Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Toy review

If Dempsey has a fault, it would be destructiveness. He has a talent for chewing, tearing, ripping, smashing, shredding, and otherwise destroying any number of things. Many of the objects he's supposed to be retrieving (medicine bottles, plastic spatula, sock) have ended up in the trash, since he destroyed them before he could bring them back to us.

Of course, this is completely unacceptable for a service dog. Our instructor has asked that we no longer use plastic bottles and old socks and washcloths as toys -- puppies don't understand what is a toy and what is a retrieve object. This makes good sense to us. Unfortunately, as we've noted, Dempsey's favorite toys are... plastic bottles and old socks and washcloths.

We've gone through Dempsey's toy box, throwing out the verboten toys and keeping the approved ones, and now his toy box looks sadly empty. We need to get some new toys for the boy. Any suggestions?

Here's where we are. Below is a list of some of the toys Dempsey now has, with brief reviews of each. The "annualized cost" attempts to adjust for Dempsey's destructiveness -- a cheap toy that doesn't last long is a poorer value than an expensive but durable toy.

We've heard some bloggers are so popular and well-respected, they get paid for endorsing a product. Doreen and I, however, stand by our principles, and we refuse to sell out to the Man. Also, we are neither popular nor respected, and no one has offered us any money. So here you go: The ugly truth.

(Attorney Norbert says: "The views expressed below are solely those of Paul and Doreen, and possibly Dempsey. They are not the views of Helping Paws. And, as they say in Rome, caveat canem.")

Cheap plastic ball
Cost: $0.50
Annualized cost: $1.3 million
When we were in Ohio, we saw one of those cheap plastic balls on sale in the supermarket, 2 for $1. We knew it wouldn't last very long, but we thought we'd get a half hour of fun for 50 cents. As if. As soon as Dempsey touched it, we heard a loud Pffffffffffffffff. I estimate it lasted about half a second, which gives the 50-cent ball an annualized cost of $1.3 million. A bad value, to say the least.

Nylabone Double Action Chew
Cost: $9.99
Annualized cost: $0.000999

This toy was recommended to us as a durable, healthy toy that promotes good dental hygiene. We don't know if it actually promotes dental hygiene, since Dempsey has never played with it. We can report, however, that it is quite heavy and painful if dropped on your foot, which Dempsey has done, in an attempt to trade it for a better toy. In fact, Dempsey is so uninterested in this toy, I thought of starting a clothing line based on it: Puppy-proof clothing, guaranteed not to attract the attention of dogs! On further reflection, though, walking around dressed up as a hard, knobbed bone is a little weird. The annualized cost of $0.000999 is based on a life of 10,000 years, which I believe is how long it will take for the hard plastic to biodegrade in a landfill.

Nylabone Original
Cost: $4.99
Annualized cost: $9.98
Much more popular than the Nylabone Double Action Chew is the Nylabone Original. One of Dempsey's sisters loved this toy, so we decided to get one just like it for Dempsey. When we got to the store, however, we discovered there were 3 flavors: Original, bacon, and chicken. I'm not sure how you infuse plastic with flavors -- the ingredients list only nylon and "natural flavor" -- but the thought of bacon- and chicken-flavored plastic made us nauseated. We stuck with the more cryptic "original" flavor. Once we got home, though, I was overcome by curiosity. I gave the bone a few gnaws before giving it to Dempsey, and I can report that "original" tastes vaguely like plastic and leather. Not very appealing for me, but Dempsey loves it. He's chewed it up quite a bit, but I estimate it will last a good six months, for an annualized cost of about $9.98. Not bad!

Kong Classic and Kong Biscuit Ball
Cost: $9.99 to $16.99
Annualized cost: $38.50 to $39.50

We're very pleased with the toys we've purchased from the Kong Company, which seems to make safe, durable toys. The Kong Classic is a weirdly shaped rubber thingy that has a fun bounce when you throw it. As your mother (or wife) will gently remind you, the Kong Classic is an outdoor toy, since it tends to damage things if bounced inside. Unlike Paul, Dempsey does not need to be reminded of this, since he will only play with it if you stuff treats inside. In that case he will play with it for about five minutes, which is about how long it takes him to get the treats out. The annualized cost here includes the fixed cost of the toy, depreciated over the expected 5-year life, plus the variable cost of treats, which I'm estimating at $0.10 per day. Calculated another way, assuming 5 minutes play per day, the fully loaded cost works out to about $1.30 per hour of fun. And who says an MBA is useless?

Kong Wubba and Kong Squirrel
Cost: About $11.99 each
Annualized cost: About $11.99

Though we don't think the Kong Wubba and the Kong Squirrel will last as long as the Classic and Biscuit Ball, the annualized cost is lower because we don't fill it with treats. The Wubba was very helpful when Dempsey was younger and constantly went after my pant leg; you can shake the Wubba and re-direct your puppy's attention from your pants or shoes to the toy. Dempsey also loves the squirrel. We love it because it is durable, machine-washable, and looks like roadkill. (It's horrifying to see your dog rip the head off a cute teddy bear. It's easier with an ugly toy.) The best part about the squirrel, though, is that there's a pouch inside that you can fill with squeakers or inferior toys (see below). This keeps the squirrel interesting for Dempsey.

Boots and Barkley balls
Cost: $2.99
Annualized cost: $545.68

In one of my more parsimonious moods, I picked up some cheap toys at Target. I thought their private label name (Boots and Barkley) was cute, but unfortunately these toys are exactly what you think when you think "private label": cheap, and cheaply made. For $2.99, we had a 4-pack of balls, and Dempsey destroyed two of them in one day. This yields an annualized cost of $545.68, not counting the time you have to spend picking up flakes of rubber. On the bright side, I found that the balls are small enough that you can put them in the Kong Squirrel, protecting the cheap rubber. This makes for a bouncy squirrel, which Dempsey seems to enjoy.

Petco tennis ball
Cost: $0.99
Annualized cost: $72.27
I suppose I'm biting the hand that feeds me, since I got this ball for free. It's amazing when you get a dog, somehow every junk mailer in the country seems to find out. We've received catalogs from everywhere, plus a coupon from Petco for a free Petco tennis ball. Dempsey liked it very much, but again, it's not that durable. Within 5 days, he had chewed it in half. A much better value are real tennis balls, which seem to last longer. Dempsey still has the tennis ball his mother Cheers gave him. It's not as bouncy anymore, but it hasn't been destroyed, either.

Orange moon ball
Cost: $12.92
Annualized cost: $24.71

Okay, this toy is not really called orange moon ball, which is what it looks like. It's called an Omega Paw Tricky Treat Ball. You fill it with kibble, give it to your dog, and then sit back and watch him roll it around trying to get the kibble out. We use this as doggy TV those mornings we're too lazy to train. It's great! Because the treats are dispensed randomly, it prevents Dempsey from eating too fast; he gets exercise pushing the ball all around the house; and with Dempsey's slobber, it collects loose fur from the floor more effectively (albeit less hygienically) than a Swiffer. It doesn't seem to be as durable as the Kong toys, but we think it will last about a year. Add the cost of kibble, and we get an estimated annualized cost of $24.71, an excellent value for ten minutes of peace and quiet.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Dempsey's gift

Because the winters in Minnesota are pretty brutal, Helping Paws has its annual holiday potluck in July. Dempsey was planning on going, but that morning he ate some flowers, which gave him diarrhea. We figured diarrhea is not a good thing to bring to a potluck, so we decided to stay home.

We were really looking forward to the doggie gift exchange, where the dogs can pick a present from a big box. Doreen had bought a bag of treats and wrapped it up, using two biscuits for a bow. Since we couldn't exchange it, we just gave it to Dempsey.

This is Dempsey's first present. It took him a while to figure out what to do with it. We're training him not to lunge after food, and the training seems to be working. Dempsey politely sat for pictures with his gift, the biscuits just inches from his face, but when we told him to open it, he wasn't sure what to do. He thought it was food he was supposed to ignore.

After a few tries, Dempsey realized the gift was for him, and he ran off as if he'd snagged some contraband. I tried getting a video of him opening the present, but he's fast. The biscuits were gone and the wrapping paper was off before our camera finished autofocusing.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Huh? What?

Doreen is still recovering from her bronchitis, and she still can't talk much because of her sore throat. Fortunately, she is still able to help with training, since the first few steps in clicker training are done in silence. The puppy is supposed to offer behaviors, trying new things until he gets it right.

We're teaching "go to bed," and Dempsey has it mostly down, though there are a few finer points that still elude him. This is pretty fun to watch, at least for us people. Because Dempsey likes to look smart, I think he would prefer his training sessions not be recorded.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Training update

It's been a busy few weeks here, so we don't have a lot of pictures or videos of Dempsey to show. However, there was a very nice story in the Wall Street Journal this weekend about service dogs for Iraq vets, which I can recommend you read.

Some quick Dempsey updates:

  • Dempsey got some new stamps in his "puppy passport" (actually, it's more like a visa). He is now cleared to visit hardware stores and garden centers! Doreen and I were so excited to take Dempsey someplace that "civilian" dogs can't go, we took him to the Home Depot the same day we got clearance. Sadly, it was anticlimatic: Dempsey didn't seem to realize he was anyplace special. Oh well, I guess that's a sign that the training plan is working.

    The most exciting thing we saw at the Depot was actually outside, in the parking lot: Dempsey witnessed his first car accident. It was only a fender bender, but it was loud enough and close enough (about 4 parking spots away) that he was scared. Dempsey was nervous and jittery afterwards, and I was worried he might become afraid of parking lots, but I'm happy to report he's doing fine.

  • Dempsey has learned to put on a necktie. One of our homework assignments was to teach a new skill and develop our own training plan, which Helping Paws usually gives us. This was a good exercise in learning how to train and troubleshooting training problems. The necktie, in addition to being really cute, is also somewhat useful: We plan to have Dempsey dress up when he does demonstrations in front of audiences. We named the skill "go formal," though with the tie as loose as it is, it looks more like "happy hour" than "go formal." We'll put up some pictures once we tighten it up, so to speak.

  • Dempsey is also learning how to bow. (The training process for putting on a necktie is called "shaping," while the process for the bow is called "capturing." I wanted to practice doing both.) We got this idea from Maeve, another Helping Paws dog, who uses the bow as a curtsy during demos. Since curtsies are for girly dogs, I need to come up with a new name for the cue for Dempsey. Originally I was thinking ojigi, after the Japanese custom of bowing, but I'm afraid it sounds too much like "oh jiggy." (As much as I try to keep up with the Hit Parade, when I need to consult the "word maven" at Random House to figure out what a word means, you know I am not the mac daddy-o. Did I get that right? I give up.)

  • We are putting "semper fido" on hold for now. "Semper fido" is a belly crawl, and we imagined Dempsey would look like a Marine in one of the old war movies, a knife clenched between his teeth as he crawls under the barbed wire to attack the enemy. Alas, Dempsey is not allowed to clench a knife, and he can only crawl for about 2 feet, and only on plush carpeting. (On any other surface with less traction, he just flails his legs.) It's a sad performance that would embarrass any real leatherneck, so we're waiting till his coordination improves.
Since we don't have any new pictures of Dempsey, here's an old file photo of him at 8 weeks, taking a nap. They do grow up fast, don't they?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The pitter patter of little feet

Doreen has been pretty sick this week with strep throat/laryngitis/bronchitis/possibly-a-viral-infection-too-but-the-doctor's-not-real-sure. Though she hasn't been able to spend as much time with the puppies as she would like, she's been able to rest to the sound of pitter patter of little feet. Of course, with eight little legs on Pergo, the "pitter patter" sounds more like a thundering herd on a stampede.

Here's my lazy man's attempt at videotaping the thundering herd. The scream at the end is Doreen resting.

Am I the best puppy parent and husband, or what?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Hudson pics

Hudson is much better at posing for pictures than Dempsey. I think part of it may be that he's trying to figure us out. I love it when he gives me the look that says, "What? You're in charge here?"