Sunday, October 07, 2007

Gazehound's Creature Thoughts: September/October 2007


September/October 2007

Keeping in touch with the animals....
and the people who love them

Adaptations and Sacrifices

Note: although this is a topic I've visited before in the newsletter, recent events keep suggesting that it's time to explore it again.  I hope you enjoy the article.

Have you ever considered just how much we ask of our animal friends when we require that they live within the limits of a human household?  We as humans are so used to ... "spoiled by", in many ways ... the willingness of our animals to adapt to our requirements, that we don't usually think about just how much they must adjust to do so.  In many cases, we're actually asking them to ignore their instincts, and un-do the natural adaptations the species has undergone in order to become our pets.  The really amazing thing is how well they take our requests, and how willing they are to sacrifice.  It then occurs, quite often, that when an animal isn't quite able to make those adjustments, we as human caretakers become quite upset, and go to great lengths to "fix" what is "wrong" with the animal.

In all reality, what is often "wrong", is simply that we are asking our dog not to be a dog, or our cat not to be a cat, and the animal's instinct and natural behavior is having trouble adapting.  We're asking our dog or cat to shut off its instincts, and the pet is having trouble finding the off switch.

Since "inappropriate elimination" is one problem that comes up very frequently in my sessions, I'll just take that as one example of what I mean.

Most dog owners know enough about canine behavior to have heard that a dog in the wild won't soil in its den.  We use this basic fact as the very foundation of house training, and expect the animal to learn the rules and follow them.  However, do we usually give thought to just what we are defining as the dog's "den"?  In the wild, the den is usually a small niche, and the area around it.  The "no soiling" instinct falls into play in order to prevent the possibility of attracting predators, and in the great majority of cases, this "den" is only used by females who are raising very young pups.

Move the dog into a human household.  The "den" suddenly covers 1,500 square feet (give or take), the restrictions apply 24/7, and they are permanent regardless of age, gender and whether there are any puppies to protect.  When you look at what we're asking of our dogs, that's quite a stretch of the "no soiling the den" instinct, isn't it?

Now, I'm not saying we're being unreasonable.  After all, I don't want my pups using my living room carpet as a wee wee pad any more than anyone else does.  Many of the rules we set up are necessary, of course, and we really do need to teach our pets how to live within them.  However, when we look at such situations from the point of view of the animal, and think about just what we're asking the animal to do, we might have a little better insight ... and greater patience ... as the animal makes efforts to comply (or has trouble doing so).

So how can we help our pooch to adjust to our guidelines?  With many issues, including house training, there are approaches that we can take to make the job easier for the dog:  breaking the task down into small steps, working on one aspect at a time, not expecting too much too soon (for example, not giving the dog too much freedom ... "too large a den" ... too soon), lots of positive reinforcement to help lower the stress levels, and making an effort to outline a consistent training plan that allows us to clearly communicate to the animal just what it is that we're asking him to learn.  Throwing some animal communication into the works to help with that clarity can be a bonus, but it does not take the place of the training plan.  Realizing just how much instinct, bred into the species by thousands of years of survival efforts, we are asking our pet to over-ride will give us a new perspective, and more patience as we put our own efforts into the partnership.

For cats, we have a similar, though different, problem.    It often happens, in the confines of human homes, that a stressed cat will suddenly stop using its litter box.  This will invariably trigger an instinctive human response ... and not a pleasant one! 

While those upset human emotions are perfectly justified from the human's viewpoint, of course, it often helps to see things from a cat's perspective as we work on and solve the problem.  First of all, we're confining a species whose strongest survival instincts revolve around the very clear marking of territory, and using urine to communicate urgent issues, to going potty in a plastic box.  I mean, how weird is that (if you're a cat, anyway)?  The very survival of the species, in the wild, depends on the female in season and the male finding one another, through scent markers, to ensure a next generation.  The safety of the individual, or the colony in wild cats brought together under some sort of human intervention (feeding, shelter), depends upon clearly marked territorial boundaries.  The cat who only and always uses her litter box has already overcome millennia of survival instinct for the sole purpose of pleasing her human.  When stress hits, if you think about it from the cat's perspective, the fact that the first thing to fall apart is often the cat's toilet behavior shouldn't be a great surprise.  This is also why, very often, the thing that makes the most difference in solving the problem is reducing the stress.  Punishing the cat rarely has any effect ... because it instead increases stress levels, which leads to more "instinctive paranoia", the natural response to which is ... you guessed it!

Inappropriate elimination is only one issue that can be linked to the ways our animal friends are stepping out side of "who they are" in order to be members of our human-centered families.  Most of the time, despite these hurdles of instinct, such problems can eventually find a solution.  I've found, over the years, that the gentlest path to such solutions often begins with the human making an effort to do what their animal friends have been doing for them all along. 

We humans can help our pets tremendously, if we can step outside who  we  are for a moment, and try to see the problem from the animal's perspective.




Don't forget that you can keep up with changes and info on rates, policies, and "other fun stuff" on my website:, and that you can find archives of this newsletter and other articles on my Creature Thoughts Blog:   

Gift Certificates:  Beginning Sunday, October 28th, 2007, my regular holiday gift certificate special will begin.  It will run until January 1st, 2008.  This will allow you to purchase gift certificates at $25 for one, $45 for two, and $60 for three, essentially receiving one session free for each group of three.

Website Updates:  Several important additions/updates have been made to the website recently, in the form of policy details.  Please visit and click on the links to these updates in the "news" section at the top of the page.



Miss Pree, who had her sixteenth birthday in late July, has been having some health issues recently.  Although she's improved quite a bit, the problems are ongoing, and we're still diligently working to help her to overcome them.  We would like to sincerely thank everyone who's sent good wishes and healing energy our way.

Pree would like to talk about how having a good attitude ("cat-itude", she says, correcting me) is so important when you're trying to get through health problems.  I have to confess, there have been times her attitude has been better than my own "worried mom" feelings, but she really is so right.  Pree's chin has been up, even when she's felt physically down, and her bright personality has really given us strength.  In fact, I am starting to suspect that my vet is scheduling rechecks every two weeks partly because she loves how Pree takes over the exam room, hops onto the table to greet her, and otherwise charms the entire staff.

While we have not hidden any of the prospects and details from Pree, which she appreciates, we've also listened to her encouragements and taken heart from the fact that, although her symptoms are worrisome, her positive outlook hasn't been dimmed at all. 

I've often found, in fact, that when health issues bring clients to me, the animals themselves are less worried about the situation, and more likely to take things in stride, than their worried human friends.  So much is being learned in modern medicine about how attitude can affect our ability to heal and recover.

I guess our animal friends have known this all along.

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Gayle Nastasi
Animal Communication Consultant
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