If you’re at all interested in comic books, video games, fantasy/sci-fi genres, and other, similar things, you’ve probably heard of Loot Crate. It’s a subscription master crate filled with random ‘nerdy’ items, delivered to your mailbox once a month. Crates each have a theme each month, and contents usually include a t-shirt, and a handful of other goodies, such as vinyl figurines, a pin, posters, trinkets, and baubles.
Not very long ago, the Loot Crate company announced another addition to their line up of mystery cates: A Loot Pets crate. Filled with nerdy things for your pet, this was something I had to try. I eagerly signed up, and waited for our first crate to arrive (incidentally, we decided to subscribe to the regular loot crate the same month, just to see what the fuss was about). The first month’s theme was “Galaxy” and I must admit, I was not disappointed.
Included in the box was a dog t-shirt (which matched the Loot Crate shirt for that month- quite pleased that we decided to get the human crate, too, as my husband and Deirdre have matching shirts now, LOL). The shirt was an 8-bit ‘ugly christmas sweater’ design on it, being that this crate came out in December. A collar, which was a nice neoprene, was a Weyland-Yutani Corp motif (from the Alien franchise). The firefly food dish was a nice, heavy ceramic with a rubber non-skid bottom. Unfortunately, this was far too small for either of my dogs, but I’m quite happy with it as a place to put my watch, necklace, ring, etc. on the bathroom counter while getting ready for bed at night. Completing the crate was a bag of treats, and a nice golden collar tag that was shaped like a rocket ship and emblazoned with “Founding Pet” on it. The cute rocket tag matched the pin from the human Loot Crate for that month. The box itself has a pretty neat graphic printed all along the inside, and the box could be turned inside out to store things and display the artwork. All in all, I was quite impressed with it all, and instantly in love with the box. I decided to keep the subscription for the next month, which had a theme of “Invasion.”
The following month I eagerly opened the Pet Crate. Inside I found another dog t-shirt (which, again, matched the human crate shirt for that month), along with a space invader’s leash, a rubber battlestar galactica frisbee, some treats, and a silver bone tag. Again, the box had graphics on the inside that were displayed when the box was turned inside out.
The frisbee lasted about 3 minutes total, but Deirdre had quite fun ripping it into chunks while wearing her x-files shirt.
The following month’s theme was “Dead” and that crate included a Deadpool shirt (which, you guessed it, matched the human crate’s shirt. It also said ‘Tacos,’ which is my husband’s favorite food, so the crate was quite well received around here). A squeaky, plush, Zombie head toy, two bags of treats, and a zombie collar tag charm rounded out this crate.
The next month was “Versus” and I wasn’t disappointed. Included was another matching doggie shirt, along with a batman toy that, sadly, didn’t squeak, despite Tiki’s best efforts to MAKE it squeak. Deirdre was more than happy to rip it to shreds though, squeak or not. Some plastic, collapsable ‘Captain America Civil War’ bowls, two bags of treats, and an Alien vs Predator dog tag charm rounded out the box.
The next month was where the crates started to deviate from their usual format. The theme for the human crate that month was “Quest” and the pet crate was “Quest for Bacon.” Instead of a matching shirt, the pet’s shirt was entirely different, but that crate included a matching human shirt in it instead. From this crate forward, the shirts wouldn’t match the human crate shirts, but instead would also include a human shirt in the dog crate. Also included was a bag of treats, a “Battle Pug” comic book, a D20 dog tag charm, and- Tiki’s favorite thing ever- a stuffed bacon that was both crinkly AND squeaky. The bacon I’d seen for sale in a chain pet store before, but had never purchased it (thinking Tiki wouldn’t like the crinkly-ness. I was wrong).
From here I started to notice a dip in the quality of the crates. The following months’ crate included a dog and human matching t-shirt, a plain silver dog tag charm, a bag of treats, and a kong air dog dumbbell. The kong birddog was, again, something I could easily get in a petstore, and had before. Nothing about this particular crate felt really unique, instead the crate didn’t seem to fit to a theme so much as just a couple things thrown together. The inside of the box wasn’t unique or designed to go with the theme as the others were. But, I figured any company can have an off-month.
The June crate was “Dystopia” (actually, dogtopia) and I noticed it wasn’t much different from the previous month. The same generic box interior instead of the uniquely decorated interior of most of the previous boxes greeted me when I opened it. Inside there was a bag of treats, a squeaky hamburger, a fire hydrant dog tag charm, and two t-shirts, one dog, one human.
For a second month in a row, I was a little disappointed. Instead of unique, fun boxes, it seemed I could expect a t-shirt, treats, and a cheap toy I could now generally find in a petstore in each box. The uniqueness and variety of the earlier months was gone. With a sad click, I cancelled my subscription, deciding to wait out a few months, see what happened with future crates, and if they seemed to turn around, I could resubscribe at a later date.
All in all, I enjoyed the crate until the last two months, and I liked the idea of a mystery crate in general. I know there a few other crate companies out there and have had thoughts of checking them out. If you subscribe to a different one, let me know which one and how you like it!
On June 27 last year my husband and I went to Glen Highland Farm (yes, the same place we have vacationed at for several years) to meet a few dogs that could potentially be our second dog. After meeting Ben, we just knew he was the right dog for us and he came home that very night.
And turned our lives upside down (you can read more of our story here).
He’s been the most amazing, goofy, ridiculous, awesome dog we could have asked for. He’s become a best friend to Dahlia and one of the lights of our lives. I can’t really imagine life without him at this point. He’s no longer the new dog. He’s just our Ben.
So I bring you the things Ben has learned in his first year with us!
1. New toys are the best thing ever!
2. Snow is pretty darned cool.
3. Tug is better with a friend.
5. All must hail the might and power and amazing fun of the chuck-it.
6. Balls are no fun if they don’t squeak.
7. Daddy’s lap makes the best chair
8. It’s nice to have my own space sometimes.
9. If running won’t get me there fast enough, I’ll just have to fly.
10. Biting Mama’s boobs might lead to squeaking but they are, in fact, not squeaky toys.
Thanks Ben for choosing us! We hope to continue to be worthy to be your people!
Now that we’ve learned about the four quadrants of reinforcement and punishment, how EOs and AOs effect these, how to identify the function of a behavior, and how to use schedules of reinforcement, we can start to think about how to use these behavior principles to alter behavior. In order to do that, we must learn how items are discriminated within our environment. How do we know that a spoon is good for eating soup, but a knife is better for cutting? We’ve learned to discriminate between these two things. If we use a spoon versus a knife for soup, we’ll get access to our reinforcement (the soup) must faster and with much less effort. But if I try and cut a prime rib with a spoon, well, I’ll be making a huge mess and probably just pick the thing up and take a bite out of it before I’m successful with cutting it. Our history of differential reinforcement tells us that the quickest way to get the soup in our mouth is with the use of a spoon, but the quickest way to cut the steak will be with a knife.
Differential reinforcement is the systematic use of positive reinforcement used in behavior modification programs- usually to get rid of unwanted behaviors and to increase wanted or replacement behaviors. Basically you reinforce behaviors under certain circumstances, and don’t reinforce under other circumstances. The target behavior is put on extinction, and replaced with some other behavior, depending on what type differential reinforcement program you are using. There are several types of differential reinforcement, each one used depending on the circumstances and function of the behavior.
DRO- differential reinforcement of other behaviors. In this situation the instructor will reinforce any appropriate behavior that is occurring instead of the target behavior. For instance, you set a timer for 10 minutes and reinforce at the end of the 10 minutes, if the target behavior has not occurred. Any other behavior can occur as long as it’s not the target behavior. The length of time you choose will be dependent on how often the behavior is occurring, and how short of an interval it needs to be to be initially successful.
DRH- differential reinforcement of high rates of behavior. The instructor reinforces the behavior only after it has occurred at high rates in a given period of time, generally starting at a rate slightly higher than is already occurring and often increasing until a predetermined rate is reached. As with DRO, the length of time you choose will be dependent on how often the behavior is occurring, and how short of an interval it needs to be to be initially successful.
DRL- differential reinforcement of low rates of behavior. The opposite of a DRH program. The instructor reinforces the behavior for occurring at low rates in a period of time, generally progressing lower as the program goes on until a predetermined rate is reached. Again- you guessed it- the length of time of each interval is dependent on how often the behavior occurs, etc. etc.
DRA- differential reinforcement of alternative behavior. This is similar to a DRO, except you’re looking to reinforce only a specific alternative behavior, usually each time if occurs, instead of any appropriate behavior.
DRI- differential reinforcement of an incompatible behavior. The instructor reinforces a behavior that is incompatible with the target behavior, which means the target behavior cannot occur at the same time as the incompatible behavior. The incompatible behavior can be physically incompatible, or functionally incompatible. You might reinforce a person singing a song to eliminate that person’s whistling behavior (Or you reinforce them keeping their mouth shut?).
Differential reinforcement in some way is responsible for most of our learning. You’re differentially reinforced for saying “Mom” when addressing your mom, but not when addressing your dad. You’re reinforced for sitting at your desk in school and doing work when in English, but for during gym. Or recess. Or after school hours (assuming you’re not in detention- what did you do this time?).
When using differential reinforcement, it’s important to ignore the unwanted behavior, and reinforcement according to your DR strategy. Don’t forget how to properly reinforce:
Describe the behavior (e.g. “Good Sit!!!”)
Use a variety of proven reinforcers
Be prepared for an extinction bust, where the behavior gets worse before it gets better. Differential reinforcement is a good way to combat unwanted behaviors without the use of punishment.
Gastric Dilation Volvulus, also known commonly as bloat and torsion, is a scary, life threatening condition that can strike dogs of any size at any age, although it tends to afflict the larger breeds with deep chest cavities. It is the mother of all veterinary medical emergencies. No one is sure exactly what causes it, but the veterinary profession has an abundance of theories. Bloat occurs when the stomach rapidly fills with gas then, because the enlarged stomach is top-heavy, the stomach flips over (torsion), twisting the ends off and trapping the gas. The gas continues to expand, with no exit route, and the stomach can grow to massive sizes. You can easily imagine from there how quickly things can go downhill. Often the twisted stomach tissue starts to die as the blood flow is compromised, and other organs get displaced as the stomach grows. The twisted stomach can block major blood vessels that carry blood back to the heart, quickly sending the dog into shock. Shock can occur within minutes of bloat starting, so this is not a ‘wait and see’ type of medical condition, this is truly a dire emergency.
Most dogs will act uncomfortable, sometimes pacing, trying to throw up but nothing comes. Many people, including vets, often think it’s just a ‘stomach ache’ and instruct owners to give some pepto bismol and call back in the morning. The veterinary and dog breeder world will offer you many suggestions for the prevention of bloat- from elevated feeders and no play for 30 minutes after eating, to feeding non-grain or raw based diets, not letting your dog scarf down food, and not allowing them to drink loads of water at a time. But despite all this bloat can still strike. Tiki, my 10 year old long-haired German Shepherd, is a dainty eater. She often takes upwards of 10 minutes to eat a cup of food, and generally will leave a bit behind. She eats grain free, from an elevated feeder, and being 10 years old with early stages of arthritis, she doesn’t run around much during the day, let alone after she’s eaten dinner. She’s never been a water tanker, taking a few dainty sips at a time before laying down, coming back for more later if she’s still thirsty. When bloat stuck at 7pm as I was fixing dinner, she hadn’t even eaten since breakfast that morning, and certainly hadn’t engaged in any physical activity within the 90 minutes prior.
All I can say of the experience- harrowing to say the least- was that I thank everything in the universe that I was at home when it started. Had I been at work, even with my roommate home all day with her, she certainly would have perished. My roommate is not a dog person, and while she likes dogs, she’s certainly not well versed in their medical anomalies. In fact, if someone hadn’t educated me on this subject in the past, I’d almost certainly have not dropped everything, grabbed Tiki up, and rushed the the emergency vet. Many people aren’t sure what’s going on, and decide to wait and see, or take their dogs to the vet first thing in the morning. By then it’s too late.
When bloat first presented itself, Tiki was laying in her usual corner of the kitchen while I cooked and my roommate worked on her laptop on the table. She started panting- no entirely unusual in Texas for a long haired GSD, even with the a/c on, but something about her expression made my roommate suddenly ask, “What’s wrong with Tiki?”
I looked over at her and sure enough, she was panting lightly, but had the barest hint on her face that she was uncomfortable. I called her to me, and she got up and obediently came, and I kneeled down to put my hands on it. I rubbed her face then ran my hands down her side, and stopped cold at her stomach. It wasn’t overly distended- yet. But it was rock hard. Outwardly nothing looked amiss, the stomach hadn’t grown yet to be noticeable enough just looking at her (although that’s what most people will first notice about bloat- the visibly distended belly. By that time, it’s almost always too late.)
My heart stopped. I knew instantly what is was. It felt like she had eaten a really big meal. My naturally dainty, slender GSD had a thanksgiving dinner belly- hard to the touch and larger than normal. I switched off the stove top, gabbed my keys and wallet, and literally threw Tiki into the back of my car. The e-vet was 20 minutes away and I made it in barely 10, going 105mph down the freeway while Tiki cried in the back. If I had gotten pulled over I was prepared to lead a police chase right to the front door of the vet.
I didn’t bother to park, stopping right in front of the door, grabbing Tiki and running into the vet. Luckily a tech came right out when they heard the door chime. I practically threw Tiki at her, mumbling incoherently about bloat, and the tech immediately took her back for x-rays. Not 10 minutes later the vet and tech were both back with x-rays. The news was dire. Her stomach had flipped completely and she would need immediate surgery, with no guarantee of survival. They wouldn’t know the damage to the stomach tissue or surrounding organs until they got in there. Her blood pressure was already fluctuating, and her blood work came back with some irregularities from the bloat. I signed the consent papers at the same time as they were prepping for surgery. Before I even left the vet they already had her open on the operating table- less than 30 minutes from when her bloat started.
The wait was agonizing. Even with proper medical interventions, survival is less than 80%, if any part of the stomach had died off, survival drops to below 50%. Survival depends greatly on how long the stomach has been flipped, if any stomach tissue has died from loss of blood, and if the dog was approaching or already in a state of shock before the surgery. Without aggressive medical interventions, death is nearly certain once the stomach flips, and the emergency vet confided to me afterward that she wasn’t going to tell me this, but that particular e-vet had seen many cases of bloat- and not a single survivor, mostly due to owners not knowing what was happening and waiting too long to bring them in. Manually trying to flip the stomach using a tube down the throat has limited success, and bloat will nearly always reoccur. Surgery was our only option.
It was an agonizing 3 hour surgery, but the vet didn’t call immediately to tell me the damage was too severe, so I was hopeful. When she did finally call it was to say things went as well as they could have, and Tiki was now sleeping. I could come get her the next morning and have her transferred to my regular vet.
When I picked her up the vet gave me a list of complications to look out for, such as behavior that would signal a change in blood pressure or signs of shock. I paid the bill (a bit over $4000, for the curious. /gulp) and I took her to my regular vet and they admitted her for the day for observation while I was at work. My regular vet, a 60+ year old James Harriot-type man, told me he, also, had never had a bloat survivor in his practice in 40 years as a practicing vet. He was so impressed that she had survived, that he brought in all the techs and the other vets to come meet her while he gave them a run down on bloat signs and symptoms (which he did while kneeling on the floor with Tiki and wrapping a bandage around her stomach). By the time I picked her up after work, the vet was confident she was mostly out of the woods, to keep monitoring her, and he sent me home with antibiotics, telling me to come back in two weeks to remove the 40 staples that were holding her together.
In addition to antibiotics, she received antacids to help with the stomach acid on her healing stomach. Part of her surgery included gastropexy- fastening the stomach to the body wall to prevent torsion in the future (as reoccurrence of bloat in dogs without a gastropexy reaches nearly 100%, with a gastropexy, it’s less than 5%).
Tiki developed a minor skin infection during the end of the second week of healing, apparently licking in secret as we never caught her actively licking her staples, so into the cone of shame she went and she received a week of antibiotics.
4 1/2 months later and Tiki is doing great. Her hair has grown back, she’s had no bloat reoccurrence, no complications, and she healed perfectly. She will celebrate her 10th birthday this fall!