Saturday, February 17, 2018

Resolving Behavioral Issues

After my last post, I had several requests for more detail about resolving behavioral issues and their underlying causes.  Given how many layers there can be underneath a behavioral issue, I thought it might be helpful if I shared an example from my own experience with Kino.

Kino was never fun to take in the car because he barked his head off if we drove past a dog or a cat.  His barking was so ferocious, I had trouble being a safe driver which was unnerving to me.

I knew one of the underlying causes was that he was not socialized with dogs or cats in the first year of his life. He also had a very intense prey drive that probably escalated with the long hours he used to spend by himself outside every day before he came to live with me.

Resolving (or at least improving) the behavior required several different approaches, as there were various pieces to the puzzle.

We started using basic positive reinforcement techniques to adjust the behavior.  Keeping a bag of treats in the car, if I saw the dog or cat first, I offered him a treat and could usually keep him distracted long enough to get past the "offending animal."  :-)   We used this approach with mild success.  Kino is very smart (and a bit suspicious) so it wasn't long before the very act of offering him a treat made him start looking around for what I was attempting to distract him from.  Next I attempted to reward the good behavior before he had a chance to be bad, so if he noticed a dog but hadn't yet started barking, I offered him a treat while praising him for being so good!  "Thank you for not barking Kino, you're such a good boy" was something I said all the time, all the while hoping he didn't break down and go ballistic anyways.

While we had some success with the training/treat approach, he was still having outbursts in the car so I needed to look a little deeper.

One of the other things I have learned about Kino is that he is a dog who wants what he wants when he wants it.  When he is delayed in getting what he wants, he tends to have some sort of an outburst or tantrum.  Sometimes I find it amusing but usually not.  I had been using consequences as a way to help him see that his behavior directly impacts his ability to get what he wants.  Ultimately my goal was to help him to feel empowered, while also helping him learn some self control.

I decided it was time to implement a consequence for car rides.  I explained to him that if he could refrain from barking at dogs while we are in the car, he could continue to enjoy having his head out the window but if he lost control and started barking, he would lose his "head out the window privileges."  Given that sticking his head out the window is on his Top 3 list of favorite things to do, this particular consequence was a good motivation for more improvement.

With those two methods in place, we had experienced about a 70% improvement in Kino's car behavior and having him in the car was much more enjoyable than it had been in the past but there was still 30% of the time where I wished I had left him at home.  I sensed there was more for us to figure out.

One day, after a particularly unsettling barking episode, I sternly told Kino that I was not going to take him in the car anymore if he was going to bark unnecessarily at everyone.  Ok, honestly it was more than stern.  I yelled at the top of my lungs.  I was so maxed out by his barking.  And one second later, I looked at myself in my rear-view mirror and I began to laugh.  For as much as I didn't want to admit it, the truth was that he was mirroring me.  He wasn't the only one who occasionally barked unnecessarily in the car.  I myself was no angel and was known to swear at other drivers who darted into my lane and made me slam on my brakes and it wasn't uncommon for me to complain loudly to myself when other drivers were clueless on how a 4 way stop works.

Animals often mirror our behavior as a way to show us what adjustments we need to make.  I know this and yet, I was unable (or unwilling) to see that Kino wasn't the only one barking in the car.  I thanked him for being patient with me and told him that I would try to do better.  In the subsequent weeks, I made a huge effort to be more mellow in the car.  I sent positive energy to people who were driving unsafely, reminded myself that chaotic activity at a 4-way stop didn't need to ruin my day and guess what?  Kino got even better in the car.   That was the last piece of the puzzle and it seems his behavior wasn't going to improve until my behavior improved.  I am very grateful that I finally saw and accepted what he was trying to show me.

Neither of us are perfect, so there are still days where one or both of us slips up but on the whole, we are both doing better and being in the car is much more relaxing and fun for both of us.

Do I wish I could have just said to him "Kino, I don't want you barking when we are in the car" and have that resolve everything?  Of course!  Wouldn't that be fabulous if it was that easy?!  But the truth is  that it is usually more complicated than just simple communication.  There are always reasons our animals do what they do.  The key is to understand those reasons and keep working at it from those various angles.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Can You Tell My Pet To Stop Doing That?

In recent months, I have seen an increase in the number of clients who have requested that I tell their pet to stop doing something.  I wish it was that easy but the truth is, regardless of how well I can communicate with animals, I can't just tell them to stop doing something or to behave differently.

When an animal does something, they do it for a reason, so unless we understand and address the underlying reason, we won't have much luck changing a behavior.

I put the underlying causes into three categories:

1.  There is a medical reason.  An example of this is last winter, while I was enjoying the first couple sips of my morning coffee, Kino walked over to the table and peed all over my jacket that was hanging on the back of the chair.  My first reaction was to be mad.  He has been potty trained since the first week he came to live with me and he knows better!!  But my second thought was, "There has to be a reason he did that" . . . and sure enough, Kino had a bladder infection.  We treated the infection and he has never peed in the house again.

2.  There is an emotional trigger.  Many of my clients have adopted their pets from rescue organizations or shelters, where a lot about their past isn't known.  Depending on what type of experiences an animal had prior to coming into our lives, they may have emotional reactions to similar stimuli.  Many dogs were not socialized, so their reactions to other dogs (or cats or squirrels or people) can seem over the top and even scary sometimes.  Dogs that were left alone all the time may have separation anxiety now.  Kino was obviously left in the yard all the time because when we went into the yard, if I took even one step towards the back door, he'd go flying across the yard and into the house, wild eyed and frantic.  It took about 3 years to decrease his fear and build his trust.  I can now go back into the house while he is in the yard and he doesn't panic or charge for the door.  Sometimes an animal is upset about something. A change in the household, whether it's a new pet, a child going off to college, a divorce or a remodeling project, can often bring about new "unwanted behaviors."  Understanding how your animal is feeling about the change and working with them to address their concerns can often bring a positive shift to those unwanted behaviors.

3.  They are trying to teach us something.  Animals come into our lives to teach us things - things that will help us be better versions of ourselves and have an easier time in life.  It is helpful to look at our animals behavior and ask ourselves "What could he/she be trying to teach me?"  One of the most common "lessons" that I have seen with my clients is animals who are trying to teach their guardians how to set boundaries.  Do you set up consequences (and stick to them) when your animal does something they shouldn't?  If not, that might be the thing they are trying to help you get better at.  (Animals give us the opportunity to practice setting boundaries with them, so we have an easier time setting boundaries with the people in our lives as well).  Do you have a pushy animal who constantly wants attention, to the point where they are starting to get on your nerves?  Chances are they are trying to get you to put yourself and your needs higher on your priority list.  Setting some boundaries for "Me Time" is often all it takes to resolve the needy dog issue.  I know it may sound crazy but I have seen it enough times that I am no longer surprised.

Our animals always have a reason for what they do.  If we can understand what is going on underneath the behavior, we have a much better chance at addressing it.  Something for you to ponder this week:  What do you think your animals are trying to teach you?

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Hope for 2018

The other day, I was listening to my iPod when one of my old favorite songs came on . . . the song came out when I was three years old but for as long as I can remember, I felt excitement each time I heard it, although I never knew why.  So when it came on the other day, I decided to pay attention to the lyrics and I was stunned.

The song is Crystal Blue Persuasion by Tommy James and The Shondells and the lyrics seem incredibly fitting for the time that we are in right now.  They filled me with a sense of hope about the new year so I am sharing with the intention that they may do the same for you.


Look over yonder
What do you see?
The sun is a'rising
Most definitely

A new day is coming, ooh, ooh
People are changing
Ain't it beautiful, ooh, ooh
Crystal blue persuasion

Better get ready to see the light
Love, love is the answer, ooh, ooh
And that's all right

So don't you give up now, ooh, ooh
So easy to find
Just look to your soul
And open your mind

Crystal blue persuasion, mmm, mmm
It's a new vibration
Crystal blue persuasion
Crystal blue persuasion

Maybe tomorrow
When he looks down
On every green field, ooh, ooh
And every town
All of his children
And every nation
They'll be peace and good brotherhood

Crystal blue persuasion yeah
Crystal blue persuasion aha
Crystal blue persuasion aha

Monday, December 11, 2017

Empowering Ourselves Through Discernment

One of my favorite quotes has always been "The truth will set you free!"  My most favorite song by the subdudes is "Save Me" and in the chorus they sing, "I believe the truth is going to save me."  My best friend recently made me a t-shirt with my new favorite quote "The truth will set you free, but first it's going to piss you off!"  There has always been a longing in my heart for truth and a deep sense that it truly would impact us in profoundly positive ways (once we got over the initial upset).

Based on that, I have been heartened to see that more and more truth is being revealed, especially in recent months.  It seems that each time I get on the computer, someone else has come forward with more truth that had been hidden.  Yet we are also inundated with a lot of information that is not true.  It's hard to know sometimes what is the truth and what isn't.  My sense is that the flood gates are about to open and more truth is about to be revealed than we ever imagined possible. Therefore it is becoming increasingly important that we are able to find the "truth" for ourselves.

I believe this is important right now whether it's information we are reading on the internet or in our every day interactions with others.

As an example, when people present their opinions as truth, it can throw us off balance.  What if a person told you that you were selfish or unkind?  Would you know right away if that were true? Or would you slip into feeling bad about yourself, worrying that maybe it was true?  Or what if someone told you the way you were caring for your pet was wrong?  Would you slip into a little self-doubt?

 It can be very empowering to be able to quickly and easily tap into what is "true" for us when we are presented with information and the emotions that come along with it.

Here is a simple process you can use to enhance your ability to discern the truth.

1.  Take a couple deep breaths to bring yourself into the present, releasing any emotion you may be feeling.

2.  Think of something that you love, to put yourself in your heart space.

3.  Ask "Is this true for me?"

4.  Observe what you notice.  Some people will sense a simple yes or no.  Some people may feel things in their body.  If you feel contraction, that often indicates a no.  A feeling of peace often indicates a yes.  Each of us are different so the key is to figure out what "yes" and "no" are for you.

The same technique can be used when we are reading things on the internet and social media.  With all the truth that going to be revealed, we are bound to be bombarded with as many un-truths and half-truths so our ability to tap in and discern truth will be paramount to our ability to stay balanced and centered in the coming months.

Monday, November 20, 2017

What Do YOU Think?

I've noticed a theme lately with quite a few of my clients and I figured if it has come up for so many of them, maybe there are others out there who are struggling with the same thing.  It is the issue of listening to other people's thoughts and opinions to the point where we can no longer hear ourselves and our own inner voice.

You know the old saying "Too many cooks spoil the stew?" Well along those lines "Too many opinions muddy our inner voice/intuition."

I don't believe most people intentionally put more weight on other people's opinions than their own, it's just that other people's opinions can make us second guess our own knowing and cloud what is true for ourselves.

I have one client who really disliked her job and knew it was not a fit for her. She was starting to play with alternative means of income, tapping into what would truly make her happy but the more she spoke about it with friends and family, the more resigned she felt to stay in the job she was so unhappy in.  When we began to unravel what had moved her from "ready to leave" to "resigned to stay" she realized that each person's opinion further dampened her own inner voice.  When I pointed out that people speak from their own fears/concerns/history, she could see why so many people had told her a steady income was more important than how much she enjoyed what she did for a living.

Another person had experienced a physical assault and was ready to press charges but a few days later had decided against it.  When I asked her to help me understand what had changed, it was clear it was the opinions of others that had made her feel less clear about she wanted to do, even to the point of invalidating the severity of what she had experienced.

Since people come from their own fears/concerns/history when they dispense advice, what they are saying may be true for them but it is likely not going to be true for someone else.

The key to tapping into our inner guidance/intuition comes from learning to truly listening to ourselves.  Asking ourselves questions such as "What do I need?" and "How would that make me feel?" can help us connect to ourselves. The more we listen to ourselves, the easier it is to keep other people's opinions from drowning out our own knowing.

I'm not saying that we should not talk to friends and family about decisions we are trying to make.  I am merely suggesting that we don't take other people's opinions on as if they are "truth" - we don't have to embody every opinion that we hear.  If we can remain objective when we listen to people and leave their opinions "on the table" rather than putting their opinions in our pocket, so to speak, we have a greater chance to retaining the clarity of our own inner knowing.

If you are feeling stuck regarding a decision you are trying to make, it might help to stop and consider who all you've been talking to.  Are other people's opinions clouding your ability to hear your own inner voice?  Remember that it's ok to hear what other people have to say as long as you remember that their advice comes from their perspective and the only person who truly knows what is right for you is YOU.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Honoring All Life

Saturday night, we set the clocks back and went to bed.  With that extra hour of sleep, I woke up in the morning feeling good.  The sun was out and it felt like it was going to be a great day.  I made coffee for myself and fed Kino his breakfast.  When I let Kino out to go potty, the peacefulness of the morning disappeared.  He began barking and went tearing over to the side fence.  I saw him slap his paw on something and I heard a squeak.  I thought to myself "none of his squeak toys should be outside" so as I walked over to investigate, I saw him lift his paw up and slap it back down and I heard another squeak. Sprinting the rest of the way, when I got over to him I saw that he had his paw on a rat . . . a very large rat. 

Well, after screaming at Kino to get away and getting him to a different part of the yard to go potty, I got him back in the house. Rushing over to check on the rat, my heart was beating out of my chest. I was surprised to find that the rat was actually quite pretty, if rats can be pretty.  His fur was black and tan - so he kinda looked like a tiny german shepherd.   The rat was still breathing (quite hard) and I wasn't sure how injured he was.  

I sat down and began doing Reiki on him.  He seemed to respond well to it and actually got up and took a few steps. Thinking that maybe he would be ok, I went back in the house for a little while. When I went back to check on the rat, he had moved a couple feet from where he initially was, but he wasn't moving anymore.  His breathing was very labored and I figured Kino probably hurt his lungs when he slapped his big paw on him.  I gave him more Reiki and hoped it might help but after about a half hour, I could tell he wasn't going to make it. Since I wasn't sure how long it would take, I fretted for a while about what to do . . . move him somewhere else to die? or let him be.  If I moved him into the front yard, a neighborhood cat or dog could get to him and I didn't want anything else to happen to him, so I decided to let him be and I promised I would keep Kino away from him.  

When Kino had to go potty, I put a leash on him and brought him to a different part of the yard so he couldn't bother the rat anymore.  Through out the day, I kept checking on the rat.  When that part of the yard got shady and cool, I got a hand towel and wrapped it around him so he wouldn't get cold.  No matter what I tried busying myself with inside the house, I kept finding myself back outside.  I didn't want him to be alone. I wanted him to be at peace, I didn't want him to suffer and the only thing I could think of was to keep doing Reiki on him.  

At one point, I sat with him and told him how sorry I was and the tears started to flow. I asked him to forgive Kino and cried some more.  I promised him I would keep him safe until he passed away and the tears continued.  I couldn't believe how emotional I was feeling about this rat, because I don't particularly like them but he was a living being and I believe all life should be honored.  I knew I needed to treat him with dignity and respect in his final hours.

In the middle of all that, I was fortunate that one of my best friends called and I filled her in on what was happening.  She thought that if the rat was out in the day light and that easy for Kino to "catch," that he must have already been sick. That made me feel a bit better . . . that possibly he was going to die anyway and maybe Kino just sped up the process.  

I remembered that when I was little, we used bury fish/turtles, etc that died in little jewelry boxes and I felt I should do the same when he finally passed, so I started searching for a box that was big enough for him. He was really big - at least 7 inches long (not counting his tail) so I had trouble finding a box to fit him.  I found one box that would fit him perfectly albeit a tight squeeze but it made me sad to think of him being buried in a bare box without some padding, so I kept searching until I found a box that would fit him and also the hand towel I had wrapped around him.  I spent the rest of the afternoon digging a hole.  Where I started to dig the first hole, I came across pipes that wouldn't let me dig deep enough for the box, so I moved to a new area and dug again.  

Each time I checked on him, he was still breathing.  I was surprised it was taking him so long to pass but he seemed so peaceful, I decided I should just hold the space for him until he was ready to go.  Around 4:30pm, I moved him into the shed, so that I could let Kino out in the yard and also make sure he stayed safe.  Wrapped up in the little blue towel, he looked so sweet it melted my heart. I told him I hoped he felt safe and loved in his final hours.  And then I cried some more.  

He finally passed around 5:30 but by then it was getting too dark to give him a proper burial so I put he and the blue towel in the box and left him in the shed.  I hoped that his family and friends would be able to pay their respects to him if I left him there over night.  (And given the amount of rat poop in the shed, I am pretty sure it's a regular hang out for all of them).

When I got into bed that night, I decided that if I was going to give him a respectful burial, he should have a name.  I laid there for the longest time trying to pick the right name for him.  I finally settled on Noah.  That seemed to fit him.  So today, I wrote a little note address to Noah and put it in the box with him, I cut a few flowers from the yard and put them in the box as well and then I buried it.  

I believe that everything happens for a reason so I trust that there was a reason he ended up in my yard.  Whether it was so Kino could help him transition more quickly or so he could be treated lovingly on his last day or both or maybe something else entirely. I do trust that it happened for a reason.  

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Food Allergies/Intolerances

This year, I haven't written as often as I used to in large part because I have been distracted with Kino's health issues.  It all started in the middle of March when Kino started throwing up every day.  He would wake me up before the sun even came up, wanting to go outside to eat grass . . . sometimes the barfing happened right away but other times he waited until we got back into bed and I fell back asleep before he needed to go outside again.

This went on for weeks and weeks . . .  I couldn't figure out what was going on.  Then he began having bloody diarrhea every few days.  I tried every kind of holistic remedy I could find but still he wasn't getting better.  I switched him to boiled chicken and rice but he still didn't get better. In many ways, he seemed to get worse.

Long story short, I finally discovered that Kino had a bad case of colitis/IBS brought on my food intolerances . . . and a case of giardia on top of that.  I have spend countless hours researching food intolerances and how they are different from food allergies and it turns out Kino has both.

The culprit was my changing his dog food in the middle of March, from a turkey based food to a fish based food.  I had no idea Kino had such a severe intolerance to fish but that lesson kept hitting me over and over again.

When a dog has food issues like Kino, they recommend putting them on a limited ingredient dog food, which I did repeatedly, each time with no improvement in his condition.  I'm embarrassed to admit how long it took me to read the labels more closely and discover that the common ingredient in all these "limited ingredient dog foods" is fish oil.  Clearly my boy cannot handle fish in any form.

I learned a lot about the difference between food allergies and food intolerances - since unfortunately Kino has both.  While the food allergy reaction is less dramatic (thick, white gluey/foamy saliva, chapped lips, itchy skin as opposed to vomiting), it was getting nearly impossible to avoid all the things he was allergic to (i.e. rice, potatoes, chicken, turkey, duck, pork, etc).

After much resistance on my part, I finally broke down and started making his food myself.  It was something I absolutely did not want to do but there wasn't a single food on the market that didn't have some ingredient he had a reaction to.

The process has come with a lot of trial and error.  When he started to lose weight no matter how big the portions, I learned that while WE tend to eat meat that is lower in fat, dogs actually need all that fat.  When he still wasn't putting on weight, even with the high fat meat, I learned that my lack of math skills continues to haunt me. After a little tutoring session with my father, I learned how to translate pounds into cups to make sure I had the right ratio of protein in his food.  Kino finally stopped losing weight.

It has also been challenging to clear up his colitis.  Even with the elimination of major food triggers, we seemed to be stuck in a 3 day cycle of tummy trouble.  Every three days, he would wake me up before the sun came up to go outside, eat grass and throw up.  I never did figure out why it occurred every 3 days but that was the cycle we were stuck in  (and anyone who knows me knows that getting up before the sun is the LAST thing I want to do) but we soldiered on, month after month.

Finally at the end of August, through some wonderful divinely orchestrated guidance, I connected with an old friend who sells CBD oil.  After learning it can help with gastrointestinal issues, I decided to give it a try.  Much to my delight, we finally broke the 3 day cycle!   In fact, we had gone almost 3 WEEKS and I was hopeful we had finally resolved the colitis . . . and then another morning of barfing.  I suspect that Kino is also allergic to cucumbers because that was the only thing he had eaten that was different. (I had been picking them out of my salads each night and sharing them with him).  So, the trial and error still continues but we're finally getting a handle on it.

It's been a very educational 6 months for us.  I can't say I have loved the experience but I am grateful for what I have learned.  If any of you are struggling with food allergies and/or intolerances with your pets, I'm happy to share information with you so let me know if I can help!