How To Make Your Toad Like You
Ha! Trick title. I haven’t got the slightest idea how to make your toad like you!
Nor am I here to engage in a battle about the complexity of their emotions. Although I could, perhaps, have titled this thread "How To Make Your Toad Not Absolutely Hate You."
’Cause THAT question, I honestly have found the answer to.
What do you do if a stressed-out wild-caught animal does not like you?
Suck it up. Then wait. Oh, and while you’re waiting? Suck it up.
The following story is not going to be nearly as interesting to other people as it is to me. But to me, it’s huge. And to some kid who’s gotten bad advice about "forced exposure" or whatever "taming" their wild-caught purchase that’s bounced around from backyard capturer, to professional collector, to wholesaler, to pet shop, to new owner, or whatever... in mine’s case, she was a rescue from a stream of I-have-no-idea-how many people... I figure I could do worse than say that if you’re patient, there actually is light at the end of the tunnel.
If the toad you acquired didn’t go through a lot of abuse before you got it, it probably just views you as an ambulatory food dispenser that occasionally picks it up and then goes back to providing food. I remember catching toads as a kid, putting them in a big bucket, watching them eat whatever bugs I tossed in, and then letting them go. That’s because a few seconds of being captured wasn’t enough to really scare them.
Even if the toad you bought was from a dealer, it may have been well-handled. But, it may not have been. And it may have transferred around a lot, and been through all kinds of different stress, until constant negative exposure to humans has conditioned it to show more panic at the sight of a human than even wild toads display.
I got my cane toad in early June of 2007. I don’t how many owners she’d had, or how long she’d been in captivity, but I do know she was shell-shocked, missing a few toes (in a pattern that indicates being locked into a plastic container while trying to escape over the edge,) so infested with parasites that she’d stink up the apartment every time she sharted (I’m not sure if "shart" will be turned into something else by the anti-profanity whatchamathingy, if it is, just think "liquid stool..." god, someday I would love to discuss herpetology for any amount of time without poop being an essential part...) and for over five years I never once saw her eat!
Food went in, food vanished, and poop appeared in the water dish. So obviously she was eating. But when a TOAD will absolutely not approach the prey item until you are gone from sight... that’s pretty bad.
But going all Elmyra-mode on them certainly isn’t gonna help, so except on the rare occasions (a few impaction, a few housing upgrades, and a test four years after I got her that turned up positive for nematodes) I pretty much hung back and let her be a toad. And she got a little better. Willingness to eat during the day increased. Often I’d drop in a roach or hornworm, leave the room, glance back a minute or two later and see that she’d already hopped into the dish and eaten.
This year, she took to waiting in the dish for food. Oh, as soon as I approached with it, she’d hop away in terror, but then a minute or two later she’d come back for the kill. Very, very very recently, like just the last month or two, she stood her ground, but still wouldn’t eat until I left.
Once, earlier this week she stood her ground in the dish, but waited too long to eat, so when I glanced back a minute later the roach was scurrying up her back and onto an over-hanging leaf. She was, however, spinning to pursue it, so I let nature take its course. Since the roach was elevated, I wasn’t worried about her swallowing a mouthful of sphagnum. Since orange-head roaches are really, really easy to sex and I feed her males, I wasn’t worried about it having tiny little roach babies all over. I would bet money she ate the thing within a minute of its food dish escape.
After that I played it safe with her, though, and stopped putting food in the food dish when she was in it. I’d simply watch the cage, wait til she was in the water dish or out on the moss area, and put the food into the dish then. Then I’d walk away, and it would usually be eaten within minutes. One roach a day is usually just right for her, although during heat waves her intake doubles because the cage no longer has a cool side.
Anyway, long story short ( I know, too late!) today I went to work with her waiting in the food dish, and when I got home tonight she was still there. So, what the hell? I gave her a roach. She stood her ground, but of course ignored it. So I closed the cage, and figured I’d just back out as stealthily as I could. Before I could take one step, she’d spun around and eaten the roach! In front of me!
I don’t know if that experience of having her usually-easy prey climb up her back with its thick, prickly legs and then having to chase her made her nostalgic for just eating in the dish right away, or if it actually added a bit of stress and slowed her overall progress down by a day or two. Or, there may have been a combo factor. Years of non-abuse, followed by a blast of "catch that bug!" adrenaline that maybe reminded her what it means to be a toad? Any of these seem plausible to me as contributing factors, but, honestly, having seen five years of progress, from not even eating during daylight for the first year or so, I think this was inevitable.
If you end up with a toad that is obviously stressed by your presence, minimize your presence. Do what is necessary for their longevity, and eventually enough years of non-stressful life will help them forget the reasons they were so afraid of you in the first place. They have a pretty good lifespan, so if you can’t wait a few years for a happy ending you also might not have the attention span for decades of terrarium sanitation. Even now, I’m under no delusion that I can take her out in the yard tomorrow and play Frisbee. Hell, even when I’m careful there are STILL gonna be wrong moves that scare her a little. But if I keep minimizing negative contact,and keep feeding in the same place, I think an enormous barrier has been broken.
Finally, I actually expect to someday report that she’s taking the food straight from my hand. You know, the way they’re "supposed" to? Shame folk don’t give their merchandise the memo on that instead of just cutting their feet off and selling them to clueless owners with terrible care advice.
Last anuran I had before her was a horned frog. He was so unabashedly gluttonous that one time when he wound up on the ground behind a heavy, dangerous to move with a frog near it dresser (I’d opened the tub to feed him, he overleapt in his excitement, landed on the floor, got scared, and went behind the dresser... and after this story I promptly upgraded him to a bigger tub, just in case) all I had to do was dangle his food down at floor level and he came bouncing right out to me. Once he was chomping down on food, he was fine being lifted back into his cage... as long as he got to keep the food. So with everything I’ve heard about bold cane toads can be, getting this far with this one has been a hell of a project. But it’s a project that’s working.
Like I said, "dude, my toad ate a bug right in front of me" is not going to be that exciting a story to most people. But... OVER FIVE YEARS of spending hundreds of dollars... very probably three digits actually... on food, housing, meds, etc etc etc has finally resulted in... a normal toad! I believe the correct herpetological term for this situation is
Message To: JackAsp In reference to Message Id: 2278624
How To Make Your Toad Like You
that is awesome! what a great story. very well written, too, and you have won my heart forever by not putting an apostrophe in a possessive "it."
many warm congratulations on your normal toad, as well as on your ability to speak correct english. i once had a rescue iguana in much the same shape. she was mean till the day she died, but i could hold her when she was in a good mood (hand-feeding was not advisable). i’m in the process right now of taming three iguana hatchlings, two greens and a cyclura. i know where the cyclura came from, not as sure on the greens--it’s a challenge, though.
i very much enjoyed your story--thank you for sharing it.