“Dog Days” of Summer!

sirius-a-and-b

“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.”

― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Hello, Bright Light!

I hope this finds you well in every way.  And I hope you are finding ways to stay cool and beat the summer heat while helping our animal friends to do the same! 

I have not shared with you on this blog in FOUR months! We’ve had a lot on our plate since my last post.  But today I am very excited about something in the skies, so I am making time to share.

This will be a short post because we are still unpacking and getting settled after our PCS (Big Move) from the west coast to the east coast!  Since we are still in the swing of Summertime, I thought this would be fun to share with you. I hope it inspires you!


Did you know … ?

The expression “dog days of summer” was not originally referring to the oppressive heat and laying around like a tired dog in the summer.  It actually refers to the period from July 3 through Aug. 15 when the “dog star”, Sirius, holds a most prominent position in the nightsky!  Sirius is nicknamed the “Dog Star” because it is part of the constellation Canis Major, which is Latin for “the greater dog.” Eventually the phrase “dog days” was poorly translated from Latin to English about 500 years ago; taking on a new meaning.

 

dog days of summer _Canis Major_Constellations

 


The History of Sirius 

For centuries, the effect of Sirius’ light with the combination of our Sun’s energy was understood to have an effect on all life on Earth.  In Egypt, Sirius’ return to the night sky became a precursor to the annual flooding of the Nile, and was associated with the goddess Sopdet.  In Greece, the sighting of Sirius was the precursor to their hot summer and thunderstorms.

 

dog days of summer_dog and rabbit_ancient greeks_sirius Star
The ancient Greeks saw the constellation Canis Major as a dog chasing Lepus, the hare. The star Sirius is the dog’s nose; the Greeks called it the “dog star.”

 

Today, this star is still considered powerful to life on planet Earth.  Sirius, located in the Canis Major constellation, can be considered directly ‘upstream’ from our solar system in a cosmic sense that refers to its relative position in the Milky Way galaxy.  A highly-charged stellar field, it is said to be currently bringing in high-end electromagnetic currents into our solar system, affecting the solar activity and planetary vibrations of every celestial being on Earth. It’s also known to be directly involved in the 8/8 Gateway that we are all  currently in now.

sirius (1)
Photo By: H.E. Bond, E. Nelan, M. Burleigh, J.B. Holberg, STScI, NASA


Bright Lights

When stars reach the end of their evolution, smaller stars—those up to eight times as massive as our own sun— become “white dwarfs.”  These ancient stars are incredibly dense; a mere teaspoonful of their matter would weigh as much as an elephant.

Sirius A Sirius B
This picture is an artist’s impression showing how the binary star system of Sirius A and its diminutive blue companion, Sirius B, might appear to an interstellar visitor.

 

Even as a dwarf star, Sirius is the brightest star in the night sky,  even though it’s 8.8 light-years away from Earth!  The Sirius system is the fifth known closest stellar system.  Sirius observes a period of almost exactly 365¼ days between risings.  Although this incredible star continues to return to the night sky in late summer, its position continues to gradually shift relative to the Sun.  Several millennia from now, this astrological event won’t even occur during the summer.  Roughly 13,000 years from now, Sirius will be rising with the sun in mid-winter. Scientists say that in 26,000 years, the dog days will completely move all around the sky.

df2cabb812e94ce96f494a5da4ee1939

Stars like our sun fuse hydrogen in their cores into helium. White dwarfs are stars that have burned up all of the hydrogen they once used as nuclear fuel.  Fusion in a star’s core produces heat and outward pressure, but this pressure is kept in balance by the inward push of gravity generated by a star’s mass. When the hydrogen used as fuel vanishes, and fusion slows, gravity causes the star to collapse in on itself.

Sirius
Sirius B is the nearest known white dwarf star to Earth.

 


How to Locate Sirius in the Night sky:

Have you noticed a very bright, twinkling star in the predawn/dawn sky?  That star is Sirius.  It’s so bright that, when it’s low in the sky, it shines with glints of red and flashes of blue!  Sirius is highly visible in the Northern Hemisphere night sky because it has a high relative luminosity to other stars, and it’s relatively close to Earth.   If the star were placed next to Earth’s sun, Sirius would outshine our sun more than 20 times.  To find Sirius, use the belt of Orion as a pointer.  The three stars point downward toward Sirius to the left.

11aug25_430.jpg
Orion the Hunter and Sirius the Dog Star.

 

The very noticeable constellation Orion the Hunter rises before dawn at this time of year, recognizable for the short straight line of three stars that make up Orion’s Belt. And the sky’s brightest star Sirius – sometimes called the Dog Star because it’s part of the constellation Canis Major the Greater Dog – follows Orion into the sky as the predawn darkness gives way to dawn.

Orion and the nearby star Sirius will become visible in the evening by northern winter (or southern summer). But presently the Hunter and the Dog Star lord over the southeastern sky at dawn’s first light.

VY-CMa-wide1-358x400

 


Simple Stargazing

If you are into the stars and the night sky, I highly recommend getting the Sky Guide App.   I wish I had this as a kid.  I used to lug my huge telescope around the neighborhood at night. This is much easier! 😀  It is So Cool to see constellations so clearly on your phone!  And the Sky Guide automatically adjusts to your viewing direction so you can easily identify stars, planets, constellations and so much more! You can see a demo here.

canis-major-e1533838382893.png
a screenshot of Sirius in the constellation of Canis Major from my iphone

 


Must-See Meteor Shower!

Also, if you were not aware, the 2018 Perseid meteor shower peaks this weekend.  The upcoming new moon on August 11 guarantees darker nights, so it’ll be easier to see.  The Perseid meteors tend to be bright enough to be seen in suburban skies. Sky Guides are saying the mornings of August 12 and 13 are best for viewing,  but August 10 and 11 will be good, too.  Check out these tips for watching 2018’s Perseid meteors!

 

perseids-en-2018


Stellar Sights!

I know this a switch-up from my usual posts about animal behavior, training, and enrichment, but this is no less important.  I have discovered that when we allow wonder to permeate our being, this sense of wonder and awe flows into all other areas of our life.  When we choose to see life through the eyes of a child, filled with wonder and awe, transformations occur.  When we set out to see new sights, our perceptions change. If we are willing to see things differently, we change, as does the world around us.

I hope that you will create space to view the beauty of space with your beloved animal companions.  May the nightsky and the bright lights within it remind you of the Light within you and your animal companions.

Blessings to you and your beloveds! And Happy Summertime!

“The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.” ― Carl Sagan, Cosmos


 

 

 

Day of The Dead Celebrating Life!

Dia de los Muertos_Day of the Dead

“Life is eternal, and love is immortal, and death is only a horizon;and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight.”

~Rossiter Worthington Raymond


Hello beloveds, and hello November!

Wow, we are 2 months away from 2018!  How can this be??  So much has happened in our individual worlds and around the world in such a short period of time.  Speaking of time, let’s get to it!

The Day of the Dead is here.

Before you get all freaked out, please hear me out.  This period of time we find ourselves in is a very sacred one to many cultures around the world.  But the topic of “death” is not a favorite topic to many.  I used to be one of these people.  Discussing the details of death was something I dreaded, feared, and hated.  The idea of “death” was truly the most dreaded thing to me.

Now I know better.


If you have been following this blog you know that as an Intuitive Empath and a science-geek, I do my best to lived a balanced life.  I navigate both the metaphysical and physical worlds.  I have to; they are both integral to a healthy, happy, harmonious life and home – for me at least – because this is what I know.

And if you have been reading my posts, you know that we recently said goodbye to one of our beloveds of 17 years.  In the past this kind of death would have broken me.  I would have sunk into a deep depression and stayed there.

But now I celebrate him and his new Life.

King Albert the Grey_Conscious Companion_copyright_Amy Martin


Our Beloveds Are … Always.

If I could give a gift to anyone who had their world torn apart, or their heartbroken from loosing a beloved, I would shown them what I have seen, felt, and learned over the years.  I would give them the gift of knowing that there is no death; there is only an extension of consciousness.  I would give them the gift that would let them know that the ones who left “too soon”, the ones whom we had to say goodbye are not gone.

They are not dead.

They are very much alive, but in a new form.  A better form. An expanded, healed and complete form.  At peace. And assisting us.

My family’s Cherokee teachings touch on this sensitive topic.  Below is a traditional Cherokee story that explains:

He held the little seeds in his hand and let them scatter to the wind and he said, “We are Cherokee, but we are also man … and within us is the Spirit.  Our bodies may fall to the ground, but nothing real is ever lost.  Who can pick up a seed and see the tree or the stalk that is sleeping inside, waiting for the right time to burst forth … and who can look at a man and see the Great Spirit and the Sacred Self that grows within?  It is there, waiting for the right time to manifest and grow.  You are a seed.  What lies within you?  What will your Spirit do for The People?”

In the book  I will share more on this subject.  But for now, let’s look at something happening all around the world that serves to honor this very Truth.


 

Day of the dead_pets (2)

 

Today is Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)! This is a holiday that began on Tuesday, October 31 and ends on Thursday, November 2.  It is a time of celebration for many!  It is a time to connect with, and honor loved ones in Spirit.  Although most strongly identified with Mexico, Dia de los Muertos is celebrated throughout Latin America and everywhere with a Latino population, including here in  California!

Here’s an easy rundown:

  • Day of the Dead: a holiday celebrated throughout Mexico, in particular the Central and South regions, and by people of Mexican ancestry living in other places, especially the United States.
  • Ends: November 2
  • Starts: October 31
  • Observed by: Mexico, and regions around the globe with large Hispanic populations
  • Significance: Prayer and remembrance of friends and family members who have died
  • Related to: All Saints’ Day
  • Celebrations: Creation of altars to remember the dead, and offer traditional Day of the Dead’s food and drink
31640
Part of Dia de los Muertos often involves cleaning and decorating the graves of loved ones. Adult graves are marked with orange marigolds, while white orchids are left at children’s graves.

Day of the Dead follows a similar two-day structure (and occupies the same two days of the calendar year, Nov. 1 and 2nd), but the focus is different. On the first day, families remember children who have died, and on the second, the adults.  Assured that the dead would be insulted by mourning or sadness, Dia de los Muertos celebrates the lives of the deceased with food, drink, parties, and activities the dead enjoyed in life. Dia de los Muertos recognizes death as a natural part of the human experience, a continuum with birth, childhood, and growing up to become a contributing member of the community. On Dia de los Muertos, the dead are also a part of the community, awakened from their eternal sleep to share celebrations with their loved ones.

Day Of The Dead Parade Mexico City 2016

The central belief these celebrations are based is that the spirits of loved ones join the living on these days and openly commune with them.  Families leave toys and calaveras (the iconic skull — made from sugar that inspires the makeup) for children.  They leave food, favorite possessions, and other gifts for the adults at elaborate homemade altars called “ofrendas.” You can read more about all of this here.

31642

Dia de los Muertos is a happy holiday filled with bright colors, candles, food, and cheer! It’s a time for families to gather together and remember and honor those who have left this physical earth.  Dia de los Muertos honors the innocent children and companion animals, too!  The people and pets who have passed on are remembered, cherished, honored, and celebrated with love and joy.

day of the dead_Conscious Companion_cats
A Dia de los Muertos decor that we displayed in honor of our beloved Samantha after she transitioned. We bring it out every year now!

Our Day Of The Dead “Door Knock”

Something happened to me on this very day, back in November of 2014.  This something was quite startling; it was a knock at my “door” when I was finally ready to hear it and open the door.

After returning home from our Make A Wish class, I put away all of the Halloween decor outside.  I was going to start on the inside decor next but decided to wait.  Afterward we were chilling on the couch about to watch a movie/snooze, when out of the blue, I watched our two glass pumpkins on this table turn ON by themselves.  First the white one, then the green one.  Someone was trying to get my attention.

After a bit of “ethereal investigating” we discovered it was my grandmother.  She had reached out to me, to give our family a very powerful, healing message.  More on that later 😉  But it was her “knock” on The Day of The Dead that got my attention. When grandmother knocked, and I chose to set fear of the unknown aside, she showed me a new world.  I have always been “open”, but grandmother’s knock invited me to stay open.

Our loved ones desperately want to stay connect to us, in this physical world. They are our guardians now.  They want us to know this.  Our beloveds behind the veil want to connect with us, support us, and offer nothing but unconditional love.  These messages continue to come through to this day; both from furry family members, and the human ones! They are always messages of hope, love, peace, joy, and frankly, FUN.

Conscious Companion_Amy Martin _copyright
My beloved grandmother knew how to get my attention that day!

The Veil is Thinning.

The veil between this world and others is thinning, unlike never before.  But this is nothing to fear.  The “veil” is the ethereal curtain that, unfortunately, sets the scene for the mass belief in illusions such as separateness, limitations, and death.  Fortunately, quantum theory, ancient mysticism, and new research into the mysteries of consciousness shows that everything is connected, that We Are One, and that consciousness exists beyond the physical body, and that the potential of the universe and many worlds within it is limitless and just waiting for us to tune into it.

The Veil Is Lifting.

The time to “tap in” is now because our guides behind the veil are tapping on our shoulders. Now.  This thinning of the veil allows helpful influences “on the other side” become more available than ever before.  With the intense energies “upgrades” we’ve been powering through, our extrasensory abilities are allowing more people to tune into the world beyond our physical one.


Out of Sight, but Not Mind

Our beloveds who have passed on, our spiritual guides who assist in our growth, our spirit animals, and the magical bounty of angels and ascended masters are there. These divine beings are always with us, but now in ways never possible before. Just because they may be out of your sight, does not mean that you are out of their mind.

Their love has not left us.
Their love is true.
This love lasts forever.

“True love is like ghosts, which everybody talks about and few have seen.”

― François de La Rochefoucauld

True love_ghost quotes_

Create Time to Connect

This is such a beautiful and powerful time to honor loved ones that have passed on, and to connect with your ancestral guides.  The Day of the Dead is not limited to people.  It is also a time to celebrate the lives of our fury, scaly, and feathered animal companions who are just beyond this world at some call “the rainbow bridge.” – more on that topic later. 😉

As we enter into this sacred, special time I encourage you to create quiet time to Just Be, and to allow your mind to become still.  Allow your loved ones just beyond the veil to come to you, surround you with love and support.  Allow yourself to see through the illusion of death, and know that they are life everlasting, at peace, and always by your side when you call on them.

Think of them.

Honor them.

Remember them.

Call on them.

💫✨💫
Blessed Dia de los Muertos.
💫✨💫


Think of me
Think of me fondly
When we’ve said goodbye.

Remember me
Once in a while
Please promise me you’ll try.

When you find
That once again you long
To take your heart back and be free
If you ever find a moment
Spare a thought for me

We never said our love was evergreen
Or as unchanging as the sea
But if you can still remember
Stop and think of me.

Think of all the things we’ve shared and seen
Don’t think about the way things might have been.

Think of me
Think of me waking
Silent and resigned
Imagine me
Trying too hard
To put you from my mind.

Recall those days
Look back on all those times
Think of the things we’ll never do
There will never be a day
When I won’t think of you.

-“Think of Me”,  Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera


 

  • You can learn more about our Beloveds Behind the Veil here & here

Just Out of Our Awareness

Afterlife_pets_there is no death_horse_dogs_pet death
Saatchi Art, Subversion II

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.

But just out of our awareness.


You Can Listen to “Just Out of Our Awareness ” on our podcast here: https://www.buzzsprout.com/316208/1116674-just-out-of-our-awareness


Learn more at:

A Fear-Free 4th?

“Fear is a stranger to the ways of love.

 – A Course In Miracles

Sunset_california_Fourth of July_pets_fear-free
A Peaceful Sunset Near Our Home

Happy July!

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. 😉

Let’s get to it!

The fourth of July (and Canada Day) are almost here.  If you have been following this blog since the get-go ,  you know that I write about this dreaded day at great length.  The 4th of July is a favorite day of celebration for many people, but let’s be honest:  It’s a day of terror for many animals.  The Fourth of July might as well be renamed “4th of July Fright Night”.

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 cool with 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 Instagram Twitter, 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
  • How your energy affects your animal companions
  • Why Acepromazine should NOT be used
  • Why we SHOULD comfort the animal when they are afraid
  • How enrichment activities calm the mind
  • Why we want to Dial UP the Dopamine
  • How to prepare your home for safety & security
  • Why we need to create an “Energy Hangover” environment  after the 4th to prevent trigger stacking

 

Pets_cats_Senior cats-4th of july_pets fireworks_fear free_Conscious Companion
Identifying AND providing “safe places” and “bolt holes” is essential!

If you missed the live event, you can listen to the replay:

✳  via Dropbox
✳ via Free Conference call

 

 

After the call,  I complied a list of Positive Resources for Animal Guardians.  The intent was to provide free resources to help families across the country to have a Fear-Free 4th. If you are interested, you are welcome to  download the PDF and share it with others.

Conscious_Companion_Giving quotes_parrot Training_parrot behavior_Giving tuesday


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. 🙂

Good Vibes Only_Conscious Companion


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

ocean waves
Carlsbad Beach

Dial Up the Dopamine!

feeling-good

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

~Nina Simone


 

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

 


The Chemical of Feeling Good

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

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

One of these is Dopamine.

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


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

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

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

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

But so is food. 


Needed Nutrients from Food

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

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

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

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

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


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


Using Food to Feel Better

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

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

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

What if we used food when they were afraid?

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

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

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

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

What if food you knew that food was this powerful?

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

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

BOOMER


The Power of Food

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

FOOD IS A TOOL.

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

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

 

conscious companion_food in training_dopamine


When To Use Food

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

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

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

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

 

Food and Fear_cats


Food to Use

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

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


Pay me in food, human!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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


The Dope Rewards

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

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


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

Dopamine-and-addiction-relapse22

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

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

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

The results are fascinating!

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

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

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

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

I have hope for us all!

 


 More To Come!

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

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


 

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

Nina Simone

The Never Ending (Moving) Story

“When efforts that are wisely executed, the situation and condition don’t affect the performance.” ― A.Patel

road-trip with pets
The long road less traveled on our Big Move with the Animal Menagerie

We have arrived in California!  Finally.  1.1 humans, 3.0 felines, 0.1 canine, 0.0.8 plants, and 0.0.2 vehicles  made it safely from the east coast to the west coast!  It only took us a MONTH to move out of our home in VA, drive across the country, and move into our home here in Cali, but we are here. And everyone is doing very well.

We must have had Falkor with us in spirit on our move out here because we had a lot of luck, magic, and miracles along the road less traveled.  We also had a lot of patience, gratitude, and very successful animal menagerie management tools and techniques at play.

unnamed (10)

 

This is going to be a quick post, because we have been going nonstop since we got here, and we still have much more to do.  But I wanted to at least update my readers because you are dear to me.  Plus with all that is going down in the world, I wanted to share some Love Light.


I Proved Myself Wrong – In the Best Way Possible

I don’t like to prove others (or myself) wrong, but here goes.  Do you remember how scared I was about the move?  Did you read the post about how I was allowing ALL my fears to take over all of my perceptions of what would happen?  Well, that was a huge waste of energy. None of that happened.

But some other major mishaps did happen.

Here’s the abbreviated Bad News from our laborious move out West:

  • The moving company packed up our household goods (everything) out of our home, then moved it all into storage (unbeknownst to us for several weeks).
  • I lost my voice on Day One of The Drive. Then that evening I had full blown flu-like symptoms.
  • Knox Zydeco decided that riding in a car was no longer an option for him anymore. In fact, it was one of the most terrifying experiences of his life (We discovered this within minutes of leaving our temporary hotel in VA and setting out on the road.)
  • Albert managed to escape from a 4 inch gap in my car window and walk around my family’s cemetery while I was paying respects.
  • One of our cars broke down at 10:30 at night while driving through the Texas desert.
  • We lived out of 8 different hotels across the country for 24 days.
  • Once we arrived in Cali the movers took another 8 days to get here so we stayed in another hotel for a week.

Good times.

But that’s not where the seemingly never-ending moving story ends. There’s more. If you have been following this blog, then you know that I always focus on the positive in life and especially with our animal companions.  

So… Here’s the abbreviated GOOD News from our Big Move:

  • Our feline veterinarian was absolutely incredible at immediately responding to and diagnosing Knox’s Full-On-Freak-Out while we were in transit.
  • We now know how incredibly helpful (and safe) the right medications can be for fearful cats. And we learned that these are the same meds that people are prescribed for panic attacks and anxiety! (more to come on this important topic ).
  • I learned why one should never have a deep healing acupuncture session prior to moving across country (hence the flu-like symptoms).
  • Hocus Pocus had zero aggression, frustration or fear reactivity issues. I am so proud of her!
  • Our senior kitty boys were total rock stars; Beaux and Albert both did exceptionally well on the long 11 hour drives each day. And King Albert’s health challenges did not cause him any noticeable duress.
  • I was able to  visit my Cherokee ancestors’ royalty resting grounds (while Albert was busy escaping and roaming around the cemetery).
  • The animals were incredibly tolerant, patient, and calm in the many hotels, long road days, and with me being unwell the entire time.
  • There were no spats or fights (between the people or pets)! Not even a single swat or hiss.
  • There was only one (appropriate) growl from Hocus the ENTIRE time. (I will talk about close-quarter management techniques in another post.)
  • None of the animals became injured, lost, sick, or any other horrible scenario I had imagined. (Although, Albert was a close call).
  • My animal communication skills were put to the test and I passed with flying colors.
  • We all grew closer together during this trial.
  • Everyone did exceptionally well, considering how hard it was on all of us for such a long time.
  • They have all settled into our new home and are far exceeding what I thought they were capable of.
  • Everyone is thriving!

anything is possible_nothing is impossible

 

It’s All Been Worth the Time and Effort!

All of the techniques, tools, and behavior modification methods I have learned over the years of being an animal trainer, pet parent, and animal behavior consultant came into play during this long transition.  The methods I share with you and use with my clients were all put to the test.  Including some I had never tried before!  They were such a huge success.

All of my efforts have paid off.  What I thought was impossible was possible.  I didn’t believe the cats or canine were capable of coping.  I had anticipated the worst, but each of them found their way to SHINE during a very difficult and long process.  Each of them adjusted, adapted, and   They proved all of us wrong.  They were total champs.  At times they even seemed to understand that we were all in this together.

I am still in awe of them.  Conscious Companion 2016 Road trip

But that’s all I am going to write about for now.  In the near future I will be sharing with you how I was able to create and maintain safety, peace, and harmony during the Long Haul with each of the animals. I will also share how we have been able to help each of them to settle into our new dojo with flying colors (and with no flying fur!).  I can’t wait to tell you all about everything that’s working, and the new tools I have discovered. These tips and techniques will make such a huge difference for you and your companion animals.


Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.-Robert Collier


In Other News

I hope those of you in the U.S. and Canada enjoyed (and survived) the recent independence holidays. We are still experiencing bomb-like-fireworks nightly here, so we are continuing to help the animals cope with that.  If you need some suggestions to help your pets with post-Independence day celebrations, check out this post and this one as well.

If you were affected by the tragic events in Orlando (my hometown), my heart goes out to you.  Our friends and family still live there, so this really hit home for us. My mother was able to send her team of therapy dogs to help the first responders from that event. You can read about that here.   Now they are visiting with the Orlando community as their team is able, helping so many to heal.

Also, if you or anyone you know are either a HSP or an Empath, this Instagram page might be helpful.  As we move forward in the world, and as I continue to share here, I will spread as much love and light as I can.  With all of the drama, anger, and sadness we are witnessing unfolding in the world right now, we need more love.  We must uplift and love one another. When the world appears dark, we need to be The Light.  Remember that our animal companions are such perfect teachers for this.  They are pure unconditional love.

“There are darknesses in life and there are lights, and you are one of the lights, the light of all lights.” ― Bram Stoker, Dracula


OH! Before I go, I wanted to share one more inspiring thing with you.  Here’s the view from our new backyard.  Gah! Can you smell the salt air and feel the sand between your toes??

unnamed

Well, I am off the watch tonight’s sunset. So Much love to you and yours!


“May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Animal Emotions and That Icky Sticky Fear

animal emotions

 “Lacking a shared language, emotions are perhaps our most effective means of cross-species communication. We can share our emotions, we can understand the language of feelings, and that’s why we form deep and enduring social bonds with many other beings. Emotions are the glue that binds.” ― Bekoff

 

Ants teach.  Earthworms make decisions.  Rats are ticklish.  Chimps grieve.  Horses understand and react to human facial expression.  Some dogs have a thousand-word vocabulary.  Birds practice songs in their sleep.  Mice and rats show empathy.  Crows use tools.  Jays plan ahead.  Moths remember being caterpillars.  Cats are worlds wiser than your iPad.

What else will we learn about animals today?

 


In my last post I discussed how our personal and collective fears affect progress, success, and peace with our pets and within ourselves.  This follow up post is intended to help you to become aware of the range of emotions that animals can experience.  When we begin to see our pets as conscious beings who can experience deep and profound emotions we are better equipped with the knowledge and empathy to help them, when life challenges arise.  My hope is that you learn something here so you and your animal companions can live a more fulfilling and peaceful life together, no matter what comes your way.


Emotional Beings

Most people believe that animals have some emotions.  But there is a lot more happening within animals than most realize. Did you know that some animals, when faced with stressors, often respond in body and mind the way humans do? It’s really amazing.

Let’s take a look at what emotions are.

From the scientific perspective, emotions are the internal changes in the body (hormones, adrenal glands, etc.) that cause changes in expression (the animal’s external behavior), and the thoughts and feelings that accompany them.  From the layman’s perspective, they are feelings one experiences in the mind that affect one’s mood and body.

Emotions have evolved as animal adaptations in many species.  Emotions serve as a “social glue” to bond animals together.  Emotions also regulate a wide range of social encounters among both friends and competitors.  Emotions allow animals to protect themselves by using numerous behavior patterns in a wide variety of settings.

To assume that animals are incapable of experiencing the same kinds of fears and stresses that we as humans experience is a common pitfall and misconception of pet parents.  Animals are very capable of experiencing a wide range of emotions!  Like us, many companion animals can and do experience a range of basic emotions such as happiness, sadness, fear, disgust, anger, grief, and surprise.

“Common sense and intuition feed into and support science sense, and the obvious conclusion is that at least mammals experience rich and deep emotional lives, feeling passions ranging from pure and contagious joy shared so widely among others during play that it is almost epidemic, to deep grief and pain. There also are recent data that show that birds and fish also are sentient and experience pain and suffering.”


love hormone_animal emotions_conscious Companion


Sentient Beings

We are hearing more often these days that animals are “sentient beings”, but what is sentience? What does this mean?

“Sentient animals may be aware of a range of sensations and emotions, of feeling pain and suffering, and of experiencing a state of well being. Sentient animals may be aware of their surroundings and of what happens to them.”

-CIWF

Sentience is the ability to feel or perceive the world around you and as a result have subjective experiences (i.e. good, bad or neutral experiences). In its most basic sense, sentience is the ability to have sensations and as a result have experiences which then may be used to guide future actions and reactions.

Animal Emotions_fear


Similar Brain Structures

Thanks to research with imaging studies we now know that some animals have many of the same brain structures, hormones, and neurotransmitters that humans do. Just like humans, animals have temporal, occipital, frontal and parietal lobes of their cerebral cortex. Each region is connected in the same way. We’ve also learned that emotions are centered in the limbic system, (known as the mammalian brain). We also know that emotions such as fear, frustration, and anger drive a lot of unwanted behaviors in animals (just like in people!)

Neuroscientific research has even shown, using functional magnetic resonance imaging, that elephants have a huge hippocampus. This is a brain structure in the limbic system that’s important in processing emotions. We now know that elephants suffer from psychological flashbacks and likely experience the equivalent of post-traumatic stress disorder.


Animals’ Advanced Abilities 

Most people believe that a human’s ability to communicate is far more complex and evolved than that of other species, but cetaceans have us beat. Cetaceans have several sound producing organs. They are capable of conveying and receiving 20 times the amount of information as we can with our ability to process sounds!  This surpasses the amount of information we can perceive based on vision (a human’s primary sense).

Research with cetaceans has even discovered that the frontal and temporal lobes (which are connected by their function in speech production and language processing) are capable of astounding abilities.  Communication is so spectacular in cetaceans that scientists believe there is a strong possibility that this species is able to project an “auditory image.” via sonar messages they receive.  The researches at MSU claim, “A dolphin wishing to convey the image of a fish to another dolphin can literally send the image of a fish to the other animal. The equivalent of this in humans would be the ability to create instantaneous holographic pictures to convey images to other people.”

Yeah.  So that’s happening in the ocean and in captivity.  Just let that sink in for a moment.

animal brain_intelligece_play_emotions


Pets, People, and the Mind’s Landscape

Could our pet’s mental map be similar to ours? According to researchers at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine, the physical structure of our brain and that of felines are very similar.  Cats have the same lobes as we do in the cerebral cortex (the “seat” of intelligence).  And our brains function the same way, by conveying data via identical neurotransmitters.

In the region of the brain which controls emotion, they are similar as well.  Cats have a temporal, occipital, frontal and parietal lobe in their brains, just as we do.  Additionally, cat brains also contain gray and white matter and the connections within their brains seem to mirror those of humans.

We also know that cats’ brains release neurotransmitters in a similar pattern to that of humans when confronted with information from their five senses.  Cats also have a short-term and long-term memory, and are able to easily recall information from up to 16 hours in the past.  Researchers are even studying cats’ Brain structures and neurotransmitters that regulate aggression to learn more about the implications for human aggression.

Recently through MRI research doctors have discovered that dogs and humans both house impulse control in the same area of the brain. Both human and dog brains by the prefrontal lobes, but in dogs this area is much smaller relative to brain size.  There is an actual link between the level of self-control a dog has and the behavior they display. Dogs who have more brain activity in their frontal lobes, tend to have more self-control and are better able to control their behaviors, reactions, and responses to stimuli in their environment.

dog brain impulse control_MRI
Brain region in dog prefrontal cortex for impulse control.


The Workings of the Inner Clockwork

All mammals (including humans) share neuroanatomical structures: The amygdala and hippocampus and neurochemical pathways in the limbic system that are important for feelings.  Let’s look at two areas of the brain to better understand the commonalities of the inner clockwork:

  • The Amygdala: The “Emotion Processing Center”:  There are two almond-shaped areas in the human brain that control emotional responses. The most common function of the amygdalae involves synthesizing fear responses from the environment. Animals also have amygdalae that initiate emotional responses such as fear.

 

  • The Hippocampus:  Where Memories Trigger Emotions: The hippocampus is the area in the brain where long-term memories are stored.  The hippocampus feeds directly to the amygdala.  Scientists believe that this is why a flood of strong emotions often follows after we recall a vivid memory.

Our companion animals also have a hippocampus.  If your pet had a fearful experience before, and the sight of something reminds her of that situation, the information from her sensory cortex triggers the memory in her hippocampus, which communicates with her amygdala, which then floods her with fear.princess Amidala_fear_cats_dogs_pet brains

They have found that with dogs who are experiencing the emotion of anger, the amygdala and hippocampus play key roles. When these systems become overactive, they cause the amygdala pathway to bypass the cortex entirely.  This results in an animal who will literally react without thinking.  Ahem, Hocus Pocus and King Albert can both attest to this.  And I know of a cockatoo who lives in this state during the peak hormonal months!

But don’t we all have the ability to react this way at some point in our lives?  I find it fascinating that our animal companions have this hard-wiring as well. 

animal brain
Primary amygdalar nuclei and basic circuit connections across species.

 


Emotions and the Autonomic Nervous System At Work

When an animal looks at the world, he or she is confronted with an overwhelming amount of sensory information—sights, sounds, smells, and so on.  After being processed in the brain’s sensory areas, the information is relayed to the amygdala, which acts as a portal to the emotion-regulating limbic system.  Using input from the individual’s stored knowledge, the amygdala determines how they should respond emotionally—for example, with fear (at the sight of a predator or stranger), in affection or love (at the sight of their beloved person walking in the door) or indifference (when facing something trivial).

Messages cascade from the amygdala to the rest of the limbic system and eventually reach the autonomic nervous system, which prepares the body for action.  If the animal is confronting a threat, her heart rate will rise.  Her body might sweat in some areas to dissipate the heat from muscular exertion.  The autonomic arousal in turn, feeds back into the brain, amplifying the emotional response.  Over time, the amygdala creates a salience landscape, a map that details the emotional significance of everything in the individual’s environment.

This internal mind map is a reminder of how to stay safe and alive.

When a threat is perceived, the body’s brilliant sympathetic nervous system kicks into high gear. The body then releases hormones that are responsible for either Fight or Flight. The hormones are adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine. These hormones serve a very important purpose: They increase chances of survival.

“Fight or flight is a body’s primal response to anything one perceives a threat, hazard or danger; it is an immediate release of hormones to pump up our body to fight or run from a threat, whether that threat is perceived or real.”

fofbraindiag


Fear Digs In Deep.

There are some fascinating facts when it comes to the subject of fear. We now know that negative experiences effect the brain more deeply than positive experiences.  Fear sinks in deep.  And it holds on tight.  Once a learner (us or an animal) learns that something is scary, should be avoided, or becomes a trigger, the negative effects can be long lasting and hard-wired in the brain.

Remember when that creep who wore a clown costume to your friend’s birthday party when you were a kid?  Or what about that roach that crawled on you once while you were sleeping as a child?  How do you feel about roaches and clowns today?  It just takes one negative experience and that fear sticks to our minds like super glue.

Animals are not unlike us when it comes to how fear can set in and grab a tight hold in their minds.


Fear from Watching

Did you know that both people and pets can learn to be fearful of something, someone, or somewhere just by watching another animal or person?  The amygdala plays a critical part in the physical expression of a fear response in humans as well as animals.  Scientists have shown that the amygdala responds when a person or animal exhibits fear through observing someone else experiencing a fearful experience. This means that the amygdala is involved in learning to fear something even without directly experiencing the aversive event. Animals can merely observe something fearful and learn to be afraid of that person, place, or event!

Knox In His Box


The Scent of Fear

You know that phrase, “I can smell fear a mile away!”, or “They can smell your fear.”?  Well, it turns out there is some truth to that.  Researches in 2014 discovered that young animals have the ability to learn fear in the first days of life. Just by smelling the odor of their distressed mother.  And this doesn’t pertain to just “natural” fears; If a mother experienced something before pregnancy that made her fear something specific, her offspring will quickly learn to fear it too. How? Through her odor when she feels fear.

When the odor of the frightened rat mother was piped in to a chamber where her offspring were located and the juvenile rats were exposed to peppermint smell, they developed a fear of the scent of peppermint. Their blood cortisol levels rose when they smelled it! I mean, come on! How incredible is that?!

“During the early days of an infant rat’s life, they are immune to learning information about environmental dangers. But if their mother is the source of threat information, we have shown they can learn from her and produce lasting memories,” says Jacek Debiec, M.D., Ph.D., the U-M psychiatrist and neuroscientist who led the research.

“Our research demonstrates that infants can learn from maternal expression of fear, very early in life,” he adds. “Before they can even make their own experiences, they basically acquire their mothers’ experiences. Most importantly, these maternally-transmitted memories are long-lived, whereas other types of infant learning, if not repeated, rapidly perish.”

fear learned

Credit: Image courtesy of University of Michigan Health System

But wait. There’s more.  The scientists exposed the rat pups of both groups of mothers to the peppermint smell, under many different conditions with and without their mothers present.  Fear still occurred.

Using special brain imaging, studies of genetic activity in individual brain cells, and cortisol in the rat’s blood, they focused on the lateral amygdala as the key location for learning fears. Note: Later in life this area is responsible for detecting and planning a response to threats; that’s why it would also be the “hub” for learning new fears.

“But the fact that these fears could be learned in a way that lasted during a time when the baby rat’s ability to learn any fears directly was naturally suppressed, is what makes the new findings so interesting”, says the lead scientist, Debiec.

Their research even showed that the newborns could learn their mothers’ fears even when the mothers weren’t present.  Merely the scent of their mother reacting to the peppermint odor she feared was enough to make them fear the same thing.


Fear In Pheromones

Fear can be passed through scent glands.  Not only can pheromones be used to scent mark, attract mates, claim territory, find prey, and identify other animals, but they can be used as alarms.  Our dogs and cats can smell when fear is present in these glands.  I refer to these as FEAR-amones When they smell fear, they instinctively know to Get The Heck Out of Dodge.

sniffing-butt
Butt Sniffing : Think of this behavior as “speaking with chemicals”. It’s how dogs learn about another dog’s diet, gender, and even their emotional state!


 

Our Similar Structures

In An Odyssey with Animals: A Veterinarian’s Reflections on the Animal Rights & Welfare Debate Adrian Morrison provides a great description of just how mammalian and animal-like we humans are. As Morrison explains, we share common brain structures with other mammals:

My cat, Buster, and I both flinch and yowl or curse at a sudden painful stimulus, and our legs both jerk in response to a tap on the patellar tendon of the knee. The spinal organization of the neurons responsible for these activities is the same in cats as it is in humans.

Moving forward into the lowest part of the brain, in both Buster and me the same neurons control basic bodily functions, such as regulation of breathing, heart rate, and vomiting. Farther forward reside the nerve cells that regulate the behaviors of sleep and wakefulness, which are identical in humans and other mammals, and where dysfunction results in similar problems, such as narcolepsy … and REM sleep behavior disorder. In this brain region in all mammals are found the neurons containing the neurotransmitter dopamine, which degenerate in Parkinson’s disease.

At the base of the cerebral hemispheres is the almond-shaped amygdala, where mechanisms leading to fear and anxiety in people and animals operate. Monkeys and rats have contributed much to our understanding of the amygdala. The overlying cerebral cortex is where all of us mammals analyze the sensations coming from the skin, muscles and joints via the spinal cord, or eyes and ears in the cases of vision and hearing.

Where we depart from our animal brethren is in the great development of the front part of our cerebral cortex, the frontal lobes, and the greater proportion of cerebral tissue, called association areas, which integrate the information obtained from the regions that directly receive sensory information. These latter regions are called the primary sensory and motor areas because they receive simple, pure sensations and direct the movement of the body. It is within the frontal lobes that we humans mull over the past, prepare for the future, and reflect on its implications. Animals do not have this last capability in particular, as far as we can discern. Animals prepare for the future in a limited, instinct-driven way: Think of squirrels gathering and burying nuts for the winter. …

His last three sentences get right to the point of why I am sharing with you:  If we have the ability to plan, predict, and prepare, and our pets are instinctively coping, adjusting, and surviving this rollercoaster (we put them on), then we have a lot of work to do as their guardians.

If fear is sticky and hard to remove, then as animal guardians we need to know how fear sets in, how we can minimize or prevent it, and how to effectively remove it.  We have serious business at hand if we want them to live in our human world with minimal stress and fear, and with a maximum sense of security and safety.  If we want them to thrive, rather than merely survive, then we need to get to work.


Emotions Matter. 

The willingness to recognize that animals have emotions is key.  Their feelings matter, their fear is real to them.  Animals are sentient beings who experience the lows and highs of their live with us. We must respect this.

To continue with the status quo, because that’s what as always been done isn’t enough anymore. Now that we know more, we do more. Now that we know better, we must do better. For them. For us. For all species.

All that we once believed about animals has changed, and so should our relationships with the animals we live with, care, for and are stewards for.  When it comes to what we can and cannot do for animals, it is their capacity to feel, experience complex emotions that can be a catalyst for how we change the way we view them, and how we act on their behalf.


“Emotions are the gifts of our ancestors. We have them, and so do other
animals. We must never forget that”. ― Marc Bekoff, The Emotional Lives of Animals: A Leading Scientist Explores Animal Joy, Sorrow, and Empathy – and Why They Matter




My next post in this “Fear Series” will address both the causes and effects of of emotional and environmental stress on our pets, so stay tuned!

And the last post in this Fear Series will be chocked full of fun tips and techniques that you can implement to help your pets reduce their fears and live a fearless life!

Until then, I am going to plan, prepare, and be proactive about our upcoming Big Move with our animal companions!

All my love to you and yours.

-Amy & The Critter Krewe

 

Looking at Fear

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

ACIM_new thoughts_no fear_choose love

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

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

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


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


Changes in the Wind

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

The Upside and Downside

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

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

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

 

Fear of What We Fear Most

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


 

Success AND Stress Are Both Dependent upon You.

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

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


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


Who’s Driving Your Life?

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ Incubus, “Drive”

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

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


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


 take back your power _conquering fears

Fears Hinders Guidance, Inspiration, and Solutions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


 

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

The Power of Choice

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

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

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


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


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

Choose to tell a different story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


 

Make-a-Difference_change your thoughts_ACIM

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

I have decided to choose to move forward without fear.

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

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

green energy surrounding a heart


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


 

Ready to Release, and Rock & Roll?

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

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

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

 you get to choose_the power of choice



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