Guest Post: A Guinea Pig Thanksgiving!

Just as I’m preparing the watermelon appetizers, Aunt Martha bursts in the door yelling, “You’re doing that all wrong!” Welcome to a guinea pig Thanksgiving–complete with drama, food, and all around family time.

Mom has prepared all the food. She is serving an extra special dish, a hay casserole in a hollow pumpkin. It took time to hollow out the pumpkin to get it just right. Mom spent three days on the hay casserole due to the order the ingredients were placed; some are a secret.

Just as she pulls the casserole out of the oven to cool, my brother flips the pigloo in a burst of boredom. It lands in the casserole, which splatters everywhere. Meanwhile, Grandma Petunia’s dentures fall out as she demands a squash martini with a kale twist.

Ding dong goes the doorbell! It’s Uncle Buddy. He’s brought his famous pumpkin pie in a pellet crust, but has forgotten to bring the whipped cream. As he turns around to head out to the store, Bobby Kitten, Eclipse, and Max zoom past. The pie becomes airborne. Dad happens to walk into the kitchen and catches it…… square in the face.

Pixabay, Stock Photo
Pixabay, Stock Photo

Luckily, the veggie platter was purchased at Piggly Wobbly Bottoms! I go to open the fridge to fetch it but the platter is gone! If we don’t have a veggie platter, Thanksgiving is ruined! The veggie platter is the “turkey” of a guinea pig’s Thanksgiving. Frantically, I run around the house trying to find the platter while Grandma Petunia continues to play with her dentures. I hear “munch, crunch, munch, crunch” coming from under the stairs, it’s Max and he’s eaten the entire veggie platter! His cute, furry cheeks are full of carrots, parsley, and cucumbers!

I look around in dismay. There’s pie, veggies, casserole, and dentures in various areas around the house. There’s also a house full of hungry family members ready to eat whatever they can find. Eclipse has figured out a way to climb up to the ceiling to lick the remnants of the hay casserole, while Aunt Martha criticizes Eclipse for standing on the cabinetry to reach the casserole. Grandma Petunia continues to use her dentures as entertainment, and Uncle Buddy is passed out in front of the TV while the football game continues on.

Ding, dong! It’s the doorbell again! Grandpa Rocco is here and he has the complete Thanksgiving guinea pig meal! Knowing our family well, he had a feeling that we’d need some help. We all sit down around the table and share what we are thankful for. Most of all, we’re thankful for another year of shenanigans and family. Happy Thanksgiving!

Written by Nikki Harbeston, Creative Stuff, for LAA Pet Talk. She resides in South Carolina with her husband and dog. Her blog features Diary of a Chubby Piggie and Into the Journey of Dog. Copyright August 2013-March 2014.

If you are a pet owner with writing skills, Lincoln Animal Ambassadors would love to hear from you! We’re especially looking for content about birds, exotic animals, and horses. Content may take the form of an advice column or how-to articles. You may even simply wish to act as an expert consultant. If you are interested, please post in the comments and we’ll be in touch.


Guest Post: How to Introduce Two Rats

Rats are smart and social small animals that make great pets. If you want your rat to be happy, you should have more of them. They’ll be the happiest with a few ratty friends running around the cage with them.

Pixabay, Stock Photo
Pixabay, Stock Photo

But even though they love to be in the company of other rats, introducing a new pet rat should be done right. You can’t just throw in a new rat in the cage, but must follow a few steps that will ensure your rats accept each other and start their friendship on the right foot.

Below are the steps to follow. Make sure you do them properly, especially if you’re dealing with adult males who can get quite territorial. Also, keep in mind that you shouldn’t introduce rats of the opposite sex until they are neutered.

STEP 1: Quarantine cage

Put your new rat in the quarantine cage completely isolated from the other rats. Make sure you give him your time and love because rats do not like to be alone. You can take a walk around the house with your new rat and play with him often to make their quarantine time easier. You should keep your rat in a quarantine cage for about two weeks.

Before you start to introduce your rats make sure your new rat is healthy and not showing any signs of illness. You would be wise to have a vet check it. If after two weeks, your new rat looks just fine, with no signs of illness, you can proceed to the next step.

STEP 2: Put the new rat cage close to the other cage

When you put your new rat cage close to the other cage, make sure you leave a space between them so that rats wouldn’t fight or injure each other. About four inches should be fine. They will become very interested in each other and sniff each other often.

Optionally, you can clean the cage where your ‘old’ rats are and leave the cage with the new rat uncleaned for a few days so the odor stays. That way they can easily see and smell the new rat which will prevent the old rats to become too territorial and aggressive towards the new rat. Keep an eye on any signs of aggression.

STEP 3: Introduce the rats on the neutral ground

You can introduce rats in a lot of places in your house. On your bed, on the floor or in the bathtub would work fine. If you have multiple rats, I would suggest you introduce them one by one because it can be too shocking for your new rat to see multiple ones and fights could occur. By introducing them one at a time you can see also how each rat is going to react.

Normal rat behavior would be a lot of sniffing of their genitalia to get to know each other better. If any of the rat poops, it’s also not atypical.

Repeat the process for any other rats. Then put the whole group in the neutral ground and observe them. They will probably just explore. You’ll have to be cautious of any teeth chattering or similar because it could be a sign of aggression.

STEP 4: Swap the rat cages when they are a bit dirty

When the cages get a bit dirty, you can put the new rat in the cage where the other rats are and vice versa. Let them smell each other’s odor to completely familiarize with each other.

STEP 5: Put the rats together

I would recommend to keep the cages open, so you can get rats out quickly if a fight happens. Watch carefully for any signs of aggression; this can be stressful for some rats.

If there are any problems between the rats you can try putting vanilla extract near their genitalia to disguise their natural smell. Also, you can give them treats after some time to distract them a little bit and to release the stress.

I hope these step by step instructions were useful in learning how to properly introduce two or more rats. When this is done, enjoy the presence of your beautiful pets getting along great!

Written by Monika Kucic for LAA Pet Talk. Monika is a huge animal lover, currently having two cats in her life. She is the owner of the pet blog called Animallama, where she posts pet care, pet tips, and advice.

If you are a pet owner with writing skills, Lincoln Animal Ambassadors would love to hear from you! We’re especially looking for content about birds, exotic animals, and horses. Content may take the form of an advice column or how-to articles. You may even simply wish to act as an expert consultant. If you are interested, please post in the comments and we’ll be in touch.

Dear Miss Behavior: My Dog Eats Poop!

Dear Miss Behavior: My little Shih-Tzu ‘Mitzy’ was a gift from my son. She is the sweetest little girl, and I love her to death. But she has one most disgusting habit–she eats her own poo. I take her to the back yard to do her job and I clean up after her but sometimes not quickly enough. Why does she do this? What can I do to change this behavior? Scolding her has not helped.

missbehaviorDon’t be embarrassed! Some dogs eat feces. First, take Mitzy to the vet to make sure there’s not a medical reason. Then look at the food you’re feeding her; sometimes dogs eat their feces because they aren’t getting a needed nutrient. It may just be that Mitzy’s trying to help you keep the yard clean. She see’s you picking up and wants to do her part.

If she gets a clean bill of health and is eating a quality dog food, then it’s time to work on training Mitzy. Start by putting her on leash when you take her out for her ‘walkies’. As soon as she’s done her business, call her to you, tugging gently on the lead if necessary and reward her. Put her in a sit, and then clean up after her. Once she’s moved away from her feces, you can gently restrain her from going back to it. I might say “Ah-ah” or “Yuck” to let her know you don’t approve.

Teaching her a “Leave it!” command would be really useful. Check out the Good Dog Classes at GLOC to learn how!

marcygraybillThanks to this feature goes to Greater Lincoln Obedience Club, who ran the Miss Behavior Dog Advice Column in their newsletter. Appreciation also is extended to Marcy Graybill, a trainer at GLOC and the expert behind this column. She also hosts her own blog, Dog Log, where she talks about training adventures with her dogs.

Guest Post: Using Catnip to Train Your Cat

It all started after the move. Pumpkin, a formerly-outdoor cat for nearly a decade, needed to get used to life indoors.

But was it possible?

He had been used to roaming outside for hours on end, pretending to hunt squirrels (and never catching anything), and meeting up with his neighborhood girlfriend/arch-enemy named Rocky. Although we always forced him to sleep inside (ever since the “lost for nearly two weeks” incident of 2015), he would wake up in the morning, meowing insistently to be let outside.

Not surprisingly, his transition indoors started off disastrously. Let’s just say there were a lot of bodily functions going on outside of litter box. And the poor couch…it was being destroyed daily by Pumpkin’s frustrated claws.

So I decided to do some research on how to ease the transition, and discovered a magic ingredient to success: Catnip.

Previously, we gave Pumpkin catnip as a treat — the way it made him go wild and then collapse was pretty adorable. To spoil him, we even tried growing catnip inside, but he destroyed the poor little sprout. I never thought, however, of using catnip as a training tool.

Stock photo
Stock photo

First of all: What is catnip?

Did you know that catnip is actually a herb that’s part of the mint family? According to the Scientific American, it originates from Europe, Asia and Africa, and early settlers brought it to North America. The Pilgrims (the Thanksgiving ones) grew it in their gardens for medicinal purposes and appropriately called it “Cat Mint.” Its official plant name is “Nepeta cataria.”

Have you ever wondered why cats love catnip?

It’s a sex thing. Really. The oils in the catnip act as an “artificial cat pheromone,” which in turn excites the cat and triggers the crazy-happy “high” that you’ve likely witnessed. No wonder cats love it!

But is it dangerous?

Thankfully it’s completely safe and non-addictive. Sure, your cat might collapse in a love-drunk stupor, but it’s all good fun. That means you can rest assured that training your cat using catnip won’t do her any harm.

Stock photo
Stock photo

So how will catnip help me train my cat?

Before you go out and try these tricks yourself, keep in mind that only 70-80% of cats are catnip-junkies because only some cats have the “catnip gene.” So if your feline friend is in the minority, you may need to try other methods of training. For those of you willing to try, here are four ways catnip can help you train your cat:

It redirects poor behavior. For example: My poor couch was Pumpkin’s scratching post. That is, until I purchased a real sisal scratching post and covered it in dried catnip. The post was more satisfying to scratch than the sofa, but it was the catnip that made him want to try it out. Without it, Pumpkin might have kept to his old ways.

It attracts a cat’s attention: I had to make our home more interesting if I was going to convince Pumpkin it was worth staying inside. So we bought him a cat tree. But as you know, cats can be particular about what they like. That’s where catnip comes in: Even if your cat thinks she’s too good for a new perch, sprinkle it with catnip to make it more appealing.

It encourages exercise: Maybe your problem isn’t unruly behavior, but a lack of movement altogether. If your cat is struggling with his weight and the vet has encouraged you to do something about it, catnip can jumpstart playtime. Whether you purchase catnip-filled toys or just sprinkle it on something you already have, it will make playing (and therefore, exercising), much more exciting. It might get your lazy cat to roll around and work off a few calories.

It shows your cat you love him. We all love our cats and want to treat them. While buying food-related treats can be fun, too much can cause your cat health problems in the future. With catnip, on the other hand, you can make Whiskers’ day without dealing with the unwanted side-effects. What does this have to do with training? Letting your cat know you love her pays off. It might not fix all your behavioral issues, but at least she knows you want to spoil her.

I’d like to say that after a couple of months of catnip-training, Pumpkin is perfectly content with being indoors, but that’d be a lie. He still hankers for his wild-child outdoor days, but we are making strides in the right direction — all thanks to catnip!

Tell me, have you tried using catnip with a purpose? Has it worked? Share your successes (or failures) in the comments.

Natalie rescued Pumpkin when he was just a days-old kitten. He was the baby of a stray cat that lived near her uncle, and after a decade of living outdoors, Pumpkin is now transitioning to a safer and quieter indoor life. Natalie writes over at Leaping Cats, discussing ways to keep your indoor cats fit, healthy and happy.

If you are a pet owner with writing skills, Lincoln Animal Ambassadors would love to hear from you! We’re especially looking for content about birds, exotic animals, and horses. Content may take the form of an advice column or how-to articles. You may even simply wish to act as an expert consultant. If you are interested, please check out our Author Guidelines.

Guest Post: The Community Cats at LAA’s Pet Food Bank by Blake Gilmore

When Lincoln Animal Ambassadors moved into its Pet Food Bank location on Knox Street in 2016, we were sad to see the neighborhood was also home to at least one colony of feral cats with some very young kittens. Mama was not tame, but was willing to accept some food. Over the last few months, the kittens
have grown up and have learned to trust people. Ron, our resolute warehouse manager, has worked with a resident of the surrounding complex to keep the local cats from starving.

Fast forward a few months and we finally felt like one of the kittens was now somewhat tame and would let us catch her and get her spayed. We finally caught Callie in late spring and estimated her at
approximately nine months old. Keep in mind that Lincoln Animal Ambassadors is not a rescue organization and does not typically rescue any animals directly. However, we thought it important to help in the neighborhood we called home. It also helped that we knew she had a home after she was
spayed; a Lincoln Animal Ambassadors volunteer had agreed to take her in.

The first order of business with Callie was getting her in to see Dr. Otto for a checkup. She was in good health after some basic preventative care. Unfortunately, we were also too late as she was also already pregnant! This unfortunate turn of events meant delaying her spay procedure and having a few extra kittens to care for. Ron and Donna, our volunteer coordinator, stepped in to care for her while
she was pregnant, and gave her kittens a good start on life. Callie must have sensed the excitement of Wine & Howl because she gave birth the day after to three adorable kittens. These three were fostered through Revolution Rescue by Lincoln Animal Ambassadors volunteers until old enough to be spayed/ neutered. Homes were also quickly found!

Callie’s story has a happy ending. Unfortunately, there are a few cats left in the neighborhood who can’t be tamed. Because Lincoln Animal Ambassadors is not a direct rescue organization and do not have the proper licenses, we are working with animal control and local rescue groups to insure the well-being
of the cats we have left behind in the neighborhood. These colonies can be very successful when all of the cats have been spayed or neutered—Trapped, Neutered, and Returned—but can also be expensive! That is where we need your help! Make a donation to “Callie’s Colony” to help us leave a lasting legacy in the community and save these cats from a terrible fate too.

Reprinted with permission from Lincoln Animal Ambassadors Summer Newsletter. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2017.

Guest Post: The Art of Reward

It’s a hot, sunny, summer day at the beach. Not a cloud in the sky. The waves gently lap the shore, gulls call to each other. The sun is beating on you and you’re thirsty. You’re waiting for your friend. Finally you see them walking down the beach carrying a gift bag. “Sorry I’m late!” they call. “This is for you!” In the bag is a handmade wool sweater. “I knitted it myself! It is really warm and thick.” “Thank you!” you say, as you think …wow, nice sweater, weird, but nice. I don’t really like wool… and I’m not that keen on the color blue… why wouldn’t she just show up with a cold drink for me instead?

You’re stranded on a deserted island and your food and fresh water supply is dwindling fast. A very promising looking bag has washed up on the beach. Eagerly you run to it hoping for food, fresh water or a communication device. Inside are oodles of hundred-dollar bills. Drat!

Silly stories? Sure they are, but they illustrate an important point. Not all rewards are created equal. Things that are rewarding in some circumstances are not necessarily rewarding in other situations. What one person finds rewarding can be of zero interest to another. We are all different and so are our pups.

So how does this relate to us training our puppies with rewards?

When we work with rewards we need to make sure the rewards we choose are actually rewarding to the puppy. In essence this means that the puppy is the one who should be determining what we are using.

How do we do this? We need to observe our pups and learn their preferences. We need to get creative and have fun with rewards. We need to keep a variety or rewards on hand and aim to have plenty of fun surprises for our pup’s great performances! We must master the art of reward!

a hand drawn illustration of a puppy with a bubble above his head. In the bubble are four activities: a ball bouncing, a dog dock diving, a puppy getting a belly rub and a squirrel under a tree. The caption to the right the puppy “Hmm... what do I LOVE?" and below that "I know - let's go shopping for a pink puppy dress!"

Observe and Get Creative

Rewarding your pup with food is great as long as the pup loves the food. Some dogs prefer toys to food, others prefer a chance to chase something, greet a person or get a good belly rub or massage. What my dog finds reinforcing may be very different from what your dog finds reinforcing.

One of my favorite rewards for Fen is to let her chase a squirrel (as long as the squirrel has a good escape route) that I have called her away from. She has to come away beautifully twice and then on the third time she might get to chase. Not always, but sometimes.

This is an example of watching and seeing what my dog loves and using it to reward her great recalls. It’s a win for me, for Fen and for the squirrel that always gets away, although the squirrel might not agree.

Another example of observation is Fen’s response to me clapping and cheering for her when she makes a great catch while we are playing ball. Her body posture changes, it lifts and she runs back to me a bit faster and showier, she looks so happy about her accomplishment and really appears to love the cheering on. Try cheering and clapping for your puppy the next time you are playing a game with them. Do they seem to respond to the cheering in a positive way?


What’s in your treat pouch? Our rule of thumb is a minimum of 4 different types of tasty food treats. Does your pup love the food in your treat pouch? If not it is time to experiment and see what your puppy gets excited about. Tasty pieces of cheese, turkey, hotdog or smoked duck are all usually good bets for pups that are food motivated. Kibble tossed with a tiny bit of bacon fat can be irresistible. The challenge is to get creative and have some really ‘high value’ puppy currency available for those times when you need it.

What’s in your puppy’s toy box? Is there a fun array to choose from? If the toys are always put away after play it helps keep them interesting to your puppy. It is really fun to let your puppy pick which toy she wants to play with during a play/training session. Put a few in a line on the floor and then see which one your pup picks up.

One of my students made me laugh when he told me that he buys all these nice toys but what his dog really loves to play with are old deflated balls and other things she finds in the trash. Good for him for being a keen observer of his dog’s preferences!

An Invitation!

We invite you to experiment and get creative with what you use for rewards with your pup. Have fun with it. Once you have a good sense of your dog’s reward preferences you’ll be surprised to find what a treat this is for you. Training, playing and working together becomes much more successful. You’ll both start having a blast!

Reprinted with permission from Ultimate Puppy. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced. Copyright June 2017.

Sydney Bleicher, director of training, is a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner. Sydney owns and operates Freshpuppy in Toronto. Inspired by Dr. Ian Dunbar, the noted animal behaviorist and best-selling author, Bleicher’s practice focusing on early socialization and prevention. Sydney is a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. She has been coaching all sorts of folks and their dogs since 1992. She has been featured on Breakfast Television, Animal House Calls and has written for Bark Magazine and Riverside Quarterly.


Dear Miss Behavior: My Dog Steals the Cat’s Food


Dear Miss Behavior: Little Ralphy steals the cat’s food. I scold him, I’ve even stuck his nose in it, but he keeps doing it. Now my vet says he’s over weight. I love our cat and don’t want to get rid of her. What can I do?

missbehaviorCat food is delish. Lucky for you Ralphy hasn’t learned to love the other kind of kitty crunchies!

My cat friends don’t share. They love their food and eat it all, but I’ve heard some cats aren’t like that.

This is a case where Ralphy’s instinct is to eat all the food available to him; it’s his nature. There’s no need to get rid of the cat, but you’re going to need to put Ralphy on a diet, and re-locate the cat’s food. Since cats love climbing up on things find a shelf or counter, where the cat can reach the food, but he can’t. Another option would be to choose a room to feed the cat in and put up a baby gate in the doorway to keep Ralphy out.

There are all sorts of traps you can lay for Ralphy, mouse traps under newspaper, stacked tin cans (empty to make noise). The problem is the cat can trigger them instead of the dog. You don’t want to punish your feline friend for trying to eat. It’s better to just take temptation out of Ralphy’s way and everyone will be much happier.

marcygraybillThanks to this feature goes to Greater Lincoln Obedience Club, who ran the Miss Behavior Dog Advice Column in their newsletter. Appreciation also is extended to Marcy Graybill, a trainer at GLOC and the expert behind this column. She also hosts her own blog, Dog Log, where she talks about training adventures with her dogs.

Guest Post: Tell Me What You Want (What You Really Really Want)*

Reprinted with permission from Upward Hound Dog Training. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced. Copyright June 2017.

What would it take for me to get you to do something? Well, you’re thinking, it would depend on what that something is. OK, let’s say I wanted you to:

  • Drink a glass of tomato juice
  • Run 3 miles in flip flops
  • Clean out the garage
  • Give up coffee for a month
  • Lose 10 pounds
  • Play Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 (on an actual cello)
  • Swim the English channel

Those happen to be in the order I would rank those behaviors, from easiest to hardest. You’d probably rank those behaviors differently. Go ahead, rank them in your mind.

Now consider what somebody would have to give you in order for you to do each thing.

  • $10,000?
  • A date with George Clooney? (Oh wait, he’s married.)
  • A sincere thank-you?
  • A Louis Vuitton purse?
  • A pizza?
  • A bottle of 30-year-old, single malt scotch?
  • A new car?

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, of course. I drink tomato juice just because I like it. A new car would probably entice me to spend months learning to play Bach on a cello. But a Louis Vuitton purse? I couldn’t pick one out of a pile; they’re meaningless to me. And sorry, nothing would entice me to swim the English channel. Deep, cold water, strong current. Just no.

This is why trainers say that some behaviors are more “expensive” than others. It’s behavioral economics. We do it instinctively with each other, with our children, and in the workplace. Only we don’t always do it with dogs.

Consider the stuff you’d like your dog to do. Here are a few behaviors I’d like out of my dog Bruce, from cheapest to most expensive for him:

  • Bring his ball to me and drop it
  • Allow me to take away his bone
  • Wait at doorways
  • Lie quietly in his bed while we eat dinner
  • Offer me his paw for nail trimming
  • Come to me when called, even away from a running deer
  • Drop that bunny he just caught

Try ranking those behaviors in terms of difficulty for your dog, or come up with your own list of behaviors you’d like to teach or maintain. The list changes drastically from dog to dog, and also changes over time as their skills improve and your priorities change.

Now, consider what you’re offering your dog in exchange for these behaviors.

If you’ve ever been told that your dog should perform for you out of respect or a desire to please, or for a sweet that’s a good boy!, I don’t blame you for believing it. It’s part of our mythology about dogs and what motivates them. But I bet if you’re relying on this one-size-fits-all reward strategy, one of two things is going wrong:

  1. You get the easy behaviors, no problem. But you get lackluster performance on the hardest behaviors. He will only come to you when he’s bored, or after much cajoling and treat-can shaking. Or you’ve simply given up on him ever being house trained. Maybe he’s just stubborn, you think.
  2. Your dog must be threatened, scolded or forced into performing. He must be held down for nail trims. Or you must use your Drill Sergeant voice and swat him to keep him from jumping on visitors. Or he wears a prong collar on walks to prevent him from dragging you across the park after squirrels.

(For the record, most dog owners I know don’t like using training methods or equipment that hurt or frighten; they just don’t see any other way to change their dog’s behavior.)

Again, it’s behavioral economics. Your dogs, like the rest of the world’s living breathing beings, are doing cost-benefit analyses all the time – what’s in it for me? – and you can leverage that to your benefit.

Make a list of the things that your dog loves most in life, from it’s kinda nice to it blows his mind. Don’t hold back. After all, we’re going for some very expensive behaviors. Here’s Bruce’s list:

  • Good boy!
  • Kibble
  • Zukes
  • Going for a walk in the woods
  • Peanut butter
  • Bully stick
  • Steak or cheese
  • Canned cat food

Choose a few rewards from your list that are easy to use. Payment has to come immediately after the behavior to have an effect, so most dog trainers go with food. It’s easy to carry, easy to dispense, and it’s at the top of most dogs’ lists.

(I’ve met a few dogs who would sell their souls for a ball throw, but that reward isn’t suited to every situation.)

For Bruce, we used steak when first training him to hold his paw still for a nail trim but, now that he’s good at it, we’ve shifted priorities and reserve the big guns for when we ask him to curb his prey drive. He’s always going to get mind-blowingly great stuff when he does a U-turn away from a running deer.

Remember, you get what you pay for.

* Thank you, Spice Girls, for this fabulous line.

Casey McGee is proud to be a Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA). This is a national certification demonstrating thatCasey has passed rigorous standards for knowledge and skills in science-based dog training and that she stays current on the science and techniques of the dog-training profession through continuing education. Also a Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer (CSAT), Casey studied with Malena DeMartini and is a graduate of her intensive training program. Finally, Casey is an honors graduate of Jean Donaldson’s prestigious Academy for Dog Trainers, where she earned her Certificate in Training and Counseling (CTC). At the Academy, Casey developed a special interest in fear and aggression, and dedicated herself to using the training methods with the best track record for meaningful behavior change.

Guest Post: Positive Reinforcement Works. Just ask Olive.

Reprinted with permission from Cory Cordes. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced. Copyright June 2017.

Positive reinforcement. It’s a cornerstone in the standard of care for teaching animals. It’s an efficient and low risk way to create reliable behaviours when it really counts. And for Olive, my beloved mini pig, it’s a lifeline.

The last time Olive was restrained at the vet to be sedated she started crashing, largely from the stress involved, and needed emergency hospitalization for a few days. Trying to restrain her again could prove to be very risky. So how do I give Olive safe access to high quality medical care that she needs?

By harnessing food as a powerful motivator to teach voluntarily participation in veterinary procedures.

Positive Reinforcement Works. Just ask Olive. | Cory Cordes

Here is Olive freezing to have x-rays taken. Yup for real – that’s a pig leaving food alone on cue. The vet staff were just as surprised! No stress was required to lift her onto the table, position her, or hold her still. (I wish I had a better video of this to share, but we were on the spot during another emergency vet visit.)

Currently my training priorities with Olive include teaching her to:

  • Volunteer to have her teeth brushed for good dental health.
  • Volunteer to have her hooves dremmeled to keep her trotters in tip-top shape.
  • Volunteer to hold still for an intramuscular injections so she can be sedated safely.

The takeaway here is that positive reinforcement based training is so much more than just using food in a wishy-washy way for sort-of/maybe outcomes. It’s so much more than trick training. We can apply it in real world situations where results and performance are important. Competent professional trainers around the world do, and so can you!

I get a piece of mind from knowing that we have this technology available to us, because stuff really works. Just ask Olive.

Cory Cordes is a credentialed professional animal trainer with a formal education in applied behavior analysis, animal training technology, species-specific ethology, fear and aggression, behavior change programming, client counselling, professional ethics, and critical thinking. She is passionate about utilizing practical evidence-based behaviour change solutions and provides training methods transparency. Cory lives in Guelph, Ontario, and her animal family includes two Mini Aussies, a Mini Pig, two horses, a large pony, two Amazon Parrots, a Cockatoo and an Oscar fish.

Guest Post: 10 Birthday Celebration Ideas For Guinea Pigs

Happy birthday to all guinea pigs celebrating turning another year older! If it’s your guinea pig’s birthday, throw a confetti shower of parsley over it and sing “Happy Birthday” to your little pal. Here are ten ideas to help you get started in planning a birthday party.

A birthday cake is a must! Purchase a red, green, orange or yellow pepper. Hollow it out by getting the excess seeds out of the inside and cutting the top off. Stuff the pepper with only guinea pig friendly fruits and veggies, then stick a baby carrot on top like you would a birthday candle. Credit for this idea goes to Percy’s Mom from Guinea Pig Cages.

Buy your guinea pig a present! It’s your guinea pig’s birthday, it must have a present. No present is too big or too small; your guinea pig will appreciate the present. If you’re on a tight budget, wrap a toy your guinea pig already has in newspaper or a paper bag; your guinea pig will be in awe over its “new” toy…. Munch munch, crunch, chutt, chutt…

Throw your guinea pig a birthday party! Invite all of your friends and family, along with your guinea pig’s friends to celebrate your guinea pig’s special day. Decorate your home and your guinea pig’s home with streamers, banners, and low hanging oranges for the guinea pigs to nibble on.

Fruity's Birthday, Photo by Allison
Fruity’s Birthday, Photo by Allison

Create a piñata! Fill the piñata with all kinds of fruits or veggies that are approved for guinea pig consumption. I suggest making the piñata from a tissue box or paper towel tube. Tie the piñata to the cage with string or just dangle it in front of the guinea pig crowd and watch those piggies go.

Every birthday party needs games! The human and guinea pig guests will have fun with pin the tail on the donkey, Timothy hay eating contests, and don’t forget cornhole! If your guinea pig and piggie guests want to play cornhole, make sure there’s a set of boards and that cornhole bags that are appropriately sized. If the human guests are not into eating Timothy hay, please provide them with carrots to gobble down in a hurry. 😉

Take home party favors! Make sure to fill a treat bag with fruits and veggies for both the human and guinea pig guests! Once the piñata is busted and the piggies have enjoyed their fill, make sure to send home the leftovers! Perhaps, for the humans, you could send them home with a slice of human friendly cake?

Provide a bounce house! Bounces houses are all the rage at children’s birthday parties. The guinea pig’s would love to practice their popcorning skills in the bounce house, while getting some major height. Please supervise your guinea pig(s) while in occupation of the bounce house.

Dog rides, instead of pony rides! I know a few dogs that would love to let a guinea pig or dozen ride on their backs! The dog would be equipped with a saddle and handles attached to the saddle, so the guinea pigs could hang on while the dog moves about. It’s each and every guinea pig’s choice if they want the dog to run and jump while giving rides.

Hire live entertainment! Humans and guinea pigs alike can shake their groove thang with the musical tunes of a live band. If you really want a happening time, hire a band that plays swing music–guaranteed to make your guests move. A magician is always a great idea at parties. The magician can make a strawberry appear out of nowhere and turn a car into a pumpkin! Most magicians will let the birthday piggie perform a magic trick for the party guests too.

Create a hay buffet with all of the flavors! Orchard grass, Timothy hay, and Bluegrass are few of the hay offerings you could present to the guinea pigs at the party. With all of that munching on hay, make sure there are plenty water dispensers. If you’re having a large party, I recommend getting large bales of hay for the guinea pigs to munch on. Don’t worry if you have leftover bales; just send them home with the guinea pig guests!

Once again, happy birthday to all of the guinea pigs celebrating their birthdays! I hope that you have the best birthday party, ever! If you’re looking for a pet guinea pig, please contact your local rescues to see if you can become a guinea pig parent. Wheek, wheek!

eclipseWritten by Nikki Harbeston, Creative Stuff, for LAA Pet Talk. She resides in South Carolina with her husband and dog. Her blog features Diary of a Chubby Piggie and Into the Journey of Dog. Copyright August 2013-March 2014.

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