Pets | Animal Communication | Relationship | Psychology
If animals had a theme song, a Sting classic might do nicely.
Animals often seem to know what we are thinking, even when we don’t say a word.
How do they do that?
Let’s do some detective work on a few scenarios:
The dog walk. Your dog bounds to the door for a walk before you’ve taken a single step in that direction. How did she know?
Mom’s arrival. You’re heading out of town for an important business conference. Your cat bolts upstairs and pees on your bed when your mom’s car pulls into the driveway. OMG!
The horse with tunnel vision. Friends invite you and your horse to join them on a scenic trail ride in a new area. But no one knew the trail passed through a tunnel under a major roadway. As the tunnel opening yawns into view, your usually steady Eddie horse starts acting up. Why now?
Are these predictions or psychic powers?
Here’s my take on these situations:
The Dog. Your bouncing furball knew you were heading out for something fun before you’ve even put shoes on. She noticed any one of the multiple small actions you always take before a walk.
What did you do first? Did you pick up your keys? Grab a jacket? A leash? Put on a particular pair of shoes or boots? Grab a few treats out of a jar?
She noticed your every move and quickly deduced that WALKIES were afoot.
The Cat. Mom reluctantly agreed to pet sit only after no one else was available. And yikes! A promotion rides on your presentation at this conference. You’re stressing.
Kitty knew something was up the minute you pulled out a suitcase and opened the closet to start packing. He also picked up on your promotion anxiety. Dealing with your anxiety gave him anxiety.
He also dislikes Mom as much as your Mom dislikes him. When he heard her car (he knows that engine) peeing was his last-ditch effort to tell you he was accumulating serious stress of his own.
Kitty started predicting when you started packing. And again when he heard Mom’s car. But picking up on your anxiety might be called a bit of mind-reading.
The Horse. When you saw the tunnel, your mind began to chatter about what could happen, might happen, or would happen. You imagined your horse refusing to enter the tunnel, bucking, rearing, maybe even running up the embankment onto the highway.
Your posture stiffened, your knees gripped the saddle, and you clutched at the reins. Your breathing got shallower. Your heart beat faster. Your pheromones broadcast a scent of fear and your vocal tones telegraphed anxiety.
Eddie decides he should worry about that dark hole up ahead, too.
Eddie reads his rider’s mind through her body language and joins her there in the worry zone. His antics mirror her anxiety.
How Our Thoughts Give Us Away
Psychotherapy began a significant shift in the 1960s when Aaron Beck and Albert Ellis promoted what is now called cognitive behavior theory as an alternative to Freudian deep dives into people’s pasts.
The real cause of our mental distress, they said, was rooted in our thought patterns. We are headed for disappointment when we believe our thoughts are true, even though they might be mistaken or distorted.
Recognize your untrue thoughts. Find a way to change them. Problems solved.
So what do thought patterns have to do with the animals in our lives?
Pretty much everything.
- We have automatic thought reactions to everything that happens in our day.
- Those automatic thoughts (and we believe they’re true because…they’re our thoughts, right?) trigger emotions and feelings.
- Emotions and feelings create all kinds of physical reactions.
- Our pets react to our physical reactions with their own emotions, feelings, and behaviors.
Our animals’ behaviors or even illnesses mirror thoughts going on in our minds.
So, our critters offer us an opportunity to recognize unproductive ways of thinking and make changes that improve the situation for both us and them.
“If you can change your mind, you can change your life.” William James, father of American psychology
High five, Fido, you furry psychologist!
Minding Your Mind
So, how do you stop counterproductive mind chatter or disruptive thoughts? A few fixes that have helped me are:
- Start recognizing when you’re doing it.
- Just say NO. To yourself. Outloud. Just interrupt the pattern.
- Reframe the negative thought reaction into a positive one.
- Act on your choice.
Reframing thoughts can be as simple as changing the word or words you use to describe something. Just that small shift can have a huge impact on a situation or its outcome.
I first encountered this concept in the skinny self-help book Your Word Is Your Wand, first published in 1928. Author Florence Scovel Shinn was part of the early 21st century New Thought movement. Her writings popularized the notion that we can influence situations and outcomes simply by the words we think or speak.
I used this concept to reform (or should I say reframe?) our current dog. Not a brave soul as a puppy, she became very fear reactive after another dog attacked her. Restoring her confidence became a tough training challenge. There was lots of negative mind chatter, believe me.
Shinn’s book called me to the bookcase one day. I reread it, took her advice, and changed my negative inner dialogue. I stopped calling Jenni ADHD. I stopped telling everyone how difficult it was to reprogram her feelings toward other dogs. I stopped moaning about her total lack of interest in food rewards. I stopped grumbling, blaming, and making excuses. I took a different approach.
I rewrote the script.
Whenever things weren’t going according to our training plan, I would take a calming breath and quietly say to myself or out loud to her, “Jenni is a calm and confident dog.” I would stroke her hackles down slowly with the back of a soft hand as I said it, inviting her to join me in a calm space, imagining I was installing a new program into her system.
Describe the outcome you want in the present tense. Say “is” instead of “will be” or “can be” or any other wobbly verbiage. Declare the goal accomplished.
My new mantra changed my feelings, changed my body language, and kept me calm when setbacks happened. It helped me focus on what I could do to help Jenni in trigger situations rather than blaming setbacks on things I couldn’t control. And, gradually, the words came true.
I learned another simple trick. Just say “NO!” It literally breaks the train of negative mind chatter. Words like “cancel” or “erase” also work well. Sometimes I envision a chalkboard with an eraser rubbing out the whole idea. Nothing left but a pile of dust. Gone.
To change the old patterns, take action on your resolve to think differently. For example, journaling helped me with Jenni. I could see that we were making slow but steady progress. I could focus on our successes. If I found myself writing about a disappointing incident, I’d cross it out and write, “Jenni is a calm and confident dog” instead.
The workbook Mind Over Mood: Change How You Feel by Changing the Way You Think by Dennis Greenberger, Ph.D. and Christine A. Padesky, Ph.D., leads readers on a self-help exploration of negative thought patterns and suggestions for shifting them in simple layman’s language. It might help you identify your thought habits that affect your animal’s reactions.
Your Pets Are Watching 24/7
Back to our animals. They reflect back to us what comes at them from us. “See! This is what I feel it feels like to be you.” Their wellbeing is intimately entwined with our own physical and mental health.
By reading our body language, sniffing out our anxieties and ills, and acting out how that affects them, pets mirror our issues back to us.
There are many examples of animals taking on or reacting to their owner’s problems to bring those issues to the person’s attention. In his book Love, Miracles, and Animal Healing, holistic veterinarian Allen Schoen describes how family problems and emotional pressures from their caregivers can cause an animal’s physical symptoms.
When we want our animals to be better, we need to be better, too. We need to take our thoughts to a better place and invite our animals to join us there.
Our pets read our body language and react to the feelings that created it. And they reflect our thoughts and feelings back to us in their behaviors and issues.
If animals had a theme song, Sting’s hit, “Every Breath You Take” would be a perfect candidate.
© Bonnie Kreitler 2022. All rights reserved.
I create content to help fellow animal addicts build rewarding relationships with the critters in their lives. See more at www.ramblingdog.com
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