Dogs and Tortoises-Some Tips

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Tom

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I am a dog trainer by profession. Well technically, an "Animal Trainer", since I train everything. Have been since the early 90's. I engage in all types of training and I work with all types of dogs. I train dogs who are so soft they they will pee if you so much as look at them, and dogs that are so hard that they will bite you for looking at them, and everything in between. I hold many National Protection Dog Championship titles, I have trained dogs for Oscar winning movies and I also do the simplest in home private party puppy training and problem solving. I have "fixed" dogs that were so bad they were about to be euthanized, many times. Years ago I did the typical parking lot obedience classes too. I don't rigidly follow any one discipline, I try to master them all and use them wherever appropriate. My bag of tricks is large.

This thread is in response to all the dog and tortoise incidents that we all see and hear so much about. It seems to happen a lot more as the weather warms up and more tortoises are outside, where dogs can gain access to them. It is my goal to share my experience with dog-proof enclosure building, and some dog training tips, in the hopes of preventing another tragedy. Anyone should feel free to question, comment, or add their knowledge and experiences too.

Enclosures: Chicken wire ain't gonna cut it. Even a small dog can get through chicken wire. Great for holding in chickens, not so good for keeping dogs or raccoons OUT. You need "welded wire". One inch by one inch will work, but I prefer one inch by two inch since the thickness of the wire is a bit more substantial. How the wire is mounted and attached is vitally important too. I like to use 2x4s and 4x4s to build solid sturdy frames and attach the wire with deck screws and fender washers. The fender washers are one and a quarter inch in diameter, so they really hold down the wire nicely. The deck screws are super strong so you don't have to worry about the heads popping off like they do on cheaper screws. Heavy duty hinges and hardware are well worth the money in this case too. If you over build it a lot, nothing bad will happen. If you under build it just a little... disaster.

Another option for those who don't feel so handy with tools is to hire a fencing company to put up chain link panels around your tortoise pen. Kind of like a giant dog kennel. I recommend a chain link roof too. 11 gauge wire will keep most dogs out. 9 gauge wire will keep ALL dogs out. In some instances an enclosed area is not possible or practical, but a simple dividing fence can make a big difference in the safety of your tortoises. Just be aware that a determined dog, turned on by the sight of a wiggling shelled critter, can easily hop most fences.

In short, preventing the dog from gaining access to the tortoises should be the number one line of defense. There are a million ways to accomplish this, but sturdy materials and construction techniques are a must. Allowing dogs and tortoises to share a common space is a recipe for disaster, in my opinion.

Dog Training: Even after all these years, I am amazed at the lack of training on most people's pet dogs. A simple course of obedience will often work wonders. It helps to build the right relationship between owner and dog and it starts the dog learning that it must respond to voice command. This is essential, and although it seems unrelated to the tortoises, the concept of inhibition that comes from plain old vanilla flavored obedience can also go a long way in making your dog re-consider attacking your tortoise without you even there.

To directly deal with interaction between dog and tortoise there are many methods. The main premise is to teach the dog that they are not allowed to have anything to do with the tortoise and that they should avoid the tortoise. This can be accomplished on leash with voice command or off leash with a shaker can, hose or squirt gun, or anything else that YOUR dog perceives as negative. The idea is to teach the dog that bad things happen when it gets anywhere near the tortoise, or even shows "interest" in the tortoise. Many people are familiar with the "Snake Breaker" clinics that go on all over the country. The idea is to teach the dog through safe methods that the sight, sound, and smell of venomous snakes is always associated with something very unpleasant. The result is that the dog will use all of its senses to avoid and completely stay away from venomous snakes, thereby saving its life. This same concept can be used to save the life of the critter, our tortoises in this case. By the correct and careful use of a good electric collar we can teach the dog that tortoises are NOT fun chew toys and that somehow tortoises deliver a nasty "bite" when you get your nose anywhere near them or attempt to "mess" with their enclosure. Now don't misunderstand, I'm not all willy nilly about using "shock collars" on dogs, but they ARE a very useful very powerful teaching tool. When used CORRECTLY, they are very effective and can literally save a dogs life, or save the life of object of their affection.

For those that decide to go this route, here are some general tips:
1. I highly recommend you hire an experienced professional to help you with this. A professional tile guy can come on here and type up a thread on how to re-tile your bathroom. What do you think the results would look like when you are finished? Things can go any number of ways and the ability to read the dog and make instantaneous adjustments is CRITICAL. Enough said.
2. Only buy top tier, quality equipment. Now is NOT the time to save a few bucks and have an equipment malfunction. I use and recommend the "Dogtra" brand. I use many of their products for a variety of uses and have always been very happy with the quality, reliability and customer service. They make collars for dogs as small as 10 pounds.
3. Before you ever put it on the dog, strap it to your thigh and try it out. Become very familiar with what it feels like and how the controls work at all the different levels of stimulation.
4. You need to spend at least one MONTH putting this collar on the dog and taking it off randomly through out the day, with the collar turned OFF, to get the dog used to wearing it, and so the dog does not associate the correction with the collar. The unpleasant sensation should be a bolt from the blue, or the dog should think it came from the tortoise. You do not want the dog to realize that the correction only happens when it is wearing its special collar, and you are around. My puppies wear these collars (turned off) from the time they are two months old. Sometimes I never even actually use them at all, but the tool is ready if I need it. I have dogs that are several years old and been wearing e-collars their whole lives, but I've have not ever needed to use it on them. The collars mean nothing to these dogs and this is just how it should be.
5. When you put the collar on the dog, it must be high and tight. It should be all the way at the top of the dogs neck, right up against the base of the skull. It needs to be very tight. Not so tight that you cut off the dogs air, but very tight. The contact points must touch the skin and you don't want the collar slipping around and rubbing their skin.
6. After at least a month of diligently and randomly having the dog wear the collar around for hours at a time, go back and re-read number one above. Now turn the collar on and put it on the dog, hopefully with the help of your trained and experienced professional. Act normal. Don't behave all nervous and worried. The dog will know its a set up. Have someone with the remote ready and hiding in the house or somewhere out of sight, but where they have a clear view of the entire dog and tortoise area. For most e-collar applications we want VERY low power. For this one we want it high. We want the dog to be very startled and upset by what is about to happen. It should be NEGATIVE, in other words. Now the next part is subjective and will vary with each individual situation. Somehow you need to let the dog have access to the tortoise and or its pen. When the dog shows interest and goes to sniff at the tortoise or the enclosure, the person inside pushes the button. In most cases that is enough for most dogs. One correction. Its good to repeat the offer a few times over a period of days or weeks to really let the dog know that those tortoises are BAD news and let them learn that they want to AVOID those little crawling critters with the chewable shells. Key elements are the lack of involvement from any humans, the correction (or bite, as the dog may perceive it) comes from the tortoise or its pen, and the dog must be able to escape from the situation. In other words don't do this by sticking the dog and the tortoise in a kennel together. Best in a yard where the dog can get away and go to the other side of the yard from that nasty, mean, magical, biting tortoise. Now please go back and read number 1 AGAIN. Your chances of this working correctly will skyrocket if you bring in someone who is familiar and experienced with all of these concepts.

These are just a few ideas to try and help avoid the disasters that we see far too often. If none of this suits you, that is fine and understandable, but DO find something that DOES suit you and your situation. Do something to keep the tortoises safe, and you happy with your dog(s).
 

Yvonne G

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Also, I can't tell you how many times I've heard something to the effect, "My dog never paid any attention to the tortoise/turtle. For XX years they've lived in the same area with no problem."

Don't kid yourself. One day the dog WILL chew on the tortoise.
 

lushcious

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Thanks for the tips. I'm sure it will help a lot of people. I'm so tired of hearing such bad stories between dogs and torts.. it's just too sad.
 

wellington

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Good thread Tom. I purchased one of those collars about four years ago and used it for my Bull Terrier. She likes to eat other dogs poop. They work really good, like you said if done right. Mine has a buzzer noise also. That's all I have to use now. Most of the time I don't use the collar at all. For my purpose, I trained with my voice and collar together. I used to train people, um dogs too, but not to the extent you do. I couldn't put up with the owners stupidity, I had to stop before I went to jail. LOL:D. Hopefully all dog and tort owners will listen and get it.
 

lisa127

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I like the tips for building a strong enclosure.
 

clare n

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Brilliant thread, really glad that someone has taken the time to do this. It's an awful way to lose a tortoise I imagine and my heart goes out to people that this has happened to despite trying, this shows it can be avoided. I wish a few other topics would be addressed in this way.
 

Tom

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clare n said:
Brilliant thread, really glad that someone has taken the time to do this. It's an awful way to lose a tortoise I imagine and my heart goes out to people that this has happened to despite trying, this shows it can be avoided. I wish a few other topics would be addressed in this way.

Usually the same people harp on the same stuff. PM them and make a suggestion. Or PM me and I might have an idea for who would want to do it.
 

ascott

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Great thread Tom. I was never a person who believed in e collars...only because I had seen horrible affects from mis use/ignorant operator. I did research and educated myself and have been able to see times when this tool is humane and indeed does allow dog and man to get along much better...also obedience training does allow a means of communication from canine to human....I mean you cal scream, yell smack your dog but if you do not teach your dog what action is expected by use of word or gesture...then you are simply being an idiot....lol....

I have two dogs...one is entirely 200% prey driven...mixed with that unbelievable drive she is agile, tenacious, and simply has memory loss every start of every new day....I have trained dogs in my day and have only encountered two other dogs that no matter what training you do...no matter what tools you utilize...you simply have a dog that is smart, fast, tenacious and agile, all of which make for a great animal...and I adore her, however this is a dog that found her way to me after two other family member households could not handle her character any longer and had I not accepted her as into our household she would have ended up on death row....there is never a time that she is allowed outside without either myself or her cable line...at first we did all of the training...used all the tools...said alot of choice words (well I did) and determined she is a huge hazard to herself...therefore she will live out her days here 100% monitored ....the fencing around the torts various yards on the property are all surrounded by chain link...they all have places to safely retreat to...and all works well.....although in the beginning she would get lose out the front door when my son was younger...she never even stopped by to look at the torts...likely because the fast moving rabbits would keep her going...lol...

Now the other dog is awesome....he is able to be in the same supervised space with me and a tort and go lay down....does this mean I trust him? Hell no. A dog is a predator...anything smaller than them (sometimes bigger) equates to potential prey....it is not that I hold anything against a dog for being a dog...but I would be an irresponsible person if I fooled myself in believing anything other than that....

You can safely and securely house a dog(s) and a tortoise if you are responsible for your set up.....there is no room for error when living things are present and depend on you for their safety...especially if you are keeping some captive critters....

Thanks again Tom....good share on another effective use of a valuable tool....if used correctly...
 

clare n

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Now about to bed down but I'll pm you I'm the morning thank you :)
 

cemmons12

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Good info from our friend Tom! I sure hope people read this and follow your info. All these incidents that we are hearing about just make me so sick. So happy we have so many great and helpfull people here and such a good support system. Have a great night forum friends!
 
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