Creating Calm After the Chaos

Martin Family Halloween 2015
Scary Scarecrow and his friendly Crow
Now that the tricks and treats of Halloween and Samhain are coming to a close, it’s easy to become complacent as we wind down, but be aware: Your animal companions might still be wound up!  The endless sights, sounds, and stressors of Halloween might have deeply affected your animal companions.
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“Oh the crazy things my humans do …” – King Albert the Grey could do without the shenanigans of Halloween

Hocus Pocus and the Kitty Boyz did quite well during the pre and post Halloween festivities because we set everyone up for success, but that doesn’t necessarily mean everyone is Cool and The Gang afterward.  The day after a cacophony of commotion is often when families observe their pets becoming irritable and reactive.  We refer to this as trigger stacking.

Trigger stacking is how stress hormones can create a cluster effect of reactive behavior.  This kind of behavior is also seen in humans; think about when you have lost your temper after one stressful thing after another happens.  When an individual is pushed over their threshold, we see reactivity.  A ‘threshold’ is the point at which one reacts.  They quickly switch from an operant-thinking-mode to a non-thinking-survival-mode.

When the non-thinking-survival-mode kicks in the individual will either fight, flight (flee), fiddle, or freeze.  Below are The 4 F’s –  4 common behavior patterns that animals (and people) will do when afraid or feeling threatened:

  1. Flight
  2. Fight
  3. Freeze
  4. Fiddle About

Stress is both a physical and mental problem.

Stressful events affect all living beings, even on the cellular level.  And be aware: these stress hormones don’t just disappear once the stressful event is over.  The stress hormones can last for days, and even weeks with some individuals.

When conditions in the environment continue to stack up, and when multiple triggers (stressors unique to the individual animal) happen close together, or at the same time, they can have a cumulative harmful effect on the animal.  These stress hormones cause the animal to behave in a way that he/she normally would not.

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.  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!

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.

Pet owners will often see this kind of reactivity when multiple stimuli occur in a short period of time (example: Halloween!)    It’s important to know that we don’t get to decide what’s stressful for the animal; these stimuli are anything that the individual animal is sensitive to.  A reactive animal can be sensitive to dogs, cats, people, sounds, objects, and/or their environment.  This sensitivity can be displayed by various types of reactive behavior such as running, hiding, freezing, growling, hissing, air snapping, biting, and guarding resources such as food, bedding, spaces, people, etc.

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Often during holidays and festive times pets can be under rested. Be sure to give them ample down time for rest. This can reduce their stress levels and reduce reactivity.

365 days a year we do our best to help every animal in our home to feel safe and secure. We continue to counter condition each animal to their individual perceived threats, and we strive to set them all up for success.  We use tools and techniques to ensure their perceived threat level is at zero.  But these are only pieces of the peaceful puzzle.

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King Albert and Beaux are sharing warm sunny spot, enjoying the peace

Reducing Stress Levels by Creating “Down Time”

How do you feel when you are tired and irritable after a long stressful day?  Our animal companions feel this and more when they are forced to participate, or even observe our human shenanigans.  Just watching and listening to so many strange sights and sounds can greatly increase their stress hormone levels!  But we can help them recover by giving them a “cortisol vacation.”   One of the most loving and helpful things we can do as animal guardians is offer all of the animals in our home plenty of safe, quiet places of refuge, especially after busy weekends such as this one.  We can create plenty of “pet down time.”  We can do this by encouraging them to take naps, get plenty of deep sleep, and lots of rest.  We can create a peaceful, calm environment.  Think of ways that you can create peaceful personal retreats for every living being in your home, including yourself!

Knox and I are good at encouraging one another to chillax.
Knox and I are good at encouraging one another to chillax.

Boundaries, Please. 

Creating safe boundaries is an essential key to creating peace and harmony in your home, especially after stressful 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 the pets 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.  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.

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Hocus Pocus tucked in and sleeping soundly after the Halloween festivities.

Was your family prepared for the festivities this year? How did your animal companions do during the commotion? Are you all having a relaxed Sunday together? How do you help your animals and yourself decompress after big events?

Blessings of peace to you and yours!

Halloween Without Havoc!

Halloween Day By Lizzy Rainey
Halloween Day By Lizzy Rainey

From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!
~Scottish Saying

Today is the eve of All Hallow’s Eve.  Saying “I love Halloween” doesn’t even scratch the surface of how much I enjoy October, Halloween, Day of the Dead ~ Dia de los Muertos and Samhain.  Over the years it’s been clear to anyone that

Mr. Beaux and Knox are Halloween buddies
Mr. Beaux and Knox are Halloween buddies

knows us; we relish everything about this time of year.  Here are just a few facts about our family: Our dog’s name is Hocus Pocus. We were married Halloween weekend.  We have 2 black cats, one grey cat, and an orange tabby (who’s shaped like a pumpkin).  As much as I appreciate every detail of this time of year, our animal companions do not.

Our orange tabby is the very definition of a Scaredy Cat.  Our dog is the Canine Defender of The Castle.  Our grey cat rules them all, and does not like disruptions of any kind.   All things added up; Halloween night is an assault on their senses.

It’s a very good thing that I have learned a few “tricks and treats” over the years to help them all stay safe and comfortable during this festive night! So I created this post to share what I have learned with you!

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I love how their Fur Suits always match the decor 😉

 Tips for Keeping Everyone Safe and Secure This Season

DING-DONG! They’re Heeeeeere!

If your frisky feline or peppy pooch has a bad habit of door darting (like our black cat, Mr. Beaux used to do),  Halloween night can be a real challenge.  The best way to avoid this from happening is to place the escapee in their own separate, quiet room to prevent the chance that he/she has a chance to slip out the door as you’re offering treats to your costumed guests at the front door.

If the weather permits, think about setting up chairs on your lawn or driveway and pass out treats there!   We do this every year now, and this “trick” cuts down on the constant pounding on the door, which is upsetting to any animal.  If it’s too cold where you live and you can’t set up Halloween Candy Camp in your driveway, you can avoid animal freak-outs by doing something very simple: Cover the doorbell.

Cover your doorbell to reduce your pet's stress!
Cover your doorbell to reduce your pet’s stress!

Halloween TIP:   If you’re not going to be home on Halloween night, turn off your lights!!  Everyone knows that a dark house means no candy, and that means you will avoid the congo line of costumed kids banging on the door all night, and upsetting your furry or feathered family members while you are gone.

If you still want to give out candy when you are not here, cover the doorbell and put up a sign that says “Please DO NOT knock!”.  Then leave out a bowl of candy with a sign that reads, “Please take one and leave some for the rest of the ghosts and ghouls!”.

The Sanderson Sisters from the movie “Hocus Pocus” are doing a perfect imitation of what our animals look like when Trick-Or-Treaters masquerade the streets and ring the doorbell all night

Keep Halloween Candy Away From Your Pets!

Keep candy far out of reach of the animals!
Keep candy far out of reach of the animals!

Dogs will eat almost anything.   Cats don’t have a sweet tooth, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t try to gobble down goodies that are left out. (We all know that anything left out is a personal offering to a cat).  Birds are just as inquisitive as cats, so birds check things out with their mouths – including candy.

Killer Candy Facts:

  • Chocolate is deadly to pets.  It contains theobromine, which can cause nerve damage and even death.  The darker the chocolate, the more concentrated it is — and the smaller the lethal dose.
  • Explain to everyone in your home how dangerous treats are to animals.  Place the kids’ candy supply somewhere well out of reach of pets.  Caution your children about leaving candy wrappers on the floor.
  • Candy wrappers and candy can cause choking or a blockage.
  • Xylitol (found in gum and many candies) can cause an increase in insulin in the body and can also lead to liver failure.

“Some cats have developed a taste for sugary foods from having been offered them by their cat parents. Additionally, some cats may initially be attracted to the wrapper and then will attempt to eat the candy when playtime is over.” ~Pam Johnson-Bennett

Be a Conscious Companion by keeping the bowl of candy for the trick-or-treaters well out of your animal’s reach. Why take the chance?


AMUCK AMUCK AMUCK!

amuck

Costume Dos and Don’ts

Fun for kids, Scary for our pets!
Fun for kids, Scary for our pets!

You may enjoy watching your kids goof around and run amuck in their Halloween costumes, but your animal companions may have a very different reaction.  Birds, cats, and dogs can become very frightened when they see their normal looking human walk into the bedroom and then later walk out as a monster.

Please discuss with your kids or partner (well ahead of time) about how acting out the part of their Halloween character can be quite terrifying to the animals.  Have your kids show the costume to the animal before they put in on.  Better yet – let the animal watch them “transform”.  I used this technique with the cats and Hocus Pocus when I transformed into a Red Riding Hood Werewolf last year.

Can you imagine the animals' fright if I had walked into the bathroom as plain-ole-me and walked out as this monster?!
Can you imagine the animals’ fright if I had walked into the bathroom as plain-ole-me and walked out as this monster?!

Please ask your kids to think about how they can still have fun, but be conscious of their animal companion.  If the pet is still frightened of the costume, you can pair the animal’s favorite treats or toys with your child or significant other in full (or even partial) costume.  If the animal is still clearly afraid, place them in the other room during the costume parade so everyone can have a good time.

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Me and my hubby on All Hallow’s Eve – We made sure the critters saw us transform, to prevent scaredy cats and canines!

 

Ask your kids and other adults to avoid getting in the your pet’s face. This may just be a playful attempt to spook your pets, but any animal that sees his or her family members dancing around in crazy costumes, screaming loudly can easily start to feel fear and anxiety.  What your kids and your significant other may see as good-natured fun can easily cause anxiety for the unsuspecting sensitive animal.

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Yawns, Sniffs, Licks & Shakes Could Be Signs of Stress! 🎃👻👾💀👹🐾

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As you visit Fall places with your pup, remember to be aware of their stress levels.  For example, sheck out this pic of me & Hocus Pocus.🎃 I’m having a blast at the pumpkin patch, but she is not. She doesn’t want to be up there with people staring at her. She’s clearly uncomfortable. And like most dogs, she doesn’t like cameras in her face.
So we ended the photo sesh quickly and let her run around and sniff to blow off her stress.

🔶How do I know she’s not feeling cool, confident, and comfortable in the pic? Check out her mouth. She’s about to offer a yawn. When a dog yawns, the dog may not be tired. The dog could be displaying signals that she is stressed, conflicted, or frustrated. Hocus is doing just that by trying to tell us that she is uncomfortable at this moment.

Read more about how you can decipher the canine clues here!


When it comes to pets and costumes, please consider their feelings and sense of safety.  Please refrain from dressing your pets up in ridiculous costumes. It can be very stressful to them, and it’s often not safe. 


Please refrain from dressing your pets up in ridiculous costumes. It's not cool.
If you really feel the need, take a quick picture of them in the costume, then let them go on their way in their natural fur suit.

 

Halloween Tips That I Have Learned Over The Years!

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Tricks and Treats That Help! 

Give them things to chew on and play with to occupy them while they are in their “safe hideout”.
Give them things to chew on and play with to occupy them while they are in their “safe hideout”.
  • Reduce Noise:  Cover the doorbell so it’s not ding-donging all night!
  • White Noise:  Turn on classical music or animal-friendly T.V. shows to muffle the noises outside.
  • Exercise:  Get your pets T I R E D before Trick-Or-Treaters arrive!  If they are happily tired from healthy play and exercise they are less likely to be on alert and energetic all night.
  • Rooms of Refuge:  Be sure they have a room to hide in that’s safe and quiet!
  • Keep Them Inside:  Keep ALL animals inside around Halloween!  Having to temporarily endure your animal’s vocal complaints is nothing compared to risking his or her safety.  Check out the 12 Reasons to Keep Your Cat Indoors!

    Enrichment toys/ chews can help your bird to be less anxious on Halloween
    Enrichment toys/ chews can help your bird to be less anxious on Halloween
  • Desensitize Well Beforehand: If you know that your animal is reactive to doorbells or door knocking, you can learn how to Keep Your Dog Calm When the Doorbell Rings.  Please note: Halloween night isn’t the time to start working on polite greetings, “quiet” commands, or acceptance of masks and costumes without any prior exercises!

 


Have a Happy Halloween … Without Havoc!

 


Avoid turning your dog into a fearful hound from hell by removing him/her from the scary sights and sounds, or prepare them ahead of time by desensitizing techniques with a professional, force-free trainer

 

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Hocus Pocus is well-desensitized to the fright and sights of the season.  There’s no scary “Boos!” for her … maybe just hoarding bones and being bored while we decorate 😉

 

Do you have tricks and tips that have worked for you and your animal companions on Halloween night?  Please share your suggestions in the comment section below! Together we can help to make Halloween Havoc-free for ourselves and our animal companions!

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When black cats prawn and pumpkins gleam, may luck be yours on Halloween! – Anonymous

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Halloween at our house – Carlsbad Beach, California, Oct 2017