Friday, June 14, 2013

New Blog!

I know I haven't posted in awhile. I could give some excuses about how I am busy with school and work...but really I am just kind of done with this blog. But there is some good news! I have created a new blog about positive dog training and my new puppy! Here is the link! I hope that anyone out there in Internetland who is looking at Smiley Salamanders will take a moment to go visit the new Clicker Collie blog!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

House Update

So we got final approval for our house the other day. We just have to wait for the docs to get ready, then we can sign and get the keys! Since I am leaving before the docs are going to be ready, I will sign a form before I leave that authorizes my hubby to sign for me. He gets to move stuff over. Of course, that "stuff" includes our animals!

So I am going to make things a little easier for him. I am disinfecting all of the cages and cage furniture before I leave for my vacation. Most of the animals are going to get a temporary substrate (paper towels) that will be much easier to clean in case they make any messes before the move. That way, he doesn't have to worry about dumping old carefresh or wiping out cages.

I also set aside all of the transport carriers for the animals. We have enough snake bags, sterilite bins, and critter keepers to move everyone over in one trip.
Some of the transport "cages" 
One of the most exciting things about the new house is that we have a huge room to put all of the reptiles in. Oh, and we get to paint :) We are thinking of painting the whole room in Behr brand "Carolina Parakeet".
Carolina Parakeet 
It looks more green (and less yellow) on the actual color swatch we got from home depot. We want to paint the room with a bright, fun green.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

"First Disney Vacation" Gift

At the end of this month, I am going on another Disney World vacation with my mom, sister (who is seven-years-old), and sister-in-law (who is twenty). This is my sister-in-law's first Disney vacation! I decided to make her a "first disney vacation" gift to help her survive and enjoy the experience. I know this is a little off-topic from what I usually post. But I should have lots of reptile and amphibian photos to share once I get back :)

I wanted to get things for her that are essential for a disney trip but are also things that she wouldn't necessarily think to get for herself (tums, hand sanitizer). I also wanted to put together a packet of Disney info that would be relevant. And of course, I wanted to throw some fun stuff in there, too! So here are some photos of the "first disney vacation" gift that I made her.

 So I started out by getting her a bag that she could take into the parks. I didn't want her to have to take her purse into the parks! Most seasoned Disney World vacationers know to bring a disney bag just for the trip. This mini backpack is small enough to go on the rides but large enough to carry the essentials. Plus, it is cute!

Attached to the zipper pull you will see a sweet pea pocketbac from Bath and Body Works and a pocketbac holder. I have always brought pocketbacs into the parks. Kids have a tendency to touch icky things and then touch rides/rails/tables/and so on. Plus, people come from all over the world to visit Disney and they often bring nasties with them. I can't tell you how many times I have heard of trips being ruined by stomach bugs! So I always wash my hands or sanitize (often both) before eating. Seriously, you can't be too OCD about this while you are in the parks. That 30 seconds you saved by skipping the sani isn't worth the two days spent in your hotel room with a bug!



This is the stuff in the front pocket of the mickey bag. The big flower thing is a hair tie for the Animal Kingdom park (I bought a leopard print one for myself because I think they are so cute). I also got her another pocketbac, two five-hour energies, and a roll of tums. We are on the disney dining plan and we are going during food and wine, so the tums are essential!



I took a regular mead folder and decorated it with Alice paper (one of my sister-in-law's favorite movies). I added a tinker belle light-up pen, two packs of travel tissue, and one of those magic towels from the dollar store (for fun). The little blue thing is alice-themed EOS chapstick ("blueberry potion" flavored). It has a little mickey head on the front :)


The folder contains our flight info, a suggested packing list, a disney guide brochure, DDP brochure, 3-1-1 info from the TSA, and a page from Ridemax explaining Fast Pass. It also contains an itinerary for every day we are at Disney World. I used Ridemax to create itineraries for the trip. Ridemax is a computer program that tells you which times would be best to visit attractions with a limited wait. You simply plug in your date, park, and desired attractions and ridemax tells you when to go to each ride and how long the wait should be. I would never travel without making plans with Ridemax!

 The back of the folder.


I made maps on Disney.com and had them shipped. The maps are free and they look awesome! I put these maps in her backpack along with a mini Disney guide, luggage tags (not pictured), Magical Express tags (not pictured), a first-aid kit, glow bracelets, and a glow necklace.

So there you have it. The "first Disney vacation" gift that I put together for my sister-in-law. Cute and functional :)

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Training Dib the Cat

Before I start talking about cat training, I wanted to talk briefly about something very exciting that may be happening. My husband and I are trying to buy a house! We are currently in underwriting for a loan on a 3-bedroom, 2644 sq ft home. If it all goes through, we plan on doing some very cool things with our reptile room. So that kind of explains why I haven't been posting lately :)

Anyway, back to the cat training post. I currently work at a doggy daycare. A few months ago, my boss (who is very into positive training any animal) convinced me to try to train my cat. I thought that it would be difficult to train Dib to do anything. We always thought my cat was "a circle short of a figure eight" and I figured training a pet rock would be easier than training a cat.

And I was very, very wrong. Training Dib has been as easy as training a dog. He is very smart, motivated, and attentive! So far, Dib has learned "sit", "up", (walk in a) "circle", "wave", and "point" (he will touch his nose to his target on command). So for those of you that may want to train your cat, here are some tips and methods that I found useful.

Clicker Training is Awesome! A clicker is what is known as a "bridge device". It tells the animal  that the desired behavior was achieved in that moment, and that a treat is coming to reward it. It is like a little camera that takes a snapshot of the trick. So when I ask my cat to sit, I click as soon as his butt hits the floor. Then he gets a treat. Training is all about communicating with the animal. Clicker training helps make that communication clearer. It is a way of saying, "YES! That right there. That is exactly what I want! Now you get a treat." If you train a cat, I highly recommend using a clicker.

Clicker (left) and target (right)
Quit While You Are Ahead. When the cat is done, the cat is done. Don't make training an unpleasant experience by pushing your kitty too far. Ideally, a training session should be short. Maybe five to ten minutes. Cats seem to get bored much faster than dogs. If your cat starts to show signs of frustration (performing the wrong trick, batting at your hands) or distraction (looking at other things, walking off), then STOP! You can always start a new training session in a few hours. As you train your cat, you will get a feel for when Kitty is "done". Try to stop before your cat hits that point. And if you are getting frustrated, you should stop. You never want to reach the point where you want to yell at the cat. Speaking as someone who has lived with cats her entire life, yelling at a cat NEVER works.

Be Puurrrfectly Positive! Okay, pun aside, you need to understand that positive training is the only way to go here. Positive training methods include things like clicker and treat training (yay!). Negative training methods include things like spray bottles, cans of pennies, and shock collars (yes, they do make shock collars for cats. I was horrified, too). You don't need negative training methods to get your cat to do what you want.

Salmon jerky and bonito flakes
Use Yummy Treats! Trust me, if your cat doesn't like the treat, he won't work for it. Think of treats as like getting paid. You wouldn't want to be paid in garbage, would you? Then why would your cat want to work for a treat he doesn't find appetizing? I use dried bonito flakes because my cat loves them and he can't have chicken (and most cat treats have chicken in them). You could use any treat that your cat loves, that isn't too big (although you could use big treats if you can rip them into smaller pieces), and isn't too fatty/ high in calories. I like high-protein, low cal treats with very few ingredients. Dried bonito flakes, dried chicken pieces, and salmon jerky made for cats are just a few examples.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Power Outages and Cold Weather Emergencies

 I know it is almost June and most of us won't have to worry about winter storms for awhile. This post is super late but I wanted to share it anyway. Last January, Western Washington got hit by a massive ice and snow storm. This storm caused power outages and seriously dangerous conditions.




As you can imagine, winter storms can cause problems for reptile keepers. They make it difficult to maintain temperatures. If the power goes out and you don't have a generator, reptile lights and heat pads do not work. So how do you keep your critters safe during an emergency or power outage? Here are a few tips.

 Stock up on hand warmers

Hand warmers can serve as emergency heat pads. They can be placed under tanks or under carriers. Be careful when using them because they can get very hot. Monitor cage and surface temps carefully. Keep in mind that most hand warmers get hotter when exposed to more air. DO NOT PLACE DIRECTLY IN TANK!


Stock up on snake bags, critter keepers, and other animal totes

If you have to move your animals to a warmer location or a place with power, you want to make sure you have enough totes to carry all of them safely. This picture shows some of my feed containers and critter keepers. Plastic totes that are not clear are better (darkness reduces stress and thicker, "weather resistant" totes may hold heat better), but clear totes can be used. It may be handy to keep some extra substrate around so that you can easily add some to the totes. Snake bags are great for transporting snakes. Pillow cases can also be used (just make sure you tie them up well)! Cat/dog crates and carriers are another possible way to transport your bigger herps. I brought home Gary the ball in a soft-sided animal carrier (much to the amusement of my coworker). Just a side note: I would strongly caution against adding anything (like cage furniture) to the totes because they can move during transport and hurt your critters.

Try to keep the room warm

Keep all windows and doors shut. Keep blinds and curtains closed. If you are preparing for a storm well ahead of time, you will want to check for and fix any drafts. We were very fortunate because at the beginning of winter, we bought a kit to fix our drafty window in our reptile room (this helped all winter long, not just during the storm)! If you have a "reptile room" or a warmer room, you can use objects (like pillows and blankets) at the base of the door to block it from larger or colder rooms. I highly suggest moving all of your herps into the warmest room in the house. Another thing you can do is blast the heater when the power comes back on. If the power comes back, don't assume it will stay. Turn the heater up as soon as possible.

Try to stay with your animals

Keep an eye on your critters! A local zoo lost all but one of their giant salamanders because no one was there to monitor the aquarium temperature. When the power came back on, the chiller failed to turn on with the pump, and the water was accidentally heated to over 80 degrees! The poor salamanders (which would have happily survived the extreme cold of the winter storm had the power outage continued) overheated. You can avoid problems like this by monitoring your animals and their cage temperatures closely. Don't assume that because you have an animal that can tolerate cold, that he does not require monitoring. Power outages can cause all sorts of problems.

Have a Plan

The most important thing is to have a plan. I talked with a few of my friends after the power outage and many of them were very panicked about their animals during the storm. One of my coworkers had to sleep with her bearded dragon to keep him warm because she had no power and no emergency plan! Decide what you would do in the event of an emergency. Where would you go if your home gets too cold? I have a friend with a powerful generator, but not everyone does. Do you have enough totes to transport all animals safely? Where are your emergency supplies? Keep in mind that while many herps are hardy and can go a very long time without food and water, very few of them can tolerate extreme cold. And if you have multiple animals, some of the may tolerate cold better than others. Decide which animals will need to be moved and when.

So there is my post about cold weather emergencies. It may be a really long time before the next winter storm, but you can use all that time to prepare :)

Living Room Decor

I am going to make a few posts today because my husband returns from his trip this evening and I will no longer have unlimited access to his laptop. Here is a very short post about my reptile and amphibian-themed living room decor.

We don't have much in the way of herp-theme decor in our living room. We have a "habitat stand" (basically an aquarium stand with a solid top and shelves underneath). Snakey's cage is on top of the stand. The shelves are filled with herp books and this little guy:

Isn't he cute? If you can't tell, he is a little frog bookend. I absolutely adore him :)

 And here is a very large (about 32in x 32in) painting of a little boy and a turtle. I bought it for $10 at a sidewalk sale. It was originally priced at $200 but it has a little chip in the frame so they threw it out with a bunch of other "damaged" paintings at the sale. I like it because it is currently right next to our Russian tortoise "enclosure" (a play pool filled with substrate and cage furniture, but more on that later).

10 Must-Have Items for Reptile Care and Maintenance

Over my many years of keeping reptiles and amphibians, I have decided that certain objects are necessary for their care and maintenance. Here are 10 items that I cannot live without. 

 Detachable Shower head

This is one of the most important items on the list. Since we live in an apartment, I can't just take the cages outside to hose them down. We have no hose or backyard! So we have a detachable shower head instead. It makes cleaning cages and cage furniture a snap. Plus, we don't have to worry about dumping bleach water on the lawn. It just goes down the drain! And the high pressure setting really helps wash off stubborn bits of eco earth. In my opinion, this is a must have for anyone with caged animals.


 Huge Mister

This is pretty self-explanatory. Reptiles and amphibians (even desert species) need the occasional misting. This monster of a mister makes it very easy.








  Probe Thermometer

Let's face it: most of those sticky cage thermometers suck. They aren't very accurate and they constantly fall off. Heaven help you if one of the adhesive-backed cage thermometers falls into eco earth. It will never stick to the glass again! While I do use sticky cage thermometers to get a general read of the cage temps, I prefer probe thermometers because they can move and they are much more accurate. I have hung this one on a tack stuck into a cork board. I can remove the thermometer easily to test cage and water temps. When I am not using it to test cage temps, it measures the room temperature for me. Very handy!


 Hand Sanitizer, Paper Towels, and Enzymes

Paper towels are an obvious must-have. Same thing with hand sanitizer. The enzyme cleaner is a little unusual, but it is one of those things I cannot live without. Unlike many reptile cleaners, it is completely harmless to the animals. And while I would never spray it on an animal or in their water bowl (duh), I can use it while the critter is in the cage. It doesn't sanitize the cage (I use a small amount of bleach and a lot of water for that), but it is very good at reducing odors! It works very well with care fresh. When combined with a paper towel, it also helps remove stuck-on snake poo.


 Spare Light Bulbs

Because you never know when a light will go out. And most pet stores aren't open 24-hours.
Feed Tongs, Sand Scoop, and Scrub Brush

Feed tongs are useful for more than just feeding. They can be used to move objects in cages (like when you are feeding your pacman frog and accidentally drop the cricket cardboard in his cage and don't feel like losing a finger) or as an "emergency" snake hook for rowdy snakes after feeding (or whenever). You may think, 'who owns a reptile and not a pair of feed tongs'? But trust me, I have met plenty of people who own snakes and not feed tongs. Sand scoops can be used to scoop up all kinds of substrate. They can also be used to separate meal worms from the material they are packaged in (especially when you are down to your last few). Scrub brushes are awesome for cleaning water dishes (don't use cleaners, though)! As a side note, you can also see a thing of calcium supplement in the drawer. I didn't include that in the list because then I would have to include reptile food in the list.


So there you have it. 10 must-have items for reptile care and maintenance.