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 toolsand 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.
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.
▪️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?
🔸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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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??
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
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
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.
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 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:
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)?
“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:
Type 2 diabetes mellitus
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!
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
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 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!
Wow. How are we already past the midway point of 2017!?
Hello Summer! And hello to you!
It’s been 3 months since I shared here. So much has happened since the last post . After our beloved King Albert transitioned into Spirit, life has been a roller coaster of sorts. Saying goodbye to him was a heartbreaking and familiar path, but this time the path was paved with life-changing insights and experiences. So much love, learning, healing, and growth has happened in the process.
But that’s not what I am sharing with you today.
As I discussed in an earlier post, my life and work is now a blend of science, metaphysics, and spirituality. My last post was a bit of both, and rather lengthy. Today’s post is science-based and short-n-sweet to save us all time. 😉
If your cat is cool with the cacophony of clangs, I commend him. If your dog digs having strangers over with a symphony of explosions, and scary sights and scents, I bow down to her. If your parrot, ferret, pig, or horse is unphased by the big bad booms around their dojo, they are the minority.
Most animal companions are not coolwith the Fourth of July.
If you have worked with or lived with an animal, you know that most are frightened of loud or startling noises. Even the ones who enjoy being around new people can be pushed to their limit. Strangers in your home during the holiday can stress out even the most subdued souls.
Even if your animal companion has not displayed fear around these family events before, the sights, scents, and sounds on The Fourth of July could easily bring out their most intense fears. And these fears don’t pass after the festivities are over; they can manifest as physical issues well after the event.
It can be a living nightmare for many.
💥 So, what’s a devoted animal guardian to do?!? –> BE AWARE. –> PLAN. –> PREPARE.
Here’s the Good News: Family festivities on the 4th of July don’t have to become Fright Night to our animal companions! There are many things that you can do to help your animal family members successfully cope with the Big Bad Booms and Bangs!💥
Let’s Get to Sharing!
Below are resources that I have been sharing like wildfire for weeks on our InstagramTwitter, and Facebook pages. Check em out! And if you have friends, family, or colleagues that would benefit from this information, by all means, share it!
“For it is in giving that we receive.” ― Francis of Assisi
Last weekend, a gifted colleague and I gathered forces to create a live call-in event for families. The intent was to empower people and their pets by sharing tools, tips, and techniques, and also to dispel myths. This event was created to help animal guardians across the country to prepare for the Night of Assault on the Senses.
It was a huge success.
Countless people had NO CLUE that it’s really OK to comfort the animal when they are afraid; how and why food can and should be used as a tool to modify fear; why medication is often very helpful; holistic tools that actually work; how to identify and create safe hide outs; why play is powerful.
All of these topics were new to many.
People were so relieved to learn that they do have the power to help their pets! People learned how and why these tools are vital to having a night that’s fear-free on the 4th of July. During the live event we discussed:
Sight, Scent, Sound, and Tactile senses 101
How & Why we should desensitize them to loud noises NOW
Signs of Stress in parrots, cats, and dogs
How to properly use FOOD to modify fear 🥓✨
Why cats behave certain ways when they feel threatened
What you can provide to help them feel safe and secure
Why “bolt holes” are critical for dogs and cats
Holistic Tools to use
Why you might want to consider contacting your vet now
So that’s some of what’s been on my mind the past couple of weeks, which is why I was motivated to share with you today. I hope this is helpful. And I hope you know that it is possible to have a Fear-Free Fourth of July.
You can do this!
If you have questions or concerns, shoot me an email, or comment below. 🙂
For those of you who are new to this blog, welcome! I am so grateful you are here! For those of you who have been here since the beginning, and for those who are interested, here are some other exciting projects in the works:
I am closer to completing my first children’s book (gah!)
A video series on how to positively leash train cats of all ages & stages via force-free techniques (with an emphasis on senior and geriatric cats!)
Kids-In-Cali Animal Communication workshops
Dog and Kid Safety workshops for our Marines at Camp Pendelton
A video series on assisting aging cats with force-free medical care at home
Connecting with Animals on the Other Side – a complimentary program for pet parents who are struggling with death, loss, and grief
Empaths with Pets: how highly sensitive people can learn from their animal companions
As I am guided I will be sharing more about each of these with you here in the future. In the meantime, check out these free resources so you and your beloveds can have a Fear-Free 4th of July together! 🎉
With infinite Love and Gratitude,
Amy and the animal menagerie🐾
Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family. -Kofi Annan
Birds flyin’ high, you know how I feel Sun in the sky, you know how I feel Breeze driftin’ on by, you know how I feel It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me. Yeah, it’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me, ooooooooh… And I’m feelin’ good.
Feeling Good is what everyone strives for. Whether it’s that much needed hug, a glass of wine, mediation, a pay raise, play, or the touch of a lover or loved one, we want and need to feel good. Animals need to feel good too. And they will behave and respond to their environment in ways that enable them to feel good, or at the very least, feel better.
Thankfully there are chemicals at work that help both people and animals to feel better.
One of these is Dopamine.
“It’s like one of those scenes from a feel-good Hollywood movie. Where everybody is happy and nobody’s hair fizzes in the wind. Where it doesn’t rain, your shoes stay comfortable all day, and everybody’s jokes are funny.” ― Randa Abdel-Fattah
Dopamine is a chemical in the body. It’s one of the chemical signals that pass information from one neuron to the next. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers in humans and animals. Dopamine helps regulate movement and emotional responses, It also enables one not only to seek out rewards, but to take action to move toward rewards.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a major role in reward-driven learning and helps regulate movement and emotional responses.
The chemical Dopamine helps to regulate:
-behavior and cognition
-inhibition of prolactin production
A single molecule in the brain can do all of this! Dopamine Is Powerful.
But so is food.
Needed Nutrients from Food
Animal Behavior (including people) is regulated by neurotransmitters and hormones. These substances have precursors – chemical compounds that precede them in metabolic pathways. For example, Tryptophan, is the precursor of serotonin (a neurotransmitter).
If we can make these precursors more or less available we can alter behavior.
One example is the presence (or absence) of Tryptophan in canines. Scientists believe that this may affect both aggression and stress resistance in dogs. Tyrosine is a precursor of catecholamines; hormones produced by the adrenal gland. These may also affect aggression and stress resistance. You can read more about that here.
The nutrition (or lack thereof) that we provide our animal companions affects not only their body, but also their mind, which in turn affects behavior.
The right kind of food can literally change an animal’s brain chemistry. This is an important first step in everything from training basic behaviors to addressing aggression.
Food has the power to not only enhance a dog’s ability to learn but also to help a dog overcome fear or anxiety by raising the levels of dopamine in the brain and stimulating the desire to seek or move towards the food reward.
Using Food to Feel Better
We all know to feed our pets when they are hungry. And most people feed their pets in the morning and night. But what if there was another, better, more effective way to feed them?
What if we fed our pets throughout the day (or night) when they need to feel better?
What if we used food to help them feel better in challenging situations?
What if we used food when they were afraid?
What if food could be a tool you could use to reduce their stress?
What if food appeared when that frightening fox dashes past the window?
What if food was present when you took him to the veterinary’s office?
What if it rained food when she is frustrated, confused, scared, or reactive?
What if food you knew that food was this powerful?
What if you knew you could wield this power to help them to FEEL GOOD?!
Food is that powerful. This is how we should use their food.
The Power of Food
Food can increase the level of dopamine in the brain! This is why we recommended using FOOD when training, modifying behavior, and when we need to minimize an animal’s stress, fear, aggression, and anxiety. If an animal is offered food before reaching a high stress level, while in the presence of a stimulus that frightens or triggers her, a positive emotional response occurs.
FOOD IS A TOOL.
Food is not a bribe. We are not teasing, luring, or bribing an animal to get them to do what we want. When we are using the right kind food, there are actual chemical reactions taking place in the brain and the body! Here is some of what is happening when food is used as a tool.
When you present a highly desirable food option to an animal you turn on the animal’s ‘seeker system.’ This dials down the emotion of fear.
Instead of feeling fear the brain begins to be overcome with the pleasurable feelings that food provides to an animal.
It also allows the animal to have a greater ability to focus on the good-feeling sensation and less on the negative emotion (fear, frustration, stress, anxiety, etc.)
This enhances an animals positive, focused attentiveness
In turn, it allows the animals to shift into a calmer state in their mind and body.
In this calmer, more relaxed state, learning and behavior modification can occur.
When To Use Food
Visits to the vet. Walks in the park. Unexpected Visitors. Using the vacuum. Bringing a new baby into the home. New people in your apartment. Getting into the cat carrier. Moving. Staying in a hotel. You name it; there needs to be high value food involved.
I honestly cannot think of when food would not be appropriate to use when working with an animal of any species. Whether you are working with a crocodile to station politely and practice self-restraint, or you are asking a cat to station on her cat tower instead of the counter, food is at the heart of it all. One of my favorite opportunities to use food is at the vet’s office. Whether we are at the cat specialist for King Albert’s acupuncture, or we are at the veterinarian waiting room for Hocus’ annual exam, you can bet that I have food on me.
Food should be used during any kind of family transition, or any situation that your animal companion finds challenging. Food should be used in any situation where your pet might experience anxiety, stress, fear, and even aggression. Yes, you read that correctly. Food can (and should) be used to help a pig, parrot, cat, rat, horse, dog if they are struggling with a variety of behavioral issues.
Anxiety, aggression, frustration, and fear can be managed safely and positively by using food as a tool. Food can increase one’s focus, their attention, their mood, and more! Food can change a crazed canine into a cool canine. Food can change a fearful feline into a confident kitty. Food can help a bird to not be so bashful. Food is powerful. And we are not using it enough.
Food to Use
When use are choosing what food to use, think High-Value and practical. If you are feeding your pet a high-grade pet food, sometimes this can be used as a behavior modification tool. We feed Hocus Pocus the Cadillac of canine food, so she goes bonkers for her kibble! The cats never get dry food these days, so when I break out the grain-free cat kibble they lose their minds! These are the kind of food responses you want from your pet when you are using food. If you aren’t sure if your dog or cat’s dry food will make the cut, you will need to experiment with foods that your pet will go nuts for. Some good foods to begin with are turkey, bacon, cheese, hot dogs, fish. etc. -anything they don’t normally receive, or anything they are super psyched to get!
One of my favorite on-the-go-food-treats is Stella and Chewies. These don’t crumble, and are not greasy. And the end goal is met: they are irresistible to the animals.
Pay me in food, human!
Studies have shown that dogs don’t want petting or soothing words as much as they prefer a primary reinforcer (food). They prefer petting over soothing words, and they prefer food over petting! I have found this to be true for cats as well. And for parrots and reptiles as well.
So where’s the beef ? It needs to be used.
Food is a primary reinforcer for our pets! Primary reinforcers are biological. Food, drink, and pleasure are the principal examples of primary reinforcers. We can use food as a tool with regards to its importance to an animal.
Using food as a tool is not hard, people. It can be very easy. Rather than dumping all the food in a boring bowl (ahem, we have talked about this before), it’s better to keep high-value treats (and food that they LOVE) handy. This food should be hand around the home, convenient in your car, and easily pluck-able from your purse or pocket.
Here’s Why: You never know when fear might strike.
Here’s How: Make it Rain Treats! Rain those goodies down when and wherever something frightening, startling, or scary happens. (Even if you don’t think the person, place, or event was scary, your pet does), so make it rain, baby. Rain down the treats!
If you are unfamiliar with food as a tool, you can see how we use food in these videos:
Let’s get back to Dopeamine for a minute. Dopamine is considered a “reward” chemical. When we are using food, we are able to increase the level of dopamine in the animal’s brain. What we as humans, call rewards, are often things that are unexpectedly good. Let’s say for example, you run into an old, favorite pal, or your boss surprises you with a pay raise. Or maybe your spouse takes you on a romantic vacation. These unexpected events lead to positive prediction errors, and increases in dopamine.
As cool as that is, there is more to the dope, hip chemical called Dopamine. More and more studies are showing that this neurotransmitter is not responsible for pleasure per say, but it has more to do with motivation.
Low levels of dopamine make people and other animals less likely to work for things, so it has more to do with motivation and cost/benefit analyses than pleasure itself. – Salamone, a UConn Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor,
Researchers have found that in animals, dopamine levels can actually spike after stress! This could be something such as losing a fight with another animal, or seeing a predator outside the window. Humans also experience a spike in dopamine after stressful encounters. Soldiers dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder also show activity in dopamine-rich parts of the brain when hearing recorded gunshots and other combat sounds.
So what’s with dopeamine coming out during negative experiences?
One researcher believes he has found the reason. A scientist was able to artificially raise (or lower) dopamine levels in animals. Then he gave them a choice between two rewards with a different value, which could be obtained through different amounts of work. For example, he wanted to see what a rat would do when given an easy or difficult choice. On one end of a corridor he place a pile of food. On the other end there was a pile of food twice as big, but this end has a small fence that the rat had to jump over to get the food.
The results are fascinating!
Animals with lowered levels of dopamine almost always choose the easier, low-value reward. But the animals with normal levels of dopamine didn’t mind exerting more energy and effort to jump the fence to receive the high-value reward. (I know many species of animals and people who behave the same way!) Other studies in depressed human patients have corroborated these results.
The scientist who did the study believes, “This lack of perceived energy is maladaptive, because it reduces the tendency to interact with the environment. But, it could also reflect the body’s attempt to save energy in a crisis.”
I found that study fascinating and helpful. If motivation is directly related to dopeamine, and food can increase the level of dopeamine, then why are we not using food more often? Why is food not front and center and at the heart of any training or behavior modification program? Why are we as animal guardians not using food as a tool with our pets?
Maybe today you will. Maybe one day we all will.
I have hope for us all!
More To Come!
This is part three of a four part series about how to help you and your pets cope with grace and ease during times of stress or Big Family Changes. Stay tuned for the next post.
But in the meantime, Get Some High High-Value Food … And Don’t Leave Home Without It!
Fish in the sea, you know how I feel
River runnin’ free, you know how I feel
Blossom on the tree, you know how I feel
It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me,
And I’m feelin’ good
What do anal glands and polyester have in common? -More than you would think! They 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 your 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!)
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 all of this matters to you and your pets.
Veterinary Medicine Editor, Mindy Valcarcel, shares three tips that she learned from veterinary behaviorist Dr. Radosta, at a recent veterinary behavior conference here in D.C. :
Dogs Don’t Want to Fly Like Superman.
Cats Prefer Polyester Fleece Bedding.
Fear Can Be Detected in the Scent of Anal Glands.
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.
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.
Cats prefer polyester fleece over other materials (Hawthorne AJ, Loveridge GG, Horrocks LJ (1995). The behaviour of domestic cats in response to a variety of surface-textures. (pp. 84-94) In: Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Environmental Enrichment (Holst B, Ed.), Copenhagen