Through The Eyes of A Labrador Owner

Owning a Sporting breed dog that loves to work…

The Search

I currently own a 1 year 3 month old chocolate American Labrador Retriever that has graced Your Pet Space’s blog page (the lab that was sitting in the water bowl) named Aspen. I had been looking for a dog for months, and once I was back in Las Cruces I went with a friend one day to look at dogs in El Paso. I had already had an idea of what dogs I wanted to look at because I went online and wrote down the cage numbers about two nights beforehand. The day was finally here, my friend and I went to lunch, then had a bit of a delay but we eventually made it to the shelter. I went around and looked in the cages to try and see the dogs I had picked out first before asking to take any of them out.

Aspen's freedom ride!

Aspen’s freedom ride!

After taking a while to decide which dog to look at first, I chose one that was with a young Pitbull mix. This 8 month old female pup had only been in the shelter for 3 days, so unfortunately no information was known as to why she ended up there. The shelter pegged her for a Labrador Retriever mix, but I thought otherwise, which I will explain later in the article.  She was brought out of her cage she shared and, even though unsure, she was very happy and gave me kisses right away and rested her head in my lap. After that I had to see how she acted around children, men and women of all ages; she did great with everyone. For the last test, I had to see how she would do around other dogs so we went back and got one of my friend’s dogs and brought her along. To my luck, this pup did not seem to mind the dog, or having her ears and tail messed with. That was when I knew she was the right fit so I was the last adoption made that day. She was then spayed about two days later and I was able to pick her up around 3:00pm. I brought her home from the shelter with everything set up to go, including her new name: Aspen.

Thrills of training

Not long after I adopted her, school started up again so she was doing crate training before I had to go back in order to get her ready for it; well, she ended up having a hard time with being in a crate. She would drag things in that were close enough and chew them up, or whine and yowl for about five minutes after my roommate and I left to go to class. She also had no prior obedience training, like most shelter dogs, which was another hurdle I knew we’d have to pass together. Her training commenced in September of 2016 with beginning obedience for six weeks–this was when I remembered that shelter dogs don’t show their true personalities at the shelter; remember the “I don’t care” reaction she gave to my friend’s dog? Well, that turned out not to be the case. Aspen wanted to play with the other dogs in class instead of work on our training. Eventually though, we were able to graduate and move on to intermediate obedience.

Aspen asleep

Aspen asleep in her crate.

Intermediate obedience went a little more smoothly, seeing as she did not have as high an excitement level with other dogs once I got her attention back on me. She was also able to graduate and move on to intermediate obedience level 2. It was during intermediate level 2 that our trainer pointed out to me that she thinks she may be a purebred Labrador Retriever, so I got curious and did some research. Apparently there is an American and European style Labrador, with the European style being more broadly built, heavier set, with a blocky head; similar to labs seen in the show rings. Whereas the American style was built more for purpose instead of preference; they are more athletically built, have longer legs, a less blocky head, and a more defined rib cage. It was about the time this class started (I’d owned her for about 5 months) that I noticed a change in the way she behaved when being left in her crate; she used to watch me leave even with a Kong that was frozen with goodies in it for her. I started to notice that she no longer did this, she licked at her Kong contently and ignored the fact that I was even there which was a HUGE improvement for this dog. I had read online that music helps, so I decided to play the music at night first when she was falling asleep to let her associate it with a calm state, then I would play it while she was in her crate. I do think the music helped, and I still play it to this day for her when I leave for class. I have owned her for about 6 months now and she is barely getting to the point where I give her a “leave it” command around other dogs and children, and she listens (some of the time). I have to work hard with getting her attention on me for a couple minutes, more so with other dogs, and once I’ve got her attention on me she does what I have been working so hard with her on; act like there are no other dogs. She loves to work, and by work I mean learn. She has come VERY far with all her obedience classes and the training I do with her on my own.

Training improvements

In a total of six months of training, and through it turning one year old, she went from pulling me on leash all the time and not knowing one command to walking on a loose leash and knowing how to sit. Then from there she learned the command “stand” which is VERY difficult to teach once sit has been taught! She also has gone on to learn “down”, “left, slow” (when making a left turn she has to slow down in order to stay in the heel position), and “right, hurry” (when making a right turn she has to speed up a bit to stay at a heel position). I have also been able to extend the duration to which I ask her for a down stay, and we are currently working on our duration for a sit stay since we are not as good at duration with those just yet. Aspen has also learned “wait” which I use to let her outside or for her to come back inside the house, she also has to wait to get her food, play with her toys, and play with other dogs. The most important command I have taught her is “come”, which we are still working on; she listens well at home or in obedience class but it is still a struggle in outdoor areas, like parks.

Aspen celebrating

Aspen celebrating turning 1 year old with a pupaccino from Starbucks.

What it is like having a highly intelligent dog

For being so young, Aspen learns new commands very quickly and is a highly intelligent dog that lives to learn. She is one of those dogs that is so smart and motivated to work, that if she is not given a job to do, she easily gets bored and finds something to occupy her time instead. Owning a dog that loves to work has its benefits for me because I love to work with her and do some training each day. I have my reasons for training her at such a high level, which will continue, and even through all our downs we have faced with training issues, I am constantly reminded of the ups of our relationship. I love Aspen very much seeing that she is not the atypical Lab; she loves to work, but at home she is content just lying around all day with me as long as she gets at least two work and two play sessions in per day.

My advice on owning a sporting breed such as a Labrador is, if you do not have the time to exercise a breed like Aspen’s and make sure they are given a job to do to keep them happy, don’t get one because they can become destructive. They are so smart they find ways to occupy themselves by exhibiting the behaviors that are undesirable to owners and this is why so many dogs end up in shelters.

Aspen showing off

Aspen showing off her training accomplishments.

Dedication to the dog that has already taught me so much

All in all, I could not have asked for a better dog; yes, we still have a long way to go, since she will be working eventually, but I wouldn’t trade her for the world.

 

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Aspen posing for a cookie.

 

 

Taylor-Otero Taylor Otero is a First Aid and CPR Certified Dog Handler at Your Pet Space, as well as a Pet Tech Instructor of the same.  Currently, she is also a senior at NMSU studying to obtain her B.S. in animal science in May 2016. After graduating, she hopes to get a master’s degree studying animal behavior and welfare, and plans to use that degree in her future as a dog trainer and possible veterinary technician. Taylor wants to own a dog training/daycare/boarding facility one day! She has had dogs, rabbits, horses, cats, birds and turtles.

Working at Your Pet Space

 An insider’s perspective


The famous Your Pet Space sign we have put up outside of the facility.

The famous Your Pet Space sign we have put up outside of the facility.

                When you first walk into the big red doors at Your Pet Space you quickly realize that this isn’t any ordinary place of business. One quick glance around the ever-changing complex can give you a good idea of the environment that the owners, Joy and Dave Jones, provide at the only cage free boarding facility in the city. When I had first joined the team of loving and caring staff members I noticed the amazing services that Your Pet Space provides for its clients and the community. They are the only boarding facility that is IBPSA (International Boarding & Pet Services Association) certified in Las Cruces as well as having the only pet CPR certified staff. YPS also works with some of the most amazing groups of people ranging from fantastic pet trainers to the nice folks at APA (Action program for Animals).

Dave and Jones the owners of Your Pet Space

Dave and Joy Jones, the owners of Your Pet Space.

          Expanding our space  

  I had applied at Your Pet Space searching for a part time job that I could maintain while being a full time student at the university. What I didn’t know was that I would fall in love with the animals and all the things that I find myself busy doing here. I was hired before we officially opened for business and had no idea what to expect. I first began with helping Dave build the various fences that would help us create our quadrants available for dog care. It was very interesting to manufacture our own walls and help with the rubber flooring that we would provide for the animals in my first few days working. Dave Jones is quite the handyman and I’ve found that he would much rather build his own things than rely on something he can find somewhere in the stores or online. It took a few tries and failures to finally decide on the perfect lock systems to allow our dogs to come inside our quadrants with ease but not be able to escape. Still, things can always be improved and Dave never stops thinking of new ways to better our facility.

Dave Jones checking up on the walls he built for the facility.

Dave Jones checking up on the walls he built for the Alpha quadrant.

Doggy daycare

After I had done my share of help with the “carpentry” aspect of my job I jumped right into working with the animals. Although I did not have much experience, other than taking care of my own two dogs, I was eager to learn from the pet experts themselves. Joy was able to teach me how to control a large group of dogs with relative ease. She also was very helpful with teaching me the most practical ways to play with the dogs without starting too much commotion amongst the pack. It’s crazy how much you can learn from an animal after spending the day with them. I started my job worried about getting hair on my clothes and getting slobbered on but have now found myself embracing the love from all the dogs I have the opportunity to care for. No two days are alike here at Your Pet Space and the energy in the facility is contagious.

Dave playing with some of the dogs we have staying with us for daycare/boarding.

Dave playing with some of the “crewmen” we have staying with us for daycare/boarding.

Laz the writer

                When I wasn’t working at the complex I found opportunities to pursue my dream in writing while still benefiting the place I worked. Joy Jones gave me the chance to write articles for the website that she ran, with a chance of being published, if it met the criteria that she asked for. I was blessed to have a shot at gaining some experience in the world I longed to be a part of, while still being employed by the great folks at Your Pet Space. I was super excited to get to work and I managed to get two articles published in my first month. What is a bulldog? Greyhounds vs. Coyotes Things at school however, began to demand more of my time and I was no longer able write articles until now.

Photograph of the current quadrant system we have set up. We are ever changing however and are always willing to change it up if needed.

Photograph of the current quadrant system we have set up. Dave cleverly built the fences to easily be moved and we’re always prepared to change it up if needed.

     Laz the editor

Since then I have managed to get steady hours at this place I love to work, and have even found myself taking on new responsibilities. I am fortunate enough to be the new managing editor of yourpetspace.info. I am very excited to be working towards something I would like to do as a career in my near future. I handle editing the various articles we receive from the multi-talented and multicultural authors working for Joy and Your Pet Space. Now that I am running things on the website we can have multiple scheduled article postings a week and I can relieve Joy of some unneeded stress as well.

The Milky Way, a place for the dogs at our facility to take a nap during the day.

The Milky Way, a place for the dogs at our facility to take a nap during the day.

Gateway to sweet doggy dreams…

When it comes to our place of business, stress isn’t something just us humans go through. Dogs too can become stressed out and need a nap just like people do. Your Pet Space is great because we offer a three-hour napping period for all the dogs to relax at noon and get some well-deserved rest from playing all morning. During this time we turn off most of the lights and lock the doors so that nobody disturbs the animals. Nap time in the Milky Way gives myself and the owners time to eat lunch and calm the pack of dogs down for a bit. It also gives me time to work on the website and to write my own articles.

A quick snapshot of a few of our "space cadets" during nap time.

A quick snapshot of a few of our “space cadets” during nap time.

Your Pet Space? 

If the idea of a cage free boarding facility wasn’t awesome enough, just throw in the fact that Your Pet Space is set up to literally be your pet “space.” Dave and Joy are huge sci-fi fans and show their passion for it through their businesses theme. One quick visit to their official website yourpetspace.com gives you a huge clue as to what they are all about. Drawing your eye when you step through the doors is a large space mural with stars that actually light up. In the Milky Way there are tents or space pup tents for dogs to sleep in during nap time. For new clients, or clients that come very frequently, we offer a mission report. It is basically a card written specifically for each dog giving the owners a summary of how their dog has been doing during their time with us. Not only is the idea creative with its terminology, it is also shows the amount of attention we show each client’s dog. The “Ambassadog’s” Seba and Hoagy, Joy and Dave’s dogs, are always meeting new “cadets” to accompany them on their daily “deep space missions” we have at our facility. Beam me up doggy!

Space mural custom made for our facility.

Space mural custom made for our facility.

Duty calls

With a lot of animals in our care comes a lot of cleaning and other chores as well. We use veterinary grade, animal friendly products to mop up and sanitize our floors after accidents and try to handle them as quickly as we can spot them. Often times new dogs will “relieve” themselves immediately upon entry of our facility, which we try to emphasize, is a totally normal thing for us. I think of Your Pet Space as a safe haven for dogs because we will never lose our temper and instead treat them just as we’d treat our own pets. Sometimes the dogs may tear up the beds or wear down toys from excessive play but it’s never treated as a serious problem. Dogs are dogs and we understand that things can happen while they’re enjoying their time with us. Our priority is the safety and care of your dogs.

One of our daycare dogs, Lou. She loves to play in our water bowls.

One of our daycare dogs, Lou. She loves to play in our water bowls.

Scooby snacks

Feeding time is also something to write about here because it tends to be one of the most hectic times at Your Pet Space. In this moment, knowing the dogs you’re working with is very helpful. It pays off to know that certain dogs can become very aggressive or territorial when it comes to their food. When you know who you’re working with, you can accommodate and put certain dogs in separate quadrants when they eat to avoid problems. We also have a handy red cart that allows us to expedite the whole process and have multiple food bowls with us at once for feeding. We get various dog foods from clients and are always precise in feeding their pets the correct amount specified by their owners. No order is too tall for us and we understand that certain dogs may need medications or special feedings that we’re happy to administer.

The bright red food cart we use to help feed and give water to our dogs.

The bright red food cart we use to help feed and give water to our dogs.

Out of this world experience…

Since first starting at Your Pet Space, my shifts have become longer but have began to feel much shorter. I have seen the business grow from the grand opening and everyday we are becoming bigger and more popular among pet owners in the city. Playing and interacting with the dogs has become so natural to me that stepping into the Alpha quadrant, our main holding area, has made me feel like I’m truly the leader of the pack. Just a few stays with us has changed a lot of anxious and nervous dogs for the better. This is a place where a dog can burn excess energy and experience a fun social environment. Playing “pitball” and running over and under the “space bridge” is just a small part of the Your Pet Space experience. I’ve grown fond and familiar with a lot of our client’s pets in the short time I’ve been a part of the Jones’s team. Our demographic is pet owners who love their animals and want them to be supervised and taken care of the same way they would be at home. Your Pet Space is a great place to work, to board, and for your pets, a great place to stay.

Sleepy cadet Jolene resting in one of our space pup tents.

Sleepy cadet Jolene resting in one of our space pup tents.

Lazarus Gomez

 Lazarus Gomez, an aspiring writer/photographer from Phoenix, Arizona has been freelance writing for local newspapers and is currently majoring in journalism at New Mexico State University. He has always been an avid animal lover and has two large bulldogs named Levi and Diesel. He currently resides in Las Cruces, New Mexico and is hoping to pursue his passion in sports writing.

Dogs Can Be Star Trek Fans, Too!

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One of the many decorations that greeted fans at Creation’s annual Star Trek convention in Las Vegas, Nevada.

In William Shatner’s hour long documentary Get A Life, fans of Star Trek relive the experience of their fandom and give non-fans a glimpse into what it is like to be a part of the worldwide Star Trek family. The film focuses on the essence of being a fan of Star Trek and emphasizes that while some people paint or build Lego structures for a hobby, Trek fans immerse themselves in the various incarnations of the show for the same reasons those painters paint or the builders build.

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Klingon Bird of Prey Balloon Art and the artist who created it.

The general consensus about this particular fandom is one we are all familiar with; Star Trek is a franchise that tells us we are all accepted for who we are and that no matter what happens now, we have a chance at a brighter tomorrow if we all pull together in that unity of mutual respect and understanding. The documentary goes deeper than this, though, highlighting fans who have chosen careers, made friends, or found spouses because of their love for the show and what it means to them. I, myself, have a group of friends who are more of a family to me, and though we bonded because of our love for theatre and the arts, we met over time at various Star Trek conventions around the globe. It always amazes me to be sitting at lunch with these people from all walks of life and think that we would never have known each other if it were not for Star Trek.

Robert Walter, president of the Joseph Campbell Foundation explains in Shatner’s documentary that humans are hardwired for narrative and want to find a way to make sense of our experiences in story, the way Star Trek does. “The shows that really endure and that have this kind of rabid fandom, they speak to the human experience, and hopefully with enough variation that wherever you are you can find a way in. They speak about a society that doesn’t exclude you. They’re set in some kind of cosmological field that you don’t turn it on and go, ‘Oh, that’s ridiculous,'” he explains to Shatner in the documentary. We all expect fans to see a hero and model themselves after the hero, but according to Walter, there is much more happening when the costumes are in play. “What they are doing is what a practicing Christian in the Renaissance might have done when they adopted a patron saint for their confirmation and took on that saint’s name, and then used that saint as a touchstone for their behavior down the line.”

Get A Life discusses, in various ways, something even non-fans are familiar with: attending an event in costume. For the most part, when you meet people at a convention and ask why they dress as a Klingon or Borg, they will say they do it because it is fun, or because they are really quiet people who get to live another life when playing the character they have chosen. Some will say it is an outlet for emotion or a way for them to suddenly become comfortable in a crowd. Others will tell you it is a means of finding self-validation, while some will say they are doing it for the prize money awarded at the costume contest. (You’ve got to pay for those gold tickets somehow.) No matter what the reason they chose to wear their various uniforms or versions of alien makeup, most fans who attend in character will tell you they wouldn’t ever consider going to a Star Trek Convention in just a t-shirt and jeans, like many fans do.

mirkira

Author, Mirrani (sporting the standard shirt and jeans attire) standing under one of the banners at Creation Entertainment’s annual Las Vegas convention.

I was giving this a lot of thought as I was packing my bags to head to Creation’s Star Trek convention in Las Vegas at the beginning of August. Memories of various events came to me and I recalled familiar faces from all of the years I had attended in the past. I remembered certain people who would be guaranteed to appear in particular costumes, but I also recalled the image of a man taking his three miniature poodles around the convention, each dressed in a classic Starfleet uniform. This image blended with my memory of the documentary when it showed those same dogs being included as “uniformed fans” so that they were able to attend the record breaking gathering of fans in costume at the 45th anniversary convention; the first time the event was held at the Rio Hotel and Casino. All of those things combined to bring up one question in my mind. I knew why people dressed up for the event, but why did the dogs?

With notebook in hand, I headed to the event area and the first person I met was a friend of mine who works for Creation. He was set up at the entrance and was helping attendees find where to go for tickets and registration. At this station he had seen several animals in costume and had described them to me. Finding them in a wall-to-wall crowd of countless Star Trek fans was not an easy task and I know I missed quite a few four legged attendees, but I did manage to talk with two humans about their dressed up dogs.

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Sabrina, a medical alert dog, shows off her medical uniform.

First, I met Kat Mac Kenzie (of Katy Mac Kreations) and her dog Sabrina, who was wearing a stunning, hand-made TNG era Starfleet uniform, complete with insignia pin pocket, which was backed with quilting for comfort and protection. Sabrina’s costume was so well made that fans began telling Mac Kenzie that she should create uniforms to sell. “I am considering selling vests, but I am only in the beginning stages,” she told me. Putting together costumes like Sabrina’s takes a lot of thought and time, and there are plenty of logistics that have to be worked out such as what materials to use and how to make an accurate dog sizing chart, but Kat was thinking positively about moving forward with it all. In our more recent communications, she has confirmed that she is moving ahead with these plans. “I should have a few mock vests/dog jackets made in a couple of weeks. It is my primary crafting project; I have a sizing guide set up and am looking for venues to launch an online platform.”

At the convention I asked why she chose the TNG uniform for Sabrina. “Last year was our first convention here and after that experience I wanted to make a cooler, lightweight vest that would be more comfortable for all the walking. I thought why not make it something Star Trek?” I WAS surprised by the fan response, however. Mac Kenzie said that few fans understood why she chose the teal uniform of the medical field. “They keep asking me, ‘Why not make it red?’ and I have to tell them, ‘She is a medical alert dog. She should be in blue.'” I have to say that as I was taking Sabrina’s picture, I thought the teal of the medical uniform was the perfect choice for her all around.

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Asimov poses at the entrance to Quark’s Bar. For this convention he adds a Star Trek cap to his service dog attire.

After spending an hour or two peering around swarms of moving legs and experiencing the ups and downs of falsely identifying several rolling bags as four legged critters, I ran into Lisa Mueller (of celebrityentertainment.org) and her dog, Asimov, sitting outside of Quark’s Bar. Asimov’s outfit was simple but stunning; a blue hat, made by Lisa, to which she had added the original series Star Trek patch. Having worked in and out of the Star Trek franchise since the late 1980’s, Mueller and Asimov both attended the premiere of Star Trek Renegades, which she said was an honor. For that occasion Asimov wore his brand new hat and when the convention came around, he had an excellent opportunity to wear it again.

Lisa and I also talked about how service animals react in public spaces and how they interact with each other at these events. I asked about the service vest versus the hat. If Asimov recognizes that the vest is on and that means he is working, does he also behave differently when the hat is on? “Yes I think so,” Lisa said, “Another good example would be when he wears his Mickey hat at Disneyland. He often prances because he realizes he’s getting more attention than usual.”

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Asimov sports his Mickey Mouse ears at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. Photo courtesy of Lisa Mueller.

I had posed a similar question to Kat Mac Kenzie as I watched Sabrina keep a quiet eye on the crowd that passed us while we talked. Mac Kenzie’s answer came in two parts, the first of which was simple; no matter what Sabrina is wearing, she was always quietly attentive. “She likes to keep an eye out for me,” Kat said. The rest of her answer takes a little bit of explaining. Across from us was a pile of sound-activated tribbles, which provided the backdrop for the rest of the story. Imagine walking past a display of round fuzzy creatures and seeing a dog in costume, playing with them. “At first I wasn’t sure how she would react to the tribbles, but she started playing after a while. Soon she was throwing them up in the air for herself. It became a show for all the fans.”

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Movement around the tribble pile catches Sabrina’s attention during her photo shoot.

When I heard that this was not the only costume vest that Sabrina owned, I asked how she responded to the various items. Did she act differently in one costume over another? Did she have a favorite? “She doesn’t like pompoms,” Mac Kenzie told me. “I think because they poke her or get in her way. We never force her to wear an outfit, we let her sniff it and check it out first. Sometimes, when she first wears it, she will shake a little and get used to it that way.” These trial and error introductions were how Sabrina let Kat know she was not a fan of large tutus and that smaller costumes and vests were best.

As the convention wound down and I packed up to go home, I thought about the new friends I had made while writing up this article. I contemplated the costumes and thought about people I had talked to about meeting service animals. Not surprisingly, a lot of people remembered meeting the animals, but didn’t see them as dogs on the job, only as animals in costume. During our interview, Mac Kenzie admitted to me that Sabrina watches Star Trek with her, and I can certainly believe that because (as regular readers of my articles know) our rat North would not ever miss an episode of Sleepy Hollow or Hell on Wheels. Looking back at my weekend, with all of this in mind, I can’t help thinking that the gentleman and his three dogs had it right. Maybe these guys really should count as uniformed fans and not just animals dressed up for an occasion.

Mirrani Houpe, YPS Staff Member

Mirrani Houpe, our Small Animal Editor, has had rats since she took home her first little boy once they both completed the second grade. Since that time she has owned, rescued and bred many kinds of rats, from many backgrounds. She may not be a vet, psychology major, or scientist, but her babies have her very well trained when it comes to how to care for them. She is constantly working with her family’s veterinarian to come up with new and innovative ways to love and care for the most often misunderstood rodent in the pet world. You can e-mail her at mirrani@yourpetspace.info

Get A Life, An EPIX Original documentary directed by William Shatner, is available here.

Mirrani would like to thank Kat Mac Kenzie for her time spent talking about Service Dogs and fandom, both in Vegas and through messages afterward. She would also like to thank Lisa Muller for her part in making sure everything was just how it should be in the final draft of this article. Finally, a shout out must be sent to Max Grodénchik (Rom of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) and his wife Carina, who helped contribute to some of this through an email interview that never got quoted, but did have an impact on what is contained within these paragraphs. If anyone would like to see Max work live, he and the rest of the Rat Pack will be performing at Creation’s 50th anniversary conventions next year.

YPS Shorts: P-Mail, Shedding and New Cat Help

time to log in again

This time around, we’d like share the work of some new writers (and one talented artist) with all of you…

The cartoon you see above was created by Dan Rosandich, and aptly illustrates what most dog owners are quite familiar with: doggy “Facebooking”, aka “checking pee-mail”.  😀  More of Dan’s work can be found at DansCartoons.Com.

Next, a short piece about shedding…

How Much is Too Much Hair and How to Deal with It?

They drive me mad. Yes, you are right. Those little fur balls, especially around spring and fall are what I am talking about. The first advice I can give you: accept it. Your beloved dog will shed one way or the other. The next stop is dealing with it. But how?

I have two dogs, Brando and Astoria and a cat Archibald. Yes, they live together in the same house. Don’t make me start talking about that! Anyway, I will just say that having them in the house during shedding seasons is not what I consider a clean house. However, as we love our pets so much, we strive towards finding a solution. During years of having pets, I learned a few tricks of my own.

As I have said, dogs usually shed in fall and spring. If your dog is kept indoor, you can expect year-round shedding. If you notice that your pooch sheds more excessively than usual, the reasons behind it may lie in nutrition, parasites, allergies or other medical problems.

shedding golden

Brush, brush and more brush

I advise to brush your dog every couple of days, no matter what the length of the coat is. You know that there are specific brushes for specific breeds? And you know that some breeds require more than one brush? I have been really struggling with so many types, until I came across a product. I will just say: God bless the furminator – a lifesaver that I bought at Stefmar.

Get Rid of Parasites

Parasites are one of the reasons why your dog sheds too much. Keep your dog’s skin and coat healthy by bathing it once a month. It will work for most dogs. However, some breeds with an oily coat require bathing more often. An oatmeal shampoo is a good choice as it nourishes the skin and coat. Taking your dog to a vet once a year for the inspection of the stool is also something you should do.

There are many types of parasites, the most common being fleas. To keep your pet fleas-free, you can opt for a once-a-month topical insecticide, a spray, a collar or a flea comb. I think that a flea-comb is a little bit overlooked, but I find it extremely useful.

Pay Attention To Your Dog’s Food

Malnutrition is one of the factor contributing to excessive shedding. The food you give to your pet should meet the standards of your national food control officials. However, paying attention to ingredients is important, as well. Nutritious food should contain meat, a source of carbohydrates and a source of unsaturated fat. You can also add olive oil or flaxseed oil to your dog’s food. I add 5ml per 10 pounds of body weight. You can also treat your dog with human food, but it is important to know which food your pet should eat and which it shouldn’t.

golden puppy

Allergies And Medical Problems

If excessive shedding lasts longer than a week, visit a vet. You can spot more serious medical problems if your dog has bald patches, you notice skin irritation, scratching, constant foot licking or face rubbing. I found out last year that Astoria was allergic to a household cleaner I used to use. At first I did not know why she started shedding so much. Since I could understand why this was happening, I visited a vet and she told me that allergies are one of the causes of shedding.

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I hope my experience will prove to be useful to you. However, before you try to solve the problem of (excessive) shedding, my advice is to always seek the help of vet. Depending on a breed, he/she will know whether shedding is normal or not and which steps should be taken.

Roxana Oliver

Roxana Oliver is an adventurer and frequent traveler as well as blogger at highstylife.com. Besides traveling she loves to take hikes with her two dogs and play around the house with her mischievous cat Archibald. Roxana is a green building designer by vocation, and has a passion for exotic cooking. 

Here’s a short piece for those thinking of adopting a kitten…

kitten

Basic Equipment For Your Feline Friend, The Cat

There are many things you can have ready before your kitten arrives and in no time it will grow into an adult cat. If you are good at a few things, you both can be very good friends. You will need a cat litter box, certainly a good quality of cat litter, carrying basket, toys, scratching post–which is one of the most important–and a grooming kit. Tags and microchips for identifying and tracing them are also very useful.  A special bed would be nice, but you shouldn’t be worried because a lot of times, they like to be by your bed or at one corner.

Litter Box

One of the most essential things to have is a litter box.  There are various types of litter boxes on the market. There are small, medium and extra large sizes with open or closed box types. You have top opening or side opening ones, as well.  In this era of technology you also have robotic litter boxes that are self cleaning by scooping out the solid wastes after the cat is done with its job.

The brand of litter is also important and you need to stick to something that it likes. Also take care to teach your cat to use the box. Always keep it clean and tidy.

Scratching Post

The next important thing is perhaps the scratching post to keep your curtains, bed sheets, sofa and furniture from getting scratched by your pet’s nails. While playing, it can keep scratching quite often and vigorously.

A post should be sturdy and tall: its height should be at least 25 to 30 inches. Cats grow taller and they will like to scratch on something they can climb on while standing on their hind legs.

grooming-cat

Grooming

Grooming is also an important aspect. As with other pets, cats prefer to keep themselves neat and tidy. But you will need to properly groom your cat regularly. Use proper combs and brushes to brush its fur. Take care with the face, eyelids and whiskers. There is nothing like playing with a furry cat, and when you take proper care of your pet, you both only get closer.

You will also need  to use properly cleaned utensils to serve your cat with her daily diet. Cats can have allergies to plastic, but you can use glass and ceramic much more confidently.

Written by Earlene Krause

Dog’s Day Out – The Adventures of Sahara and Brinly

Your Pet Space is a boarding facility that operates out of New Mexico, but we have visitors to this blog from all around the world, so I wanted to reach out to the East Coast readers who are unable to use our New Mexico facility and are looking for somewhere to take your pets for a day out. Say you want something beautiful in the mountains, something different from what you have experienced before. You’re not looking for simple trails, you want to have food, new experiences and a great view, all rolled into one. I have just the place for you.

What Is The Biltmore Estate?

It took six years for George Vanderbilt to build the 250-room French Renaissance chateau, but once it was completed, it was a masterpiece in every sense of the word. He took a location that had been practically emptied of trees by the surrounding settlers and put Frederick Law Olmsted (yes, the man who made Central Park) in charge of creating a new, natural landscape to complement his home. Between Olmstead’s work on the grounds and the stunning architecture of the buildings themselves, there is no place in the country like Biltmore Estate, America’s largest privately owned home, especially since you can bring your pets along.

Sahara at Biltmore House

Horses and Pets Are Welcome

Biltmore has always been famous for hospitality, a tradition that is being kept by Vanderbilt’s descendants to this day, but it isn’t just humans who are welcome on the grounds. Horse owners can bring their horses and use the riding trails while pets are welcome to explore the beautiful scenery on garden and hiking trails. There are some rules, of course. You must keep your pet on a leash at all times and only service animals are allowed in the house and in most buildings. Still, if you are going for the scenery, what better way to enjoy it than with your four legged friends?

My wife and I are year round pass holders, so we visit frequently, often taking others with us to tour the house or winery, so on the days when we feel like a picnic in the mountains, we usually pack up the dogs for a day trip. The journey is three hours long and we tend to leave very early in the morning in order to get the most out of our visit, but Sahara and Brinly never seem to mind. In fact, they typically hear us saying the word “Biltmore” and become very excited for the upcoming adventure.

Sahara in the gardens

Most visitors start their day with a tour of the house, but since it is off limits to pets, we generally drive past and park in the lot at the garden shop. You can ask an attendant if there are places available in the Dianna lot, which is within walking distance of the house, but most often it is simply easier to drive through.  Here’s a helpful tip: If you want to drive PAST the parking attendants, turn your emergency blinkers on when you come to the parking areas, this means you do NOT wish to park and attendants will wave you through.

If you would like to walk around in front of the house first, or climb the hill to the Dianna Statue, the lot behind the Garden Center is a great place to park, as you only need to walk through the beautifully kept gardens to get to the front lawn and all the sights there.   When we have guests with us who want to visit the estate, one of us will stay out on the lawn or wander the gardens with the dogs, while the other goes through the house with our friends.  When this happens, our dogs are greeted by the staff as we wait at the door, and true to Vanderbilt’s tradition of hospitality, Brinly and Sahara have even been offered cookies on occasion.

walking Brinly and Sahara

If you are looking for something to eat, the stable area at the side of the house offers outdoor seating that serves not only the Ice Cream Parlor, but also the Courtyard Market and the Bake Shop. Here you can have a snack and wait for the rest of your party to join you, eat some lunch, or just relax with a drink or dessert before starting the rest of your day.  There is also an outdoor café behind the Conservatory, in the garden area where we park.

We usually wander around the gardens first because we prefer to picnic in the large, open area beyond Biltmore House.  Guests to the Estate are allowed to bring an outside picnic as long as it does not contain alcohol and as long as they picnic in appropriate places on the grounds.  You can also order a picnic basket ahead of time from the Bakery, Conservatory Café, or Creamery.

Brinly at the Backhouse

Once you have finished eating, there is so much to see, it is almost overwhelming. I can guarantee that you will never get everything done in one day and highly recommend that you purchase a year round pass if you plan to make one or more return visits in the year.  We are talking about taking day trips with our pets, after all, and there is simply no way you can see everything in one day on the Estate.

Around the house itself you and your pets can visit the South Terrace, the Italian Garden, the Shrub Garden, the Spring Garden, the Walled Garden, the Rose Garden, and the Azalea Garden.  All of that includes many paths that split off to give you variety on your journey.

Sahara in the gardens

In the gardens we have seen all varieties of birds as well as some squirrels and rabbits. We even saw a beautiful black snake once, making its way through the bushes along the creek that runs through the Azalea Garden. Away from the gardens we have even seen beaver and ground hogs. Our dogs love this variety and are always stimulated by these new sights and smells, even though they are used to some of them from spending time in our yard at home.

Not all of the animals in the garden area are wild, though. Sahara always insists that we stop by the Italian Garden, nearest the house, and will pull and tug quite frantically if she thinks we are going to walk past it.  Why? Up until recently we had goldfish in our house and true to her motherly nature, Sahara insisted on fussing over our fish. On her first visit to the Italian Garden, Sahara realized there were fish in the pond.  Not little fish like ours, but giant beauties, perfectly suited to their magnificent setting. Since that day, we have always had to visit them.

Sahara checking the fish

If you are feeling up to a little bit more of a stroll, you can take one of the trails that leads to the Bass Pond and still get back to your car in reasonable time.  The easy path is through the gardens. It is on a somewhat gentle slope and meanders through all varieties of life mentioned above. That way is paved and it is easy to get around. The colors are different in every season, but are especially stunning in spring, when all of the flowers are in bloom.

Those who are willing to take on a bit more of a challenge can take the Deer Park Trail, which begins just at the edge of the Shrub Garden and South Terrace, wanders along the open area by the house and takes you down the hill to the Bass Pond. Be prepared to go down a rather steep hill to get to the pond, but as is the case with walking through the gardens, the view along the way is gorgeous, especially in the fall, when the trees are in full color.

Brinly walking the yard

Once you get to the Bass Pond your exploration of the areas around Biltmore House is nearly complete.  At the pond you can sit along the edges of the water to get a rest and take in the view.  There are many who picnic here or who read a book before going on their way.  We typically continue on to the waterfall, which is just beyond the pond.  To get here you walk along a woodchip path, which is marked out.  There is a little loop here, which follows a bamboo shaded creek and then turns back to the house again.

By the time we get here, the dogs are usually looking for a drink, and this is the perfect place for them to find refreshment. We usually decide to take our rest here instead of on one of the benches along the Pond, simply because it is remarkably peaceful, though it can be rather busy at times.

Brinly at the waterfall

Some trails from the house reach all the way to other parts of the estate, but I only recommend those to avid hikers, as they can be steep and long. They are especially hard on Sahara, with her short legs and stocky build, but we do hike them on occasion. I think it is important to note here that they ask you to pick up after your animals at Biltmore. There are trash cans throughout the garden area, but once you are on the actual trails you are on your own, so bring bags that will hold up for the long journey!

If you choose to walk from the house to the Winery and Farmyard, follow the Deer Park Trail away from the House and Pond. This trail winds back and forth through fields and eventually gives you a view of the lagoon. Once the Deer Park Trail meets up with the Lagoon Trail on the French Broad River, the walk gets much easier and is paved, but it is QUITE the hike! Putting the two trails together makes about 3 miles of walking (one way) and is listed as a moderate hike. We have only walked from the house to the Lagoon once with Sahara. We had to make many resting stops along the way.

Sahara at the lagoon

If you prefer to drive to the Winery and Farmyard, be prepared to be amazed. The winding roads are just as beautiful as the trails are, though you don’t get to see as much from inside the car. You will cross several other trails, including those for bikes and horses, so be on the lookout for those notifications.

The trails here form a web around the entire area and vary from flat and easy to steep and difficult, providing you with many hours of beauty to explore. The Inn at Biltmore Estate has its own trail, which links up with the others and wanders the grounds of the Inn. The Farm trails are all generally flat and easy, many are paved or follow gravel roads, and most of the six miles of walking space lies along the French Broad River. If you feel like long hikes that blend difficulty levels, you can take the Farm Trail to the Arbor Trace Trail, a path which progresses from easy to moderate to difficult and then loops around back on the same path. There is also the Westover Trail system, which wanders through both gentle and steep terrain while taking you in and out of the wooded areas of the estate. This trail system has three loops, an easy, a moderate and a difficult trail, which all intersect with each other at various points along the way. It is on these trails where we encountered an example of Biltmore’s continued dedication to being environmentally conscious and self sustainable, spotting a solar farm as we made our way.

solar farm

All this walking will probably make you hungry and put you in need of some rest. No worries! Visitors to the Antler Hill Village, where the Farmyard and Winery are located, will find all kinds of shopping and eating experiences and children will love going in to the Farmyard and meeting some of the animals. If you are hungry when you arrive, the Smokehouse and the Creamery offer outdoor dining and there are plenty of places to sit around the green if you are interested in simply having a rest. At certain times of the year there is live music as well.

Even though their website clearly states that pets are not allowed in the buildings, we have found two exceptions. Once, while we were parked at the Gardens, we stopped in to the Gardener’s Place and were told that next time we came in we could bring our dogs, as they were welcomed there. On another visit, we were at the old Barn past Antler Hill Village, my wife went inside to shop, but  was quickly sent back outside by the cashier and told to bring us in. Be aware that these are exceptions to the “no pets in the buildings” rule. If you are curious about your pet going to shop with you, ask before you enter.  Though there are places to eat that provide outdoor seating, and some stores do welcome animals inside, not all have those allowances. We have never walked in to a building with our dogs without being invited.

Brinly watching horses

A Favorite Doggie Day Trip

With all of the sights to see and the excellent hospitality, Biltmore Estate is one of our favorite Doggie Day Trip destinations. I have yet to experience a time when our Sahara and Brinly were reluctant to explore the grounds and they have yet to have the same experience twice. Here your pets can experience the beauty of the mountains and the hospitality of a family who keeps their private home open as an amazing historical landmark. At Biltmore pets can take in the quiet of the hills or the bustle of the barnyard. They can hike to their hearts content, or even visit with Cedric, the Vanderbilt’s favorite Saint Bernard, who is immortalized in the form of a bronze statue outside of the tavern that bears his name. This is one doggie day trip destination that cannot be missed.

Mirrani Houpe, YPS Staff Member

Mirrani Houpe, our Small Animal Editor, has had rats since she took home her first little boy once they both completed the second grade. Since that time she has owned, rescued and bred many kinds of rats, from many backgrounds. She may not be a vet, psychology major, or scientist, but her babies have her very well trained when it comes to how to care for them. She is constantly working with her family’s veterinarian to come up with new and innovative ways to love and care for the most often misunderstood rodent in the pet world. You can e-mail her at mirrani@yourpetspace.info

Helping a Smart and Picky Rat Adjust to Big Change

North with fountain

North, figuring out how his fountain works and telling us to turn it on for him.

Regular readers already know of my rat North, who suffered a serious case of pneumonia almost a year ago. Since then, because of the resulting lung deterioration, he has become a rat with special medical needs. He has always been a rat with special emotional needs because he is too smart for his own good. Now I know all rats are smart, they are easily trainable and extremely curious, it’s one of the things that make them appealing as pets, but when we brought North home we knew he was going to be different. From the very beginning, he and his brother Whisper began to train US.

Rat Rules of the house as dictated by North and Whisper:

1) “If I pull on your sleeve, it means lift your arm so I can run on it to someone else’s arm or to something close by.”

2) “If I stand on your hand and lift my nose at someone else, it means I want them to lift their arm.”

3) “If I am riding on your shoulder and tap your cheek with my nose, it means I want you to turn that way.”

4) “If I tap really fast, it means you’re not moving fast enough and you’d better hurry up.”

The list goes on, but you get the idea. Both Whisper and North do these things, but Whisper is always very calm about it, using the commands only when he most needs to get his point across to us.  North, on the other hand, quickly began to use them with a purpose.

It wasn’t long before North worked out our daily routines. Most rats get used to the regular schedule of their humans, but we soon realized that he hadn’t just figured out that after dinner we watch TV, he figured out that starting at 8pm we watch TV.  He began coming to me for a snuggle after dinner, at exactly 8pm, lasting until exactly 8:30.

North’s Routine:

1) Go to my first human and tap on her to get her to pick me up.

2) Climb across her shoulders and pull her sleeve to indicate I want to go across to the snuggle chair.

3) Cross to the snuggle chair and settle with my other human.

4) When snuggle is over, climb other human and pull on sleeve to indicate I want to cross to the first human again.

5) Cross the first human and climb down onto sofa for the rest of my play time.

If no one was available to get him to my chair, or if I wasn’t in the chair to start with, North would go on a frantic search for a human who could fix the situation.  One evening, he even jumped on one of our guests, who promptly gave him to my wife. Once in her arms, North tugged on the FRONT of her shirt, pulling her to where I was, down the hall, working in the computer room. By this point we all knew what this meant and North was brought in to me, with much eager cheek tapping.

North and Whisper

Whisper and North settled down on their table next to the snuggle chair.

A TV Watching Rat

After a few months of all of this it became so much of a habit with us that we mindlessly lifted our arms and snuggled into blankets without thinking anything of it. We completely failed to notice that on certain nights, instead of sleeping inside of his nesting box, North would climb on top of the box and face the TV.  By now you can guess that I am about to tell you he had memorized the schedule there as well, but it took us a while to realize there were certain shows he would “watch.” Most of the time North cares little about the television, but he has two favourites that he literally cannot live without: Hell on Wheels and Sleepy Hollow. These two shows he will not miss and when their regular seasons are on air, he is settled in his TV spot just as the show comes on.  And when he is sick? Well, he snuggles down in his blankets and watches reruns of both.  Sometimes this is the only way we can get him to eat food!

north watching TV

North watching Hell on Wheels from his nesting box.

His absolute favourite is Sleepy Hollow, which he still watches on Monday nights, even though the season has finished. When I come home on Monday he is desperate to get my attention, running all kinds of ways, standing up on his back legs, waving his arms in the air. At the mention of Sleepy Hollow he settles down, but heaven forbid I should forget to put on a rerun for him at exactly 9pm!  North has actually become somewhat famous for his Sleepy Hollow watching, as a video of him has gone around one of the rat groups I belong to, and even surprised our vet, who was stunned to see how attentive North was being.

North watching sleepy hollow

North eating banana, recovering from a bout of pneumonia, watching Sleepy Hollow.

Recently things changed at our house.  In January our ceiling caved in and needed to be repaired. Unfortunately for all of us, North can’t live in the dust and paint of construction, and with the insulation out as well, the house was much too cold for his recurring pneumonia, so the rats and I had to move out. With a rat this particular about routines, relocating was much more complicated than getting the spare cages and hauling things into a temporary home at my mother’s house. Along with all of his regular food and cage supplies, I had to pack baby food and yogurt, medications, and therapeutic items like North’s heating bed. Of course, the move required taking a computer for him to use as a television set.

computer

North and Whisper watching an episode of Evolve with John Edward, another of their favourite shows. It’s an episode I’m in, actually, and one in which they are mentioned.

Many would ask why I went through all of the trouble. It seems ridiculous that I should cater to the needs of a rat in this way. Few realize the anxiety North displays when even one part of his routine is out of place. For a little fur creature who tells time and depends on that understanding of his schedule to lower his stress, it was a vital step to take. I knew we were going to be away from home for an undetermined number of days, I knew that my wife wasn’t going to be with us and I knew that the unfamiliar surroundings would prevent North from feeling comfortable. I also knew that as soon as he is uncomfortable it becomes difficult for him to breathe and he begins to lose color in his limbs. These stresses prevent him from regulating his body temperature and reduce his appetite, so I was prepared to keep strictly to his routine, even when we were away.

So this meant watching episodes of Hell on Wheels, Evolve, and Sleepy Hollow.  It meant continuing with his steam treatments in the morning and in the evening.  It also meant learning new rules, such as “When I come out of the steam you will NOT have the fan on. It’s bad for me to have the cold air after humidity!” This is a recent addition to North’s list of regulations, something he taught me just the other night, when he came back from his steam as usual, but wouldn’t eat. Instead he ran frantic circles around the dish and gave me such determined, intense glances that it looked like something out of a horror movie. I kid you not, I sent a message to my wife, filled with concern over his behaviour. It wasn’t until he looked up at the fan above him that I noticed I had forgotten to turn it off.  Once I did he settled down again and waited for his “movies.”

Watch North Watch His “Movies” Here

While some things have changed (the time we watch TV together and where we do it) I have tried my best to keep as much of his routine the same as it has always been.  For a while it was touch and go, but I am happy to say that even though we are still not back at home, North is alive and well. I am also happy to say that as I write this, we only have one more week of construction and then we’re back to everything he knows best, his own cage, his own chair, his own reruns. After having been gone for three whole months, I will no doubt have to help him adjust to life at home, but something tells me it isn’t going to take him long to settle in this time.

Mirrani Houpe, YPS Staff Member

 Mirrani Houpe, our Small Animal Editor, has had rats since she took home her first little boy once they both completed the second grade. Since that time she has owned, rescued and bred many kinds of rats, from many backgrounds. She may not be a vet, psychology major, or scientist, but her babies have her very well trained when it comes to how to care for them. She is constantly working with her family’s veterinarian to come up with new and innovative ways to love and care for the most often misunderstood rodent in the pet world. You can e-mail her at mirrani@yourpetspace.info

My Animal Talks!

deer

Stories Of How My Pets Communicate

We have all seen videos of pets making a noise that sounds like human speech. Dogs howling “I love you”, cats yowling “Hello”, and of course we all expect birds to pick up some vocabulary when they are around us. Do these animals really know what they are doing? Most don’t, of course, but there are some animals that do communicate in ways we consider to be language, like the gorillas that have learned to sign. So unless you have a gorilla, you’re out of luck when it comes to communicating with your pet, right? Not if you learn to talk the way your pet talks.

Animals have a language that is all their own and each species often has a different kind of language from the others. Just like humans, some are capable of learning how to “talk” in other languages, which is usually when you see those mixed species animal friend videos go viral on YouTube. How does that dog seem so happy with that deer? They have found that common ground in language between their species. I watch the videos and though my eye is untrained, I have no problems picking up some ideas rather quickly. Among other observations, the most obvious is that the deer has learned some of the dog’s playful body language and the dog has learned some of the deer’s neck grooming behaviours. There is just enough common ground between them to maintain that friendship, partly because they have learned to “talk” in the other’s language.

deer3

It is possible for humans to do the same thing, if we allow ourselves the time to learn.  Animals will quite happily study our behaviours, mostly out of genetic necessity.  Take our local deer; they freeze in place and stare at whatever strange thing is moving around them to try and decide if they should dash away for their lives. This is their nature. It is what keeps them alive. If the deer in your neighbourhood don’t do this, they have probably become too used to the human activities around them, which can be a dangerous situation with any wild animals.

We are lucky enough to live out beyond the rural boundary, where the deer haven’t adjusted to life with humans in a way that is unnatural for them. Still, loving animal communication since I was a child, I wanted a way to let them go about their lives while we went about ours without disturbing them too much, the way they would coexist with a bird or a squirrel. I didn’t want to open my door and walk to my car, terrifying an entire herd of deer in the process, so I began whistling when I saw them.  It wasn’t a tune or anything, just a note once or twice, occasionally making sound. In this way I would move about my yard, not really looking at them or paying them too much attention at all. At first this confused them, but after some time they began to appreciate it. They are still wild animals, they remain unsure about my intentions and they do move deeper into the woods when they see me, but they aren’t dashing out into the country roads in a panic, to be hit by an unsuspecting driver who is coming around the bend at 45 miles an hour. They have learned that my typical behaviour is to exist in the yard, occasionally making a whistle sound and that this particular behaviour doesn’t harm them. They hear me and will casually wander into the woods, flicking their tails a little in agitation that I have disturbed their peace. The same trick also lets them know I am coming down the private drive we share with other families. A short whistle out the window lets them know I see them and I move forward while they shuffle into the trees. Most astonishingly, in recent years, the older deer have actually come to expect that we should announce ourselves to each other. If I do not see them, they will snort at me to let me know they are there, then flick their tails straight up and trot off into the woods, alerting that they aren’t comfortable with this unusually quiet behaviour on my part. This actually startles some guests at night, so be aware if you come visiting.

deer

The deer aren’t my pets, and I wouldn’t ever want them to be, but I use them to prove the point that all animals have the capability to learn the behaviours of others, even the human variety. If we think about it, this should be obvious.  When we see a bird in our yard, don’t we expect it to eventually fly off? Don’t we all know that a fish out of water is going to flop around in a desperate struggle to get back in? We know these things because we experience them in some way, either in life or on video.  Well, our pets experience us regularly too. They have seen us get food from containers, they expect that we will sleep in the big rectangular fluffy thing instead of on the floor, and they know that we all love looking at that noisy light box on the wall or tapping our fingers on the smaller light boxes that we hold in our hands. If we are doing these things regularly, that must be the way of life.  So when my rats, for example, hear me shuffle boxes around or move a plastic bag, they instantly expect that food is being handled, even if the plastic bag is being put in a pocket to use for the dog’s walk.

How do we increase our communication with our pets?

Some animals can be trained to respond to commands.  Dogs are trained to sit, stay, beg, and do any other number of nifty things. They hear a word, they learn the behaviour that is expected at the mention of that word, then they do the thing required.  It’s that simple. Sometimes you can go beyond that training and teach them to express themselves with the word they have learned.  For example, one of our dogs, Sahara, loves belly rubs.  She flops over, holds her short little leg up in the air and waits.  You rub, then stop, and she turns to look at you as if to say, “Well?  Where’s the rest?” I went a little farther with this expression, knowing that she was trying to ask for more. I taught her that if she touched her cheek when someone had given her a belly rub, she would get more belly rubs. It was an extension of the paw waving behaviour she was already displaying, so she picked it up quickly.  When she realized I only rubbed her belly when she touched her cheek, and not when she put her paw in the air and looked at me, she transitioned to asking for “more” on a regular basis. Recently she has tried this once or twice when getting treats or dinner, all on her own, without prompting.  We have created a monster.

sekhemkare the cat

I have also learned to “talk” with my cat, Sekhemkare, and some of my fish.  With cats, of course, there are usually no issues at all in communication, since they either leave humans alone entirely or have no problem what so ever in telling us what to do. In the case of our cat, the story comes from replacing his favourite toy, “Piggy”, which had become filthy. We got him a new one and picked up the old one to throw away, only to discover in the morning that the old Piggy was happily resting in the middle of the living room floor while the new Piggy was drowned in the cat’s water dish.  That message was clear; death to all imposters.

spit the fish

With my fish, communication has been an interesting ride.  The best results came from Nix, Hydra, Pluto, and LaForge, who all learned how to get my attention by spitting into the corner of their tank.  They quickly discovered that this sound would instigate my making sounds (talking to them) and moving closer to where they were. Each of them began to use this technique to “call” me the way you would call a dog or cat.  LaForge was an only fish and Pluto was also alone for a time, and they were often perfectly content to have me walk over to the tank and sit beside them for a while. In their case this was a way of saying they wanted that “schooling” feeling of having another living thing there with them.  Nix and Hydra are my current fish and use this “call” to tell me that I have forgotten to feed them at exactly the time that they expect to be fed.  If I ignore the “call” they will often leap slightly from the water and knock into the lid of the tank, which I have decided must be their version of swearing at me for not hurrying up about it.

Deimos the rat

Deimos

How My Pets Communicate: The Rats

Now we come back to the rats, who are probably the best communicators of any of the pets that I have. Their minds work more like human minds than just about any animal I have ever encountered. This is one of the reasons rats are so often studied in order to help humans.  There are so many stories when it comes to rats talking with us that it is hard to pick one or two to share. We have had rats tap our cheeks or pull on our clothes to tell us where they want us to take them, we have had rats who have dictated exactly where they expect us to leave their food by dragging their dish to the proper place until we finally got the idea, we have a rat who learned to let himself out of his cage, but would only chew a tiny notch in the furniture, then go back inside and wait for us to notice.  “See? I let myself out again. That’s three times this week, in case you are counting, like I am.”

Two of our rats have been such good communicators that I gave serious thought to teaching them to use technology to actually speak.  Archie was the first of these and sadly he passed away at a very young age, before his training went very far. I learned of his abilities when I realized that he would actually listen to individual words and seemed to work out their meaning within a week or so. I would talk to him and when there was a word he was unfamiliar with, he would tilt his head and look very intent.  He would do this repeatedly until he had learned the word. What do I mean by this?  Take the word “water” for example. To sum up his vocabulary skills quickly, I will shorten his learning process to a few sentences, but it went something along these lines… I would be talking to him and say something like, “I’m going to get your water, be right back.” He would tilt his head and shift his ears forward, a clear sign he was listening to me. I would repeat the word I thought he was trying to learn: “Water?” If he repeated the head tilt, I knew this was the thing he was focused on, so I would then go and get the water bottle, put it in his cage and repeat the word “water”, usually in a sentence, sometimes on its own.  After about a week, if he heard the word water, he would go to either his bottle or the sink, even if we weren’t talking to him. After some time of this, he began to tell us when he wanted fresh water by bonking his head under the bottle if we didn’t talk about water when cleaned his cage.  He would stick his head under the bottle, lift it up, drop it and wait.  If nothing happened he would do it again and repeat the action until someone said the word “water.”  Usually in the form of the sentence: “Okay, Archie, I’ll get you water, just wait a minute!”

archie the rat

Archie

In a few months there were many words that Archie knew and several he was fond of. “Water”, “treats”, “kisses” and “snuggles” were all favourites, but he also knew the meanings of “yes” and “no”, along with many other useful words.  He could also tell the difference between a single “no”, which we used to emphasize new rules, and “no, no, no”, which we used to remind him of rules he already knew how to follow (like no rats on the floor).  I began to work with this increasing vocabulary, certain that there would be a way to help him call to us like the fish did or to express his needs.  I bought little jar lid attachments, intended to help the blind label things.  You record a short message then push the button to play it back.  I began teaching Archie to push the buttons and that pushing the buttons would give him the reward of the thing that he had “requested.”  The hardest part was helping him understand that when he heard the word “kisses” come out of the device, it meant he would GET kisses, not that he should GIVE them.  Sadly, just as he was learning this he became sick and then passed away, so I will never know how far this training could have gone with him.

north the rat

North

Our latest boy, North, will be featured in another article about helping animals adjust to new routines because his communication is the strongest when something is supposed to happen and doesn’t.  For instance, when the power goes out and we then can’t turn the lights on when it gets dark, he dashes around looking up at light bulbs and pulling on our arms. His communication is always very clear.  In this case you can almost see the speech bubble over his head: “Stupid humans.  It’s dark, make it light again!”

The point of all of this is that I have had many people tell me they wished they could have the same connection with animals that I do. Often they ask me what my secret is. How is it that even as a three year old child I seemed to be able to interact with animals in a way that they completely understood? How did I get them following me around or “listening” to what I was telling them to do? There is only one answer: observation. It’s something you need for any language. In order to learn how to say “teddy bear” in such a way that someone else understands it, you have to figure out what word the other person uses for “teddy bear.” The same is true when “talking” with animals; you just have to switch your mind into a different, physical, form of communication.  Sometimes “I’m so glad you’re here!” really sounds like water slapping against the glass of a fish tank. Accepting that is the first step to really “talking” with the animals around us.

Mirrani Houpe, YPS Staff Member

Mirrani Houpe, our Small Animal Editor, has had rats since she took home her first little boy once they both completed the second grade. Since that time she has owned, rescued and bred many kinds of rats, from many backgrounds. She may not be a vet, psychology major, or scientist, but her babies have her very well trained when it comes to how to care for them. She is constantly working with her family’s veterinarian to come up with new and innovative ways to love and care for the most often misunderstood rodent in the pet world. You can e-mail her at mirrani@yourpetspace.info

Leonard Nimoy’s Pet Shop

nimoy with his cat and dog

Nimoy, with his own cat and dog.

Sadly, I’ve been saying I was going to get around to this post for more than a year–and now it’s happening in the wake of Leonard Nimoy’s death.  Sorry, old friend.  But I know somehow you’ll understand…

Nimoy with horse

Sometimes we forget that this business was created to be not only about pets and the people that love them, but also our branding grew out of our deep love of science and science fiction.  No one in science fiction was unfamiliar with who Leonard Nimoy was.  And when he died, every single fan felt it as though he was truly a part of their family.

Because you see, Leonard Nimoy belonged to us–and us to him.

Leonard Nimoy’s Pet Shop

Would you be surprised then to learn, that Leonard Nimoy had a pet shop?  I was!  I actually learned this in the same way that most online wisdom is gleaned–from googling something else.  🙂

nimoy in catspaw

In her 1970 article on Nimoy’s Pet Pad, Michele Jaques says, “Nimoy would have liked Mr. Spock to have a cat or dog on board the ‘Enterprise’.”  For most of his fans, this brings up the Star Trek episode “Catspaw,” where Spock is shown stroking a lovely black cat, who later turned into a woman.  Me-ow, right?  It is obvious though, from his handling of the cat that Leonard loved animals and they loved him.

In the episode “The Enemy Within”, a dog is dressed as a space alien, and once again Nimoy holds a small, furry one in his arms.  This time he looks worried, and rightly so!  In the story, the dog has been divided by the transporter into one angel and one devil dog!

alien dog

According to Jaques, Nimoy went through a bit of a spiritual transformation when Star Trek was cancelled in 1969.  Above all, he spent the years after dedicating himself to doing things that had meaning.  And he considered his pet shop in Canoga Park in the San Fernando Valley a spiritual venture.  There, he had such animals as chipmunks, monkeys, crocodiles, boa constrictors, even a South American otter!  Leonard himself had a dog and cat, a hamster, two rabbits and a tank full of fish.  His children had a pet tortoise that lived in the back yard.

Nimoy’s Pet Pad lasted only a couple of years…but it was a worthy effort made by a truly Renaissance Man.  Thank you, Leonard.  Thanks for letting all of us know you–really know you.

nimoy with wife and dog

 

Joy Jones  Joy Jones, our Editor In Chief, is a syndicated columnist living with her husband Dave in Las Cruces, New Mexico. When not working on Your Pet Space, she writes a metaphysical column, as well as urban fantasy and humor. You can e-mail her at joy@yourpetspace.info as well as send her a friend request on Facebook.