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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Temperament considerations for first time Monitor buyers.

Everyone remembers it. The day they met their first large, tame lizard. That moment is met with awe, even if your not a reptile person. Wow this wild animal is sitting in front of me, benign and trusting, how amazing is that.

For most of us though, that awe is met with immediate desire. This animal is friendly and exotic. I GOTTA HAVE ONE. I mean, who wouldn't want to have the "mans best friend" type relationship with an oddball animal, or maybe just have an impressive animal to show off. Part of the joy of having a pet is sharing or showing that pet to others, sharing pictures and stories.

Sadly though, most people who go through with their desire are met with not just disappointment but almost repulsion when the animal they purchase isn't interested in riding their shoulder while they comb the beach or go to the local pet store. Animals that hide 24/7 in their cages, and panic when touched. Resulting in scratches to our sensitive palms and fingers .Worse yet, when the animal lashes out and attacks its handler with its tail or mouth. Tails can really sting and larger animals leave welts that bruise or even bleed. Lizard bites are no fun and I often describe them to people as feeling like you "hit your hand with a hammer" or "shut your finger in a car door".

In this article I'll walk you through what I've learned breeding, raising, caring for and selling these lizards to the public. I gathered large amounts of experience, and have listened and learned from ended less stories from both experienced and novice keepers. Patterns do emerge and I'd like my knowledge to help people beyond those I get to talk to in person.

I'll start out by saying that not all reptiles that are friendly are what they seem. Reptiles are cold blooded and as such need external heat to digest their food. Not only that, but they need it to MOVE around, do normal behaviors and react to your presence. A person can take a very flighty or aggressive animal, cool it to room temperature, and now a classroom of first graders can parade in and pet it and no one loses a finger. Bring the animals core temp back up and its no longer Mr. Squishy Cakes. I know for a fact this tactic is used to sell baby iguanas at swap meets all over the US. Some sellers going so far as to have a large tame animal on display and having the babies in their bins with insufficient heat. People see the tame adult (who may or may not really be tame, possibly just cold) and then are suckered into buying a baby. These people either never learn about temps and the animal remains "tame" and slowly dies, or they set the animal up correctly and are now questioning what they are doing wrong because the animal now wants nothing to do with them.

I've seen the "It was tame when I bought it" phenomenon appear for all sorts of animals, namely Nile monitors and Tokay geckos. Two animals with notorious dispositions. Often the buyers of these animals feel they've got some sort of magical connection or "the touch" and are quite proud that they can conquered such beasts. Other times is just pure ignorance and their aren't even aware of what they are purchasing. Either case the result is the same. Get the animal home, the animal now is a flighty, bitey, stress case.

Wild Caught or Captive Bred.

If you are aiming for a tame lizard, its best to buy a captive bred animal. Captive bred animals are better for a variety of reasons, namely there are less stressed than wild caught (WC) animals. WC animals on top of just having a terrifying experience of being shipped multiple times and housed in crowded conditions, are virtually always parsitized and require medication. The act of worming itself (and the vet visit for most people) is just another scary thing in this animals short life. Young brains of all animals are impressionable and reptiles can and do learn that people are scary after bad early experiences.There is growing scientific evidence in many species that stress in early parts of life with affect the adult personality (seems like a no brainer eh?)

That said it will be nearly impossible for most people to find a CB Iguana or most Varanid species. In these cases aim for long term captive animals that will readily eat in front of you at the store, before you take it home. Eating in front of you is also a good indicator that the animal is being kept at the correct temperature thus displaying its true temperament, and isn't just tame because its cold.

Fight or Flight.

Think about how you'd react if a man came at you with a knife. Would you run? Would you come at him to disarm him? If you originally would have ran, but now theres no escape, now what? You realize that hes so much bigger than you than you can't fight him, so you just sit down and wait for death?

These are the results of fight or flight. Everyone and every animal has a default setting that they resort to in a situation. These are the options;

Flight: Run from the scary thing

Fight: Attack the scary thing so it will leave you alone,

Flight first then fight: I'll run from you until I can't anymore, then I'll try and scare you away

Fight first then Flight: I'll try and scare you away and if that doesn't work after X amount of time, I'm out of here!

Shutdown; I've learned that nothing I do works to make the scary thing go away, so I give up. Eat me now.

Rituals; Ritualized aggression, posturing, flaring, hissing, gaping etc, these are all a precursor to Fight or flight, intended to scare the scary thing away without actually having to expend to much energy.

Notice how often the words "scary" and "scare" appear? That's because both skittishness AND aggression are FEAR based. The anxiety, or dare I say emotion is the same, but the animal is just handling it in a different way depending on past experiences, genes, situation, etc.

Doesn't sound fun does it? for either party. If you already have brought your lizard home, you will need to methodically tame it down. If its not home yet, really, really think about what you are likely getting into. Think of it as committing to a large dog (financially) but its got a scaredy cat temperament and wants to bite you. It will tame work and commitment, please don't take it lightly...

I'll go into how to tame down a monitor in another article. It can be done! :)

Thursday, November 8, 2012


'Pursuit of normality is the ultimate sacrifice of potential"

Saturday, October 13, 2012


Chili has learned very quickly that putting his chinny chin chin on the bartop is the best way to elicit bacons.

Its not attractive. It is effective ime.


You know its winter when the chihuahuas begin to nest.

Poor birdie.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Teaching weave poles in 30 mins to a dog besides a Border Collie.

The vet gave me the green light to go ahead and run Chili into the ground, his knee issue, turns out gets BETTER with exercise, not worse. I also thought broken things wear out faster if used MORE, but in this case, he gets a free pass.

More exercise means more muscle, and the stronger the muscles, the less the knee will pop out of place, and sure enough, it seems to hold true. Sit on your ass for a week and the dog skips. Run him around like a nut, legs work great.

Weave poles have always mystified me. They seem so damn hard. This is how learning weaves go...

Watch all the videos you like of border collies and Aussies doing them, doing them FAST.

Get really excited.

Buy your own set.

Realize you own a chihuahua.


Try again with another dog.


Don't try again for at LEAST two years.

well, at least that's how I did it. I did what seemed logical, the bait and lure around the poles method, and aside from the dog not really learning anything, its kinda hard to do and not step on anyone or keep the dog from over shooting you. Then the question is, do you start over at each FAIL or keep going? I had no clue wtf I was doing, and I felt quite stupid. After all I had tackled som' big behavior challenges and taught som' really elaborate tricks by this point. I threw in the towel and decided I'd retry if I ever rescued a border.

Think outside the box Crystal, jeebus.

So I pondered the weaves for YEARS, thought hard and then saw firsthand that the bait method just don't work. Dogs who had done 6+ weeks, all the way up to YEARS of agility still sucking sticks at it, I knew it wasn't me. It was the method. I watched another trainer struggle to get her dog to do weaves and then I decided I HAD to figure this out. Sure I could read how to do it but many different trainers and copy, but I wanted to figure it out from scratch.... Its unfair for people to pay me to teach them som'thing I hadn't mastered. Its unfair for people to pay me for a method that I didn't come up with on my own, thus can't troubleshoot... That is som'thing I vowed I'd never do, and so far, I've kept that vow.

I taught my dog to do 12 pole weaves perfectly with one reward at the end in 30 mins total.  This included my troubleshooting and figuring it out. Training sessions averaged about 5-10 mins over several days.

Taught him to do them at full speed without any help from me, perfectly, took about an hour of training with 5-15 min sessions.

This is how I did it.

firstly, I noticed people start TOO CLOSE to the weave poles. Don't start at the entrance... Start at least 3' away, preferably 5' or more. In the course the dog is going to be running up to the things anyway, generally.

Using a hand target have the dog in a heel or away from the poles and walk up to them, lure them with your hand around the first pole. Click when their left shoulder is parallel to the first pole. REWARD on the GROUND to the front and left of the first pole.

 Always reward on the floor. We are teaching the dog a HOT SPOT of a place in space, so they will automatically go to that place. Feeding them from your hand teaches them to watch you more than we want in this task. This is also why I do not believe in using a lure or bait in this task, because it distracts the dog too much, and without it, most dogs can't do it. Teach the dog to hand target or touch FIRST and then use your hand as a moving target. Most dogs focus much better this way.

Imagine the dog hadn't heard the click and was about to magically weave into pole #2, visually look at the ground and imagine where the dog would have been at his peak movement left before he turns to go right for pole #2. That is where you place the treat. If you are really slick at this, you can THROW the treat in that direction, which really teaches the dog trajectory.

Yes your dog will overshoot the second pole doing this. That's ok, we are only working on entry and pole #1. We aren't just teaching the dog to weave, but that he ALWAYS must start with the first pole at his left shoulder. If yours dog fails to learn this, he may weave, but it will be technically "wrong" and it doesn't work for competition.

Do this until the dog gets 3-5 in a row correct. If he messes up, restart him 3'-5' away. If the dog is getting discouraged, I like to add a hand touch at the reset, which I'll click at random.  So the dog thinks the whole thing is fun.

Remember never let the dog know they failed during the weaves. This is HARD for them both physically and mentally, and I've watched so many dogs get their interest killed before anything can be taught because owners either gave a NRM or just acted disappointed. If they fail, say nothing except whatever you need to reset them ( like a touch or recall), offering them a reward for resetting. Coming to you on command away from an obstacle is a good skill to have anyway, and much easier to teach BEFORE the dog realizes how much fun the obstacle is.

Now have the dog do pole one, and using your hand as a target guide them around pole two. Click as that shoulder passes the pole. Reward off to the right of the pole, Just ahead of it. Just like you did for pole one but mirror imaged. Do practice this until the dog gets 3-5 in a row then take a break. Preferably overnight.

Second session.. Be prepared to review resetting and reteaching pole 1 by itself and then pole 2. Don't expect the dog to remember anything from session 1, and you wont be disapointed. ;) Start rewarding at random at either pole 1 or 2. Remember the moment of the click is when the shoulder is straight with the pole.

Repeat the same method for all the other poles, if the dog starts getting stuck, lower your criteria back to one pole for a few reps then try again. Remember to be HAPPY and not push it too much. Your goal in the second session is really to only get pole 3 down. This is because the dog will have to review poles 1 and 2 from scratch (most likely)and that will take up alot of your time. Don't push for more poles unless your 110% sure your dog will do it.

Third session. Dog should be decent at this point and need to review, but only a couple of reps. Go ahead and teach more poles. At this point the dog should be following your hand movements pretty well. Dogs who are familiar with hand targeting before this task will probably be able to complete about 6 poles at this point with a hand target. Dogs not proficient in hand targeting will need more time.

Once your dog is doing the whole set, remember to click on that last pole and throw your reward straight ahead, this is the start of building speed and keeps the dog moving. Dogs who aren't used to this may stop and look at you. Big pieces of cheddar cheese are great for dogs who don't seem to see thrown treats.

If the dog fails, take a step back and make it easier. Its very tempting to rush this, and it wont work, trust me. The dog will start to pop out on the poles you spent the least amount of time on, (in my dogs case, poles 8 or 9 in a 12 pole set) the more times your dog pops out the longer it will take to fix, so its best to restart and solidify things than push it if you see pop outs.

There you have it, not the only way, but the way I found works for me. Yay! :)

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The brainiac has pooped his pants.

All my life I've had motivation issues. Well, I guess its only an issue if its a problem, and problems are of course, subjective.

I remember being labelled by my parents early on as "lazy" and "sleeping too much". I could go to bed at 8 and stay there until 1pm the next day (which rarely happened because this wasn't allowed to happen). I tired very quickly at physical tasks; lifting, hiking, raking leaves, etc etc.

I now know, that I was under tremendous stress as a child, mentally, due to many factors. I spent most of my childhood in complete terror of other people and children. I spent it in complete terror of being forced to interact with people I wasn't comfortable with. I spent alot of time in tears. Alot of time. Then there was the stress of being told it was "on purpose" or to "just stop". Two things that don't really help or work.

I spent my entire childhood and the first part of my adult life (skip this paragraph if you don't like TMI) shitting my brains out two to five times a day with stress induced IBS. If your not familiar with IBS, the stress response of your body causes the colon to contract violently and quickly. This causes intense pain. Whats even more shitty about it (pun intended) is the body is also more SENSITIVE to pain during these episodes because of compounds your body releases during stress response. So not only are you running to the bathroom, your not just in pain, but your in agony. This is debilitating pain that wakes you up at 6 am. and I wish it on no one. This was a near daily occurrence for me for about 20 years until I figured out ways to control it.

I just find it interesting that chronic dehydration was never fingered by my parents as why I was always exhasted, even after I had to go to the hospital for it, but I digress.

Anyway, back to sleeping and lazying around. Well, firstly, its found, that zoo animals, once all their calorie needs are met, do the same thing. So much of our behavior is probably programed around getting your daily bread. In a western world, not so much an issue.

I don't think that is my "problem" though. I've always liked the saying "penny for your thoughts" which sounds a little cliche. So instead I simply ask whats on peoples minds, or what are they thinking, when there isn't a direct task being had. (where what being thought is obvious)

I've been quite shocked when I get a "nothing" reply. Not in a dismissive or a "I don't want to answer" way, but in a genuine way. The tv is off and there isn't even a radio in the background.

These are not stupid people, they just don't think all the time. This was hard for me to grasp, and I thought my leg was being pulled, until I found it true in multiple people. For me, the tv is always on, the radio is on in the same room, and perhaps a book is open.

My mind never shuts up. Not in a schitzoid way, like annoying voices, but in a contemplative way. I'm thinking. All the damn time.

They say that the brain is an expensive organ energy wise. They claim chess grand masters use up to 7000 calories in an hour. When you teach an animal a new task they want to sleep for two extra hours that night.

I wont make any outrageous claims. But I will say this. I'm tired, I'm 125lbs, and I consume alot of damn calories yet can't put weight on to save my life.

Perhaps I've stumbled on the newest and greatest "get thin quick" recipe.

anyway, like I said, problems are all subjective.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Mint Condition

One of my more interesting styles of dog "parenting", is allowing the dog to make its own decisions. Then rewarding the right ones.

Most owners pretty much try and micromanage their dog. Always on leash, even with a good recall. Not allowed to eat anything weird off the ground, you will stay here, etc.

There's also the you can do THIS but not THAT. Which really confuzzles them I find.

Now this is a tad different that training, even PR training, which involves rewarding correct answers and typically redirecting or managing the bad ones. I let the dog have free reign, and I ignore the bad bits entirely. In fact, I often make fun of him when he chooses "wrong".

also, I take into consideration what the dog considered best once we are through the learning curve.

Chili, while at work with me, must go out to a grassy area to pee. This involves walking past a restarant that has a messy set of patrons. Or crappy dinner mints.

There are always LOTS of these mints on the ground outside the door. Chili ignored them at first, and then as time went on he began to sample them. I would let him, and sure enough, he'd taste, spit it out, I'd make fun of him, and we'd move on.

Well, this was ok for a while, he learned that these things tasted bad, and ignored them again. Then he realized that there were different TYPES of mints, and once again the sampling resumed.

What I have learned. Green mints are good, yellow are meh, and all others are bad.

and who said chihuahuas have no purpose? Next time I eat there, I'll know to dive right into the green mints.

Chili on the other hand, has had very fresh breath.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Deal Breakers

Also known as "standards". I don't like that term though. A "standard" inplies "you will conform to this" "these are the rules" etc. Standards imply that you meet a person and then try to bend them to change to your liking. Or you try and "fix" that person. Which is a huge no no.

Deal Breaker implies only one thing to me. These are my requirements, and I can take you or leave you.

It doesn't for a moment say the other person must change. It doesn't run you ragged trying to "fix" the other person. Its like a club membership, or the mafia. You're in, or your not.

I first learned of this concept when learning about romantic relationships, but I'm finding they apply to friendships also. Its not about being rigid and selfish. Its about self worth and not being a dormat.

There are typically 3-5 dealbreakers for most people. Depending on how much thought you've put into it. I find its not about being easygoing. As in, the more down to earth and easy going people have fewer, and the anal retentives have like 7. Its more about knowing yourself and what you want out of life and other people. Life experience I'm sure plays a role, but more importantly self worth plays a HUGE roll.

Because it takes a confident person to say, no I wont get close to you, esp when that person is attractive, rich, funny, etc whatever your vice is that makes your brain go crazy. When you hear your head COMPROMISING, as In " hes a bit rough on me verbally, but he likes animals" find som'one to shake you or simply hit yourself.

This isn't about, this outweighs that. If you find a flaw that not on your dealbreaker list, and he fits all the others. Thats different. But that person needs to fit your whole list. Thats the whole point. To not waste time and energy compromising on the important things to you. Theres no point making the list if your not going to respect it.

How to make your list. Well firstly, try to avoid listing behaviors to look for or avoid/ but ROOT behaviors. For example, instead of "guy must not cheat on me/people etc" should be followed from the leaves back to the roots or "No LIARS". Instead of must be attractive, it should really be "must take good care of himself/herself". People who are good looking because they are young, or because they are courting you, can quickly fall apart once they are comfortable or age a bit. The person who takes care of themselve actively, because they want to, is not as likely to do this.

In addition to behaviors, yor should think about beliefs and/or morals. Most list start this way. A couple good ideas are. Religion, children, politics and life additude.

Religion is important even if you don't care about it. Why? Because if your athiest or non practicing this or that, and they are practicing. They inevitably with try and suck you into their religion, or guilt you about it. It will happen. So my advice is to matchy match religion, or if your disinterested, make sure the other person is too. This isn't so important in friendships, if your good at avoiding, but in romatic long term bullshit. This is importante

Politics are kinda the same boat. If you care, find the same, or near same. If you don't care, make sure they don't or prepare to register as whatever they are next year. This is also a good way to find som'ones moral compass and compare it to yours. That is if the person has actually thought about their stances. Most people however, if they are young, don't care and haven't put much thought in, so this is optional.


Dear god people, find this one out up front. Girls don't be creepy about it, don't act like your asking him for one NOW. Just find out before you get too serious. And no matter how awesome the dude is, if you want kids and he doesn't. WALK AWAY. He will not change his mind, and if he "does" it will be entirely superficial and just to pacify you. Guys, if you don't want kids, save the poor girl som' grief and bring it up if she doesn't. If the relationship is anything more than a bootycall, this one should be number 1 on the list. People who want different numbers of kids could work out. But beware of the "I want a BIG family" people from either gender. These people scare me for reasons I wont get into now, but let just say it usually involves an underlying issue.


This is a bit like the kids requirement. If you like cats or dogs and dont feel like you can bare life without one. Ask about it. Then OBSERVE.

This is Soooo important. I find many "dog lovers" also love to beat the dog for getting in the trash. Or are otherwise too overbearing and mean to animals. If your planning on getting emotional attached to an animal find out first how much "disipline" the dude is into. If it sounds like he wants an appliance or a robot. Move on.

The other "animal lover" type is the one that wants the dog/cat/hyena/whatever but wont lift a finger to care for it, clean up after it or train it. This can still work if you go into it with the "my dog my responsibility" mindset but beware of "shared" animals. Pets should be broken into yours and his and you dont get to bitch when he wont walk the poodle YOU brought home. This also makes things very clear in case of a breakup when people treat dogs like custody cases.


Make sure you can stand them. Find out frequency of visits. I find I can tolerate people more or less depending on frequency of contact not the actual events of contact. You may be different and sadly this one has a learning curve. Do your best to figure it out and stick with it

Have fun and just say no to being a doormat!!