Cat Training

What's that you say? You say you can't train cats? Well, obviously, you haven't met my cats.

I started training cats back when I had my first cat. I was probably eight or nine. I had a black cat named Matilda. I found my mom's dog training book, and taught Matilda how to sit using the method described in the book for teaching dogs. She did it every time I asked her, but I never tried to teach her anything else.

When we got Tin Tin, I decided I'd train him to do stuff as well. Tin Tin will sit and stay on command. I haven't had any luck getting him to lay down. But, he's a very smart cat. He knows that water comes out of the facet in the tub, and he knows that to turn it on involves more than just tapping it. So, if he's in the tub and one of his humans is near enough and he wants a drink, he'll tap the human's hand and then tap the facet, as if saying, "You put your hand on that and make it come on. Thank you." Because he is so smart, there are things he has picked up on without being taught.

Shadow, though, as sweet as she is, wasn't blessed with Tin Tin's cognitive skills. She's figured out that if a person is sitting and they pat their leg, she's supposed to get on their lap. I can't get her to sit or do anything else. She is, however, an excellent hunter and keeps our mouse population very, very low.

I'm still teaching Delilah. I've taught her to sit and stay. She's better at sitting than Tin Tin, but he's better at staying. I've also taught her "up" and "down". I'm planning on teaching her other tricks too, but that's all she knows right now.

How do I do it? Mostly the same way I train my dogs--with positive reinforcement. But, since cats aren't as eager to please their humans as dogs are, it takes a bit more work and it works better if you can teach them to do something they already do. I teach "sit" exactly the same for dogs and cats, but other things, like "stay", have to be taught when the cat is already doing it, at least initially. When I taught Delilah "up" and "down", I took a treat and she followed the treat. Now, I can get her to do it without a treat. The "down" command works very well when she gets up on something I don't want her on.

Sprouts

I started some sprouts yesterday. I hadn't planned on trying to get Digby to eat any until tomorrow. But, while I was rinsing them this morning, Digby was in his cage chirping his let-me-out-of-my-cage-chirp. So I got him out and put him on the perch while I was in the kitchen.

Just for fun, I decided to go ahead and try to get him to eat them. I put Digby on my shoulder and took a bite of the sprouts, then put a few pieces beside him. He ignored them. So, I put him back on his perch and got some cereal for myself. I started eating my cereal and put a few sprouts on his perch. While I was eating, he ate the sprouts! He didn't care much for the lentils (mostly because he kept dropping them) or the mung beans (too big), but he ate all of the quinoa and millet I gave him.

I have totally found the secret to getting Digby to eat other stuff. :)

I WIN!

I win, Digby loses. Well, really, Digby's health wins too.

I got the silly bird to eat lettuce. Since he ate the pizza the other night when I was eating it, I decided to try that with other foods. It took him a few minutes of watching me eat the lettuce. I would take a bite and offer it to him. Finally, he started nibbling on a piece. I realised it would be easier for him to eat smaller pieces, so I tore a few leafs up and he happily ate them.

Hey, this stuff is actually pretty good!

Since I now know how to get him to eat things he refuses, I'm hoping I'll be able to introduce him to a lot of other foods, and maybe even pellets.

Whom the Angels Named Lenore

My new lovebird's name is Lenore, and, as I said last night, she has already won me over.

She is very outgoing, already wanting me to let her out of the cage. She's presently sitting at the perch beside the cage door chirping at me. If I were to walk over to the cage, she'd get on the door, trying to get my attention.

On the way home yesterday, we stopped to see a friend, so I had a chance to take Lenore out of her travel cage for a little bit. She was perfectly happy to come out and meet people. She discovered that she rather likes my long hair and will bite it or hide in it.

She is very playful and curious. She will lay on her back on the floor of her cage while playing with her toys. It's so funny.

The only thing I don't like that she does is biting or, rather, nibbling. She doesn't bite down hard, but she bites EVERYTHING. I think it's partly her age, partly her personality, and partly the fact that she is a lovebird. I knew about this before getting her, as the breeder had told me. Because I have previous experience with birds and already have a lovie, she felt confident that I could handle it, and I can. I know how to deal with bitey animals (I have one biting me right now--Delilah).

Oh, and if you're wondering about the title of this post, it comes from one of my favourite Edgar Allen Poe poems, "The Raven". I named Lenore after this, and, in a way, a Beatles song. You see, Digby rhymes with Rigby, as in Eleanor Rigby, and Lenore rhymes with Eleanor, so I have Lenore and Digby instead of Eleanor and Rigby.

Home

We just got home about a half hour ago. I'm exhausted, so this will be a brief post.

She (or he) is about eleven weeks old. I've had her (I'm calling the bird a female until I get the results from the DNA test; the breeder is pretty sure this is a female based on behaviour) for less than 24 hours and she has already won me over. I'll share more tomorrow, but, for now, have a few pictures. These are the pictures the breeder sent me before I got her. (The breeder is Laurel Manley of Thunderbirds USA.)



In Atlanta

We are currently in Atlanta, Georgia. We're down here to pick up my new lovebird. I'll get her tomorrow morning.

Today, though, we went to the Georgia Aquarium. I've been dying to go there for months, ever since I found out they had whale sharks back in February or March. Last month, I also found out they had manta rays. So, we decided to go there today since we were coming to Atlanta anyway.

The aquarium was awesome, and blows the socks off of the Florida Aquarium in Tampa. It's better, too, than the Newport Aquarium, the closest aquarium to my house.

The Georgia Aquarium has the largest indoor aquarium. It is over 6.3 MILLION gallons of water. That's just ONE tank. This is the exhibit that houses the whale sharks (they have four), the manta rays (they have four of those, too), and literally thousands of other fish. They also had an amazing reef tank, with many corals like the ones we have in our tanks at home, only much, much bigger.

A Manta ray from below
An adorable otter

Weedy sea dragon


A Manta ray swimming with a scuba diver

I stupidly left my camera at home, so all the pictures I took were with my phone. We'll be going back because my dad didn't get to come with us, and I want to scuba dive with the sharks and rays. I got my certification in October and I want to use it!

(In case you didn't already notice, you can click on all the pictures to see a bigger version.)

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas, everybody!

We had so many people at our house today. Four of my older siblings, two of their spouses, and seven of my nieces and nephews all came over today to celebrate Christmas. We had Christmas dinner and opened presents. The kids were all very excited and, despite dinner being delayed a couple hours, everything went smoothly.

As far as presents go, I didn't get very many things because I got one big present: a new bird! I'm getting her next week and I'll post pictures as soon as I get her.

I am so exhausted. I stayed up until 2 AM last night/this morning wrapping presents. I could go to bed right now, before 9:00 PM, and sleep until morning.

Digby just ate...

PIZZA!!!!

Not that I condone birds eating pizza.

We were eating some late night pizza after having spent the day Christmas shopping. I had Digby out and was allowing him to sit on my shoulder while I ate because I haven't been able to get him out very much the past couple days. So, while I'm sitting there eating my pizza with Digby sitting on my shoulder, I decided to try something. I start saying stuff like "Yum" and "Mmmm". Digby keeps getting closer and closer, so I held the pizza towards him a little just to see what he would do.

And he reached over and took a nibble from my pizza! I let him do it a couple more times before I tore off a piece of the crust for him, which he happily ate.

I really don't want him eating pizza, but I am thrilled that he finally ate something other than seed!

Digby's Improvements

Digby has come a long way since I've brought him home. When I first got him, he was shy and very cautious. I could towel him and get him out of his cage after the first couple weeks. I really didn't like doing that. At first, I would carry him in the towel to his t-perch, and we would spend about ten or fifteen minutes getting him to step up from the perch to the towel draped over my arm. He picked up on the "step up" command quickly, but was very careful about it and would only step from the perch to the towel and back again. He would only sit on the perch and watch us if we just let him be.

Now, though, he is becoming quite outgoing and is finally accepting us as his flock, especially my mom and me. He will gladly sit on my arm or, if I let him, my shoulder. If we are sitting at the kitchen table, he'll jump down from his t-perch to the table and will wander around, sometimes coming to sit on me. Now when I take him out of his cage, I still have to use a towel to get him out, but he will step onto the towel while I take him out of the cage rather than me toweling him. If his cage were big enough for me to put my arm in, I wouldn't even need to do that.

He has also discovered the joys of the iPad through the power of lovebird filled YouTube videos (this is his favourite). If one of us is using an iPad and he is out, he will walk right to the iPad to look for his birdie friends. He also likes to watch Snowball the cockatoo videos and the "Whip My Hair" bird video. He's also learning to appreciate music. He likes Snow Patrol and Train. He really hates "Time" by Pink Floyd. He also likes "Single Ladies" by Beyonce (and it will end up being in my head for days after I let him listen to it).

He knows who his people are--primarily me, as well as my mom. He's still learning to trust my dad. He is okay with my little brother too, but doesn't listen to him as well as he does my mom or me. Tonight, my niece wanted to hold him, so I let her, but he kept jumping back to me.

Despite these things, he still has a long way to go. I cannot hold him on my arm if I have short sleeves on, and I can't hold him on my hand. If I try to do either of those, he bites me. I'm sure with some more time, he'll get better about these things.

Digby

The semester at school is over and I've been home for a week. Being home has allowed me to work with Digby more than I have been since I got him back in October. He has made tremendous improvement since then. I'll share those improvements, but, first, I want to tell a little bit of his history (and my bird history, and so this will be fairly long).

A little over two years ago, I was working at a pet store, taking care of the fish, reptiles, small animals, and birds. We would frequently get handfed conures. Most of the time, they weren't very nice. But, there was one we got that was nice. It liked to be handled, and would happily come out of its cage and play with us. I really liked that bird.

We had had birds in the past, a couple parakeets and a cockatiel, but the nicest one we had was a parakeet years ago. I was not very old when we had him, and only in elementary school when he died. He was an awesome bird. He would whistle the Super Mario Brothers theme song and said a few words. But, being as young as I was, I didn't really appreciate him the way I appreciate birds now. That conure at the pet store changed that. I decided I wanted a bird.

I knew the conure was out of the question as he was far too expensive. I started researching, and found out that cockatiels were good birds for pets. We once had a cockatiel. That bird was awful! He squawked all the time and would bite. We didn't have him very long. Because of his behaviour, I was hesitant to get a cockatiel, but decided to check out the handfed ones. I found one I absolutely loved. She was a sweet as could be. I couldn't decide on a name for her, and so her name became Noey (as in No Name). I loved this bird. She, sadly, got sick while we were out of town for New Year's Eve last year. By the time we got back, it was too late, and she died while I was on the phone with the vet.

This is where Digby comes in.

I really, really missed Noey. I had a bird shaped hole in my heart. My dad had given me the go-ahead to get another bird, but I didn't find one I liked until October. My mom had gone to a different pet store than usual to get cat food, and saw an adorable blue masked lovebird. She asked somebody working a few questions about the bird. The manager told her that he was supposedly handfed, but the first thing the bird did upon arrival at the store was bite him, and the bird acted skittish and fearful, and so the manager had doubts about whether or not the bird was handfed. (Remember something--I worked at a pet store for over a year and I know a few things. If a complete stranger pulls a bird out of a dark box and into a bright room after it has spent hours in the box, even the most tame bird will be scared. Chances are it will bite you. Knowing this, this little bird didn't have me worried.)

My mom told me about this bird and that weekend I made an excuse to go to that pet store (Oh, look, we'll be driving by there on the way to my sister's house. We should stop and get...um...crickets for Maxwell.). Mom knew the real reason for the stop. I walked straight over to the birds and there he was. So cute, and not really all that skittish. He didn't shy away from us approaching him. He watched us and cocked his head when we spoke to him. The manager came over to talk to us, and I asked him a few questions about the bird. Then the manager said, "I'll let you have him for $20 less if you take him today." The bird had been there for months and the manager was ready to get rid of him. So we bought him. (Yes, I know getting a bird from a pet store isn't ideal, but there are practically ZERO bird breeders nearby.)

I brought him home and let him get adjusted to life here before I started working with him. Almost immediately, I could tell that, yes, this bird was used to people and probably was indeed handfed, but he had forgotten that he liked people. If I got too close, he wanted to bite me, and I could only handle him with a towel over my hand.

Digby
He has since gotten a lot better. I'll share those improvements tomorrow (or later today). I've got to get to bed and this post is long enough.

Changing a Bird's Food

I have a seed junkie. I cannot get him to convert to pellets.

With my last bird, a sweet, sweet cockatiel, I had no trouble. She'd eat anything I offered her. She'd even eat things I didn't offer her, and would try to steal food from my plate. When I first learned an all seed diet was bad, I found a brand of pellets available locally, Zupreem. She was a little reluctant at first and would eat all her seeds and then wait for more. But, the first time I gave her all pellets, she ate them willingly. I was able to add a small amount of seeds back in, and she would eat the seeds, the pellets, and whatever greens the guinea pigs were having that day.

But Digby, my lovebird, will not eat anything but seeds. He will eat his seed mix and he will eat millet. He will ignore anything else I give him. I've tried different methods to try to get him to eat pellets. I first tried just mixing the seeds and the pellets together. He picks out the seeds and then wants more. I've taken away all his food at night, then in the morning, give him only pellets. He won't eat them, and by afternoon, I've given up for the day and put some seed in with the pellets.

And it's not just pellets. I've tried to get him to eat greens, I've tried to get him to eat sprouts, I've tried to get him to eat Nutri-berries. I even offered him some cooked macaroni the other day. He bit it, and I thought he was going to eat it, but no, he would not eat it.

Today, I thought I'd try taking a familiar food and changing it just a little. I took a millet spray and boiled it. He started to take it from me, but as soon as he realised it was different, he refused it. I also boiled some quinoa and some lentils. I tricked him into getting a piece of quinoa, but he spat it out as soon as he realised it wasn't millet. He wouldn't even touch the lentils.

I'm getting quite frustrated by this. I found a method on the Roudybush website that I haven't used. It seems a little harsh, but I'm getting tempted to try it. This is from the Roudybush website:
2) Controlled. This method may be used with a very finicky, difficult to switch bird that is starting out at a good weight. It is generally the quickest, easiest method for switching most birds. Do not use this method on a thin bird, sick bird, or a bird you cannot monitor. Remove the old food and replace it with Roudybush. Clean the cage at the time of the switch and line it with paper. Do not use corncob or other litter because you won't be able to monitor the droppings well. Watch your bird's droppings or weigh your bird daily. When a bird isn't eating, the droppings will be very small and the green part will be very dark green, almost black. Or you may see a lot of urine (liquid) but almost no green part, which means your bird is filling up on water and not eating much. Give nothing but Roudybush for two full days for small species or three days for larger species. If at the end of this period your bird's droppings indicate it isn't eating, put your bird back on its old diet for 7 days, and then repeat the switching process. Most birds will convert the first time, and those that won't switch the first time usually switch the second time. If you can weigh your bird, keep your bird on Roudybush unless it loses more than 3% of its body weight. At that point, put your bird back on its old diet for one week then repeat the switch process, weighing your bird at the start of the switch. Disappearance of food from the dish is not a realiable way of determining if your bird is eating. Most birds will spill the new food out of the dish, looking for familiar foods.
(http://www.roudybush.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=birdbrain.foodswitch)
I don't know if I should try this. I'm tempted to, but I just don't like the idea of him not eating.

The Other Animals

I'll put all the other animals all in one post.

First up are the guinea pigs. I have two guinea pigs, both girls. Their names are Sadie and Prudence. They are named after a couple of Beatles songs.


Sadie is on the left, Prudence on the right.
(On the far right is Camo, who died earlier this year.)


Next is my bearded dragon, Maxwell. He, too, is named after a Beatles song.

Maxwell


Then there are my turtles, Lucy, Jude, and Rocky. Yes, all three of them are named after Beatles songs as well. (OK, I'll make a confession. I am a big Beatles fan. Ellie is named after a Beatles song AND a Rolling Stones song. Her full name is Eleanor Tuesday, after Eleanor Rigby and Ruby Tuesday.) Lucy and Jude are African sideneck turtles. These two are the two most awesome turtles I have ever known. Rocky is a yellow bellied slider.

Jude, in the front, and Lucy, in the back

(I currently don't have a picture of Rocky)

I also have a bird, Digby. He is a blue masked lovebird. He is still learning to trust me, but he is getting better everyday. Today, he even stepped up onto my hand (which was inside a towel) from inside his cage.
Digby

Finally, there is my horse, Brush. He is a thirteen-year-old ex-racehorse Thoroughbred, born and bred here in the Bluegrass State. He still sometimes acts like a racehorse. I'm (slowly) training it out of him. He is usually a good boy though.

Brush
(I cheated. He isn't really that dark and shiny. I had just hosed him off. He is very dark though.)

The Dogs

We have five dogs.

Our oldest dog is my dog, Bella. She is a six-year-old German Shepherd Dog. She is a good dog and I love her to bits. She is very goofy and quite klutzy.


Bella destroying a toy.

Our second oldest dog is Ellie, one of my mom's dogs. She is a three-year-old cockapoo. She, too, is a very good dog (probably better behaved than Bella, but don't tell her that). She is very good, but scared of almost everything.


Ellie

Next is Jax, my dad's dog. He is a German Shepherd.

(Oops...I don't have a picture of Jax. He looks a lot like Bella.)

Then there is Ricky, my little brother's Chihuahua.


Ricky as a puppy.

Finally, there is my mom's miniature schnauzer, Maggie. Maggie is crazy, and very active. She's also very smart. I plan to do agility with her when she is old enough.


Maggie

(I know I didn't write very much about the dogs. They are dogs. Their personalities are too complex to explain in one blog post. Also, I simply don't feel like writing a whole bunch right now.)

The Cats

I'll start by sharing my cats, mostly because one of them happens to be sleeping beside me right now.

Our oldest cat is Tin Tin. We got Tin Tin at a yard sale. We were at a yard sale and had found a couple things we were buying. While paying, I saw this cute little kitten walking down the driveway. I commented on how cute it was, and the guy said, "You can have her if you want her. There are a couple more if you'd like to look at them." My little brother and I had been trying to convince my mom to get a cat for a while; we had been without one for a few years. Mum wasn't really wanting to get one because she's allergic to them, but she liked this kitten, and we called my dad to make sure it was okay. He said yes, so long as it was his cat.

So, we brought Tin Tin home. We were told that the kitten was a female, but when we went to get her spayed, we found out Tin Tin was actually a boy. He is our biggest cat, weighing almost 15 pounds. He's not really fat, just big. Tin Tin likes to be outside. Long ago, we gave up trying to keep him in. He comes and goes as he likes. If we try to keep him inside, he will refuse to use the litter box.

Tin Tin covered in paper airplanes. He is a very tolerant cat.


Our second cat is Shadow. Shadow is my little brother's cat. My mom kept saying no to another cat. But there was a really friendly cat that wandered around outside our house and would play with Tin Tin. It was an all black cat. We weren't sure if he belonged to somebody or not, but my littler brother wanted him. We found out that he did belong to somebody, but my little brother still wanted a cat. Mom said we could only get one if we found a tuxedo cat. Well, we were out getting dog food and the Kentucky Humane Society had some cats for adoption at the store we went to. There was an adorable tuxedo kitten.

We brought her home and dubbed her Shadow. She and Tin Tin did not get along. Tin Tin would growl and hiss at her. He has since gotten over that, mostly. They will now play and sleep together, but sometimes one of them will get mad at the other. Shadow also likes to go outside, but not nearly as much as Tin Tin. She likes her people too much. She is allowed to go outside, and will often bring back "presents" for us. If we don't let her go outside, she still gives us "presents", doing her best to rid the house of mice.


Shadow with one of our dogs.

Our third cat, my cat, is Delilah. I hadn't planned on getting a cat. Sure, I wanted one, but I didn't bother asking, knowing the answer would be no. But, we were at a pet store that we go to a lot, and they had a litter of kittens that somebody had brought in (NOT from a kitten mill). There was a cute little grey cat in the kitten room, and I went in to look at him because I like grey cats. I never got to him, because on the cat tree was the most adorable, tiny kitten. She was asleep, but I picked her up anyway. She had long hair, and had colouring very similar to a blue pointed Himalayan or Ragdoll (as she has gotten older, she looks more and more like a blue pointed Ragdoll). Her eyes were blue. Not the blue that all kittens have, but the blue that blue eyed cats have. I picked her up and showed her to my mom, saying, "I need this cat." Mom admired her, but said no. I put her down and took her picture.

On our way home, my mom called my dad to talk to him. I had her tell him I was sending him a picture of something I needed. I sent him the picture in a text message and he replied, "It's okay with me if it's okay with your mom." So, Mum turned the car around and drove right back to the store. I went in and got my kitten. She is definitely my cat.

Delilah is not allowed to go outside without being on a leash. She is easily our most spoiled cat (thanks to me). She is somewhat of a weird cat too. She follows people around as if she were a dog. She will happily go into her crate, and likes to go on road trips and rides in the car around town. I will sometimes take her to the store where I got her, and the employees love her. She was their favourite from that litter. She is still a kitten, being only seven and a half months old. She isn't afraid of much and will happily play with our dogs, especially the chihuahua (the one in the picture with Shadow).


Delilah, shortly after I got her.


Another, more recent picture of Delilah.

Welcome to the Chaotic Zoo

My name is Bethany. I am a college student majoring in biology, and planning on getting a master's in marine biology. I have had pets and loved animals my whole life. I have (or my family has) had dogs, birds, cats, fish, reptiles, a horse, and several others.

Currently, we have three cats, five dogs, one bird, three turtles, one bearded dragon, two guinea pigs, one crawdad, three saltwater aquariums (which have their own blog, located here: Winged's Tanks), and a horse. Each and every one of these pets is special and loved. We do our best to give them the best care we can. As anybody with a pet can tell you, each day is different, and each day, they do something to make you smile.

This blog is about our pets and other animals we encounter. Things I learn will be shared here, as will some day to day adventures with our animals and our lives. I may also include things about other areas of my life, but the primary focus will, of course, be the animals.

Feel free to come along for the ride and share your own thoughts or comments.