National Invasive Species Awareness Week

National Invasive Species Awareness Week

Written by Samantha Arner

If you have ever been to Florida, you have heard of the mysterious giants that lurk deep in the Everglades. You have heard the stories of 16-foot pythons taking down full grown deer and wrestling alligators.  Although these stories seem too outrageous to be true, the reality is these gigantic pythons do exist and they are only one example of the thousands of invasive species that exist in Florida. In honor of National Invasive Species Awareness Week, Equipaws Pet Services want to enlighten pet owners on invasive species and the consequences associated with them.

What is an invasive species?

For those who are unfamiliar with the term invasive species, they are living things (plants, microorganisms, and animals included) that are alien to an ecosystem and cause harm to the native wildlife. Often these species are imported from other countries and either escape captivity or are released into these foreign lands. If conditions are right they will thrive! Invasive species exist everywhere around the world, but Florida, with its warm climate, diverse habitats, and vast amounts of wildlife, support a large number of unwanted species.

Invasive species awareness week Burmese pythong

Photo credit: Ian Easterling

Invasive species: Burmese Python

The Burmese python is considered one of Florida’s most catastrophic invasive species. Averaging 16 feet these snakes, from southeast Asia, are extremely secretive and very successful. They feed on local wildlife ranging in size from rats to full grown deer. There are even rumors of them taking on Florida panthers! When they aren’t feeding, these snakes hide in thick brush and underneath the water’s surface, only emerging to bask in the sunlight.

During mating season the females will mate with a number of males and will typically lay between 50 and 100 eggs. These high reproductive rates are resulting in population growth and these snakes are rapidly encroaching on coastal cities, like Miami. The Red-tailed boa, the Northern African python, the Argentine black and white tegu are among some of the other reptile species that are commonly found in Miami and are reason to cause worry for pet owners who leave their animals outdoors, unattended.  

Invasive Species awareness week Florida edition: Bufo Toad

Photo Credit: Samantha Arner

Invasive species: Bufo Toads

Another invasive species and probably the most dangerous for our pets, especially dogs, is the Cane toad, also commonly known as the Bufo toad. These South American toads leak a poisonous substance when scared, which can be deadly when ingested. Although a dog can survive poisoning from a Cane toad, death is more commonly the outcome if the proper steps aren’t followed. Read more about what to do if your pet catches a bufo toad in our blog post. 

Invasive species awareness week feral cats

Invasive Species: Feral Cats

Florida’s most controversial invasive species is feral cats. In cities like Miami it is hard to distinguish between feral and domestic cats, but they all pose a serious threat to local wildlife. Florida Fish and Wildlife estimates that one cat can be responsible for the death of 100 birds and mammals per year and it is thought that there are over 100 billion feral cats worldwide. Studies have shown that even the most well-fed cats are responsible for wildlife deaths.

Humans are the number one instigators for the success of these invasive species. When we feed stray, homeless, and feral cats we are promoting population growth. Along with being harmful to wildlife, feral cats can be harmful to our own pets. They can carry and transmit a number of diseases that can be detrimental to our pets’ health. Any time your pet is left outdoor unattended and free to roam they are at risk of contracting a deadly disease or parasite.

How to protect your pets from invasive species

As proactive pet owners and caretakers it is our duty to protect our pets any way possible.

  1. Be aware of your environment and the animals that could be in your backyard.
  2. Take the time to train your animals properly, so they take caution when exploring and leave wildlife alone.
  3. Do not leave your pets unattended outside. There are a number of things that can be harmful to our pets and we should protect them like we would protect our own children.
  4. Lastly, NEVER EVER release a pet into the wild; this is the number one way in which invasive species begin!

Although the thought of these invasive species can be fearful, Equipaws encourages you to take this National Invasive Species Awareness Week as a chance to learn about your local environment and get out there and make a difference!

Want to learn about the invasive species in Miami? Check out:  Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission 

Want to get involved in a local volunteer project? Go to National Invasive Species Awareness Week’s website.



Equipaws Goes to Catch Canine Training Academy


Equipaws Goes to Catch Canine Training Academy

Our social media specialist and dog walker Kristen Cortese just completed the Catch Canine Trainers Academy taught by Dee Hoult, CEO of  Applause Your Paws Dog Training and one of only 250 Certified Dog Behavior Consultants in the world. We sponsored Kristen for this week-long intensive dog training as part of our overall mission to improve the quality of our clients’ dogs’ lives. We spend a lot of time one-on-one with your pups- our walks are a perfect opportunity to reinforce their training. Kristen just completed training with the best so she can in turn work with our own dog walkers on maintaining great behaviors and walking habits for your pups!

Anatomy of Dog Training

The week-long, hands-on training happened from January 23-37, eight hours a day at Miami-Dade Animal Services. The group learning alongside Kristen was small, which gave them even more time with Dee to learn tools on how to teach dogs basic behaviors such as heel, sit, lie down, go to their place etc., and some tools on how to break a dog of certain behaviors such as leash pulling. The workshop included a lot of work with adult dogs, whom they taught how to sit, stay, heel, lie down, and to go to their place.

The training also covered how to get a dog’s focus back when you’re training, as dogs can get very distracted. Dog training is a very interesting calling that is a lot more difficult and time-intensive than it looks. A few things a trainer must do include:

  • Clicking and rewarding at the proper time, establishing a system of marking the behavior and rewarding. transition from first luring a dog into doing something,
  • To taking away the lure,
  • then moving to using a hand signal…

basically eliminating things until dog understands a verbal cue. We have a renewed respect for dog trainers!


Watch Kristen in Action at Catch Canine Training Academy!

Major Lessons in Dog Training:

One of the main takeaways Kristen shared with us is how easy it is to reinforce bad behavior inadvertently. Dee taught the group the psychology of how we actually reinforce bad behavior without realizing it. “I’m really cognizant of it this past week with our walks. If I let this dog pull me to sniff, I’m rewarding negative behavior.”

“A walk is a walk. And when a dog performs and does what it’s supposed to do, then you allow them to sniff. You’re using these fun things like sniffing and playing as rewards. If you don’t use them to use as reward for positive behavior, you’re missing out. Another example: why would you leave food in dishes for dogs to graze at their own pace? Feedings are a perfect opportunity to reinforce behaviors that you’ve taught!” says Kristen.

Every interaction with our pets is an opportunity to continue to reinforce positive behavior in them. As dog walkers, we know we’re not just walking dogs; there are so many other things going on. We can support whatever training the dog has completed given that we spend so much time with our clients’ pups. Some quick takeaways:

  • There’s a time for play, but you also want to continue to reinforce the behaviors you’ve spent time instilling in your dog.
  • You can undo them with silly things like walking in the house too excited, squealing and over-exciting them, and then they end up jumping.  
  • Every move you make is important, something you have to be mindful of if you want to reinforce good behavior.

That’s why it’s important for the whole family to be on board with reinforcing good behavior, or else training will be a waste of time and money.

Kristen learned that, not surprisingly, a lot of dog psychology is totally relatable to how we raise our children. “This is exactly what’s going on with my daughter. I couldn’t believe the parallel between training kids and training daughter. Every day we can either reinforce positive behaviors or negative behavior as walkers, thus missing opportunities.”

We are all very satisfied with what Kristen learned. Kristen says, “Dee is amazing. We worked heavily with the shelter dogs which was challenging and fulfilling. If you can work with them you can work with any dog! We also worked with trained dogs and did a lot of exercises alongside other trainers, who we watched and learned from.”

Trainers Helping Homeless Animals at Miami-Dade Animal Services

We also love that the training took place at Miami-Dade Animal Services, because the larger dogs have a harder time getting adopted than small dogs do. This workshop directly benefited and changed many doggie lives, because a trained dog is much easier to handle and adopt.

Kristen agrees: “It was nice to go to Miami-Dade Animal Services. They have a beautiful facility and it was so rewarding to volunteer there. We each took out three different dogs daily, all big shelter dogs. It was really cool to work with them because we don’t know what they know or what they’ve been trained in. There’s a very broad description of their personality when you see their sheet.”

Kristen really enjoyed the training, and we can’t wait for her to share her knowledge with our dog walkers. “I loved being able to work with dogs that are unwanted. You gain a sense of respect for these trainers. It’s a hard job but the rewards are high because these dogs are so smart. You take away the most that you are implementing something and it’s this communication that goes on between you and the dog- it’s like seeing a kid learn. When they realize you’re teaching them to sit and they get it consistently, what you set out to do you’ve accomplished. That’s the best feeling.”