Thanksgiving is almost here in the U.S. Some dread it; some can’t wait. We keep it low key, so I am grateful for that. Heck, we don’t even have a dining room table since the move, so this year should be interesting. Regardless of the set-up, some families have hectic holidays. That’s why it’s critical to plan and prepare … especially if you share a home with the furry, feathered, or scaly kind.
This short post is dedicated to those of you out there who could use a few tips for Thanksgiving to be less hectic and more harmonic.
In our household, 365 days a year, we do our best to help every animal to feel safe and secure. We continue to counter condition and desensitize animal to their individual perceived threats. We practice energy management. We strive to set them all up for success. We use toolsand techniques to ensure their perceived “threat level” is at zero. We respect boundaries, believe in consent, and factor in FUN!
But these are only pieces of the peaceful puzzle.
Creating safe boundaries is an essential key to creating peace and harmony in your home, especially during and after stressful holiday festivities. If you have children, guide them by showing them how to to respect the animal’s space or enclosure. Teach them to be mindful and respectful of each individual animal’s tolerance for noise and commotion. Ensure that our animal companions have their own safe bubble where they are free from being “loved on” (AKA being pestered). If you have family or friends visiting, remind them to give the animals space.
▪️How do you feel when a friend, family member or stranger touches you without your consent? ▪️How would you react if someone whom you’re sometimes uncomfortable with started stroking or rubbing on you without your permission? ▪️How would you feel if a stranger touched your face, or another area few go near?
🔸Many animal companions experience this daily. They tolerate the uninvited touches, the cuddling without consent, and the petting without permission. Imagine being an animal companion who experiences this multiple times a day every day, for years. Then consider how challenging that could be if you were an animal companion who has a underlying medical conditions, fears, and challenges with close-encounters.
Choice Matters, But There’s More to It.
If the animals choose to be around your guests, remember that the dog or cat may be excited to see newcomers, but in the next instant they very well could be more protective of things they consider “high value” such as bedding, treats, their people, and their food. Remember those stress hormones are in their system!
Also, if the animals in your home are not the best of buds, and they’re merely coexisting with one another, creating safe spaces for each animal and managing your home environment carefully is imperative. Give everyone ample safe space!
Being aware of each animal’s individual threshold, and their need for safe, quiet refuge after any kind of commotion is how we become conscious companions for the animals with which we share a home.
Despite what we often may think, animals are pretty complex creatures. They speak a different language than we do, they have quirks in their personalities that can make them quite unusual sometimes (like us humans) and they often display anxiety and discomfort in ways we don’t.
Over the years we have observed each animal in our home respond with a different type of reactivity to their individual perceived threats. The dog has been known to lunge and bark, freeze and growl, or retreat. Her response depended on what she felt threatened by, and by her individual stress/hormone levels at that moment.
Cortisol is an adrenal hormone with a great number of effects on the body. The level goes up or down quickly in response to stress.
Each of the cats has their own individual response, depending on the trigger at the time, and their individual stress hormone levels. You might recall one of your animals behaving this way when they are stressed. You might even recall doing this yourself!
That’s why we set everyone up for success!
Holiday Tips for Busy Families
Check out the video below (filled with bloopers). I made this a couple of years ago, but the points are timeless. This will give you some giggles, insight, and ideas on how you can prepare your entire family for a Thanksgiving Feast, and how to enjoy the Family Festivities in Harmony!
Remember to Laugh, But Focus on Prevention!
Although I included some silly bloopers in this video, the points I address are very important. Please consider the needs of everyone in your home. Please plan ahead and prepare. And remember that your energy and attitude is contagious!
P.S. Be sure to check out the articles and videos at the end of this post; all are related to what I discuss in this video!
“I am who I am today because of the mistakes I made yesterday.”
― The Prolific Penman
Becoming a Conscious Companion
If you are reading this, I can assume that you love the animals that you share your life with enough to be inspired or learn more to improve their lives. I encourage you to take that love and funnel it into educating yourself, and your family and friends about the basic behavior of the species that you work with, live with, and adore. Every day I challenge myself to learn something new about the animals I love and live with. I hope you do the same.
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there … – “A Visit from St. Nicholas” by Clement Clarke Moore, 1779 – 1863
Happy Holidays, friends!
I hope this finds you and yours well. Here on the wild, wild West Coast we are dodging wildfires, doing our best to stay safe and sane, helping a senior cat recover from a recent seizure, and remembering to laugh at life. More on all of that in another post 😉 …
Today I wanna talk about some positive things that we can all relate to: eating delicious goodies, de-stressing, and family fun!
Ok, that sounds really cheesy, but hear me out.
The holidays can be hectic in most homes. Families have freak-outs. Pets get stressed. We all need emotional and physical releases, right? So why not eat goodies, have fun, and de-stress all at the same time …Together?!?
That’s what we do in our dojo.
This short post serves to show you how to do just that! I know I can get wordy, but don’t worry; this will be a short post. There are some fun videos in here, so grab your pup, parrot, pussycat, or piglet and get ready to try something new!
“Life always begins with one step outside of your comfort zone.” ― Shannon L. Alder
We see them everywhere. Those plush, adorable, colorful stocking stuffers. They seem to be literally everywhere we look this time of year.
I have to admit; they are hard to pass up. We used to give our canine companion all kinds of stuffed toys for Christmas. Most of my clients and family offer them to their pups as well. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it, but it can pose a danger. No matter how adorable that stuffed dog toy is, chances are, some part of it will wind up inside your dog. Hopefully it will make it’s way out the other end.
But sometimes it doesn’t make it out.
Skip the Usual Stuffing.
I have a suggestion. This holiday season, instead of offering them the usual stuffed toy, consider offering your companion animals something REAL. -Something they would choose over and over again, if given the choice. Consider offering your animal companion something more natural, and more to their liking.
Stuff their stockings with a new treat this year!
The safest and healthiest option is to offer what your omnivore or carnivore really wants: Stuffed Body Parts.
You read that correctly. We offer body parts to our pets. 😉
Hear me out, before you get totally grossed out. Body Parts are Natural Chews. You can view some of the ones we use here: BODY PARTS (aka Natural Chews) . As they state, it’s nothing but the good stuff! No preservatives, salt, wheat, corn, or sugar! Nothing that has ever been on the continent of Asia. No rawhide. They are easily digestible and safe for all ages. And the animals absolutely love them!
But we don’t just offer those natural chews, willy nilly. We stuff and freeze them. It makes them last much longer, and it’s a tool that we use to modify behavior, prevent problem behaviors, and tap into their innate instinct to CHEW!
You can watch me quickly create one of these stuffed chew toys here:
Prep time: 2 minutes
Total time to make: 3 minutes
Freeze time: 2 hours
Time it takes most pups to eat it: 45 min – hour
Win-win for everyone in our home and neighborhood 😉
If you still have to get gifts or stocking stuffers for the animal companions in your life, consider skipping the toys filled with cotton stuffing. They are quickly and easily “disemboweled”. They often end up going in one end of the dog and end up (hopefully!) coming out the other.
In the pic below is one example of me coming home to see that Hocus Pocus had disemboweled her stuffed toys, beds, and other items when she was a wee lass. (a very common result from boredom and frustration). And of course, King Albert was there on standby watching the storm.
Now we know better, so we do better. 😉
“Many times what we perceive as an error or failure is actually a gift. Eventually we find that lessons learned from that discouraging experience prove to be of great worth.” ― Richelle E. Goodrich, Smile Anyway
Instead of offering toys filled with cotton or polyester stuffing, consider gifting them REAL, natural goodies such as organic raw bones, yummy natural high-protein treats, and stimulating puzzle toys and Kongs! They last much longer than the usual stuffed toy, and they encourage natural canine chewing and foraging behaviors.
The same goes for your feline family members. Cats are predators. Period. Portions of their natural diet consists of hard bones. Those lizards, birds, snakes, and frogs aren’t filled with air, folks. Even if your cat lives indoors, he/she still craves these things.
And they are healthy tools!
Bones clean tartar and help to maintain healthy teeth and gums. Since most indoor cats don’t have access to bones, veterinarians recommend them as a treat. But, be careful not to give your cat pork, chicken or fish bones. These could splinter and cause severe internal injures. Raw bones are also better than cooked ones, since they are less likely to splinter.
Clearly this is an exaggeration, but cats DO love bones!
Tooth decay and gum disease have been linked to heart, kidney, and other serious chronic illnesses in cats. Many cats do not show obvious signs of discomfort until they’re in considerable pain. Don’t wait until your cat shows signs of distress to have his teeth checked out. Start now by offering them healthy, safe chew items. Always consult your feline veterinarian.
You can view Knox Zydeco enjoying a natural chew “toy” here:
I get it; the idea seems gross to most. Being a borderline vegan-vegetarian, I understand. But I used to be a zookeeper, so I am well desensitized to all of this. – Crocodiles, lions, tigers, komodos, and jaguars ate whole carcasses! It’s natural. Our feline family members may chill on our couches, but they are not far removed from their wild ancestors; they need these items in their diet. If you don’t believe me, check out what the experts have to say.
Tap Into Natural Behaviors!
If you are completely incapable of even considering the idea of offering stuffed body parts to your pets, at least consider offering them toys that tap into their natural instincts! I have written about this topic at great length before; cats need to have outlets to express their natural behaviors! If there’s a cat on your Christmas gift list, go for toys that stimulate his hunting instincts! Or how about a new stimulating scratching surface? You can also consider a toy that allows you to interact with him and gives him some exercise at the same time, like a laser beam toy (that always ends with a food reward) or a feather teaser like Da Bird.
Consider toys that stimulate their natural instincts!
Offer a toy that allows your kitty or ferret to chase and hunt! Offer a new “approved” scratching surface, window seat, or cat tower! Consider getting your cat a toy that allows you to interact with him or her, while giving your feline friend some exercise at the same time. If you need some ideas, HausPanther has a new 2017 Holiday Gift Guide for Cats and their people!
This holiday season is an opportunity for you to give them this gift!
Let’s not forget our feathered friends this holiday season! But don’t let those flirtatious faces and colorful feathers fool you. Parrots are not domesticated animals. Cats, dogs, and horses have been selectively bred for qualities that enable them to live more harmoniously among humans. Parrots are exotic, and by definition, are not a species indigenous to the U.S. Companion parrots have the same instinctual needs as their wild counterparts. Your parrot may live in a cage at home with you, but his mind and body are just as wild as the green-winged macaw that’s flying free in the tropical rainforests of Central and South America. Parrots bred in captivity have the same instinctive physical and behavioral needs of parrots living in the wild. Offering natural chews helps them to better adapt to life in captivity!
For the feathered family member, consider these “real” stocking suffers from our friends and colleagues at The Leather Elves:
For companion animals, and all exotic animals in captivity, toys are not a luxury, but a necessity. Interactive Toys are vital to their well-being. They prevent boredom and frustration when you have to leave your companion alone at home. They provide comfort when they need it. They are a great outlet for excessive energy! Toys can even help prevent your pup, pussycat, parrot, pig, or poison dart from from developing unwanted/unhealthy “problem” behaviors. If there’s a feline, canine, parrot or ferret on your holiday gift list, get real and go natural this year!
Regardless of what natural item you offer as a gift this year, remember that we need to be particularly careful when monitoring playtime to prevent any “unauthorized” activities and to ensure safety. Always monitor the animal when they are exploring, eating, or playing with these new items.
Must Read: An easy but extensive list of Holiday Dos and
So as you are out and about this holiday season, consider how you can offer a unique experience for you and your animal family members. Think outside the box! Create fun and long-lasting memories that will enrich everyone’s lives!
“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more!” ― Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
Wow. How are we already past the midway point of 2017!?
Hello Summer! And hello to you!
It’s been 3 months since I shared here. So much has happened since the last post . After our beloved King Albert transitioned into Spirit, life has been a roller coaster of sorts. Saying goodbye to him was a heartbreaking and familiar path, but this time the path was paved with life-changing insights and experiences. So much love, learning, healing, and growth has happened in the process.
But that’s not what I am sharing with you today.
As I discussed in an earlier post, my life and work is now a blend of science, metaphysics, and spirituality. My last post was a bit of both, and rather lengthy. Today’s post is science-based and short-n-sweet to save us all time. 😉
If your cat is cool with the cacophony of clangs, I commend him. If your dog digs having strangers over with a symphony of explosions, and scary sights and scents, I bow down to her. If your parrot, ferret, pig, or horse is unphased by the big bad booms around their dojo, they are the minority.
Most animal companions are not coolwith the Fourth of July.
If you have worked with or lived with an animal, you know that most are frightened of loud or startling noises. Even the ones who enjoy being around new people can be pushed to their limit. Strangers in your home during the holiday can stress out even the most subdued souls.
Even if your animal companion has not displayed fear around these family events before, the sights, scents, and sounds on The Fourth of July could easily bring out their most intense fears. And these fears don’t pass after the festivities are over; they can manifest as physical issues well after the event.
It can be a living nightmare for many.
💥 So, what’s a devoted animal guardian to do?!? –> BE AWARE. –> PLAN. –> PREPARE.
Here’s the Good News: Family festivities on the 4th of July don’t have to become Fright Night to our animal companions! There are many things that you can do to help your animal family members successfully cope with the Big Bad Booms and Bangs!💥
Let’s Get to Sharing!
Below are resources that I have been sharing like wildfire for weeks on our InstagramTwitter, and Facebook pages. Check em out! And if you have friends, family, or colleagues that would benefit from this information, by all means, share it!
“For it is in giving that we receive.” ― Francis of Assisi
Last weekend, a gifted colleague and I gathered forces to create a live call-in event for families. The intent was to empower people and their pets by sharing tools, tips, and techniques, and also to dispel myths. This event was created to help animal guardians across the country to prepare for the Night of Assault on the Senses.
It was a huge success.
Countless people had NO CLUE that it’s really OK to comfort the animal when they are afraid; how and why food can and should be used as a tool to modify fear; why medication is often very helpful; holistic tools that actually work; how to identify and create safe hide outs; why play is powerful.
All of these topics were new to many.
People were so relieved to learn that they do have the power to help their pets! People learned how and why these tools are vital to having a night that’s fear-free on the 4th of July. During the live event we discussed:
Sight, Scent, Sound, and Tactile senses 101
How & Why we should desensitize them to loud noises NOW
Signs of Stress in parrots, cats, and dogs
How to properly use FOOD to modify fear 🥓✨
Why cats behave certain ways when they feel threatened
What you can provide to help them feel safe and secure
Why “bolt holes” are critical for dogs and cats
Holistic Tools to use
Why you might want to consider contacting your vet now
So that’s some of what’s been on my mind the past couple of weeks, which is why I was motivated to share with you today. I hope this is helpful. And I hope you know that it is possible to have a Fear-Free Fourth of July.
You can do this!
If you have questions or concerns, shoot me an email, or comment below. 🙂
For those of you who are new to this blog, welcome! I am so grateful you are here! For those of you who have been here since the beginning, and for those who are interested, here are some other exciting projects in the works:
I am closer to completing my first children’s book (gah!)
A video series on how to positively leash train cats of all ages & stages via force-free techniques (with an emphasis on senior and geriatric cats!)
Kids-In-Cali Animal Communication workshops
Dog and Kid Safety workshops for our Marines at Camp Pendelton
A video series on assisting aging cats with force-free medical care at home
Connecting with Animals on the Other Side – a complimentary program for pet parents who are struggling with death, loss, and grief
Empaths with Pets: how highly sensitive people can learn from their animal companions
As I am guided I will be sharing more about each of these with you here in the future. In the meantime, check out these free resources so you and your beloveds can have a Fear-Free 4th of July together! 🎉
With infinite Love and Gratitude,
Amy and the animal menagerie🐾
Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family. -Kofi Annan
“When efforts that are wisely executed, the situation and condition don’t affect the performance.” ― A.Patel
We have arrived in California! Finally. 1.1 humans, 3.0 felines, 0.1 canine, 0.0.8 plants, and 0.0.2 vehicles made it safely from the east coast to the west coast! It only took us a MONTH to move out of our home in VA, drive across the country, and move into our home here in Cali, but we are here. And everyone is doing very well.
We must have had Falkor with us in spirit on our move out here because we had a lot of luck, magic, and miracles along the road less traveled. We also had a lot of patience, gratitude, and very successful animal menagerie management tools and techniques at play.
This is going to be a quick post, because we have been going nonstop since we got here, and we still have much more to do. But I wanted to at least update my readers because you are dear to me. Plus with all that is going down in the world, I wanted to share some Love Light.
Here’s the abbreviated Bad News from our laborious move out West:
The moving company packed up our household goods (everything) out of our home, then moved it all into storage (unbeknownst to us for several weeks).
I lost my voice on Day One of The Drive. Then that evening I had full blown flu-like symptoms.
Knox Zydeco decided that riding in a car was no longer an option for him anymore. In fact, it was one of the most terrifying experiences of his life (We discovered this within minutes of leaving our temporary hotel in VA and setting out on the road.)
One of our cars broke down at 10:30 at night while driving through the Texas desert.
We lived out of 8 different hotels across the country for 24 days.
Once we arrived in Cali the movers took another 8 days to get here so we stayed in another hotel for a week.
But that’s not where the seemingly never-ending moving story ends. There’s more. If you have been following this blog, then you know that I always focus on the positive in life and especially with our animal companions.
So… Here’s the abbreviated GOOD News from our Big Move:
Our feline veterinarian was absolutely incredible at immediately responding to and diagnosing Knox’s Full-On-Freak-Out while we were in transit.
We now know how incredibly helpful (and safe) the right medications can be for fearful cats. And we learned that these are the same meds that people are prescribed for panic attacks and anxiety! (more to come on this important topic ).
I learned why one should never have a deep healing acupuncture session prior to moving across country (hence the flu-like symptoms).
Hocus Pocus had zero aggression, frustration or fear reactivity issues. I am so proud of her!
Our senior kitty boys were total rock stars; Beaux and Albert both did exceptionally well on the long 11 hour drives each day. And King Albert’s health challenges did not cause him any noticeable duress.
My animal communication skills were put to the test and I passed with flying colors.
We all grew closer together during this trial.
Everyone did exceptionally well, considering how hard it was on all of us for such a long time.
They have all settled into our new home and are far exceeding what I thought they were capable of.
Everyone is thriving!
It’s All Been Worth the Time and Effort!
All of the techniques, tools, and behavior modification methods I have learned over the years of being an animal trainer, pet parent, and animal behavior consultant came into play during this long transition. The methods I share with you and use with my clients were all put to the test. Including some I had never tried before! They were such a huge success.
All of my efforts have paid off. What I thought was impossible was possible. I didn’t believe the cats or canine were capable of coping. I had anticipated the worst, but each of them found their way to SHINE during a very difficult and long process. Each of them adjusted, adapted, and They proved all of us wrong. They were total champs. At times they even seemed to understand that we were all in this together.
I am still in awe of them.
But that’s all I am going to write about for now. In the near future I will be sharing with you how I was able to create and maintain safety, peace, and harmony during the Long Haul with each of the animals. I will also share how we have been able to help each of them to settle into our new dojo with flying colors (and with no flying fur!). I can’t wait to tell you all about everything that’s working, and the new tools I have discovered. These tips and techniques will make such a huge difference for you and your companion animals.
Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.-Robert Collier
In Other News
I hope those of you in the U.S. and Canada enjoyed (and survived) the recent independence holidays. We are still experiencing bomb-like-fireworks nightly here, so we are continuing to help the animals cope with that. If you need some suggestions to help your pets with post-Independence day celebrations, check out this post and this one as well.
If you were affected by the tragic events in Orlando (my hometown), my heart goes out to you. Our friends and family still live there, so this really hit home for us. My mother was able to send her team of therapy dogs to help the first responders from that event. You can read about that here.Now they are visiting with the Orlando community as their team is able, helping so many to heal.
Also, if you or anyone you know are either a HSP or an Empath, this Instagram page might be helpful. As we move forward in the world, and as I continue to share here, I will spread as much love and light as I can. With all of the drama, anger, and sadness we are witnessing unfolding in the world right now, we need more love. We must uplift and love one another. When the world appears dark, we need to be The Light. Remember that our animal companions are such perfect teachers for this. They are pure unconditional love.
“There are darknesses in life and there are lights, and you are one of the lights, the light of all lights.” ― Bram Stoker, Dracula
OH! Before I go, I wanted to share one more inspiring thing with you. Here’s the view from our new backyard. Gah! Can you smell the salt air and feel the sand between your toes??
Well, I am off the watch tonight’s sunset. So Much love to you and yours!
“May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
Full disclosure: I am breaking my no-more-blog-posts-until-I-finish-writing-my-books-and-move-out-west rule. Again. But it’s so hard not to share things with you all, especially when I am passionate about something!
The topic on the table is something that every single person on this planet has done at least once in their life. For many, it’s something we all do almost every day. We anthropomorphize.
What is Aɴᴛʜʀᴏᴘᴏᴍᴏʀᴘʜɪsᴍ?
The big “A” word is the attribution of human traits, emotions, motivations, and intentions to non-human entities (objects, animals, natural phenomena). Anthropomorphism is derived from its verb anthropomorphize, which is derived from the Greek word ánthrōpos, meaning “human”, and morphē , meaning “form”. It was first attested in 1753, originally in reference to the heresy of applying a human form to the Christian God.
The practice of anthropomorphism is an innate tendency of human psychology. We all do it. We see it everywhere: The Easter Bunny is an anthropomorphized rabbit. Shel Silverstein’s book The Giving Tree anthropomorphizes the tree. I named my first car.
It’s natural for us to want to relate to an animal, a plant, the weather, an object, the gods, goddesses, deities, angels, God, and anything else that seems to be outside of us. We want to connect! We want to create a connection that helps us to feel good. We need connections that help us to feel safe and supported. These connections can be powerful. They can heal. They help. They can foster loving connections.
But this natural tendency can also be very unhelpful and sometimes detrimental.
Eye of the Beholder
Let’s set the plants, weather, and goddesses aside for now. I am going to address our human view of animals’ behavior today. How we perceive behavior is key. When we don’t know how or why an animal is doing something, we tend to make it about us; we personalize it. We place the meaning that a behavior has for us, onto the animal. We anthropomorphize.
Let’s use two common examples of cat and dog behavior.
When we see a cat languidly rolling around on the floor, stretching and yawning in front of a child, or in front of another cat or dog, we see this behavior and think, “Awe, he’s so relaxed! He wants someone to love him!” But what could actually be happening with that behavior is very clear in cat language: Calm Down, Dude. It’s all good. I am not a threat. Be Cool. Chillax man. The cat is most likely offering a displacement behavior. But from our human perspective, we see sleepiness and invitation.
When a dog interrupts play to sniff his or her uro-genital body parts, we most likely will be embarrassed or grossed out, then label the dog as “nasty”. But the dog is far from nasty. The dog is offering a behavior that helps him/her to feel safe, or to feel better in that moment. What is most likely happening is the dog is performing a displacement behavior that occurs in stressful situations. But from our human perspective we have labeled the behavior and interpreted it much differently from the dog’s reality.
An animal’s particular behavior may seem to be “adorable”, “annoying”, “affectionate”, “rude”, “playful”, “disgusting”, “excited”, “happy”, “bored”, “mean”, “loving”, or “spiteful”, but there may be more than meets our human eye. Behaviors have functions. They are not always what we perceive them to be. The behavior that we have chosen to label as “excited” may actually be stress arousal. The behavior that we labeled “affectionate” may be used as a distance increasing behavior, or even scent marking for security. Fearful, unsure, overwhelmed, and incapable could be easily labeled as “stubborn”. What we perceive from our humanistic viewpoint is often way off the mark of what the animal is experiencing.
Pitfalls of the Big “A” Word
Misreading those two examples of behavior are not harmful in and of themselves. But some of the ways we misread, mislabel, and anthropomorphize animal behavior is harmful. And sometimes it’s dangerous.
One pitfall of anthropomorphizing animal behavior can be harmful and unfair to our pets. When we perceive our pet’s behavior from our human perspective (beliefs, intentions, and motivations), we miss the mark. We are unable to see what’s really happening with the animal. We see a behavior, assume it’s happening for one reason, then we get frustrated or upset with the animal. All too often the result from these kinds of misunderstandings and misperceptions is detrimental to the animals: They are the ones who are punished. All because of the belief, projection, or label that the person has placed upon them.
But in the animal’s reality – from the animal’s perspective- the behavior was performed for an entirely different reason or need. It was necessary.
Perception is consistent. What you see reflects your thinking. And your thinking but reflects your choice of what you want to see. -ACIM
Pet owners are simply unaware that the stool they found on their antique rug was from a very painfully constipated cat who needs medical attention. The dog who chewed their favorite shoes is suffering from anxiety. The cat who howls all night is suffering from a variety of aging ailments. The dog who barks at strangers is suffering from deep-rooted fear issues.
But what does the human see? A mess. Embarrassing behavior. Disruptive behavior. We miss the reality of what’s behind each of those behaviors: A call for help.
We are the ones who can respond to their calls for assistance.
When we don’t know how or why an animal behavior problem exists, we tend to make it about us; we personalize it. We make it into something that we can relate to. We label the animal. In the animal behavior world, this Anthropomorphism at its worst.
Hidden in the complex world of behavior science is a simple, often underutilized, fact that there is never just behavior. Behavior never occurs in a vacuum or sprays out of an animal haphazardly like water from a leaky showerhead, independent of conditions. Behavior always depends on the environment in some way.
– Susan Friedman. Ph.D.
Another pitfall of anthropomorphism is a lack of safety. Take for instance the dog and baby or toddler who are “the best of friends” in the parent’s eyes. But dog and baby are not the best of friends. Dog is tolerating, and baby is on the borderline of dog’s boundary. The parents want to create a connection between dog and baby that helps them to feel good, and maybe even to feel safe. But the parents are unaware of the danger because they want so badly to connect. They want their dog and baby to be best friends, so that is what they see. But that is not the reality.
One example of this is “The Kiss To Dismiss.” A parent might assume her dog loves her baby because the dog is often licking the child’s face. But this is often not so. The behavior of face licking appears to be stemming from affection, but it certain circumstances, this behavior is intended to increase the distance between the licker and the lickee. This is a very effective way for a dog to get someone who is pestering, threatening, or annoying them them to go away. In dangerous situations like this, the unaware parents have placed their human attributes, human traits, emotions, motivations, and intentions onto the dog. Anthropomorphism is at work here.
The Desire to Create a Connection
Do you see a theme here? People want to connect with their pets. They want their kids and other people to connect with their pets. This makes people feel good. People ultimately want to feel safe ans secure. But when their pet’s behavior becomes unacceptable, or is labeled as something familiar and relate-able to the person (ex. spiteful, vengeful, malicious, rude, annoying, or aggressive) they lose trust in the animal and they don’t feel connected anymore. This loss of connection only widens the gap of communication and understanding.
When it comes to people, pets, and wild animals, anthropomorphism is usually at the root of many misperceptions and many mishaps. People not only want to connect with their pets, but they also want to connect with animals in nature. Part of the fun of indulging in a bit of anthropomorphizing of animals allows people to feel that animals are “just like us!” Of course we want to connect to animals. Connecting makes us feel good. But our lack of awareness, combined with our desire to connect with species who should remain wild can cloud our judgement.
Having worked with nonhuman primates in captivity, I have seen all too many of them who are abandoned and discarded as a result of the all too common must-have-it pet trade. The desire to own an exotic animal, or even wanting to interact and connect with it can be a very slippery slope. Unfortunately and all too often, lemurs like Sefo, and other exotic animals are taken from their natural habitat, sold or orphaned, and in return have poor quality lives; they are left alone in the unfamiliar and foreign human world, no longer able to survive in the lemur world.
What we are seeing in that “adorable” video is only a fraction of what’s the truth; Sefo was taken from his family and abandoned.The ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta) live in large family groups. These groups preen (groom) each other all day. If Sefo was with his natural born family he would never consider letting a human approach him.
Everyone anthropomorphized what we saw in that video. It’s a natural response for anyone, if we don’t know about healthy and normal primate behavior. But that’s the point. When we lack knowledge of an individual animal’s needs, when we don’t know the natural biology and behavior of an animal, the only perspective we have is from our limited human point of view.
And Then Came “Anthropodenial”…
So by now you are probably realizing that how you view your pets, wild animals, and even the weather is largely based around anthropomorphizing. Attributing human characteristics to the weather and animals does create great material for humorous cartoons, but it’s not helpful if we want to understand why things happen they way they do, and why an animal behaves a certain way.
Placing human-like intentions on animals is often thought of as unscientific. But there are some who argue that anthropomorphizing’s opposing position, “anthropodenial” — an unwillingness to recognize the human-like traits of animals — is too prevalent in our attitudes toward other species.
I have to ask: Could the absence of anthropomorphism be just as harmful?
Through decades of analyzing animal-cognition research, animals have exhibited many of key behaviors that were once thought to distinguish humans from animals. Some of these abilities and behaviors include the ability to consider the past and the future, the ability to demonstrate empathy and self-awareness, and the awareness and ability to anticipate the motives of others. Certain skills are considered key signs of higher mental abilities. These skills and abilities were once reserved for the human species, but now the animal kingdom shares many of these abilities!
These include, but are not limited to:
– a good memory
– ability to recall a specific past event
– a grasp of grammar and symbols
– understanding others’ motives
– imitating others
– being creative
Animal cognition research humbles us. We are not alone in our ability to invent or plan or to contemplate ourselves—or even to plot and lie. -“Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?,” the Dutch primatologist Frans de Waal
Over the years and through ingenious experiments, researchers have documented these skills in other non-human species, gradually eroding the deep-seeded belief that human beings are the superior species. But there is research to show us otherwise. Animals can be incredibly complex cognitive creatures. Animals’ abilities can and do rival ours.
Darwin even suggested that earthworms are cognitive beings! Based on his close observations, earthworms have to make judgments about the kinds of leafy material they use to block their tunnels. Darwin did not expect to discover thinking invertebrates. He shared that even a hint of earthworm intelligence “has surprised me more than anything else.”
Behind The Scenes of Each Species
I have found myself thinking similar surprising thoughts with the species I have worked and lived with over the years. What I have learned from them has revolutionized the way I perceive animals and their behavior. I may not understand the motivation behind an animal’s particular behavior, but I do understand and I do recognize and respect that every behavior serves a purpose for each animal. Whether this behavior is a choice, a preference, or it serves a vital outcome, it must be respected. Even if I am unable to perceive it at the time.
There is indeed, more happening “behind the scenes” in an animal’s world than we are aware.
If an octopus were to measure human intelligence, it might test us on the number of color patterns we can produce on the skin of our (pathetically few) appendages. Seeing us flunk the test, it might conclude that we are pretty stupid.
-The Soul of an Octopus” by naturalist Sy Montgomery
Not All Are Created Equal.
Thanks to science and observing behavior, we now know that animals do have abilities and skills that rival ours:
– Scrub jays are aware that other jays are thieves and that their stashed food can spoil
– Sheep can recognize faces
– Capuchin monkeys can experience envy
– Chimpanzees use a variety of tools to probe termite mounds and even use weapons to hunt small mammals
– Crows can hold grudges against the biologists who capture and tag them
– Orcas use highly coordinated synchronized swimming to push seals off ice floes and into the water
– Sea lions can associate symbols (if A goes with B, and B goes with C, then A and C belong together as well)
– Dolphins can imitate human postures
– The archerfish, which stuns insects with a sudden blast of water, can learn how to aim its squirt simply by watching an experienced fish perform the task
– Chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas have been taught to use sign language and symbols
– Alex the parrot turned out to be a surprisingly amazing speaker
– Betsy the Bodercollie has a vocabulary of more than 300 words.
– Octopi can be shy, playful, cantankerous, or sneaky. They crave attention and play with toys.
Squirrels may fail at memory tasks that are important to humans, but, whereas we need apps to help us find our misplaced cell phones, they can remember where they’ve hidden tiny caches of nuts.-de Waal
Awareness, Knowledge, and Intelligence Coexisting
So, let’s say for a moment that some species of animals are capable of the full spectrum of intelligence and awareness of we humans. Does that mean that our pets ARE doing things out of spite and malice? Does this mean that our pets “should know better?” Does this mean that we shouldn’t use anthropomorphism? Does this mean that all conscious beings are fully armed knowledge of absolutely everything in the universe?
My short answer to all of those questions is NO.
History has shown us that extreme anthropomorphizing of animals can lead to blaming animals for crimes and it can end terribly for the animal. For example, in medieval and early modern Europe the animal’s mind was considered sophisticated enough that domesticated animals such as dogs and pigs could be put on trial for crimes. Seriously, this happened.
As crazy as that case was, similar situations still happen today. Pet owners tell me (all too often) why they blame their pet for “deliberately” behaving in ways that are “clearly meant to piss them off”. They claim the animal “knows what she’s doing!” They are convinced that he is “doing it on purpose!”
Then they punish the animal. Or they toss their family pet out like the trash.
Of course animals are behaving in ways that serve their needs. They are not mindless creatures. They are sentient beings who are trying to live in our human world the best way they know how. But the animals with whom we share a home are not doing things for the reasons that we humans might be doing them.
Our pets are not being spiteful, vengeful, or malicious. They are behaving in ways that help them to coexist in our human world. They are behaving in ways that help them to feel better. They are behaving in ways that help them to feel safe. They are behaving in response to their internal and external environment! Their behavior always serves a purpose. That purpose is not to upset you. I promise you this.
Your job as their guardian is to discover what they are trying to communicate. Your duty is to learn why their behavior is happening. Your job as their guardian is to learn their language. It’s not enough to love, shelter, and feed them. We have to learn to communicate clearly. We must set aside our human perceptions and limited beliefs. And we must learn as much as we can.
Our duty as an animal guardian is to become fluent in their needs, their biology, their health, history, and their species-specific language. We need to know about each species’ natural behaviors! And if you don’t know them, learn them. Read about dog or cat behavior. Read up on the particular species of lizard or parrot that you have. Read about the requirements of rats. Know what your kid’s guinea pig needs. Read about the red flags to be aware of in cat behavior and health. Know what your cat needs to thrive! Learn what dogs need to feel safe and secure in our human world. Know what your dog needs to feel safe and connected.
Our animal companions want to connect with us, but it may not be in the way that we know how to, or how we prefer to connect. Each animal is an individual. And each species has their unique needs. Our pets want to feel safe. They need to be supported in their environment. They want to thrive. They are no different from us when it comes to wanting their individual needs to be met. And they will do what they can to ensure all of this. This theme is one that connects us all. Animals know what they need. They feel. They respond to their world. They behave in ways that work for them.
The question is I feel we need to ask ourselves is: How am I viewing all of this from my human perspective?
“It’s easy to project our own feelings onto animals—and that’s a mistake, but it’s a worse mistake to think that we are up on some kind of pedestal and that animals can’t also think, feel, and know.” – naturalist, Sy Montgomery