Winter Camping – Wilderness Survival

I know my last post on winter camping might have lead you to believe that our trip was mostly ‘being too cold and then fixing it’, but that was only really our nighttime routine.  We did tons of other things.  Like roast marshmallows… and pee in the woods.

Our instructor for the weekend has tons of experience teaching wilderness survival skills.

After breakfast we started off with a hike in the woods.  When asked what we needed to bring with us, he smiled and said, “oh, nothing.”

It’s lucky one of the other women ignored that and grabbed her hiking bag, since, once we were far from our tents and cars, he told us to make a fire.  With what we had on hand.  Lesson 1 – even if you’re just going for a short hike in the woods, bring your first aid and basic survival gear.  Matches come to mind.

We got a decent fire started in about 20 minutes of work, including brief periods of shooing flammable dogs away from the fire area.  About half of that time was gathering, and half was getting the fire going steady.

our fire turned out pretty well, in my opinion
our fire turned out pretty well, in my opinion

Our fearless leader then gave us instructions to gather a variety of different sizes of kindling and wood divided into piles.  Once we had the appropriate piles of wood, had a fire twice as hot going in under five minutes, using a fire steel and the back of his wicked looking knife.  We then got to use a fire steel and a striker to start our own fire.  Lesson 2 – weirdly, the back of a good quality knife works WAY better as a striker for the fire steel.  Also, the super cheap Canadian Tire fire steel is, well, super cheap, and less effective.

various sizes of twig in different piles... so you're ready to keep the fire going once you've got the tinder lit
various sizes of twig in different piles… so you’re ready to keep the fire going once you’ve got the tinder lit.  His kind of fire might have been faster… and much much  higher… but it wasn’t as pretty.

He showed us how to determine if branches were already dead, what types of trees had excellent sap for burning without harming the tree, and how to collect tinder from birch trees without killing them.  I’m not going to lecture you or anything, but don’t peel the bark off a birch tree!  How would you like to have your skin peeled off?  The little dried scrunchy bits are easy to crumble off the tree without exposing any of its under-layers to the elements, and highly effective in fire starting.

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Gwynn stole the tupperware of example tinder he’d brought… mmmm… plastic

We learned about a few different types of shelter, some of which are good for a short-term survival situation, and others of which would be better suited to a situation in which you might be stuck for a while.  We also learned how to tell what direction is north using the sun, and a few ways to ensure that, while walking without a trail, you continue to head in a straight line.

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We had a lesson in making emergency fire-starters as well.  Apparently the key is to take Starbucks straws.  They are, according to our skilled survival guide, the ideal diameter.  The firestarters, though – you cut about an inch long piece of straw.  You grip near the end with a pair of needlenose pliers, and melt the end to seal it.  You then take a small piece of cotton ball and mix it lightly with some Vaseline, stuffing it into the open end of the straw.  Seal the other end of the straw, and you officially have an easy-start fire-starter that you can pack in any coat or pocket.  All you need to do to start it is slit the side and pull a small piece of wick out – the entire thing will take over a minute to burn, enough time to light a proper fire.

We made a tiny Quinzee hut – large enough for one person, somewhat uncomfortably tucked in.   The snow that we had was all quite solid and packed down, so it was hard to get a very big pile of snow created.

When I crawled in (feeling horribly horribly claustrophobic, Gwynn tried to follow me in.  That caused me to basically freak out, because... well... TOO SMALL A SPACE, you can't come in too!  HELP!
When I crawled in (feeling horribly horribly claustrophobic, Gwynn tried to follow me in. That caused me to basically freak out, because… well… TOO SMALL A SPACE, you can’t come in too! HELP!
Doodle is considerably braver than me... and Gwynn joined her comfortably and with a look of smug satisfaction
Doodle is considerably braver than me… and Gwynn joined her comfortably and with a look of smug satisfaction

The entire trip was a great learning experience, and a ton of fun – I’ll have a lot better idea of what to do next winter for some camping.  highres_215673252

Winter Camping

I love camping – any chance to go into the woods for a few days and disconnect is OK by me.  And yet, the few times I’ve been winter camping, it’s been in a yurt.  Not quite glamping (*shudders*), but going up for a weekend and staying in a yurt is the equivalent of renting a really tiny cabin with a separate cabin a 20 minute walk away that has the toilets.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s excellent – go up to Algonquin in the winter, stay in a yurt, spend your days playing in the snow, skiing, snowshoeing, building a snow fort, maybe sit in a chair on a frozen lake, extra chilly beer in your mitt-clad hand, watching the sunset.  Camp in the winter.  Whatever gets you out there, whatever extras you need to take, bundle up for the cold and go. 

we couldn't get a very clear shot of the canvas tent all lit up at night,  but it still turned out pretty fantastic
we couldn’t get a very clear shot of the canvas tent all lit up at night, but it still turned out pretty fantastic

And, when you are given the opportunity to spend a weekend learning wilderness survival skills in the winter… also go.  Just… bundle up wayyyy more.

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Doodle, Gwynn and I went up near Bracebridge near the beginning of March to participate in an Intro to Winter Camping and wilderness survival clinic organized through the Muttley Crew Meetup Group, a weekend at a private camp where the dogs could be off-leash at all times.

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Gwynn and one of the German Shepherds, Sabre, had a bit of a romance all weekend – Sabre would follow Gwynn pretty much anywhere, and I think he’d have followed him into our car at the end of the weekend if he could have.

Leaving the balmy +5C temperatures of the city, I was pretty sure I had seriously overpacked on gear for keeping warm.

Arriving in the -10C temperatures, in the woods near Bracebridge… I was glad I’d packed so many sleeping bags.

By the end of the evening, there were 7 people total, and 7 dogs.  Two very large german shepherds, a Bermese, an enormous labradoodle, a Great Dane, Gwynn, and one wee little white dog.  Gwynn looked like a small dog compared to all but the little one.

We lucked out, in finding ourselves with a group of dogs that all played nicely together.  No ganging up or bullying, all the roughhousing was very clearly being enjoyed by all parties, and all in all, the dogs were great.  It was like the most ideal version of a dog park visit, ever.

our great dane buddy needed a bit of extra help keeping warm, but she still had a great time out there.
our great dane buddy needed a bit of extra help keeping warm, but she still had a great time out there.

On to the winter camping and fun!  Before I start with that, though, I want to make something clear –  I am not a professional (in anything related to camping, winter, or survival), and I’m not writing a how to winter camp blog post.

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We packed my regular three-season tent and put a folded tarp underneath the tent.  According to one of the leaders from our trip, the winter camping tents are slightly better at releasing the humidity from sleeping, but aren’t really all that necessary for a few days of camping in the winter.

We packed three regular three season sleeping bags (not down… and not at all compactable… oldschool Coleman sleeping bags), and the heavy old down sleeping bag my mom kept of her father’s.  We layered one coleman bag underneath us (on top of sleeping mats)  and two on top, with the heavy down bag on top of all that.  Clearly, this method of keeping warm wouldn’t work if we weren’t camping within a five minute walk of our car, but for a drive-up and camp situation, it worked.  If I were to go on an interior trip in winter, I’d be buying or renting a good quality four-season bag that would compress down small and light.

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under this blanket was the great dane – the shepherds were shocked EVERY SINGLE TIME the blanket moved, unable to remember that she was under there.

We couldn’t get Gwynn under the blankets.  I think that’s very much dependent on the individual dog, whether they’re cold or not.  Gwynn in March is Gwynn pre-hair-cut, so, frankly, sleeping on our legs, outside of the warmth of sleeping bags, was probably the most comfortable temperature of sleep he’s had since January.  The Great Dane would burrow under blankets at night, and had a coat on during the day.

Our first night was not pleasant at all.  We didn’t bring all our sleeping bags in that night, and Gwynn’s curling up at the foot of our bags successfully pulled off most of the heavy-duty bag, making it hard to stay warm.

I find it just about impossible to sleep if my feet are cold.  Even with a fresh pair of wool socks (you want to change your socks every day and evening, even if you don’t change anything else – the socks compress down in your boots and absorbe humidity, so they’re less effective by the end of the day), wasn’t warming me up enough to get to sleep.  It went down to -16C, and I swear, I woke up every fifteen minutes.  Lesson 1: Even if you feel fine now, bring extra warm stuff down to your tent for bed anyways!  Next time I winter camp, I think I’ll layer a tarp on top of my tent right from the start, and not feel any qualms about extra extra sleeping bags.

One of the other women there gave us the wonderful gift of HotHands hand warmers on Saturday morning, though.  They were magical, and made a huge difference on our second night out. It went down to -20C, but we were able to get under the covers and spark some initial heat with hand-warmers between two layers of sock (they say not to have them directly against skin if you’re not paying attention to them), slept soundly and completely restfully through the night. Getting warm at the beginning of the night – even doing some jumping jacks and jogging on the spot before getting into the tent – is a good way of ensuring a warm and restful night sleeping outdoors.  If we’d had more nights sleeping there, we might also have had to worry about the condensation buildup in the sleeping bags (damp bag = less warm).

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Sit tight, and I’ll be back in a few days with tales of the wilderness survival side of our trip!

A Family History of Pets

 I don't think I've said it before - but seriously, get these details from your grandparents while they're still around - you'll regret it later if you don't.  labeled 'may, winter, 19', I have so many questions.  dogsled?  frankly, it looks like they're off to Narnia.
I don’t think I’ve said it before – but seriously, get these details from your grandparents while they’re still around – you’ll regret it later if you don’t. labeled ‘may, winter, 19’, I have so many questions. dogsled? frankly, it looks like they’re off to Narnia.

When my aunt was born, my dad’s parents had to get rid of their dog, Spot.  In my dad’s own words, the dog’s name was Spot, because… well… he had spots.  I suspect my grandfather was involved in the naming.  He was original like that.  My dad grew up in a small town that is nearly as small now as it was back then, and the dentist has a farm just on the outskirts, and lots of horses.  My aunt is so allergic to animals that, when visiting her parents’ home as an adult, if the wind blew in from that direction, she would have to stay inside with the windows shut, or risk her throat closing up.  One time, a plane was emergency landed for her, because the company ignored her when she said that there could absolutely be no animals in the cabin, and allowed someone to bring on their tiny dog in a carry on.

My dad was three the last time he’d had a pet.  He didn’t have another pet until he and my mum married.

Tomcat... before he got really into cat-fighting and shredded his ears.  First rule of cat fightclub... you run to grandpa when you get hurt... but you also don't talk about cat fightclub
Tomcat… before he got really into cat-fighting and shredded his ears. First rule of cat fightclub… you run to grandpa when you get hurt… but you also don’t talk about cat fightclub

My grandfather kept cats – stray farm cats who found their way to him, and who were willing to continue living their lives outdoors, visiting with my grandpa on the porch.  He couldn’t invite them in because my aunt would then no longer be able to visit.  Frankly, I’m not sure if most of them got more of a name than ‘cat’, or possibly ‘gray tabby’, ‘calico’, and ‘black cat’.  The one I remember best was, in yet another highly original choice by my grandfather, named Tom.  Short for Tomcat.  Another original.  I’m sure my uncle Tom appreciated the sharing of names.

The Clydesdales - or some of them anyways
The Clydesdales – or some of them anyways

My grandmother grew up on a farm, and was terrified of the Clydesdales her father used for farmwork, and equally terrified of the cows and their horns.    Those work horses are one of my dad’s few memories of his grandfather, and he agrees – to a small child, they were immense and immensely terrifying.  My grandmother grew up with chickens as well.  She doesn’t eat eggs, though she will use them in baking.  She grew up poor, and always said, “You don’t eat the chicken if it’s still laying eggs.  You eat a lot of eggs that way.”  When we took riding lessons near her house, she would stay as far from the horses as possible, despite their considerably more petite size.

One of the strangest old family headstones at the cemetery near where my dad grew up has a small photograph in it.  I wish I had a picture to share with you, but I’m only ever there for funerals, and frankly, that is not the time for photography.  The main thing you need to know is that everyone on that side of my family has a very distinctive look.  When in a room full of us, it’s very clear who is ‘us’ and who married into the family.  Pictures of my grandmother at 17 look like pictures of my aunts at 17, and probably would remind you a great deal of her mother, and grandmother at that age.  The men in the family are even more obviously the same.  So this photograph is of a man who looks like my dad.  Dead on, in fact.  It looks like my dad… if he were to grow out a full and magnificent handlebar mustache.  And, while I have never met this dearly departed distant relation, I think we’d understand each other just a little bit.  Set into his gravestone is a picture of him and his cockatoo.

a relative I suspect is on my grandmother's side of things... based on the basket of eggs. People don't dress nearly as dapper anymore while collecting eggs...how times have changed!
a relative I suspect is on my grandmother’s side of things… based on the basket of eggs. People don’t dress nearly as dapper anymore while collecting eggs…how times have changed!
my grandfather and the creatively named Spot
my grandfather and Bunkie
cat pictures - common even in 1945
cat pictures – common even in 1945

Stay tuned – next we look at my mom’s childhood!

Grab the Bull by the… No

I have a dehydrator.

I also have an asian food store near me.  They carry all sorts of the more unusual butcher shop selections.

Gwynn doesn’t get rawhide treats, because I’ve heard horror stories about how it can expand in their intestines or wrap them up or… well… things that end up with a dead or very sick dog.

This is going somewhere, I swear.

I give Gwynn bully sticks as treats instead.  Do you know what those are?  I’ll tell you what they are.  Bull wee-wee.  more commonly called “bull pizzle” *cue any men reading this blog crossing their legs.

Bull
you wanna do what? gosh, is that the time?  I have to… go… over there for… the grass?

Based on my scientific observation at the Calgary Stampede, bulls are veeeery well-endowed.  And disturbingly in control of the movement of said equipment.

Have you bought bully sticks lately?  It’s like $10 for an 8″ piece that’ll last Gwynn all of 10 minutes, including the three or four minutes he  runs around the house with it, cigar-like, crying and trying to find a place to hide it.  That’s a dollar a minute, right there.

A few months ago, I was in the asian food store, and, because I do often buy organ meat to dehydrate for dog treats, I was looking at the part of the butcher aisle that I like to call “things I won’t eat, but the dog might.”  So that’s what a bully stick looks like pre-drying and off the bull.  Huh.  They’re… long.  And difficult to cut.

I successfully dehydrated it, the dog enjoyed it, and I thought no more on the topic.

My mother, though.  She had found her mission.  Bully Sticks for the masses.  Or at the very least, the people at work who also had dogs.

Which is how she ended up trying to communicate Bull Penis across language barriers to a very embarassed and uncomprehending older chinese man working behind the butcher counter.  Surrounded by people who could understand her, but couldn’t, for the life of them, figure out why she would want such a thing.  She used gestures. 

She came home defeated, pizzle-less.

Fast forward to this week, and here is the conversation I had with my parents (M = mum, D = dad, L = me!)

M – I got bull pizzle at the grocery store today!

L – cool, I’ll cut it up tonight.

M – Lots!

L – did you buy out their whole stock?  What was their reaction to this?

M – the store clerk wouldn’t touch the packaging directly – she used a plastic bag to move them through, and typed the code in by hand.

D – I doubt most of the people who work there actually eat much of the weird stuff they sell.

L – I wonder what they must have thought, crazy white lady comes in and all she buys is a ton of bull pizzle.

M – I didn’t just buy that.  I also got blueberries.  On sale!

L – So they think we’re making Bull Pizzle and Blueberry Casserole to feed the masses?

D – nah, it’s too hard to cut up, Blueberry and Bull stirfry!

M – They wouldn’t think anything of it.  They sell it, it’s fine.

L – Yeah, but I bet they don’t often see a woman go through check out with 10 packages of bull penis and 10 packages of blueberries.

The lessons learned in this?  We need to start attaching spy cameras to my mother whenever she goes to the asian food store.  I want to see peoples’ expressions.  Also, my family is very weird.

Can anyone tell me what people do with bull pizzle if they’re not feeding it to their dogs?

Snow

My drive in to work today was terrible.  I mean, quadruple the length of time, three lanes down to two down to one down to what the hell is that guy doing, cars sliding into and out of my ‘lane’, holy cow gentle on the brakes, come-on-car-let’s-survive-this, gee I wish my windshield wipers were doing more than spreading the slush on my windshield, TERRIBLE.  At least I wasn’t stupid enough to get on the highway.

Toronto really doesn’t get much snow.  We’re in Canada, so you would think that we’d get a fair bit, but Lake-effects+location means that Toronto winters are grey, occasionally slushy, and gross.  So, despite the terribleness of my drive this morning, I am definitely not complaining.

We have snow.

The kind that drowns the city in soft white fluff, covers the mud, the dead grass and the neverending discarded Timmy’s cups.  It rounds the hard edges of buildings, makes every tree look like a confectioner’s dream, and muffles the noises of living.

When I was younger, I loved to bundle up in as many layers as possible to keep myself warm and sit in the snow.  Preferably the deep fluffy banks of it that let you sink in like a lazyboy sofa made specifically for me.

Now, with at least as many layers of warming clothing, I like to walk in it.  I love the crunch of snow under boot.  I love my morning walks when the snow is falling so heavily, the roads are untouched by tire tread, and the world is covered in a blanket of white.  Before people have had much chance to go out and shovel, layer the inevitable and hated coating of salt down, and start churning up dirt.

Gwynn likes to stick his whole head into piles of snow, shoving it in there as though the snow is the downy pile of fluffy white feathers it resembles.  On mornings like this, I can’t resist letting go.

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Gwynn treats snow like a reason to be on his best behaviour.  Any other morning, if I were to drop the leash in the neighbourhood, he’d be up on peoples’ porches, worming his way into their back yards, and generally causing a huge pain of himself.  With the snow thick on the sidewalk, he sticks close, dashing forward and back and rooting through the snow in search of smells.

Tonight, we’ll go out for an extra long walk through the snow-lit woods.  Even after dark, the snow glows, like it stores the sunlight for later use.

Magic.

The Runaround

Gwynn and I have been taking agility classes for the past few months.  Shocking, right?  I bet, based on my absenteeism in dog-post-land, you assumed I’d gotten rid of my furry buddy.  Considering how remiss I’ve been in posting at all, you could also make the judgement that I’ve also gone away.  Perhaps we both went ‘to the farm’.

We have been doing agility, though, and, if I do say so myself, we’ve been improving at it.  If any of you in the Toronto area are interested in doing some classes yourself, I highly recommend All About Dogs.  They also have doggy first aid classes, rally-o, disc-dog, flyball and other classes, which I’d bet are just as good as the agility.  They are all about training in steps, so that the final performance is how it should be.  They are also all about making sure the dogs are enjoying themselves.   Gwynn is in love with Renee.  She is a fluent speaker of Dog-ish, and can do amazing things when she takes one of the dogs in the class for a demo of an exercise.  I completely believe that the levels of training in dog agility are mostly for the owner.

Agility is a great way of continuing your dog’s obedience training in a fun way.  You might not be practicing anything very obviously command-like, but it’s in there.  I’m finding that our agility training is improving things so much outside of class for Gwynn and I.  He pays a lot more attention to me when he’s off-leash, his recall has improved drastically, and we are overall working better as a team.

I’m learning a lot about what my body language is telling Gwynn.  Very little of what I’m saying as we go through the course has any impact on what Gwynn is doing.  It’s my own fault in guiding him when, despite my enthusiastic shout of “Tunnel!”, he follows me along the outside of the tunnel.  In the same way, when I shout “Table” while directing him (properly)towards the tunnel, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he does the tunnel anyways.

Having a weekly class has also encouraged me to do more training at home (sorely lacking at times).  We’ve been working on our tricks as well, and Gwynn, I must say, is very enthusiastic in playing dead.  Not terribly good at acting… but definitely enthusiastic.  You’ve never seen someone fake-get-shot and fake-die with such a huge grin on his face until you’ve seen Gwynn do it.

My sister came with me to last week’s class, and videotaped some of our runs.  And then, with the magic of her Mac laptop, she fancied up her videos for your enjoyment.  I now have a Youtube channel.  Just understand that it might be under my email, but it was set up by my sister, who took the video, laughed most of her way through the filming of it, formatted the video and posted it on Youtube for me.  Pretty much the only thing I did was come up with an alternate name when it turned out the channel name “Gone for a Walk” was taken!

Check it out:

Polar Trex Dog Boot Review

In a recent post, I told you a little bit about how much of a pain the dog boots I first got Gwynn were.  I also explained why the weather in Toronto last winter was such a bizarre combination of abysmal (seriously, SO. MUCH. RAIN.), and lacking in severe weather conditions.  I got new boots… Gwynn got new boots… it’s a miracle winter came this year, frankly.

Ruffwear was nice enough to send me a set of their Polar Trex dog boot.  What most interested me about their boots was that they don’t use velcro.  The boot is held on with (and I quote, here) a Cam buckle ankle strap and cord loop closure system.  My hope for this was that, if snow did get into the system, it would still function.

winter evenings... not ideal for photography.  deep snow... not ideal for showing off boots.
winter evenings… not ideal for photography. deep snow… not ideal for showing off boots.

The next thing I noticed was that the rubber sole of the boot is by the same company that produced my toe shoes.  That isn’t what you’d call ‘pertinent’ information, but it is information.

I’m going to break it down into aspects of the whole boot experience, so bear with me.

Ordering:

If you’re not in the United States, trying them on in-store won’t be an option.  That being said, they go into great detail about the sizing online, and I chose the right size pair for Gwynn based on the measurements of his paws.  DO trace your dog’s foot and measure it – I think they quite purposely didn’t mark their sizing down as small, medium, large, etc – because your large dog might have medium sized feet.  Gwynn looks like a ballerina in his boots, his surprisingly dainty feet usually covered in a thick muppet-like coating of hair.  4/4 paws!

Donning and Fitting

The back ones are easy – he practically puts them on himself by trying to put his foot down.  The front ones require a bit more shimmying around, but with practice, it’s getting easier to do – basically, his wrist gets in the way.

They have some good tips, and a video talking about how to adjust the boot properly, which I found very helpful.  The strap needs to be pulled tighter than I did the first few times, but I’m getting better at it.

I am very happy with the buckle closure, and with the additional strap and loop closure at the top of the boot.  The only way I could think of to improve that would be to make it a plastic snapping-buckle with adjustable strap (like on many collars).  Then I could, mostly, keep each boot at the correct tightness for fore- and hind-legs.

I’m not entirely happy about the way the boots fit on his front legs – they come up over his Carpal Pad, which I think is a big part of why the front boots don’t stay on nearly as well as the back boots.  It doesn’t seem to make him uncomfortable, but it’s not ideal.  They should consider selling the boots with a shorter front-set.  If either of their other types of (non-winter) boots had the buckle closure, I’d consider getting two of those to use on his front legs, since they’re a lower boot.  Velcro+snow, however, generally means rummaging through snowbanks, trying to find that boot.  Based on some of the reviews on their site, I wonder if Gwynn might need a different size of boot for his front paws.

Gearing up and Fit – 2/4 paws!

The front boots had a tendency to work their way down, until they eventually flew off when he put on a burst of speed.
The front boots had a tendency to work their way down, until they eventually flew off when he put on a burst of speed.

Quality

The boots have held up quite well to a few months of off-and-on usage.  They don’t seem to be getting salt-damaged, and all the seams are solid.  After they’ve been out in fresh snow, they look just as good as when I took them out of the box.  It’s a wonderful thing.  Just based on the construction of these boots, I wouldn’t have any concerns with ordering other products from the Ruffwear website.  4/4 paws!

Wear

The first time I put them on him, I held in so much laughter that my stomach hurt for days.  Want to see a dog act like the ground is lava?  Yeah.

He got used to them within short order – just get the dog moving around outside, and they’ll tend to forget about the boots.  Both Ruffwear and I strongly recommend tightening the boot after you’ve been walking for a while.

Additionally, I’d suggest checking/tightening the strap every half hour or so, if your dog is off-leash and running around in the snow.  We had a beautiful snowfall last friday, and spent 2 hours out walking in the woods, with Gwynn off-leash and running like a madman.  By then, I’d had much more practice with getting the boots tight enough, and before letting him offleash at the park, I retightened them.  An hour later, he still had the boots on.  Downside – I didn’t check them and retighten at that point, and I spent the next 20 minutes trying to find a lost boot (soon followed by the other front boot) in the snow at dusk.  They stay on as well as I think is reasonable to expect – but all that running around does loosen the straps a bit, so tighten them on a regular basis.  While I wish I could just put his boots on at the beginning of a few hours of off-leash hike and forget about them, I think the only way that would happen is if his boots were part of a full-body snowsuit, or were attached to each other in a harness over his back.

On-leash, I didn’t bother tightening them at all, and could forget about them entirely.

Wearability – 3/4 paws

Price: 89.95 USD

The price seemed kind of steep, especally compared to the 40 I spent on the frankenboots (pre-modification).  The frankenboots were terrible quality, however, and the Polar Trex should last me quite a few years without any modification or repair.  You really do get what you pay for.  One nice feature of the product is that, if you do lose a boot, they sell individual replacements online.

Great for on-leash walking.  Good for off-leash, with a bit of vigilance.
Great for on-leash walking. Good for off-leash, with a bit of vigilance.

Overall:

+ great quality

+ helps a lot to keep our walks enjoyable with snow and salt

+ stays on perfectly while on-leash

– have to tighten straps regularly if the dog is running around loose

– The boots are too high to fit the front paw comfortably, based on my dog.

+ easy to order spares

– boots will fall off

– definitely requires practice putting them on.

Would I recommend them?  Depending on their purpose, yes.  On-leash, they’re wonderful – they’re sturdy, protect Gwynn from all the things that ruin our walks, and Gwynn doesn’t seem bothered by them at all.  They aren’t a perfect product, though, and I do have to spend a bit more time than I like counting red-feet when Gwynn is bounding through the snow.  If your dog spends a lot of time out of your sight when they’re off-leash, that could become a particularly big problem.

Gwynn and I are giving them a 70%.  Slightly less than 3 paws!

**The company gave me a pair of boots to review, but the opinions are my own, and not influenced by Ruffwear.**

Footloose

I got Gwynn in the fall, at 6 months.  My neighbour, longtime dog owner, asked me if I would be getting Gwynn some boots for the winter.

I scoffed.  I proudly informed her that I would never dress my dog up in silly and unnecessary people-clothes.  He’s a dog.  I’m letting his hair grow long to keep him warm in the winter, and mid-October he was already deep into his transformation to wooly mammoth.  Wooly mammoths don’t need boots or hats or coats or vests.

You know what else wooly mammoths are?  55 lbs of dog whose feet are being burnt and cut by the massive amount of road salt my neighbourhood is coated with in winter.  55lbs of dog is A LOT to carry home, having made it 4 blocks before he refused to budge.  And in winter, my hands were unimpressed at their new use as de-icer of dog-paws.

I also discovered that the fur between his toes, no matter how I trimmed it, still collected clumps of snow until his toes were splayed painfully and a wad of ice was applying pressure to his palm.  Yet another painfully-cold hand-melting of puppy paws on the side of the road.

I ate my words.

The boots I bought him that first year were useless.  Within days of first purchase, the straps were fraying.  If I’d left them as they were headed, the boots would have been strapless by the end of the month.  Velcro, by the way, does NOT hold up to being covered in snow.  Nor does it work to re-velcro once there’s snow in the tines.  The leather sole to the boot also started coming unwound within a few uses – yet another sewing project for me.  The damn things didn’t stay on at all well, either – they flew off no matter how well I’d snugged them on his feet.

Uninformed about other types of boots (unwilling to just refund/exchange the damaged boots every few weeks), I stuck with them, adding snaps, sewing repairs and turning them into frankenboots that still… really didn’t stay on adequately.  We ended up using hockey tape at the ankle every time we went out skiing.  We still played the 1-2-3-4 game, and I carried spare hockey tape in my pocket.

Last year, I contacted RuffWear and asked if they’d be interested in a review of their Polar Trex boot.  It looked like it already had a lot of the things I’d added to the frankenboots, without any handiwork on my part.  I’d read some good reviews of their other projects by You did What with your Weiner, so I had hopes that this product might also be good.  They were nice enough to send me a set.

It was fate – that (and my own purchase of new Sorels) would explain why Toronto’s winter last year consisted of a low of just about freezing, no snow, no de-icing salts and a whole heck of a lot of rain.

This year, however, do I got a tale to tell!  We had snow for a little while, we’ve had some bloody cold temperatures, and my neighbours are putting salt down like it holds the key to spring arriving on time.

Gwynn and I have finally had a chance to give these boots a thorough workout, and I’m ready to give you all my honest opinion of them.  I’ll be posting that this week, so stay tuned!

Foreign Dogs

No.  Not an insulting term for people of a different nationality than me.  Just to be clear, I mean Canines.  Canines in Foreign lands.  Frankly, I think it’s an improvement on my working title of “Mexican Dogs”.

I was lucky enough to spend a week this winter in beautiful Playa Del Carmen, Mexico.  Gwynn also spent a week at the beach – just one in more northern climes.  He visited a friend of ours at her cottage while we were gone, a week straight of snow-frolicking and wrestling with her two dogs, and picking up a few bad habits along the way.

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Dogless, I redirected my usual doggy time to observing everyone elses pooch.  I’m not sure why I was so surprised to see so many people walking their dogs down 5th street in the evening.  I know dogs aren’t limited to Canada, US and Europe.  I just tend to imagine them being far less pet, and far more work elsewhere.

I think most cultures have, to some extent, a sweet spot for our furry friends.  And the differences in their treatment of dogs is one of the things that stands out most to me about being in a strange country.

In France, dogs are permitted in restaurants and cafes, and generally most places. If someone had their dog very well trained – chances are, that dog wasn’t on-leash.  And I’m talking about Paris, not some very rural community where leash laws are kind of ignored.  Dogs there are welcomed into far more places than they are in Canada – but they also have higher expectations placed on them, in my opinion.  It’s very much a society of “You are welcome here, but you’d better behave yourself.”  Another big difference I noticed was in equipment – simply put, male dogs in France still have it.  A British woman I walk with on occasion was baffled at the North American predilection towards neutered males.  Her female dog is altered, but her male is fully equipped.

The downside I found when I was in France was an apparent lack of responsibility on the owners’ part for dealing with business.  You know… business.  Charming cobblestone streets, beautiful treelined paths – it’s PARIS, and P is definitely for Picturesque… but also for Poop.  Watch where you step.

A friend recently returned home from a two year contract teaching English in Vietnam.  She told me about how many street dogs and street cats there were.  We have wild cats – in fact, we have a wild cat problem in Toronto – but wild, roaming, dogs is outside my realm of experience.  She told me about how many of these animals found homes with the temporary immigrants who came for limited-time contracts in Vietnam.  While it is possible to bring your beloved Vietnamese pet home with you at the end of your time there, after vet bills and vaccines and all the hoops you have to jump through, it comes out to a very expensive second plane ticket home.  A common occurence there is for more newly-arrived friends to adopt departing friends’ animals, passing that creature on when it’s time for them to depart as well.  I’m frankly not sure if I could bear the idea of parting ways, but I find it sweet that people make such a point of finding their street-dog or street-cat a replacement caregiver before they leave.

I found Mexico to be a bit like Canada, and a bit like France, and a bit all its own.  All the male dogs I saw were fully equipped, and stores didn’t seem to have a problem with dogs coming into them with their owners.  The streets were spotless.  Maybe it’s because I was mostly in areas where lots of restauranteurs and shop owners were basically right out in the street, watching you , or maybe it’s simply that the dog owners of Mexico believe in not leaving a mess behind (after my own heart).  Whatever the reason, the streets I went down in Playa Del Carmen were cleaner than my own neighbourhood, when it came to dog business.  Possibly because most of the places I saw dogs in were quite busy, most people had their dogs on-leash.  Very different from Canada, nearly every dog I saw was a naturally short coated animal.  Makes sense, considering that, visiting in the middle of their winter, I experienced the warmest of Toronto’s summer conditions.

Afghan Hound With Short Hair
Even the Afghan hound I saw there had his hair cropped shorter than this, to deal with the heat

It’s when I travel that I wish Gwynn were more travel-sized.  I miss him immensely when I’m gone, and feel a bit of irrational jealousy of people just going about their usual day with their dogs at their sides.  I love it, though – seeing those commonalities between myself and the people whose country I’ve travelled to.  It really doesn’t matter where you go, you’ll always find someone out for a walk.

Plus ça change, plus c’est pareil.

Wordless Wednesday – Searching for Cats

Every picture I present to you has at least one cat in it.  Enjoy.

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Down side – Gwynn’s cat issues are still very much a work in progress.  Plus side – I am becoming a KILLER I-Spy player.