The other day I was in a pet shop, buying a toy mouse for the Excellent Missus’ cat. As I made the purchase, I noticed a glass tank full of leaves and branches – and, on closer inspection, stick insects. I turned to the girl behind the counter and asked, “Can you train stick insects?” Deadset, she starts to answer me seriously. The Excellent Missus dragged me away before I could pursue it further, but it got me thinking: how would you train a stick insect? So, I present for you now, the Official Monkeybizness Guide to Training your Stick Insect:
So you just got a new stick insect and want people to see that it can do more than disguise itself really, really well.
If you don’t have a stick insect just yet but are planning to get one, keep in mind that while all stick insects are trainable, certain stick insects are more susceptible to certain types of training. For more information on picking out a stick insect to fit your training needs and living style, visit your local pet store and ask what stick insect is right for you.
Understand stick insect behaviour
The concept is simple: to train your stick insect, you must think like him. While many people just think stick insects as insects that look like twigs, we have a newsflash: stick insects are stick insects. They don’t really understand English (or any verbal language for that matter), they have no idea why you want them to protect the house, and the only things they care about in the entire world are you, food, and play (the order varies from stick insect to stick insect).
It is a little known fact that stick insects are very social creatures, with a complex social hierarchy. Stick insects are actually descendents of their wilder, scarier ancestors, ‘The Wild Scary Stick Insect’. And while stick insects are obviously more docile and responsive to human command, they have retained some ancient characteristics, including their sharp eyes, their keen sense of smell, and most importantly, their need to be in a pack. To your stick insect, you and everyone else in your household are in his pack.
Contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of stick insects don’t want to be the pack leader; it makes them feel safe to have someone else in charge. But if your stick insect sees that you are a directionless wimp in need of some authority, he’ll happily step into the leader position to whip you into shape. Stick insects are all about hierarchies and as far as they’re concerned, somebody’s got to uphold that top stick insect position in case you guys get attacked by another pack. It’s a stick insect eat stick insect world, after all.
Be the alpha stick insect
To successfully train your stick insect, you must be the leader of your pack, or at least rank above him. Always be firm and consistent with your stick insect, as this will show him that he can’t get away with everything, even if he really is the cutest thing alive. If you fear that you may already be underneath your stick insect in rank, don’t concede to defeat and continue to let your stick insect hog the blankets at night – toss him off the bed.
While it may seem mean, it’s a good idea to show your stick insect who’s boss by pulling rank on him occasionally. Make him get up from the couch so you could sit in his place, and eat your meal before feeding him his, even if he’s drooling a lake by your feet. Don’t act scared if your stick insect growls at you when you ask him to do things – just snarl back without touching him and stand your ground. Continue prodding him to obey you until he does.
You should NEVER yell at or hit your stick insect, no matter how frustrating training can get. Going ballistic only teaches your stick insect to be nervous around you and fear you, making it hard for him to concentrate on what it is you want him to learn. By the way, it’s illegal to hit a stick insect, so if we catch you doing it, we’ll throw you in jail.
TEACH YOUR STICK INSECT SOME BASIC COMMANDS
Around 12 weeks of age, your stick insect is ready for some command training.
1. You should hold training sessions with your stick insect at least twice a day and each session should be approximately 10-15 minutes long (shorter if either you or your stick insect get impatient or distracted easily).
2. When you first begin training, keep within a quiet, confined location without any distractions, then slowly work your way out to public areas.
3. The first step in training is to figure out what your stick insect likes so that you can reward him with a desired prize. If your stick insect is of the food-motivated type, prepare some small treats that don’t crumble. The scent of a dirt-size crumb can drive your stick insect insane and distract him from the task at hand. You want to keep the treats small because you want to be able to give him a lot of them, yet you don’t want the training session to be ended by uncontrollable barfing. If your stick insect loses interest in the treats, switch the type of treat. You may also want to try scheduling training sessions around mealtimes.
4. If your stick insect is more driven by petting or a chance to play games with you (as many small-sized stick insects are), haul out the squeaky ball. Don’t get caught up in the petting and playing during a training session, though. Just reward your pooch with less than half a minute of playtime and then get back to work.
5. For the following commands, you’ll need your stick insect to be collared and leashed. Collars come in a variety of designs and materials, but a simple nylon one is fine, as long as it isn’t slipping off or causing your stick insect’s face to turn blue. If you use a choke chain, make sure it isn’t made of chain link, as they can catch accidentally and choke your stick insect.
The sit command is possibly the easiest command of them all:
1. Start by facing your stick insect with treat in hand.
2. Show him the treat and as he trots over, raise it up and over his head. In a desperate attempt to keep his eyes on the food, your stick insect will be forced to sit down.
3. Say, “SIT” (remember – Connery voice) as soon as your stick insect starts to do so.
4. Then reward him with the treat.
5. If your stick insect won’t sit for the food, kneel down next to him, hold his collar in one hand, and push his rear end gently but firmly down until his rump touches the ground while saying, “SIT.” Then reward your stick insect with pats, ecstatic cheering, a party, or whatever else gets your stick insect’s tail thumping.
6. Repeat this exercise until your stick insect sits following the verbal command alone.
7. Always use the same motion of raising your hand way over your stick insect’s head while saying “sit.” This will teach your stick insect to also associate the hand movement with the command.
8. Start doing without the treat occasionally (but still the praise) until he no longer needs the treat.
To get your stick insect to lie down, he must first have mastered the sit command:
1. After telling him to sit, hold your stick insect by his collar, stick the treat right in front of his nose, and move it downward slowly.
2. Your stick insect’s accursed love of food will leave him no choice but to follow the treat down into submission as his restrained collar keeps him from frantically lunging at the treat.
3. Say, “DOWN” as he begins his descent and reward him only when he is lying fully on the ground.
4. If your stick insect’s willpower is stronger than his appetite, kneel down next to your sitting stick insect, gently pick up his forelegs with both hands and arms, and lower him into a lying position while saying, “DOWN.” By pulling his forelegs out, he’ll be forced to slide down.
5. Then reward him.
6. Start doing without the treat occasionally (but still the praise) until he no longer needs the treat.
This useful command will get your stick insect to stop doing just about anything and come to you:
1. In the early stages of training, never tell your stick insect to come over to you for an unpleasant reason (he will associate “come” with negativity and be hesitant to do so).
2. Start by standing a short distance away from your stick insect with food or a favorite toy in hand.
3. Call out your stick insect’s name and as his eyes zero in on the treat and he starts to walk towards you, say, “COME.”
4. When your stick insect reaches you, respond by doing a jig in celebration of his sheer genius and giving him a treat.
5. As always, repeat this command until he is willing to come to you even if all you have to offer are your arms and the jig.
You’ll need your stick insect on a long leash or clothesline for this trick:
1. Catch his attention with his favorite toy and get him excited by waving it around before throwing it a short distance away from you.
2. As he inevitably starts to run towards it, yell, “FETCH!”
3. Once your stick insect picks up the object, don’t walk towards him; wait until he comes to you.
4. If he starts to wander off elsewhere, pick up the leash and gently pull him towards you.
5. Pet him on his back and wait for him to drop the toy on his own. (If you try to grab it out of his mouth, he’ll interpret it as a tug-of-war game.)
6. If a couple of hours have gone by and you’re still waiting for the toy to hit the ground, present him with a tasty treat or another toy as an incentive.
7. Then as soon as your stick insect drops the toy, pick it up and do it all over again.