Looking at Fear

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

ACIM_new thoughts_no fear_choose love

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

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

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


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


Changes in the Wind

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

The Upside and Downside

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

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

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

 

Fear of What We Fear Most

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


 

Success AND Stress Are Both Dependent upon You.

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

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


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


Who’s Driving Your Life?

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ Incubus, “Drive”

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

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


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


 take back your power _conquering fears

Fears Hinders Guidance, Inspiration, and Solutions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


 

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

The Power of Choice

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

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

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


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


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

Choose to tell a different story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


 

Make-a-Difference_change your thoughts_ACIM

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

I have decided to choose to move forward without fear.

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

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

green energy surrounding a heart


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


 

Ready to Release, and Rock & Roll?

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

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

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

 you get to choose_the power of choice



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


 

 

Holiday Tips – Happy Homes with Happy Hounds

Thanksgiving is almost here! Christmas is right around the corner!
(Just typing that out was stressful for me.)

Not only can the holidays be stressful for us, but they are especially stressful for our animal companions.  Changes in our routines, the many visitors coming and going, and our stress levels can create havoc in our homes, and affect our pets.

When we combine all of those factors, we can create the “perfect storm”.  Dog experts correlate the increase in dog bites during the holidays to the increase in commotion and stress in our homes.

Thankfully, the folks at DoggoneSafe created these helpful tips to keep everyone happy and safe this holiday season:

holiday pet tips

Check out more helpful holiday tips here!

Please share these tips with your family and friends!  Educating each other is how we keep everyone safe and happy!

“May your walls know joy, may every room hold laughter, and every window open to great possibility.” – Mary Anne Radmacher

Why Training Is Essential

Training is not a luxury, but a key component to good animal care.

Zazous, the rescued Moluccan cockatoo with "Flat Stanley" at the Audubon Zoo
Zazous, the rescued Moluccan cockatoo with “Flat Stanley” at the Audubon Zoo

There are many reasons people choose to train an animal.  Some people train animals to avoid being bitten, attacked, or crushed by them.  Some people train animals to avoid being their next meal.  Some people train animals to make their lives easier when working with them.

Those are a few of the reasons why I started training animals, but over the years I started to appreciate other reasons for training them.

I became dedicated to training animals because we had fun together!  I enjoyed training them because it enhanced our relationship.  I looked forward to training them because it was fun challenge, where everyone would win!   I appreciated training animals because I always learned something new about them.  I became humbled when training animals because they always found a way to “train” me in the process.  Training became one of my favorite forms of communication.  Training became an essential part of my life.  Training was an essential part of their life.

Something else I learned while training animals:  If someone acquired the skills, understood the techniques, and practiced patience, they could do it, too.

I am not special.  I merely took the time to learn the techniques.  I practiced the skills.  I learned patience.  I made mistakes.  And I tried again and again.

That’s why I want to talk with you about training.  You can train animals the force-free way, too!  But before we begin, you have to understand what training really is.


What Is Training?

 

Training is “teaching”.

When we make a conscious effort to train an animal to display a particular behavior, we are training the animal.  However, sometimes we influence (train) our animal’s behavior inadvertently, without being aware that we are teaching them.  We do this through our actions, or through other stimuli present in their environment.

That’s why it’s so important that we become aware of that fact that we are always training.

Whether you are consciously aware of it or not, you influence what your animal companion learns.  You are their teacher.  As their caretaker, you are teaching the animals that you care for 24 hours a day!  Now ask yourself, what are you teaching them?

ALL ZOO PICS FROM WORK PC 026
When Menari, the Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) was born, we made sure that every interaction she had with us was a positive one. She was gradually exposed to people, places, and things that would help her to feel safe and secure in our human world.

Training is all about associations.

The key to an optimal environment at home (or in captivity) is to assist an animal’s opportunity to make associations that enhance its overall well-being.   Simply put, as their guardians (or caretakers), we help animals to feel more secure, safe, and content in their environment by creating scenarios where the animal feels good about who and what they encounter every day.   As various training methods are being applied to an increasingly diverse number of species, it is important to understand what methods are appropriate (and which are not appropriate).

ALL ZOO PICS FROM WORK PC 307
Dedicated animal trainers teaching one of our giraffe that people = only Good Things!

Training is about building a relationship.

When we are training an animal using positive methods, we are building trust.  Trust is the foundation on which all relationships are built upon.   Positive-based training is one of the best ways to enhance the relationship between a person and an animal, and maintain this trust for a lifetime.  Training increases trust and builds confidence. It builds bonds that last a lifetime!  Training creates a happy, harmonious environment.

 

Reward-Based Training is how you gain the trust of animals, like our handsome Tapir, named Melon!
Reward-Based Training is how you gain the trust of animals, like our handsome Tapir, named Melon!

Trust is one of the most important aspects of any training plan.  What defines a good relationship between trainer and trainee is a strong positive reinforcement history.

 


Why Training Is Essential

Training is a key component to an animal’s well being.  Training is the key to safety, harmony, and well-being in our homes!  A home without a well trained, well behaved animal is chaotic and stressful.  Most – if not all – animal behavioral issues can be successfully managed with a formal training plan.  From trips to the vet, to trips to the park, training is at the heart of having these experiences be a positive one for everyone involved.

This Rhino learned through positive training that people are safe, which allowed our zoo guests to interact with her.
This rhino learned through positive training that people are safe, which allowed our guests to interact with her on a daily basis. She could choose if she wanted to interact with them, or not. These same methods of learning can be used on your pets at home!

 

Animals deserve the best care we can possibly provide. Training should not be considered a luxury that is only provided if there is time; it is an essential part of good animal care.  Just as one would never consider developing an animal care program without a veterinary component, a nutritional component, a social component, and an environmental component; nobody should consider caring for an animal without a behavioral management component integrated into the program. ~ Ken Ramirez

 


Every year, Ken Ramirez leads a sold-out seminar for students and professionals in the animal training field.  Ken was one of my greatest teachers as I was learning about the science of animal training.  Watch Ken’s interview, as he explains why training is essential, how we are training animals every day- whether we realize it or not, and how the laws of learning work on all species, including people!

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CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO WATCH the VIDEO!

We are limited in what we can accomplish because of preconceived notions of what is possible.  When we limit ourselves or our pets, we also limit our view of what is possible.  Of course, there are limits to what we can train.  But sometimes we don’t give our dogs credit for being capable of far more than what we see them do traditionally.  

~Ken Ramirez, Executive Vice President of Animal Care and Animal Training at the world-renowned Shedd Aquarium; Executive Vice President and Chief Training Officer at Karen Pryor Clicker Training (KPCT)


Why Training Your Pet Improves Their Life, and Yours!

In the video below, Ken Ramirez share tips on how to train your own furry friend using the same world-class training and care that endangered species receive in captivity!  He also explains why clickers and “targeting” are helpful when training pets.  Ken demonstrates these techniques with a shelter dog that was once trained for dog fighting.  See how force-free, science-based training has transformed this Fighting Fido into a Canine Companion:

My message would be simple: Training is not a luxury, but a key component to good animal care.  Everyone who has a pet should understand that basic fact.  Training is a way to enhance the quality of life for our pets.  It is far more than just teaching a dog to do a cute trick.  Training is about teaching a dog (or any animal) how to live in our world safely.  ~Ken Ramirez

 

hocus pocus
Positive, reward-based training has transformed my relationship with Hocus Pocus, and it has helped her to live in our human more safely and securely.

 

Animal training should be about mutual respect.  The goal is to build a relationship based on trust.  When we build trust while respecting the animal’s individual needs and preferences, we enhance the bond between the animal and the human.  The results improve our life, and the life of our animal companion. ~ Conscious Companion

Coming Up Next:  How Animals Learn – It’s Not an Opinion; It’s Science!


Recommended Reading:

Thinking Beyond the Cue: Ken Ramirez Takes Animal Training to a New Level

Shedd Aquarium Participates in Beluga Conservation Research Program

FIRESTARTERS!

FIRESTARTERS!
FIRE STARTERS!??

According to the National Fire Protection Association, nearly 1,000 house fires are accidentally started by pets each year.  Yes, you read that correctly; a thousand house fires are linked to companion animals in our homes.

When I learned this startling stat I immediately thought of Stephen King’s FireStarter, then I began to laugh as the above images flash into my mind.  As comical as it seems to imagine a dog, parrot, ferret, or cat starting fires like Drew Barrymore did, it’s a very serious concern in homes.  Apparently it’s serious enough to have a day dedicated to it!  Today is National Pet Fire Safety Day, so let’s look at the stats, and see what we can do to change them.

Fire Facts:

  • Home fires are reported every 83 seconds.
  • An estimated 500,000 pets are affected annually by fires.
  • 40,000 pets die each year, mostly from smoke inhalation.
  • Stove tops and/or cook tops are the number one piece of equipment involved in pets starting fires in the home.
  • 2010 study showed that space heaters were responsible for 32% of home-heating fires.

Pet20releaseThe American Kennel Club® and ADT Security Services have joined forces for National Pet Fire Safety Day (July 15) to spread awareness about how pets start home fires, and how we can prevent these fires:

Tips to Prevent Pets from Starting Fires!

  • Extinguish flames!  As counter-intuitive as it seems, many animals will investigate cooking appliances, candles, etc.  Make sure animals are not left unattended around an open flame.  Be sure to extinguish all flames before leaving home, or falling asleep!
  • Be aware of Canine Kleptos!  Food- motivated dogs (and cats!) will often try to climb, jump, and reach up to food left out on the stove/counter.  When they do this they can accidentally hit the stove knobs.  Stove tops/cook tops are the number one piece of equipment involved in pets starting fires in the home.  Fire Safety experts suggest that we remove stove knobs or protect them with covers before leaving the house.  My suggestion is to remove any temptation!  Don’t leave food out! If there is no temptation, they won’t be up on surfaces where they don’t belong.
  • Invest in flameless candles.  These candles contain a light bulb rather than an open flame, and take the danger out of pets knocking over a candle.  Cats are notorious for starting fires when their tails turn over lit candles.  Wagging dog tails can knock over incense and candles.  I have seen cats and dogs burn their tails and whiskers on candle flames, then knock over the flame.  Keep these well out of reach of pets! inglow
  • Secure young pets!  Keep them away from potential fire-starting hazards when you are away from home. Space heaters can be a huge risk for pets starting fires. When in doubt, put any hazardous items away!  Or, use a safe crate, or place the pets in secure areas.

Make It Easy for Firefighters to Help Your Pets!

  • Keep collars on all animals in the home. Keep leashes handy in case firefighters need to rescue them.
  • Keep pets in areas or rooms near entrances where firefighters can easily find them.
  • Affix a pet alert window cling.  Write down the number of pets inside your house and attach the static cling to a front window. This critical information saves rescuers time when locating your pets.  Make sure to keep the number of pets listed on them updated.
  • Keep Your Information Updated – Firefighters are familiar with pet alert window clings so keep the number of pets listed on them updated. Knowing the accurate number of pets in the house aids rescuers in finding all of your pets and provides important information so that firefighters do not put themselves or others in danger when rescuing pets.
  • Install Smoke Alarms and Ensure They Always Have Working Batteries – Change the batteries in your smoke alarm at least once a year and test it monthly to ensure it is functioning.
  • Consider Monitored Smoke Detection Services – Home monitoring services can provide an extra layer of protection for your pet by quickly alerting the fire department if there is an emergency.

Help firefighters to help your pets! Set them up for rescue success!

 

BE PREPARED. Have A PLAN.

  • Know their hiding places!   During a fire your pets will be terrified, and they’ll most likely run to in the places they feel most safe.  If you don’t know their common hiding places, you could run out of time to save your furry, scaly, or feathered friend.
  • Map it out!  Find their hidey-holes and niches. Map these out on a piece of paper, and include the map in your fire escape plan.
  • Always evacuate your pets on a leash or in a pet carrier. Pets will panic at the smell of smoke, and may bolt when outside, making them impossible to find.
  • Prepare an emergency kit for each of your animals. The kit should contain your pet’s food, veterinary paperwork, prescription medications, and an updated photo and description of each animal. You may have to board your pet at a kennel or other facility until you get settled after a fire, and they will require proof that your pet has current vaccinations.
  • Have an evacuation plan. If you have to evacuate your home, and you cannot return for a while, have a plan of action!

 

Get A Pet Alert Window Cling!

You can find them at Petco, and other pet stores.  The ASPCA distributes free alert stickers on their website!  It only takes a few seconds to request one!  I just ordered ours, and it will be arriving soon.

Order a FREE safety window decal for your family!
Order a FREE safety window decal for your family!

 

 

You can also choose from a variety of window clings here.

pet rescue stickers _fire_safety_ There are so many pet rescue stickers available for your home and your animal family!
There are so many pet rescue stickers available for your home and your animal family!

 

Get out and stay out.  If pets are still inside, every attempt will be made to rescue them.  Firefighters have the training, equipment and breathing protection to be in that environment.” ~ Fire Marshall Baker 

Many people have hamsters, parrots, rabbits, rats, and other companion animals. Use a window cling to help the firefighters to LOOK for them in your home!
Many people have hamsters, parrots, rabbits, rats, and other companion animals. Use a window cling to help the firefighters to LOOK for them in your home!

 


 “Planning for unexpected emergencies like home fires and taking these precautions are an integral part of responsible pet ownership.”

 

None of us wants to believe that “those things” can happen to us, but the statistics speak for themselves.  Accidents do happen. Faulty house wiring does occur.  We are forgetful by nature. Mother Nature can be brutal, so we must be prepared.

Have a plan. Be proactive. Our curious critters can cause more damage than you realize!

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Do you have eye for safety or are you blinded by bad habits?


Resources:

United States Fire Administration

Red Cross

ASPCA

 

Stimulate Them!

Animal enrichment promotes naturalistic behaviors that stimulate the mind and increases physical activity.  It reduces stress and therefore promotes overall health by increasing an animal’s perception of control over their environment and by occupying their time. 

An Amur tiger cub enjoying bubble enrichment at the zoo. Amur (Siberian) Tigers are critically endangered. Less than 40 exist in the wild. Zoo breeding programs are helping the species to survive.

While working for a decade as an Enrichment Coordinator for various animal sections at the Audubon Zoo, I learned that physical and mental stimulation is vital to every species on the plant.  Squid, poison dart frogs, mice, tortoises, spiders, jaguars, sheep, dogs, parrots, ferrets, anteaters, cats, and pigs all need daily mental and physical stimulation!  Think of any animal, and I assure you that it needs daily stimulation.

Life is very stale and very boring without enrichment.  Imagine sitting on the couch in your home. There are no windows. You cannot leave the house.  No one ever visits you.  You have no radio, T.V. iPhone, or internet.  You have to eat and drink the same thing every day.  What do you think would eventually happen to your mind and body after a day, then a week, then a month?  This kind of mental stagnation is incredibly harmful to all living creatures.  In fact, it’s downright deadly.

All animals need enrichment, which is a fairly simple but important concept.  Enrichment improves or enhances the environment for an individual animal and stimulates the animal to investigate and interact with their surroundings more.  At the Audubon Zoo, I would enrich an animal’s environment by making changes to structures in their enclosures, present novel objects and scents for them to investigate, change how we presented food to them, and much more.

We encouraged them to forage, hunt, and handle their food in ways that are natural to them in the wild. (The Shape of Enrichment has a great sample article of this kind of enrichment.)  These tools were used on a regular basis at our zoo to alleviate boredom.  Boredom often leads to frustration, and other unwanted behaviors.  Giving animals more choices prevents boredom!

 

animal enrichment_pets_DIY puzzle toys
Offering an animal more CHOICES prevents boredom and other unwanted behaviors!

Coordinating Enrichment for Exotics

As an Enrichment Coordinator, it was my job to ensure that every animal in a particular section had species-appropriate enrichment provided for them every day.  This could be anything from planting geographically appropriate plant species to encourage a critically endangered female Blue Iguana to forage on her native country’s plants to prepare her body for breeding season, to providing a Boomer Ball for our Miniature Donkey in the Children’s Zoo to keep her from becoming bored and harassing the goats, sheep, or visitors!

 

The video below is an excellent example of how we could use a Boomer Ball in a captive zoo environment.  This demonstrates the fun and importance of mental and physical enrichment, with a focus on Choice, Change, and Complexity.

Otters Playing with Boomer Balls at the Philadelphia Zoo

Behavioral enrichment should be random, interesting and novel. The goals of enrichment are to offer a sense of control by allowing animals to make choices and to stimulate species-appropriate behaviors


What Captive Otters Can Teach Us About Our Pets

Right about now you might be asking, “So what does an otter playing with a ball, underwater, at a zoo, have to do with my pet at home?”  Well, that otter is a perfect example of  what I encourage all of my clients to do with their pets, in their homes, every day: mentally and physically challenge them!   Every one of you has the ability to have this much fun with your pets at home!  I am going to explain how you can do this, why enrichment is so important for your pets, and how it improves your life as well.


How Enrichment Helps

Environmental enrichment, when used properly, can positively address many behavioral issues. This can be anything from “rowdiness,” cognitive dysfunction, storm and noise phobias, separation anxiety, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, and behaviors that result from the all too common problem in homes: boredom and/or frustration.

In addition to treating behavioral disorders, environmental enrichment should be viewed as an essential part of providing an excellent quality of life for all pets due to its proven positive effect on the health and well-being of animal companions.


What is Enrichment?

Enrichment can be defined as:

A process for improving or enhancing animal environments and care within the context of their inhabitants’ behavioral biology and natural history.  It is a dynamic process in which changes to structures and husbandry practices are made with the goal of increasing behavioral choices available to animals and drawing out their species-appropriate behaviors and abilities, thus enhancing animal welfare .   (Association of  Zoos and Aquariums [AZA] Behavior Scientific Advisory Group 1999, excerpted from Disney’s Animal Programs).

Behavioral enrichment is defined as “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.”

Simply put, enrichment is “the act or process of increasing the intellectual or spiritual resources”.

More simply put:  Add a little creativity, fun, and stimulation to an animal’s life!

Environmental enrichment for pets (also called behavioral enrichment) is a means to enhance a companion animal’s surroundings. It serves to enhance their life through means in which the animal is presented with novelty in his/her environment. The animal is given opportunities to learn. And the animal is encouraged to engage in natural, instinctive, species-specific behaviors.


Why Enrichment Is Important

Enrichment is as integral to animal care as veterinary and nutrition programs. 

Behavioral enrichment and environmental enrichment are necessary components of life in captivity.  Enrichment improves the welfare of all animals.   All animals in captivity need environmental enrichment whether they live in a zoo, shelter, laboratory, sanctuary, or your home.  It’s one of the 3 Key Elements That My Work Is Based Upon.

Studies have shown that when animals are given an enriched, stimulating environment (a variety of things to do, smell, and explore) they live longer, are better adjusted, more relaxed, better able to develop problem-solving skills, and they remember what they learn.  This directly relates to your pets at home!  Bored animals are easily frustrated, and frustration can lead to destruction.  You can avoid boredom and destruction by enriching your pets!  Enrichment is one of the keys to enhancing your pet’s life.  It is also one of the easiest tools to implement on a daily basis.

Enrichment at Home Serves To:

  •        Curb boredom and restlessness of an animal
  •         Reduce frustration and destructive behaviors
  •         Increase an animal’s natural behaviors, and as result, increase their health and longevity
  •         Teach you new ways to engage and play with your animal companion

 

Types of Enrichment 

Enrichment is generally grouped into the following categories.  All of these can be used at home with your pets:

  • Food based
  • Sensory (touch, sight, smell, taste, and sound)
  • Novel objects
  • Social
  • Positive Training
  • Foraging
DIY pet-enrichment-puzzle-feeders_dog_cat_parrot_turtle
Food, sensory, novel objects, and foraging enrichment are all shown in this image of pets in homes. Can you identify each one?

The Key to Successful (and appropriate!) Enrichment 

As I mentioned earlier, enrichment is something that can, and should be, incorporated into your animal companion’s life every day.  The image above is a great example of how easy it is to do!  However, the key to successful (and appropriate) enrichment for an individual animal is doing a bit of research.  Your homework is to understand your pet’s natural history.  This means that you need to learn about the history of their species, or background and history of their breed.

For example, did you know?

  • The Italian Greyhound was bred to  hunt rabbits.
  • The Dachshund was used to hunt badgers.
  • The main reason cats were bred and kept around homes was originally for hunting vermin.
  • The Bengal cat breed originally came from crossing domestic cats with wild Asian leopard cats.
  • Although cats are carnivores, they still have an occasional craving for live green plants.

All of this matters!  

The breeding history and the natural history of animals affects our pet’s today – even if only on a small level at times.  Your domestic house cat still has a strong predatory instinct, so she needs to hunt every day.  Your cockatoo may live in a metal enclosure in your house, but he/she still has the innate need to chew, fly, and forage.  Your couch potato dog might have a lineage that was bred to swim and retrieve.  We must provide opportunities for animals to do things that are in their DNA.  We can provide simulated hunting, chewing, foraging, and seeking in our homes.  This is what enrichment provides.  It’s important that we take the time to put the pieces of their breed /species puzzle together.


 

Ask yourself:

  • What would my _____ be doing if they were living in the wild??
  • Are they nocturnal, crepuscular, or diurnal?
  • Do they like to climb, hide, or fly?
  • Do they enjoy chewing, foraging or digging?
  • Do they need to soak or bask?
  • Do they hunt, stalk, ambush, or chase?
  • What does this breed of cat do really well, naturally?
  • What does this breed of dog do on his/her own that might be a peek into their genes?
  • What was this breed of dog, cat, horse, etc. originally bred for?
  • What behaviors does this species do naturally in the wild?
  • What kinds of food are found in their country of origin?

Exploring the breed- and species-specific background for each animal in your home is where we should begin thinking about how to provide appropriate enrichment for them.

The video below is an example of how hedgehogs naturally behave in the wild when they have the opportunity to make their own choices.  Why does this matter?  Well, if a hedgehog owner knows how hedgehogs naturally behave, then they can then provide this kind of stimulating environment for their hedgehog in the home!  The same concept is true for your dog, cat, parrot, or turtle!  When we learn about how our animals would behave naturally in the wild, we then have the tools to help them thrive and live long, healthy, happy lives with us in our homes!

Behavioral enrichment should be random, interesting and novel. The goals of enrichment are to offer a sense of control by allowing animals to make choices and to stimulate species-appropriate behaviors


How You Can Provide Enrichment at Home! 

Most people have limited resources available to enrich the lives of their animal companions, which results in a huge lack of appropriate enrichment with most household pets, especially exotic animals.  Making a few changes to their daily routines can greatly enhance the life and longevity of your animal companion! They key is to make things simple and safe, but challenging for the animal.   

 

You don’t have to be rich to enrich your pet’s life!

One thing I learned very quickly while working at the zoo was that funds were limited.  If you wanted to do a lot of enrichment, you had to get creative and do it yourself.  This now carries over into our home, and also when I am working with a family that has a very limited budget.  I teach my clients that anyone can make enrichment toys out of almost anything, and in the process you get to recycle in a super fun way!

Every night we give our dog Hocus Pocus (and the cats) some sort of enrichment challenge to do.  Below is a video demonstrating a very easy one for her, but the point is to not just “give a dog a bone”.  Make them work for it!  Dogs are natural foragers, so allow your dog to utilize his/her natural instincts!  Be as creative as you want to be!  This kind of enrichment provides mental and physical stimulation, and in the process they learn that being alone is a Very Good Thing.  Bonus: it gives you time to do whatever you need to get done while they are having fun!



 

Here’s another suggestion: The old school (“traditional”) method of feeding animals out of a bowl does little to stimulate complex feeding behaviors.  Enrichment keeps animals active and interested, while encouraging natural behaviors!  The video below is a great example of providing simple mental and physical enrichment for a very smart and energetic dog.

And here’s another easy example that we do with our dog, Hocus Pocus every night!


Below are a few more examples of simple, easy enrichment that we use in our home on a daily basis.  Each of these are examples of natural behaviors that the animal would do in the wild if they were given choices.  Click the links to see each short video:

Make toys, or buy feeders that “feed” your cat’s natural hunting instinct!
The BoomerBall "Herding Ball" is designed for herding dogs (Shetland Sheep dogs, Australian Cattle dogs, Australian Shepards and Aussies). It's also great for horses when 3.5" holes are added so hay can be stuffed into ball.
The BoomerBall “Herding Ball” is designed for herding dogs (Shetland Sheep dogs, Australian Cattle dogs, Australian Shepards and Aussies). It’s also great for horses when 3.5″ holes are added so hay can be stuffed into ball.

What Science Has Shown Us

Results from a study showed that when dogs solved a problem and earned a reward they wagged their tails more.  These dogs were also more likely to try to solve the problem again, rather than if they were just given a reward.  The study also found that food was a preferred reward, compared to spending time with another dog, or being petting by a familiar human.

Now let that really sink in for a moment …. What does that tell you?

 


 

In the video below, Chopin, the Moluccan cockatoo, is being challenged mentally and physically to utilize his natural foraging and problem solving skills to retrieve a high-value nut from a puzzle feeder.  We used this kind of enrichment for Chopin to reduce aggression, frustration, and boredom.



 

I encourage everyone to learn what their animal enjoys doing.  Discover their natural behaviors. Learn the history of the breed, and the natural history of the species.  Once you understand these things, you can challenge the animal to move out of their stale comfort zone and step into the space of Who The Animal Really Is.   Enrichment allows us to bring out the inner “House Panther” in a lazy cat.  Enrichment transforms destructive dogs into mentally healthy canine companions.  It changes frustrated parrots into relaxed, feathered friends.

Daily enrichment doesn’t have to be complicated and time-consuming, but the more creative you get, the more fun your animals will have!  Make it a FUN challenge for you and them!

TIP: Be there with them as they discover their new toy.  Encourage them every time they make a small success!  Don’t just leave them alone with the new toy or puzzle feeder.  You wouldn’t offer a puzzle to a child, then leave him/her alone in a room to “figure it out.”  You would guide the child, and encourage the child when they make progress!  The same is true for our animal companions.  Encourage them.  Praise them when they make small progress, and even when they are just trying to figure it out!

enrichment

What kind of enrichment do you provide for your animals?  Please share in the comments below!