Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Very Difficult Egg

Gizmo really, really loves hardboiled eggs; they're just about his favorite thing ever. I offered one to him through the bars of his cage--as in he had to stick his little fuzzy nose through the bars to get it. I also didn't bend over to give it to him, so he was standing up on his hind legs.
The thing is, he grabbed the egg at the wrong angle, so when he went to pull it through, it wouldn't clear the bars. (if he'd turned it in his jaw a bit, this problem would be fixed). So there he was, standing on his hind legs, holding the egg, and letting out this frustrating, high-pitched whining noise.

I was laughing, and I reached to try and help him, but the whining took on a growling note when I did (after all, it was obvious that I was going to STEAL the egg right out of his jaws, nevermind the fact that I'd just given it to him), so I decided to just let him figure this one out for himself.

After about a minute, the shell on part of the egg cracked enough for him to get it through the bars, so he let out a little victory shout and ran back to his cabin to eat it.

I really, really wish I'd gotten it on camera. Him standing on his hind legs, "stuck" by his nose, was just too cute.

Picture Taken On: October 7, 2008

P.S. I'm a big World of Warcraft player, and some of my guildmates on the Titanfist Clan (Earthen Ring Server) don't believe that it's me.

So, let me officially state, that I play Harpyr, Fanterfora, and other alts associated with them. Hi guys!

Monday, September 28, 2009


Something I've noticed that Gizmo does when he's playing with dogs, or greeting children, is that he'll curl his tail up over his back like a husky, and lay his ears back (not the angry way, the submissive/friendly way). He doesn't do it when he's first greeting a dog, only if the dog initiate's play.

The tail being all curled up and slightly wagging, along with the ears being down and the big silly tongue-hanging-out grin he gets, make him look very, very puppy-like. We've nicknamed it "putting his puppy tail on". (Another thing he'll do sometimes is "put his ornery ears on". Those of you with reds will definitely know that expression.)

I think he's figured out that he looks like a friendly, adorable doggy when he does that, because he tends to put his puppy-tail on when he's around children, older folks, and anyone else who may seem a bit intimidated by him and not pet him.

He's also figured out that one of the tricks I've taught him, "sneak", will just make people melt. I really need to get it on film; it's the cutest thing I've ever trained any of my animals to do. He drops flat so his belly is flat on the ground, sticks his forelegs out in front of him, and "army-crawls" forward on his belly, one inch at a time. (Usually when he's doing it he also wags his tail wildly, completely ruining any "stealth" he might have).

Generally him sneaking is immediately met with a cute-squeal, an "Awww! Look at him! That's so cute!", an "Oh, how sweet, he's being sneaky!" or the like, and he just laps the attention up. Sneaking on his belly really has become his new way of "begging" for attention.

Another thing Gizmo absolutely adores is laughter--he gets this great big grin whenever anyone laughs, and laughs right along with them. And once a behavior makes someone laugh, he'll do it a million more times just to try and get that same response. For example, he's learned that people find him chasing his tail to be about the funniest thing ever, so he never misses an opportunity to chase his tail in front of strangers. (And if they do laugh, I have the fun of walking home with a fox who every fifteen feet will stop and spin like a top, just to see if someone will laugh at him again for it).

I had always thought that as a "wild" critter, Gizmo would be somewhat less responsive to my signals and the signals of other people. After all, dogs and cats have been selected for thousands of years for their responsiveness--a "cave dog" that was expressive and could read his master probably lived a lot longer than one that couldn't. Foxes, obviously, really haven't been bred for that (at least, not for very long), so I figured Gizmo really wouldn't read much into me other than basic body language ("angry", "friendly", "sad", etc.)

What's really amazed me with him is not only does he really seem to put a lot of effort into watching and reading people, he pays a lot of attention as to what will get him the response that he wants--in particular, he generally wants people to think he's cute, and he wants people to laugh at him. He really must consider it to be rewarding, as having someone genuinely laugh at him seems to be much more effective at rewarding a behavior than any treat I could ever give.

He's also got the most expressive face of any animal I have ever owned--dogs and cats included. With a dog or a cat, you need the ears, the posture, the tail, all of it to get the complete picture. With Gizmo, all you really need is his face to know if he's happy, angry, scared, hungry, etc. In a lot of cases, all you need are his eyes.

I just think it's amazing how an animal that's not "domestic" can match or out-do a cat or dog in so many ways; it's really taken me off-guard.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Back On My Soapbox--The "Natural" Pet Movement

Alrighty, just to give you a heads-up, this is a soapbox rant that has little to do with Gizmo. So you might wanna just skip this post. Nobody'll judge you. The scrollbar's right there on the right side of the window.

Okay, who all is still here? Two people? Cool. Okay, anyway, I've been seeing some trends among the more "naturalistic" pet owners that is really, really starting to bother me.

One individual messaged me wanting to discuss raw diets for canines. She seemed to be very friendly and articulate, so I chatted with her a while. Part way through the conversation, she linked me to a journal entry she ad written on the topic that she was quite proud of.

Honestly, I was shocked and appalled by what I read. She had posted quite a long, barely intelligible rant. I would re-post it here, but quite frankly, I try to keep that sort of language and mindless filth off of this blog. The gist was that if you had your pet spayed/neutered, gave it vaccinations other than rabies, fed it anything other than home-cooked food, or disagreed with her in any way, shape, or form, you were a complete idiot who was clearly not interested in the welfare of your animal, and you should just go die.

Yikes. And she was proud enough of this to be sending it out to other people?

The people in the "natural" pet community need to understand something. When you post garbage like that, you're coming across as just as ignorant, if not more ignorant, than the people who say that you should always neuter or spay, or vaccinate, or whatever. That kind of outburst just makes those of us who feed raw look like lunatics. Quite frankly, even though I agree with many of your views, if I had read that post before speaking to you via PMs, I would have labeled you a whackjob and avoided you. Do you really think that you're helping your cause at ALL by doing your damnedest to alienate everyone who isn't currently feeding raw?

There are a LOT of valid reasons to spay and neuter, just as there are a lot of reasons not to. The same goes for vaccinations. Any intelligent person is likely to have mixed feelings on this issue. Leaving a dog intact has different health risks than spaying or neutering, but it still has health risks. A lot of the decision as to whether or not spaying or neutering is a good idea can be based on the breed as well--the last dog I'd leave intact would be a male german shepard, as they're incredibly prone to prostate issues. However, a male Jack Russel would be better off intact due to the fact that they're more prone to bone cancer, which would be exacerbated by neutering.

In short, educate yourself before declaring everyone else to be ignorant, and keep in mind that no matter how much you've learned, you still don't know everything. I don't appreciate being called an uneducated idiot because I acknowledge that there are valid reasons to have an animal sterilized. Likewise, depending on what area you live in, there are good reasons to give vaccinations other than rabies. In some areas, for example, parvo kills more dogs than the highway does--and any intelligent person would have their dog given parvo vaccinations if they lived in said area.

And on another note, most of the people who 100% support spay/neuter, give the whole cocktail of vaccines every year w/o running titers, feed only bagged food, etc. aren't morons, they're simply trying to do what's best for their pet, based on the information they've been given. Most are very intelligent people who care very deeply about their animals, and are making their decisions based on what they know. When just about every single vet and every single book on dogs says the best thing you can do is put them on a good, store-brand dog food, it makes logical sense to them that that's the correct thing to do.

You have to remember, people who feed raw food are the oddballs. If anyone's going to give our views and ideas any respect, we have to present them appropriately. Nobody's going to take us seriously if we scream and swear like a 12-year-old on Xbox Live.

If you use that sort of vitriol frequently in an attempt to get your point across, you're doing the "Natural Pet" community a lot more harm than good.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Cinnamon Fox

When people hear the term "Red Fox" most of them picture what's known as a "classic red". Rust-colored fur, black socks, white belly. The thing is, reds come in a pretty amazing range of colors.

One unusual coloration that you don't see too much of is what's known as a "Cinnamon Fox". A friend of mine was kind enough to give me permission to share some pics of her Cinnamon Fox, Sionnach. Sion is about the same age as Gizmo, and from what I gather, about three times as ornery. Enjoy:


Saturday, September 19, 2009

A Bad Deal

Today, when I went out to play with Gizmo in his yard, he gave me a suspicious look and proceeded to move every single toy from out in the play-yard, to stashed inside his little wooden cabin. (As the rest of you know, I'm a notorious theif, and my sole purpose in life is to steal all of his toys.)

Well, I wasn't about to just sit there and not play with anything, so I picked up a large chunk of mulch (about 3 by 4 inches), and started tapping it against the bars. I dragged it across the ground, I threw it up in the air and caught it, etc. I had a new toy! Gizmo was immediately glued to me, trying to get a better look at what I was playing with.

I let him paw at the chunk of mulch, sniff at it, lick it, but I wouldn't let him take it from me. He tried in vain to snatch it, to beg for it, to get it SOMEHOW, but I wouldn't hand it over to him.

Finally, he ran into his house, and came out with a ball in his mouth. Very carefully, he crept foreward with the ball, and set it gently in my lap, then went again to take the piece of mulch. This time I handed it to him, and picked up the ball.

Victorious, Gizmo let out a gleeful little squeal and ran back to his house, carrying the prize in his mouth. He hopped up onto the roof to get a better look at the amazing, wonderful toy he had just tricked me out of.

It was hilarious. You could see the exact instant he realized what he'd traded his ball for.

He launched himself off the roof, gekkering angrily, and ran back to me. His ears were laid back, his pupils were huge, and he was gekkering as loudly as his little lungs could manage. Me, being the cruel, hateful, evil person I am, had TRICKED him. No, worse, I had robbed him.

I made him sit, which he did so grundgingly, then I handed the ball back to him. He ran and stashed it in his cabin, then came out, got the chunk of mulch, and stashed that away too so I couldn't play with it, either.

Something tells me I won't be allowed to play with any of his toys for a while.

Picture Taken On:  August 24, 2009

Friday, September 18, 2009

Boyscouts, and a Terrible Dilemma

Last night, Gizmo went to visit a troop of Boy Scouts. I can't give you all of the specific details, as I couldn't go due to having class. My mom's the one that took him, though, and she said he was an extra good boy for the presentation. We've done a few of these before, and Gizmo's always a complete ham. He loves kids.

To reward him when he got home for being so good, my mom gave him a brand-new squeaky ball (we keep a stash of new toys on hand for rewards, and to replace other ones as they get worn out). He got to meet a bunch of new kids, saw a new place, peed in a new yard, and got to go to sleep with a brand-new ball in his mouth. Last night was definitely a win for Gizmo.

Cut to this morning.

Gizmo wants out of his crate. I'm sitting at the open crate door to take him outside. Now, here's the problem: Gizmo wants to take his ball with him. So he walks up, ball in mouth. I reach out to click the leash onto his harness. He sees my hand go over his head, and immediately assumes that I'm jealous and I'm stealing his brand new ball. He screams as loud as he can and retreats to the back of the crate. He drops the ball and pees on it while giving me a dirty look, then picks it up and goes to come out again.

I go to click the leash onto the harness again--another obvious attempt at theivery. He screams and retreats again.

We did this back and forth for the better part of twenty minutes before Gizmo finally allowed me to put the leash on him (and even then, it was grudgingly. He made little cussing and grumbling noises the entire time.)

Picture Taken On: October 7th, 2008

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

You are going to pet the fox and LIKE it.

I was looking through old posts on the Sybil's Den Forums, found this one from back in April, and decided to share it here too.

This morning, I took Gizmo out of his nighttime crate as usual, and played with him on the floor for a bit. The second I went to get up, though, he quarry-pounced my lap then sprawled out, leaning his head into my hand ears-first for me to rub them.

I loved on him for a little longer, but when I stopped, he started to make this high-pitched whining sound. I ignored it and pushed him out of my lap--he responded by screaming as loud as he could, and leaping back into my lap. I pushed him out again, he screamed and pounced me again (every time leaning his ears into my hand for me to rub them).

Finally, I managed to get a hold of him and hold him off me so I could stand up. Once I was on my feet, he just flopped down on his side and made his little sobbing I'm-not-getting-my-way sounds. The translation was probably something like "Abuse! Neglect! She's leaving me here to die! That heartless monster won't even rub my ears! She's neglecting the fox! Someone call the ASPCA! She's neglecting the fox! She dumped me on the cold floor and I'm going to die here if nobody saves me!"

I reached down and hooked the leash onto his harness and went to lead him outside to his play yard. This ended up being something like trying to walk a bag of wet cement. He employed passive resistance, letting every muscle in his body go limp. When I continued to drag him, he then rolled over several times, getting himself all tangled up in the leash.

Well, needless to say, at that point I sat down to untangle him--and the second he was free, he pounced back into my lap and wanted his ears rubbed some more. Me standing up this time resulted in a kicking screaming go-for-broke tantrum. I just stood there and waited for him to wind down and quit, well, shrieking.

I'm starting to think that having a fox might be the Universe's way of preparing me for having a toddler later on in life.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Ego Boosts

Today when I got home from work, Gizmo's pen actually wasn't a complete mess. There might be hope for the little gremlin yet.

Tonight on our walk, he was really on his best behavior. I had two people comment on how well-behaved he was (One of them being the fellow who, the other night, asked if Gizmo was gonna bite him. Go figure.)

Picture Taken On: May 17, 2008

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Busy Few Days

The past several days have been pretty busy for me, what with that start of school and all. The first day, as I was leaving, Gizmo just started screaming at the top of his little lungs. I didn't go back to comfort him (that would only reinforce the behavior), but he really did catch me off-guard. He hasn't screamed when I left the house since he was about six months old. (When he was little, every time I set foot out the door he'd start wailing--which my family loved when I got up to go to work at 5 am.)

On top of that, his food-hoarding behaviors have changed a little bit. It used to be that he'd eat his fill, then stash away the "leftovers" for later, but recently his hoarding seems to take higher priority than his eating. He'll bury/hide his food without eating any of it, and then be absolutely ravenous at his next meal. The best I can figure is that he's working on storing food away for the winter. Either that, or he has this lurking fear that one day I'll just stop feeding him.

I got off work at 10:00 in the morning today, and when I came home to let him out of his crate, Gizmo had made a special big mess, all for me. He somehow managed to unhook the tray from the bottom of his night-crate, flip down the latch on the slot at the front, and slid the entire tray out from under the crate, so that it was in front of the crate instead of on the bare floor. How he did this, I haven't the faintest idea, but he managed it. I have a hard time pulling that off, and I've got fingers.

Anyway, with the tray gone, Gizmo proceeded to ignore the fact that his litter box was still sitting right there and peed all over the floor. Oh well, at least he's cute. He is cute, right?

Picture Taken On: January 16, 2009

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Your Search Is Stupid

Ha, just saw this on I Can Has Cheezburger, and couldn't help but share it:

Update: Nice catch from Chris in the comments section. Here's the original source of this image:

Ah, Freddie... I happen to know the origin of that photo. A guy on Flickr took a bunch of pictures of a fox that was living in his area and had a tendency to hang out near his house (even though he wasn't feeding her or anything). He eventually named her Freddy (before he realized she was a vixen, then he respelled it as Freddie). She hasn't been seen in some time and he suspects a mountain lion or something got her, but there's a massive set of photos of the fox on Flickr.

I've updated the link to go to this fellow's page instead of ICHC.

A Message For Prospective Fox Owners

Today on our walk, we saw a couple walking towards us, so, as always, we stepped off onto the grass and yielded the sidewalk. Gizmo laid down without me having to tell him to, and he sat there politely, smiling with his tail wagging, as they walked past. He was being good as gold.

Naturally, the first words out of the man's mouth were, "The fox isn't gonna attack us, is it?"

Keeping my tone sweet, I replied, "No, he's very friendly."

"Yeah. That's what you keep saying." And they hurried past like he was going to snap at any moment.

I think that this is something that a lot of prospective fox owners really need to understand. No matter how well-trained your animal is, how friendly it is, or how much better behaved than most people's dogs/children it is, some folks will always see it as a wild animal. They will see it as a threat, and there is nothing you can do to reassure them.

I think a lot of people get this picture in their heads that they're going to get it as a baby and raise it and carefully train it and socialize it and it will be a perfectly behaved animal, so they will never have a single problem with any of their neighbors. This is not how the real world works. You could have honest-to-god Lassie reincarnated as a fox, and someone will still call the cops on you.

I have been very fortunate, in that the neighbors that all live immediately nextdoor to me have been very accepting of Gizmo, and seem to like him well enough. Many, many people with exotic pets are not that fortunate. Unless you are already very good friends with your neighbors before you bring an exotic home, plan on having issues with them. And if you are good friends with them, understand that you getting a pet "wild animal" may end that friendship.

People who are doing research on potential exotics often get so caught up in learning about feeding/housing/care/behavior that they neglect to consider the impact it may have on their relationships with their family members or neighbors. And, as Sybil's Den member MBouncer once said,

"... sometimes it starts with calling the police and ends up with somebody throwing a piece of meat over your backyard fence laced with de-con..."
Things can escalate. If you're already in a bad relationship with your surrounding neighbors, getting an exotic pet is probably not the best idea, even if you're fully capable of providing for it.

Picture Taken On: May 25, 2008

Monday, September 7, 2009

Sun-bathing fox

This isn't Gizmo-related, but is still cute and I figured I'd share. Click on the image for the news story behind it.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Traveling Apple

Gizmo enjoys picking up random objects on his walks, from sticks to pinecones to rocks, and carrying them in his mouth. He's got a particularly good trash-radar. If there's a wrapper from anything, he locks onto it with military-like precision and screams like a wounded banshee if I won't let him take it with us.

The thing is, he frequently drops what's in his mouth, so I finally established the rule that when it comes to dropped "treasure", I don't change my pace. Otherwise, I'm constantly stopping for him to pick stuff up. Now, if he drops it and he can't snag it before I've walked on, it's gone.

Recently, it's become his goal to bring home one of the apples from a tree in the neighborhood. The thing is, he can only carry them for so long before he ends up dropping them, because they're a bit big for his mouth. He's been getting better, but he still hasn't managed to carry the one all the way home. He's started to leave them at one specific spot. I don't know what Phase 2 of this plan is.

So if you live in our area, and are wondering why there are fourteen apples piled up by your mailbox, with some dirt kicked over them, even though nobody within sight of you even has an apple tree, don't be alarmed. It's just part of one little fox's master plan.

Picture Taken On: Janurary 16, 2009

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Slighty Scary Situation

Gizmo and I ran into a bit of a scary situation today on our walk. We came across a house that had three kids, two dogs, and a cat playing in the yard. They were across the street, and I saw one of the dogs (anchored to the tree), the kids, and the cat from a good ways off. Nothing seemed too worrysome, so I kept on my way.

I didn't see the second dog, an unsecured Rottweiler, until I was already in front of the house and she was heading towards us, ears alert and body tense. Her posture wasn't aggressive or menacing, but it wasn't that of a friendly dog, either.

Now, let me be clear, I'm not afraid of Rottweilers--every single one I've known is a sweetheart. What concerned me is that I was dealing with a guardian-breed dog that was outside with kids in it's yard, and no adult in sight. A dog like that has something to protect, and many dogs see Gizmo as a threat.

She crossed the street and kept pace with me and Gizmo as we kept walking (Gizmo had responded to her crossing by climbing up into my arms and peeing on me). At that point, the kids started to call "Lucy" back, but she ignored them, preferring to focus on me.

Luckily, at that point dad reappeared, and called Lucy back. She hesitated for a long moment, then turned and went. I know she was just doing her job and protecting the kids like any good watchdog should, but it definitely was a scary few moments while she was sizing us up.

(Of course, I got to enjoy the rest of my walk reeking of fox pee.)

Picture Taken On: August 24, 2009

Trick Files: Intro to the Clicker

A tool that has been invaluable in training Gizmo is what's commonly called a "clicker". It's a very simple device, but in my opinion it's the most important training tool you can buy. They're usually of fairly simple construction; a plastic casing with a flexible piece of metal inside it that makes a very distinct "CLICK" noise when you apply pressure with your thumb.

The goal of the clicker is to enable you to reward the correct behavior the exact instant that the fox does it, instead of delaying while you fumble with your treat bag. By the time you get the treat out, your fox may have moved on to doing something else, and will be confused as to exactly what behavior you're rewarding.

There are some fancier designs, but most training clickers look roughly like this:

I'm not going to delve too deeply into behavioral theory and WHY the clicker works--there are countless books and web pages on that subject already. I'm simply going to provide a crash-course here in how to use it effectively.

Step #1: Training Yourself

I've had good luck with clicker-training Gizmo, but you have to get the timing EXACT or he just doesn't get it. So far, he's been a lot more sensitive to time than my cats or my dog was when I was training them.

Before you start clicker-training your fox, work on your reaction time. I suggest that (somewhere out of earshot of the fox) you have a friend start throwing a tennis ball up in the air and catching it. See if you can time your click RIGHT as the ball hits it's highest point and before it starts down.

I did this ten minutes a day for a week straight, and it really did wonders for my timing. I highly recommend that you don't skip this step--it will make training much easier later on.

Step #2: Conditioning the Fox

Now it's time to teach your fox that click = treat. Sit your (preferably hungry) fox down in front of you with the clicker and the bag of treats. Offer it a treat. The instant before it's got the treat in it's mouth, click the clicker.

Repeat this many times: Click, treat. Click treat. Click treat. At first it's important to click the instant the fox gets the treat, but after a few sessions you can gradually increase the time between the click and the treat.

Do a few sessions of this a day, for maybe three days. By the end of it, the instant you click the clicker, the fox should be looking to you for a treat. Now you're ready to begin serious trick training.

If you're teaching a fox to sit, click the clicker the instant his rump hits the ground. If you're teaching him to shake, click when he puts his paw in your hand, etc. Basically, the click comes to mean "That's exactly what I wanted! I'm going to give you a treat!"--it's an instant reward.

Important Note: For this to be effective, the clicker must NEVER lie. Even if you click for the wrong thing, give your fox a treat anyway.

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