Newsletter December 2016

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 December 2016

What's New?

Happy Holidays from the Animal Behavior Institute! Still looking for that perfect gift for your winged or four footed companion? See our article below on the gift of enrichment. And remember that our next semester begins on January 5, 2017. Registration ends January 2; sign up now to guarantee your spot in class.

New - Avian Training Course!

Andrea parrotAre you interested in training birds, reading their body language and managing their behavior? If your answer is yes, we have the perfect class for you. This winter Professor Andrea Bogle will be offering a new course in Avian Training. This course will introduce students to the training, management and behavior of birds in captivity, with an emphasis on parrots and raptors. The course will cover a wide range of training applications, including husbandry, flight training, vocalizations, and educational programming. Students will learn how to train new behaviors and to manage undesirable behaviors such as aggression, plucking and screaming.

Professor Bogle began her animal training career over 12 years ago. Since then she has worked with a wide variety of species at zoos around the world. Her experience has included training animals for television and movie production, research training, training animals for use in animal assisted therapy, and work with private clients to resolve behavioral problems. She is currently a senior trainer at the Texas State Aquarium.

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Why Cats Claw Furniture and How to Stop It

cat scratchOh no! You come home to find your beautiful wooden table leg destroyed with cat scratches from your new kitty! How do you correct this behavior and save your furniture? It is a common misconception that the best solution is to declaw your cat. Declawing a cat is an irreversible surgical procedure that involves amputating a cat's toes up to the first joint. It is a very painful surgery that can lead to physical, emotional, and behavioral complications. Many cats become insecure and distressed after being declawed, which can lead them to urinate in the house and become more aggressive. In fact, many European countries have outlawed declawing a cat, declaring it inhumane. So rather than declawing, turn to a more friendly solution that can help you and your cat live together in peace.

The first step to dealing with this type of behavior is to understand what drives the animal to scratch furniture. Why do cats scratch? Scratching is a natural behavior in cats and you can’t get them to stop; even a declawed cat will attempt to scratch. What you can do is direct your cat to where she can scratch and where she can’t. Some cats scratch in order to mark their territory. By scratching, they leave both a visual cue and a smell: their paws have scent glands that leave an olfactory mark. Some cats also scratch to exercise. The act of scratching stretches and pulls a cat’s muscles and keeps her in shape; it also serves the important function of removing old claw sheathes. Finally, cats just scratch for pleasure. Scratching feels good to cats and is a natural instinct.

When your cat scratches your sofa and tears out the stuffing, consider where she is coming from. Don’t punish your cat; she won’t understand why she is being punished. Instead, punishment can make a cat insecure and cause her to scratch even more, or develop other behavioral problems. Instead of focusing on what she can’t do, emphasize what she can do. Give your cat an appropriate place to scratch, such as a scratching post. Cats like rough surfaces that they can shred. It’s important that the scratching post is tall enough for your cat to fully extend her body. Additionally, the post can’t topple over; it must be steady and stay up no matter what. You can also provide the reverse side of a rug for your cat to scratch. The texture is perfect for cats, and can be placed over a piece of carpet where your cat has already been scratching. It is important to make sure the rug is stationary, however, Keep it attached to the ground so that it doesn’t slide while being scratched. You may need to experiment - cats have individual preferences for different materials, heights, locations and orientations - cats may scratch both horizontal and vertical surfaces.

More on cat scratching from Dr. Sophia Young

postOnce you have the perfect place for your cat to scratch, it is time to teach her that this is the only place for her to scratch. The post should be in an area that is heavily used by the family. You can begin in the problem spot where your kitty was scratching before, next to the couch, for example. You can create positive associations with the post by feeding and playing with your cat by the post. You can also rub dried catnip leaves into it and reward your cat with a treat when she uses it. Finally, attaching toys to the post will also encourage a cat to play, pounce and claw it.

You can also put a post where your kitty sleeps; cats often scratch when they wake up, or in the middle of the night. In order to keep your cat from scratching surfaces you don’t want to be scratched, try covering them with aluminum foil or double-sided tape. These are surfaces that cats don’t like and will deter a cat from scratching there in the future. Additionally, most cats have an aversion to citrus odors; you can use lemon or orange scents to keep your cat from spending time in an area you want to keep safe from her claws. With encouragement to use the right post, and deterrents from scratching your lovely furniture, your cat will soon be scratching appropriate areas only - to your mutual delight.

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Life as a Sled Dog

In The Call of the Wild by Jack London, Buck is a fierce sled dog who travels through the harsh environment of Alaska with a team of powerful dogs and their owners. Buck goes on a host of trying adventures that bring him closer to his primal instincts in order to survive. But what is being a sled dog like in real life? Sled dogs were originally used for transportation in arctic areas. They would carry supplies to areas that could not be accessed by any other method. Sled dogs were also used for exploration of the North and South Poles and during the Alaskan gold rush. Additionally, they were used to deliver mail in Alaska and northern Canada. Today, sled dogs are still used in some areas of Alaska, Canada and Greenland, but they are only used for recreational purposes such as sled races.

sled dogs 

What does it take to be a sled dog? Original sled dogs were chosen for size, strength and stamina; however, today, sled dogs are bred for speed and endurance. But picking the right dog isn’t everything; mushers must also make sure their dog team is well balanced, and that each dog is similar in size and speed. Most teams can run up to 28 miles per hour – greater than the fastest human sprinting speed ever recorded! There are many breeds that work well as sled dogs, including the Alaskan Husky, Alaskan Malamute, Canadian Eskimo Dog, Chinook, Greenland Dog, Samoyed and Siberian Husky. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages as a sled dog.

All sled dogs develop very tough, webbed feet with closely spaced toes. This structure allows their feet to act as snowshoes. Freight dogs would have dense, warm coats to hold in heat, but sprint dogs have short coats that actually let heat out. Interestingly, sled dogs have two coats: an outer coat that keeps snow away, and an inner waterproof coat for insulation. Because of this, in warm weather, sled dogs can have problems regulating their body temperature and overheat. When a sled dog sleeps, it curls up and its tail protects its nose and feet from the cold. Additionally, sled dogs have a unique arrangement of blood vessels in their legs to protect against frostbite. While on the trail, sled dogs have high-fat diets, and may eat blubbery sea mammals.

Racing sled dogs today are treated very much like racehorses. Their diet, health, and overall condition are monitored daily. They begin training as soon as possible in the fall; one run can last anywhere between 10 and 60 miles. The dogs are attached to the sled by a rope called a gangline and each dog has a harness sized to the specific individual. Each set of dogs has a specific role within the team. The two dogs directly in front of the sled are called wheel dogs, and are generally the biggest and strongest dogs. The two in front of them are called team dogs, and are the best pullers. More dogs can be added at this point if desired. Right behind the lead dogs are the point dogs, which are gaining responsibility and might someday become leaders. Finally, in front are the lead dogs, which are the smartest and fastest of all the dogs. They have many responsibilities and must follow directions from the musher.

Video - the Iditarod Explained

Races such as the Iditarod Sled Dog Race exist so that dogs and their owners can do what they were born to do. In fact, the Iditarod race is known as the Last Great Race on Earth. It includes 1,000 miles of racing through Alaska in temperatures as low as -50 degrees. Dogs that run in these kinds of races begin training when they are as young as one year old. Puppies will run obstacle courses and be encouraged to chase vehicles until they are ready to be put in a harness. By two years old, they are ready to run in a race such as the Iditarod. They are trained to respond quickly to a musher’s commands, and always listen to their alpha. Sled dogs are bred to run and pull a sled, and they seem happiest when doing so.

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Holiday Pet Gifts - Give the Gift of Enrichment

As the holiday season rolls around and you begin shopping for gifts for family and friends, don’t forget to include something special for your animal companion. There are endless products available, but look into a toy or device that provides enrichment. Enrichment is an important part of any animal’s life, and a toy that engages a pet’s natural instincts and gets them using their brain will bring hours of pleasure.

Dogs don’t need any more treats. Get your dog something that will truly engage him. Enrichment toys are made to give dogs hours of fun and exercise them both mentally and physically. They give dogs a way to use the natural instincts that they are itching to put into action. Puzzle toys are some of the best enrichment items to do just that. You can find some inspiration here. Puzzle toys require your dog to work hard to release the treat. This involves problem solving and using their brain to get a tasty reward. What more could a dog ask for?

Cats love playing with toys such as stuffed mice and feathers on the end of a stick. But your cat deserves something special this year. These toys are all great gift ideas for a cat that is ready to get some action! A puzzle that hides food under a board and requires hunting skills will engage your cat’s natural instincts and make her feel like a predator hunting for prey. Additionally, a scratching board engages your cat’s sense of touch and smell, and will really get her excited.

Making cat enrichment at home

parakeet enrichmentBirds
Check out this avian selection of toys your bird would enjoy getting for the holidays. Birds are extremely intelligent animals and love a challenge. In fact, many types of crows and other birds have been shown to be incredible problem solvers, and even have the ability to use tools in order to accomplish a task. Your pet also needs cognitive stimulation and will love any toy that can get him to think on his feet. Manipulative toys and foraging toys are best for this. In nature, parrots and other birds spend most of their time foraging for food – help them find the same experience indoors. These types of toys will require your pet to figure out a puzzle in order to get to the food. They will enjoy the process, and when they figure it out, they will be rewarded with a tasty treat!

Small Mammals
Rodents are active animals that require exercise and stimulation. Some of the best toys for rodents, especially rats and mice, can be objects that allow them to burn off some energy while thinking through a problem as well. These animals spend many hours during the day foraging for food, so toys that allow them to do this rather than simply eat their food out of a dish can be particularly satisfying. See the different types of toys that rodents love to receive as gifts.

Tree monitor enrichment at the National Zoo 

What does a snake want for the holidays? Hint: like a small child, it’s not too impressed by clothes. Reptiles spend time hunting and foraging in nature and will enjoy a toy that makes their food harder to get to, such as a ball with small holes that hides a treat on the inside. Like many other animals, they enjoy puzzles, and also toys that they have to rip through in order to get to food on the inside. They will love looking for food and figuring out how to get to it. Snakes and other reptile predators love to follow scent trails – create one by dragging a prey item through their enclosure. These animals are smarter than you may think and will be up to a challenge.

So no bones for Fido this year. Don't just give him a gift, give him enrichment.

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Animals of the Arctic

If you think a few months of winter is bad, just imagine living in the snow and ice year round like arctic animals do. Each of them has unique adaptations and behaviors that allow them to thrive in arctic environments. Read on to learn a bit about the strategies they’ve developed, perhaps you’ll find something you can use yourself!

Rudolf’s friends play all kinds of reindeer games in the arctic, where they live in a population of four million. They migrate great distances each year and are famous for their antlers, which can grow to be four feet in width! Astoundingly, calves can run within 90 minutes of their birth; they must do this in order to keep up with their migrating families. This is why Santa uses this species to travel all around the world in one night. Reindeer have unique hairs on their bodies that provide excellent insulation so that they can keep warm, and also help them to be buoyant in the water. Reindeer are very strong swimmers and can move across wide rushing rivers and even the frozen ice of the Arctic Ocean. No wonder they can fly through the night sky with ease!

Polar Bears
Polar Bears are the largest land carnivores in the world. Yet they are also marine mammals, spending most of their time in the Arctic sea ice. Their fur is thicker than that of any other bear, it even covers their feet. This serves to keep their feet warm in addition to providing traction on the ice (built in slippers, awesome!)  In addition, they also have a thick layer of blubber that provides both insulation and buoyancy. Because their front paws are large and oar-like, they are excellent swimmers, making them deadly predators of many other Arctic animals. Polar Bears mainly feed on seals, but also eat walruses, beluga whales, and miscellaneous other animals. Unlike some other bears, these animals do not generally hibernate during the winter. Polar bears are beautiful creatures that have become so iconic that you will even see them in Coke commercials!


BBC - birth of a polar bear cub

arctic foxArctic Fox
The Arctic Fox has a variety of adaptations that allow it to survive in the extreme cold conditions of the arctic. They conserve heat with a small, compact body with limited surface area exposed directly to the cold. Additionally, their legs, muzzle and ears are short, which further conserves heat. They have deep, thick fur on their bodies, including their feet, which keeps their bodies warm and allows them to tread on snow and ice. Arctic Foxes generally feed on lemmings, but will eat other animals and sometimes even scavenge for the leftovers from polar bears! Arctic Foxes have incredible hearing, which allows them to pinpoint the exact location of prey beneath the snow and then pounce, breaking the ice and capturing the prey.

Snowy Owl
The beloved Hedwig made this species famous when she made her debut in Harry Potter as the wizard’s loyal pet owl who delivered the mail. Snowy owls are among the largest North American owl species and have distinct golden eyes, which are relatively small for owls. Unlike most other owls, snowy owls hunt mainly during the daytime. Like the Arctic Fox, the Snowy Owl feeds primarily on lemmings. Snow owls will defend their nests violently, showing some of the loyalty and fierceness that Hedwig is famous for.

snowy owl 

As the world encircles you with snow and ice this winter, take a tip from the animals. Put on your slippers, fluff up you fur/comforter and hope for an early spring!

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