Dog Ownership Basics – 5 Cold Weather Pet Safety Tips

I've been thinking...Having a dog in your life is, in my opinion, one of the most rewarding relationships you can get into. Whether you are having a great day or a horrible one, your little furry buddy is there wagging his tail as soon as you glance in his direction and he asks for very little in return for his unconditional love and affection. I strongly believe that the decision to bring home a pet should not be taken lightly. It will require a lot of your time, money and attention; specially in the first several months. There will be obligatory vet visits, house breaking, obedience training as well as deciding on the type of diet to feed him, time for walks, time for burning energy, grooming and so much more. The best advice I can give you is to lay it all out on paper before you actually bring a dog home and then, once you feel confident in your plan, go for it; you will not regret it. One thing you should definitely consider in that plan is how you will take care of your pal during the harsh winter months. Dogs, just like human are very sensitive to extreme temperatures. Some are a little more adapted then others but that does not mean they should be left to fend for themselves in freezing or scorching conditions. Taking on the responsibility of owning a pet of any kind should mean you will provide them with the best possible food, water, shelter, care and attention but unfortunately, that is not always true and many animals pay the price for our negligence. Provided I have not totally scared you off yet, I'm here to offer a little help when it comes to owning a pet if you live in an area where it seems like half of the year is covered in snow. Here is my list of 5 Cold Weather Pet Safety Tips.

Tip number one is to know your pet's limits. Just like us, dog's love to play in the snow. Some breeds are better adapted to it than others and depending on the coat, fat stores, size and activity level of your dog, you should be able to determine when it is time for him to come back inside. Now, I know some of you think dog's do not belong in the house and you are entitled to your opinion but I believe it is my responsibility as a pet owner to provide him with the best possible shelter and that means he gets the same treatment I do...Inside the house. So look for the signs you would recognize in yourself; shivering, tucking paws, change in demeanor and do not leave him out in the cold any longer than you have to.

Tip number two Is to check their paws. One of the most exposed areas on your dog is his paws. In extreme cold weather or if you live in an area that uses road salt and other deicers it is imperative that you protect their paws and check them often for cracks or injuries. There are several options available to protect their paws and we find the best to be a good paw wax. It can be used as prevention as well as treatment and is very easy to make at home using some very simple ingredients.  A simple google search will give you hundreds of recipes.  As an alternative, you might prefer to use commercial dog boots but be careful, most of the low-cost options will only frustrate you as your canine friend kicks them off within the first two minutes.  Look for ones that have zippered fronts and velcro strap up top, they tend to have less stretch and are usually a lot harder to catapult into the abyss...

Tip number three is to dress him up. Ok, probably not the most popular one in the list, especially for us guys but if you want to extend the length of time your pooch can stay out in the cold; dress him up. Long haired or thick coated dogs such as malamutes don't necessarily need it but if your dog has really short hair like our boxer mix does, you need to dress him up to go outside. There as so many commercial options available now it's almost as bad as shopping for kids but that is not the point. Anything you can use to keep your dog's body heat from escaping too quickly would work. You could use old sweat shirts or, if you are handy with a sewing machine, design and create your own; there is no limit to make sure your buddy stays warm.

Tip number four is to wipe down. If you live in an area that uses road salt and other deicers, your dog's feet, legs and belly will pick up some of these chemicals that can potentially be harmful and even toxic to him. When you come back from a walk or an activity where he may have come in contact with these chemicals make sure to thoroughly wipe down these areas using a damp cloth. You will be avoiding expensive vet bills as well as keeping your sanity by eliminating all kinds of dirt and sand from your floors.

Finally, tip number five is to avoid ice. One of the most common pet injuries during winter times is broken nails or bones due to bad slips on ice. As I said before, dogs love to play in the snow and sometimes that means running over a patch of ice. If you can prevent them from doing that by carefully selecting the area where they can let loose and play then you will be one step closer to having a successful outing with your buddy.

Overall, pet safety comes down to one thing; caring. If you care for your animal you will do everything in your power to make sure he is safe and comfortable. I hope these 5 Cold Weather Safety Tips help you on your journey to pet ownership and invite you to leave a comment if you have any questions.

Thanks for Reading!

Achieving your Dreams 101: The lost art of Focus

I've been thinking; how does a thirty-eight year old man who has always been full of dreams ever get to achieve any of them? There are tons of books outlining a million different strategies on the subject I am sure but how do you know they will work for you? I am no expert on achieving my dreams but I have tried a lot of techniques and out of everything I have come across, there is one that keeps coming back in one form or another and it just so happens that it is the one that always make me feel like I can almost touch my dreams. It is the lost art of Focus; the ability to ignore all distractions getting thrown at you on a daily basis and zone in on what it is you want most in your life.

The problem most of us face is that we are really good at focusing for a few hours. Some even manage to keep it for a few days or weeks, but eventually, something urgent comes up and manages to send our dreams to the back of our mind. We usually tell ourselves: "I'll come back to it after I take care of this." or "Maybe it wasn't really for me, maybe this is what I should do?" It does not matter what the reason is, if you don't Focus on your dream and make it your number one priority on the daily, you will go through your life always wanting and never satisfied.

Focus is a skill. And like any other skill, it can be improved over time with practice and determination. Start with setting yourself a small goal that you can achieve in one day and focus on it until it is complete. That way you can experience a win and start to build some confidence in yourself. Keep building on that, gradually increasing the size of the goal and the amount of time for completion. Before you know it you will find yourself in a totally different place.

Simple right? Well, if it was that easy everybody would be at their peak. Unfortunately, our lives glitter with distractions. Beeps and buzzes, emergencies, promotions, accidents, weather, etc... All very valid reasons to lose our Focus and if we do nothing about it, any one of them could be the very reason our dreams are still only dreams. Thankfully, there is something to be done. No one should go through life reacting to every distraction that comes along and all that is required is to make a conscious decision to be proactive instead of reactive. If you accept the fact that distractions will come your way and plan accordingly, focusing on your dreams and prioritizing your time; you will soon become unstoppable.

Focus by definition, means having clear visual definition. It is imperative that you have a clear vision of where or what you want if you are ever going to be able to Focus on it. It is impossible for anyone to Focus on fog, but you would be hard pressed to find someone who could tell you at a moments notice what they want out of their lives. Having a clear visual definition implies that you know exactly what you want, how it smells, what it sounds like, what it tastes like and how much it costs. Write it down, draw it out, collect magazine clippings,  do your research, but more importantly; keep it in your face.  In today's world, distractions are everywhere so it just goes hand in hand that your dream should also be everywhere.  Specially with all the technology that is available.  If you can learn to harness that technology and make it work for you, you will come out ahead of the game.  Mobile apps like Pinterest make it easy and even "cool" to create vision boards. Others can help you connect with like-minded people; on or offline. It is important to remember however that these are tools and like any other tool, they are meant to be used in a certain way. Don't get lost in a never-ending spiral of YouTube videos or looking at pictures for 3 hours. Prioritize your time and allow yourself some time to build up your vision but don't get stuck in the vision building process.

All of these things are meant to help you get to your dreams.  They are tips that work but only if you are willing to put in the work.  Focus is one thing but it means noting if you do nothing.  It is simply a key that unlocks the power of action.  Take some time to clearly define what it is that you want, give  the lost art of Focus a chance and get to work.



Top 5 DIY Things to Get Your Car Ready for Winter

Top Five DIY Things to Get Your Car Ready for Winter

I've been thinking...Fall is upon us in full force and it brings along with it a host of things that need to be addressed with your car. In Canada, fall is a very short-lived season and it is the perfect time to get your ride ready for the harsh winter that is never too far behind. Here is my list of the top five DIY things to get your car ready for winter.

1. Get a good set of winter tires and rims.
2. While your wheels are off, check your brakes.
3. Get a good set of new wiper blades.
4. Change your engine oil and filter along with the air and cabin air filters.
5. Make sure all your fluids are topped-up and winter ready.

First on the list is to get yourself a good set of winter tires and rims. For the longest time I have fought this line of thought because I could not justify spending that amount of money to replace a perfectly good set of tires. The worst part about it is that I would use the craziest of excuses like, winter tires are noisy and harder on gas or I don't like the way they make my car look. The fact of the matter is that winter tires just make sense. They remain softer at lower temperatures which allows for better traction, improved steering control and reduced braking distances. Getting them mounted on a good set of rims just makes them easier to switch back and forth as the seasons change. It also allows you to save money in the long run as you can do this yourself instead of paying someone else to do it.  Now, before you go out there and hurt yourself, there are a few things worth noting. You will need a few tools to get this done and no this cannot happen with the tools you have to throw on your spare tire. You will need a good floor jack and safety stands as well as some basic hand tools.  Safety is super important here so don't rush through it. If you are not sure how to do this, please watch this video before you get started.


While you have the wheels off, it is the best time to get number two on our list done.  Checking your car's brakes can be a life saver, specially just before winter.  You want to make sure that your brake pads have enough life left to last you through the winter but more importantly, you want to check how they are performing.  A healthy brake system should have pads wearing evenly on both sides of the rotor (large metal disc) as well as  from top to bottom.  If you notice one is not as thick as the other or is super worn on one end and thick at the other, it is a sign that something is not right and you should bring your vehicle to a trusted mechanic for a brake system service.  


Coming in at number three on my list is to get yourself a solid set of new wiper blades.  Now is the best time to go out and get them because it will be a lot easier than doing this in the slushy snow after you've realized you need them.   There is nothing worse than getting on the road and turning on the wipers only to find out you can't see out of windshield anymore.  It is very dangerous and frankly irresponsible.



The fourth thing you should do before winter is to get your engine oil and filter changed along with the engine and cabin air filters.  Fall is a difficult time for your car's air filters, all the dust from pollen and falling leaves gets clogged up in there and your engine struggles to get air while your heater is having a hard time defrosting your windshield.  Getting all that done before winter ensures that your car is in it's best possible shape to handle whatever comes its way.

Finally, you want to make sure all your fluids are topped up and winter ready.  This means you want to check all fluid levels (refer back to your owner's manual to find the location).  You also want to make sure they are winter ready.  Most oils, like engine, transmission, brake and power steering are good,  you want to direct your attention to the other fluids which contain water such as your coolant and your windshield washer fluid.  This last one usually has a temperature rating on the bottle so just make sure you pay attention to what you are pouring in there.  The engine coolant however is a little different, you will need to test the strength using a coolant tester which will tell you level of freeze protection you can expect from your coolant.  Depending on the results, you might want to add pure antifreeze or water into your system.

With that, we have come to the end of my top five DIY things to get your car ready for winter.  I hope this article inspires you to get out there and get things done.  When we get on the winter's treacherous roads we can all breathe a little easier knowing our cars are at the peak of their game.

Thanks for reading!



Car Ownership Basics – Top 10 Things to Know Before You Hit the Road

I've been thinking...One of the most appealing characteristics of urban living has to be how everything is so accessible. It does however, create unhealthy habits of consumerism. So many people coast through their life having no clue of how the things they use on a daily basis work. Personally,  I have always been the curious type, taking things apart to see how they work and putting them back together is who I am to my core. Consequently, I have developed a passion for cars and lately, it seems to me that more and more people are driving around oblivious of their cars basic functions.   All around me I see people with no headlights on after dark or with their windshields full of condensation from the A/C.  My intention is that this be the start of a series on car ownership basics where I can share with you some of the knowledge I have accumulated over the years. 

When it comes to owning a car, your most important resource is your owner's manual. Everything you need to know about your car is hidden somewhere in there. The first thing you should do then, is to get familiar with it. You will find great information on how to program your radio, how to turn your lights on, where the power outlets are situated and you'll also learn how your A/C and heater work. But that's not it; in this amazing piece of literature, there is also everything you ever need to know about the proper maintenance of your vehicle, what the manufacturer suggests for oil change intervals and the correct tire size for your vehicle. I have always found it crazy how people will read the instruction manual to build a $300 BBQ but when it comes to their $40 000 car they just "wing it"

Having worked in the automotive industry for over 20 years now, I think it is safe for me to say that I have driven many different cars. I have a ton of experience with them but when I purchased my new car a few months ago, the first thing I did was to go through my owner's manual. My wife was mocking me about it but I can assure you that I found things in there I didn't know were possible with my car.  She has since stopped the teasing because I was able to show her how she can automatically tilt the passenger side mirror while parking in reverse.  A feature she uses regularly.    So don't wait until you are driving down the road at ninety kilometres an hour before you need to figure out how your wipers work. There are enough things that require your attention that  you don't need to do these things while driving. Take a few minutes and go through my list for the top ten things you should know about your car before hitting the road.  The answers to these questions can be found in your Owner's Manual and having this list will make it a lot easier for you to do so.

1. How do you adjust the driver's seat and seat-belt?
2. How do you adjust the side mirrors?
3. How do you adjust the steering wheel?
4. How do you turn the lights ON and OFF?
5. How do you turn the wipers ON and OFF?
6. How do you use the A/C and Heater controls?
7. How do you apply and release the emergency/parking brake?
8. How do you lock and unlock your doors?
9. How do you turn the hazard and turn signals ON and OFF?
10. How do you start your engine?

I recommend that you sit in your car as you familiarize yourself with these ten things. That way you can put into practice as you read and commit it to memory a lot better. Once you are comfortable with these things then you are ready to move on to the fun stuff; Driving! Do keep in mind however that driving is a privilege and not a right and if you don't obey the rules then that privilege can very easily be taken away. Just to be clear, I am not getting up on my soap box and condemning everyone as if I have no faults. I am merely speaking from very difficult experience. I learned this lesson the hard way and I hope to help you avoid this long and very expensive journey. There are too many people driving the roads today who believe they somehow own it and can do whatever they want on it. I assure you this is not the case, and sooner or later they will either get caught or hurt someone.

I hope I am not being too harsh but I feel like driving should be relaxing and enjoyable not make me want to pull my hair out. That being said, I realize people have places to go and that sometimes we are running a little late. That is no reason to be unsafe and pull crazy manoeuvres and put everybody else's life in danger. Too many times, I have seen people weaving in and out of traffic, burning through red lights, using turning lanes or the shoulder to get ahead.  It is dangerous and irresponsible. Take your time, get to know your car, leave a little earlier and respect the rules as well as the other drivers. That way, nobody gets hurt, your wallet is a little happier at the gas pump and the police doesn't have to chase you to give you a ticket or even worse, take away your driving privilege and even possibly your freedom.

As I said in the beginning of this post, I want to make this into a series of posts about car ownership basics where we can dive a little deeper into the subject.  So keep an eye out over the coming weeks for these and much more.

Thanks for reading!

7 No-Nonsense Tips for Saving Money

7 No-Nonsense Tips for Saving Money

I’ve been thinking...The idea of saving money is great but where do you start?  Most of us live our lives two weeks at a time,  and we usually run out of money before we run out of days to the next paycheck.  The reality is that the average Canadian household spends more than they make.  In fact, statistics Canada shows that in 2015, the average Canadian household income was $80940.00 while the average expenses sat around $82697.00.  No wonder more and more people are worried about their retirement.  I know that for us, this was unacceptable so we set out to look for a few no-nonsense ways for saving money.

Let me just start with a warning.  None of these money saving tips are considered sexy.  To be honest they will make some of you cringe in disdain but if you think about it, when is saving money ever fun or sexy?  In today’s society, it seems everything has to be bigger, better and faster and unfortunately,  saving money is at the very bottom of most people’s priority list.  We would rather go in debt then miss out on the new smartphone or that second car.  What if I told you that the main reason we buy all these things is so we can impress our friends or even worse, our neighbors who we usually don’t even know or like.  

To that point, the first and probably best money saving tip has to be:  Stop buying things to impress other people.  None of these people really care about what you wear or if you buy brand name foods at the grocery store.  All they care about is buying things to impress you!  This might seem like an over-simplification but I assure you it is the truth.  Saving money starts with buying things you actually need instead of buying for the sake of buying.  None of your neighbours will be there for you on your retirement day to give you a handout. You need to take care of yourself and your family so stop buying things to impress your neighbours.

With that in mind, saving money becomes a lot easier.  The second tip I would suggest is: Do you really need that second car?  One of the biggest status symbols in our society today is the cars we drive.  So many people are drowning in debt because they have to have those two cars in the driveway.  All I am saying is take a serious look at your situation and decide if you really need the second car.  If you do, then by all means keep it but do you really need those two?  Maybe you could get away with selling one and getting a used car instead.  Brand new cars are such a bad investment for the simple fact that they depreciate so much in the first year.  If you buy a slightly used car you can let someone else pay for the depreciation and still get all the benefits of driving a new car, like a factory warranty and peace of mind.

Third money saving tip:  Buy generic brand foods instead of the highly overpriced brand name foods.  This one usually gets a lot of push-back.  For some reason, we seem to think that buying brand name food is a sign that we “made it”.  Now, I know some of you are thinking that the brand name stuff tastes better and in some cases you might be right but, a large part of that has to do with advertising.  The reason you are paying so much more for these brand name foods is because they spend enormous amounts of time and money selling it to you. The generic food is just as good, if not better and you’re not paying for the company’s marketing budget.  Tessa and I had to have this discussion very early in our relationship.  She is an avid user of ketchup, she puts that stuff on everything but she would only want to buy the brand name stuff.  After a few years of trying, I finally convinced her to try the generic brands at half the price and low and behold, she liked it! Sometimes you just need to give it a chance.  Think past all the marketing and buy what you need not what conglomerates are stuffing into your shopping cart.

On the other hand, buying generic brands does not always translate into savings.  Tip number four is: When buying clothes, look for the best quality at the lowest price.  Personally, I hate shopping for clothes.  With that in mind, I always look for the highest wear per dollar as possible.  What I mean by that is, if I purchase a t-shirt, I will look for one that is high quality so I can wear it often but it also has to be at a great price.  A $10 shirt that I can only wear wear five times before it starts to look worn out costs me  $2 per wear but if I can find a $20 shirt and wear it forty times then it costs me $0.50 per wear.  That being said, it does not mean that I always buy new clothes.  More often than not I will buy very high quality second hand clothing from thrift shops.  A lot of the items I purchase usually still have the tags from the store attached so they have never been worn.

Tip number five would then have to be: Learn some basic skills to avoid paying someone else.  There are a few things in this world that should be left to the professionals.  Conversely, there are a lot of skills you can pick up either from friends or even YouTube that can end up saving you a ton of money.  Changing the oil in your car, basic car repairs, basic home appliance repairs, sewing, cooking, fixing cell phones and computers are all skills that can be learned fairly easily.  I taught myself to pick locks by watching YouTube videos and practising on locks I had laying around the house.  This one skill has probably saved me close to $1000 in locksmith fees since learning it.  The possibilities are endless if you can just put a little bit of time and effort into it.

In the sixth spot, I recommend that you: cut your paid T.V. service subscription.  “But what will we do for entertainment?”  Don’t worry about it.  Tessa and I have not had a paid T.V. service subscription in over ten years  now and believe me, you will find better ways to entertain yourself.  There are so many things you can occupy your time with and I guarantee you that all of them are better than getting your mind blasted by advertising for a few hours a night.  Our entertainment of choice is usually reading a good book.  We bundle up in our favourite chairs with a hot cup of coffee and actually feed our minds with great material that helps us grow instead of pushing us to buy more stuff we don’t need.  You should definitely try it out, it’s amazing what it does for your wallet, your thinking and your relationship.

Rounding up this list is tip number seven:  add up the little things.  We all know what they are, the twice daily coffee shop addiction, the fast food lunches, the impromptu gas bar treats and I am even going to go as far as calling out the tobacco, drug and alcohol addictions. All of these things are financial cancers, some actually give you cancer but that’s not the focus here.  The best financial piece of advice we ever received is to take one month out of the year and track all of our expenses on one sheet of paper.  It does not matter how big or small it is, if it is money out, it goes on the list.  This is where you identify spending trends that you can get a handle on or even get rid of all together.  The first time Tessa and I did this we found out that we were paying over $200 a year in bank fees.  With a little research, we found a bank that offers no fee checking accounts and switched all of our daily banking.  There are literally thousands of tiny expenses hiding in your daily habits and putting them down on paper over a month is the starting point to a growing savings account.

To sum it all up, saving money is not difficult but it won’t happen without sacrifice.  Our ancestors were able to accumulate wealth because they didn’t have so many things competing for their bottom dollar.  If a growing savings account is what you are looking for, give some serious thought to the tips we’ve just been through.  I assure you that if you do, you will be in a better position next year.  It is important to always be looking for new no-nonsense ways for saving money and  I am constantly looking into our finances to make sure I am not missing anything. That being said, if you have some tips you use in your finances, please don’t hesitate to drop it in the comments.

Thank you for reading!

Top Three Lifestyle Changes to Fund Your Dreams

I've been thinking...One of the biggest reasons we decided to get on this journey to self-sufficiency is so we don't have to depend on a particular system or another for our survival. Our current state of affairs is no longer acceptable to us and has been for a while now so instead of accepting the status quo we focus more on action and now make daily decisions that will eventually take us to the lifestyle we want. The first major hurdle for us, as for many other people, I am sure is how do you fund your dreams. How can we gather up the capital necessary to actually go out and purchase that piece of land so we can start living a cleaner, simpler life? Sure, we could go to the bank and borrow the funds but that would mean enslaving ourselves to said bank for the next ten or fifteen years and that is unacceptable to us. Tessa and I once again went back to our roots on this one and opted to embrace the lost art of saving! I know, it's not the sexiest idea in the world, specially in a society of instant gratification where people finance their fast-food. It is however, the soundest way of getting what you want in life. If you are still with me and not totally closed to the idea, keep reading. I will go through the top three changes we had to make to be able to keep paying our bills and yet put enough money away to achieve our goals.

Life has a way of getting in your way when you don't live it on purpose. There is nothing easier than to drift through your days with no particular direction. Every time you hit a snag you react, but soon you realise that these snags are getting harder and harder to handle and before you know it you are stuck in a corner with nowhere to go. The only way to avoid this is to have a plan; To that point, if you don't have one, you should definitely take a minute to figure out where you want your life to go because once you do, the rest suddenly becomes crystal clear. With your destination in mind, you can forecast all kinds of things; what will the cost be, how much time you will need to get there, how many rests will you need to take along the way... You get the idea.

For us, that destination is living a self-sufficient life on a fifty acre piece of land, in an unorganised township and with all the surface, lumber and mineral rights attached so that there is no way anyone could interfere with our vision. We would like to be in a position to purchase this land within the next two or three years so we can start to build our homestead and free ourselves from the chains of urban living. We want the house to be roughly eight-hundred square feet and be powered off-grid by solar and wind generation. Oh, and we want to do all that without getting into any debt. A tall order by many standards but like I said, when you have a destination, the path suddenly becomes a lot clearer.

We have to make a lot of adjustments to our current lifestyle if we ever want this vision to become reality. Here are the top three changes we made so far. To begin, we are taking home less than sixty thousand dollars a year combined. We have been able to make it so that our expenses account for roughly fifty percent of that so about thirty thousand a year. This means that, if we save the rest, we can pile up ninety thousand dollars over three years. Not bad right? The only issue is that if you don't have that destination in mind all the time, you will never save anywhere near that much. Without a goal to keep you on track, you will tell yourself; "It's alright to eat out, we'll make it up next week..." or "Sure, we can totally buy this t.v." The fact is, people don't like saving money for no reason so the number one change we made is: Have a clear and precise end goal and write it down.Additionally, we have to remind ourselves daily of that goal. Keep it in our faces so that we never forget why we are making all those sacrifices. Trust me when I say this, you will have moments of weakness but if you have a picture of your goal stuck to your front door, it will be a lot easier to stay home instead of going out to the movies.

The second change we had to make, is to set ourselves up with a strict buying limit of twenty dollars. This means that, anytime we want to buy anything that is not in our budget and is over twenty dollars we have to go home, discuss it and then sleep on the decision first. If we still feel like buying it in the morning then we go out and get it but most of the time, we will end up either not buying it at all or including it in the next budget in a way that does not affect our number one priority ; the homestead. Incidentally, this brings up the third change which is have a budget and stick to it. Before all this, we never had a budget. The simple mention of making one almost made me gag but I believe it is probably one of the biggest difference makers in our arsenal today. Knowing what comes in and out of your pocket is imperative if you are ever going to achieve any financial goal.

These three seemingly small changes will make all the difference in the world when it comes time to fund your dreams. Just to clarify, they are:

1. Have a goal, write it down in as much detail as possible and keep it in your face.
2. Set yourself a strict buying limit and never make a purchase without first sleeping on it.
3. Have a budget and stick to it.

I strongly believe in these three principles and I am willing to bet that if you decide to implement them into your life, you will start to see great things happen to your savings account. My wife and I are in this run together and hope we inspire you to get going. Life is too short to simply drift through it all. Set yourself a goal and give everything you have to achieve it, we will be at the finish line to cheer you on!

As always, Thank you for reading!


Safe and Fun DIY Dog Toys for the Frugal Pet Owner

Get your dog engaged

I've been thinking...One of the joys of having a pet is spending countless hours in playtime.  It is very important for your dog's mental health and behaviour to have at his disposal a great arsenal of safe, fun and challenging toys.  The problem, however, is that you can easily end up in a situation where you are spending more on play time than on meal time.  DIY Dog Toys are a homemade solution that will often hit two or even three birds with one stone.

dangerous dog toyThe first advantage of making your own dog toys is that you know exactly what your dog is chewing on and can have complete peace of mind that he won't hurt himself.  A lot of  manufacturers make sensory appealing dog toys that, if you are not careful, could end up severely injuring your pup.  The lack of regulation and an increasing level of consumerism allows these companies to get away with what I am starting to find out is a blatant disregard for our animal's health and well-being.  We were recently gifted a commercial dog toy for Kai.  Being a true toy lover, Kai immediately started tearing into it and within half an hour had the thing torn apart.  We are very careful about leaving Kai with commercial toys so we caught this one in the nick of time but if we weren't paying attention, he could have easily swallowed a three-inch piece of wire that I am sure would have seen us rush to the vet clinic.

Second, DIY Dog Toys are usually a great way to clean out your closet.  How? Easy, simply by using up homemade t-shirt braidsome old, unwanted clothes.  All you need to do is go through your closet or chest drawers, find some clothes that you don't particularly like anymore and cut them up into various size strands of material.  Different materials will give you  a multitude of options as to what type toy you can make.  I love making t-shirt braids that Kai can chew on and play tug-o-war with.  They are super easy to make and usually require one or two shirts per toy.  You can also make some great toys by putting an empty water bottle into an old sock.  The options are endless.  There are a ton of ideas online but we have found a great resource on Amazon that you can buy by clicking here.

Finally, because you are now making your own toys, you are not only saving money but you are also getting to know what kind of toy engages your pet more as his personality comes through in play time.  Any time where you can strengthen the bond you have with your pup is a good time and I truly feel that DIY Dog Toys enhance that experience.  You have a better connection with your animal because you took the time and effort to make his toy and you get to discover it together.  As usual, if you have any questions, please don't hesitate to send us a comment.  It will be our pleasure to guide you as you make your first dog toy.

Thanks for reading!

Home Canning; Why we do it and why you should start.

I've been thinking...If we are going to move out of the city to start a homestead, there will be a certain set of skills we will need to develop in order to adapt to this new lifestyle and Home Canning is probably one of the most important ones.

Growing up in northern Ontario meant you didn't always have access to the freshest produce but when you did manage to get your hands on some, you had to find a way to preserve it so your family could enjoy them during the harsh winter months. I still remember the taste of my grandmother's field strawberry jam and it brings back some of my fondest childhood memories. When I met my wife Tessa, I soon found out that traditions were very similar in her family as well. Her mother was the queen of canning; she canned everything from fruits and veggies to meats and soup starters but the best was her canned spaghetti sauce. Her basement was always packed full of mason jars and she constantly made extra food so she could can the left overs.

I believe our ancestors had a scarcity mentality, and that is why they were always prepared for the eventuality that fresh food is not always available. Urban living and consumerism have made it so we rely more on the grocery store than on our own ability to produce food. That's all fine as long as the system keeps working but what if stops. We have all felt the effects of extreme droughts on the west coast or hurricanes in the southern United States. What happens when minimum wage increases to a point where all of our basic services get inflated and become no longer affordable. Think about it.

In starting our journey to self-sufficient living, Tessa and I realized we were going to have to make some changes to our current lifestyle. Just as everyone else in the city, we often find ourselves forgoing meal planning for a quick stop at our local grocery store for dinner or worse ordering in some take-out. Don't get me wrong, it is super convenient and fun to do that, but when we do, we always go over budget and we don't really eat as healthy as we should. When we decide to move out of the city, that will not an option for us any longer. We took a step back to find solutions and quickly realized that we already had the perfect example to follow. We started asking questions, reading books and with a little trial and error found that home canning was not that difficult.

First of all, you don't need a lot of equipment. Canning jars are available everywhere. We were lucky because my mother-in-law's favorite gift was to give a few cases of canned spaghetti sauce or a few of canned pea soup. When we wanted to return the empty jars, she would always tell us to keep them; you never know when they will come in handy she said. Besides the jars, all you really need is an oven, a few pots and you are in business.

Second, anybody can do it. All you need is a little can-do attitude and you're all set. We started canning in our little 700 sq. ft. apartment. Slowly gaining some experience, trying out different methods and canning all kinds of things. We have made dill pickles, canned peaches, pickled carrots, spaghetti sauce and a lot more but the best part is that we have a ton of fun doing it together. If you have been on the fence about canning or are afraid to try it, the best advice we can give you is go for it. What's the worst that can happen really?

We have yet to find any disadvantages to home canning; in the long run it produce less garbage, currently we are supporting our local farmers because we don't yet have our own garden. We have good food to enjoy all year round and we know exactly what goes into it. Another benefit we found was that we started developing a community. Whether it's from gifts we give away or from talking with our local farmers, like-minded people tend to find each other and this is no exception, in our book, that is a win.

I am aware that not everyone is brought up as we were and that is why I think it is important for me to write this article. Tessa and I believe strongly in self-sufficient living and want to use our journey to help teach others about the benefits of this alternative lifestyle. The best resource we have is a book published by the Canadian company Bernardin called Guide to Home Preserving. It is available by clicking the link below or at your local store that sells home canning equipment. Pick up a copy, it covers all the basics to get you started, gives you a few recipes and explains the different canning methods. Get started today, I know you will enjoy the fruits of your labor, literally.

Bernardin Guide to Home Preserving Canning Kit

Finally, if you have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact us. It will be our pleasure to help you in any way we can.

Thank you for reading!

Dog Food…What are my options?

I’ve been thinkin’... It seems to me that the dog food aisle has been getting bigger and prettier over the last few years but the more I look, the more I see packages of the same old ingredients sporting a fresh new look. Marketing firms spend tons of money to make sure they have the right combination of colours and buzz words to get our attention. I know, I know. They have guidelines they have to adhere to; lest the Industry Canada police give them a slap on the wrist, but I feel as though there is something wrong with the system. Join me as I go through our thought process, what we found out and what we feel are the best dog food options for our pup. This is by no means a scientific study paper but I do hope that you find enough information here to guide you in whatever direction you may choose.As most people in this beautiful country, we fed our first dog with commercial dry dog food. Who can blame us really, we didn’t know any better and had been sold on the premise that dogs eat dog food. Over a span of fourteen years, Shrek, our golden retriever/black lab mix struggled with food allergies, stomach issues, indigestion issues, you name it. We tried the inexpensive food, the expensive food, the special diet and even the vet diet but there was always something awry. Shrek finally passed away in 2014 from what the emergency vet called a splenic tumor. His spleen had gotten very enlarged and could have ruptured at any moment. He was in a lot of pain and my wife and I had to make a very difficult decision. We never found out if it was cancerous because at that moment, we didn’t really see the point. However, in doing research before getting another dog we found some really interesting things. There are some recent studies that link cancer in dogs with the consumption of aflatoxins found in some improperly stored commercial dog foods. Aflatoxin is generated from mold contaminated grains such as corn, rice and wheat and from nuts and legumes. These ingredients, which often make up a majority of dry dog food develop mold from poor growing conditions and/or from being put in less than ideal storage for very long periods of time. This piece of information scared the hell out of us. Thoughts started running in our minds that we had inadvertently killed Shrek with the food we were feeding him. Now, I am aware that he was fourteen when he passed and that is a considerable age for a large dog but you have to understand that there was no other age related issues with him. He was still a very energetic, present minded dog. Nonetheless, it prompted our search for a better alternative.

Between my wife and I, we must have read hundreds of blog articles, government websites, books and magazine articles; all of which have different approaches and perspectives. What we did see however, is that there is mainly three lines of thought and all agree on one thing; dogs need a few things to thrive. They need water, protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. How much of each depends on breed, size, life stage and activity level. That being said, the first and most popular line of thought is obviously the commercial dog food. Whether it comes dry in a bag or wet in a can this is the food that is kind of regulated by Industry Canada and by the Pet Food Association of Canada (PFAC). This type of food does have some advantages, it is convenient, easily accessible and depending on the brand relatively inexpensive. On the other hand, it also has a few disadvantages which include very confusing labels, a never-ending assortment of brands and, depending on the brand, very expensive. If you decide to go with this option, I recommend you do some research. There are a ton of articles out there but one website I have found particularly helpful in understanding exactly what is in these commercial dog foods is, they have an article that was written by Veterinary Drs. Foster and Smith called Dog Food Labels: How to Read Them that is very clear and easy to understand.

The second and probably most controversial is the BARF (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food) diet. This basically entails feeding your dog raw meat and bones, eggs, fruits and veggies as well as some dairy such as yogurt. The premise is that before dogs were domesticated, they would have fed on theses types of foods and that is probably accurate. The potential problem with it however is that if you are not very careful with how and what you feed your pet, you could endanger his/her life as well as yours simply from bacteria in the raw meat. The fact is, your dog could probably thrive on a barf diet but you have to make sure the meat you buy is specifically sourced for that purpose. The meat you find at your local grocery store was meant to be cooked and could carry the type of bacteria that would hurt you and your pet. Something else to consider when you make your own dog food is nutritional balance. If all you give your dog is meaty bones, he will eventually have some very dangerous vitamin and mineral deficiencies so if you do decide to go this route, do your research. Find a breed appropriate diet or even better find a veterinary nutritionist to help you create a well-balanced, breed and life stage appropriate diet for your four-legged friend.

Finally, the third option and the one we chose to adopt for boxer/heeler mix Kai is home cooked dog food. To us, this option made most sense. It is relatively inexpensive, we know exactly what Kai is eating and he loves it! Again, as with the BARF diet, it is vitally important that we be mindful of nutritional balance so we have created a diet that includes all the daily recommended nutrients, vitamins and minerals. All of the meat is cooked so we don't have to worry about any bacteria and we also make it in batches that never last longer than a week. I have to admit, it does take some time and planning especially if you are planning on having your pal boarded but once you have a system in place it fits in nicely with you weekly meal prep. If this is the option that interests you, I believe you will be very pleased with the results. Kai is very happy, healthy energetic and has been growing normally. Our vet has been made aware of our choice when Kai was still a puppy of eight weeks and she has been following him closely to make sure he is in good health. When we tell people that we make our own dog food, the immediate reaction is usually, “Oh! You give him human food, he must be begging at your table all the time?” and honestly it was one of our concerns before we started as well. What we have found out though, is that because the food he eats is so nutritious, once he is done eating his meal he is done. Word to the wise here; because the home cooked food is very moist and not dried up and compacted, you will notice your pooch needs a lot more food. Kai is now nine months old, weighs about fifty-five pounds and he needs to eat roughly eight cups of food per day.  You may also notice that your dog doesn't need as much water, this is totally normal as he/she is now getting a lot of it from the food he/she eats.  Kai's diet includes meats such as chicken hearts and livers, chicken breast and thighs, stewing beef and extra lean ground beef. It also includes fruits and veggies, as well as dairy in the form of plain low-fat yogurt. We also throw in some cooked eggs, fish and powdered egg shells. If you do a bit of research, you will find tons of breed specific diets, my only advice is, find one or two recipes that you feel comfortable making and stick with them. If you try a new one every week, you run the risk of unbalancing his diet plus you will probably get discouraged very quickly. It doesn’t have to be complicated, the simpler the better you just have to keep at it and your dog will thank you for it.

Before I finish up, there is something I should mention. Dogs are omnivores which means they can eat pretty much anything right? Well, turns out there are a few things they cannot eat. Here is a list of things you should never feed your dog:

Alcoholic Beverages
Chocolate, Coffee, tea, other caffeine
Grapes and raisins
Macadamia Nuts
Onions and Garlic
Raw Eggs

For a more complete list visit and read the article titled Foods to avoid feeding your dog.

I truly hope that I was able to shed some light on this conundrum. People have domesticated dogs for thousands of years yet we have only seen commercial pet foods for the last hundred years or so. I truly believe that my dog is happier and healthier because of what he eats. If you are having any sort of digestive issues with your pet, I would recommend you try an alternative to commercial foods. There is something to be said for knowing exactly what your pets eat and being able to adjust one ingredient at a time if he develops any intolerance or allergies.

If you have had any similar experiences or are just embarking on the path of dog ownership, leave a comment or ask a question. We read them all and try to answer as quickly as possible.