Wanna Get to Second Base? Go Slow and Steady, Babe.

 I’m in no hurry: the sun and the moon aren’t, either. Nobody goes faster than the legs they have.  If where I want to go is far away, I’m not there in an instant. ― The Collected Poems of Alberto Caeiro

Black cats_cat training

Are you a patient person?  Do you take your time with things? Do you want more than you need?

I am not very patient some days.  I rush into things sometimes, and my natural tendency is to get greedy when it comes to animal training.  But I have learned to go slow and to be patient.  I have learned to be grateful and satisfied with small successes.  I would like to share one of them with you.

My mentor and friend, Secret, teaching the sea lions how to paint
My mentor and friend, Secret, teaching the sea lions how to paint

Way back in the day when I was at the Audubon Nature Institute, one of my mentors (and my housemate) was the head animal trainer.  When I was making progress with an animal at work or at home she used to calmly tell me, “Don’t be a greedy trainer, Amy. Stop when you’re ahead.”

I always grunted when I heard that advice, but I knew she was right.  In fact, she was always right when it came to animal training.  She was one of those brilliant trainers that always had a solution to a problem.  She could create and maintain the most complicated chains of behavior. She was famous for creating long lasting bonds with every animal (and person) she worked with.  She always trained and taught without fear or intimidation.  And she was the trainer who make the greatest advances with any animal she worked with.  I learned so much from her.

Now decades later her advice still rings true when I am working with a client or with our animals at home. – especially cats.

If you wanna get to second base, let them set the pace. 

If you have lived or worked with cats you know that they set the pace.  If you have not worked with cats before, know this: When you decide to set the pace and push too fast you will fail.  You will both end up becoming frustrated and stressed.  You might even get injured in the process, too.  And then finally, you loose the cat’s trust.

It pays to go slow.

I like to think of going slow with cats as moving from first base to second base, and then eventually onto a home run. I set up our training sessions this way. First base might be the cat letting you hold his paw. Second base might be the cat letting you lift his paw, then touch his paw with nail clippers. Third base would be touching, holding, and then applying gentle pressure with the nail clippers to the actual nail. Home run is a full nail clip.

I’ll explain why I like to move through the bases slowly.

For over a decade I watched numerous veterinarians push my cats well past the point of no return.  One cat in particular, Mr. Beaux, would become so stressed at the vet’s office, he had to be netted (yes, caught in a net).  Then heavily sedated. They had to do this to even look at him.  I watched Beaux break free of leather muzzles, attack people, climb a metal wall (yes, you read that right) and knock heavy computers off counters in the examination room.

We don’t take that route at home, or at the vet’s office anymore.  I know better now.  Working with any animal should not be a wrestling match.

Now we go slow.  We let the animal set the pace. We let the animal say when they are done. And we make progress together while building trust.

I’ll show you how we do this in the short video.  But before you watch, I need to explain something:  Beaux lost all trust in people. No one could touch his ears, mouth, or feet after all of the many manhandling encounters at various vet’s offices. You couldn’t touch him in any of these areas without him becoming very aggressive.

I had to rebuild his trust.  This is how I did it. 

After several short, positive sessions like that, Beaux will now let me trim all of his nails while staying relaxed.  It’s something I never thought was possible!  By going slowly and letting Beaux set the pace I was able to build his trust.  By rewarding him for calm behavior with something he finds valuable and rewarding, he learned to enjoy the process and no longer feel threatened. By ending the session when he was done he was more willing to participate the next time.

A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not.― Ernest Hemingway

Another one of our feline family members has learned that nail trim time can be a very Good Thing!  You can see us in action here: Fear-Free Feline “Pawdicure”

Husbandry with any species shouldn’t be stressful.
Some common habits of grooming cats can get in the way of success:
♦️we ask too much.
♦️we don’t know when the cat is beginning to feel stressed.
♦️we proceed to quickly.
♦️we don’t allow choice.
♦️we haven’t built up trust.
♦️we forget to reinforce.
♦️we aren’t using reinforcers the cat prefers.
♦️we create over arousal.

Tips to Remember when you are first learning how to safely trim your cat’s nails at home:

  • GO SLOW!  It’s very tempting to want to move forward quickly when things are going well, but you will make far more progress by going slow and steady.
  • Set aside the temptation to get “greedy” and want to do more. Be happy with one tiny step that you make together! This way you can both enjoy the process.
  • By letting your cat set the pace you are gaining his/her trust.
  • By going slow, you learn to be respectful of your cat’s body language and what their comfort level is that day. Maybe the next time you can get 2 nails clipped!
  • It takes time to build trust, especially if you cat has been FORCED to have his/her nails trimmed in the past and it was traumatic for them!
  • Why rush the process when you can go further in the long run by building trust and creating a stress free, positive experience for both you and your cat?

 Recommended Related Reading 

Want to Be a Dog Whisperer? Try THIS.

blahblah_gary larson ginger dog what dogs hear
Gary Larson Comic

It’s not very often that I come across an article or post from other dog trainer that makes me yell, YES! PERFECTION! THANK YOU!! 

I found one today.

I am taking the time to sit down and share this with you because it is one of the most powerful and effective ways to listen and communicate with your dog. And it’s simple.

Check it out.

Whisperering: What is it Really?

Challenge for the day…. Don’t talk to your dog today.  Instead, talk only with your body language and see what happens.  You’ll find out how much you chatter to your dog, meaningless words and wonder why she tunes you out.  A surprise may be that your dog pays closer attention because she’ll have to rely on your body language (her first language).  This is the tip of the iceberg in training.

If you aren’t aware of your own body language and energy around dogs you will have very little idea what kind of training your dog needs. Your dog is responding to your body language first, secondarily the words coming out of your mouth.  I love this cartoon [Gary Larson above] because it speaks brilliantly to how we relate to dogs. We are relating to a different species entirely yet we are relating to them as if they are human.  This is why trainers have jobs, people get bitten, dogs don’t pay attention to you, they are destructive, they play chase when you are trying to call them to you, and the list goes on.  It’s a total disconnect without this awareness.

Let’s dissect this cartoon. Our friend with the glasses is clearly in a reactive state; pointing fingers, yelling, bending over/leaning forward, big energy. The dog is sitting there trying to figure out what this man is saying.  Is this dog just sitting there calmly listening to his owner letting it blow over his head, tuning him out?  If you said YES, you are incorrect.  Everything in this dogs’ body language is saying “I”m stressed”: Direct eye contact, alert forward ears, closed mouth, wondering whether to flea or retreat but by no means calm and relaxed.  If the dog did something offensive to the owner like take a sock or not come when called and this is the reaction of it’s owner don’t you think the dog may not want to ever come when called or try to make a game out of getting the sock to perhaps change the tone of the owner and get a game of chase going?  Dogs do things to engage us and if we don’t know who we are being or how to read a dog’s language, we’ll have little success with a healthy relationship with our dog.

Okay, if you can’t do it for a whole day try using body language for 2 hrs while you’re interacting with your dog. If you find yourself in his face to get his attention then you’re a prime example of a dog owner with a dog who has learned to tune you out.

Pay attention to these things:
What is your facial expression when interacting with your dog?
Is it hard not to talk?
Do you have big energy?
Is your energy relaxed and calm?
Are you reactive?
What did you notice in your dog?
Do you use your hands a lot or a little?
When you ask your dog to do something what is your body doing? What position are you in when asking your dog to COME to you?
When walking on the leash, how are you holding the leash?
What do you do when you see a dog approaching while walking on the leash?
What do you do when you stop to speak to a neighbor?
What is your dog doing when you stop to speak to a neighbor?
What else did you observe about using your own body language with your dog?

Relying simply on your body language should prompt a whole slew of awarenesses you had no idea of about yourself in relating to your dog. This awareness could raise the bar to the connection you have with your dog because you are now actually whispering/speaking in a language your dog can understand. It’s not magic, it’s awareness and understanding.

Once you’ve become more aware of who you’re being, try this. As you begin to speak to your dog, whisper. Literally, whisper the cues/commands you are asking for, along with a hand signal for the command and see how much more attentive your dog will be to you. This takes practice. Learning to understand body language, yours and your dogs can be the connection you’ve longed for and will be life changing. ~ Jill Breitner

I absolutely love this!  And I couldn’t agree more with Jill’s expert advice.  This method of compassionate awareness is what I teach kids and clients.  For some, it’s very hard to do at first, but with practice, you can learn to do it every day with your dog!  I promise you can.  I learned how to do it, and so can you.

I learned the method of “becoming more aware” way back in the day when I first started training komodos, crocs and giant tortoises. Take a guess who is not listening to you ramble on while you’re training them.  Reptiles. They want the food. Not meaningless words.

This was a huge challenge for me.  Keeping my mouth shut was not easy.  I used to talk a lot, and didn’t listen very well back then.  But one thing you learn very quickly when working with a crocodile (who has you on their menu) is to shut up and listen.  If I wanted a hungry crocodile, a clever Komodo Dragon, or a 500 pound tortoise to station, target, or give blood voluntarily, I used training tools, not my words.  My words were meaningless to them.

Oh, and I should also mention that back in the day I was kind of a spazz, too.  Flailing my arms and body around didn’t help anything.  In fact, moving quickly and without forethought was dangerous.  I learned to slow down, and to think before I moved or reacted.  I learned to be aware of the power of body language; it was a direct line of communication to these animals.  I could speak to them softly with my body language, or I could speak loudly and become a threat. Speaking softly was always the better choice.

I also learned how to read their body language.  I watched their very deliberate moves.  Even a subtle shift in weight was a huge signal!  By watching and observing them, I was listening to them.  I learned what they wanted. And I learned how to ask for what I wanted.  It was a cooperative dance. I learned how my energy affects the animal I am working with. And I learned to honor and respect their space.  I never intimidated them or pushed them around.  I was never a bully.  I treated them all with the utmost respect.  Always.

We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen more than we say.― Zeno of Citium

Now fast forward to today. I don’t live with crocs or komodos, but what they taught me carries over to how I interact with my dog.  I listen more than I talk.  I watch more than I move.  I observe. I absorb. Then I assess.  I don’t react.  I redirect. And I set my dog up for success.

I don’t yell at her – e v e r.  I don’t poke, jab, hit, kick, or harass her.  I don’t hurl oppressive cues like tssst! at her, or snap my fingers in her face.  I don’t steal things from her to teach her I am the boss.  I respectfully ask her to do something when I need to, or redirect her attention.  Because of this we have a relationship based on total and complete trust.

I would rather make mistakes in kindness and compassion than work miracles in unkindness and hardness. ― Mother Teresa, A Gift for God: Prayers and Meditations

These days I listen more than I talk. I observe more than react.  But most of all, we always have fun together.

I am not special.  I made mistakes and learned from them. Now I do better because I know better.  You can, too! Becoming aware of yourself and your dog will change your lives. I promise.

This is dedicated to every animal who taught me how to talk less, observe more, respect every animal, and to remember to have fun in the process!  Thank you Chopin, Zazous, Coal, Magma, Kadar, Corky, Feldspar, Xaviera, and Obsidian.

Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.

Dog Decoder – learn to read your dog (app)
Special thanks to She Whisperer;  thank you for teaching the world how to be a compassionate, science-based Dog Whisperer.

Clicking with Cats!

Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.  Isaac Asimov

how to train a cat

Who says you can’t train cats??
… A lot of people.

Most people I meet (even my cat and dog clients) believe you can’t train cats to do a darn thang.   Here’s the truth: Folks who believe this are not properly communicating with the cat, they’re not listening to the cat, and they’re not reinforcing the right behaviors.  Also, they have yet to learn that cats are crazy cool, wicked smart, and very easy to train.  But I have hope for the nonbelievers.

One of my clients is a believer; she is seeing the proof in action.  She also has an advantage because she is very familiar with the world of felines.  She works at one of the best cat veterinary practices, Just Cats Clinic.  Taking into account the needs of my client, the cats’ needs, and what I see possible, my client and I have been working together to create consistency, health, harmony, and a lot of fun in her life … and the life of three of her cats, Coco, Brighton and Disco.

Brighton and Teri_Cat Clicker Training
This clever kitty and their dedicated person say You Can train cats!

Coco and Brighton are two of three cats in my client’s home who are learning various behaviors, all with the help of clicker training and target training.  Coco is 9 years of age and Brighton is 8 years of age.  They are a breed of cat called the Cornish Rex.  If you haven’t heard of the Cornish Rex, they are very cool cats. They’re incredibly affectionate and very clever. –Check ’em out here.

Coco has a book out right now, so she and her person travel a lot for book signings, and meet and greets.  This training program is geared toward helping Coco to feel safe, secure and content, while creating a better connection with the people who come to see her.  This training process is also teaching Coco’s person to recognize when Coco has had enough during her public appearances.  Brighton and Disco (the male cats) don’t have a book deal, but they are just as eager to learn new behaviors.  Clicker training and target training are allowing all of this to happen!

clicker training for cats_how to train your cat
Coco and her person learning together

Cats of Any Age Can Learn

Do you have an older cat?  Do your friends or family members live with an older cat?  Please share this with them: If you believe that an older cat cannot be trained, have fun in his/her senior years or learn new behaviors, think again.  Cats of all ages are capable of learning.  Just ask our senior cats Beaux and Albert, or Brighton and Coco!

Ok, so you can’t ask them, but I am here to tell you that older/mature cats are easily trained, enjoy learning new behaviors, and they need this kind of mental and physical stimulation.  This kind of training changes your life and their life, far beyond what you thought was possible.

Feline Fact:  Older cats (7-10 years) are considered “mature” or “middle age”. “Senior” cats are 11-14 years of age.

senior cats_how to train my cat
My client working on new behaviors with Brighton before she heads off to work for the day

There is more to come about what we are training these clever cats, what they are teaching us, how we do it, and how you can do it, too!  Be sure to stay tuned!

Time spent with a cat is never wasted. ― Colette

The Doggie Downside and Upside to Snow Days


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?

Promises Fulfilled

Happy New Year_Inspiration 3

I feel keeping a promise to yourself is a direct reflection of the love you have for yourself. I used to make promises to myself and find them easy to break. Today, I love myself enough to not only make a promise to myself, but I love myself enough to keep that promise ― Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free

So often around the New Year we make promises and resolutions for ourselves that we never seem to keep. Did you know that less than 8% of New Year’s resolutions are kept?  I’ll admit that I usually set pretty high stakes for myself and then I fall into that 8 percent. This year I thought that maybe I could keep my new year’s intentions if I made them about something greater than myself. I started to ask myself these questions:

What if I set the intention to be a little kinder and more patient with myself? Would this carry over to my family members and our animal companions?

What if I focused more on what I saw was possible in myself, instead of only what I see now? Would this help me to do the same with my animal companions and the people in my life?

What if I listened more, and observed more, and reacted less? What would happen?

The answers were clear to me; What I give to (or withhold from) myself will parallel how I treat others. What I practice in life will parallel life with others, including my animal companions.  As I reflected on this before and after New Year’s, I was inspired to share some of the things that I have learned over the years, and what I have set the intention to focus on, and improve upon in 2015:


Daily Does It.

“If you had started doing anything two weeks ago, by today you would have been two weeks better at it.” ― John Mayer

Setting your mind up to start a new habit, a new way of thinking, or anything that you want to do with your animal companion takes daily determination. You have to choose to do it over and over.  However, it doesn’t have to take an hour. Set aside 5 minutes each day.  Make a point to repeat your new behavior, or the behavior you are working on with your companion animal every day.  Aim high! Shoot for 40-days straight!  Science has shown us that doing a quick but daily repetition changes the neural pathways in our brains and helps to create long-lasting change. I have tried this and it really works!  Be dedicated to it.  Daily repetition creates permanent change.

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Have Fun or Let It Go.

When he worked, he really worked. But when he played, he really PLAYED. ― Dr. Seuss

I love to laugh, and I live to have fun.  Ever since I was a kid I felt that if it wasn’t fun, it wasn’t worth it doing.  Don’t you think our animals want this too?  Ask yourself: Are you having fun with them?  Are they having fun when you are training or working with them?   The best way to make any resolution stick is to have fun with it.  Do you dread doing something?  Find a way to make it exciting and something you look forward to doing!  Get creative!  Be playful!  Add music into it!  Make it a game or a challenge with an awesome reward!  Use some of that positive reinforcement on yourself!  Animals and people learn so much faster when they are having FUN!

happy pets, happy animals

Question Everything.

Whenever we hear an opinion and believe it, we make an agreement, and it becomes part of our belief system. ― Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom

I cannot even begin to tell you all of the myths and nonsense that I have been taught since childhood, even up to today!  Teachers, friends, family, doctors, nutritionists, veterinarians, and even other animal trainers and educators have shared some real whoppers with me.  None of them were trying to deceive me.  They had been taught a particular belief so they were just passing it onto me.  It was up to me to either digest the fact or barf it up, so to speak.

Everyone has an opinion on something they are passionate about, but it doesn’t make it a fact.  I used to teach my interns and volunteers at the zoo to question everything they heard, even if it came from me, or another highly respected staff member.  You may be wondering why. Well, think about the “facts” that you were once taught, only to find out later on that a fact turned out to be a myth or a popular misconception that merely spread like wildfire from passionate, well meaning friends or colleagues.  When you hear a fact, a suggestion, opinion, or something about an animal, especially yours at home, question what you’re told.  Do your own research about it.  Read as much as you can on that subject. Become an expert on it, or find an expert with credentials.  And remember that just because it’s on the internet or T.V., that doesn’t make it true. You get to decide what’s true for you and your animal family members. Go with what resonates with you.

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Easy Now. Be Like The Duck.

The best way is not to fight it, just go. Don’t be trying all the time to fix things. What you run from only stays with you longer. When you fight something, you only make it stronger. ― Chuck Palahniuk, Invisible Monsters

Be easy with yourself, your partner, your kids, and your animal companions.  Let mistakes happen and forgive them.  Don’t hold onto the mistakes and mishaps of anyone, including yourself.  Let yourself, your partner, family member, coworker, boss, and your animal off the hook!  Release the judgments, guilt and blame – especially the ones about yourself!  We are all doing the best we can with where we are.  Animals don’t waste a single ounce of energy on any of those and that’s a powerful life lesson that we can all learn from them. Let it roll off your back like water on a duck!

duck water be the duck

Embrace the “Inner Ding”. 

Trust instinct to the end, even though you can give no reason. ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

One of my biggest deterrents is doubt.  I used to always look outside myself for answers.  I never believed that I had the knowledge or experience to do something out of my comfort zone, or share something personal with others without the fear of criticism.  But over the years I have learned how to better rely on my (as Louise Hay says) “inner ding” to validate my thoughts and feelings instead of doubting them.  Spoiler Alert: The Answers Are Inside YOU. They are not “out there”!   If we can learn to slow down, step away from the situation, remove the emotion, and tune into our own built-in, inner guidance system, we will live life as mother nature and animals know how to do naturally; they flourish without doubt or worry, and they don’t look for answers outside of themselves.  Sure we can read books to learn more, we can go to educational conferences, and we can ask others we respect for their opinions and get their advice, but remember to ask yourself those same questions first and last.  When we strengthen our inner awareness, our outer experience becomes miraculous.

Oh, and about the criticism issue: the only one really criticizing and judging you is yourself.  One way that I started to overcome this fear was by asking myself this question: “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”.  You’ll find that when you ask yourself this question, the answer you receive is pretty cool every time. Try it the next time you are afraid or intimidated to do something. Your “Inner Ding” won’t fail you. And you never know how much of a difference you might be making in other’s lives!

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Trust the Process

Miracles are like pimples, because once you start looking for them you find more than you ever dreamed you’d see. ― Lemony Snicket, The Lump of Coal

Patience has never been my strongest quality but working with animals has certainly helped that. Giant tortoises were the first to teach me how to just chill out, slow down, keep it simple, and celebrate the heck out of every little success, no matter how small it seems. Change within ourselves, and our animals doesn’t happen overnight.  So be patient with yourself and with them.  We are all trying to better ourselves, but let’s face it; it’s a lifelong process for us stubborn, thick-headed humans.  Animals don’t measure things as successes or failures, so why should we?  It’s ok when things don’t happen right away.  Remember that every little success adds up!  “Each subtle shift creates a new experience of positive change.”   Then, before we realize it, new behaviors are created!  You’ll look back and those small successes will turn out to be huge leaps.  Keep it simple.  Miracles are in the subtle details of life.  All good things will grow with time.

Magma The Aldabra Tortoise

Observe More. React Less

To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe. ― Marilyn Vos Savant

I admit it; I can be sassy as heck when I am tired or stressed, and in general I tend to talk more than I listen.  Just ask my family; I have been mouthy ever since my mother can remember, and my husband must have the patience of an oak tree to deal with me some days.  Sometimes I find myself reacting to comments or behavior instead of observing quietly, without judging or taking things personally.  Interestingly, our dog is reactive sometimes when she is stressed or tired.  I now know that her canine peace of mind can only come when she learns how to observe things (from a safe distance) instead of overreacting to them.  We work on this daily with her. When she is calm and feeling safe and secure, the world and all of its normal chaos does not affect her negatively.  She watches instead of reacts.  I see this in myself as well.  We are both a work in progress in many ways, but with a lot of patience and a lot of daily practice, I know that I can become a conscious observer every minute of the day, and she can too. “Be Passersby”.  You don’t have to react to everything you see and hear. Communicate clearly, but listen and watch more.

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Flaws and All

Because one believes in oneself, one doesn’t try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself, one doesn’t need others’ approval. Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her. ― Laozi

Here are the Cliff notes: You’re good enough, for whatever it is.  In fact, you are perfect, and so is every one of your animal companions -just the way they are.  Sure, they may have a few (or a lot of) behavioral issues that can be modified so they can function better in our human world, but so do we.  It’s a constant challenge for me to embrace all of my many flaws.  Loving and accepting ourselves exactly as we are is the first step in accepting others – including our animals – for exactly as they are.  If we are hard on ourselves, or judge and criticize the flaws, we are bound to view others this way too, including our animal companions.  I don’t believe that animals have “flaws”.  They are products of their genetics and their environment. So are we.  But we are not our past, and neither are they. We are who we decide we are going to become.  When we are able to look past the “flaws” and “imperfections”, and instead, consciously choose to focus on what’s possible, and what he or she can become, miracles occur.  Fear, judgement, and criticism are limitations. They only hold you and your animal companions back.  Instead of constantly reliving or talking about your animal companion’s hard or tough past, focus on where they are headed and what they are capable of becoming.  Believe in the impossible.  Embrace the flaws and all.

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Your Presence Is Needed. 

The greatest gift you can give yourself or anyone else is just being present. ― Rasheed Ogunlaru

My mind is always racing, and I am easily distracted. (Anyone that knows me well is probably laughing out loud at that statement.)  Thankfully I’ve found many ways to quiet my mind over the years, but I still find myself not being fully present when I’m with a friend, a family member, or my animal companions.  I catch myself thinking of what I need to do next, or a conversation that happened earlier.  A year ago I decided to remove all of my social media apps off of my phone because I found myself mindlessly checking them instead of just being aware of what was going on around me!  It has made a huge difference in helping me to be fully present.

One of the things that I admire about animals is that they are always fully present in the moment; they aren’t thinking about what happened yesterday, or what is going to happen tomorrow. They are always here, now.  I’d like to suggest that you try this: when you come home from your busy or stressful day, make a conscious effort to spend a few minutes of your “decompressing” time with your animal family members. Pet them. Throw the ball. Play tug.  Brush them.  Look at them in the eye.  Be fully present with them.  I promise that doing this will turn your day around and uplift you. Their presence is a gift to us. Your presence is also a gift to them.

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Be In Gratitude.

Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude. ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Even in the crappiest moments in life I can find something to be grateful for.  I am not a Saint by any means, but I have learned to do this.  This technique has changed my life in more ways than I can explain. I now know that my moods directly affect everyone around me, especially my animal companions.  Whether you know it or not, our animal companions are sponges for our emotions and moods.  They are soaking up all that we are sending out.  Now I can catch myself when I start to send out negative energy.  This is how I do it: If I am feeling angry, frustrated, overwhelmed, sad, (insert any emotion), I choose one thing that I am grateful for.  I say it out loud or to myself.  When I do this my mood will start to shift. I can feel myself lighten up and feel better. I start to focus on more things that I am grateful for, and whatever I was so upset about starts to fade. Try it. The next time you are upset, reach for a thought that helps you to feel better; find one thing to be thankful for. More will follow.

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Last year before New Year’s Eve I asked a few friends, colleagues, and close acquaintances what their resolutions and intentions were for their animal companions and themselves.  This is what they graciously shared with me.  (If you don’t have Adobe PDF reader, click here to read Promises from around the world.)

I haven’t had a chance to ask anyone what intentions they have set for this New Year, but I would LOVE to hear yours! Did you make any promises to yourself or your animal companions for 2015?  Please share them with us in the comment section below!

Happy New Year_pets_Inspiration

Go for it, while you can. I know you have it in you. And I can’t promise you’ll get everything you want, but I can promise nothing will change if you don’t try.  ― J.M. Darhower, Sempre

From Cat-Nappings to Trusted Travels!

how to get my cat to the vet
King Albert The Grey carefully checking out the cat carrier

Traveling with your cat doesn’t have to be a crazy, stressful experience. It can, and should, be a stress-free even for both of you!  You can take trips together, and you go to the vet when needed, without having to catnap your cat.

Below are some tips and techniques that I have had success with over the years, with wild and domestic felines.  I hope these tips can help you and your feline family members, too!   Please note: this is an abbreviated list. If you would like more detailed help, feel free to contact me.

Your Goal:  Turn the Cat Carrier into a Safe Place.


  • Leave the kennel out weeks prior to transporting your cat to the vet (or any car ride).
  • Better yet, leave the cat kennel out all the time; it looses its “fear factor”. Your cat will start to see it as neutral as the rest of the furniture.
  • Put your cat’s favorite treats, food, catnip, and toys in the crate to help  your cat associate the “scary kidnap machine” as a yummy, fun, safe place!
  • Play games around the cat carrier.
  • Place familiar scents (ones that you know your cat feels safe with) in the kennel. This can be a blanket, your sweater, their bedding, etc.
  • If the sound of the metal carrier door is a fear trigger for your cat, remove the door. You can put it back on after he/she is using as a kitty condo.

Your Goal: Reward Your Cat for Being Near the Carrier


  • Reward your cat when s/he looks at the cat carrier.  Toss treats in her direction when she glances at it!
  • Have a Treat Party and praise her calmly when she walks near it.
  • Offer huge rewards if she peeks her head into the carrier.
  • It’s ok if your cat walks away. You are building up her confidence of just being near the carrier.


Your Goal:  Build Up to *Asking* Your Cat to Go Into the Carrier


  • Reward your cat for walking in, then close the door for a few seconds. Open the door, toss treats, then walk away.  This teaches your cat that you’re not going to slam the door on him and CatNap him/her.
  • Gradually work up to keeping the door closed for longer periods.  Always reward your cat.
  • Your cat will learn that the door closing will open again soon.  This helps cats to feel safe, and not trapped.

Your Goal: Quick Trips


  • Once your cat is feeling safe at this point, and walking in and out of the carrier, you can carry her around the house, then let her out.
  • Remember to reward and praise!
  • Slowly build up to walking outside to the car with your cat in the carrier.  Keep it short and sweet.  Continue using lots of treats and praise.
  • At this stage, you don’t need to even turn on the car, just place the carrier inside the car, offer your cat treats, and see if she’s calm enough to eat.
  • After your cat is feeling comfortable and safe with this stage, you can turn on the car, offer treats, and then turn off the car and end the session.
  • Eventually you can work up to driving down the street, then coming right back home.
  • All of this will involve lots of treats, praise, and patience.

Your Goal:  Go Slow.  Be Patient.  Allow Choices.


  • Cats respond well to slow and steady progress.
  • Cats respond positively to being given choices.
  • Choices create security, safety, and improve their well-being
  • Forcing cats to do anything only creates fear.
  • Fear creates distrust, anxiety, and even health problems.
  • Forcing your cat to do anything they are uncomfortable with breaks down your bond and erodes their trust.
  • Your cat is very sensitive to your energy. Be mindful of this!


You and your cat will make tremendous progress together, and create life long bonds if you can remember these 4 things.

Kitty Tip:  Easy-Traveler has also helped to transform car rides for our cats! I highly recommend it!

Spirit Essences helped Albert and the other cats to relax the entire 10 hour car ride!
Easy Traveler allowed Albert and the other cats to relax and fee safe the entire 10 hour car ride!

 Way down deep, we’re all motivated by the same urges. Cats have the courage to live by them. – Jim Davis

King Albert The Grey enjoying a much needed break out of his kennel to do manly cool cat things. This was at the 7 hour mark of our trip to our new home.
King Albert The Grey enjoying a much needed break out of his kennel to do manly cool cat things. This was at the 7 hour mark of our trip to our new home.

How have you transformed your cat-nappings to safe travels? Please share your tips with us!

Why Training Is Essential

Training is not a luxury, but a key component to good animal care.

Zazous, the rescued Moluccan cockatoo with "Flat Stanley" at the Audubon Zoo
Zazous, the rescued Moluccan cockatoo with “Flat Stanley” at the Audubon Zoo

There are many reasons people choose to train an animal.  Some people train animals to avoid being bitten, attacked, or crushed by them.  Some people train animals to avoid being their next meal.  Some people train animals to make their lives easier when working with them.

Those are a few of the reasons why I started training animals, but over the years I started to appreciate other reasons for training them.

I became dedicated to training animals because we had fun together!  I enjoyed training them because it enhanced our relationship.  I looked forward to training them because it was fun challenge, where everyone would win!   I appreciated training animals because I always learned something new about them.  I became humbled when training animals because they always found a way to “train” me in the process.  Training became one of my favorite forms of communication.  Training became an essential part of my life.  Training was an essential part of their life.

Something else I learned while training animals:  If someone acquired the skills, understood the techniques, and practiced patience, they could do it, too.

I am not special.  I merely took the time to learn the techniques.  I practiced the skills.  I learned patience.  I made mistakes.  And I tried again and again.

That’s why I want to talk with you about training.  You can train animals the force-free way, too!  But before we begin, you have to understand what training really is.

What Is Training?


Training is “teaching”.

When we make a conscious effort to train an animal to display a particular behavior, we are training the animal.  However, sometimes we influence (train) our animal’s behavior inadvertently, without being aware that we are teaching them.  We do this through our actions, or through other stimuli present in their environment.

That’s why it’s so important that we become aware of that fact that we are always training.

Whether you are consciously aware of it or not, you influence what your animal companion learns.  You are their teacher.  As their caretaker, you are teaching the animals that you care for 24 hours a day!  Now ask yourself, what are you teaching them?

When Menari, the Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) was born, we made sure that every interaction she had with us was a positive one. She was gradually exposed to people, places, and things that would help her to feel safe and secure in our human world.

Training is all about associations.

The key to an optimal environment at home (or in captivity) is to assist an animal’s opportunity to make associations that enhance its overall well-being.   Simply put, as their guardians (or caretakers), we help animals to feel more secure, safe, and content in their environment by creating scenarios where the animal feels good about who and what they encounter every day.   As various training methods are being applied to an increasingly diverse number of species, it is important to understand what methods are appropriate (and which are not appropriate).

Dedicated animal trainers teaching one of our giraffe that people = only Good Things!

Training is about building a relationship.

When we are training an animal using positive methods, we are building trust.  Trust is the foundation on which all relationships are built upon.   Positive-based training is one of the best ways to enhance the relationship between a person and an animal, and maintain this trust for a lifetime.  Training increases trust and builds confidence. It builds bonds that last a lifetime!  Training creates a happy, harmonious environment.


Reward-Based Training is how you gain the trust of animals, like our handsome Tapir, named Melon!
Reward-Based Training is how you gain the trust of animals, like our handsome Tapir, named Melon!

Trust is one of the most important aspects of any training plan.  What defines a good relationship between trainer and trainee is a strong positive reinforcement history.


Why Training Is Essential

Training is a key component to an animal’s well being.  Training is the key to safety, harmony, and well-being in our homes!  A home without a well trained, well behaved animal is chaotic and stressful.  Most – if not all – animal behavioral issues can be successfully managed with a formal training plan.  From trips to the vet, to trips to the park, training is at the heart of having these experiences be a positive one for everyone involved.

This Rhino learned through positive training that people are safe, which allowed our zoo guests to interact with her.
This rhino learned through positive training that people are safe, which allowed our guests to interact with her on a daily basis. She could choose if she wanted to interact with them, or not. These same methods of learning can be used on your pets at home!


Animals deserve the best care we can possibly provide. Training should not be considered a luxury that is only provided if there is time; it is an essential part of good animal care.  Just as one would never consider developing an animal care program without a veterinary component, a nutritional component, a social component, and an environmental component; nobody should consider caring for an animal without a behavioral management component integrated into the program. ~ Ken Ramirez


Every year, Ken Ramirez leads a sold-out seminar for students and professionals in the animal training field.  Ken was one of my greatest teachers as I was learning about the science of animal training.  Watch Ken’s interview, as he explains why training is essential, how we are training animals every day- whether we realize it or not, and how the laws of learning work on all species, including people!


We are limited in what we can accomplish because of preconceived notions of what is possible.  When we limit ourselves or our pets, we also limit our view of what is possible.  Of course, there are limits to what we can train.  But sometimes we don’t give our dogs credit for being capable of far more than what we see them do traditionally.  

~Ken Ramirez, Executive Vice President of Animal Care and Animal Training at the world-renowned Shedd Aquarium; Executive Vice President and Chief Training Officer at Karen Pryor Clicker Training (KPCT)

Why Training Your Pet Improves Their Life, and Yours!

In the video below, Ken Ramirez share tips on how to train your own furry friend using the same world-class training and care that endangered species receive in captivity!  He also explains why clickers and “targeting” are helpful when training pets.  Ken demonstrates these techniques with a shelter dog that was once trained for dog fighting.  See how force-free, science-based training has transformed this Fighting Fido into a Canine Companion:

My message would be simple: Training is not a luxury, but a key component to good animal care.  Everyone who has a pet should understand that basic fact.  Training is a way to enhance the quality of life for our pets.  It is far more than just teaching a dog to do a cute trick.  Training is about teaching a dog (or any animal) how to live in our world safely.  ~Ken Ramirez


hocus pocus
Positive, reward-based training has transformed my relationship with Hocus Pocus, and it has helped her to live in our human more safely and securely.


Animal training should be about mutual respect.  The goal is to build a relationship based on trust.  When we build trust while respecting the animal’s individual needs and preferences, we enhance the bond between the animal and the human.  The results improve our life, and the life of our animal companion. ~ Conscious Companion

Coming Up Next:  How Animals Learn – It’s Not an Opinion; It’s Science!

Recommended Reading:

Thinking Beyond the Cue: Ken Ramirez Takes Animal Training to a New Level

Shedd Aquarium Participates in Beluga Conservation Research Program

Try Giving Instead of Taking

There is a very common myth that taking an animal’s food or toys away while they are enjoying them, will teach the animal to allow anyone to come up and take things from them.  This “technique” at best, is usually viewed as an annoyance to the animal, but at worst it can trigger or create defensive behaviors such as resource guarding, growling, and even biting.

Instead of taking food or toys away from an animal, offer Good Things to whatever they are enjoying!

For example, calmly approach a relaxed pet (cat, bird, dog, pig, etc.) when they are eating their food, or chewing on a toy, and add another yummy piece of food, or another irresistible toy to his/her bowl or play area, then walk away.

This teaches your animal companion that approaching humans or brief touches that happen while they are enjoying their valued resource are Good Things!  This technique helps to prevent resource guarding and other defensive or aggressive behaviors. It also helps to build confidence and trust with you, other people, and other pets!

You can see an example of how to do this here:

For it is in giving that we receive. ― Francis of Assisi

Recommended Reading: Myths, Truths, and Tips about Resource Guarding

Related VIDEOS: