop bags in- but not a lot else.

Our Experiences As a service dog pack, this would be suitable for someone who wanted their dog to carry materials to hand to gatekeepers, a keyring, and perhaps a small pill bottle, but not much else. The low profile panniers are really nice, and don’t add to the dog’s bulk when the dog is under a table or a transit seat. Adjustability, however, was an issue. The breastcollar and girth are each adjustable, with a very wide range of measurements, but the width of the pack is completely fixed due to the solid nature of the back. This presents a small problem- if your dog is at the lower end of the range this pack is sized to fit (Kaylee is 48 pounds and very deep-chested; Caden is somewhat broader.) the back between the panniers will be wide, causing the panniers to ride somewhat low, which seems to promote the slipping to one side or another. In addition, this slipping was exacerbated by the texture of the fabric, which is very slick. Our test dogs had a variety of coat types, and on all of them, the slick material tended to slide around badly on their hair. (This was particularly noticable on Kaylee.) Even with nothing in side it, we found it difficult to keep the pack from slipping to one side or the other.Putting a small but heavy object in each side (a cell phone in each pocket) helped somewhat. Packs should always be as perfectly balanced as possible but in general, slight differences in weight shouldn’t cause so much problem. The Blackdog pack’s light weight (and low price, although the prices have recently incrased) is possible due to a very flat, unfitted structure. Other small packs (Weneha Jogger, Ruffwear Approach) have significantly more to their harnesses, which seems to help compensate for a slightly unbalanced pack (for example, putting keys and meds on one side and the cell phone and law cards on the other.

I really wanted to like this pack! Black Dog is an AWESOME company, staffed with friendly and knowlegable people who are themselves very active with their dogs. They also make an excellent head halter (and y’all know I hate those!) which solves one of my objections to them (the leverage/spinal torque issue) called the Infin8, which is also known for it’s great adjustability for hard-to-fit dogs such as boxers (no muzzle) and collies (no stop).

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All ratings are out of 4. Although the pack was very well made, the lack of adjustability and tendency of the pack to slide was a deal breaker for us.
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This product was made of VERY high quality materials- prior to the recent price increase, this pack FAR surpassed anything else in the same price catagory (Outward Hound, Dickens)
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This product looks fantastic and comes in great colors.
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This product was not very adjustable and even our dog who fit it best based on measurements, had difficult with the slipping issue.

Gratuitous Photo Post – Kaylee’s Gear, Redux

June 22, 2008

Kaylee’s new backpack hasn’t arrived yet, so she’s using Malcolm’s old Activedogs vest- I repaired the worn bit on the strap and used a seam ripper to pull off his nametag.

I think she looks pretty handsome in it here!

Full body shot

Gear for Kaylee

May 15, 2008

I’ve begun shopping around for a backpack for Kaylee. Wings wore a Wenaha Jogger pack, which I really liked, but which is proving impossible to find in the size (XS) and color (purple, please! I guess red would be okay but.. I really like purple. Teal or dark blue would be my second choice, but it doesn’t even COME in those colors, and it USED to be available in purple.) I want. I could re-use Wings’ pack, but I just don’t want to. It was Wings’. It’s special. It stays on the bookshelf. There’s a real dearth of packs that have all the features I want.

  • Not too bulky, with less than 4″ of added clearance on each side of the dog’s body from the panniers, nor too big- I need to carry around my meds, some (folded) brochures, poop bags, my cell phone, and a water bottle. The packs need to be short enough not to go too far back over her shoulders, but still have a girth long enough to accomodate her (quite deep) chest, and the panniers should not get in her way if she lies down.
  • Comfortable fit- a padded chest strap is a bonus, and a minimum of places for hair to catch and hang up is preferred. Unlike a recreational backpack, she’s going to be spending a fair amount of time lying down or sitting with the pack on, so that needs to be comfortable, and she’s going to be wearing it every day once she’s working.
  • Easy to take on and off. The Wenaha chest strap can be left fastened and the pack dropped on over her head and then the girth fastened (like a Wolfpack ID Cape).  I like this style, but it needs to be adjustable and also something I can slip a fleece or neoprene keeper over once it’s adjusted to keep it from tangling in her hair.

Today at City Life Pets, I tried the Ruffwear Approach Pack on Kaylee. I *loved* the way this fit her- the Webmaster harness that forms the foundation for the pack is incredibly well designed, and even without the girth fastened, a good shake didn’t move the pack at all. The size is okay- it’s at the top of my preferred range, but within it- the panniers are excellently sized, just wider than I want. It looks reasonably professional. There’s just one drawback- I *hate* the way you put it on the dog. One of the things that makes it fit so well is a Y-style yoke on the chest rather than a straight-across breastplate. The dog has to step into it. This is a SERIOUS pain enough that the pack is off my consideration list. I think. Unless I can find a way to modify that, anyway. I think we’re going to keep shopping for now.

A Halter for Kaylee?

May 9, 2008

I’m not a huge fan of head halters overall but I wanted to see if the difference in tack would be a good signal to Kaylee that her new job (learning to be a service dog) is very different from her old one (standing very still and looking glamorous), since she was shown on a standard slip collar. It worked fairly well- she wasn’t bothered by the nose loop particularly, but it didn’t fit her very well- the lack of stop meant that if it was as loose as I wanted it, it tended to ride up and at one point she managed to nearly put the nose loop over her pointy little head. I may get some fleece to line it and put a keeper on it so that it fits a little better. I may also order a Canny Collar to try. It’s just another brand of head halter, but unlike most of the others, attaches to the leash at the back of the head. There’s another brand like this, the Black Dog Infin8 Halter, but I’ve not seen one in person. (This looks MUCH safer to me; one of my primary complaints about most of the head collars is that they are constantly pulling the dog’s head to one side or the other if the dog moves ahead of you. More about this in a second.)

I think overall the head halter worked well for Kaylee and I may pursue it further. I just need to find the right one, or modify one to fit the way I want it to. At this point, I’m thinking a noseband lined with fleece or moleskin (possibly neoprene?) might be a good idea. I’ve always disliked horse bridles and halters with unlined nosebands since I think they tend to rub more easily even with a properly-fitted one, and I don’t know why more of the dog ones aren’t lined, other than ease of fit. Making a neoprene or fleece sleeve for one shouldn’t be a big deal, though. I also want it to attach to the leash at the back of the neck, and be easy to adjust so that the dog is comfortable in it during long down stays. Read the rest of this entry »