3 Words to Change Your Neural Pathway: I love You.

If we understood the power of our thoughts,

we would guard them more closely.

If we understood the awesome power of our words,

we would prefer silence to almost anything negative.

In our thoughts and words, we create

our own weaknesses and our own strengths.

Our limitations and joys begin in our hearts.

We can always replace negative with positive.

– Bettie Eadie

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Hello Bright Light!

How the heck are we nearly halfway through February?  Lawdy.  Well, since many consider this the month of Love, I thought it would be fun to talk about the Circle of Love and the Lenses of Love. 

If you have been flowing with this blog from the get-go, then you know I have never been a fan of Valentine’s Day due to multiple deaths around that date.  Plus, now I know that our animal companions offer A Love Not of This World everyday.  Now I see Every Day is the 14th!  And … Feb 20th is not only national cherry pie day, it’s Love Your Pet Day!

So, this will be a new take on Love with a cool twist.  This post is something I Am really passionate about.  It’s empowering.  And I promise, if you let it in, it will change your lives. 

So grab your tea, water, or wine, invite your best fur friend for a cuddle sesh, and get comfy.  It’s about to get Real. 

🎙(Oh, if you are not a big reader, and if you’d prefer to listen to the written portion of this post as a podcast, you can listen here.)🎙


As an avid student of both philosophy and positive behavior modification, I understand and appreciate how challenging it can be to change the way we believe and think.  As Empath and Intuitive, I also appreciate that how we feel is directly linked to what we are thinking and believing.  It’s all connected.  But sometimes, it’s a big annoying wheel of feels.

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All the Feelz

If you want to change your life, you must change your mind and change your brain … on purpose. -Bill Crawford


Change and the Three Brains

There is much more at play, beyond our emotions, when it comes to change. Neuroscience research has shown that we have three fully functioning “brains”.  Check out this quote below:

 Our head (cephalic) brain is best suited for creativity, logic, and problem solving. Our heart (cardiac) brain serves us best when accessed for passion and compassion. And our gut (enteric) brain is the source of courage and self-protection. The vagus nerve is the communication channel between the three brains. 90% of the brain signals traveling through the vagus nerve are traveling up; only 10% travel down!

 

How our thoughts and brain influence our lives is overlooked and greatly underappreciated.  More importantly, how we can become more aware and influential of this process is essential if we want anything to be different. 

It begins within.

The quote above sums up where we can start.  All we need is a little willingness to change our mind about things.  Regardless of the form: a reactive rover, a frustrating feline, a careless coworker, a nosy neighbor, a sassy sister, or bothersome brother – we can change how we perceive their behavior, and how we respond to them in every circumstance.

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“For what you see, feel, hear and experience depends a good deal on where you are standing and also where your mind is.”

-C.S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew, Chronicles of Narnia


Years ago, I discovered both people and pets fall into one or two elemental groups: Fire, Earth, Air, Water, and Metal.  Holistic health practitioners (for both people and pets) classify patients according to the five-element theory.  This includes:

  • body structure
  • tendencies
  • temperaments
  • emotions
  • positive and negative behaviors
  • moods
  • illnesses

These can all be viewed in relation to the five elements.  Usually there are one or two elements that are predominant in a pet or person. (There are links at the end of this post that go into this in detail.)

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Our big grey bear of a cat was a Wood personality.  Our dog is a combo of Earth and Wood, and I can be a combo of both wood and Fire.  The emotion associated with the Wood element is anger.  When anger predominates, one becomes easily upset and is unable to appropriately restrain their feelings. “Wood” get angry easily and are prone to physical reactions and shouting. These unstable emotions result in the uneven circulation of Qi (energy) and Blood, creating a generalized state of tension and stress.

The combination of combustible cats and canines created very heated moments in our house.

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Mrs. White, from the cult classic movie “Clue” sums up the combustion. 

Compassion is a choice.

Some days I was less than unhelpful when it got heated.  Being both a triple Sagittarius and a Fire Personality within the 5 Chinese elements, I tend to get “heated” quickly.   When I am stressed, I can become overwhelmed wicked fast.  When I am on my last nerve I can get triggered quickly.   When I am at my worst, my temper could rival a volcano.   

But on my best days, I am calm, collected, and can cruise through any crisis.

Thankfully, my best days are the majority these days.  But I wasn’t always at my best.  Before I began practicing what I call mind training, and keeping an open heart, I was reactive.  My world was often overwhelming.  My default was reacting.

Fear ran the show.

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But as I promised in an earlier post, I have to be honest.  Here’s the truth: My pendulum can swing wildly from unconditional love to oh-hell-no.  On the days when I am maxed out emotionally and physically, I need my space.   And I need peace and quiet.  Period. 

But I also need love.

Just like our animal companions, when we are at our worst, this is when we need kindness, unconditional love, self-care, and compassion.  But in the moment – when we are feeling drained, pulled at, and impinged upon — we can become reactive to the ones we love most.

That’s when WE need LOVE the most.

When I say “we need love”, I am referring to bringing love into our awareness, and letting the Voice for Love run the show. – not the fearful ego.  I call the ego “Drop Dead Fred”.  Do you remember that character from the movie?  He’s beyond obnoxious.  And so is the monkey mind that tries to take over when we are tired. 

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Drop Dead Fred doing his damnedest to influence his person, as she begins to no longer listen to him

Regardless of how much we are struggling in the moment, however fearful, frustrated, drained, strained, or upset we are, we have a choice. We don’t have to allow the ego to take the wheel and drive.  We don’t have to become overwhelmed, upset, angry, irritated, or reactive to anyone or anything, including inanimate objects, strangers, or the ones we truly love.

We Can Choose Love.

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There’s an empowering saying that I live by these days:  We are either extending love or we are calling for love.  

This is not limited to people.  This goes for every living being and their behavior.  I will talk more about this in the book, but for now, think of extending love as BEING an extension of what you consider LOVE to be.  For me, it’s as simple as being kind and compassionate.  Think of “calling for love” as anything other than that.  A “Call for Love” can come in a myriad of forms; some of which are downright ugly and scary.

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This combustible convo might have occurred in our home when I was at my worst.

But here’s the kicker that’s easier said than done:  Regardless of either form (calling for love, or extending love) the response should be love. 

Now, clearly, I do not always remember this.  And even sometimes when I do remember this, I still react.  BADLY.   In fact, there is one particular family member who I have the toughest time NOT reacting to … on. the. reg.

He is what I would call my greatest lesson in love.  I call him that because he is teaching me, through all the ways I am triggered, that regardless of the form of his behavior, my response can be love.

When I choose to respond with love, it changes everything. 

As you see him you will see yourself. As you treat him you will treat yourself. As you think of him you will think of yourself. Never forget this, for in him you will find yourself or lose yourself.

– ACIM, Chapter 8: The Journey Back

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Remembering this powerful Truth brings me into a state of higher awareness, compassion, and kindness.  Remembering this allows me to step back and become the observer of what is occurring within my environment, rather than reacting.  Remembering this brings me peace.  When I am at peace, I can be peaceful and extend this peace outward. When I am at peace, I am kind with myself and others.  The video below describes what I am talking about. 

3 Words to Change Your Neural Pathway:


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Kindness reflects our inherent oneness with each other, while attack drives us still further apart in our awareness. – Ken Wapnick, The Healing Power of Kindness, Vol. 1: Releasing Judgment


When we really understand and appreciate the power of neural pathways and how they are created in the brain, we take our power back.  We learn how to truly let go of unhelpful habitual behaviors, thoughts, and beliefs.  When we appreciate the power of perception, we empower ourselves.

Thanks to neuroplasticity, the brain’s ever-changing potentials, anything is possible.

We can become conscious of what we focus on.  We can become mindful of what we are mindful of.  We can replace the negative with something positive. We can choose to re-frame it in our Mind.

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When we are faced with everyday life situations, we have an opportunity to notice.  There is always a very revealing way that we can begin to monitor our minds.  We can do this with practical matters we find difficult or challenging. 

Imagine.

What would happen if you could say, “I love you.” when someone is behaving completely bonkers.  What if they were out of their mind and you could still think it silently.   Imagine if, while your dog was reacting to something in his/her environment, you didn’t react, too.  Imagine calmly saying to your canine companion, “I love you.”

Imagine the possibilities. 

Imagine the miracles.

We can begin to watch how we respond when our family, ourselves, partner, friends, strangers, coworkers, or animal companions are stressed, stressing us out, or going through a crisis.  During these trying times, our unconscious feelings will surface.  When they do, we often project those fears out, unfortunately, onto everyone from strangers to the ones who love us with all that they are. 

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It’s important to never underestimate the depth of our unconscious fear of returning to the mind.  It’s also important to become aware of our attraction to blaming outside circumstances (in whatever form they may be) for our inner condition.  Regardless of their reactivity, or their behavior, we get to choose. 

We always have the power to choose how we respond.

We can choose to react, or to observe.  We can choose to listen to the voice for love, or the voice for fear.  We can choose kindness and compassion, or we can choose to be critical. We can choose to extend love, or call for love.  

Let’s consider choosing Love.

“The only path wide enough for us all is love.” ― Kamand Kojouri

But first, let’s begin by being loving and kind to ourselves; we cannot give to others what we do not have.  It begins within.  Our hearts and minds are One. If we want to give to others, in challenging times, we have to start with kindness and compassion with ourselves.

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Over the decades, I have been down, broken, and fragmented by every pain imaginable.  I have been at my lowest of lows and at my worst.  But eventually I left the storm and shadows and returned to the light.  I remembered that We Are One, and that at our core, we are Love.  

Then the rainstorm came over me
And I felt my spirit break
I had lost all of my belief, you see
And realized my mistake
But time threw a prayer to me
And all around me became still

I need love, love’s divine
Please forgive me, now I see that I’ve been blind
Give me love, love is what I need to help me know my name

Oh I, don’t bend, don’t break
Show me how to live and promise me you won’t forsake
‘Cause love can help me know my name

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💜Finding Peace Together, Near The End💜

Note:  These videos were created during a very challenging time in our lives.  Not only was a family member going through constant chemo, but in addition to my career, I was the primary caretaker for a geriatric feline family member who was struggling physically.  He was a wood personality, and was on hospice care at home.  All of these circumstances were emotionally and physically challenging for everyone in our family.      

Choosing Love, kindness, and compassion was essential.

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When it comes to being the guardian of an aging animal companion or family member with health complications, even the most loving people have their limits.  The daily stresses and struggles our beloveds go through as they are aging can weigh on their caretakers, too.  Acknowledging this is essential.   

Have compassion for yourself.  Practice Self Care while you are caring. 

But Never forget this:  No matter the challenge you are facing, there is always another way of seeing your circumstances.  We are never a victim of circumstances.  Life is flowing through us.  We are One.


So then, the relationship of self to other is the complete realization that loving yourself is impossible without loving everything defined as other than yourself. ― Alan Wilson Watts


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Oh, and before you go, take a listen to this oldie but goodie… “Just The Way You Are” by Billy Joel .  It’s a beautiful reminder that we don’t need the ones we love to be anything but just the way they are.  We shouldn’t need conditions to change to love them better.  Loving them for all that they are is True Love.  This is a love that is unconditional.  

I wouldn’t leave you in times of trouble

We never could have come this far

I took the good times; I’ll take the bad times

I’ll take you just the way you are

 I said I love you and that’s forever

And this I promise from the heart

I could not love you any better

I love you just the way you are

 Just The Way You Are” by Billy Joel


Related Reading / Recommended Links & Videos:


If you would like support with your aging animal companion you are welcome to contact me.  

If you are also an Empath, HSP, Starseed, or Intuitive, you are invited to join our loving commUNITY!

You can learn more about caring for aging animals here, and force-free behavior modification here.

Be well. Be kind. We are all in this together! 

Thanksgiving Tips for Busy Families (plus silly bloopers)

Are You Ready?

Thanksgiving is almost here in the U.S.  Some dread it; some can’t wait. We keep it low key, so I am grateful for that.  Heck, we don’t even have a dining room table since the move, so this year should be interesting.  Regardless of the set-up, some families have hectic holidays.  That’s why it’s critical to plan and prepare … especially if you share a home with the furry, feathered, or scaly kind. 

This short post is dedicated to those of you out there who could use a few tips for Thanksgiving to be less hectic and more harmonic. 


In our household, 365 days a year, we do our best to help every animal to feel safe and secure.  We continue to counter condition and desensitize animal to their individual perceived threats. We practice energy management. We strive to set them all up for success.  We use tools and techniques to ensure their perceived “threat level” is at zero.  We respect boundaries, believe in consent, and factor in FUN! 

But these are only pieces of the peaceful puzzle.

Boundaries, Please.

Creating safe boundaries is an essential key to creating peace and harmony in your home, especially during and after stressful holiday festivities.  If you have children, guide them by showing them how to to respect the animal’s space or enclosure.  Teach them to be mindful and respectful of each individual animal’s tolerance for noise and commotion.   Ensure that our animal companions have their own safe bubble where they are free from being “loved on” (AKA being pestered).  If you have family or friends visiting, remind them to give the animals space.

King Albert and Mr. Beaux sharing warm sunny spot, enjoying peace

Consider “Consent”.

▪️How do you feel when a friend, family member or stranger touches you without your consent?
▪️How would you react if someone whom you’re sometimes uncomfortable with started stroking or rubbing on you without your permission?
▪️How would you feel if a stranger touched your face, or another area few go near?

Just reading those questions made you uncomfortable, didn’t it❓

🔸Many animal companions experience this daily.  They tolerate the uninvited touches, the cuddling without consent, and the petting without permission.  Imagine being an animal companion who experiences this multiple times a day every day, for years.  Then consider how challenging that could be if you were an animal companion who has a underlying medical conditions, fears, and challenges with close-encounters.

Choice Matters, But There’s More to It.

If the animals choose to be around your guests, remember that the dog or cat may be excited to see newcomers, but in the next instant they very well could be more protective of things they consider “high value” such as bedding, treats, their people, and their food.  Remember those stress hormones are in their system!

Sharing Space Momentarily or Best Buds? There’s a Big Difference!

Also, if the animals in your home are not the best of buds, and they’re merely coexisting with one another, creating safe spaces for each animal and managing your home environment carefully is imperative. Give everyone ample safe space!

Being aware of each animal’s individual threshold, and their need for safe, quiet refuge after any kind of commotion is how we become conscious companions for the animals with which we share a home. 

Despite what we often may think, animals are pretty complex creatures. They speak a different language than we do, they have quirks in their personalities that can make them quite unusual sometimes (like us humans) and they often display anxiety and discomfort in ways we don’t.

Over the years we have observed each animal in our home respond with a different type of reactivity to their individual perceived threats. The dog has been known to lunge and bark, freeze and growl, or retreat. Her response depended on what she felt threatened by, and by her individual stress/hormone levels at that moment.

Cortisol is an adrenal hormone with a great number of effects on the body. The level goes up or down quickly in response to stress.

Each of the cats has their own individual response, depending on the trigger at the time, and their individual stress hormone levels. You might recall one of your animals behaving this way when they are stressed. You might even recall doing this yourself!

That’s why we set everyone up for success!

Cooking with kids and canines — setting everyone up for success! (image from Family Paws Parent Education)


                       Holiday Tips for Busy Families

Check out the video below (filled with bloopers).  I made this a couple of years ago, but the points are timeless.  This will give you some giggles, insight, and ideas on how you can prepare your entire family for a Thanksgiving Feast, and how to enjoy the Family Festivities in Harmony!

Remember to Laugh, But Focus on Prevention!

Although I included some silly bloopers in this video, the points I address are very important.  Please consider the needs of everyone in your home. Please plan ahead and prepare. And remember that your energy and attitude is contagious!

Hocus Pocus Loves Pumpkin Pie, but we make sure she’s not tempted by offering her more appropriate thanksgiving goodies 😉

P.S. Be sure to check out the articles and videos at the end of this post; all are related to what I discuss in this video!

“I am who I am today because of the mistakes I made yesterday.”

― The Prolific Penman



Becoming a Conscious Companion

If you are reading this, I can assume that you love the animals that you share your life with enough to be inspired or learn more to improve their lives.  I encourage you to take that love and funnel it into educating yourself, and your family and friends about the basic behavior of the species that you work with, live with, and adore.  Every day I challenge myself to learn something new about the animals I love and live with.  I hope you do the same. 

You can discover tons of free resources at our website!

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.


Recommended Videos // Related Reading

Enrichment is one of your most empowering tools!

Enrichment at Home Serves To:

Learn more here!

Disco, Dart Frogs, Cats, and Canines!

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Hello gorgeous!

Considering the current state of affairs around the world, I thought we could all use some levity.  We all need a break from the fear, hate, insanity, and the seemingly never-ending drama.

This post serves to give you just that.

As promised, I will be swaying between science and spiritual stuff U.F.N. 😉  Since my last post swung to the spiritual side, I thought we could dance to a different beat today!

And once again, I am grateful you are here.

I have to mention; the grammar nerd in me got a kick out of playing around with the comma placement in the title of this post.  If you were confused, this post isn’t about disco frogs, disco cats, or disco dogs, but it does involve these species, with a touch of the genre of music I just adore: disco!

disco shoes dancing retro

I appreciate that this genre of music isn’t everyone’s preferred choice.  But since I am a child of the 70’s I have a super positive association with DISCO that stems way back to childhood and well into high school.  From rocking out to The Bee Gees in the backseat, to breakin’ it down until the break of dawn with my girlfriends; Disco was my dope.

It was a natural high for me.  Even to this day, if I am in a funk, I play F U N K!  Disco can get me movin’ and groovin’ unlike no other music!  Play me some Soundgarden or Bob Marley and I am ready to rock-n-roll or love everything around me.  Put on “Super disco, disco breakin” by The Beastie boys, and I am amped!  But when real old school Disco starts to play … watch out world … my sass emerges and I am ready to shake-that-aaaaaa … !!!

Ok, you get it. 😀  The right kind of music can totally shift me out of a funk.  And as someone who has suffered from depression, anxiety, and chronic pain for more than half of my life, music is my medicine.

But I am not unique in this way.

We are all moved by the right kind of tune.  Music shifts our mood.  Chemical reactions occur.  Endorphins are released.  Music promotes positive movement,  and dare I say, healing?

“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”
― Bob Marley

 

Movement Shifts Energy.  When we physically move the body, it supports and facilitates the movement of Life Force Energy.  When the physical body moves, the energy shifts within.  This is not woo; it’s legit.  Science has yet to prove this fact, but Eastern cultures have known this for centuries.  Our western world is just catching onto this fact.  But this fact is not limited to humans.  Because physical movement shifts energy, physical movement supports the chakras of all living beings.  Animals of all shapes, sizes and species benefit from positive movement and motivation.

But are we, as animal guardians, providing this opportunity enough?

The body and mind are not separate, and we cannot treat one without the other.” ~ Dr. Candice Pert

 


Back in another life, during my Audubon Zoo Dayz, I was an Enrichment Coordinator. Providing species-specific enrichment for everything from parrots to poison dart frogs was my passion!  So now, providing this necessary, science-based enrichment for companion animals is second nature to me.  My hope, is that once you learn how, this will come naturally to you, too!  Knowing how to do this is vital if we want to provide a healthy environment for our animal companions to thrive in captivity.

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blue poison dart frogs (Dendrobates) enjoying novel multi-sensory enrichment (hunting for fruit flies out of a seasonal pumpkin)  Seriously. How adorable are they?

 


So what do poison dart frogs have to do with disco, cats, and dogs?  A lot, actually.

We now know that offering a coconut foraging feeder to captive Dendrobates (poison dart frogs) produces new behaviors.  This particular kind of enrichment feeder produces the greatest increase in frog activity in both traditional and new exhibits.  The increase in mobility is most likely due to a coconut feeder’s complicated nature, which randomizes the release of insects into the exhibit.  The complexity of the enrichment increases both mental and physical aspects of the frogs.

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Now think about how we can create something like this at home or in shelters, and why it’s so important.  If something as simple as placing prey (fruit flies) in a coconut feeder for frogs to foraging and hunt from, creates more desirable behaviors and healthy mental stimulation, what can we offer to our companion animals??

The possibilities are endless!

They key is to make things simple and safe, but challenging for the animal.  Create choice, offer control, and add complexity.   The goal is to elicit species-specific behaviors and to stimulate their natural abilities, senses, and enhance cognition.   This is what proper enrichment offers.   Enrichment is as integral to animal care as veterinary and nutrition programs.  The scientific principles in which structured enrichment programs are created are not reserved for lions, tigers, bears, and sea lions in zoos and aquariums.

Enrichment Is For Everyone.

And considering the high number of unhealthy pets in homes, increasing behavioral problems, and animals surrendered to shelters every week, I say we aren’t doing enough enrichment.  But we can change this.  And when we do it will shift everything.  Not only will we shift the energy within the animal, which will result in healthier bodies and minds, but we will create a more empowered way of living for each animal within the home.  We will also shift the energy between guardians and the animals.

We create a total shift for everyone on every level.


“Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.”

― Frank Zappa


 

There is enough craziness and fear unfolding around the globe.  Why don’t we bring some joy and humor into our home?  Why don’t we pull our focus from that insanity and consciously create really fun but safe ways to shift the energy with our animals?  There are amazing souls right under our nose!  Let’s engage with them more!  Let’s focus on the joy and love that’s waiting for us!

That is where we can choose to focus our energy.


Creating fun games that are tailored for the individual animal/group are one way that we can pull away from the drama and fear in the world and create harmony at home.  We can create our own music that moves us all!  Music moves us and gets us groovin, but what can we offer our animal companions to get their bodies and minds movin’ and groovin??

Enrichment.

I have talked about enrichment at great length before. But if you haven’t read those posts, here’s a quick run down on enrichment:

  • promotes naturalistic behaviors
  • stimulates the mind
  • increases physical activity
  • reduces stress
  • promotes overall health
  • increases an animal’s perception of control over their environment
  • empowers the animal with more choices
  • provides constructive ways to occupy their time

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Enrichment is “the act or process of increasing the intellectual or spiritual resources”.

All of that is so important, but one of my favorite by-products of proper enrichment is the bonds it strengthens. – both between animals of the same species and between different species.  This has been a powerful tool in our home.  One of our favorite ways to shift the energy of our group while building bonds that last is by providing species-specific enrichment every day.

For the 3.0 cats (3 males) and 0.1 dog (female) in our family, this was not only a way to shift stagnant energy in their body, but it was a tool to build a bridge between them. We created conditions to create a fun, harmonious, and happy home.  Hocus Pocus and King Albert once had a very combative relationship, but these kind of enrichment activities (and other tools) have dramatically changed their relationship to one based on trust. Physical challenges in older animals were addressed and healing occurred.  Minds were stimulated and stagnation faded.

Behavioral enrichment is the environmental enhancement of the lives of animals in a managed setting by providing them with mental and physical stimulation to increase natural and healthy behavior.

Now to the disco.

In the short video below, “Wake-and-Hunt” (not to be confused with Wake-and-Bake)  😉 you will see one example of how we do this.


“Ah, music,” he said, wiping his eyes. “A magic beyond all we do here!” ― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone


Of course the cats and dog aren’t dancing to disco while they do these foraging activities, but you can see how excited they are to participate!  Seeing their energy shift from stagnation to determination, and boredom to curiosity, is similar to shifting our energy via the right kind of music!  We just need to find the right tune and melody, so to speak, for each individual.

Seniors, in particular, really need to be encouraged to behave, explore, and be stimulated in constructive ways that mimic the experiences they had when they were younger. Nose work is one way that we can do that.


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Casey, the critically endangered lowland gorilla enjoying his birthday carrot cake

For 18 years I have been creating I.E.P.s (Individualized Enrichment Programs) for animals of all shapes, sizes, and species, so it’s now second nature to me.  I often forget that this kind of program isn’t in everyone’s go-to-tool box.  But it should be!  I believe that proper, individualized, species-specific enrichment can be more powerful than basic training.

Choice, control and complexity are key.

Providing conditions in a captive animal’s environment (home, shelter, zoo) that parallels a life were they would normally have endless choices is empowering.  It’s life changing!  Science and experience have proven that by providing this for all species of animals living in captivity, we have the power to reduce and eliminate a myriad of medical and behavioral issues.  When we create conditions that enhance cognition, encourage movement, and improve overall well-being through resources that tap into the individual species’ senses, we can change lives!

With the right kind of movement and music to match the soul, we shift out of pain and suffering into bliss and joy.  – Conscious Companion

You don’t have to be a professional in this area.  You can learn how to provide safe and species-appropriate enrichment to the animals with whom you care for, in your shelter or home!  It does require some planning and creativity, but the effort pays off in the long run.  I will be creating a free E-Book that discusses this in greater detail, but for now:

You can View one example of how we created an I.E.P for one of our geriatric cats here. 

You can view another IEP for our younger cat here.

You can download an overview of our Guidelines for planning an Individualized Enrichment Program here.

Dog and cat foraging enrichment

You too, can create and provide this kind of fun but carefully created mental and physical stimulation for your animal companions every day.  Heck, even once or twice a week could completely shift so much energy in your home!  But before you do, please remember to ask these questions:

Creating enrichment program for CATS_What's the Goal_Questions to ask_Conscious Companion

 

We need to ask important questions BEFORE providing this kind of food enrichment.
A successful food enrichment program is goal-oriented and considers The Big Picture.

  • Do we have a goal in mind?
  • Is the enrichment for one cat? Multiple cats? A cat and another species?
  • What behaviors of each do we want to encourage?
  • How will these behaviors be encouraged?
  • Will the foraging enrichment be created (or purchased)?
  • Is it safe? (see unsafe/failed enrichment here)
  • How will we implemented it?
  • How will we evaluate the response and the effect?
  • Are there any diet restrictions?
  • Health issues?
  • Is there any oversight that should involve a feline nutritionist or a feline health practitioner?
  • Are we utilizing the 5 categories of enrichment? – If not, why?


“There are two means of refuge from the misery of life — music and cats.” ― Albert Schweitzer


You might have noticed that I am highlighting cats in this post.  I am because the majority of people believe that cat’s don’t need as much mental and physical stimulation as dogs.  But this is untrue and very harmful.  Another misconception is that senior and geriatric cats don’t need to get moving daily.   Friend, they DO!

Some Cat Stats at a Glance:

• Cats are currently the most commonly kept pet in the United States
• Cats far outnumber dogs in homes (96 million cats vs. 83 million dogs).
• Cats are mislabeled as low-maintenance pets.
• This leads to cats housed in suboptimal environments.

• Cats are the number one animal euthanized at shelters due to “behavioral issues”.
• Cats with medical or behavioral issues were the ones most likely to be re-homed to an animal shelter, (instead of being re-homed with friends or family members.)

When the environment of house cats don’t match the conditions they need in order to thrive, medical and behavioral issues arise.  Medical issues lead to behavioral issues which leads to a stressful household.  It can be a vicious cycle.  All of this can lead to a weakening of the human-animal bond, which often results in the owners surrendering the cat to a shelter, tossing the cat onto the streets, or euthanizing the cat.

Sub-optimal conditions are associated with increases in dozens of health and behavioral issues. Aggression, attention-seeking behaviors, and stress-related behaviors can be results of suboptimal conditions of captivity.  In fact, House-soiling is the most frequently cited behavior problem for cats, followed by aggression toward people. Below are just a few common conditions created by sub-optimal conditions for house cats:

  • Obesity
  • Type 2 diabetes mellitus
  • Joint problems
  • Chronic lower urinary tract issues
  • Behavioral and mental health problems

 

The Reality is that house cats and their conditions don’t match.

The conditions house cats are kept in are often the least natural to their species. Our feline companions are very similar to their closest ancestor, the African wildcat, in terms of their behavioral needs and instincts.  Therefore, the conditions of house cats should parallel those of their closest wild ancestor, the African wildcat.

Scent is another biggie that’s overlooked in companion cats.  A cat’s sense of smell is 40x stronger than ours.   Scent is crucial when it comes to social situations, locating prey, and  maintaining safety.  Scent is also crucial when it comes to evaluation of food.  If more cat guardians gain a better understanding of the vital role that scent plays in a pussycat’s life, they can use this tool to enhance their feline friend’s life!

“Importantly, a better understanding of cat chemical signals has critical applied implications, as scent (and marking) plays an important role in many species-typical cat behaviors, problem behaviors, and can also serve as enrichment if properly understood and applied.” – Vitale Shreve and Udell

Providing various scents for cats to find is very enriching to cats. We can use everything from catnip to canned food.  Some other great options are  silver vine, honey suckle, local bird feathers, potting soil, beach sand, etc.  Encouraging cats to harness these innate abilities and natural instincts is necessary.

Senior and geriatric cats, in particular, really need to be encouraged to behave, explore, and be stimulated in constructive ways that mimic the experiences they had when they were younger.  Nose work (like you saw in the video above) is one way that we can do that every day.   When we set the scene for a cat to use his/her exquisite senses we are helping our house cats to live a life worthy of their ancestors. We are allowing house cats to THRIVE.

That is why we provide these kind of fun enriching activities every day!

Albert foraging yard

The goals of enrichment are to offer a sense of control by allowing animals to make choices and to stimulate species-appropriate behaviors

Animal guardians can learn about who their pet is as a species. We can learn their individual hunting styles, personal preferences, and dislikes /fears.  Guardians can provide proper species-specific conditions inside their home that parallel the animal’s natural life in the wild.  People can learn how to help their companions to thrive inside!

  • We can change lackluster homes into thriving environments!
  • We can enhance the lives and longevity of our animal family members!
  • We can enhance the bond between animals and their guardians!
  • We can build bonds between every species in the home!
  • We can keep animals in homes.
  • We can Build Bonds That Last!


My challenge to you is to allow yourself to let go of the drama and stress of life by creating a peaceful kingdom at home.  Let laughter and joy become the centerpiece of your home.  Create memories that last, well after your beloved moves on.  Create harmony by enriching their environment … and yours.

There doesn’t need to be any pressure.  There is enough pressure in this crazy world; we need not add any to our life.  The idea is to create therapeutic, enriching, and fun activity time together every day.  We all need more fun!  Funk it up!  Help them get their groove back! And yours! Create the time to add in more playtime, more ways to bond, and to release the stress of life.  Together.

 


You know you ought to slow down

You been working too hard and that’s a fact
Sit back and relax a while
Take some time to laugh and smile

Lay your heavy load down
So we can stop and kick back
It seems we never take the time to do
All the things we want to do

The S.O.S Band (video)


 

I am curious.  What kind of fun mental and physical games do you play with your animal companions?  What has worked well?  What kinds of exciting enrichment opportunities will you create this week together?

My hope is that you will choose to create moments of joy together and memories that last forever.  My hope is that you will create your own musical masterpiece together and dance to your own tune.  My hope is that you will turn to your beloveds when the world is too much with you.  My hope is that you can find peace within your animal kingdom at home.

Be well.

Be at peace.

Let your heart be light.

Let your animals be your greatest teachers.

Let go and remember to laugh with the ones you love!

Abstract background blue,yellow and orange


 

Recommended Videos and Links:

 

“We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.” ― Arthur O’Shaughnessy

 

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

Anal Glands, Superman, and Polyester Fleece

June 2015


What do anal glands and polyester have in common?  -More than you would think!  These are two very important factors that need to be considered if you are planning on taking your cat or dog to the veterinarian.

Did you know?

  •  When some animals are afraid they can (and often do) secret their anal glands.
  •  Anal secretion happens quite a bit a the veterinarian.
  •  This can create fear in pets.
  •  This fear can be prevented.

 

The Anal Area – What You Need to Know

Dogs and cats, as well many other small mammals, have a pair of glands located just under the skin on both sides of the rectum. These glands are located at about 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock just inside of the anus. These sacs are found in all carnivora. (Carnivora is the order of mammals that includes wolves, dogs, cats, raccoons, bears, weasels, hyaenas, skunks, seals, walruses, and more!)

These glands, commonly called “anal glands,” are actually scent glands. They are designed to secrete a substance that contains pheromones.  Sebaceous glands within the lining secrete a liquid that is used for identification of members within a species.  In fact, anal glands play a very important role in “butt sniffing”. That’s why it’s so common in cats and dogs.

Butt Sniffing 101:  Rather than labeling it as gross or rude, Rethink this behavior as “speaking with chemicals”. 

 

sniffing-butt
It’s how dogs learn about another dog’s diet, gender, and even their emotional state!

 


Fear Can Be Found In Pheromones!

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.  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.


So what does this have to do your with pets?

The video below will explain why this matters.


Veterinary Medicine Editor, Mindy Valcarcel, shares three tips that she learned from veterinary behaviorist Dr. Radosta, at a recent veterinary behavior conference:

  • Dogs Don’t Want to Fly Like Superman.
  • Cats Prefer Polyester Fleece Bedding.
  • Fear Can Be Detected in the Scent of Anal Glands.

 


King Albert The Grey chooses polyester fleece over all other types of bedding.  Turns out, Albert is not unlike other felines;  Cats prefer fleece! 

Albert chooses polyester fleece over all other types of bedding. Turns out, he is like all other felines! Cats prefer the fleece!

Adding a fleece blanket to your cat’s travel kennel and while your cat is at the vet, can help your cat to feel cozy.


Speaking of fearless and cozy, don’t forget how powerful FOOD is for modifying emotions and behavior. Bring those yummy treats with you to every vet visit!  Food should be used properly from the moment you enter the lobby to the moment you leave.  We even use it for our senior cats during their acupuncture sessions! 

conscious-companion_food-in-training_dopamine

High-Value Food: Don’t Leave Home Without It!

 


Conscious Companion_fear Free Vet visit_training dogs_on scale at vet
No FEAR-amones here! Hocus Pocus has learned that going to the Vet results in safe and yummy Good Things!

 

 

 


I share this with you today so you can share these tips with your veterinarian team.  Becoming aware of the facts and the science is how we empower ourselves and our pets. This is being a Conscious Companion.


 

Speak UP!

We can create Fear Free Fridays, 365 days a year.  But we need to know the facts. And we need to share them fearlessly.  Don’t be afraid to tell your veterinarian what you learn!  They might learn something, too!   

Opening the lines of communication with your veterinarian team can help you and your pet to have a safe and pleasant experience together at the vet clinic.  It doesn’t have to be (and shouldn’t be) a fearful experience!  Once you know the facts, you have the power to change their world, and yours.  You are your pet’s best advocate!

 


And just a reminder folks, despite what the Kinks may say, dogs do not want to fly like Superman.  😉

Superman, Superman, wish I could fly like Superman
I want to be like Superman
-The Kinks


Related Videos and Reading:

ConsciousCompanion.com

Let The Games Begin!

invitation PPG

Today is the “opening day” of a brand new, fun competition and you are invited!

Event Details

Who:  You! Your friends! Your family! Your colleagues! Your coworkers! And of course, your animal companions (pets)!

What:  The International Day of Celebration for Force Free Training & Pet Care

When:  Friday, January 17, 2014 – Saturday, March 15, 2014

Where:  In your own home, in the backyard, at the beach, in the mountains, in the forest, in the wetlands, in your neighborhood, at the pool, or at the park! Anywhere you can think of! This is an International Virtual Educational Event, so they possibilities are endless!

Why:  The community of force-free pet professionals and animal guardians recognize, value, and celebrate the positive effects and power of force-free animal training and pet care! We want to share that knowledge with the world and teach others that Force-Free is the way to be!

HostThe Pet Professional Guild

All profits from this event go to the Pet Professional Guild Advocacy Fund for PPG’s advocacy goals in 2014:

The Pet Professional Guild, the Association for Force-Free Pet Professionals (The PPG or The Guild), is a nonprofit member organization headquartered in Bonifay FL, USA. The PPG represents over 1600 members around the world.  The mission of PPG World Services is “Global News & Views on Force-Free Pet Care” and will serve as an advocacy forum for force-free dog training and pet care issues. The key advocacy goal of the PPG is to facilitate an ongoing conversation with pet owners, pet care professionals and industry stakeholders aimed at moving the pet industry forward toward better informed practices, training methods, equipment use and pet care philosophies. The Guild’s message will strive to build widespread collaboration and acceptance of force-free methods and philosophies consistent with its guiding principles.

If you are wondering what all of this means, here it is very simply; Force-Free is defined as:

No shock, No pain, No choke, No fear, No physical force, No physical molding, No compulsion based methods are employed to train or care for a pet.

Animals can be trained without fear, force, or intimidation. That includes ALL pets, ALL animals, ALL species, ALL the time!  Training can and should be FUN for everyone!

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Participation in this global event is simple.  All you have to do is participate in any 30 minute Force-Free Fun Activity with your pet!  Take a walk or a jog, swim or hike, bike or skate, train and teach, but the idea is to spend 30 minutes of Force-Free Fun with your animal companion!  This can be anything and anywhere that you decide. Where do they love to go? What do they enjoy doing? What’s your favorite place to be with them?  Do it when and where it’s convenient for you!

Note: If you don’t have time to complete your chosen event all at once, you can split it up over several days.

force free fun training pet tricks

Photo Fun!

Participants are encouraged to submit photos showing what they did for their fun, chosen event. The photos will be judged on these three criteria:

  • Originality
  • Creativity
  • How much force-free fun the human and pet are having together (this one is strongly encouraged!) Fun is the key!

What’s In It For You!

Each participant will receive:

  • A special competitor medal for your companion animal!
  • A certificate to show off that you rocked the contest!
  • Entry to the fun photograph competition!
  • PRIZES!

Get a sneak peak of the awesome prize list here! And remember to check back as more goodies are added to the list!

Register today to help celebrate and educate others about this important event. Through education and celebration, we can help others learn the value and importance of force-free training and animal companion care methods.  Education and inspiration starts with you!  Won’t you join the fun, Force-Free revolution with us?

Note: The registration deadline is March 3rd. So be sure to add your name to the fun, force-free list today!

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  • We welcome and encourage you to check out the pet owner resource section of The Pet Professional Guild website! You will find tons of helpful resources! You can also listen to a few of the PPG’s free podcasts on iTunes here.
  • If you are still wondering why our Pet Professional Guild has proclaimed An International Day of Celebration for Force Free Training and Pet Care, check out this video and our news release here!  
PPG Web Header
Please spread the word to everyone you know!  Download the event poster here and feel free to share it with your networks and community!

If you are interested in sponsoring the event or becoming involved on any level then please contact Niki Tudge at IFCC@PetProfessionalGuild.com


If you missed the event, don’t worry! We will have another event in February of 2015!!!

… Stay tuned and never miss another event by joining us at The Pet Professional Guild!

Will you become Force-Free All the time?
Will you become Force-Free All the time?

Day of the Dragon!

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

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

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

His name was Kadar and he was a Komodo Dragon.


Here There Be Dragons!

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

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Kadar gently chasing his mate, Kali around their exhibit


Leaping, Learning Lizards!

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

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

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


Lessons Learned 

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

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

 


Not All Was Lost.

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

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Trained Komodo Dragons!

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

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


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

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

Raja even has his own facebook page!

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


Lethal Lizards?

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

Dirty Dragon?

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

Venomous Varanus!

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

 


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


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


Komodo Dragon

Scientific Name: Varanus komodoensis

Fast Facts:  

  • Thekomodo dragon is the world’s largest lizard.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


Recommended Reading for Lizard Lovers!

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


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

dragon


Resources:

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

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

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

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