Category Archives: Articles / Dear Laura

The Gangster’ vs. ‘The Peaceful Pup’: Labels we give our pets

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.

 

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Posted in Articles / Dear Laura, Laura's Animals | 4 Comments

The Art Of Communication

First published in the

Santa Barbara News-Press

04*04*18

 

The Art of Communication

Animal Body-Language

 

 

In the 1990s, Norwegian dog trainer and behaviorist Turid Rugaas studied canine behavior and in 1996 published the widely acclaimed book “On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals.” Turid teaches how to be a keen observer of canine behavior. We can use her work to understand the behaviors of many species.

Animals use body language to calm themselves or other animals in stressful situations, to show dominance, to communicate to us where they have pain in their body or to show us when they are confused or confident. Some of these body language signals are looking away, blinking, yawning, fake sniffing the ground, approaching in an arc, shaking, sitting, lying down and play bowing.

Body signals of a lack of calming or when an animal is getting stressed include closing/clenching of the mouth, staring, leaning on the front paws, stiff body and panting. These often lead to fear or territorial aggression or other timid behaviors.

It can be dangerous not to know and understand these signals. Most humans expect domesticated animals to learn human voice commands and hand signals without acknowledging that animals have a native language of their own. This is selfish on our part. Often when people do not understand animal body language, they inadvertently are late to discipline or scold an animal at the time of inappropriate behavior and may scold while the animal is calming themselves. This can result in increased aggression, fear, lack of confidence, illness and in general creates confusion and dysfunction in the animals’ lives.

It is important to pay attention to our own body language and how we may be sending an animal mixed messages. For instance, a human may think bending over with one’s torso to greet an animal is welcoming when in actuality it is telling an animal that you are more dominant and that they must submit to you. You may notice when dogs are dominant to one another (in play or aggression) they may throw a chin or paw up on the other’s shoulder. If you want an animal to feel safe and come to you, bend with your knees not with your torso and/or blink your eyes or turn your body to the side.

Another common misconception is thinking it is disrespectful if the animal looks at you and looks away when you are speaking with the animal. Holding eye contact is also a form of dominance in the animal kingdom. Your animal is being polite when they look and look away. You may also see these behaviors in children when you are disciplining them. They are instinctual across species.

If we start to mindfully watch animals, we can praise an animal for exhibiting calming signals, which will, in turn, build confidence, independence and communication skills in all situations and relationships. For instance, if you have two animals that are not getting along in the house, you can start praising them for their positive communication skills. If the dog is staring at the cat with his mouth closed and then looks away, give praise. If the cat licks or fake grooms in the presence of the dog, praise. We can also teach the animals to look away when we see them staring at each other and then praise. This will remind them how to calm themselves. We can do this during any stressful situation.

We should start to notice an animal’s behavior as we approach it or are petting it. If the eyes start to stare, mouth closes, and body gets stiff, we should retreat. Perhaps the animal is nervous and may bite or perhaps we have just touched a sore spot on the animal’s body. In general, a soft eye and open mouth is safe.

If people use their knowledge of animal behavior to communicate more efficiently with their animals, it will build confidence and trust. The bond between human and animal will become more affectionate and understanding. Start watching your animals more closely and see what you discover.

 

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Posted in Articles / Dear Laura, Behavioral Issues | 2 Comments

Making A Vet Appointment Easier For Your Pets

First published in the

Santa Barbara News-Press

03*18*18

Maia

My animals have never had a problem going to the vet. Sure, it’s not their favorite thing to do, but they stay calm and attentive. They don’t exhibit a high-level stress by panting, barking or meowing. They don’t shake or stiffen their body. They don’t refuse to go into the vet clinic or snap or bite while we are in there.

Let’s face it, veterinary hospitals are scary places. They have a strong sterile smell. Other animals are fearful. People do things to the animals that are unnatural and against animal instincts. Without realizing it, people are exhibiting dominant, somewhat aggressive, behavior by leaning over the animals, evaluating them, staring into their eyes and palpating their abdomen. They put cold things up against their heart and make strange faces while doing it. They stick instruments in places no one wants to hear about and swab their sensitive ears. They poke animals with needles that can make the animals feel pretty yucky for some time.

So how do we make these visits better for our pets? If you have an animal that travels well, bring him or her to the vet just for a visit. Let the staff give your pet treats and a warm welcome.

You can also talk with your animal. Explain to your pet what the vet is all about. Take a breath. Clear your thoughts and explain to your pet that a visit to the vet’s office is to keep your pet healthy. Something cold held to the body is to hear the heart beat to make sure it has a healthy rhythm. A light in the eyes is to gauge the pet’s vision. A needle is to pull blood to test how all the organs are working or to administer a shot to keep the pet healthy. A needle in the bladder is to see if the pet has an infection. And so on.

If your pet is at the vet’s office because of illness, tell your pet the doctor is trying to find out why he or she is throwing up or having seizures or whatever the ailment is. Tell your animal you know that the people act strange, but it’s to help your pet live longer. Tell your animal that if there’s pain anywhere to inform the vet over and over in his or her mind and to physically exaggerate the pain to let the vet know. If you are in the examining room with your animal, you can explain what is happening and why in real time. You can do this out loud or you can do it in your head, sending it to your pet’s heart center.

Remind your animals how to calm themselves. Tell them to lick, yawn, stretch, blink their eyes. Remind them they are OK. Tell them you like your vet and you trust him or her. Remind your animal he or she will be going home with you. Whatever diagnoses or news you hear, be sure to tell your animal either at the vet’s office or when you get home. Talk to your vet about something personal. What animals do they have? What do they like to do in their free time? Make them a real person instead of someone who is just poking and prodding your animal.

Even if the visit becomes chaotic, stay positive. If you are nervous, your animal will be nervous. Sometimes your animal’s relationship to the vet office is all about your attitude. Choose a safe and confident vet and your animal will learn to deal with a visit to the office maybe even enjoy it!

 

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Posted in Articles / Dear Laura, Physical Issues | 2 Comments

How To Make Your Pets Happy

How To Make Your Pets Happy

First published in the

Santa Barbara News-Press

3*09*18

People often request that I ask their animal, “What would make your life happier.”

There are some common themes for dogs and cats that are easy to implement into life’s routine.

Dogs ask for big grassy parks surrounded by trees.  They want to play ball, Frisbee or just walk around the park to sniff. Some just want to picnic on a blanket in the shade.  Dogs love the feeling of rolling on the grass. If they are old or sensitive the cushion of the grass is good for arthritic bodies or toes that seem to drag.

They like walking near water.  Even if they don’t wade or drink from the water they like to be around it.  Streams, ponds, oceans, big lakes it doesn’t really matter. The noise and the sense of peace it illicit is calming to them.

“BBQ food” is a big request and so is “refrigerator food”, which mostly consists of cheese, deli meats and chicken.  Though sweet potatoes, pumpkin, broccoli and ice-cream are also high on the list.

Small dogs and cats like a “bed on the bed”.  This typically is a doughnut bed on your bed so that they don’t fall off or get kicked while you are sleeping.  Small dogs and cats are also big fans of sweatshirts, robes and your softest blankets.

Dogs want to learn.  They want to go to “learning school”, “doggie lessons”, “jumping camp”. They want their minds stimulated. They want to learn tricks or if they are naughty they actually want to learn boundaries.  They are proud of good “waits” and “stays” and will often tell me how good they are doing controlling themselves, even if you feel they have a lot of work to do!

Cats want open windows, bird feeders, birdbaths, water fountains, music on, wind chimes, tunnels, access to closets or the garage. They want “string play” or time outside even if it is on a harness.  Many want to be brushed. They like crumbled freeze-dried treats.  They want access to the sun, so leave those shades open! They like massages down their back. They want extremely clean litter boxes.  Clean bedding is high on the list and so are clean windows, dishes and water bowls! So get to work!

Exercise is big one for all the animals.  They want more walks and play time. Even the cats that don’t seem very active want to play more.

All animals love songs!  They love when their people sings songs with their name in it. They don’t care if you sing well or not.  It’s just that you are both happy when you are doing it.  My chihuahua mix Easter asked me the other day, “I love when you sing. How do you know so many songs?”   I told her, “Because I make them all up!”  She didn’t care.

Now go make your pets happier!

 

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Posted in Articles / Dear Laura | 4 Comments

Getting Over Pain


Getting Over Pain

First published in the

Santa Barbara News-Press

3*14*18

 

Over the course of the last few months, animals of our area and beyond have been asking me about the fires and the mudslide.  A common theme are questions about being buried.  Who, when, how, what does that mean? And also, about all the helicopters in the sky. Reading them over they made me depressed.  So instead of listing them here, I have asked my animals what their advice is to deal with the trauma.  My animals lived through the fire and have been with me when I have spoken to people and animals that experienced the mudslide firsthand.  Jubilee was evacuated while the fire was closing in on the ranch.

Luca my 7-year-old poodle says, “I spoke to a dog at doggy day care (in SB) whose dog friend was buried in mud. He told me his friend came to him in a dream. His friend said he was only scared for a moment when his house crumbled.  He said the sky was filled with angels of all species. They guided the dead to Heaven.   I have learned that when something bad happens there are always angels making it easy on your soul. I trust in that.”

 

Easter 3-year-old Chihuahua mix says, “I say play with your animals and you both will feel better. I do this all the time.”

 

 

 

 

Felix 5-year-old Chihuahua mix, “When I have memories of bad times, I force myself to think about all my friends who love me and all the fun things I do. Then the monsters in my head don’t seem so choking.”

 

 

 

Clyde 3-year-old Flemish Giant Rabbit says, “I find going out in the yard to dig is the best way to deal with trauma. Some people are helping to find important things in the mud.  I think that is awesome.”

 

 

 

Ella says, “Talk with your animals about what happened so they understand it.  When I am confused, I get more stressed. Before this mom, I peed around the house when I was stressed. Now I understand, and I pee in the box. If your animals are being naughty, talk with them.”

 

 

Seamora 26-year-old Blue and Gold Macaw says, “I had to go to Menagerie bird store during the fire evacuations. I was in awe at the amount of people who got strong and cared to help.  Pay attention to the strength inside of you and others. Be in awe of yourself.”

 

 

Jubilee 7-year-old Warmblood/Appy mare says, “I fight when I go through trauma. I fight hard but sometimes I fight too much and that messes me up.  I am working towards trusting others to help me.”

 

 

 

Hudson 3-year-old white German Shepherd says, “I think the best thing people can do when they are going through trauma is help others. Many people suffer.  It helps to be useful.  Know yourself and your thoughts and send love to the world around you.  See beauty where ever you look. Life is all in your attitude.”

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Posted in Articles / Dear Laura, Laura's Animals, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

My friend, the rat

My friend, the rat

First published in the

Santa Barbara News-Press

3*07*18

 

 

 

The night had just fallen. My two Chihuahua mixes Felix and Easter, my 30 lb poodle Luca and my white German shepherd Hudson stood with their chins raised staring up into the branches of the ash tree in our backyard, their front legs tapping and bouncing, their tails straight out behind them.I thought nothing of it.Then a small dark figure dropped from the tree and smacked hard against the metal cover of the fire pit.  The dogs instantly went into full pursuit. Breath ran out of me. “Did they catch him?”

I sprang into action.  “Leave it! No Kill Zone” I screamed just louder than a whisper intensifying my energy and my body language towards one dog in prey drive and then to another.

The dogs froze, their eyes pierced the darkness towards my feet. There was the little animal moving as I moved, safely staying close to the arch of my left foot.

“Into the house” I ordered. One by one the dogs ran inside.

“Where did he go?” I wondered.

My eyes caught him under the glass lawn table, hiding behind the leg of a chair, his little eyes peering out at me catching the light from the kitchen window.

“Please do not be hurt.” I whispered inwardly, filling my heart with love while sending him compassion.

“Are you alright little guy?”

To my amazement the little rat blinked his eyes, reached his tiny paws upward, stretching his body up the chair leg and then with equal curiosity to mine climbed up to the top of the chair and rested twelve inches from my face.

“I am out of breath.” He shared. His small torso rapidly expanded in and out.  His head was awkwardly tilted to the side and one eye appeared to bulge.

Tears filled my eyes.   “He must be in pain.” I quivered.

“Did the dogs get you?” I asked.

“No, you kept me safe. I hit my head when I fell.”

“How did you know that I would keep you safe?”  I questioned.

“I am the rat.”  He replied. “The one you have been talking to.  I left your attic and stopped pooping on your outdoor parrot cage because it’s unsanitary and I moved my family next door when you told me you were getting a cat. I have done everything you have asked because you have taken the time to explain to me what you need and why. In return, you don’t trap me or poison me and I get to drink water out of your fountain and eat food the parrot drops on the ground.  We live harmoniously.”

“Thank you for listening to me.”

“Is it safe to go home now?’ he asked blinking his eyes tiredly.

“yes” I told him. “It is safe to go home.”

And with that, my friend the rat, scurried down the chair, across the yard and up the bamboo adjacent to the ash tree leaving me with the sense of wonder of a child.

 

Posted in Articles / Dear Laura, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

My Life As A Pet Psychic

 

My Life As A Pet Psychic
First Published in the Santa Barbara News-Press

2*28*18

 

I live my life as a pet psychic.  It is really all I have ever known. My earliest memory is my parents holding our Yorkshire Terrier over my crib and hearing her say, “You are so small.”

I hear the animals speaking with me in a whisper. This is telepathy. My mind transfers their thoughts, emotional feelings, and images in their heads into words. I can also feel their pain in my body. I can quickly recognize what is my thought and my pain and what is someone else’s.  I know when to let it go.

Once I asked a grizzly bear why she was so aggressive. She complained about pain in her back caused by the coffee nip candies her trainer was feeding her as a reward. After speaking with the bear, my kidneys hurt so bad that I was in bed for two days unable to stand. Sometimes their pains get locked in our bodies.  Other empathetic people may experience this.

I do hear common themes.  Older animals pant and lick because they have acid re-flux. Animals don’t like to be left alone from daylight to dark without a light going on in the house and they don’t like two hands on their head at once. Cats like tall wide water dishes, open windows and bird-feeders. Dogs love big green parks and lawns. One of their dying requests is a bowl of ice-cream and a party talking about how great they are.  They know what makes us happy even if we have forgotten.  They may tell someone who has not painted in twenty years to paint, leaving them speechless.

Some of you may say, “I don’t believe it”.  And I get it. But if you have ever loved an animal, you may question your own judgement. Have animals comforted you when you’re upset or initially disliked someone who eventually betrayed you? Have they surprised you by standing next to something you have lost or woken you up earlier when you forget to set the alarm? There is something in their eyes that says they understand. We have all seen it.

To make communication clearer, take a breath and center yourself before you speak with them.  Focus but do not stare. Breathe rhythmically. Visualize everything that you say.  If that is hard for you, be clear with your words. Tell the animals what you want rather than what you don’t want.  Instead of saying, “Don’t jump” use, “Keep all fours paws on the ground”. You can tell them that when they jump they may hurt someone by knocking them over, but when they keep all fours on the ground, everyone is safe and you are proud.

Whether we are conscious of it or not, our animals mirror us.  Find peace in the moment.  Take the time to use your eyes and watch them.  Do your animals behaviors and emotional states change when you explain things to them?  It’s possible that your world my open up to a new understanding.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Articles / Dear Laura | 1 Comment

Feature In The Santa Barbara News Press

Click on the left hand side of the bottom of the photo to read the second page or to magnify your view.  Thanks for reading!

 

WED-022818-A6 News press
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De-Stressing Pets During the Holidays

De-Stressing Pets During the Holidays

Our Pet Psychic Explains Animal Body Language

Originally posted on Sunday, November 21, 2010

I tell every animal I have a consultation with two different statements.

The first is this: “The smartest animals (including humans) are conscious of their behavior. They know what they are doing at every moment and why.”

The second is, “Animals have body language behaviors that they use to communicate with other animals and to calm themselves. Some of these behaviors are licking the mouth, yawning, blinking the eyes, looking and looking away, turning away, sitting down, lying down, and shaking the whole body to release a lot of stress or excitement.”

It is extremely important for animals to be conscious of when they use these “calming signals.” If animals are conscious of their behaviors in everyday life when they become fearful or aggressive, it is easier for them to remember to use these signals in order to feel more safe and stable.

The holidays can be stressful times for a number of animals. Some are left home alone longer than usual and others are forced to be in chaotic situations that they would not normally be in, such as family gatherings and parties. I urge people to tell their animals what to expect. Do this at a quiet moment. When you talk to them, remember to put an image to everything you are saying and to stay positive.

For instance, you could explain, “This afternoon I will take you for a nice walk and then I am going to leave the house to see some people for the holiday. It will have been dark for a long time when I come home. I’ll bring you a special treat (turkey). I’ll leave the light in the hallway on, and some soft classical music on for you to listen to. You can look out the front window. Talk to the animals outside or the other animals in the house if you get bored. Be confident. You are safe.”

Or you could describe a gathering at your home: “I want you to know that when the sun is the highest a group of people are going to come to the house. There will be a lot of noise and movement. They will leave after it gets dark. I want you to keep all four of your paws on the ground. When you get excited or scared remember to lick, yawn, and look away to calm yourself. You can always go into the bedroom if you have too much stimulation.

“Uncle Tony is coming. Remember him? He is really big, has dark hair, and makes a lot of noise. He will probably start shouting when he watches the TV in the den. He is a good man. You can feel safe and quiet around him. The three little girls are coming as well. You need to be gentle with them. If you bump into them they fall and cry. You must try extra hard to watch where your body is when you are around them. If you get nervous, come to me or go into the bedroom. I will save you a special treat for when the night is over, or maybe the kids will give you something special.”

Lala the German shepherd says, “You should tell some dogs that they should watch the children extra close to make sure they are safe. Sometimes parents forget at these events. You should tell cats and small dogs that some people drink alcohol and don’t watch where they are stepping, so not to sleep on the floor next to people feet. You can tell these animals that they should keep the old people company because these people hear only a little bit of what everyone is saying and animals make old people feel better.”

She continues, “Tell everyone to say ‘I love you’ to everyone else because you don’t know if it will be the last time you see some people. Tell everyone to be peaceful. Some people try to be confusing on purpose. Don’t take it personally. Remember your pet, and smile when you get anxious.”

She says that like animals, people too can use their body language consciously, to communicate with others or to calm themselves.

Posted in Articles / Dear Laura | 1 Comment

Hudson

hudson pool

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hudson gets out of the pool for the first time and says, “I’m dripping. Why am I dripping?” #doggysfirstswim

Posted in Dear Stormy, Laura Out And About via Instagram, Laura's Animals | Tagged | 2 Comments