Tails Blog

Tips for teaching your pup to come when called.

Steve Coppell - Tuesday, June 21, 2011

So why does it all go wrong when pup seemed to be listening really well initially?

Two things often occur when people first get their new pup and they decide to teach it to come on command.

Firstly, what most new owners find is that pup initially comes when it's called really well, ( say about the first 4 months ). This is because they are still really young and so very attached and dependant on you. But as they get older the command seems to wear off and they stop coming.

Secondly, a lot of new pup owners fail to use a leash when trying to teach the animal to come. When pup is not on a leash they have a choice whether they come or not. Giving pup a choice is a training no no.

So how should we train pup to come when called?

Put on his collar and attach a long retractable lead. Have some treats ready. Call pup enthusiastically, you can clap your hands, stoop down, or take a couple of steps backward.

Give him a treat when he comes to you and lots of encouragement. When he has finished the treat, let him off to explore again. ( doing this teaches him that being called to come doesn't necessarily mean that play time is over )

Repeat this exercise over and over increasing the number and closeness of distractions that are luring him, until he comes automatically every time. Then, and only then do you take him off the leash and start the process over again until he comes each time you call. 

Puppy Training

Steve Coppell - Friday, November 26, 2010

Puppy School

There's no doubt about it , bringing home a puppy is an exciting time! But in order for your little friend to reach its full potential, you need to house train it and establish a routine, including daily sessions of play and exercise. Here are some helpful training tips and advise.

Puppies Need Structure and Consistency!


Resource Control and Leadership

Puppies need to see that people control their resources. This helps to make them feel safe.
Resources include food, sleeping place, toys, games and social interaction. If they recognise that people are good resource managers, it takes pressure off them. Puppies that do not percieve people to be good at controlling resources often try to take over control themselves. As they are not equipped to deal with such a responsibility, it usually results in decreased self confidence, various forms of inappropriate behavior and even anxiety.

Feeding Routine

The young puppy still needs small frequent meals, ideally three to four a day. Feed more or less at the same times every day. Start with a feeding ritual right from the start. It should to sit before it is fed, and the bowl should be removed within 10 to 15 minutes.

House Training Routines

Plan your day carefully so that you can take the puppy out to its potty spot shortly after it has awoken, after every meal and after physical activity. The potty spot should be easily accessible for the puppy. It should always be the type of surface that you would like it to urinate/ deficate on, for example grass, or soil.

Play Routine

Puppies love to play but need to know how to play appropriately, what to play with and how to control themselves during play. Regular play helps a puppy use up its (often excessive) energy.

Keeping Frogs for pets in New Zealand

Steve Coppell - Sunday, October 10, 2010

While frogs are cool animals, keeping one is a serious long term commitment. You cant just let it go when your child leaves home or you get sick of catching flies.
What many people don't realise is that frogs live longer than most cats or dogs. Golden bell frogs have been known to live for twenty years.

Responsible frog keeping
Handle your frog as little as possible, as frogs absorb chemicals through their skin. Wear gloves or clean and moisten your hands if you do need to pick up a frog.
Ensure your frog has a suitable vivarium to live in. A large glass tank (600 x 300 x 300) with a ventilated lid is ideal. It should be equipped with rocks, plants and untreated bark so your frog can climb, hide and bask in the sun.
The pond in your vivarium should be chlorine free, and if the water is not filter, it should be changed at least once a week. Position a branch or rock to help your frog leave and enter the water.
Frogs need sunlight, but don't put the tank in direct sunlight or you could overheat your frog.
You will need a regular supply of live flies, mosquitoes, worms, crickets and cicadas. You can either trap your own or they can be bought. Frogs are healthiest on a varied diet.

Returning species from captivity back to the wild

So what is the big deal about releasing them in the local stream? While it is ok to take tadpoles and introduced frogs from the wild to keep as pets, the problem comes with returning them back to the wild. Releasing them actually poses a threat to New Zealand's rare native frogs. This is because there is no way of knowing if your frog or tadpole is infected with diseases such as the deadly amphibian chytrid fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd)
Chytrid fungus  attacks the frogs skin, causing it to lose the ability to regulate minerals such as potassium and sodium. An infected frog will subsequently die of heart failure or secondary skin conditions. So, if your adding to an existing population, your frog might have a disease such as chytrid and you could be spreading it. It might be a special strain from another area. You introduced that strain and it mixes with the one already in the area and the disease becomes stronger like a super bug. The frogs may have become resistant to the original strain, but perhaps they cant  handle the new strain. Your introducing the unknown and causing things to mix that shouldn't.

Maud Island frog native to New Zealand

Frogs and the law
Under current legislation native New Zealand frogs (ie Archeys frog, Hamiltons frog, Maud island frog and Hochstetters frog) are totally protected and it is illegal to disturb, handle or collect them and even to specifically look for them without a DoC permit.
It is also illegal to release pet frogs into the wild.

Keeping a Guinea pig for a pet

Steve Coppell - Sunday, September 19, 2010

Guinea pigs make great first pet for kids. These cute  little critters  have a gentle nature, and they are relatively easy to care for. 
Guinea pigs love the company of their own kind, so its a good idea to keep at least two together. Pairs or small groups from the same litter, or a mother/daughter combination often works best. Two males may fight, especially if they are introduced later in life. Be aware that these critters breed prolifically. So this will impact on who you decide to keep together. Desexing is important if you want to keep males with females without babies.

You will need a hutch that provides an enclosed area for sleeping and a meshed area that provides a light airy environment during the daytime. Ideally the hutch can easily be moved so that your guinea pigs have access to fresh grass all the time. In summer be mindful that they arent placed where they can overheat in the sun, and in winter its a good idea if they are moved under cover or into a hutch that is raised off the ground. (Not inside the garage! Exaust fumes can be fatal)
Always provide clean warm bedding. Often its a good idea to line the area with newspaper then untreated wood shavings (to absorb their urine) followed by hay or shredded paper for warmth and insulation. 
Your guinea pigs need a constant supply of fresh water. For convienience and hygiene there are some good gravity feed waterers available because bowls of water tend to get tipped and or soiled.
Moving the hutch around the yard will provide fresh grass for them to graze on. (Dont feed them mown lawn clippings) they should also have a supply of fresh hay, ideally stored on a rack so that it doesnt get soiled.
A daily supply of vitamin C is important. So give them fresh vegetables such as carrots leafy greens, dandelion greens broccoli and cabbage. You might offer some fresh fruit but you should be aware that too much can cause diahoea. You can also buy guinea pig pellots with vitamin supplemented with vitamin C.
Guinea pigs teeth are continuously growing, so they need to eat a variety of hard food to wear their chompers down, and keep them in good condition. So root vegetables (turnips , swedes) or perhaps a gnawing block from a pet your local pet shop.

Guinea pigs like to feel safe, so a homemade tunnel from cardboard boxes or ceramic piping will go down a treat in your guineas pen. Or if you prefer there are a range of toys and accessories available for the entertainment and exercises purposes.
You might like to provide an enclosure so that your guinea pigs can get outside of their pen, and have more room to exercise.
Spending time with your pets will gain their trust and they will quickly become use to being handled and petted. They can be shy little creatures that startle easily, so approach them slowly and quietly from the front to avoid frightening them.

Did you know?
Guinea pigs originated from South America
Guinea pigs were first domesticated about 5000BC
Male guinea pigs are called boars, females sows and babies pups.
There are more than 30 different breeds of guinea pigs.
Unlike many other rodents, guinea pigs are born with fur and with their eyes open.
Guinea pigs usually live 5 to 8 years. 

Keeping an Axolotl for a pet in NZ

Steve Coppell - Saturday, September 04, 2010

These creatures are found in the wild only in the canal system of the former lake Xochimilcho in Mexico. These strange amphibians are easy to keep, and make  attractive, if unusual, aquatic pets.
Although officially an endangered species, Axolotls have been available from captive breeding stock since the 1830s.
They will grow to 30cm and should live for 10-12 years in captivity. However, older species of some 20 years have been reported.
An unusual feature of Axolotls is that they do not go through a normal amphbian life cycle in which eggs are laid in water by the adult hatch into tadpole like larvae and then metamorphose into adults. At this stage the animal frequently leaves the water to take up a more terrestrial lifestyle. Axolotls have forgone the need to metamorphosis. They remain in the aquatic, larval stage and reproduce without the need to become adult. The ability to do this is called Neotony.

                       MEXICAN SALAMANDER

An Axolotl can only change into adult form when the hormone thyroxine is introduced into the diet or when there is an increase of iodine levels in the water. The Axolotl gradually loses its gills, the tail reduces, and upon leaving the water, becomes a  Salamander. Metamorphosis will not normally take place without this special treatment.

Amazing Fact
The Axolotl is studied in earnest because it has the ability to regenerate lost or damaged limbs. A lost limb will regrow over a period of about 8 weeks. The new limb will be just as good as the old one, and full flexibility will be retained.

Have a think about how you might best lay out your tank intended for your axolotl. Keep in mind these creatures can ruin a delicately planted environment. Large structures, rocks and the like create visual appeal and give your axolotl some platforms from which to rest.
An external filter is recommended to clean and aerate the water but is not essential. Weekly cleaning of the furnishings and partial changes of the water is an acceptable, although more time consuming alternative.
Lighting  the aquarium can help to add to the visual appeal.
Generally speaking, Axolotls are best housed separately, since they have a tendancy to eat each others limbs. Keeping these creatures seperate does not usually cause problems, since they seem totally unconcerned about the lack of company.
Keep the water in your tank about as deep as the axolaotl is long.

Handle your axolotl only when it is necessary to, for example when your maintaining its tank environment. Be gentle cradling them in your hands or with a net, and always transfer them between waters of similar age and temperature so as not to cause them to go into shock.

Foods and Feeding
Axolotls are predators and they will eat a large variety of foods. Worms, crickets, small fish, fish pellots that sink or float, cubes of heart or lean meat are all suitable foodstuffs. Keep food pieces small. Mouth size chunks because axolotls cannot chew.
Axolotls tend to suck their prey in literally.Their teeth are very fine and they will not hurt the more adventurous keeper willing to hold a piece of food between finger and thumb.
Feed every second day. Hungry Axolotls seem to patrol their environment more than their well fed companions inducating more feeding may be required. Remove uneaten food as soon as possible to minimize fouling of the water environment.

Once your pet is 2 years old the sexes can be distinguished easily. Viewed from above, the male axolotls head is longer and narrower than the female's, his tail is longer, and the swelling by the cloaca is greater.
In captivity, the breeding season coincides with our winter and spring, when a change of temperature often triggers breeding behavior.
This can be done artificially by raising the water tempurature to 22 degrees celsius for about a week or so, then allowing it to drop quickly. With luck and a good diet, breeding behavior should follow. The female becomes attracted to the males sweet excretetions produced from his cloaca. She follows him around the aquarium, and they dance and swim around each other for some time. Eventually the male releases triangular jelly masses, called spermatophores, that sink to the bottom of the aquarium.
The female is led over these masses until she takes some up into her cloacal opening. Some hours later she will start to spawn, and some 300-600 fertilized eggs are laid.
The egg masses are best reared seperately from the parents to prevent them from being damaged or eaten. The eggs need good but not too strong aeration from a pump. After about two weeks at 20 degrees celsius, the larvae will hatch and can then be fed on brine shrimp, tubiflex, powdered fish food, or other microscopic foods. As they grow, daphnia, glassworms, bloodworms, and mosquito larvae can also be consumed. Ample space is required to ensure a good survival rate for the hundreds of young, otherwise they will constantly snap and bite each other.

Did you know?
The name Axolotl comes from the Aztec god Xolotl, who, legend says would throw himself into water and become one of these creatures to escape his enemies. It has a number of translations including water beast, water dog and water doll.
Axolotls are frequently born as albinos.
Females have a wider head than males, while males have two large swellings between their legs.
Axolotls are native to Mexico where sadly due to predators, they are now a critically endangered species. However captive bred stock is plentiful and continues to be sold in pet shops around the world.
Light coloured axolotls develop darkened toe tips when they become sexually mature.
Axolotls get most their oxygen through their gills and skin, but they also have lungs meaning they can breath above water as well.
Axolotls don't have ears.

So why spey and neuter rabbits?

Steve Coppell - Sunday, August 08, 2010

Speyed rabbits can't get pregnant.

Rabbits can mature as early as 16 weeks old. Getting your rabbit speyed prevents unwanted pregnancys.

Speyed / neutered rabbits generally live longer than unspeyed rabbits.

Speying and neutering reduces the risk of reproductive cancers and infections which are very common in rabbits. In females 60% will develope a reproductive cancer in their life time.

Speyed  / neutered rabbits make better behaved pets. The procedure helps reduce undesireable behaviors like biting. The rabbits are calmer as the urge to mate has been reduced. They are also easier to litter train, they are happier to be handled and are more affectionate to their owners.

Speyed or neutered rabbits can safley be left with other rabbits, without the risk of aggressive sexual behavior. 

How do you stop a mouse house getting smelly

Steve Coppell - Saturday, July 31, 2010

The ammonia vapours from urine that develop in your pets’ cage can make owning mice less than pleasant.  The harsh smell is also uncomfortable for the mice.  Ammonia is a severe irritant and is detrimental to the health of mice.  It affects the mucous membranes of their eyes and respiratory tract.  The health of mice can worsen if they are regularly exposed to ammonia vapours, and it can make mice more susceptible to opportunistic infections.  

The development of innovative bedding products has been spurred by the quest to control or eliminate odour.  Scientifically developed bedding products made from a variety of materials, such as recycled paper, do not just mask odour, they are designed to reduce odour by controlling the formation of ammonia.  Such beddings promote a healthier environment for mice compared with traditional wood shavings and are highly recommended.  If your mice are housed in an aquarium, if you are neglectful in cage cleaning, or if family members despise your pets because they smell, use innovative, odour-controlling bedding.

Cage Accessories
Place your mice’s food in a dish.  If you have a metal cage, you can attach the dish to the side to prevent your pets from tipping it over and spilling the contents.  If you use a freestanding dish, make sure it is heavy enough that you mice cannot tip it over.  Mice are not always fastidious and some mice will go to the toilet in their food dish.  Because of this tendency, choose a smaller rather than a larger dish; your mice should not be able to stand in their food dish. You can buy litter containers and house train your mice.

Provide you mice with fresh water, using a gravity-fed water bottle.  A special holder, enables you to hang the water bottle in an aquarium.  Do not use an open dish to provide your mice with water.  Mice will fill an open contained of water with their bedding and droppings, and the water will become unsanitary and unsuitable for drinking.  The increased moisture from a spilled dish of water can also create an unhealthy, damp environment, especially in an aquarium-type cage.  In case the bottle leaks, do not place it over your pet’s food dish or near their nest box.  The bottle’s water tube should be a comfortable height for your mice to reach and drink from, but should not be so low to the cage floor that bedding could contact the tube and cause the bottle to leak.

Your mice need a nesting box for sleeping and security.  A “bedroom” is necessary because it gives you mice a safe hiding place to retreat away from loud noises and any disturbing activity outside their cage.  A variety of types are available, including ones that are made to satisfy a small animal’s natural instinct to chew, such as fruit-flavoured cardboard tunnels, huts made from natural plant fibres and wooden blocks that a pet hollows out.  You can also make your pets a nest box from an old cereal box or cardboard milk carton.  Once the box becomes chewed up or smelly, you will need to replace it.  

Give your mice unscented tissue paper or paper towels to shred into nesting material.  Shredding paper into a nest is a favourite activity among mice.  

Selecting good healthy fish

Steve Coppell - Saturday, July 31, 2010

Check that all the fish in the tank look clean and that their fins are not torn or that any have white spots on them.  The fish’s skin should look bright and shiny, and their eyes clear.  The tank itself needs to be clean and the water must be clear.

Do not buy a fish if there are any dead fish in the tank.  All the fish should be moving around the tank not sitting on the bottom or floating on the surface of the water.

It is best to buy goldfish when they are still quite small ie no bigger that 8cm (3in) long.

Rat Reproduction: Mating, Gestation, Birthing, and Growth

Steve Coppell - Friday, May 21, 2010

Rats are very easy to breed. In fact, many people end up with unplanned baby rats. Rats can reach maturity at 5 weeks of age, so the sexes should be separated prior to this age. Rats do not recognize incest, so brothers, sisters and even mothers and sons must be separated.

Rats do not have a breeding season, although very hot or cold temperatures will reduce breeding. Females of breeding age come into heat all year round, every 4 to 5 days, unless they are pregnant, and even then they may come into heat once or twice early in pregnancy. Each female usually has a regular schedule that can be marked on the calender, but it can vary. Each heat usually begins in the evening and lasts most of the night.

As a female approaches menopause at about 18 months of age, her cycle will become more irregular until it stops completely, and if she is bred during this time, the size of her litters will decrease as her fertility wanes. It is possible for a female who has stopped cycling to get pregnant, although the preganancy may not develope normally.

It is possible for domestic rats (Rattus norvegicus) to mate with roof rats (Ratus ratuss) although the babies will not survive. The embryos will be reabsorbed, aborted, or born dead.

A responsible decision

Before deciding to breed your rats, you should consider a few things. Do not breed rats who have, or who have had mycoplasma infections.Only breed rats who are free of respiratory symptoms and therefore hopefully resistant to mycoplasma. Second,rats have large litters average is 10-12 so if you do not plan to keep all the babies, you will have to decide how you will find homes for them.
If you have decided to breed your rats you must also consider their age. The best time to breed a female for the first time is at four to five months of age. It can be dangerous to breed a female older than six to eight months of age for the first time since her pelvic canal will be fused in a narrow position. This will put her a risk of being unable to deliver her babies normally. In such a case a cesarean section may be necessary to save her life. If a female of any age has a difficult birth, do not breed her again.

Age is not such an important consideration for males. Males can be fertile into old age. If you plan to breed a female a second time, it is a good idea to wait several weeks after her litter has been weaned to allow her time to recover, both physically and mentally.

The mating process

You can breed rats by simply puting a pair together for ten days, insuring they are together through two heat cycles. But since the female might fight the male, a better way is to put the pair together only when the female is in heat. This workes especially well when you are breeding your rat to one who belongs to someone else because the pair only have to be together for one evening. When a rat is in heat her vagina will gape open; otherwise it's tightly closed. Usually there will be behavioral signs too. Stroking her back will usually cause a rat in heat to perform the mating dance. She may first dart forward or spin around, then she will brace her legs stiffly, lift her head and tail, and vibrate her ears! This display tells the male that she is ready for mating.

Most males will be interested immediately and will sniff and perhaps lick her. When mounting he will grasp her scruff with his teeth. During courtship, mounting will occur numerous times, but most of this is foreplay. Usually the male must mount many times before completing the act, and mating will continue for sometime however, it is possible for a female to get pregnant from a single mounting,so do not let your girls and boys play together if you do not want them to mate. Even if the female is not in heat, a determined and persistant male can sometimes stimulate her into coming into heat, so keep your unneutered males and females seperate! Females in heat will sometimes also escape their cage to visit a male.

Planning for the birth

The gestation peroid is normally 22 days, but can vary from 21 to 23 (and rarely to 26). A post partum pregrancy will last 28 days. Two weeks into the pregnancy the mothers abdomen will usually start expanding, but not always. As the birth approaches, you may be able to see the pups moving inside her, or feel them if you gently feel her abdomen. her mammary glands will also start to enlarge two weeks into the pregnancy. The mothers needs are simple; a nutritious diet, exercise, and extra nesting material a few days before the expected event. If you've been letting the male live with the female you should remove him before the birth. The father would very rarely hurt his babies, but all females come back into heat within 24 hours of the birth. So if you leave them together she will immediately become pregnant again. If the pregnant female has been living with another female or a neutered male, it is alright to leave them together during the birth and the raising of the babies, as long as the cage is large enough to allow the mother privacy. However, it is not a good idea to leave two pregnant females together because although they will not intentionally hurt each others babies, they may steal them from each other. if this turns into a tug of war, the infants tender skin can be severly damaged by the females sharp teeth. Never put a new rat in with a pregnant or nursing female, because she will viciously attack it. The exception to this is babies about the same size as her own. A nursing mother will almost always adopt other babies, even babies of other species, allowing easy fostering.

Sometimes a pregnant of nursing rat has a change in personnality due to hormone changes. She may become more aggressive, or less interested in playing. In rat society, a mother rat is usually dominant over all other rats, even if she is usually submissive. However, when her job of child rearing is over, the mother will usually regain her former status and personnality. It is also common for a nursing mum to have soft stools.

The birth process

The birth process normally takes about  an hour or two. In general, the mother rat will deliver a new pup every five to ten minutes. In rats, the average litter size is 6 to 13 pups. The first sign is a bloody discharge from the vagina. Next, the contractions will cause her to stretch out while her sides suck in, in a most amazing way. Once the babies start arriving, the mother will sit up and help deliver them with her hands and teeth. Then she will clean off the birth sac and lick the new born. The mother will usually eat the placenta and the umbilical cord. During this process a healthy baby will wiggle and squeak, which inhibits its mother from eating it to. However, if a baby is weak is weak or dead this inhibition will not occur.

Most female rats are wonderful mothers, but rarely there can be problems. If the mother is stressed, either because of pain from a long difficult birth, or from enviromental disturbances such as unusually loud noises, etc, she may kill and eat some healthy babies. A poor diet may contribute to this problem. You can try removing the babies and giving them back to the mum when she calms down.

Difficult births

Birth in rats usually proceeds without need for assistance, but occassionally and especially with first time mums older than eight months, there will be problems. I have seen three rats that have died during birth and have heard of several others. The danger of an obstructive birth is that a mother can go into shock. A cesarean section may be possible if done soon enough.

Once the birth process begins, if no babies are delivered within two hours, there is defenately a problem. The rats uterus is shaped like a Y and a baby can get stuck across the bottom of the Y. Gently massaging the mothers abdomen may help reposition the problem baby. If a bay is stuck in the birth canal, it may be possible to lubricate it with baby oil and pull it out with forceps. Then the rest of the babies can be delivered normally. If the mother survives the birth but has retained one or more unborn fetusus, she may be able to expel or reabsorb them. in this case it is a good idea to treat her with anti biotics to prevent infection.

If the mother dies and leaves surviving babies, or if the mother refuses to nurse them the best chance for the babies is to foster them to another nursing mother.

Growth and weaning

At birth, the pups are born hairless, toothless and have short limbs and tails. They will start to have hair when they are seven days old, and their eyes generally open when they are thirteen to fourteen days old.

Most mum rats know just what to do and take great care of their rats. Occassionally, there will be a tiny runt who cannot compete with his siblings for the nipples especially in a large litter. You will be able to see if each baby has nursed by the white milk in their stomach which is visible through their thin skin. The best solution is to temperally seperate some of the other babies into another container to give the runt a chance at the nipples. Leave about four to five babies with the runt to stimulate the mum to suckle them. If the runt is all by himself, the mum may not pay attention to him. As long as the other babies are kept warm, there is no harm in them being away from the mum for up to four hours. You can put their container on a heating pad on low, or near a light bulb (be careful not to let them get to hot). Rotating the groups of babies with the mum every two to four hours will give the runt the best chance.

Baby rats grow incredibly fast I recommend you hold and look at them everyday to witness this miracle. This handling will also stimulate and socialize the babies. When they are two weeks of age you should play with the  babies as much as possible. The more you handle them, the better socialized they will be. At this age they will also start to eat solid food. They will either walk to the dish, or their mum will carry food to the nest. You do not need to provide special food for them. Babies can be weaned at four weeks but you can leave the girls with their mum for as long as you want. Remove boys before five weeks or they may breed with their mothers or sisters.