Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Book Review ~ The Hidden Life of Humans

And now for something completely different.

I'm in my fifth month of
John Mutford's Great Canadian Book Challenge. My own personal challenge has been to read and review 13 Canadian books about dogs over the course of a year. Erika Ritter's The Hidden Live of Humans is my most recent read, and clocks in as book #7 of my 13.

I was kicking myself when I realized that this book would qualify for the challenge. My friend Tracy has a book swap each spring, and wouldn't you know it, I passed up my chance to score this book for free at this year's swap. It was also recently for sale on chapters.indigo.com for one lousy buck. gah! Eh well, it was worth the $14.56 CAD I paid at amazon.ca. But, still, free or close-to-free would have been lovely.

Erika Ritter is a Canadian wordsmith extraordinaire. Hidden Life is her sole novel - a Canadian bestseller when it was published in 1997 - but she has also penned a few collections of essays, as well as nonfiction. She is also a playwright, public speaker, and well-known CBC commentator. She grew up in my home province (SK) but now resides in Ontario.

Okay, so, Hidden Life. The basic premise is that the main character - a single 40-something woman named Dana Jaeger - unwittingly ends up taking care of an ex-boyfriend's dog while the ex is cavorting around Finland with his ice-princess Finnish dentist girlfriend. Murphy - the dog - has strong opinions, and pieces of the book are told from Murphy's point of view. Before I realized that the book was published in 1997, I thought either Ritter ripped off Garth Stein's idea from The Art of Racing in the Rain, or this was one of those synchronicity thingamajiggies. Kudos to Ritter for being about a decade ahead of Stein.

Overall, I enjoyed the book; I read from start to finish in about a week, and my reading time is pretty fragmented, so a week is good. It's sort of chick lit with an edge. It has some dark bits, including Dana's ex-husband, who is dying of AIDS; a graphic account of an accident Dana endures; and some uncomfortable childhood memories Dana dredges up. The humour is a little dry, which is just fine. Some of the narrative devices are not my cup of tea, though. Dreams are one device that allow us to see things we wouldn't otherwise be able to see from the narrators' viewpoints. It was a little fantastical for me. Also, Murphy is really very smart - so smart that I'm skeptical, and that's saying a lot. Much is made about Murphy's inherent dog-ness - he humps the laundry bag, for example - but at the same time, he is incredibly philosophical. In Stein's Racing in the Rain, Enzo acquires his smarts through watching t.v. Murphy's smarts are not explained, and we are expected to believe he has his moments of deep thought interspersed with his laundry-bag exploits. I dunno if it works. Maybe it's just me. Maybe that's what Ritter was trying to say - dogs are dogs, but they also have moments of insight that would blow our socks off (all the better to get their grimy little paws on said socks!).

If I did star reviews, I would probably give this 3.5 out of 5. A good read, not too heavy, keeps the reader interested. That said, it didn't really speak to me, and I really doubt I will ever re-read it. I'm on the fence about whether to shelve it or give it away.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Beagles, Beagles, Halloweiners!

Okay, fess up! How many of you dress your dogs up for Halloween? I did for the first time last year, when Gabe was 4 and Archie was 3. I was ordering a bunch of dog toys online for Christmas, for all the dogs in my life (there are many besides my two - Emma and Patsy, Lennox, Farley, Kavanna, Lucky, Kona, Kody, and now Luca and Rowan too). The store I was shopping at had $5 "costumes" - a two-dimensional hat, a bandana, and a collar decoration. Gabe was a tough and very serious sheriff (cowboy hat, red and black bandana, and sheriff's badge) and Archie was a Mexican, complete with sombraro and fringed purple bandana (appropriate costume for my jumping bean).

This year, we got more creative. Gabe's swim instructor suggested he go as Michael Phelps, and together we brainstormed how to make a costume that would work. And Archie was finally my hot dog - I've coveted that costume for years!

How about your canines?

Book Review ~ Call of the Wild

I'm into Month Five of the Great Canadian Book Challenge. Participants are to read and review 13 Canadian books over the course of a year, and since this is a dog blog, all 13 of my books will be about dogs. John Mutford, organizer of the Challenge, suggested I give Jack London's The Call of the Wild a go. I remember having this book as a child. I never did read it, though, and it's probably good that I didn't. I would have been scarred for life. I have no idea why it is marketed as a children's book.

The Call of the Wild lays claim to its Canadian-ness through its geography. London himself, of course, was American, and the book's main character, a Shepherd/St. Bernard cross named Buck, is also American. However, except for the opening pages, the book is set in the Canadian Yukon, during the Klondike Gold Rush. Although I have my master's degree in history, most of my knowledge of the gold rush comes from a history reality program, called "Klondike: Quest for the Gold" which aired on History TV and PBS in 2003. Having some background knowledge is helpful as London doesn't spend a lot time describing the the gold rush itself. Buck's journey is absolutely heartbreaking, but without the background, it seems as though this story is being told because it is exceptional - "a remarkable journey of courage" or some such hackneyed Disneyfied expression. But the sad truth is that most sled dogs probably experienced the same hardships as Buck during this era.

The book opens with Buck being dognapped from his comfortable home in California. He is sold to work as a sled dog in the far north. Buck is a quick learner, and adapts quickly to life on the trail. However, he experiences much hardship, including the frigid northern cold, vicious dog fights, brutal beatings from humans, starvation, overwork, and the loss of his comrades. It is above all an adventure story, a tale of adapting in order to survive harsh experiences.

Although the narration is in the omniscient third person, the bulk of the story is about Buck and his relationships with other dogs and a few humans. Because of this, there is very little dialogue. I appreciated reading a "dog book" that actually focussed on dogs for once!

My final analysis: I can understand why this is considered London's masterpiece. But that doesn't mean I have to like it. I'll probably keep my copy because it is a classic, but I won't be reading it again. It's just too harsh.

I've googled without success to find out how many copies of this book have been sold over the past century. The best I can do is assure you that it is in the "millions." The full text is also available online, if you are comfortable reading at your computer screen. I read the TOR edition pictured above (4 Canadian dollars, new).

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Book Review ~ Brad Pattison's Synergy

Yay! I'm in Month 4 of my quest to read and review 13 Canadian dog books, and for the first time I'm doing two reviews in one month (a good thing since the one book/month thing ain't gonna cut it in terms of the ultimate "13" goal). This time I've read Brad Pattison's Synergy in Training between Man and Dog. Pattison is well known from his television show At the End of My Leash, which airs on Slice in Canada (apparently my favourite network). According to Wikipedia, Brad was born in Calgary, so he is, yes, a bona fide Canadian author.

Let me just say that I have a love/hate relationship with the Brad I see on At the End of My Leash. He is extremely opinionated and comes across as confrontational. But, he's easy on the eyes and (most of) his advice makes sense, so I remain a loyal viewer of his program. However, Brad the writer is different from Brad the tv personality. His no-nonsense, in-your-face attitude is still very apparent, but the book has quite a bit of humour. And, surprisingly enough, Brad the writer anthropomorphizes. Who wudda thunk it?

I have a few quality issues with the physical book. Some of the black and white photos that were intended to be diagrams, I frankly couldn't make noses nor tails of. Also, I'm not sure if this was just my copy or if it is a prevalent problem, but the text was clearly formatted beyond the acceptable borders of the finalized printed version, and alphabets are missing along those edges. Some short words were missing entirely as a result of this, making it necessary to puzzle out the sentences.

But those are just quibbles. This is a great book about dog training; supplementing what you may have already learned from Brad the tv guy, or introducing you to his unique training methods and his thoughts on our canine companions. Two particular points of interest for me: Brad argues that changing dog food frequently is a good thing (which I've always believed) and that dogs do have memories. Dog trainers often subscribe to the belief that dogs have very short memory spans, and that it's pointless to incorporate mistakes (such as chewing your shoe while you are at work) into training, as the dog's memory of the shoe will only last for about 2 minutes after the last bite is taken out of it. I pretty much accepted that as gospel, but Brad feels differently and after reading his examples, Brad's theory makes total sense. My own two clearly remember where certain things are on our walks as well as where things stay in the house. They can gauge where I am off to (walk time, play time, Jacki time) based on which jacket I put on at the door. I would also argue that they do remember routes on our drives, as they become increasingly excited the nearer we get to our destinations.

I visit Brad's website on occasion, and I was also suprised to see that he advocates for clothing and booties for dogs in extreme weather, which I thought were a big Brad no-no. On one episode of his program, he berated a woman for putting clothes on her dog, telling her that if her dog is cold, she shouldn't get his coat cut so short. As Archie is always cold - and has never had his coat cut - I was a little peeved. It was a relief to find out that Brad the tv guy might be amping things up a bit for the sake of ratings.

My love/hate relationship with Brad may have a little more love in it these days.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Book Review ~ The Dog who Wouldn't Be

Month Four of my quest to read and review 13 "Canadian" dog books brings me to a classic - Farley Mowat's The Dog who Wouldn't Be. Mowat is, of course, one of Canada's most beloved authors, who penned forty-two books. The Dog who Wouldn't Be was his fourth, first published in 1957. The book takes place in the gritty 1930s, when Mowat was a child. It chronicles the adventures Mowat and his dog, Mutt. Let me just say that I have no idea how I avoided reading this book up until this point. It's a great story; it's about dogs; and not only is it Canadian, but it's primarily set in Saskatoon and surrounding areas, where I've lived my whole life.

According to Mowat, Mutt decided that he didn't want to be a dog. Mutt was definitely a character and definitely whippersnapper smart. I think he was also definitely a dog. Some of his feats were amazing but believable - such as scaling a ladder. Others feats would be considered neat conversational starters, but actually pretty commonplace - such as eating cherries and spitting out the pits. Some of the tales are most likely yarns, or at least embellished (a lot). I'm not a fan of tall tales, but I kept reading because the writing style is familiar and engaging; the stories are fun to read; and there's a fair share of history too - although secondary to the story of a boy and his dog, you certainly do get glimpses of the Depression years on the Canadian prairies.

I read the Emblem edition (pictured above) which was published in 2009.

First snow ~ Dogs on Thursday

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Book Review ~ The Intelligence of Dogs

I am in Month 3 of my quest to read and review 13 Canadian books about dogs over the course of a year. This month's offering is Stanley's Coren's The Intelligence of Dogs: A Guide to the Thoughts, Emotions, and Inner Livers of Our Canine Companions (and just for the record, I read the "Revised and with a New Preface by the Author" edition, published in 2006). Born in the US, Coren moved to Vancouver in 1973 to take a position with the Psychology Department at UBC. Coren is now a professor emeritus at UBC, and continues to teach, research, and publish.

I have long been a fan of Coren's, ever since discovering his program Good Dog!, which used to be on the Life Network (now Slice) in Canada. I've previously read Coren's How Your Dog Thinks; How to Speak Dog; and Why Does my Dog Act that Way? I've consciously put off reading The Intelligence of Dogs because it contains a list of dog breeds, ranked by how intelligent they are, and I am well aware that most people do not consider beagles to be very intelligent. Which I would argue about, but it is too soon in my review to digress.

I believe The Intelligence of Dogs is the first book that Coren wrote about dogs, and it is still the most controversial. Coren argues that dog intelligence is largely predetermined by breed; and that certain breeds are more intelligent than others. Coren is careful to thoroughly explain what he means by "intelligence," and that the intelligence he measures and ranks in the book are based on "working or obedience intelligence" or how quickly and easily dogs can learn the commands we use to train them.

For the record, beagles are ranked at #72 in a list that goes to #79. What does this mean for me, and other beagle guardians? Coren states that dogs with a ranking of 70-79 are the most difficult to train, and any skills they do learn may "evaporate" without practice. That said, Coren, who is active in obedience training, trials, and competition, owns - and, yes, trains - a beagle named Darby. As Coren points out, sometimes intelligence is overrated. Very smart dogs may turn out to be a handful, as they may get bored very quickly or figure out behaviours to get away with things we don't want them doing. I would argue that beagles are most adept at figuring out such behaviours . Gabe can turn a doorknob and scurry backwards to allow the door to swing towards him. Archie is a master faker, and will do things like bark up a storm as he runs towards the gate, prompting Gabe to leave a prized toy or chewie behind in his rush to find out what the ruckus is about. My foster girlie, Annie, was quite adept at hoarding prizes on her bed, and she gained her prized possessions by opening cupboard doors and laundry basket lids.

There are sections in this book that show you how to measure your dog's IQ, how to test your dog's obedience personality, and how to stretch and improve your four-legged friend's intelligence. In my rush to get at least one review posted this month, I did not have an opportunity to do the testing, but I definitely will at some point (likely in the winter when it is too cold to go outside and I am looking for some way to amuse both the boys and myself).

Overall, this is a very interesting read and I continue - four books in - to be astounded by how well Coren "translates" boring scientific detail and terminology into lay(wo)man terms. Discussion on how dogs evolved from wolves/jackals/dingoes and a look at how Descartes's opinions shaped our view of dogs for centuries could be dry reading indeed, but Coren somehow manages to make it interesting and accessible. One quibble I do have with Coren's work is that he reuses some material from book to book, so that if you've already read one book, you'll likely be able to skip part of the next book you read.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Hi there cutiepie!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Book Review ~ Mad Dogs and an Englishwoman

John Mutford's The Real Canadian Book Challenge on his The Book Mine Set blog motivated me to set a goal: read 13 Canadian books about dogs within the next year, and review them here at Gabe n Arch. The second book I've read is Polly Evans's Mad Dogs and an Englishwoman: Travels with Sled Dogs in Canada's Frozen North.

Polly Evans is a British travel writer, and one who combines travel with a challenge. In Mad Dogs, Evans writes about 10 weeks spent in the Yukon, learning to run sled dogs. Her base is Muktuk, Frank Turner's home near Whitehorse. Turner competed in 22 Yukon Quests and operates Muktuk both a tourist operation and the home base for his son Saul, who is now running in the Quests.

Evans learns about sled dogs from the ground up, literally, beginning with scooping the poop of Muktuk's 108 dogs and learning how to properly fit dog booties. Her first excursion (or two) with a sled is somewhat hapless, but she hangs in there 'til the bitterly cold end, when she spends 6 days covering part of the Yukon Quest trail in -44 degree weather. Brrrrrr.

The book contains mini-lessons on history and geography, which, while interesting, are somewhat distracting. The tone is different in these sections and feel wedged into the main narrative. And, speaking of the main narrative, I was surprised that there wasn't more about the dogs! Now, of course, that's coming from someone who is writing a dog blog and who set out to read books about dogs. Still the title contains the word "Dogs" twice so I expected a lot of canine confidential. I was also surprised that as an urban-dwelling Brit, Evans doesn't note a reaction to the dogs' living conditions or the controversy over sled racing. Evans has an extensive photo gallery online from her time in the Yukon, and I'm glad I checked that out. The many photos of Muktuk's dogs add a dimension to her story that I was looking for.

That said, if you approach this book as a travel narrative that takes place in the Yukon, I think you will walk away as a happy camper. Evans is an engaging writer and she is not above laughing at herself. She is awestruck by the beauty of our far north and she inspires a similar awe in her readers. And I certainly admire her spirit in tackling such an adventure.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Rain, Rain, Go Away ....

Gabe: "I am so b.o.r.e.d. Will this rain ever stop, Mom?"

Archie: "Really, Mom? You have new toys stashed away in special hiding spot? Whoo-hoo!"

Archie: "This octopus is a cutie! And it makes a cool crinkly noise too!"

Gabe: "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is more handsome, me or the octopus? (me, me, me, me, me)"

Archie: "I don't know how my octopus got under the couch mom, honest!"

Gabe: "Thanks for the new toys mom. Now for nap time!"

Happy Birthday Archie!

Archie came to live with me and Gabe on 15 August 2006. Since it was the start of a new life for Archie, we decided to keep that day as his birthday. We celebrated this year's occasion with a beef pattie with melted cheese for lunch, new bowls, and a very special once-a-year treat - a popsicle!

Archie is now (about) 4 years old. I am blessed he found me.

Happy Birthday Boo!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Dogs on Thursday - Canine Berry Pickers

Dogs on Thursday hosts a great meme where we post about our dogs every Thursday. Check them out to link in or to see other participants in the meme.

Last week, I wrote about how Archie stole my saskatoon berries right out of the bowl I was using while pick them.

A few days later, I was watching Gabe pick his own berries, and inspiration stuck.

What if I taught Archie how to pick his own too?

Sure enough, he caught on right quickly.

Now, I've got two furry berry pickers in my family.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Book Review ~ Roy MacGregor's The Dog and I

John Mutford's The Real Canadian Book Challenge on his The Book Mine Set blog motivated me to set a goal: read 13 Canadian books about dogs within the next year, and review them here at Gabe n Arch.

At first I wondered if that was an achievable goal - are there really that many Canadian books about dogs worth reading? A quick scan of amazon.ca and suggestions from John himself quickly assured me that yes, indeed, there should be an ample selection to choose from.

I started with Roy MacGregor's The Dog and I, which was first published in 2006. It is a physically small book - about 5-1/2 x 7", with 182 pages including the acknowledgements.

MacGregor is a well-known columnist (The Globe and Mail) and author, having written about things central to the Canadian psyche: hockey, canoes, cottage life, cold weather, and that ever-elusive "Canadian identity." Oh, yes, and dogs. MacGregor has been the proud guardian of five mutts throughout his life - and he does stress that these dogs are mutts, no pedigrees, no papers, most hawked out of little red wagons pulled around by different generations of neighbourhood children.

The Dog and I is a collection of previously written columns and new material, all drawing on MacGregor's own experiences with his dogs. Dog owners will chuckle or nod with recognition over many of the stories. I had to smile over MacGregor's description of his dog Willow's fetch obsession. Yep, been there, done that. But, be prepared for some sadness. Personally, I have not yet run across a dog "memoir" that doesn't include the death of a beloved dog. If you are like me, keep tissues nearby when reading this. A wad may be sufficient; or you may need a box.

I thoroughly enjoyed MacGregor's discussion of the differences in how dogs live now, compared with 50ish years ago. This is something I often ponder myself. I wonder what my parents - born and raised in rural Saskatchewan at a time when electricity on farms was still a novelty - would think about Gabe's weekly swim at the canine pool, Archie's regular acupuncture treatments, and the homecooked food (with added natural supplements) both enjoy. Even more interesting is - how did we arrive at this point? What cultural shift precipitated this change in doggie lifestyles? I'm not sure MacGregor has the answer, but he is not above poking fun of his own forays into big box pet stores to pick up some salmon sushi dog treats.

The Dog and I is a great little book. Even though each chapter is essentially a short story, there is flow and continuity throughout (which is great, because I am generally not a fan of short stories). However, this format does work well if you are the kind of reader that goes in fits and starts - if you only have time for a few pages as you take public transit, wait in line, or squeeze in a few minutes of reading time before bed. If you take it to the beach or cottage, make sure you take a backup - this one will only take a couple of hours to get through. But, they're hours enjoyably spent.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Dogs on Thursday

Audacious is my middle name ...

... stealing my mom's berries is my game.

I wanted some saskatoon berries for an ice cream topping, as part of a "harvest on the table" post for my gardening blog. *ahem* However, someone decided that the berries were very tasty. What's interesting is that Archie has never even tried a berry before. I've offered him many over the years.

Gabe, however, is a whole other ballgame. Gabe picks his own. Will try to get a suitable picture for another post.

PS: Please pretend you don't see my weeds!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Sultan of the Shade

While Archie is happily baking in the sun, Gabe and I retreat to the shade. If it starts to feel a bit cool, we may stick an appendage - such as a nose - out, but just a little bit. It's a whole new meaning to Snoopy's "Joe Cool."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Sultan of the Sun

Archie is my heat baby. He will seek out the hottest, sunniest spot, so I gave him a little help over the weekend and set up a bed for him in the garden. Don't worry - he gets tossed in the pool every once in awhile by yours truly, to cool him off a bit.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A dog and his ball

At Archie's first physio appointment, the physiotherapist (Theresa from Canine Reb) taught me massage techniques and showed me stretching exercises to do with Archie. She also asked me to buy a large exercise ball for our next appointment. That's all she told me. I had no idea what to expect.

Archie has always been crazy about any game that involves a tennis ball, but I wasn't sure how he would feel about this one!

I inflated the ball a few weeks before our next physio appointment, so that Archie could get used to seeing it in the house. When Theresa arrived for the second appointment, she showed us what to do.

I am supposed to sit on the sofa with the ball between my legs and get Archie on top of the ball, coaxing him on with treats. Once he is comfortable on the ball, the goal is to get him to stretch by reaching for a treat. The balancing and the stretching combined will improve his core strength. Another "exercise" I can do with Archie is to get him on the ball and then rock it back and forth. Again, the balancing should work his core. Theresa told me to do this 3-4 times a week; on his "off days" we are supposed to do his regular stretching exercises, which are basically the same sans ball.

So, how is it going? Really, amazingly well. I am surprised because Archie's always been somewhat of a scaredy-cat, and new physical objects as well as new experiences are generally cause for alarm. Not this time! Theresa was able to get him on top of the ball in minutes, and each time I've tried this by myself with Archie, things have gone just swimmingly. He actually gets excited when I get the ball out ... instead of getting on the couch first and then onto the ball, he hops right onto the ball. He stands on the ball, balancing like a little seal, reaching for treats like nobody's business. He loves it. We've been doing the ball exercises everyday instead of 3-4 times/week. Hope that's okay - it's so much fun!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Gabe n Arch on muttscomics.com!

We are celebrating here at Gabe n Arch today.

I opened my "Daily Mutts" this morning and caught the words "Gabe n Arch" in the body of the email. I was momentarily disoriented. Did I accidentally flip to a different email? Did I not read correctly?

Nope, there is was, plain as day. muttscomics.com published an excerpt from the review I wrote of Patrick McDonnell's The Gift of Nothing. In the email, below the daily strip, it said: "Gabe n Arch: The Beagle Boys Review MUTTS Books We couldn't resist posting this great review from the Beagle Boys (pictured above). From the review: I am not particularly ... MORE >>>"

How exciting! I had to share the news so I forwarded the email to Chloe, my long-time friend and coworker. Chloe is pretty web-savvy and was most likely to understand the blogging-about-another-blog concept (as compared to, say, Maxine). I ran to Chloe's office, which is in a different building. Yes, I ran through the student reception area and past all the administrative people in their pods. I ran carefully, wearing my clunky thick-soled Skechers flip flops. I arrived breathless and unable to speak coherently. Unfortunately, I also somehow messed up on forwarding the email, so I ran back, past all the students and administrative people, re-sent the email, and yes ran back again, clunking my way past people too polite to stare.

Hours later, I am still beaming. I admire Patrick McDonnell for his work with promoting shelter adoptions; and I do very much enjoy Mutts the comic strip as well as his books. It was an awesome surprise.

It just made my day :-)

Maxine and Jane later visited my office and started joking about how Gabe and Arch are superstars. Arch in the Beagle Paws calendar; Gabe n Arch on muttscomics.com. They suggested a line of "Gabe n Arch" merch. I think we'll start with the whole cabana boy joke Gabe's swim instructor and I have - tiki water bowls with little umbrellas, inflatable rafts patterned with dogs in Hawaiian swim shorts, Hawaiian swim shorts, doggie flip flops, and an inflatable palm tree (aka restroom facility).

Happy day!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Homecooked dog food - the Gabe n Arch way

There are a lot of different options out there when it comes to feeding your dogs. What works for us may or may not work for you. I feed Gabe and Archie a homecooked diet for a number of reasons:

(1) - It's extremely difficult to find processed dog food that Archie is not allergic to. To my knowledge, the only things Archie is NOT allergic to are beef, bison, vegetables, fruit, and dairy.

(2) - Our vet recommended homecooked (even though she advocates for BARF and sells BARF products at her clinic).

(3) - I am more comfortable handling homecooked than I am handling the raw food in the BARF diet plus I've read a lot about BARF and I'm not convinced it's the way to go.

(4) - I like having control over what my dogs eat, especially following the dog food scandals in 2007.

When I was researching homecooked diets, I found one recommended by Stanley Coren, a psychologist at UBC who specializes in dog behaviour. I am a big fan of Dr. Coren's and when I ran his recipe by my vet, she gave us the green light.

However, we had to make modifications to the recipe due to Archie's allergies. The biggest change is that there are no carbs in my food. Based on what I've read, I actually think no carbs (or low carbs) is the way to go with dog food. Dogs in the wild would eat few carbs, mostly in the form fruits, and most likely would never eat grains or potatoes. (If you're questioning whether wild dogs would eat fruits, I'll let Gabe answer that - he forages for berries in my yard, happily consuming all the raspberries and saskatoon berries he can reach.)

Our basic "recipe" is 1lb cooked meat to 1-1/2lb uncooked vegetables.

Each week I make a batch of dog food that contains:

6lb cooked ground beef
9lb uncooked veggies
apprx. 1 tsp salt
2 c beef broth

I was a Canadian school child in the 1980s, when our government switched us over from Imperial measurements to metric. I am one of those people who put x litres of gas in her car to travel y miles; and I buy my fabric in metres but sew with 1/4" or 5/8" seams. Please excuse me for using both metric and Imperial measurements - I think most Canadians reading this will understand. The rest of you, feel free to convert where necessary :-D

You will need 5-6 kg of raw hamburger to get about 6lb of cooked hamburger. It will be closer to 5kg of lean beef; and closer to 6kg of regular ground.

As far as vegetables go, I've tried a lot of different ones, and now I almost always use: precut coleslaw mix, celery, parsnips, and zucchini. Everything is fast and easy to wash and cut up. I don't peel the parsnips or zuchinni. The zucchini is from my garden - in season, I use unpeeled fresh zucchini; the rest of the year it is frozen. If my veggies don't quite add up to 9lb, I'll throw in whatever I can find in the fridge or freezer that is safe for dogs. If you are considering using a homecooked diet or if you just want to feed your dogs more vegetables, please research which ones may be hazardous to your dogs.

I start by breaking up the raw ground beef and placing it in a large roaster. Once that's done, I chop up 2-3 cloves of garlic and sprinkle that on top. Garlic in large quantities is bad for dogs, but they love the smell of it, so I always put just a little bit in. I also sprinkle on about 1 tsp of salt (on my vet's recommendation).

Cook the beef at 350F for about 3 hours. When it's done, the beef will have settled a bit, so that it looks a bit like a large meatloaf.

I break the "meatloaf" into about 6 pieces with a spatula, and then lift each piece out, making it easy to discard the fat.

I mash the drained hamburger well, measure out the 6lb, and refrigerate until it's needed again (in about 2 hours).

Once the hamburger is done, I wash out the roaster and chop up the veggies. I don't add any spices to the veggies, but I do add about 2 cups of beef broth, which I make ahead of time and freeze. The veggies will cook better with some liquid. I use beef broth for flavour and because Archie is not allergic to it. You could mix up some Oxo/bullion cubes in 2 cups of water; or if you think your dog is okay with bland food, just add 2 cups of water.

The veggies will need to cook at 350F for 2 hours. Once you get the hang of this, you can adjust the temperature to suit your time requirements. If you're leaving the veggies to cook while you run out to do errands, you could bake them at 300F for 3 hours instead. Or, if you're in a hurry, you could do them for an hour and a half at 400F. Whatever works for you.

When the veggies are done cooking, I always check to see how much liquid is at the bottom of the roaster. This is "guess by golly" - you do want some liquid because it will make the veggies easier to mash. But, you don't want too much liquid or the food will be too soupy. Even though I use the same veggies all the time, and always 2 cups of beef broth, you can never gauge how much liquid you will end up with.

I mash my veggies because Archie used to pick them out and just eat the meat. I think he probably wouldn't do that anymore, but I still mash. If you think your dog will eat veggies (eg there is no question in my mind that Gabe will eat them in any shape or form), then you can skip the mashing.

Add the cooled ground beef and mix everything together well. At this point, I put the mixed hamburger and veggies back in the oven for another hour. It's probably not necessary, but I like to believe the veggies get more flavourful from cooking with the beef for awhile.

A batch of this size feeds two moderately active medium-sized dogs for 10 days. Gabe eats 380g/day and Archie eats 310g/day. I usually put about 3/4 of the batch in the fridge and freeze the rest. Every couple of months, I can take a weekend off from making food.

Our vet says that the only thing our food is missing is calcium, so on her recommendation, I add a bone meal tablet (550mg) to each breakfast and supper. You can purchase bone meal tabs at most health food stores.

When I started doing this I thought there was no way I could make homecooked food once a week for the next 12-15 years. It seemed like a crazy amount of work. Within a few months, it became part of my routine and it's easier now. I learned things that make it go more smoothly for me, like:

(1) - I go for groceries Friday after work. As soon as I get home I put the hamburger to cook. The hamburger finishes Friday night and then I finish everything else on Saturday. This way I'm not tied to the oven all day on Saturday.

(2) - Pick your veggies carefully. The precut coleslaw mix costs a bit more than a head of cabbage, but saves a lot of time. Most veggies (excepting potatoes) do not need to be peeled.

(3) - Drain the hamburger first (by lifting it out of the roaster with a spatula or slotted spoon) and THEN mash. Don't mash first - it will take a long time to drain 6lb of hamburger in a colander.

(4) - If you have access to a second oven or a very large slow cooker, you can cook the hamburger and the veggies at the same time. I actually have a huge slow cooker (a
BBQ Pit) that fits 6kg of raw hamburger. There's a lot of cleanup to do all at once when you do it that way, though, so I only use the BBQ Pit when I'm short of time.

(5) - If you wanted to, there's no reason why you couldn't do up and freeze a huge batch of food all at once, so that it lasts weeks or months at a time. When I know ahead of time that I not be able to make food one weekend, I usually make a 9lb meat/13-1/2lb veggie batch for the 2-3 weeks preceeding.

Remember that you can use any meat or vegetables that you like; and that adding carbs will be a money saver. Dr. Coren's recipe recommends equal parts of meat/veg/carbs in weight, so if you use 6lb of beef, you can cut back on your veggies; and you can add 6lb of bread/noodles/rice/cereal(like porridge), which will end up stretching your batch of food further than ours goes.

And on that note: The ingredients I used this weekend cost $34.70 CAD.

Monday, July 6, 2009

John Mutford's Canadian Book Challenge 3

John Mutford has posited a challenge on his The Book Mine Set blog: Take part in his Canadian Book Challenge 3 by reading and reviewing 13 Canadian books between 1 July 2009 and 1 July 2010. That should be easy enough; but since this is a blog about dogs I'm going to set a theme for myself: 13 books about dogs. I would see a lot of Stanley Coren in my future, except I have already read most of his books. Hmmm .... thankfully the author of the Stanley books (Stanley's Party, Stanley's Beauty Contest, Stanley's Wild Ride, etc.) is Canadian. Whew! That should cover about a third of my 13. And then of course there is Farley Mowat's The Dog Who Wouldn't Be.

Got any suggestions for me?