Have you ever been somewhere – maybe a room in your house, a store, a public place, or at an event – and you became aware of something in your presence, but long after you arrived there? You thought you could sense (see, feel, know, touch, or taste) all that was in front of you. You were certain you were sensing everything that there was to sense, but then, either someone, something, or you brought your attention to something.
In an instant you saw, felt, or sensed something that you were unaware of.
You had no idea that person or object was there until it came into your awareness. You were so sure that it was not there before! It could not have been! You were so confident that you were aware of everything around you! But there it is. There it was. Right there beside you all along. It was there, but somehow out of your awareness.
This is where our beloveds are.
The ones that passed away. The ones who left without a trace. The ones who left suddenly, tragically, or peacefully. The ones who “left us behind.” The ones who we loved more than anything. The ones who we will always love. The ones who we miss. The ones to whom we said our last goodbye. The ones who love us unconditionally.
They are here with us, just out of our awareness.
Our beloveds have never really left us. And they certainly didn’t leave us behind. For who they are, and who we are can never really be separated from one another. Who they are is spirit eternal. They are Life in the truest sense of the word. Eternally connected to us in life, and after their body’s death. Eternal Light. Always and forever with us.
Wow. How are we already past the midway point of 2017!?
Hello Summer! And hello to you!
It’s been 3 months since I shared here. So much has happened since the last post . After our beloved King Albert transitioned into Spirit, life has been a roller coaster of sorts. Saying goodbye to him was a heartbreaking and familiar path, but this time the path was paved with life-changing insights and experiences. So much love, learning, healing, and growth has happened in the process.
But that’s not what I am sharing with you today.
As I discussed in an earlier post, my life and work is now a blend of science, metaphysics, and spirituality. My last post was a bit of both, and rather lengthy. Today’s post is science-based and short-n-sweet to save us all time. 😉
If your cat is cool with the cacophony of clangs, I commend him. If your dog digs having strangers over with a symphony of explosions, and scary sights and scents, I bow down to her. If your parrot, ferret, pig, or horse is unphased by the big bad booms around their dojo, they are the minority.
Most animal companions are not coolwith the Fourth of July.
If you have worked with or lived with an animal, you know that most are frightened of loud or startling noises. Even the ones who enjoy being around new people can be pushed to their limit. Strangers in your home during the holiday can stress out even the most subdued souls.
Even if your animal companion has not displayed fear around these family events before, the sights, scents, and sounds on The Fourth of July could easily bring out their most intense fears. And these fears don’t pass after the festivities are over; they can manifest as physical issues well after the event.
It can be a living nightmare for many.
💥 So, what’s a devoted animal guardian to do?!? –> BE AWARE. –> PLAN. –> PREPARE.
Here’s the Good News: Family festivities on the 4th of July don’t have to become Fright Night to our animal companions! There are many things that you can do to help your animal family members successfully cope with the Big Bad Booms and Bangs!💥
Let’s Get to Sharing!
Below are resources that I have been sharing like wildfire for weeks on our InstagramTwitter, and Facebook pages. Check em out! And if you have friends, family, or colleagues that would benefit from this information, by all means, share it!
“For it is in giving that we receive.” ― Francis of Assisi
Last weekend, a gifted colleague and I gathered forces to create a live call-in event for families. The intent was to empower people and their pets by sharing tools, tips, and techniques, and also to dispel myths. This event was created to help animal guardians across the country to prepare for the Night of Assault on the Senses.
It was a huge success.
Countless people had NO CLUE that it’s really OK to comfort the animal when they are afraid; how and why food can and should be used as a tool to modify fear; why medication is often very helpful; holistic tools that actually work; how to identify and create safe hide outs; why play is powerful.
All of these topics were new to many.
People were so relieved to learn that they do have the power to help their pets! People learned how and why these tools are vital to having a night that’s fear-free on the 4th of July. During the live event we discussed:
Sight, Scent, Sound, and Tactile senses 101
How & Why we should desensitize them to loud noises NOW
Signs of Stress in parrots, cats, and dogs
How to properly use FOOD to modify fear 🥓✨
Why cats behave certain ways when they feel threatened
What you can provide to help them feel safe and secure
Why “bolt holes” are critical for dogs and cats
Holistic Tools to use
Why you might want to consider contacting your vet now
So that’s some of what’s been on my mind the past couple of weeks, which is why I was motivated to share with you today. I hope this is helpful. And I hope you know that it is possible to have a Fear-Free Fourth of July.
You can do this!
If you have questions or concerns, shoot me an email, or comment below. 🙂
For those of you who are new to this blog, welcome! I am so grateful you are here! For those of you who have been here since the beginning, and for those who are interested, here are some other exciting projects in the works:
I am closer to completing my first children’s book (gah!)
A video series on how to positively leash train cats of all ages & stages via force-free techniques (with an emphasis on senior and geriatric cats!)
Kids-In-Cali Animal Communication workshops
Dog and Kid Safety workshops for our Marines at Camp Pendelton
A video series on assisting aging cats with force-free medical care at home
Connecting with Animals on the Other Side – a complimentary program for pet parents who are struggling with death, loss, and grief
Empaths with Pets: how highly sensitive people can learn from their animal companions
As I am guided I will be sharing more about each of these with you here in the future. In the meantime, check out these free resources so you and your beloveds can have a Fear-Free 4th of July together! 🎉
With infinite Love and Gratitude,
Amy and the animal menagerie🐾
Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family. -Kofi Annan
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.
Hello. I hope this finds you and yours doing very well and at peace. I hope wherever you are in the world you are enjoying the holidays and the changing seasons of life.
You may have noticed that I have been absent in sharing with you for many weeks. Things on our end have been nonstop and challenging, to say the least. I haven’t had time to share here, continue writing my books, or working with clients. I have made a few videos, but in general, all professional work has been on hold.
Since I last shared with you we have had many successes and a few scares. We’ve had three birthdays in the house (woot!), four surgeries, one near-death experience (on a birthday), one reactive rover who trusts again (hallelujah!), funerals for fallen Marines, family and friends visiting, awards ceremonies, best friends battling cancer, and a multitude of other experiences.
But today I am allowing myself to take a break. Today I am choosing to channel my energy into this post in hopes that it will inspire and uplift you. Today I am focusing on something we often forget to focus on: gratitude.
Ever since we moved to California there has been one challenge after another. One struggle after the next. One illness after another. Pain. Heartache. Frustration. Exhaustion.
But that’s not the full story. That’s only part of the picture. There has been much more at play. There is another side to all the stress and strife. The other side of the struggles are at the heart of this post.
Between the physical and emotional struggles there have been miracles and wonder. There’s been growth, expansion, hope, strength, endurance, and bonding. There have been life lessons learned, friendships forged, soul contracts at play, inspiration gained, and new horizons seen. There have been unimaginable success, hard-fought healings, and life-changing growth on every level possible.
And through it all, somehow we have remained in gratitude. We come back to gratitude. And we remain there. Looking above it all, I am in awe.
Each one of the struggles and successes deserve a post in itself. In fact, there will be several chapters dedicated to each of them in the books I am writing. But for now, I will summarize a few of them because not only is there too much to cover in one post, but some stories are not ready to be shared with the world just yet. But they will be one day. I look forward to sharing that with you when the time is right.
Today I want to keep it simple. I want to uplift and inspire. My goal is to redirect our focus. And to see life from a new perspective. Even if it’s merely a glimpse.
Today I will be sharing something from the animal’s perspective.
I took the liberty to share not only what they have shared with me over the years, and what I have learned from them lately, but also what I perceive their truths to be. All of this is centered on their idea of “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
Here in the United States we just wrapped up Thanksgiving. It’s a lovely time of year if you create the time to slow down and enjoy it. I love seeing people smiling, sharing, and caring more this time of year. I love seeing and hearing the words, “grateful”, “gratitude” and “thankful” tossed around like autumn leaves on the breeze. An attitude of gratitude seems to permeate people. It’s really quite beautiful.
But then it leaves.
Just as the vibrantly colored leaves float to the ground, briefly rest on the Earth and quickly dance off into the horizon, so too goes our gratitude.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Gratitude can be an attitude that we embody during the most challenging times. Gratitude can be a cloak in which we cover a tired body. Gratitude can be the breeze we choose to ride. It can be the wind we set our sails to while riding the rocky seas. Gratitude can sooth the most exhausted mind. It can heal a broken heart. It can change your world. And it can radically change the world of our animal family members.
But we have to choose it.
Gratitude is not a gift. It is not reserved for the elite, the special, or the few. It is who we are. It is who you are without all of the other thoughts, beliefs and judgments. Gratitude, like Love is always only a thought away.
I am reminded of this during every struggle. In fact, I am reminded of Gratitude when I look at how the animals move through their lives. I am reminded of the power of gratitude when I see them shine; when their light is brightest even when there is a dark cloud above them. I am reminded of gratitude when they outshine me.
It’s as if all the world could be falling apart, but they somehow remain grateful in their heart. They rise above it. They see beyond temporary, fleeting circumstances. They know that this too, shall pass. They know more than we realize and gratitude is their guide.
“Just an observation: it is impossible to be both grateful and depressed. Those with a grateful mindset tend to see the message in the mess. And even though life may knock them down, the grateful find reasons, if even small ones, to get up.” ― Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free
Gratitude as a Gift
I started thinking about how gratitude has pulled me out of my darkest depressions and my most intense anxieties over the years. Gratitude has transformed boredom, frustration, fear, and anger into hope, trust, and joy. I thought about how much there is to be grateful for, even during the darkest hour. I thought about how gratitude has been a driving force pushing me through the past few months.
Then I thought about our animal family members. I wondered what they might be grateful for this year. I wondered how gratitude played into their perspective. I wanted to really look into what they were thankful for, without stepping into the quicksand of anthropomorphism. I wondered what they would say “Thank you” for every day.
What I discovered wasn’t a surprise; these aspects are all part of their journey and the story of their lives. If the animals were to say “thanks” for the circumstances and gifts in their lives, their lists might include these:
The ability to let go
Hide and seek games
Seeing the world through innocence
Seeing our people become stronger and fearless
Meals tailored to our individual needs
Foraging and hunting opportunities
Sharing our people’s bed
Knowing this world is temporary; a place away from our real Home.
Energy healing sessions
Living a force-free way of life
Being silly and goofy
Food used as a tool
Soul contracts being honored
Unexpected car rides in the Adventure Box
The ability to choose
Meeting nice people out and about
Seeing my people happy and healthy
Getting permission to roll in smelly goodness
Watching our person learning to let go
Communicating on a new level
Smelling the scents on the breeze
Our person learning how hidden emotions affect us
Teaching our people new life lessons
Knowing that our people are doing the best they can
Watching each other grow
Feeling the sun on our fur and face
Aging with dignity and grace
Unlikely friendships forged through trust
Force-free medical care at home
Bonds that never break
Being seen as an individual
Polite play dates
Being listened to and heard
A loving home
Being near the one you love
Being loved for who I Am
…Those were just a few of their “thanks” that came to mind. These are a merely a snippet of what I have been honored to learn from them. I am grateful. I am humbled. I am honored. And I am grateful for each of them.
Teachers. Gifts. Angels. Lights in the dark. That is what they are to me. This is some of what I am grateful for each day. This is what I will focus on as we move through this life together. This is what I will remember when things get hard. When life is rough. I will remember these things and I will share their gratitude.
Our gratitude won’t end now that Thanksgiving has come and gone. Our gratitude will last. It will be within us 365 days a year. And as we grow gratitude, we will pass it on to others. If you’re interested I made a quick video about this. You can view it here.
What do you believe your animal companions are grateful for? What are the gifts in their lives? What supports their attitude of gratitude? What would be on their “thankful for” list?
Before I go, I would also like to share that I am grateful for you. Thank you for being here. Thank you being a part of this community. Thank you for reading, staying inspired, and for being willing to stay in an attitude of gratitude every moment of the day.
From our family to yours,
Much love and light
“If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.” ― Meister Eckhart
“Fall has always been my favorite season. The time when everything bursts with its last beauty, as if nature had been saving up all year for the grand finale.” ― Lauren DeStefano, Wither
Blessings! I hope this find you and yours well.
I am so very, very happy today. The winds of change are blowing. The Autumn Equinox is finally here!
It. Is. Now. Fall. 🍁✨🍂
Here on the west coast we are enjoying a crisp, cool breeze coming off the ocean, with sunny skies hovering around seventy degrees. Although there are no colorful changing leaves denoting Fall is here, I am in heaven. Autumn is my season. Fall makes my heart sing and lights a spark inside of me. No matter where we are living I look forward to Autumn all year long.
If you have been following this blog since it began in 2012 then you know my focus usually surrounds nature and animal companions, but every so often I allow the energy of the season inspire me. The current energy is Autumn, so this is is where we will let the winds blow us today.
Although most of us associate Autumn with cooler weather, dancing fires, cozy snuggles, seasonal drinks, squash, scarecrows, pumpkins, and spice in all slices of life, there is another side to Autumn. -One that permeates the world we live in. It affects us all; plants, animals, and people.
Note: This was written in 2016, so the dates & times of the Equinox have changed.
The Energy of The Equinox Around the World
The Autumnal Equinox arrives precisely at 10:21 a.m. (EST) today (Thursday, September 22). Unlike an event such as New Year’s midnight, a time that follows the clock around the time zones, equinoxes happen at the same moment everywhere all around the world!
“Equinox” comes from the Latin words “equi” meaning “equal” and “nox” meaning “night.” On the Equinox the hours of light and dark are equal. But because of atmospheric refraction the light is bent which makes it appear as if the sun is rising or setting earlier. Technically September 25 marks “equal day and night” -sunrise will be at 6:47 a.m. EDT and sunset at 6:47 p.m. This day is known as the Equilux “Lux” is Latin for “light”. During this time of year the light and dark are now in balance. This time represents a shift in the seasons, and a time where the energy of the Sun and Moon are in complete balance.
The autumnal equinox happens the moment the sun crosses the celestial equator, which is an imaginary line in the sky that corresponds to Earth’s equator. The Old Farmer’s Almanac describes it as a plane of Earth’s equator projected out onto the sphere. Every year this occurs on September 22, 23, or 24 in the northern hemisphere.
There are two equinoxes annually; vernal and autumnal, each marking the beginning of spring and fall. Those in the Northern Hemisphere are now in the season of Autumn. Those in the Southern Hemisphere are in the season of Spring. In the Northern Hemisphere, many tree species are getting ready to shed their leaves; letting go of the old and unnecessary parts of themselves in order to prepare for winter. In the Southern Hemisphere flower buds are beginning to bloom. Greenery is returning after the long winter. Here in the northern hemisphere, from today onward, the days get shorter until the winter solstice arrives in December.
A Bit of Background About Autumn
Long before White Contact spread like wildfire across the “New World” my ancestors had a huge celebration for Autumn. Cherokee and other first nations referred to it as Harvest Time. During the height of harvesting and gathering there were great celebrations of thanks. This included music, song, dance, gifting, and feasting. The celebrations lasted around a week. Sometimes longer. The community had drumming sessions where they honored all walks of life: water, birds, Mother Earth, snakes, wind (willow trees), and rabbits. All of these represent the Equinox. It was a celebration of the “West” -The “direction” of Autumn. They tribe would perform a smudging ceremony to cleanse and purify, and then use sweetgrass to bring in the “sweetness” of community and of the new season.
September also held the corn harvest, which was referred to as “Ripe Corn Festival”. It was customarily held in the early part of the Nut Moon (Duliidsdi) to acknowledge Selu, the spirit of the corn. Selu is thought of as First Woman. This festival respected Mother Earth and gave thanks for providing all foods during the growing season. The “Brush Feast Festival” also customarily takes place in this season. All the fruits and nuts of the bushes and trees of the forest were gathered as this time. Hunting traditionally began in earnest at this time. October was a time of traditional “Harvest Festival” (the Nowatequa) when Cherokee people give thanks to all the living things of the fields and earth that helped them live, and to the “Apportioner”, Unethlana. The Cheno i-equa or “Great Moon” Festival is customarily held at this time.
There are many legends surrounding Autumn. I will share just a few with you. As I mentioned above, Selu, the spirit of corn was honored at this time. She represents the harvest, weather, and growth. The legend states that this Native American corn Goddess planted her very heart so people wouldn’t go hungry. The legend tells that her spirit teaches us how to re-fertilize the earth to bring sustenance to all.
Another legend tells the story of how leaves turned red. A battle was fought by the Deer and the Bear in the land of the sky. The colors in the leaves are a result of the blood of the Bear thrown down from the sky upon the trees in the autumn. You can read the fascinating Wyandot (Huron) Legend: “Why the Leaves Have Many Colors in Autumn” here.Another legend of why the leaves turn red in Autumn can be found in the story, “Chasing the Great Bear.”
According to Greek legend, autumn beings when Persephone returns to Hades in the underworld. Heartbroken, her mother, the goddess of grain and harvest, allows the crops on Earth to die until her daughter returns in the spring. The word “harvest” comes from the Old Norse word haust, which means “to gather or pluck.” As people moved to the cities, “harvest” fell out of use and city dwellers began to use “fall of the leaf,” which was shortened to “fall.”
What’s In The Name?
Etymologists are unsure of the origin of the word “autumn,” though they believe it comes from the ancient Etruscan root autu, which implies a change of season. In this scenario, the Romans then appropriated the term and formed the Latin word autumnus. Americans typically use the word “fall”. The British use the word “autumn”. Both terms date around the 16th century. Before these terms this period was called “harvest.”
The Autumnal Equinox is also called the Fall Equinox, the Second Harvest Festival, Festival of Dionysus, Wine Harvest, Cornucopia, and Winter Finding. Ancient people celebrated each change of the seasons, knowing that nature’s changes outside correspond to inner changes as well. Autumn is now associated with Halloween – a day greatly influenced by Samhain, a sacred Celtic autumn festival.
Autumn’s Effects on Plants and Animals
Humans are not the only ones affected as we shift from Summer to Autumn. Animals and plants respond to the changes in light surrounding the season of autumn. At this time, in response to cooler temperatures and less available light, leaves stop producing chlorophyll. This green pigment assists with capturing sunlight to power photosynthesis. As the green fades the other pigments of the leaves shine through. This why we see orange and yellow carotenoids and vibrant red anthocyanin.
Plant cells produce compounds called phytochromes in response to different portions of the light spectrum. During late fall and early winter, when the sun remains low in the southern sky, the indirect light produces an increase in far-red phytochromes. The ratio of these two compounds mediates the hormones involved in flowering, leaf drop, and bud development. Even seeds below the soil are affected. Even the amount of red and far-red light that penetrate the soil is sufficient to govern germination.
To the untrained eye Autumn appears to solely represent a season of leaves changing, but there is much more happening now. In addition to the energy shift of the season, there are massive ecological changes occurring. Thankfully, attention and enthusiasm for examining the ecological effects of climate change on autumn is rapidly increasing.
Each autumn, many animals experience gonadal recrudescence, or behavior in response to environmental cues (e.g., daylight). Specifically, in early fall, the amount of available daylight, or photoperiod, matches the photoperiod in spring, which triggers mating instincts in animals.
Each autumn, monarch butterflies migrate from the U.S. to Mexico and some parts of Southern California. Monarch butterflies are the only insect that migrates to a warmer climate that is 2,500 miles away. Thanks to the milkweed I brought into our yard we have dozens of Monarchs hatching out of their chrysalises! You can view them in action here.
In autumn the male Siberian hamster’s testes swell up to 17 times bigger than normal to prepare for mating. And every Fall the black-capped chickadee’s tiny hippocampus enlarges by 30%, which enables it to remember where it collected seeds in different spots in trees and on the ground. How cool is that?!?
There is evidence that song birds living near sources of artificial light begin singing to attract mates, as well as laying eggs, earlier in the spring than their counterparts in places that remain dark at night. Migratory birds are a great example. Dark-eyed Junco nesting in northern Canada respond to the shortened days of summer with a series of physical changes: their reproductive organs become inactive. They shrink in size, and hormones stimulate the rapid growth of a new set of feathers (non-breeding plumage), and fat deposits develop to provide fuel for the long migratory flight ahead. So amazing!
Some even say that levels of testosterone in both men and women are at their highest in the fall. Scientists speculate the surge may be a result of ancient mating instincts -the fall “rutting season” or that decreasing daylight somehow triggers it. Who knows. I am not sure we need any more testosterone in the world right now. 😉
Regardless of whether you are a lover of nature, science, energy, or animals, we all have the opportunity to learn so much from Mother Nature as she is beautifully in sync with the natural rhythm of the energetic shifts of the changing seasons.
Ancient Chinese medicine teaches the importance of elements within each season. The season of autumn is associated with the element of Metal, which governs organization, order, communication, the mind, setting limits, and protecting boundaries. This time is a great time to finish projects you began in spring and summer – harvesting the bounty of your hard work! Fall is a time of organizing your life for the winter season ahead and coming more inside your body and mind to reflect on your life.
The lung and large intestine are the internal organs related to Fall and the element of Metal (or air) in both pets and people. Lung is associated with the emotion of “letting go.” Sleep is another important aspect of staying healthy in the Fall. The ancients advised that people should retire early at night and rise with the crowing of the rooster during the autumn. I might have a full-on freak out if I had to rise to the sound of a crowing cock, but you get the idea. They are suggesting we do as many plants and animals do; rise and rest with the sun.
Now matter where we are, or what species we are, the equinox is symbolic of change. We are all connected to each other and to Mother Earth. So when seasonal changes occur in nature, many can feel these changes resonating within. These changes will be reflected in our own vibration and we may find that our energies begin syncing up with that of Mother Earth.
Energy of Autumn
This Autumn equinox will bring about a number of changes around the world in both people and nature. This time of year marks the annual beginning of a series of transformations that take place not only in nature, time, and space, but also within each of us, and our animal companions! We will all experience the autumnal shift in both our conscious and subconscious. For some it will be monumental; for others it will be barely noticeable.
Regardless of how you experience them, the changes are here.
The Equinox comes at a time when the Sun will shift into the energy of Libra. Libra represents a highly creative time where beauty, joy, and aesthetics are highlighted. Libra is also all about partnerships and being able to balance energies. Libra is the sign of balanced scales. As we experience equal day and night there are “balanced scales in the sky” Heaven and Earth. Equality and Balance on many levels.
Libra is recognizing the objective identity of the other person and seeing how they can fit together as a team. Scorpio is seeing into the emotional depths of those they are relating to and seek kindred souls they can bond with. Sagittarius responds to the urge to uplift society and thus the emphasis is on reaching into the loftier realms of religion, philosophy and law. They feel drawn to help raise people’s spirits though helpful deeds, a joyous and trusting nature, and an interest in spirituality, culture and the arts. Thus the Fall Equinox ushers in the Autumn months – a time for reaping what has been sown individually and joining with others as a team to bring in the harvest and enjoy it together!
This Equinox is a reminder that we all change and that transformation is natural and a normal part of life. If the trees resisted the shedding process, they would not be prepared for what is to come. If the flower resisted to bloom, she would never know the fullness of heir own beauty. She would hide from the sun; the light that allows her to grow and bloom.
The Symbolism of Seasons Changing
We have so much to learn from nature, and from the changing of seasons. Animals and nature know how to flow with these winds of change. It’s instinctual. But we humans tend to resist change. But we can learn how to learn from nature.
Release. Clarity. Creativity. Balance. These are the major themes of Autumn this year. This is a time when we can learn to trust that whatever we release is meant to go. We will gain clarity. Whatever we feel called to create will bloom. We are guided to balance all aspects within ourselves and in our lives. As the light and darkness of autumn days become in balance we can become attuned to the dark and the light within ourselves. We can create balance in every aspect of our life.
With the energy of Chrion and the Sun in Libra, we are being guided to remember: regardless of the form we are all one in the same. This energy is helping us to heal cultural and deep-seeded wounds we all have around our connections with “others.” The energy is here now to help us see the truth: Our differences are just an illusion. Deep down, we are all connected; We Are One.
The winds of change are preparing us for what is ahead. Allow the Autumn winds to lift and carry you forward. Harvest what you want to reap. Release what no longer serves. -There is much to embrace and much to let go. As the ancient poet Rumi said, “Life is a balance between holding on and letting go.”
This is Autumn.
May this season bring you and yours all that your heart desires. May the changing of the season inspire you. May you find time to play in nature. Dance with the wind. Embrace the energy of autumn. She has so much to offer us all.🍁🍂 🍁✨🍂
“Is not this a true autumn day? Just the still melancholy that I love – that makes life and nature harmonize. The birds are consulting about their migrations, the trees are putting on the hectic or the pallid hues of decay, and begin to strew the ground, that one’s very footsteps may not disturb the repose of earth and air, while they give us a scent that is a perfect anodyne to the restless spirit. Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.”
[Letter to Miss Eliot, Oct. 1, 1841] ― George Eliot
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.
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:
-behavior and cognition
-inhibition of prolactin production
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.
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.
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 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:
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,
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