Thursday, May 5, 2011

Very Much For Dog Enthusiasts Only, The Bark Is A Doglover's Dream!

The Good: Good photography, Interesting stories and articles
The Bad: Feels addy, Simplistic writing, Seems unnecessary.
The Basics: A magazine that celebrates dogs and dog culture, The Bark makes for a surprisingly average magazine, especially for those who are not hugely into dogs.

As those who read my reviews regularly know, I have recently taken in a dog. My wife came accessorized with a geriatric cocker spaniel named Mitzie who is one of the most lovable, happy and flirty dogs I have ever known. Despite being over sixteen years old and having a body riddled with cancers, Mitzie runs around, plays, rolls over, nudges me for treats and still manages to be completely housebroken. Because Mitzie is so cool, I have had more reason to explore pet products and learn more about dogs. As a result, I thought it would be a good idea for me to check out a few issues of The Bark magazine.

The Bark is, as its title suggests, a magazine that is very much geared toward dog enthusiasts. It is intended for those for whom dogs are an integral part of their lives, not the casual fans of dogs or those who simply live with a dog in the house. This magazine is intended for those who consider their dog an (if not the most) important part of their family. As such, this is a guide for where to take your dog, how to keep your dog healthy and every new product coming onto the market for dogs. And it is a generally satisfying magazine, though I would argue it would be just as good as a networking website.

The Bark is published every two months and while I read through several copies, I am using the July/August 2009 issue for my review. This was actually the issue that held my interest the most as it was preoccupied with both travel and literature. While literature about dogs has never truly captured my attention before, the writing in this issue was more engaging than in some of the others. As well, the travel section was informative and definitely useful. The Bark is a full-color glossy magazine just under a hundred pages long. It bears a stiflingly high cover price of $4.99, but as my wife (who worked at a pet store) points out frequently, people will pay a lot for their pets, even when they do not take care of themselves.

The Bark features regular columns and those tend to be worthwhile and offer the most enduring value for readers of the magazine. However, to get to those columns and the features, one has to wade through quite a bit. Most notably, one must wade through a whole ton of advertisements. While I tend to be concerned with how addy a magazine is, The Bark is pretty good at covering how slathered it is with print advertisements. In the ninety-six pages of the magazine, only eleven were actually full-page advertisements. It makes it hard to call the magazine ad-packed, until one considers that over twenty other pages have column or half-page advertisements. Virtually all of the ads are for dog food, dog snacks or products to house or outfit one's dog. Fortunately, The Bark does not seem to be following the annoying trend I have found in other magazines of late where advertisements are made up to look like articles. The Bark clearly defines its advertisements from the substance of the magazine.

Intermixed with the usual advertisements, The Bark features the usual credits, note from the editor of the magazine, and the increasingly common page with information about what may be found on The Bark's website. There are the pretty standard letters which tell of dog owners experimenting with what they read in prior issues and the three pages of that seems to be a bit much. Because this is not a dog book with generally static remedies for problems one might be having with their dog, the web information makes the most potent argument for the eventual end of the print version of The Bark. On the site, one has access to additional resources for travel and the ability to ask veterinarians questions on-line and that seems to be how The Bark would be even more useful in the future. As it is, it is a simply-written magazine on how to keep the dog in your life happy.

In this issue, this was followed by the master dog travel list. Five pages were featured with U.S. destinations for dog travel. California gets its own page (which makes some sense) and there are some useful tips, like avoiding Mono Lake because of the salinity (16). But largely, these pages were digests, brief notes on locations that have surprisingly little information on the locations. Instead, they are basically repetitive little paragraphs that dictate places to go, without saying why exactly they are so wonderful for your dog. In fact, because scenery is mentioned so frequently in them, the articles read much more like recommendations for places to drive your dog past! This travel section of the issue was redeemed after the first five pages by far more specific articles.

After the blurb sections, there are useful articles on how to keep dogs safe in the outdoors, a bunch of specific ranches where dogs are welcome and seem to have a good time and an article on how to deal with skunks who might spray your dog. As well, the dog culture comes out with ideas on how to organize your travel with trips to help make the world a better place for dogs (kind of like the peace corps for dogs) and interviews with hikers who take their dogs with them. The travel section closes with an article on making your dog camp ready and this is especially useful for dog owners who live in cities. The grail of this section has to be the information on dog safety in the outdoors and that column was written with even new dog owners in mind. The wording is simple and direct and it avoids much of the sentimentality of the rest of the magazine (which pretty much just gushes about how great dogs are)!

Then comes the news briefs, which were basically places dogs have been and photographs of dogs (the only thing of note I found in these few pages between the major feature and the regular columns was a green doghouse (green, in this context meaning environmentally friendly). The columns that are regular to The Bark are: "Working Dogs," "Products," "Networking," "Profile," "Behavior," "Wellness," "Training," "Vet Advice," "Reviews" and the "Endpiece." The columns are all written by staff writers at The Bark and focus on various elements of the culture surrounding dogs (from lauding them to merchandising to them) and they vary in terms of interest to a general reader. There is some redundancy in the magazine as well because so many pages have dog owners simply gushing about how much they love their canine companion.

The column on working dogs, for example, is much more interesting to those who are not part of the dogophilia lifestyle. This column profiles a dog and the job it holds down. In this issue, for example, the working dog profile is of a dog who uses its sense of smell to aid a pair of research scientists in finding orcas! The Profile, by contrast, is of a dog owner and her dog and is pretty much the same story every dog owner has (save this dog owner is a musician who tours). The Networking is exactly what is sounds like, with options to help dog owners find socialization for their dogs. Given Mitzie is in her twilight years, we're not exactly making new friends for her, so I'm not so wild about this section of the magazine.

What is more useful are the Wellness and Behavior columns. Those columns focus on how to keep your dog healthy and mentally healthy and focused. They provide useful ideas on getting (and keeping) a vet as well as proper discipline for your dog at various stages of the dog's life. These columns are consistently packed with current (and some timeless) information on dog health and discipline routines.

The issue I picked up for review had two feature stories and a whole dog literature section, none of which engaged me as much as I hoped. The features were on bonding with your dog and another on high priced dog food. The first article boiled down to "spend time with your dog!" which seems like something anyone predisposed to buying this magazine would be doing anyway. The other article was similarly unuseful to me as I'm pretty poor and will not be buying my dog better food than my partner and I have. As for the literature section, it varied between exposes on famous dogs and dog owners, short stories and even an old Mark Twain piece. None of them leapt out at me, but truth be told, I am not the target market.

The magazine ends with a dog-related comic and overall, it is a good, easy read, but not one I am likely to go out of my way for in the future. Dog owners with lots of time to read and the desire to immerse themselves in dog culture, though, are likely to find it much more valuable.

For other magazine reviews, please visit my takes on:
Comic Values Annual
National Wildlife
American Photo


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© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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