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Author Archives: The Pet Psychic ®
The Gangster’ vs. ‘The Peaceful Pup’: Labels we give our pets
First Published in the Santa Barbara News-Press
April 11, 2018
So often we put labels on animals. Some of them sound like this: “She is aggressive.” “He is shy and was abused.” “He will run your over.” “She is neurotic and barks at everything.” “He runs off.” “She has separation anxiety.” “She’s mad when we go away and pees on the carpet.” “He hates skateboards.”
When we put these labels on our animals, they become stuck in the behavior. Now don’t get me wrong: It’s important to notice an undesirable behavior and take steps to change it. But it is also important to watch what you are saying and thinking while you are doing that. I can’t tell you how many times I have noticed people working hard on changing a behavior with training but still labeling their animals with the behavior they don’t want. I have been guilty of this myself. It takes real awareness to see it.
A few years ago, I adopted a Chihuahua mix from the Downey shelter, which is a hardcore kill shelter. Felix was scheduled to be euthanized the day he was rescued. He had been a stray for some time and wasn’t neutered. When he first came to be with me, he was food-aggressive, would snap at people when they tried to pet him, and would lunge, chase and bite fur off dogs that approached him or ran in his vicinity. I labeled him “The Gangster.” This labeled suited him to the point that the behavior would elicit chuckles from those who witnessed it. But what was I really doing?
Felix made great progress within the year after being rescued. He set appropriate boundaries around his food bowl but was not aggressive. Instead of lunging at people who tried to pet him, I taught him to go behind my legs. He does that now without needing my praise. It’s his safe spot and I won’t allow people to follow him there. Now three years later, he does allow some people to pet him. “The Gangster” still suited him with some strange dogs. The label stuck and continued to make many people laugh.
Then I realized that sometimes Felix was proud to be a gangster! No joke! He had a big grin after his naughty behavior. Oh no! By labeling him that, I was encouraging the behavior. So I stopped and allowed a different behavior to emerge. Now instead of attacking another dog or when on leash hiding behind my legs, he may come out wagging his tail and try to sniff them. Off leash, he may run away when an energetic dog runs by him instead of biting the fur off the dog’s thigh.
I asked Felix what changed. He said, “I started to realize that I could be in the moment and see things for what they are. I started to realize that you want me confident, calm and smart and I feel like I am that inside. When I acted like The Gangster, I was really a scared bully. It helps me when you visualize me being the dog you want me to be.
“I now know how to do that because I have done it with other behaviors, like learning tricks and meeting people. Life is safer and more fun than I originally thought. What helped me is when you started labeling me a “Peaceful Pup,” because that helps me feel the energy of peace. I still do “gangster” sometimes, but I try to stop myself when I feel myself moving in that direction.”
Good boy, Felix!
By being more conscious of our own behavior, we can teach our animals to be more conscious of theirs.
Want to hear what your animals have to say?
“I feel a little overwhelmed. I am having a hard time processing doing what I want to do verse doing what you want me to do.”
This definitely had to do with me not wanting him to chase those porcupines.
He will figure it out. He is my good boy. It takes great consciousness to think about changing his behavior and what it all means.
This is Xena. She is 8 years old.
Her person writes after our session: I asked why Xena doesn’t listen or respond to me when I call for her in our yard and her response was, “Our yard is super safe and I know my mom is calling me but there is no emergency and my mom is ok to wait.”
This made me laugh and laugh. I was not sure what to expect from the session but it was comforting; I felt a connection instantly and knew that Laura was talking with Xena and she was responding to her questions.
The most reassuring part was when I got home from work a few hours later. Xena is usually asleep when I get home but instead she was waiting ready to pounce! She leap on me, tackled me to the ground, kissing and held me down for about 20 minutes. It was something special, like she was telling me, thank you for our talk mom!
Good Morning Coffee with Seamora. She says, “I think this land has foxes. It’s so pretty and so strange.”