Puppy Love

The latest, greatest doggy spas, artisanal treats and other goodies for the city’s pampered pooches

by jean grant
Photograph by Sarah Palmer

Striker at home in Toronto on May 21, 2023. (Sarah Palmer)

Tips From a
Show Dog Dad

Screenshot 2023-07-06 at 11.13.14 AM
Photograph by Sarah Palmer

Striker is a world-famous fluff ball who’s won over 100 American Best in Shows and was the runner-up at last year’s Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. The most successful Samoyed in history is now retired at age six and living in North Toronto—but he still knows a thing or two about being a pageant pup. We caught up with his co-owner, Marc Ralsky, to talk about the pleasures and perils of raising a show dog.

Striker at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in 2022

How did you come to be the owner of such a famous dog?

My wife, Correen, and I have been breeding and showing Siberian huskies for decades. About five years ago, we were at a show in Florida, and a Samoyed breeder named Judi Elford brought a young Striker. He beat everybody. No one could compete with her white “floofs.” I told her I’d love to work with her and show him together. We teamed up, and I became Striker’s co-owner. We showed him in Canada first, and then we brought him to the US.


There are a ton of cute dogs out there. What’s made Striker so successful?

It’s like being a Nadal or a Federer—it’s only once in a while that a dog has it all: he’s beautiful, he knows what he’s doing and he loves doing it. He has phenomenal structure and movement. And there’s something about his smile. People who know nothing about the dog show world will stop their cars and ask to take a picture of him. They just feel connected to him.


Tell us about the preparation to compete in a show like Westminster.

When Striker was showing, he would get brushed every day and bathed and brushed out every couple of days. Right before a show, he would get a full bath and grooming, which can take up to four hours. He takes Cosequin for his joints and vitamin E every day. He’s eaten Purina Pro Plan since he was a puppy—it gives him good poops, which is important. These days, he goes to our groomers, Le Chien Elegant, every two weeks for a shampoo, condition and blow dry. He uses blue shampoo as well, to keep his fur extra white. Most dogs hate getting their nails trimmed, but Striker hands over his paw like he’s at a salon.


What’s life like now that he’s retired?

Striker wakes up at 6 a.m. ready to go. He has breakfast, and then we go for an hour-long walk around the neighbourhood. He hangs out with me while I work from home (I’m a philanthropic consultant). Then we usually play in the backyard in the afternoon. He loves to jump in the car for Starbucks runs, and he sleeps in our bed at night—which is a big reason why I keep up with his grooming.


Any other indulgences?

At night, he has two Bulk Barn gummy bears. He also loves Milk-Bones and dehydrated sardines—he jumps up like a seal to catch them. We try not to give him too much human food, but he loves the crusts from our local pizza place.


Any tips for pet owners looking to tap in to that show dog star quality?

It’s not hard­—just bathe them, comb them and feed them good-quality food. Ask your vet about supplements. Dogs are like kids: if you make bath time a fun part of their routine, with toys and treats, they’ll love it. We’re really lucky: dogs enrich our lives and don’t expect much in return. They don’t care how you look or smell—all they want is to be around you, play and, most importantly, eat.

See Spot Run

Toronto has dozens of off-leash parks, big and small. Here, our dog-tested picks for the best of the bunch

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Cherry Beach

This east-end dog park has it all: a sandy beach, stunning sunsets, tree-lined paths and skyline views. In the summer months, the shoreline is packed with pups of all shapes and sizes cavorting in the sand and swimming for sticks. A fence encloses the non-lakeside border, and there’s plenty of on-site parking.

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High Park

This wooded oasis in the west end has eight and a half acres of off-leash areas and plenty of walking paths, making it a paradise for active dog owners—especially those who love to jog or cycle next to their furry companions. The paths are open to all, so owners will want to make sure that neighbourhood conservationists don’t catch  their dogs disturbing rare flora or fauna.

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Silver Birch, at the eastern end of the Beaches, is off-leash year round. But, from November to March, the entirety of Woodbine Beach is fenced off and handed over to the neighbourhood hounds, who are free to tear across the endless expanse of sand.

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This idyllic midtown ravine, at Sherwood Avenue and Mount Pleasant Road, has more than two kilometres of fenced off-leash trails where dogs can safely fetch and frolic. It’s a picturesque setting for owners too: there are hilly inclines, sturdy wooden stairs and the quaint Burke Brooke, which babbles alongside the paths.

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Downtown residents love this spacious wood-chipped enclosure, just east of Ontario Place off the Martin Goodman Trail, for its sailboat views and collection of old-growth trees. It’s totally fenced in, and it has a few picnic tables and colourful Muskoka chairs for when the dog needs a good run but you’d rather chill.


It’s almost too easy to spoil pets with chic accessories, stylish grooming products and fun food. Here are our favourites


Adventurous pups will love these protective goggles that shield their eyes from wind and debris, whether they’re riding in the sidecar of a motocycle or trekking through a muddy mountain trail.



These Wagwear boots are basically pup-approved Crocs and just as comfy, with plenty of ventilation, adjustable straps and a cushy sole that protects against scalding pavement.



A lifesaver on hot summer hikes, this bandana is made with water-retaining fabric and mesh layers that keep it cool for hours when wet.



This steel-and-birch-plywood bed is perfect for dogs who are picky about their sleep space—and owners who are picky about their decor.



If your dog craves more mental stimulation than Vanderpump Rules reruns on rainy days, try hiding some treats under the panels and watch as they use their problem-solving skills to unearth their snacks.



Because every dog needs something festive to wear while being presented with a special dog cake.



With a psychedelic sheen and a totally water-repellent finish, this raincoat will guarantee that your dog is the trendiest, driest pup at the park.


Puppy ice cream

When you add water and toss it in the freezer, this mixture turns into a creamy banana-flavoured ice cream that you may be tempted to try yourself.



This brush slowly dispenses shampoo to give your dog a thorough clean that hopefully doesn’t involve you changing into a swimsuit halfway through.


Kardashian- approved shampoo

Ouai has a serious celebrity following, and its gentle, toxin-free pet shampoo has the same delightful scent as the human version, with notes of orange, peony, jasmine and musk.


Cleansing spritz

When there’s no time (or willpower) for a full shower, this spritz from Kiehl’s is infused with chamomile flower extract to give your dog an instant refresh.


Dog-friendly wine

For when you really don’t feel like drinking alone, simply serve your pooch a cup of this wine, which is brewed with peppermint leaf, Alaskan salmon oil and rosemary extract—a combination that leaves most dogs extra-chill.



This feathery collaboration between British designer Christian Cowan (the guy responsible for some of Sam Smith’s recent over-the-top looks) and online boutique Maxbone is guaranteed to add some high-fashion flair to your pup’s next Instagram photo shoot.


car seat

This car seat won’t totally contain a rambunctious pup, but it will provide them with a cloud-like setting in which to take in the scenery (or, more likely, just pass out).



If citing Gwyneth Paltrow’s devotion to the stuff doesn’t do it for your pet, hopefully the fact it comes from their favourite treat will—because bone broth is a great way to add some extra collagen into your pup’s diet.


Glow-inducing dinner

This turkey meal is loaded with millennial-approved extras like coconut oil, blueberries and chia seeds designed to give your pet’s skin some extra TLC.

$28 for seven cups

meal plan

This Toronto company uses real, healthy ingredients to handmake balanced dog meals, with dishes like Italian Beef Pasta, Classic Pork Stew and Coconut Chicken. There’s a handy online quiz that will develop the ideal meal plan for your pet and deliver them to your door.

$11.99 a meal

Customized cake

This Toronto bakery whips up super-elaborate creations for owners who take dog birthdays very seriously. They’re filled with healthy ingredients like bananas, carrots, sweet potato and Greek yogurt.

From $49

Multi-use towel

This dedicated doggy towel is made from recycled materials, dries twice as fast as regular cotton and has convenient pockets that make it easier to wipe down dirty paws. Plus, it’ll look great at the beach or park.


Cooling mat

This mat is filled with a non-toxic gel that always stays colder than its surroundings, providing serious relief on sweltering summer days. You can even pop it in the fridge for an extra-chilly experience.



Who doesn’t dream of gliding down side streets with your faithful companion’s fur blowing in the wind behind you? This dog-sized bike basket has a padded seat and an attachable wire dome (sold separately) for safety.



When their everyday collar simply won’t cut it, this stainless steel chain-link option would look excellent at a wedding or black-tie function.



This odor- and stain-resistant lounge chair will blend in seamlessly with most minimalist design aesthetics—and make your pooch feel extremely sophisticated.


Colourful harness

This neon-hued harness was handmade in Toronto, and will make sure your dog is easily identifiable wherever they go.



Whether your pet is recovering from an injury or simply prefers to be wheeled around the city like an infant, this compact, foldable stroller will make sure they can accompany you on any aimless weekend stroll.



This toy will help make sure your dog doesn’t feel left out when you’re sipping Aperol Spritzes in the backyard all summer long.



The ultimate nighttime walk companion (aside from your dog, of course), this retractable leash can illuminate the path 10 feet ahead, and has four ambient handle colours to choose from.



This coordinated look—which includes a bow-tie, harness, leash and poop bag holder—will make sure your canine companion oozes understated class when out on the town.


Stylish sling

Made from plastic water bottles and recycled nylon, this eco-friendly sling can easily transport your pint-sized pet around the city—without infringing upon your sense of style.



This bold chapeau will help keep your pup’s head dry and make his rainy-day outfit extra-adorable.


Canine Comforts

Hair extensions, deep-tissue massages and mental wellness sessions—pet care has evolved in leaps and bounds. Here, five Toronto treatments that will leave your furry friend looking and feeling their very best


Dogfather and Co.

179 Avenue Rd., Toronto

For extra-indulgent pet parents who want to give their fur babies a glow-up, this Rosedale boutique and spa offers grooming add-ons like feather extensions and glittery decals. It’s not for every day (or every dog), but it’s a fun way to make a statement at the dog park. The bling is also easily removable, in case someone decides you’re cramping their style.

For nutrition advice:


661 Chrislea Rd., units 7–9, Vaughan

This holistic pet care centre in Vaughan provides daycare and grooming along with homeo­pathy and osteopathy. It also offers nutrition consultations for owners looking to improve their dog’s overall health. Each consultation involves a 60-­minute Zoom call, in which one of Woofur’s experts will assess your pup’s current diet and make recommendations for how to tailor it based on their age, breed and exercise habits.

For aromatherapy blowouts:

Dog World Resort and Spa

23 Camden St., Toronto

This all-in-one daycare, boutique and “spaw” for the Fashion District’s coddled canines specializes in some of the city’s most luxurious and relaxing treatments. It promises a stress-free environment for dogs of all shapes and sizes to lie back and inhale soothing scents while getting lathered, rinsed and blown-out—leaving with locks as smooth as J.Lo’s. The full grooming package adds extras like a nail trim and paw-pad shaving.

For therapeutic massages:

Flow Canine Wellness

227 Fern Ave., Toronto

Just like their owners, dogs can benefit from a deep-tissue kneading every now and then. Regular rub-downs can improve circulation and muscle tone, especially for older dogs. Flow founder Heather Johnston offers at-home-only canine massages for pets seeking relaxation, injury recovery or performance benefits—the latter of which are great for both avid squirrel-chasers and pups training for a competition.

For mobility work:

The Dog Joint

2567 St. Clair Ave. W., Toronto

If your dog’s spinal mobility isn’t what it used to be, a visit to certified animal chiropractors Taron Carruthers and Craig Landry can help nudge their joints back into alignment. Their adjustments are gentle yet effective, and they can help promote the function of the surrounding nerves, muscles and tissues.

This story appears in the July 2023 issue of Toronto Life magazineTo subscribe for just $39.99 a year, click here. To purchase single issues, click here.