Compassion and Calculated Creativity: Stepping Outside the Proverbial Pet Box

If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other. ― Mother Teresa



🎙Note: This blog post is available as a podcast at our website.🎙



February 2019

Hello friends! And Happy Almost March! Seriously, how are we nearly in March already?? Time really does fly when you are having fun, feeling love, and when you are in gratitude! I hope you are enjoying February and are ready for more amazing things to come in March.

If you haven’t seen it yet, Unconditional Love was the epicenter of our February Newsletter. I wish this story made the cut, but it just occurred so you’re getting the scoop here first. Although this post is also centered on love, we will switch gears a bit. This is a look into how we overcame a stressful situation by coming together as a team. It was fun to make. I hope you enjoy it. And I hope it’s helpful.

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. ― Leo Buscaglia


Ok, let’s get to the nitty gritty of today’s post!

But first, I have some questions for you:

How do you feel about going to the veterinarian with your pets? How do your pets feel about going to the veterinarian? Do you dread it? Do you avoid going at all because it kind of sucks for everyone? Are your pets terrified at the sight of a cat kennel? Or do they dread seeing the door to the vet’s office? Where is your stress level when they are stressed?

Going to the veterinarian does not need to be a stressful experience. In fact, it should not be. Not only can going to the veterinarian be a positive experience for your pets, it should also be a positive experience for you as their guardian. Health challenges, routine checkups, and emergencies can be challenging to say the least, but they don’t have to be terrifying for anyone involved.

Both you and your pets can feel empowered together, in any situation.

The experience that each of you will have in any of these circumstances is directly linked to one another. Not only will your stress levels affect each other, but your attitude, responses and reactions are inexplicably linked. You may have separate physical bodies, but the emotions and energy between you are connected.

You are a team.

Today I was reminded of this in a very powerful way. I am incredibly grateful and inspired after what happened, which is why I’m sharing this with you! For the first time in what feels like forever, our family had a wonderful experience at the vet. I am not exaggerating when I say that it was by far the most positive experience I’ve ever had at a veterinarian’s office. I wish for everyone to have these kinds of experiences. And I wish that every animal companion had access to this kind of care.

Our companion animals are deserving of this and more.

I created a video describing a couple of aspects concerning this subject. I guess you could call it a Vlog (a video blog). But before you watch the video, it would be helpful if I gave you a bit of history about each of the animals that you will see in the video. It’s important to explain these aspects because with any animal companion in question, their individual history, individual temperaments, preferences, and personalities are all very important aspects to consider when it comes to creating conditions for compassionate animal care.

For the sake of time and to keep this short I will be brief about each of them.

Hocus Pocus is a 7-year-old Black-mouth cur with a history of reactivity towards very specific unfamiliar dogs and familiar cats who “creep into her canine space.” Over a year ago she was diagnosed with Hypothyroidism, and was immediately put on medication. Hocus’ reactivity to unfamiliar dogs, and the cats with whom she shares her home dramatically decreased. We have not had an indecent in reactivity in well over 8 months. With regards to people, Hocus’ trust and love of humans (of all ages and physical stages) knows no bounds. She is a true love bug when she is at her best.

“Mood swings and unexplained aggression can be caused by low thyroid.” – Shannon Wilkinson

Hocus’ overall experiences with veterinary offices (from my observation of her behavior) have been very positive over the past 6 years. During her first year of life she had one very aversive experience with an old school vet, concerning her ears. But thankfully, we have not had a repeat of that unkindness. I invest a lot of time and effort to build up Hocus’ confidence and to create lasting positive associations with the staff, the machinery, and the sight and scent of veterinary clinics everywhere we move.

The positive associations pay off profoundly.

Hocus Pocus popping by the vet, just to hop on the scale & get yummy cookies from the staff and lots of love.

Bred to Hunt!

Hocus‘ breed was designed to chase, hunt, and kill small mammals. Despite this inherent genetic predisposition, she became very bonded to our beloved King Albert the Grey. She remained by his side until his soul left his Earthly vessel. Since King Albert’s passing, Hocus has become very bonded to Beaux. She keeps a close eye on him on his walks, body blocking other dogs if they come closer than she would prefer 😉 She has now become exquisitely attuned to Mr. Beaux since the beginning of his seizures. She races to him when she hears any sudden noises that sound like the start of a seizure, and she alerts us whenever he appears to need help.

Hocus Pocus has become Beaux’s Guardian.

Friends Don’t Hunt Friends 😉 Hocus Pocus & Mr. Beaux enjoying a car adventure together after a short stroll on the “frozen tundra” here

Mr. Beaux is a 19+ year old cat. He is considered geriatric at this age. Mr. Beaux has a history of extreme aggression that only manifests in a veterinarian clinic. This aggressive behavior stems from extreme fear.
Fear is the apprehension of a stimulus, object or event. Fear is a highly adaptive response, which is essential for survival. Fear manifests itself in many forms in all species. It’s not something, as their guardians, we are to judge, make wrong, or be embarrassed by. It’s quite natural. More importantly, as this post poignantly pointed out, the appropriate response to any fearful reaction should be compassionate, kind, and unconditionally loving.

Thankfully, the fear response can be changed in all species.

If you have read this past post, then you are aware of 4 common patterns of behavior in fearful animals: The four F’s (Flight, Fight, Freeze, Fiddle About). If you have not read it, I highly recommend it. As the article explains, the choice to F,F,F or F depends on the situation, but the tendency to choose one over the other also varies greatly with breed and species. Cats tend to choose to escape as their first response to fear. If they are unable to leave the situation, they often resort to fighting (becoming aggressive) as a means to escape.

When people, pets, and even plants, respond to stimuli in their environment, there is a very complex range of potential reactions.  The response is both specific to the stimulus encountered, and to the situation.  This will depend on two very important factors: 

  • The genetic influence on behavior.  This influences the species and breed-specific behavioral responses that have become established over generations. 
  • The individual aspect of behavior.  This has been established through the process of learning and which reflects not only the individual’s innate response to specific stimuli, but also its unique experience.

Plants, like these sunflowers, have proven to have amazing sensory abilities, but scientists aren’t exactly sure how.

Beaux, when given a choice, will flee in the presence of danger or a perceived threat. In the past, at veterinary offices who did not practice force free medical care, Mr. Beaux did not have the choice of fleeing. So being the incredible House Panther than he is, his next and most natural innate feline response was to fight.

He fought hard.

Fast forward to today: I don’t allow that bullshizzill to happen anymore, with any of our animal family members, in any situation.

I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better. ― Maya Angelou

I have learned to love my failures and mistakes. They have become my greatest learning opportunities. Miracles come from mastering the lessons of our mistakes. Now I teach others how to prevent these kinds of situations, how to be proactive with their pets, and how to create conditions that help everyone involved to feel safe, secure, and as peaceful as possible. We won’t go into all of those today. We will just focus on a couple of conditions that were very helpful for our family in this particular situation.

Recently, Mr. Beaux had a seizure. Thankfully, he hasn’t had one of these in many months prior to this recent event. The last time it occurred was when we were living in California. At that time, he was under the care of a feline only health practitioner who practiced fear free techniques. This incredible veterinarian was assisting all of our cats with various medical challenges at the time. Because of the techniques that this certified fear free clinic was providing our feline family members, Mr. Beaux was learning to trust veterinarians and technicians for the first time in a long time. And considering he and King Albert were senior cats, they were being seen every six months. It was all going splendidly.

But then we moved. Again.

So, the search for a new qualified kitty vet began. Again.

Wanting to maintain Mr. Beaux’s level of trust, (for not only me, but for strangers who provide medical care to him), I researched, interviewed, and scouted out the best possible medical care facility in the area we now live. They say the third times a charm. And well, that was certainly the case with this cat. Mr. Beaux was seen by two other veterinary clinics before I “broke up” with them and began taking our feline family members to this new veterinarian clinic.

We hit the jackpot.

At first, I was incredibly disappointed that there was no certified fear free all feline (cat only) veterinarians in this new area. Going to a mixed species clinic has not worked out for our family in the past, so we usually avoid them when we can. But this new mixed species clinic did not disappoint. It was a calm and respectful experience for both Mr. Beaux, and myself. The staff were absolutely amazing. They did not push him, and they let him set the pace. I knew we’d be returning, and happy to do so when the time came to do so.

Six months later it was time to return.

To my great delight and amused surprise, taking Mr. Beaux to a mixed species vet worked out in our favor again. This time, our dog, Hocus Pocus, was invited to come along with us, and it was a smashing success.

Life with your animal companion, Improved.™

Of course, every situation is unique. Each person and pet bring both their individual and collective history, fears, preferences, emotions, beliefs, and energy into each challenging situation. And of course, who we choose to come along as our trusted companion will have consequences. This is true for both people and pets! I would not bring along a friend who asks a million annoying questions while I am trying to stay focused and centered. I would not bring along a friend who has the slightest aversion to medical offices or who has a history of panic attacks. I am going to bring the most grounded, calm, and secure person.

Bonus points: Someone who can make me laugh 😉

The two images below are examples of beautiful souls who can not only make me laugh when I am mad or sad, but they are giant oak trees who help me to stay grounded. Kathleen and Hocus are two strong souls I call on anytime I need support.

Get yourself grounded and you can navigate even the stormiest roads in peace. ― S. Goodier

Personality and energy set aside, there are also important puzzle pieces at play that we need to know about to stay empowered, together as a team. Below this post are a few links that go into this, including why we use food as a tool. The point is, there are countless ways to empower each other. There are tried and true science-based methods. And there are trials by fire. But to stay empowered takes time, compassionate effort, and a bit of creativity.

That’s what we did today. And it worked.

Compassion is the keen awareness of the interdependence of all things. Thomas Merton

Questions to Consider

As the video alludes to, when it comes to creating empowering conditions, we want to consider:

  • What will be helpful?
  • What will be a hindrance?
  • What will empower?
  • What will be compassionate choices?
  • What will create more fear or frustration?
  • What will reduce fear?
  • What will enhance everyone’s confidence, peace of mind, and sense of security.

Asking these questions is critical if we want to create a Life with Our Animal companion, Improved.

Feeling Only Good Vibes at our home in Cali at the beach

Sometimes it’s helpful when we step back, reevaluate, take carefully calculated risks, and think outside of the proverbial pet box.


Canines In Kahootz

As we all know, there are no coincidences in life.

No less than an hour after we returned home from the vet, our lovely mail person popped onto our porch, and began to share a similar story.  While petting Hocus she explained how and why her family now brings her dog’s “BFF” with them to the vet, to help her senior dog feel more secure.   Before trying this unusual technique, she could never get her whopping 100-pound Labrador through the front door, even with food, compassion, and a lot of patience.  It took an entire team to force the dog into the vet, and the entire time the dog was terrified, the people were stressed, and the staff were strained.  But when her best pup pal is by her side, she struts right through the door, feeling confident and more secure.

And the best part:  Her pup chose to participate. No force needed.

Compassion is the wish to see others free from suffering. – The Dalai Lama

The Power of Choice

I am passionate about allowing all species of animals to have the power to choose in every circumstance. The ability to choose to participate or choose to walk away are choices that all living beings deserve the right to exercise. But what about our power to make choices as their guardians? We have the power to choose as well. And the choices we make affect their lives. Even the choices we make in our mind can have a powerful effect.

When a stressful event is on the horizon and you know that it’s going to affect your pets, you have choices to make. We have the power to choose to be in fear or to release those fears. Whether you choose to stay stressed, anxious, or worried is your choice. But what you choose will affect the experience and the outcome for all involved.

The success of your family and your animal companions during times of change depends upon you and how you choose to prepare, address, view, and react during, after, and before the event.

Come what may. We are never victims of our circumstances. We can chose another way/.


I’d love to hear from you.

What has been your experience with taking your pets to the vet?  How do you manage their stress levels?  How do you manage yours?  Do your pets go to a certified fear free clinic?  Have you ever brought a friend or family member along with you?  Was this helpful or not? Do you have a good relationship with your pets’ veterinarian?  Do you trust the staff?  Do your pets? If you could wave a magic wand concerning your pets medical care, what would you change? What would you create? What would they change? What would they choose?   


Know more today about the world than I knew yesterday and lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you. Neil deGrasse Tyson


Stay Inspired!


Recommended Reading & Related Links

Fear & Empowerment 101 :

VET Success!

Canine Hypothyroidism & Behavior:

Senior Cats

Plants Who Respond to Threats In Environment


Dial Up the Dopamine!

feeling-good

Birds flyin’ high, you know how I feel
Sun in the sky, you know how I feel
Breeze driftin’ on by, you know how I feel
It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me.
Yeah, it’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me, ooooooooh…
And I’m feelin’ good.

~Nina Simone


 

Backstory: In a recent post I discussed the implications and far reaching effects of fear . This post will be about the first tool that I recommend when helping pets and their people to effectively cope with stress and fear.

 


The Chemical of Feeling Good

Feeling Good is what everyone strives for. Whether it’s that much needed hug, a glass of wine, mediation, a pay raise, play, or the touch of a lover or loved one, we want and need to feel good.  Animals need to feel good too.  And they will behave and respond to their environment in ways that enable them to feel good, or at the very least, feel better.

Thankfully there are chemicals at work that help both people and animals to feel better.

One of these is Dopamine.

“It’s like one of those scenes from a feel-good Hollywood movie. Where everybody is happy and nobody’s hair fizzes in the wind. Where it doesn’t rain, your shoes stay comfortable all day, and everybody’s jokes are funny.” ― Randa Abdel-Fattah


Dopamine is a chemical in the body.  It’s one of the chemical signals that pass information from one neuron to the next.  Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers in humans and animals. Dopamine helps regulate movement and emotional responses, It also enables one not only to seek out rewards, but to take action to move toward rewards.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a major role in reward-driven learning and helps regulate movement and emotional responses.

The chemical Dopamine helps to regulate:
-movement
-memory
-pleasurable reward
-behavior and cognition
-attention
-inhibition of prolactin production
-sleep
-mood
-learning

A single molecule in the brain can do all of this! Dopamine Is Powerful.

But so is food. 


Needed Nutrients from Food

Animal Behavior  (including people) is regulated by neurotransmitters and hormones. These substances have precursors – chemical compounds that precede them in metabolic pathways.  For example, Tryptophan, is the precursor of serotonin (a neurotransmitter).

If we can make these precursors more or less available we can alter behavior.

One example is the presence (or absence) of Tryptophan in canines. Scientists believe that this may affect both aggression and stress resistance in dogs. Tyrosine is a precursor of catecholamines; hormones produced by the adrenal gland. These may also affect aggression and stress resistance.  You can read more about that here.

The nutrition (or lack thereof) that we provide our animal companions affects not only their body, but also their mind, which in turn affects behavior.

The right kind of food can literally change an animal’s brain chemistry. This is an important first step in everything from training basic behaviors to addressing aggression.


Food has the power to not only enhance a dog’s ability to learn but also to help a dog overcome fear or anxiety by raising the levels of dopamine in the brain and stimulating the desire to seek or move towards the food reward. 


Using Food to Feel Better

We all know to feed our pets when they are hungry.  And most people feed their pets in the morning and night. But what if there was another, better, more effective way to feed them?

What if we fed our pets throughout the day (or night) when they need to feel better?

What if we used food to help them feel better in challenging situations?

What if we used food when they were afraid?

What if food could be a tool you could use to reduce their stress?

What if food appeared when that frightening fox dashes past the window?

What if food was present when you took him to the veterinary’s office?

What if it rained food when she is frustrated, confused, scared, or reactive?

What if food you knew that food was this powerful?

What if you knew you could wield this power to help them to FEEL GOOD?!

Food is that powerful. This is how we should use their food.

BOOMER


The Power of Food

Food can increase the level of dopamine in the brain!  This is why we recommended using FOOD when training, modifying behavior, and when we need to minimize an animal’s stress, fear, aggression, and anxiety.  If an animal is offered food before reaching a high stress level, while in the presence of a stimulus that frightens or triggers her, a positive emotional response occurs.

FOOD IS A TOOL.

Food is not a bribe. We are not teasing, luring, or bribing an animal to get them to do what we want. When we are using the right kind food, there are actual chemical reactions taking place in the brain and the body! Here is some of what is happening when food is used as a tool.

  • When you present a highly desirable food option to an animal you turn on the animal’s ‘seeker system.’  This dials down the emotion of fear.
  • Instead of feeling fear the brain begins to be overcome with the pleasurable feelings that food provides to an animal.
  • It also allows the animal to have a greater ability to focus on the good-feeling sensation and less on the negative emotion (fear, frustration, stress, anxiety, etc.)
  • This enhances an animals positive, focused attentiveness
  • In turn, it allows the animals to shift into a calmer state in their mind and body.
  • In this calmer, more relaxed state, learning and behavior modification can occur.

 

conscious companion_food in training_dopamine


When To Use Food

Visits to the vet. Walks in the park. Unexpected Visitors. Using the vacuum. Bringing a new baby into the home. New people in your apartment. Getting into the cat carrier. Moving. Staying in a hotel.  You name it; there needs to be high value food involved.

I honestly cannot think of when food would not be appropriate to use when working with an animal of any species. Whether you are working with a crocodile to station politely and practice self-restraint, or you are asking a cat to station on her cat tower instead of the counter, food is at the heart of it all.  One of my favorite opportunities to use food is at the vet’s office.  Whether we are at the cat specialist for King Albert’s acupuncture, or we are at the veterinarian waiting room for Hocus’ annual exam, you can bet that I have food on me.

Food should be used during any kind of family transition, or any situation that your animal companion finds challenging.  Food should be used in any situation where your pet might experience anxiety, stress, fear, and even aggression. Yes, you read that correctly. Food can (and should) be used to help a pig, parrot, cat, rat, horse, dog if they are struggling with a variety of behavioral issues.

Anxiety, aggression, frustration, and fear can be managed safely and positively by using food as a tool. Food can increase one’s focus, their attention, their mood, and more!  Food can change a crazed canine into a cool canine. Food can change a fearful feline into a confident kitty. Food can help a bird to not be so bashful.  Food is powerful. And we are not using it enough.

 

Food and Fear_cats


Food to Use

When use are choosing what food to use, think High-Value and practical.  If you are feeding your pet a high-grade pet food, sometimes this can be used as a behavior modification tool. We feed Hocus Pocus the Cadillac of canine food, so she goes bonkers for her kibble! The cats never get dry food these days, so when I break out the grain-free cat kibble they lose their minds!  These are the kind of food responses you want from your pet when you are using food.  If you aren’t sure if your dog or cat’s dry food will make the cut, you will need to experiment with foods that your pet will go nuts for. Some good foods to begin with are turkey, bacon, cheese, hot dogs, fish. etc. -anything they don’t normally receive, or anything they are super psyched to get!

One of my favorite on-the-go-food-treats is Stella and Chewies. These don’t crumble, and are not greasy. And the end goal is met: they are irresistible to the animals.


Pay me in food, human!

Studies have shown that dogs don’t want petting or soothing words as much as they prefer a primary reinforcer (food).  They prefer petting over soothing words, and they prefer food over petting!  I have found this to be true for cats as well. And for parrots and reptiles as well.

So where’s the beef ?  It needs to be used.

Food is a primary reinforcer for our pets! Primary reinforcers are biological.  Food, drink, and pleasure are the principal examples of primary reinforcers. We can use food as a tool with regards to its importance to an animal.

Using food as a tool is not hard, people.  It can be very easy.  Rather than dumping all the food in a boring bowl (ahem, we have talked about this before), it’s better to keep high-value treats (and food that they LOVE) handy.  This food should be hand around the home, convenient in your car, and easily pluck-able from your purse or pocket.

Here’s  Why:  You never know when fear might strike.

Here’s How:  Make it Rain Treats!  Rain those goodies down when and wherever something frightening, startling, or scary happens. (Even if you don’t think the person, place, or event was scary, your pet does), so make it rain, baby.  Rain down the treats!

If you are unfamiliar with food as a tool, you can see how we use food in these videos:

 

Hocus food_conscious Companion_food as a tool_dopamine
Preparing to go for a walk!  We always have food as a tool.


The Dope Rewards

Let’s get back to Dopeamine for a minute.  Dopamine is considered a “reward” chemical. When we are using food, we are able to increase the level of dopamine in the animal’s brain.   What we as humans, call rewards, are often things that are unexpectedly good. Let’s say for example, you run into an old, favorite pal, or your boss surprises you with a pay raise. Or maybe your spouse takes you on a romantic vacation.  These unexpected events lead to positive prediction errors, and increases in dopamine.

As cool as that is, there is more to the dope, hip chemical called Dopamine. More and more studies are showing that this neurotransmitter is not responsible for pleasure per say, but it has more to do with motivation.


Low levels of dopamine make people and other animals less likely to work for things, so it has more to do with motivation and cost/benefit analyses than pleasure itself. – Salamone, a UConn Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor,

Dopamine-and-addiction-relapse22

Researchers have found that in animals, dopamine levels can actually spike after stress! This could be something such as losing a fight with another animal, or seeing a predator outside the window.  Humans also experience a spike in dopamine after stressful encounters.  Soldiers dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder also show activity in dopamine-rich parts of the brain when hearing recorded gunshots and other combat sounds.

So what’s with dopeamine coming out during negative experiences?

One researcher believes he has found the reason.  A scientist was able to artificially raise (or lower) dopamine levels in animals. Then he gave them a choice between two rewards with a different value, which could be obtained through different amounts of work.  For example, he wanted to see what a rat would do when given an easy or difficult choice. On one end of a corridor he place a pile of food. On the other end there was a pile of food twice as big, but this end has a small fence that the rat had to jump over to get the food.

The results are fascinating!

Animals with lowered levels of dopamine almost always choose the easier, low-value reward. But the animals with normal levels of dopamine didn’t mind exerting more energy and effort to jump the fence to receive the high-value reward.  (I know many species of animals and people who behave the same way!)  Other studies in depressed human patients have corroborated these results.

The scientist who did the study believes, “This lack of perceived energy is maladaptive, because it reduces the tendency to interact with the environment. But, it could also reflect the body’s attempt to save energy in a crisis.”

I found that study fascinating and helpful.  If motivation is directly related to dopeamine, and food can increase the level of dopeamine, then why are we not using food more often?  Why is food not front and center and at the heart of any training or behavior modification program? Why are we as animal guardians not using food as a tool with our pets?

Maybe today you will.  Maybe one day we all will.

I have hope for us all!

 


 More To Come!

This is part three of a four part series about how to help you and your pets cope with grace and ease during times of stress or Big Family Changes.  Stay tuned for the next post.

But in the meantime, Get Some High High-Value Food … And Don’t Leave Home Without It! 


 

Fish in the sea, you know how I feel
River runnin’ free, you know how I feel
Blossom on the tree, you know how I feel
It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me,
And I’m feelin’ good

Nina Simone

Looking at Fear

The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but, it is fear. – Gandhi

ACIM_new thoughts_no fear_choose love

Over the past few years I have written about fear often.  Whether it’s behavioral concerns that stem from fear in an animal, or fear of an animal, fear has always been one of my favorite subjects.   As animal guardians and animal stewards and caretakers, we are sometimes really great at recognizing an animal’s fear.  Sometimes we are not so great at recognizing when an animal is afraid, uncomfortable, or feels threatened, and we fail to help them feel safe.

In my life I have found that we can be blind to another type of fear; our own fear.  When I am working with a client and they are afraid, nervous, or anxious, their fear often impedes the progress of their pet’s behavior modification process.  When they are not able to be objective, unattached, or in a healthy mind set they allow fear to run the show.  I can attest to this being true in my life with pets as well.  When I allow fear to take over, I am no longer able to help anyone.

Rather than focusing on our animal companion’s fear issues, this post is going to discuss our fear and how it affects our world, and our animal companion’s world.


All fear comes from thought in the form of memory (past) or projection (future)


Changes in the Wind

We are moving soon.  Right now my husband is out in California looking for a new home for our family.  Moving is not new to our family.  We are in the Marine Corps so we are expected to pick up and relocate every 1.5 -3 years.  My husband and I both have Wanderlust, so it’s not such a bad gig.  But because we have a number of animals who share our home, it does complicate things, to say the least.

The Upside and Downside

Although moving is a huge pain in the derriere, we are grateful.  My husband has been selected for command (hence why we are moving a year earlier than expected).  This is an opportunity of a lifetime.  So needless to say, we are all proud of him and supportive of this opportunity.  My husband and I will be a command “team”, so to speak (they even sent us both to school to prepare for this new leadership role).

I am going to be quite certainly, in a whole new playing field.  (Deep Breath).  As if all of these new duties and expectations aren’t overwhelming enough, we have a house full of animals that have to be uprooted and replanted (again).  And this all begins soon.  

We pack up.  We move.  We begin a new life chapter.

 

Fear of What We Fear Most

As excited as we both are about this new chapter, fears have been coming up in unexpected ways.  Last week these fears hit their peak.  As the animal guardian for four (very complicated) critters, I am having my own issues with the move. Here in lies the problem.

You might be wondering, What is there to fear? You’re going to live by the beach! Hello!! That’s amazing!   Right?!   But somehow my fear of completely screwing things up for the animals is front and center.  My worries and concerns have been at an all-time high.  Rather than being in joy and gratitude for the next life chapter for our family, I have managed to come up with every possible scenario of how everything can go to crap.

Maybe one of the cats escapes en transit as we make our week long trek from the east coast to the west coast.  Maybe our sometimes grey grizzly bear of a geriatric cat backslides into his former health and behavioral issues.  Maybe our recovering-reactive-canine takes a deep dive back down into the mental Reactive Dog Canyon.  Maybe our youngest cat completely loses his mind after the week long journey of multiple hotels, constant car rides, a new unfamiliar home, and he takes a deep dive into Stressville, and urinary tract issues flare up again.

Those are only four of the countless hellish scenarios that I have concocted in my mind.  

Why was I imagining those scenarios? you ask.  Well, those scenarios have either happened before during times of stress, life’s upheavals, or “Hurrications”.  Or they could be possible considering each one of the animal’s individual histories.

But is any of this helpful?  Would focusing my attention and energy on any of those scenarios help my family?  Would worrying about what-could-go-awry help the animals? NO.   My wandering and all too creative mind has not been put to good use.  

In fact, it could be the very thing that blocks our family’s success.


 “You are far too tolerant of mind wandering.” – ACIM


 

Success AND Stress Are Both Dependent upon You.

Could you relate to those crazy scenarios that I concocted?  Do you catch yourself mind wandering like that when you have something coming up that is either stressful for you, your family, and animal companions?  Have you ever been very stressed and anxious about an upcoming medical procedure with a pet?  Do you become nervous or fearful when under pressure with a timeline or big changes with your family pets?

If you do, you are not alone. You, unfortunately, are just like the majority of people on this planet.  If you are living in fear and letting fear run the show, you, my friend are a hostage to fear.  And this bondage can affect the outcome of every challenge your family faces together.


Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves.


Who’s Driving Your Life?

I was out in the forest one day with Hocus and an old school song came on my playlist. All of a sudden it was as if I was hearing the song for the very first time.  I heard, understood, and felt the lyrics completely.  He was singing about how we let our ego and fear run the show in our lives.  But we don’t have to.  We can learn to take the wheel and drive.  We can take control over our fears.  We can decide that we are no longer hostage to our fears.  Here’s an excerpt:

Sometimes, I feel the fear of uncertainty stinging clear
And I can’t help but ask myself how much
I’ll let the fear take the wheel and steer.

It’s driven me before, and it seems to have a vague
Haunting mass appeal.

But lately I’m beginning to find that I
Should be the one behind the wheel.

Whatever tomorrow brings
I’ll be there with open arms and open eyes.
…..

It’s driven me before and it seems to be the way
That everyone else gets around.
But lately I’m beginning to find that when
I drive myself my light is found.

~ Incubus, “Drive”

That song is exactly what I am getting at here.  We can let fear take over, and create all kinds of scenarios that result in unnecessary stress and worry. We can consciously create circumstances in which our animal companions (and we) become victims of our circumstances. 

 Or we can choose another way of looking at challenges: We can remember that we have the power to choose to take control over our fears, and release them. These fears have no power over us unless we allow them.


If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment. -Marcus Aurelius


 take back your power _conquering fears

Fears Hinders Guidance, Inspiration, and Solutions.

Fear is rampant in our world.  It’s everywhere we look.  We are led to believe that fear is natural and should be embraced at times, but I disagree wholeheartedly.  Fear is not your friend.   Fear is harmful and it’s unproductive.  Fear hinders.  Fear clouds our minds and creates disharmony where there could be peace. 

Whether you are a person or a pet, fear can be debilitating.

Have you ever heard of the acronym of F.E.A.R. -False Evidence Appearing Real?   I had my own F.E.A.R. come up with this move and major life transition.   Once fear set into my mind I was unable to see solutions.   I was making assumptions, creating negative circumstances, and projecting my limiting beliefs onto the moving process, our new home, and our companion animals.

As an Intuitive Empath I have learned (the hard way) that fear blocks everything.  Fear taints. Fear stalls. Fear overrides. Fear impedes. Fear ruins. Fear blocks. 

Now I know that I am not in my right mind when I am in fear.  When I am in fear I am reacting, instead of observing. When I’m letting fear take the wheel and run the show I am not able to use my intuition and my guidance. Using my intuition and abilities are how I best connect with my environment.  It’s how I am able to navigate the world on a level that helps me to connect deeply, compassionately, and objectively with everyone and everything. But when I am in fear all of this guidance and inspiration is blocked.  When I am allowing fear to run the show, I am blindly navigating this crazy world.  

I am not different from you in this way.  This is true for every person.  Fear blocks everything.  Everything.

But when we can consciously remove our limiting beliefs, thoughts, perceptions, judgments, and projections, we are able to find solutions to problems, complications, and challenges that arise.  Our perception can make or break the process with our pets!


Perception is consistent. What you see reflects your thinking.  And your thinking but reflects your choice of what you want to see. -ACIM


 

A vintage, textured paper background with an earth to sky toned gradient.

The Power of Choice

I am passionate about allowing all species of animals to have the power to choose in every circumstance.  The ability to choose to participate or choose to walk away are choices that all living beings deserve the right to exercise.  But what about our power to make choices as their guardians?  We have the power to choose as well. And the choices we make affect their lives. Even the choices we make in our mind can have a powerful effect.

When a stressful event is on the horizon and you know that it’s going to affect your pets, you have choices to make.  We have the power to choose to be in fear or to release those fears. Whether you choose to stay stressed, anxious, or worried is your choice.  But what you choose will affect the experience and the outcome for all involved.  

The success of your family and your animal companions during times of change depends upon you and how you choose to prepare, address, view, and react during, after, and before the event.


Come what may. We are never victims of our circumstances. We can chose another way.


you get to choose_how the story ends_choose your own adventure.png

Choose to tell a different story.

Let’s get Back to the power of choice.   Your perception is everything.  You can choose to see the current or upcoming circumstances in a new light.  You don’t have to remain in fear.

I just did this myself with my insane, rampant fears surrounding our upcoming move out west.  After some intense inner work, I released my fears.  All of them.  I cried.  And I even laughed at a few of them.  Then I remembered to have compassion for myself for feeling and believing those fears.

Having compassion for the fears that you are perceiving about what “could happen” to your pets is imperative.  There is no need to judge yourself when these fears pop up.   But if something horrible happened in the past, it does not mean that it will happen again.  Do not create scenarios that are not desirable.  And do not drag the past into your present circumstances.

Choose to create a new story.  Choose how you want the story to unfold this time.    If there are preventative measures that you can implement, put them in place.  If you are not sure how to implement tools and techniques that will ensure the safety and success of you animal companions, there are qualified people who can help you.

Worry seems like a form of caring, but really it’s a rumination of ego-fear energy. It does nothing to help.  In fact, it can make things worse; worry is a form of prayer and manifestation that can call more negativity to you.   

I have started to see life’s challenges as one of those books from childhood that had those “choose your own ending” options. Do you remember those? I loved them. When things got a little hairy, I knew I could choose a different outcome.  Life challenges and upheavals with our animal companions can be like those choose-your-own-ending chapters. We can choose to write a new story.

If you now know better, do better. We do!  If you have learned from your mistakes in the past, move on.  We have. But if fear is running your world, you won’t know how to do better. You won’t be able to move forward.   If fear is rampant in your mind you won’t be able to tell a different story.


I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
~Frank Herbert


 

Make-a-Difference_change your thoughts_ACIM

I finally cleared the clouds of fear that were clouding my judgment about our upcoming move.  I set aside my worst fears about the animals, and how I would fail them all. I released my fear of not measuring up. I let go of the negative and worrisome outcomes I had created in my mind.

I have decided to choose to move forward without fear.

I have remembered that I know what to do.  This is what I teach other families how to do with grace and ease!  I can do this.  And I will.  I am capable of doing it with grace, ease, and success within our own family.  I am willing to see the countless ways that we will all be successful.  I can now see that there is really nothing to fear.  I do have the power to create success with each animal, within myself, and for our family. I will remember to stay in gratitude at every moment. Gratitude will be my guide.

This is how I am choosing to experience our new life chapter.  This is how I am now choosing to view our animal companions in their new world.  A safe, empowered, and successful new life is the world that we will create for them.  This is the world they  will live in.  They will succeed.  They will thrive.  None of us will live in a world of fear.  We will be safe and sound.

green energy surrounding a heart


I decided I was safe.  I was strong.  I was brave. ― Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail


 

Ready to Release, and Rock & Roll?

Are you ready to release your biggest fears?  I am.  And I hope you are, too.  This is part one of a four part post.  In the next post I will discuss how fear and emotions  affect the mind and body. And the following posts will cover how Fear and Stress Affects Our Pets, and in the last post I will offer Practical Advice and Tips You Can Use Before, During, and After a Big Transition with Pets. 

I am not listing these tips now for one very important reason: Before we put anything into practice, before we can think clearly and objectively, and before we are able to address any kind of behavioral or medical issue, we have to get fear out of the way.   Fear blocks.  Fear impedes.  Fear stalls.  Fear clouds judgment.  Fear is the root of failure.  Fear is not our friend.   Fear must leave. 

So for now, the first step is focusing on releasing any and all fears.  That is your first task at hand.  Then you can move forward fearlessly toward success.  You can do this.  Let go of your fears.  Live the life you were meant to live. Be brave. Trust. Let go.

 you get to choose_the power of choice



“I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. –
Cheryl Strayed


 

 

Will It Be The Eve of Chaos or Calm?

img_9656
Sits & Sips – Enjoying a peaceful morning view and a cup of tea with my furry soulmate during the holidays

December has been a month of multicultural holiday celebrations, but the holidays ain’t over folks.

New Year’s Eve will be here in just a few days.  The question isn’t “when will it arrive?”  The question is, will it arrive at your home with a big bang, or will it arrive with grace and ease?   I can tell you honestly that New Year’s Eve will arrive at our house this year without whimpers or bangs.

But this wasn’t always so.

Festivus for Us! 

In the past, my home wasn’t calm and peaceful.  In fact, it was pretty crazy, especially this time of year.  For many years I used to host an annual New Year’s Eve party.  Friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers knew that my dojo was The Place To Go if you wanted to have a great night on New Year’s Eve.  For hours on end it was a fabulously fun FESTIVUS. People were coming and going all night. There were endless fireworks and food. Music was blasting, voices were booming, and drinks were pouring.  I threw one heck of a party.

Now I know better.

Consider every living being in your home. 

I can say with all sincerity that as much as I loved hosting for others, I know now that it was a bit selfish of me because I wasn’t thinking of everyone.  I had not considered how my housemates might have felt.  These roomies were not like most.  They didn’t speak my language.  I didn’t speak theirs at the time.  I did not consider the effects that New Year’s Eve’s shenanigans would have on them.

My roommates were the animals with whom I shared my 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. -No Dog About It

unnamed (3)

Consider Their Individual Needs. 

I can’t say that I ignored my furry, feathered, and scaly roomies’ needs when New Year’s Eve came around.  15 years ago I didn’t know their individual or species-specific needs.  I was unaware of what each animal in my home truly needed to feel safe and secure, content and stress-free when the party got started!

Many years ago I was in the old school dogs-and-dominance domain.  I knew just enough to get by.  I had a heart for fish and herps.  And I knew the basics of birds, cats, rats and rabbits.

But knowing the basics and having a heart for them wasn’t enough. -Not if they were to live long, healthy, peaceful, content, and minimally stressed lives.  Using old-school, masculine management techniques create more harm than good.  And a whole lotta love isn’t enough if we want our animal companions to flourish!

pets_conscious Companion 2016

I am who I am today because of the mistakes I made yesterday. ―The Prolific Penman


Know Their Needs. 

We all have opinions about pets.  But what do we really know to be true? Science and metaphysics are constantly discovering new and fascinating insights about animals.

Let’s look a just a few facts and stats to be aware of concerning our animal companions that will help everyone in your home move into the New Year with grace and ease:

  • Do you know how to determine when your cat is stressed?
  • Did you know that play can be a wonderful stress reliever?

Interactive Play_Cats_Fear_anxiety

  • Did you know that yawning when not sleepy,  grooming out of context, shaking off, and stretching deeply are just a few examples of displacement behavior in cats and dogs?
  • Did you know that pets and kids don’t make the best combo during celebrations?
  • Do you know why it’s important to always have stuffed, frozen bones and Kongs available?

pets_kongs_puzzle feeders_conscious Companion 2016


Behaviors that reduce fear

signs of anxiety and fear aggression cats dogs


Stress is both a physical and mental problem.


 

  • 8408438

  •  

    Power of Food_cat fear

     

    Science of how food helps in dog training

     

  • animal chakras_pets

     

     

     

     

    All of this matters.Especially during the holidays.


     

    Are the holidays stressful for you? Consider how it affects your animal companions. Consider how they feel.  Consider their individual needs.  I failed to do this in years past, but now that I know better, I do better.

    Now we spend New Year’s Eve cuddled and calm. We don’t throw wild parties, and if we do have friends over, we set up our home environment to ensure the animals feel safe.


    How will you spend your New Year’s Eve this year?  Will you welcome it with calmness and without fear?   My wish is that you will.  May you find comfort and peace being home with the ones you love, and may you be content being together.

    unnamed (9)

     

    If you would like tips on HOW to make your home safe and calm BEFORE your New Year’s Eve company arrives, and BEFORE the fireworks and festivities begin, visit here.

    pets new years eve.png

    Oh Mr. Postmaaan…

    one day the mailman is going to

     

    Our U.P.S. delivery dude is pretty hot.

    He’s also a total sweetheart.  Our mail person is adorable as well.  She sings songs so loudly from her postal vehicle I can hear her from inside my house.  It always makes me giggle and smile.  

    But what I think of our postal and package delivery people doesn’t matter; what does matter is what our dog thinks of them.

    Now that the holidays are here, I am unbelievably grateful that our dog adores the Dudes and Dudettes Who Bring the Boxes.  In fact, our dog thinks the UPS people and their big brown sleigh are hawt-doggity-dawg.

    But she didn’t always love them.

    In fact, she used to go absolutely insane when the postal people came; you would have thought our house was being invaded by a SWAT team every time the truck pulled up to our house, or when he came to the door.

    dogs barking at post man
    Is this how your dog sees the delivery people?

     

    Let’s Get A New Perspective:

    Imagine what it must feel like to your canine companion:  You are resting comfortably on your cushion in your canine castle. Then all of a sudden a loud, intrusive rumbling sound comes racing down your street.

    Rumble! Bang! Boom!  Metal clangs and rattles.  Door slams.

    You leap up from the comfort of your canine bed, wide-eyed and wildly wondering: 

    Is that thunder!??  

    Take Cover!!!  HIDE!!
    No.  Wait.  It’s just a car.

    Now the doors are slamming!!  OMG! Someone is here!!!

    I will alert my people with my canine call!!!

    They will be so glad I told them!

    WAIT. Do I know this person?!!?

    NO!  Agh!  It’s a stranger!!

    DANGER! 
    All canines on deck!!! 
    Oh noooo! He is getting out of his monster machine and coming up to our house!!! — MY CASTLE!

    Must defend my canine castle!!!

    Must alert my people more loudly!  They don’t understand the danger!

    Knock-Knock. Doorbell rings.

    AGH!!! The Chimes of Doom!   

    People …. HELP!!!!!
    Now he’s banging on the door!!!  He’s coming in! OMG! I must defend my canine castle!!!

    All life forms in your home fearfully flee the scene, or they do the opposite: They physically go after your invisibly-caped canine crusader to make her shut-the-heck-up and calm-the-heck-down.


     

    Does this sound familiar?  As chaotic as that scene sounds, it’s all too common in family homes, but it can and should be prevented. 

    We prevent this by removing fear. 

    Think about it: Everyone’s response in that moment was based on fear. If you have a cat or dog that flees (or fights) the dog when she goes nuts, it’s a behavior that stems from fear.  The other animal is either trying to keep themselves safe from the threat, or he/she is trying to eliminate the threat.   If you go after or scream at your dog when he/she is screaming at the perceived threat, you are experiencing anger (which is actually just a mask for fear).  And, anyone or animal that goes after the dog when the dog is in the middle of a full-on-freak-out, that animal or person is only adding more fear and frustration to the already out of control fire.

    Let me repeat that:  If you are reactive to your reactive dog, you are adding fear-fuel to the fear-fire. 

    Hollering and forcing a dog into a position to make them “behave” isn’t going to help.  This approach can backfire. It’s very dangerous and honestly, very irresponsible.  And it’s only teaching your dog (and any other animal or child in the house) that there is something to be afraid of when the “stranger-danger” appears.  If you are reacting angrily when your dog reacts, what are you teaching them?


     

    The flawed idea that a dog will only learn to behave through force and fear is sad and misguided, but people are still misled into thinking that these methods are the right way to go. This leads to elevated stress levels that could be avoided if time was taken to understand how dogs’ learn and how they can be taught effectively. Choice training is a beacon of hope in what is still a dominating world. -Victoria Stilwell, world-renowned humane dog trainer


     

    So, what do we do instead of screaming “SHUT UP!” or wrestling the dog away from the door or window?

    –> We teach the dog that the approaching monster man in his monster machine is A MA Z I N G, and something to look forward to! 


    Here are a few (very simplified) steps to get you started:

    1.Form a friendly relationship with your postal service people. These people have a very exhausting job this time of year, so go out of your way to have some compassion for them.  Find out their names.  Ask them how their day is going.  Maybe even ask how their family is doing.  Care about them, instead of seeing them as the people who drop off the-item-you-have-been-waiting-for-forever.  Not only is doing this a kind gesture, but it will pay off tremendously when you ask for their help with calming your chaotic canine!

     

    2. Explain to your postal person that your dog is having a hard time with him/her coming to your house.  Just take a few minutes to let them know that you are working on helping your dog to be more calm around them. They might appreciate that you are making their life easier! They may even have some suggestions or offer ways to help you.

     

    3. Ask them how they feel about dogs.  –If you know their perspective on dogs, you can know whether you need to keep your dog away from them, or allow your dog to eventually say hello calmly.  Remember that some postal people may be just as fearful of, or frustrated with dogs as your dog is to them!  Learn what their comfort level is and be respectful of it.

     

    4. Change how your dog feels about the postal people.  –Many dogs who lunge or bark have been “corrected” (punished) for their behavior.  This kind of reaction has only added to their fear or frustration.  If your dog has never been corrected in any form, congrats to you, but your dog’s fear or frustration about the postal people is still present, so we need to address it.   We do this by changing the association that the dog has with the perceived threat.  We use food to transform the dog’s negative emotions to positive emotions by pairing pleasant things with the appearance of the unpleasant thing (Mr. Postman).  When done correctly, this results in a dog who turns and looks happily and expectantly at his person as soon as the dog spies the stranger-danger that used to elicit a reactive outburst.

    Ever since Hocus became reactive (barking and going berserk) around the UPS and mailman vehicles I decided to rain down delicious treats when they approached.   Note: The key word is DELICIOUS.  Don’t grab a dog biscuit. Get the bacon, people.  

     

    Science of how food helps in dog training

     

    If we were in the house I calmly presented any one of Hocus’ favorite treats (like bacon, cheese, cat food, or chicken) to Hocus when she heard them pull up; I did this on our walks when they rumbled by; I did this when she saw them in the window; I did this anytime she heard or spied them coming.  (This video from Urban Dogs is a great example of how this can  be done outside.)  Eventually her fear and frustration turned to glad, calm anticipation.

     

    5. Change how YOU feel about your dog going berserk.  Folks, you are the adults here.  You can see the full picture.  Have compassion for your canine.  Learn to control your reaction to your dog.  Take a deep breath and remember that your dog truly believes he/she is doing their job!  Thank them for doing such a good job of letting you know the postal person is here!  Remove your frustration!  Don’t allow yourself to go into your own fear or reactivity.  That only creates more confusion, fear, and frustration.

     

    6.  Help your dog to focus on something else.   If you are inside and the monster machine arrives, tell your dog you will take over from here, and ask them to focus on something else that they do really well.  We call this an incompatible behavior.  Identify a behavior that’s incompatible with, or cannot occur at the same time as, the problem behavior. For example, your dog can’t be at the door barking if she’s going to get her favorite toy.

    My husband and I (literally) say, “Hocus, you did a great job letting us know they’re here.  We will take over from here.  You are safe. We are all safe!  Now go get your Kong and bring it to me!”.   Once she brings us the Kong or squeaky toy, she gets rewarded with something that will keep her attention and focus for a while  (usually via frozen stuffed Kong or pig ear).

    Remember to stay calm. Take deep breaths!  Be easy.  Think about what you want your dog to do instead!  By the way, “not barking” doesn’t count. What could your dog be taught to do instead of her self-assigned job of Caped Canine Crusader?  Be playful and easy about all of this while helping your dog to move her energy into something healthier, and more peaceful and fun!

     

    7. Ask the postal people for their permission. If they are comfortable with it, and you have already been working on counter conditioning your dog to the sights and sounds of them from a distance, bring your dog out on a secure leash and harness. Then offer irresistible treats to your dog.  You don’t need to be close to the postal person at this point.  Merely standing on the doorstep while they are at the street can be too much for some dogs.   Just let your dog see them while you offer the tasty treats.

     

    food for dogs anxiety and fear

     

    8.  Ask the postal people for their participation. Not only is our UPS dude a hottie, but he is well prepared for pooches.  He has a huge bag of dog treats that he drives around with, ready to offer to dogs at the houses he visits.  All of the dogs on our block love him!  All the pups know that whenever a package arrives, a treat will be arriving too!  Our dog learned very quickly that the stranger-danger coming to the door was not only bringing a boxed goodie for her people, but she gets goodies too!

     

     

    9.  Make safety a priority.   Always err on the side of caution, and if you are not sure about these steps, hire a force-free professional to help you. If your dog is displaying aggressive behavior, please consult a force-free animal behavior consultant .  Don’t try to fix this on your own.

     

    NOTE:  Hocus Pocus is not aggressive towards humans.  She absolutely adores people, but can become quite frustrated and vocal when she cannot get to the person.  She has a history of reactivity to loud, unexpected sounds, and to some dogs.


     

    dogs and mailman_pets and UPS man_reactive dogs_conscious Companion

     

    Don’t let the fear of the postal people be the Fear Grinch that steals your holiday cheer.  Show your dog that there is nothing to be afraid of.  Teach your dog that all is well, and that he/she is safe.

    🎄Merry Christmas and Holiday Blessings to you and yours! ⛄❄️

     


     

    Recommended Reading 

     

     

    The Doggie Downside and Upside to Snow Days

    dogs_snow_pet_tips

    I don’t know what the weather is like where you are in the world, but it’s been snowing nonstop for hours where we are, just outside our nation’s capital.  They’re expecting up to 36 inches before the weekend is over.  That’s not a lot to most northerners, but it can be a lot for southern dogs.

    When a dog moves from a southern climate to a northern one it can be quite an adjustment, depending on the breed, and the dog’s temperament/personality.  A few of our friends from New Orleans live here now and their old southern dog won’t go anywhere near a snowflake.  Then there are some southern friends’ dogs who adjusted to the snow as if they had Alaskan malamute in their blood!

    Our dog Hocus Pocus was somewhere in the middle when it came to adjusting to the cold climate.  I was surprised to see how quickly she took to the snow, considering how much she loves the warm beach.  Hocus loves the salt, sand, and sun.  Being a “beach bum” dog was all she had ever known.  Her first encounter with snow was when we moved up to D.C. last year.

    Hocus enjoying the sea,  sun, and sand back in North Carolina
    Hocus enjoying the sea, sun, and sand back in North Carolina


    From Beach Lover to Snow Lover

    Even though the snow was an adjustment for Hocus, she adapted quickly, because we helped to make the snow FUN. We never forced her to go into the snow.  We let her choose if she wanted to play with us.  We created positive associations with the snow.  We offered tasty treats when she was apprehensive about going into the snow.  We played games like chase, find it, and we let her explore her outside environment freely. We never forced her to participate.  We taught her that snowfall and being in the snow is a Very Good Thing, and there is nothing to be afraid of. She learned that snow is safe.

    Hocus having so much fun in the snow;
    Hocus having fun in the snow; a poop and pee are bound to happen out here in Snow Funland


    24 four hours of snowfall =  24 hours of a dog refusing to go outside.   

    Unfortunately not all dogs have been taught that the snow can be fun.  Even dogs who enjoying playing in the snow with their people, or with other doggie pals will refuse to go outside in their own backyard to pee or poop when the snow comes.  Hocus does this every time a snow storm arrives.  She also does it when it rains.  She does not like the feeling of snow or rain hitting her in the face (but she has no problem face planting into a thick mud puddle).  I see the discomfort on her face if she’s just standing there in the yard as it’s snowing or raining.   If we let her, she will hold her urine and feces until we venture out into the “fun” forest, or until we visit her favorite canine pal’s yard.  Until we take her on an adventure, she either whines near the front door, or avoids the backdoor altogether. This might not seem like a bad thing, but it is very harmful for dogs.

    Don’t Hold It In, Pup. 

    Humans know that we should pee or poop when we need to go.  When we hold in urine, it can cause toxins to back up into our system, weaken the bladder muscles, and more.  Dogs are no different in this sense.  When a dog has to (or chooses to)  ‘hold it in’ for long periods of time, this can lead to the development of bacteria in the accumulated urine and further lead to a urinary tract infection or worse – a bladder or kidney infection. 

    We can’t allow our dogs to just hold it in until they feel like going.  We need to be aware of when they last went to the bathroom. We need to encourage them to go.

    Hocus contemplating whether or not to go pee in the yard while it’s snowing

    Encourage Your Pup to GO!

    As Conscious Companions we must be responsible and take the lead when it comes to getting our dogs to go potty when they need to.  We can’t afford to let our dog hold it for hours on end. But Forcing them to go outside does more harm than good.  We need to encourage our canine companions!  And we need to turn the dreaded snow potty time to FUN potty time!

    There are a number of ways that you can do this, that don’t involve force or intimidation. Here are a few techniques that have worked for us:

    • Bring an umbrella –  When it’s snowing cover your dog the same way you would a friend.
    • Bring treats – offer a tasty treat if you dog steps in the snow, then work up to offering a high-value treat right after your pup pees or poops in the snow! Don’t lure your dog out there.  Reward them for even stepping outside. Then reward them again for sniffing the snow.  If he/she touched the snow, throw a treat party! If your dog goes into the snow, have another reward ready! If he/she goes potty, act like it’s the coolest, most amazing thing your dog has ever done!! Be proud of them!! And REWARD THE HECKOUTTA THEM!
    • Bring the party to the yard – make going into the yard so much fun!  Get crazy, be silly, and encourage your dog to play.  Most dogs will go potty after a nice round of exercise and play.
    • Bring a friend – bring one of your dog’s canine pals over to encourage your dog to run amuck together in the yard, or bring your dog to a doggie pal’s yard if they enjoy playing there together.
    • Bring your dog to nature – Take your pup to a local park or forest! There is nothing like Mother Nature to help your dog to poop and pee while out exploring.
    • Bring a sense of humor – Don’t be afraid to be goofy and silly. Lighten the mood!  If you are tense and annoyed, (and/or freezing) your dog is going to pick up on these emotions, and it’s only going to inhibit your dog from becoming relaxed and feeling safe enough to go potty.
    • Bring patience. – Don’t rush the process.  Yes, it’s taking longer than you had hoped, but she’s your dog. She loves you and she needs your patience with this process.
    • Bundle Up! – It’s cold, so dress like it. You may be out there longer than you expected. If you are cold, you are going to be less patient. Set yourself up for success; don’t go out there in your jammies and house shoes.

    Making snow potty time FUN potty time!
    Making snow potty time a FUN snow party time! My husband was cold and didn’t want to go out there but once he started playing and being goofy, Hocus relaxed about the snow, and started to play … then poop!


    What has worked for you and your dogs?

    How have you been able to get them to potty in inclement weather?

    Day of the Dragon!

    Kadar, our male breeding Komodo dragon at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans.
    Kadar, our male breeding Komodo dragon at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans.

    Today is International Appreciate A Dragon Day!  Yeah, I know.  It sounds crazy, but if there is an international peanut butter day, then dragons can certainly have their turn in the international spotlight.  As soon as I heard that today was appreciate a dragon day, I was really psyched because one very special dragon came to my mind.  He was amazing in every sense of the word.

    Because of this dragon, I learned and felt more than I ever thought possible from a 140 pound lizard.  I cared for him, bred him, trained him, enriched him, and during his last days on earth, I held him between my legs as he breathed his last breaths.

    His name was Kadar and he was a Komodo Dragon.


    Here There Be Dragons!

    I was introduced to Kadar on the first day of a very challenging and amazing career path.  I had the pleasure of working at the Audubon Zoo in the Reptile Section for many years.  I was a reptile and amphibian “keeper” (animal caretaker) and an enrichment specialist.  Kadar was one of the many species of reptiles that opened my mind to the depth of intelligence and perfection that many animals have.  He dispelled many myths about reptiles, and showed us how to be more conscious of caring for reptiles in captivity.  Kadar was a gorgeous specimen, and quite a sight to behold!  He was a favorite among many zoo visitors and staff.

    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
    Kadar gently chasing his mate, Kali around their exhibit


    Leaping, Learning Lizards!

    Force-free training was just barely beginning to be embraced by the zoo community when I was working there.  Thankfully, in 1999 we learned that “even lizards” can be taught to do almost anything because they are incredibly intelligent!  Each day at the zoo, there were scheduled public feedings.  Zoo visitors loved to come and watch us as we climbed to the top of Kadar’s exhibit, and then toss him a deceased rabbit, mackerel, or beef heart into his enclosure.  Kadar would come running over and gobble the gory goodies down within seconds!  The gory (but fascinating) scene was quite a sight to see!

    Then a female reptile colleague and I taught Kadar to station where we wanted him to in his exhibit, using a laser pointer.  We also taught him to recall on command so we could shift him in and out of his night den without force.  He learned to target, and to trust people again.  We also learned how to safely work with him without using fear or force.

    With training and enrichment we encouraged his natural hunting and stalking abilities by encouraging him to “hunt” for scents all around his enclosure, to mimic conditions that he would have experienced in the wild, on Komodo Island.  Through force-free, choice based training we gained Kadar’s trust, we eliminated fear on both ends of the stick!


    Lessons Learned 

    One day we needed to perform a medical procedure on Kadar (to remove a few rocks in his belly that he had ingested) and in the process, a vertebrae and some nerves in his neck were severely damaged.  Kadar soon lost his strong, regal gait and was not responding to his training cues.  He was becoming severely challenged while eating and moving around his enclosure.  We did everything we could to help him.  Our hospital staff worked around the clock during those last days to monitor his vital signs and keep him alive.  We took shifts at night breathing for him.

    I will never forget the honor and respect I felt, holding him between my legs as I gently pushed air into his lungs, hoping that it would keep his organs and brain functioning.  We even took him to the Children’s Hospital next door to the zoo to perform a CAT Scan and MRI to see how extensive the damage was, but it was too late.  Kadar’s heart was still beating but he was no longer there.  He had passed in the night while in my arms.  We mourned his passing, but we never forgot what he taught us about reptile intelligence, and what he brought to the zoo community.  We all learned something from Kadar.

     


    Not All Was Lost.

    After Kadar passed, we were all heartbroken, but were able to honor his legacy by continuing the force-free reptile training movement with Kali, his very clever Komodo mate.  We taught Kali to station on a scale, allow nail trims, and to be crated.  Our team created a special crate designed to facilitate safe, force-free annual exams without anesthesia.  In the latter years, Kadar and Kali had to be anesthetized for these important annual exams.  This really cool create enabled the hospital staff to come out to our area for medical procedures such as weighing her, blood draws, radiographs (x-rays), colloquial swabs, and checking for eggs.

    6a010535647bf3970b014e8bd6a896970d-500wi


    Trained Komodo Dragons!

    komodo dragon training reptile force free training and enrichement
    Images from The Zoological Society of London

    When we trained Kadar, there were hardly any force-free reptile training programs in existence at the time.  Thankfully, now zoos all around the world are utilizing more force-free training with the species that they breed and care for in captivity.  They use everything from laser pointers to target sticks and clicker training!   Below are just a few of the safe and enriching management tools that zoo staff around the world are using with Komodo Dragons to maintain their health and well-being:


    One of the enrichment devices that has been developed at ZSL London Zoo’s Herpetology Department, in conjunction with Aussiedog© is a ‘Tug-Toy’.  This ‘Komodo Tug-Toy’ is the first of its kind and it comes complete with a strong elasticised bungee, two removable tug grips and several different bites.  The device was developed after lengthy email correspondence with specialists at Aussiedog©. We discussed every possible component and variable from anatomy, force and bite radius to enclosure size to what colour to use/not use (as Raja, our male dragon, is trained to a white target for example) and we carefully considered what texture and material would be preferable for the detachable bites.  The device can also be hung from a tree or retaining wall, and meat joints can replace the bites to encourage the natural pulling and tearing motions the dragon uses to consume carcasses.

    Raja enjoying a game of Tug with keepers. This was a specially made "Tug Toy" safe for the handler and Komodo
    Raja enjoying a game of Tug with keepers at the London Zoo’s Reptile House.  This “Tug Toy”  was designed to be safe for the handler and Komodo

    Raja even has his own facebook page!

    These training and enrichment techniques allow zoo keepers and medical staff to work safely with, and in close proximity to, Komodo dragons in captivity. These force-free techniques facilitate the animals’ well-being through mental and physical stimulation.


    Lethal Lizards?

    Many people are terrified of Komodos and see them as monsters.  This is not true.  Most komodos in captivity have strong bonds with their keepers. However, safety is always the utmost priority because they do have quite a bite when they are in prey drive!   Any number of their prey would attest to this (if they could). They are not slobbery monsters that will attack you at a moment’s notice.  They are usually calm, clean, and calculating.

    Dirty Dragon?

    New research from the University of Queensland published in the Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine has found that the mouths of Komodo dragons are surprisingly ordinary for a venomous species.

    Venomous Varanus!

    In 2009, scientists concluded that komodo dragons (and all monitor lizards and iguanas) produce venom.  Venom is a toxin that’s secreted by glands and injected into an animal by a bite or sting (versus how poison is delivered).  There is a common myth that highly toxic bacteria in a Komodo’s mouth is what’s responsible for ultimately killing the dragons’ prey.  Zoo and reptile management and researchers have long thought that the Komodo dragon kills its prey via blood poisoning from the 50 strains of bacteria in the dragon’s saliva.  Well, it turns out that the bacteria tale has been a “scientific fairy tale”.  They found that the levels and types of bacteria do not differ from any other carnivore; it’s the venom at work:

    The dragon’s venom rapidly decreases blood pressure, expedites blood loss, and sends a victim into shock, rendering it too weak to fight.  In the venom, some compounds that reduce blood pressure are as potent as those found in the world’s most venomous snake, western Australia’s inland Taipan.

    Fry used a medical MRI scanner to analyse the preserved head of a dead Komodo dragon and found that it has two long venom glands, running down the length of its jaw. They are the most structurally complex venom glands of any reptile. Each consists of six compartments, with ducts leading from each one to openings between the teeth.
    Professor Fry used a medical MRI scanner to analyze the preserved head of a Komodo dragon. He found that it has two long venom glands, running down the length of its jaw. They are the most structurally complex venom glands of any reptile!  Each consists of six compartments, with ducts leading from each one to openings between the teeth.

    Other venomous lizards, like the Gila monster, channel venom down grooves that run the length of their teeth but the Komodo dragon doesn’t have these – it just drips venom straight into the wounds that it inflicts. The venom itself consists of over 600 toxins, a chemical arsenal that rivals those of many snakes. Many of these poisons are familiar and they greatly exacerbate the blood loss caused by the dragon’s bite. They cause internal haemorrhaging from leaky blood vessels, prevent blood from clotting and cause muscle contractions and paralysis. Fry calculated that a typical adult dragon would need only 4mg of venom proteins to send a 40kg deer into toxic shock from collapsing blood pressure. A full venom gland packs at least eight times this amount.

    After the CHOMP,  a Komodo waits patiently, following its bitten prey for miles in a leisurely fashion. He or she then locates the dead animal by its smell.  Like most lizards, Komodo dragons have an exquisite sense of smell.  But it’s not the kind of smell most of us are familiar with.  Like a snake, a Komodo “tastes” by collecting air with its forked tongue, then deposits the collected scent particles on receptors on the roof of its mouth.  Using this method, it can detect a dead animal up to five miles (eight kilometers) away!

    The Komodo's sense of smell is its primary food detector. They detect odors much like a snake does. It uses its long, forked tongue to sample the air, which the two tongue tips retreat to the roof of the mouth, where they make contact with the Jacobson's organs. Here the air is deciphered carefully.
    The Komodo’s sense of smell is its primary food detector. They detect odors much like a snake does. It uses its long, forked tongue to sample the air, which the two tongue tips retreat to the roof of the mouth, where they make contact with the Jacobson’s organs. Here the air is deciphered carefully.


    The chemical analyzers “smell” prey by recognizing airborne molecules.  If the concentration present on the left tongue tip is higher than that sampled from the right, it tells the Komodo that the prey is approaching from the left. This system, along with an undulatory walk in which the head swings from side to side, helps the dragon sense the existence and direction of odoriferous carrion from as far away as 2.5 miles (4 km), when the wind is right.


    Varanus komodoensis Komodo
    Open Wide! A captive Komodo showing off his clean mouth during an afternoon yawn in the sun

     


    Komodo dragons are actually very clean animals.  After they are done feeding, they will spend 10 to 15 minutes lip-licking and rubbing their head in the leaves to clean their mouth. The inside of their mouth is also kept extremely clean by the tongue. ~Professor Bryan Fry, Associate professor from The University of Queensland


    The Komodo dragon isn't a filthy, bacteria laden creature, as people believe. They are clean animals that are highly intelligent.
    The Komodo dragon isn’t a filthy, bacteria-laden creature. They are clean animals that are highly intelligent.


    Komodo Dragon

    Scientific Name: Varanus komodoensis

    Fast Facts:  

    • Thekomodo dragon is the world’s largest lizard.

      Komodos have a rough, durable skin reinforced with osteoderms (bony plates) protecting them from injuries from scratches and bites.
      Komodos have a rough, durable skin reinforced with osteoderms (bony plates) protecting them from injuries from scratches and bites.
    • They are classified as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), But with only 3,000 to 5,000 left in the wild the latest data suggests they are endangered.
    • Komodos are native to a few volcanic Indonesian islands of the Lesser Sunda group including Komodo, Rintja, Padar, and Flores. The largest island is only 22 miles (35 km) long.
    • Komodos are called the ora, or “land crocodile” by locals
    • For centuries, a local tradition required feeding the dragons. Hunters would leave deer parts behind after a hunt, or sacrifice goats. In the past, the practice maintained a friendly relationship with the animals. Ancient customsstrictlyforbidharmingthekomodos, which is why they survived on their native islands and became extinct elsewhere.

      Kadar and Kali, our breeding pair, mating on exhibit at the Audubon Zoo
      Kadar and Kali, our breeding pair, mating on exhibit at the Audubon Zoo
    • Female Komodo dragons have been known to give birth without ever mating with a male dragon. Some call these “virgin births” but it’s actually parthenogenesis.
    • They are one of the most intelligent reptiles! They can distinguish between their different keepers in a zoo, by voices and different clothing worn by their keepers. Locals on the islands also say that the dragons know who’s who!
    • Their vision and sense of smell are highly sophisticated.
    • The largest verified specimen reached a length of 10.3 feet (3.13 m) and weighed 366 pounds (166 kg)
    • Komodos have about 60 teeth. Teeth grow back quickly if when they lose any.
    • They use their teeth to cut their prey into sections, and then swallow without chewing.

      When raised in captivity alongside humans, Komodos have been known to be quite docile and curious lizards
      When raised in captivity alongside humans, Komodos have been known to be quite docile and curious lizards
    • They rarely drink water. They prefer to get their fluids from the food they eat.
    • They can consume up to 80 percent of their body weight in one sitting.
    • They will a variety of prey including snakes, other lizards, young komodos, fish, eggs, carrion, deer, pigs, goats, dogs, horses and water buffalo.
    • They prefer to hunt as an ambush predator; they lay in wait, then surprise their prey. Chomp!
    • When hunting large prey, he/she attacks the feet first, knocking the animal off balance. When hunting smaller prey, h/she usually lunges straight for the neck.
    • They are extremely fast for a lizard of their size. In short bursts, they can reach speeds of 12 miles per hour.
    • JuvenileKomodos are very agile climbers. They live a more terrestrial life (in trees)untiltheyarefully-grown and able to protectthemselvesfromotheradultKomodos on the ground.

       Komodo dragons hatched in AZA zoos  are giving a small boost to their endangered population.
      Komodo dragons hatched in AZA zoos are giving a small boost to their endangered population.
    • Komodos can throw up the contents of their stomachs when threatened to reduce their weight in order to flee.
    • Large mammal carnivores (lions, tigers, etc.) tend to leave 25 to 30 percent of their kill unconsumed, (leaving the intestines, hide, skeleton, and hooves). Komodos eat much more efficiently; they only leave 12 percent of their prey. They eat bones, hooves, and the hide. They also eat intestines, but only after swinging them vigorously to scatter the feces from the meal.
    • Because large Komodos cannibalize young ones, the young komodos will roll in fecal matter which seems to be a scent that the larger dragons avoid.
    • Young dragons also have rituals of appeasement; the smallerlizardspacingaroundakomodo feeding circle in a ritualized walk.Theirtailis stuck straight out and they throw their body from side to side with exaggerated convulsions. This helps them to stay near the feeding circle without being attacked.

      Photo by National Geographic An adult Komodo dragon enjoys the view near Indonesia's Komodo village.
      Photo by National Geographic
      An adult Komodo dragon enjoys the view near Indonesia’s Komodo village.


    • Dragons may live up to 30 – 50 years in the wild, but scientists are still studying this.
    • Female Komodo Dragons live half as long as males on average, due to their physically demanding ‘housework’ (building huge nests and guarding eggs for up to six months).
    • Scientists have been searching for antibodies in Komodo blood in order to help save human lives.
    • Poaching, human encroachment, and natural disasters are its greatest threats.

    The Denver, Phoenix and Memphis Zoo all successfully hatched Komodo dragons last year. Even the famous Betty White was excited!
    The Denver, Phoenix and Memphis Zoo all successfully hatched Komodo dragons last year. Even the famous Betty White was excited! These hatchlings represent a joint conservation effort between zoos: the hatchlings will all go to different zoos for education and breeding purposes.


    Recommended Reading for Lizard Lovers!

    This book has the latest information on Komodo dragon biology, ecology, population distribution, and behavior.  It also includes a step-by-step management and conservation techniques, both for wild and captive dragons.  This model is a useful template for the conservation of other endangered species.
    This book has the latest information on Komodo dragon biology, ecology, population distribution, and behavior. It also includes a step-by-step management and conservation techniques, both for wild and captive dragons. This model is a useful template for the conservation of other endangered species.


    This blog is dedicated to you, Kadar.  Thank you for teaching me what reptiles are capable of, what exquisite and perfect creatures you are, and for teaching me more than I could have ever imagined.  You were loved and adored by so many.

    dragon


    Resources:

    “Komodo Dragons, Biology and Conservation” by James B. Murphy, Claudio ciofi, Colomba de La Panouse, Trooper Walsh

    http://www.uq.edu.au/news/article/2013/06/fear-of-komodo-dragon-bacteria-wrapped-myth

    http://scienceblogs.com/notrocketscience/2009/05/18/venomous-komodo-dragons-kill-prey-with-wound-and-poison-tact/

    http://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/reptilesamphibians/facts/factsheets/komododragon.cfm