My animal is showing anxious and defensive behaviours – what can I do?

How to recognise the escalation steps and know the appropriate response at each level

In another role, I recently attended a 1-day refresher course in MAPA® (Management of Actual and Perceived Aggression) run by CPI (the Crisis Prevention Institute).  This course looks at what happens when an individual’s tension starts to rise, and how we can respond – rather than react – in order to hopefully diffuse the tension before it escalates further and possibly turns into aggression.

MAPA® teaches that there are 4 stages in this process:

  1. Anxiety
  2. Defensiveness
  3. Risky behaviour
  4. Tension reduction

When we can respond appropriately at each stage, it allows us to address the level of tension in the ‘least restrictive’ manner.

The suggested responses are:

  1. Be supportive
  2. Be directive
  3. Use (minimal) physical intervention
  4. Engage in therapeutic rapport

Listening to the trainer, I began to realise that this makes a lot of sense for our interactions with our animal friends too! 

I like simplicity (as you might have seen in my recent post) and so MAPA®’s 4-step process resonated with me and I thought I would share, in case it might prove helpful for others too.

The first step we need to take is to observe, and become familiar with, our animal’s baseline behaviours:

  • How do they appear in a variety of situations and settings?
  • What does their ‘happy’ look like?
  • What does their ‘slightly uneasy’ look like?
  • What does their ‘worried’ or ‘anxious’ look like?
  • If they have a disagreement with another horse, what behaviours do they show and how do they behave afterwards? (ie during the tension reduction phase)
  • What do they enjoy? What are they good at?

When we know the answers to these questions, then we can start to gauge where our animal is on their scale of tension, and how we might begin to support them at each level.

Sometimes however, we don’t notice / recognise the subtle signals an animal displays to say that they’re beginning to feel anxious.  These might be a tension around the eyes, mouth and ears, or behavioural clues such as yawning or looking away.

Most – if not all – animals would prefer to keep their tension levels as low as possible, therefore their early signals are an invitation to us to offer support in some way.  If we aren’t able to at least attempt to offer this – and animals are generally very forgiving, tolerant and accepting of our sometimes stumbling and clumsy attempts – then their anxiety will probably move up to defensive behaviour.

At this level we could see things like threats to kick or bite in horses, or bared teeth and growling in dogs.  Unfortunately, particularly with animals who have been punished for giving these signals, we might perceive that they ‘suddenly jump’ into the risky behaviour of charging or biting.  However, if we are able to spot defensive signals, then the MAPA® suggested response is to be directive.  With animals, since we don’t have a shared verbal language, this will need to be in the form of body language or movement on our part.

You could, of course, use a verbal command such as ‘No!’, but I believe that if this was successful it could have the same outcome as punishment, in that it might restrict the animal’s choices in communicating their feelings.  Over time they might stop showing the lower level signals all together, meaning that we no longer have the opportunity to step in and respond to help them release / channel their tension.

Our animals can’t learn to speak, however with a bit of effort and practice we can learn to read their body language and facial expression (see more about this in my blog series) and work together to create a set of signals that have meaning for both participants.

At this level we can use ‘re-direction’, that is shifting the focus to something else.  The ‘something’ would depend on the individual, but you could use things like movement, play, touch or breath.  Obviously, this should be something that you know the animal likes, or already knows how to do, and so can feel the reassurance of doing something that is ‘easy’ for them and at which they can be ‘successful’.

At this point, the individual is beginning to lose the ability to think rationally which is why the response is to make the decisions and direct the activity at this point.

However, if we miss this opportunity for the animal to release their tension, the next step is risky behaviour.  This is when their behaviour becomes much more dangerous, that is, the animal attacks in some way.  At this point they have completely lost the power of rational thought and their entire focus is self-preservation. They have lost the ability to be conscious of our vulnerability!  The training from CPI – which I highly recommend – covers a range of disengagements from various holds, but with animals, unless you’re trained and have the necessary protective gear, the best response at this point is to get out!  Move away and get to a place of safety.

No animal, including ourselves, can hold this level of tension for a sustained period.  It takes a lot of energy and is exhausting.  When they run out of steam, they need to be allowed a period of tension reduction.  For some this will mean being allowed to have some quiet time by themselves, whereas others might want contact and reassurance. This allows the individual to recover their sense of balance and can give us a chance to re-establish bonds of friendship and trust that might be feeling a little frayed.

We too might need support after being the target of an animal’s risky behaviour, to help us recover and not lose our confidence

It’s important to point out here that these steps don’t necessarily progress only in a linear fashion. An individual who has started to ‘de-escalate’ in tension, could be re-triggered back up the scale at any point, if they haven’t yet reached full tension reduction, so be aware of possible triggers and of any signs that their arousal level is increasing again.

I hope this simple set of steps helps to provide a useful way of approaching tension in your animals, but please remember that your safety must come first at all times.  If you feel that you need support, I recommend calling on the services of a good behaviourist to help you build a deeper – and safer – connection.

(Images courtesy of Google Images and Canva)

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Shall we dance?

I’d like to reshare this blog that I wrote some time ago, because I love this concept and it is still very relevant to my work:

I’ve been having some rather vivid dreams recently and last night was no exception.  Between that, and some half-awake musings in the small hours, I woke this morning with a picture in my head – a new image and understanding of my relationship with my beautiful feline friend Kali, and indeed, to a greater or lesser extent, with all the animals I’ve ever known.

the gorgeous Kali

Obviously our animal friends don’t share a spoken language with us, but that doesn’t mean that they are any less expressive.  Perhaps my work as a sign language interpreter comes into play here.  I am used to having to process meaning from a visual source.  Obviously this is again using a form of human communication, however it is very much dependent on facial expression and body language.

Animals also communicate using these channels, within the physical parameters of their species.  As with Deaf people who cannot learn to speak as hearing people do, due to the lack of auditory feedback, animals also cannot learn to use our vocal language.  It is therefore down to us to learn to communicate in ways that we can share.

This morning it was as if some connection suddenly became clear for me and I saw this interaction in terms of a beautiful ‘dance’ and Kali my wonderful teacher.  She has an amazing range of styles at her pawtips!  Sometimes she instructs me with great flow and elegance, like a ballerina.  At other times, thanks to her Oriental blood (she’s a Cornish Rex, related to Siamese) her style is more passionate, fiery or elemental.  I, on the other hand, often feel like I’m clumping around in hobnail boots!  However with infinite patience, forbearance and grace she repeats the lesson, showing me when to advance and when to withdraw, when to raise my energy and when to hold it in.

This amazing teacher – and all the others I have met along the way – seem to look deep into my soul and challenge me to bring out the best in myself, to go further within, accessing resources I barely knew existed.  What Masters they are!

She teaches me how to hold my space and how to use my energy to be authentic and powerful in myself, without needing to engage in competition with others.  She also shows me how to be in the moment and how to know joy in the simple things in life.

What are your animals saying to you?  What lessons are they seeking to share?  What messages lie behind those eyes?

Dog & Cat Nutrition part 5 of 5

In part 4 of this series I looked at the BARF (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food) diet.  Some people, however, have voiced concerns about feeding raw food to pets.  The Pet Food Manufacturers Association says:

“There are concerns that feeding raw meat to pets can present a human/animal risk, such as salmonella contamination. In the case where only raw meat and bones are fed, there is an additional concern among vets and animal nutritionists that this exclusive diet may not meet the pet’s needs.”

However if the food is bought from a reputable company they should be happy to provide information on their sources and these should be of very high quality.  If appropriate care is taken with handling, presentation and storage of the food it should not pose significant risk.

Another option is to return to the ‘old fashioned’ method of cooking and preparing food from scratch at home and including enough to feed any animals in the household.  This would also benefit the health of the human members of the family as they too would be eating fewer processed foods.  Cooked meat and vegetables are easier for animals to digest which can support absorption of nutrients and help to avoid upset stomachs.

Whichever option is chosen, for anyone deciding to change their pet’s diet this should be done sensitively.  A dog or cat who has eaten only processed foods up to this point needs time for their digestion and palate to adjust.  Sometimes guardians are put off feeding ‘human’ food to the animals in their care because they become so enthusiastic that they radically alter the diet overnight and then complain that it has made the animal ill when it is sick or has diarrhoea.  This would actually be a ‘normal’ response to such a sudden change.  Instead the new food should be introduced slowly, gradually reducing the amount of tinned food or kibble and replacing it with some meat and vegetables.  Over time the processed foods can be removed entirely if desired.

Hopefully as we become more aware of our own health needs we will in turn be more sensitive to the needs of the animals in our care.  Just as our wellbeing depends on our lifestyle, diet and exercise, so it is with our companion animals.  Many people are becoming more health aware and diet conscious so hopefully this will have knock-on benefits for the animals too.

If you are interested in nutrition for your pet and would like to explore this further, contact me for a no-obligation chat where we can discuss your situation and see what simple changes you might be able to make to enhance their wellbeing.  My contact details are:

robyn@equenergy.com

07980 669303

You can also read more about my work on my website:

www.equenergy.com/

 

You can read the full text of this article here

Dog & Cat Nutrition part 3 of 5

As most pet guardians now spend less time preparing food for themselves and their children it is not surprising that they are less likely to give their animals a varied, unprocessed diet.  Many people buy commercial pet food because they honestly belief it is best for their pet, and because it is convenient and affordable.  However processing requires several steps and it only requires a small error at any one stage to result in problems.  Buying processed food takes control further from the consumer.  An article in the Daily Mail stated that “few people are aware of the little publicised concerns about processed pet foods” (“Is the pet food you’re serving up killing your 4-legged friend?”).  Some processed foods have been linked to poor behaviour in dogs, and even cancer.  However people are now becoming more aware thanks to social media.  There are pet-dedicated chatrooms where “increasing numbers of people have been sharing concerns about processed pet food” (ibid).

Many cases of urinary and kidney problems have been linked to dry food.  This is one of the main causes of death in cats and is often caused because they are chronically dehydrated by just eating dry food.  Manufacturers say that cats eating this food should always have plenty of fresh water available, but “even if they drink it is often not enough to ensure optimum urinary health” (Lisa Pierson, pet nutritionist).

One third of household pets is now overweight.  Also, chronic conditions, such as diabetes, kidney and liver disease, heart disease and dental problems (all diet related) are on the increase.  In addition there has been a rise in the number of cases of allergies (particularly skin problems) and digestive issues, despite veterinary advice on specialist foods for these conditions.  Richard Allport, a vet of over 36 years’ experience, based in Hertfordshire, says: “my advice … is always this: switch your pet’s diet to fresh food and often it’s so successful that altering the diet is all that’s needed to ‘cure’ a pet’s health problem.”

In part 4 I’ll look at what an alternative diet for your pet might look like and why you might like to consider making this change.

If you are interested in nutrition for your pet and would like to explore this further, contact me for a no-obligation chat where we can discuss your situation and see what simple changes you might be able to make to enhance their wellbeing.  My contact details are:

robyn@equenergy.com

07980 669303

You can also read more about my work on my website:

www.equenergy.com/

 

You can read the full text of this article here.

Dog & Cat Nutrition part 2 of 5

In the first part of this series I started to explore the commercial pet food market and why it can be so difficult to get reliable information on what constitutes a good diet for your cat or dog.

Supermarkets now have large sections devoted to selling pet food, but often these are the cheaper brands.  It can be very difficult to trace the source of the ingredients but in order to keep the price low, these must be coming from the cheaper end of the market.  Many pet foods contain what are known as ‘4-D ingredients’. An article entitled “Top Worst Dry Dog Food Brands” on the Holistic and Organix Pet Shoppe website states that:

“4-D chicken is meat and by-products that have been derived from chickens that were rejected by food inspectors who classified the chickens as not fit for human consumption because they were “Dead, Dying, Disabled or Diseased” at the time of inspection. Any chemicals that existed within that animal, would still be in it when dead. Meat by-products are nothing more than slaughterhouse waste; waste that’s been banned for use in human food and then sold to the pet food industry. It’s what’s left over after the slaughter and classified as inedible waste, unfit for human consumption.”

Holistic and Organix Pet Shoppe © 2012-2013

If you study the labels on, for example, dog food, you will see that the main ingredient is usually ‘cereal’ which is used as a bulking and binding agent.  Cereal has little nutritional value for dogs and in fact many can develop allergic reactions to it, however it can help to keep the price down and make the food look more appealing — to the human buyer.  If the cereal is not fully cooked it can be indigestible.  Sometimes there are problems with a particular batch of kibble because it isn’t thoroughly cooked and animals eating it get diarrhoea, even though they might have eaten the same food before with no problems.

dry food

With dry foods, the ingredients are cooked twice.  This results in the ‘ash’ often mentioned in the ingredients list.  This is known to be carcinogenic.  Other problems, too, are much more common than with canned or homemade foods. Altered proteins may contribute to food intolerances, food allergies, and inflammatory bowel disease.  Some brands of dry food, particularly puppy food, recommend that it should be moistened before being given to the animal to eat, however “bacteria multiply rapidly on moistened dry food” so if the animal only eats a little and the rest is left for them to come back to later “it is a good way for them to get diarrhea”(Donald R Strombeck, ibid).

In part 3 I’ll look at why these processed pet foods have become so popular and some health concerns related to feeding this kind of diet.

If you are interested in nutrition for your pet and would like to explore this further, contact me for a no-obligation chat where we can discuss your situation and see what simple changes you might be able to make to enhance their wellbeing.  My contact details are:

robyn@equenergy.com

07980 669303

You can also read more about my work on my website:

www.equenergy.com/

 

You can read the full text of this article here.

Dog & Cat Nutrition – part 1

I just shared an article from Dogs Naturally Magazine giving ’10 Simple Rules to Get You Started’ on raw feeding your dog.  This prompted me to repost this article that I wrote a while ago on dog and cat nutrition:

Let’s start by looking at the commercial food market…

The food we feed our pets has changed considerably over the years, as indeed has our own diet.  Years ago, animals were fed on scraps and left-overs from the food that we cooked for ourselves, so essentially they were eating ‘human’ food, however as our lifestyles have become busier and we now eat more ‘convenience food’, so our pets are being given more branded pet food.  But is this a positive step?

Pet foods have become a “multibillion dollar industry” according to Donald R Strombeck, author of “Home-Prepared Dog and Cat Diets: The Healthful Alternative” (quoted in an article in The Bark Issue 42: May/Jun 2007).  The Daily Mail, in January 2010, stated that the “pet food industry is valued at £2 billion and growing.”  Products are advertised as being “the best” and “complete” and in fact they say that human food should not be given to animals, but is this the case?  Unfortunately advertising laws around pet foods are less strict than those for human food and no-one really monitors the truth of what is being said.  Also, there is little redress if the claims turn out to be false.

Veterinary students have often had very little teaching on what constitutes a healthy diet for the animals they will be caring for.  Much of the information they actually receive comes from the pet food industry itself and this is then what the vets tell their patients.  Manufacturers sponsor food displays in vet surgeries.  Hill Science Plan sponsored the British Veterinary Association’s Congress in 2009 and signed a partnership with the British Veterinary Dental Association to sponsor animal tooth care.  Royal Canin has partnerships with leading veterinary schools and Universities and they run Pet Health Counsellor Courses.  Many pet websites are affiliated in some way with pet food corporations, in fact the Pet Health Council, described as an independent website, is sponsored by the Petfood Manufacturers Association.  They claim “that processed food is best”, warning: ‘It would not be possible to feed your pet an adequate home-prepared diet” (“Is the pet food you’re serving up killing your 4-legged friend?”, Daily Mail online, 20 January 2010)

Most of the vets who specialise in nutrition are taught using information from the industry and end up working for them.  Also, most research funding comes from pet food producers which is a conflict of interest.  Even organisations such as the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) are made up of people form the industry.

In part 2 I’ll continue looking at processed pet foods and why these might not actually be as healthy as the advertising claims.

If you are interested in nutrition for your pet and would like to explore this further, contact me for a no-obligation chat where we can discuss your situation and see what simple changes you might be able to make to enhance their wellbeing.  My contact details are:

robyn@equenergy.com

07980 669303

You can also read more about my work on my website:

www.equenergy.com/

 

You can read the full text of this article here.

Case study of a dog with a spinal condition (Part 4 of 4)

In the previous 3 posts I’ve shared what happened at a recent zoopharmacognosy (self selection) session with a canine client of mine, Willow.  The session was offered via Skype by Rachel Windsor-Knott of My Animal Matters.  Having asked Willow’s owner to fill out a detailed consultation form Rachel then sent a box of samples and, during the call, described how to offer these to Willow.  Rachel’s selection of herbs and oils was spot on, and Willow worked with everything in the box.

Rachel also recommended that Willow’s owner offer her Coconut oil in addition to the remedies to make sure that she was choosing the macerates for their herb content, rather than for fats (see further information in Part 3).  Willow proved to be very keen on this and her owner realised that it has also been helping her skin.  (Willow had had a tendency to lick at her paws causing redness and broken skin but this has now cleared up.)

Rachel added Spirulina to Willow’s selection of remedies.  This is helpful in cases of anxious behaviours and joint problems.  It is detoxifying and helps to stimulate the immune system.  It’s also a great supplement for senior dogs or those who are a little run-down as it is rich in protein and nutrients.  Willow proved to be very fond of this too!

Following the initial session, Willow’s owner continued to offer the remedies, particularly the Peppermint, Marjoram Sweet and Violet Leaf oils, the Comfrey and Arnica macerates and the Rose water.  To these she then added the Coconut Oil and Spirulina.  She shared this message with us when her box of remedies arrived:

Willow was so excited when your parcel arrived and was ripping off the bubble wrap with me! She’s loving the arnica, comfrey, violet leaf (rubs on side of head with it and mouthing/chewing the cloth) and marjoram on her back, more than the others… She is much more relaxed and softer… 

Rachel had included small sachets of Devil’s Claw and Barley Grass which Willow took for a few days. (Devils Claw is good for arthritis, inflammatory pain and musculoskeletal issues.  Barley Grass supports animals with anxious and hyperactive behaviours and those with skin conditions.  It is rich in nutrients, particularly magnesium). Her owner then sent us this message:

Not keen on devils claw today so offered barley wheat grass … then offered spirulina… Lucky I put a towel down, specks of green everywhere! … Still wanting marjoram on her back and generally sleeps with either violet leaf/peppermint. 

Willow is twitching now, she hasn’t done that for a while.

Throughout this whole process I was also offering Reiki to Willow to help her body enter into it’s Rest and Repair mode.  She can tend to be an anxious dog who is always on the alert so the Reiki helped her to relax so that her body could heal and so that the oils and other remedies could work effectively.  Several of the remedies she chose were also supporting her on this emotional level.  This is a picture of Willow after one of our Reiki sessions:

In our fifth session, Willow’s owner said that had she not seen it for herself she would not have believed the change in her dog over the last month.! From having been very wobbly on her back legs and walking with a rather odd, wide-legged gait, scuffing her toes, Willow now almost looks normal when she walks.  She had lost some muscle tone but is slowly building this up again as she regains strength and feeling.  She now knows when she needs to go outside for toileting and so there have been no further accidents in the house.  Her owner is overjoyed!  When she’d first been given the diagnosis from the vet she had thought she might soon have to say goodbye to her beloved dog whereas now it seems that Willow has been given a new lease of life!

If you’d like to know more about how these therapies could be used to support an animal in your life please get in touch:

robyn@equenergy.com

07980 669303

For Reiki and META-Health information you can see my website:

www.equenergy.com

For information on Zoopharmacognosy (self selection) see:

www.myanimalmatters.co.uk

 

(You can read the whole article here)