Thursday, 30 April 2015

Product Review: Kurgo Wander Dog Backpack

Wouldn't it be nice if your dog could carry his own stuff (poop bags, treats, water and more) on those long hikes or when you're out camping. With a dog backpack, your dog can carry his own gear AND also get the benefits of weight training. Not to mention most dogs love having the "job" that the backpack provides.

Weight training should not begin until
the dog's growth plates have closed.
Click the image to see a larger version.
First of all, I would like to say that weight training should not, in my opinion, begin before a puppy's growth plates have closed. Their bones are doing enough work without extra weight. In general terms, wait until your dog is a year old before adding any significant weight to the backpack - you can certainly begin having the dog wear the empty backpack before then, and around 10 months I think it would be okay to add some very lightweight items like poop bags and treats.

Quick Tip: Make sure the weight is distributed evenly on either side of the dog to help prevent injury.

Maizy is totally comfortable running, jumping
and fetching in her Kurgo Wander Dog Backpack.

I put a lot of thought into which backpack to buy for Maizy. There are a number of packs out there, with the Outward Hound and Krugo models being two of the most popular. In the end, it came down to easy of use and price. Here's a quick breakdown of the Krugo Wander Dog Backpack:

Maizy posing with her Wander Dog Backpack.
Could she be any better looking!?
  • The orange colouring of the pack is great for keeping your dog visible and safe while out in the woods. 
  • Packs size (10" L x 6" H x 3" D) - Some people have said they want a bigger pack, but I love the sizing. The packs on the Outward Hound backpack are, in my opinion, too long for a dog like Maizy. The Kurgo pack size is just right!
  • Provides mental and physical health benefits for the dog
  • Easy to put on. The other backpacks were tried had a number of confusing straps. The Kurgo Wander Dog backpack is easy to take on and off.
  • Stays put when travelling through brush and heavily wooded areas
  • Heavy duty material
  • Lower cost than the other packs we tried.
  • The pack tends to shift to one side when Maizy wears it, but I think this may be my fault. I'll have to play with the straps a bit more to see if I can correct this issue.
Maizy and I give the Kurgo Wander Dog Backpack 5 out of 5 bones! Great product.

You can find Kurgo Backpacks here - it doesn't look like the Wander Dog Backpack is currently available, but I'm sure their other backpacks are of equal quality.

Happy dog after her hike!

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Training the barn dog: Achieving harmony between horse and canine.

Heaven: Blue skies, a willing horse and a good dog.
There are few things I enjoy more than hitting the trails with Maizy and my horse Lilly; the smell of the forest, the jingle of Maizy's collar, the motion of the horse and the warm sun is just about as close to perfect as it gets. Most horsepeople love dogs as well, but many horsepeople do not love dogs at the barn. Why? Quite simply, it can be extremely dangerous for dogs, horses and humans alike. Not to mention having somebody's 100 pound beast try and give you a kiss while you're holding the horse for the vet is just down right annoying.

I am very lucky to board my horses at a barn that allows me to bring Maizy. She has been around horses since she was about 10 weeks old, but only recently did she graduate to being off-leash the majority of the time at the barn. Many people subscribe to the "let dog loose and it will figure it out" train of thought, but this often leads to doggy getting kicked a few times before it figures out how to act around horses. This is NOT something I advise. So without further ado, here are my tips for training a barn dog.

A good dog outside of the barn is a good dog at the farm

Not surprisingly, obedience training is paramount to having a good experience. If your dog doesn't listen to your commands reliably away from the barn, there is no way you will be able to control your dog at the barn. A horse farm is doggy heaven - there's poop to eat, fields to play in, animals to herd and so many delicious smells. However, as I noted earlier the farm can also be very dangerous for dogs - large animal medications are in abundance, horses have hard hooves and sharp teeth, and there is no shortage of vehicles coming and going, among other dangers. Here are the must have commands for the barn dog:
  • Come and stay. These two are pretty self explanatory. The ability to control your dog's coming and going is critical to their safety.
  • Leave it. Another very useful "trick". Remember those medications I mentioned? They often get dumped into feed buckets and that feed often ends up on the ground where a curious dog could easily get into it. Not to mention Maizy loves to eat horse poop!
  • Sit and Down. These two staples of dog knowledge are another must have for keeping you dog out of trouble. Once, before Maizy was allowed to be loose around the horses, she escaped and of course ran over to me. I was mounted on a horse and I could see that Maizy was trying to figure out how she could climb that creature and get to me. Thankfully, with a simple "Maizy, down!" the crisis was averted, allowing me to dismount and collect her.
  • Heel. Very useful for when you're leading horses but don't want dogs running every which way.
Practice these commands at home and in other environments before bringing your dog to the barn. A solid obedience foundation makes the experience more enjoyable for everyone involved.

Maizy and the resident barn dogs enjoy playtime in the snow.

Resident Farm Animals Come First

While the barn is a wonderful place for dogs, it is not a doggy day care. The animals that live on site, be they the resident barn dog, the horses, barn cats or other animals are not to be bothered. Remembering this rule will keep you in the good books with the farm owner, staff and other riders. Even now, I always bring Maizy into the barn on a leash to access the situation before letting her go - what horses are in the barn? Is the vet or farrier working? Are there small children around?

Set Your Dog Up for Success

Maizy and Calla have become good
friends. Calla often grooms Maizy.
With proper training, dogs and horses
can enjoy each other's company.
It's easy to rush the process - of course you want to hit the trails with Fluffy right away. However, I have seen a number of dogs injured by this approach. The saying "slow and steady wins the race" rings true when training a dog to be around horses. 
  • When you first start bringing your dog to the barn, forget about working with your horse. Your dog will need your full attention at first. If I needed to work with a horse, Maizy was either left at home or locked in an empty stall.
  • Control your dog. Start out with your dog on a leash and gradually increase the time off leash. Until she was 10 months old, Maizy was ALWAYS on a leash when she was close to horses. She was first allowed off leash on the trails (with no horses in sight), then near the paddocks, and finally in the barn. Gradually increase the off-leash proximity to horses.
  • Pick the right horse. The barely handled two year old colt in the barn is not a good horse for your dog to be around. Ensure your dog is only exposed to calm, well trained horses until the dog develops some "horse sense".
  • When in doubt, leash your dog. 

Learn from your mistakes

This one is pretty obvious but it can be hard to do. Realise that, like with all training, mistakes will be made. It is how you handle those mistakes that makes the difference. Maizy has had her paw trod upon by a horse - thankfully, no damage was done and after a bit of reassurance she was back to her happy self. I should not have allowed this to happen, but it did - as a result, we took a step back and worked on being respectful of the horse's space. 

Assume Nobody Wants to See Your Dog

This is a big one. The majority of horsepeople love dogs but that does not mean they love your dog. There have been nights where I have wanted to simply brush my horse in peace, only to have a dog come bounding over wanting to play. And I'm not gonna lie, I promptly locked that dog in a stall. I do my best to ensure that Maizy stays out of everyone's way, both horse and human. Of course, this doesn't always happen (see the section about mistakes!) but with an apology, most people are quiet forgiving and are more than willing to give Maizy some love.

Time to Hit the Trails!

With proper due diligence and basic obedience training, most dogs fit into the farm life quite easily. There really is nothing better than having my dog with me at the barn, and I couldn't have asked for a nicer group of animals to spend time with.

Oh and the best part about the barn? It's one of the few things actually that tire her out:

After a day at the barn, everyone is
 ready for a nap!

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Maizy Turns One!

Saturday was Maizy's birthday! We went to the dog park in the morning and then headed over to the barn for an hour long trail ride. My friend brought Maizy and I cupcakes to celebrate. Maizy was supposed to share her cupcake with my two horses (yes, unhealthy but everything in moderation) but she wolfed the whole thing down in a single bite. She then proceeded to steal my chocolate cupcake - don't worry, she didn't get a chance to ingest it, just to slobber all over it. It was so out of character for her - she is normally very respectful of human food but cupcakes are apparently her weakness! Bad dog. ;)

We then hit the trails with my horse Lilly and were out for about an hour and half. Maizy of course stopped to swim in ever puddles and pond we encountered. She can't go to the barn without getting absolutely filthy.

I have a somewhat different take on canine conditioning and fitness - I'm not really into the "doggy home gym" that seems to be popular these days. Peanuts, balance boards and other things are great, but I think the same effect can be achieved out in the wilderness.

Today Maizy, myself and one of my friends went to two of the waterfalls in Hamilton (Waterfall Capital of the World!) and we hiked down the bottom of Devil's Punch Bowl. The hike is fairly difficult, though not super long. We were there for about an hour and half - up and down steep hills, jumping up and down, climbing up small "cliffs", swimming and more. Definitely a well rounded work out and if I do say so myself, just as good as the doggy gyms.

Swimming at the bottom of Devil's Punch
Bowl,a 37 foot tall waterfall.
After that, we headed to Albion Falls, which is a much nicer hike and an absolutely stunning waterfall.

I couldn't ask for a better hiking partner!
Now Maizy is passed out at my feet. Definitely a good weekend!

Friday, 24 April 2015

It's a World Class Menagerie!

*cue the song 'Prince Ali' from Disney's Aladdin*

It has been a pretty slow week dog training wise. The weather was nasty (first it poured, then it snowed), one of my horses has a tear in one of her butt muscles, and my fibromyalgia has just not wanted me to participate in anything. Maizy has still been getting her walks and play time, but that's about it. The moral of the story? I don't really have much to write about on the "Fit Dog" front.

However, I figured this would be a good time to introduce you to REST of my animals - and while I don't have 75 golden camels (I really love Aladdin, okay?), I do have a fair number of creatures. I've already mentioned the horses a couple of times but that's just the tip of the iceberg...

Tavish and Jeckel are the first two animals my boyfriend and I got. I hated cats, but against my will my boyfriend brought home a wee black and white kitten who I quickly warmed up to. Jeckel soon became the light of our life and we realised we had a problem: There wasn't enough cat to go around! So "we" (aka, I said "Honey, we're going to pick up this cat tonight") adopted Tavish from a wonderful group call The Pride Rescue. Jeckel and Tavish are now five years old and they totally run the show. Jeckel is aptly called "Sir Hissypants" and Tavish is just so large that he doesn't really care about anything. Jeckel absolutely despises Maizy, but it's all bravado - he hisses, puffs up, and swats, but in almost a year he has yet to actually touch Maizy. Tavish, like I said, doesn't really care about much. He and Maizy even snuggle on occasion.

A terrible picture but here's Maizy and Tavish. Tavish is enormous.
Jeckel, aka Sir Hissypants. He is a very little cat.

And then there is cat #3, Bones. We did not want another cat, but he was outside our apartment crying (okay, howling) on a cold, damp November night. "He's not coming in" said the boyfriend, and then 30 minutes later I went and got him. He was hungry and scared, but otherwise in good shape. The original plan was to find a new home for him, but we all know how well that works! It's been almost two years since he joined our family. He and Maizy get along quite well and they love to play together - Bones loves to bite her, very gently, on the tip of her nose.

Bones and baby Maizy - "Can we be friends Mr. Cat?"

But oh no, we're not done yet. I have two "house horses" (rabbits) as well. They really are like having teeny little horses loose in your house. Spock was the original rabbit, and he came before Bones - if any Star Trek fans are reading, they'll get the connection. Spock loves the cats and hangs out with them regularly, just one of the boys. Last Christmas we decided he needed a friend of his own species, and that's where Lola enters. Her owner was no longer able to care for her, so she came home to live with us. Maizy and Lola are totally smitten with one another. Despite being bred as a hunting dog, Maizy is very gentle with the rabbits.

Spock on the left, Lola on the right.

Last but certainly not least, we have the horses. Horses have always been a passion of mine, and in 2011 I was lucky enough to buy my first horse. A few years later, I bought Calla as a "flip" horse - one that I would retrain and then sell. Well Calla is still in the barn and neither horse is going anywhere! Both horses are chestnut, Thoroughbred mares and both were formerly race horses. Due to my fibromyalgia I don't get to ride very often these days, so Calla is ridden and shown by a good friend of mine and my barn owner leases Lilly for her riding lesson program. I get on Lilly once a week or so and play around. Maizy definitely knows which horses are "hers" and it's not unusual to see Calla gently grooming Maizy. Calla loves ruffling Maizy's ears with her lips. Lilly is kind of a bitch, but she is also exceptionally well behaved and calm, so she is the horse that I use when Maizy and I go trail riding.

Lilly on the left, Calla on the right.

And then of course there is Maizy, who will be a year old on Saturday! Time certainly does fly when you are having fun. We'll be doing a birthday photo shoot on Saturday, so look out for that.

Monday, 20 April 2015

What a weekend!

Maizy and I had quite the weekend full of adventure. We didn't get to do any hind-end awareness exercises as we were much too busy having fun in the sun!

Friday was one of the first really nice days we've had this year. It was warm, sunny and with just enough of a breeze. Totally picture perfect day! I intended to just stop into the barn quickly to medicate my Horse #2's legs, but of course that turned into a three hour visit! Maizy has only been allowed totally off leash at the barn within the last month or so. I'm very lucky to be able to bring my dog to the barn, but it is a stable not a dog park. Horses and their people get precedence over dogs. Thankfully, Maizy has been very good and mostly stays out of the way. She sticks to me like glue which helps as well.

Anyway, on Friday we ended up doing some "agility" in the indoor arena. And by "agility" I mean Maizy ran around like a lunatic and jumped all the horse jumps that were set up. After that she was positively filthy, so we went down to the pond for a rinse. I'm not sure why I think her going for a swim will make her cleaner - it rinses off the original dirt but then she comes out covered in black pond goop. Blech.

I didn't get any pictures of Friday, but here is puppy Maizy being a swamp dog!

Saturday morning Maizy got her blood taken and then we went to a tack shop to purchase some horsey things - If I'm not shopping for the dog, I'm shopping for the ponies, nevermind the fact that all my jeans have holes! Since she had her blood taken, we kept it light - after coming home for a snooze, we went for an hour long walk around the city. I thought I looked pretty damn good in my summer dress but as we walked past guys... they told Maizy how good she looked, not me. D'oh!

I spent Sunday at the barn cleaning tack, body clipping horses and photographing ponies. Maizy got left at home with my boyfriend as I knew I wouldn't be able to devote a lot of attention to her. When I did get home we went for a 30 minute walk and then she played at the dog park for another 30 minutes. She was pretty tired from Friday and Saturday, so it was good for her to relax Sunday night. She and my boyfriend spent the evening wrestling and then she passed out for the night!

Since I don't have Maizy photos this time, here's a photo of Horse #2. I'm not just into canine fitness, I do the same thing with my horses! Here is Horse #2 at her prime:

Look at all the muscle! 

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Fibromyalgia and Dogs: You Can Always Find Hope in a Dog's Eyes

It's no secret that animals, in particular dogs, add something special to our lives. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what that "something special" is - the way they look at you? The softness of their fur? The warmth they provide? The adventures you share? Perhaps that something special is different for everyone. Whatever it is, dogs and other animals seem to provide a certain comfort that you just can't get anywhere else. For me, this is especially true.

I've always thought this picture of Maizy perfectly represents that quote. <3

I don't remember what its like to not be in pain. I don't remember not having to calculate how every little thing - from going shopping or to simply brushing my hair - would impact me. I have fibromyalgia. I was only diagnosed a few years ago, but the pain started well before that, about when I was 15. It was bearable then, simply an after thought. Then in first year university I had a spectacular fall from a horse that left me with a limp for two years and in physiotherapy for even longer. And the pain never went away.

Fibromyalgia is not really a disease, but rather a collective of symptoms. They don't know what causes it, but in short it makes everything hurt. It's sort of like having the flu, sprained wrists, sprained ankles, and a kinked back all at once. Somedays its difficult for me to even pour myself a glass of milk. Other days its too painful to wear pants because the fabric is simply touching me. Now that I have found a good combination of medications and management, I mostly am just very tired and sore all the time. My pain level is never less than a 4, but is often close to 6 or 7. About once a week I have an 8, 9 or a 10 day where I basically just sleep and play with Maizy.

The best pain scale I've seen yet, taken from Hyperbole and a Half 
Which brings us to The Dog. I have lots of other animals, all of whom are wonderful and whom I love deeply - 3 cats, 2 rabbits, and 2 horses. But they are not The Dog.

We  - myself and my parents, who I still live with because I'm horse poor - got Maizy specifically to help with my fibromyalgia and let me tell you, she has been way better than any pill. Well, maybe Lyrica is tied with her for pain medication, but she has way more benefits than that! So why a dog?

  1. It would keep me active. There is no way in hell I would let my dog go without exercise, even if my legs were broken. Some days we go on three hour adventures in the woods, but even on my bad days I will go hobble around the yard with her.
  2. Companionship. When its 3am and I can't sleep because it feels like I'm being eaten alive from the inside by bugs (yeah, that's a fibro symptom called "paraesthesia"), I can go sit with my dog, bury my hands in her fur and distract myself from the pain.
  3. She's a real live heating pad. I am constantly shoving my sore feet under her. Sorry Maizy! I have heating pads, ice packs, weighted blankets and more, but nothing beats snuggling up with a toasty warm, snoring dog.
  4. She brings me joy and purpose, more than anything else in the world. We have an incredibly close bond. I love all my animals to the moon and back, but there is just something about a dog.
From the day I brought Maizy home, she had done all that and more. There have been studies showing that dogs are beneficial for fibromyalgia (The Impact of Animal-Assisted Therapy for Outpatients with Fibromyalgia, Pain Medicine, Volume 14, Issue 1, pages 43–51, January 2013), but even without the science it's easy to see the impact Maizy has made on my life. She is quite literally my reason for waking up everyday - it doesn't matter how bad the pain is, the dog still needs a walk. Even my dad, who doesn't really like dogs, loves Maizy because she has so greatly improved my quality of life.

That being said, I'm not saying everyone with a chronic pain condition or similar should rush out and get a dog. Dogs are an enormous responsibility. Before I got Maizy I had to find a system that would allow me to give Maizy the attention she needs. Cats and rabbits can be fed and left to their own devices, and my horses are boarded out. The dog, on the other hand, requires I give 110% every day. I still have very bad days when it is difficult for me to walk. Thankfully I have a wonderful support system who are willing to help me when things get rough - this dog has never gone without because of my disease.

One of the major reasons I decided to focus on dog fitness is that it will have a positive impact on my health. As Maizy works up to longer and harder workouts, I too will be getting that benefit. Training gives me something to focus on other than the pain. I am planning to get a FitBit for myself and a FitBark or Whistle for Maizy to see how we both progress. I am very interested to see how my fibromyalgia will be affected by this venture.

So to Maizy, I raise my glass - er, water dish, in thanks. You may not know it but I couldn't do this without you.

Whoever said laughter was the best medicine clearly didn't have a dog!

Monday, 13 April 2015

Getting Started in Doggy Fitness

This weekend was our first real endeavour in canine conditioning and fitness. My plan was to do a weigh-in and introduce Maizy and myself, but that didn't happen! The weather was gorgeous and we were way too busy playing outside. The weigh-in will happen sometime this week, but for now we'll stick with intros and what we did over the weekend.

Typical Maizy - She's a very bouncy dog!
So without further ado, I'd like to introduce Maizy! She's almost a year old (two more weeks!) and full of energy. Maizy has two modes: hyper and passed out. She's pretty well trained and fairly fit, so we're going into this venture with a good base. Her challenges will be staying focused and hind-end awareness. In addition to getting fitter, we will also be adding more tricks to her repertoire over the coming months.

And then there's me. While this is certainly a canine fitness blog, I'm sure some of the effects will wear off on me. My biggest challenge is that I have a fibromyalgia, a chronic pain condition. Sometimes it is difficult for me to even walk, but I'm hoping getting fitter with Maizy will improve my condition. Aside from Maizy, I have two horses, three cats and two rabbits. There will be lots of appearances from the rest of the zoo, I'm sure.

We had a very busy weekend and I think we're off to an excellent start! Saturday we started off the morning at the dog park, where she played for about an hour with couple of lovely poodles. We then headed to Ren's Pet Depot - this is my favourite pet store. The prices can be steep and the sales aren't usually very good, but it has high quality items that I know are safe for my animals. We picked up some hay for the rabbits, a bully stick, and a backpack!!! We got the Kurgo Wander Dog Backpack, which we will be using for weight training and camping. I'll do a review on this pack in the near future, so look out for that. After Maizy had a nap, we tried the backpack out (with the very scientific weight of four juice boxes!) and then we went to another park where she spent an hour chasing ducks and about 15 minutes of water resistance training, which we achieved by walking upstream in a shallow creek with a decent current.

Sunday was supposed to be a day of rest for her, but I ended up taking her to the barn with me. The barn is a very stimulating place for dogs, so even if they stay on leash they get quite mentally tired. Maizy spent about 4 hours romping around the farm - playing with other dogs, accompanying me on a trail ride and then we cooled off in the ponds. Maizy had a break through and learned that she can actually SWIM, not just wade. Super proud of her!

Perfecting the dog paddle - her first time actually swimming!
Just as we were leaving the farm, Maizy decided to investigate a "dead" horse. The horse was napping in the sun, on its side with his legs straight out. They really do look dead when they sleep like this - just about every farm has a story of an unknowing person coming to the farm in a panic saying 'There's a dead horse in your field!" Nope, just sleeping. Maizy fell for it too, and when the horse sat up she leapt about three feet in the air, turned tail and ran away. She then barked at the horse from a safe distance. Silly dog.

This morning Maizy did not want to get out of bed. This dog normally follows me around like a shadow, supervising every moment of my morning routine. Not today! I guess the weekend tired her out:

Soft spaniel, warm spaniel, fluffy fluffy ears!
Happy spaniel, sleepy spaniel, woof woof woof.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Product Review: RC Pet Products Rain Poncho

Spring in Southern Ontario means two things: Rain and Mud. I've been eyeing the ultra adorable RC Pets Repackable Rain Poncho for a while now and finally decided to get it a few days ago. Maizy has worn it twice so far and gotten lots of "awww"s from people on the street.

The RC Pets Repackable Rain Poncho
 is light weight and super cute.


  • The Cute Factor - it comes in lots of adorable prints from XXS to XXXL. Maizy took a large.
  • After a 30 minute walk in heavy rain, Maizy was dry under the coat
  • Light weight - perfect for warm weather rain or on the road
  • The low price - about $12.00
  • Did I mention it's really cute?
  • Comes with a bag to repack the coat - you could easily keep this in your purse or in your car's glove compartment


  • No leg straps - It was quite windy and only raining lightly on day one, and the back of her coat kept blowing up because the fabric is so light. It did not flip up on day two, in heavy rain. I will probably add a back strap somehow.
  • Not good for front attachment harnesses, like Maizy wears. It works but the position of the leash causes the coat to shift. I had to re-adjust the coat numerous times on our walk.
  • Road walks only - This is definitely a coat meant for easy walks, not hiking or at the dog park. I can see this coat tearing easily.
  • The hood - I don't really understand why dog coats have hoods as they never seem to fit right and dogs tend to hate them. I would greatly prefer a higher collar, with no hood.


We're giving the RC Pets Repackable Rain Poncho 3.5 bones out of 5. It's not perfect but for the price you really can't complain. Maizy is a dog that needs her walks, regardless of the weather and we will definitely be using this light coat for our rainy day walks.

"Are you done taking pictures yet?" - Maizy