What Is Limbic Resonance?
Limbic resonance refers to the energetic exchange occurring in a caring and safe relationship. This interaction stimulates the release of certain neurochemicals in the limbic region of the brain.
So how does this translate to our relationship with our dogs?
By making eye contact with your dog, you not only know what emotions they are feeling, but may also begin to feel those emotions yourself. In this way, limbic resonance can both help and hinder training interactions with our dogs.
While many scientists are hesitant to discuss the emotional lives of animals to avoid anthropomorphism labels, we now know that dogs’ brains contain emotional centers that are nearly identical to humans. Anyone who has lived with a dog has no doubt witnessed signs that their canine companion feels joy, fear, anxiety, and many other emotions. The physical structures responsible for these feelings light up in brain scans the same way that a human’s would when they experience these same emotions.
This is not to say that a dog's emotions are identical to ours. Dogs lack the highly developed pre-frontal cortex (responsible for complex thoughts) that we have, which means that certain emotions (such as guilt) are probably not possible for them (I know that’s hard to believe considering how visibly they react to our disappointment when we catch them misbehaving!)
Regardless of their exact emotional range, emotional contagion is no small matter. This is especially true in situations where you or your dog are upset. Simply looking into your dog’s eyes when he is stressed or worried is likely to raise your stress level, and if you’re anxious about something, your dog is likely to be influenced by your worry. There’s a good reason many vets take dogs into the back room for procedures involving needles, and it has less to do with your dog than it does with you. Sometimes a dog catches sight of an owner’s worried face, and suddenly begins snapping or trying to escape.
The good news is that we can also use limbic resonance to our advantage. By learning to become aware of your own emotional state, you can begin to influence your dog for the better. If you’re stressed or anxious, focusing on calming yourself first will do much more for your dog than trying to immediately conquer the issue or worse off, ignoring your distress.
Dogs are great emotional mirrors, reflecting and amplifying our feelings. Their love and commitment to us can become a valuable tool toward our emotional well-being and, by extension, theirs as well.
Happy Spring, everyone.
The subject for my May blog presented itself after meeting some new friends in the last couple of months who required several family visits before we started our one-on-ones. These particular cases were pandemic-related, so that is what we will dig into.
Let’s recap the last 2+ years, from a four-legged standpoint. Shelters and rescues saw a huge increase in adoptions, and those dogs joined families where their people were home with them 24/7, from day one. That was their normal. Enter vaccinations, restrictions lifting, and life slowly returning to our pre-dog version of a normal they’ve never experienced. So, while everyone is forging their new paths [or making their way back to the old ones], all those dogs are experiencing upheaval and increasing levels of anxiety. Their younger family members [and primary playmates] are leaving the house early in the morning and not coming back until late afternoon, and their adult pack leaders are shifting their schedules as well. Sometimes one of them is gone all day, and the other spends most of the day at a home office desk.
Since they are always right by our sides, it is easy for us to forget that our dogs don’t understand what is going on in our human life bubbles. So, when we are ready to go back to full-time work out of the house and hire a pet sitter, it may very well be easier said than done. Remember, the pandemic has not only kept you home with your buddy, but has also eliminated your at-home interactions with other people – no dinner parties, book club meetings, BBQs or poker nights - so strangers were not included in his reality picture.
Fast forward to Diane’s first visit to your home, and there is a good possibility I will not be greeted warmly. This year, many people ventured out for Spring Break, so I received calls from quite a few new clients who had adopted their dogs since March 2020. Each of these dogs reacted to me similarly when I came in the door. Since there is no way to read their minds (how great would that be?), it helps to focus on empathizing with their fears rather than just trying to divert attention from them.
Is this person here to take me away?
Is this person going to hurt my master?
Or on an even more basic level, is this person going to take my food or my favorite toy?
Each one of these mental scenarios can easily provoke a bite if the dog decides any of them are a possibility, because instinct dictates that even the most passive dog will bite, if he feels that it is warranted.
It is very important to know that a dog who bites is not synonymous with him being a “bad” dog. It does not even mean he will definitely bite again. If you are going to bring a new person into your dog’s life - whether it is me, a new life partner, a child, etc. - it is an important fact that needs to be addressed, and all parties involved need to be on board with investing the appropriate amount of time and patience to create a safe relationship for everyone.
In this next section, I will offer some tips that will be helpful when your dog is interacting with new people, and also discuss the adjustments I’ve had to make to my meet & greet process to accommodate the special needs of dogs during post-lockdown times.
There are subtle signs to watch out for when your dog has a potential bite on his mind – overall body language is easiest to recognize. He will appear rigid and tight, in body and tail. I feel this in my own little 8 lb. Franky. When he becomes upset at seeing someone in the street and I pick him up, his body is hard as a rock. In contrast, a dog who is accepting of a new visitor will have a relaxed stance and his body will appear soft. His tail wag will also be relaxed and move in a springy motion, vs. a dog on guard or issuing a warning will stiffen his tail and wag it in a more pointed motion.
The one that is not so easy to pick up on is eye contact. When I am talking to your dog, I will not look directly at his eyes for any length of time until we are in a well-established relationship, and even at that point I will only do so once I’ve measured his trust level. I can instead look at his ears or his chest, so he can assess my face and my body language while still avoiding his gaze, which he would interpret as a challenge. If I were to meet his gaze, it would then be up to him whether or not he accepts that challenge or flees from it. Since we are on his territory, most likely he will accept it.
If you are planning on inviting friends over, have someone your dog is already comfortable with (spouse/someone who lives with you & the dog, or friend who visits frequently) help you look for these signs and alert you in a subtle way if they notice any of them. Keep the dog close to you and leashed, and do not pressure him to interact with anyone until he shows signs of being ready. Likewise, ask your guests not to approach him, and explain prior to the gathering that you are in the process of socializing him.
There is unfortunately no way to tell how many supervised visits your dog will need before he accepts me without his family around, but I have identified several milestones that I feel need to be met before an owner can go back to work confidently knowing that the dog will have his needs met in their absence. My general guideline looks something like this:
There may also come a time when a client wishes to open up their options by having multiple sitters visit the dog at different times. This will not only benefit the dog by providing socialization, but the client can see if the dog gravitates more toward one person than another and choose the best fit as his caregiver.
At the end of the day, my goal is for every dog I meet to be happy and well-adjusted, whether they become my client or not, and I will invest as much time as it takes for him to be comfortable in his owners’ absence.
I'm starting my March blog with a note for everyone that I am always available to act as a conduit for rescue donations. Rescues and shelters are always in need of supplies [and of course, money] - so if you ever want to donate and just don't have to time to drop things off, feel free to leave your stuff for me the next time I visit your pet and I will be sure your items get to local homeless pets who need them. My cousin, Doug Halsey, runs Ready for Rescue in New York, an amazing organization that goes to the ends of the earth to save lives. I would be more than happy to forward any financial support to him that you would like to give.
Here is a basic wish list for rescues and shelters:
Wire crates, Small pet & bird cages & related supplies
Stainless steel bowls
All unopened dog/cat/small animal food, puppy formula
Non-scoopable cat litter & litterboxes
Unopened, unexpired heartworm/flea & tick meds
March was a veritable dumpster fire in my household (!) with one pup after another marching into the vet's office, so I didn't have any brain cells left over to prepare a blog entry.
It started off with Popple limping for no apparent reason. After multiple diagno$tic$, he was gifted with some pain meds for a swollen disk in his hip. Thankfully, this healed with meds and rest.
Not to be outdone, Mimi decided that the new rugs were an appropriate place to pee on occasion, but we could not figure out what those occasions were.... of course.... so she was fortunate enough to earn herself some girlie-panties until she reversed that decision and resumed her pottying outdoors.
The next logical question is - why should Franky be left out? On a beautiful Saturday morning, Dave and I had some errands to run so we took Franky along. When we got home, I got out of the car and put him on the ground just in time to notice that a squirrel had left a piece of corn cob in the driveway from the neighbor's feeder. By the time I got to it, so did he, and it was gone. I was flabbergasted that it fit down his throat and thought for sure this was it, I was losing my precious boy. But there he stood, looking at me like nothing unusual had just happened. After 2 hours at the vet trying to induce it up, it remained in his gut and surgery was scheduled. I will post an article about the dangers of corn cobs, which cannot be digested nor passed through the gastrointestinal tract and can cause a fatal obstruction in your dog.
Happy to report on this last day of March that my carpets are dry, Popple is back to chasing the squirrels and the deer, and Franky's 10-day post-op recheck at the vet this morning went well.
Here's to a vet-free Spring and Summer in the Squires household!!
I saw this cartoon while I was lining cages and put it aside as a reminder to devote my February blog space to these special animals. This post is also an opportunity for a shelter plug, because many guinea pigs lose their homes every day through no fault of their own, and are out there waiting to be adopted.
These little guys are easily overlooked as potential family pets because many wrongly assume they do not qualify as a true companion animal. While they may not go out on walks with you, they are nonetheless sweet, gentle little creatures who will show you genuine love and affection, and definitely deserve a second glance. We had a guinea pig when our kids were young and he was a wonderful pet. He spent a lot of time out of his cage with our daughter, walking around the house or just sitting on laps watching TV and having his back stroked.
Adding any animal to your family will have its pros and cons; that being said, guinea pigs have very few cons, and the ones they do have are pretty minor and avoidable by a responsible pet owner. But let’s start with the good stuff:
Financially, it is easy to get one and their supplies are also affordable and easily obtainable. Here comes the aforementioned plug – if you are considering a guinea pig for your family, check Petfinder.com and your local rescues/pet shelters before going to the pet store. Many wind up homeless for a variety of reasons and are just waiting for a loving family to be their heroes. I also see them pop up from time to time on local social media groups like NextDoor by people who are moving and do not want to take them, or parents with kids going off to college and they don’t want to take on the responsibility of their child’s pet. Those posts are truly heartbreaking.
They are raw vegetarians, so their diets are very simple to accommodate. He will need an ample supply of timothy hay and a fresh water bottle in his cage at all times, supplemented with fresh vegetables and fruits.
Keep them healthy and your little friend will be with you typically for 6-8 years, but some have lived upwards of 10+ years. They are not prone to any types of illnesses like other animals. Annual visits to a vet who specializes in exotics is always a good idea to get them checked for lumps & bumps that you may not detect when handling them, as well as getting their teeth checked for overgrowth. Always keep your guinea pig supplied with wood blocks and a cuttle bone to chew so his teeth remain filed-down and healthy. I’ll push the envelope on Health a little further – they are happier in pairs, and happier pigs are healthier pigs 😊.
Most cages marketed for guinea pigs are not adequate, so a good rule of thumb is to look at the cages in the pet store, and then go find something larger. They need enough space to move around freely, a designated space off to the side to keep their food so they are not running through and contaminating/spilling it, and also space for a place to sleep in like a little hut. PVC tubes are also a great addition. Wayfair has a pretty interesting selection of pet habitats. We discovered that by chance.
Cons can be avoided by keeping your pig’s cage clean and giving him the love and attention you would give any other pet. If his cage is left unattended, it will of course begin to smell unpleasant and your pig may also become sick from the unhygienic conditions he is living in.
It is also possible that he will begin to display negative behavior from being neglected (after all, if you are neglecting his home, you’re neglecting him as well).
If you decide on a pair, your best bet is to get 2 females. A male and female, for the obvious reasons, is not a good idea. Two males have a high probability of becoming aggressive toward each other once they reach sexual maturity, which believe it or not begins when they are still babies themselves. That said, in my pet sitting experience, I have cared for male guinea pigs housed together who got along wonderfully.
Guinea pigs do make noise, mostly when they are happy or excited at mealtime or when greeting you after being out for the day. If you are looking for a totally quiet pet, then an aquarium is probably a better place to start your search than with a guinea pig.
Their vet bills will be slightly higher because they are an exotic pet, which is defined as anything that is not a cat or a dog. As long as there are no signs of illness, they will only require one well-check vet visit annually.
This is just a little snapshot. Below is a link from the Lafeber company with some interesting facts. This company also makes an excellent pellet food for guinea pigs as well as other small pets.
12 Fascinating Guinea Pig Facts - Lafeber Co. - Small Mammals
In my previous post, I spoke about Franky, our new family member who joined us on Labor DAy. Since then, he has made great strides, overcoming so many of the demons that haunted him. He still works hard at this every day, but has learned to enjoy all the good things the world has to offer him. We have loved watching him evolve into an affectionate, happy little boy.
While this is a very nice story to read, rescue is not for everyone. Despite having rescued 4 dogs, 3 cats and countless other species over the years, the sweet little boy curled up under my elbow as I type this proved to be my biggest challenge. This is not because his previous life was any less traumatic than the others, but because at the time he needed me the most, my heart was not ready for him.
Having just lost our Pippen 2 months earlier, my tank was on empty. I had not navigated through enough of my grieving process to start replenishing that love supply to give any other dog but the two she left behind, and they were grieving her loss right along with me.
Years back, I learned about the 3-3-3 guidelines of dog adoption. I've always kept these milestones in the back of my mind when our dogs have come into our family, because during the tough hurdle times it does help to know that what you are going through is normal and will pass. With Franky, this little card was like a guiding light on days that I just didn't think I had it in me to love this boy. I was beating myself up because here I had this sweet little guy who wanted nothing more than to please me, and I wasn't falling head over heels in love with him.
I have never done fostering myself, but I have several amazing friends who make it their life's mission. I have heard countless stories of dogs who get adopted and returned, and in fact my Pippen was one of those dogs before we adopted her. On one particularly bad day, I found myself watching Franky sleeping and thinking he would be happier somewhere else. I felt like the worst person on the face of the earth. My grief had pushed me to a new low. I needed to shake it off and recognize that he was sent to me for a reason, even if that reason was not apparent to me at the time.
In the weeks that followed my rockbottom moment, I watched as he checked off the milestones on the card. Almost like a straight-A student, right around his 3-month mark with us, he became a new dog. His facial expressions seemed to change, his body relaxed, his eyes softened, he started acting silly and derpy. He also started spending more time with my husband, our teenage son and his girlfriend.
We started a routing in the evening, where I get one of the blankets from his crate and bring it to the couch. He wraps up in it and I rock him to sleep on my shoulder before tucking him in for the night. I don't remember when I said it for the first time, but one of the nights I tucked him in I told him I loved him. After the words came out, I realized that I had not only turned a pivotal corner in my grieving journey, but I had saved another life in the process.
There is much to be said for loving again after a loss.
No one knows this more than our family these last few months, living with the painful void left after our beloved Pippen crossed the bridge in June.
There is no magic switch that we can flip to tell us when it's ok to move forward and allow ourselves to love again. Many feel they are dishonoring the memory of the dog they adored by opening their hearts to another, and in some small way I might have been one of those people, despite being a huge advocate of rescue.
My devotion to Pippen was fierce, and my grieving so intense that some days I felt satisfied just to pour all my love on our two other dogs and mourn her forever.
But when you have so much to give, your heart begins to swell, and you just know there is one out there who needs you. Whether you seek them out or they find their way to you, it is important that you allow yourself to be open to the possibility that you can love another again. Maybe one with special needs that someone else does not have the time or patience for, one who never knew a loving home or a cozy bed or the companionship of a well-adjusted canine friend who can teach them how to play and be part of a family.
Our dogs are the only ones who love us unconditionally (sorry signif others, it's true). When they are gone, this does not change, I knew if Pippen saw how many hours I've cried over her, she would not be happy, and I've learned that loving another cannot only bring joy but is also a beautiful way to honor her memory.
The handsome fella in the photo on my home page is Franky. He is 2 years old and, somewhat unplanned, joined our family on Labor Day. He came to us afraid of his own shadow, not eating meals outside a crate, unable to drink water from a bowl. In just 4 short days he was already a different dog - playful, relaxed, affectionate, showing signs of confidence. He is a beautiful dog that was being abused and neglected, just like Pippen was 9 years ago before we met her.
Pippen may not be here to meet Franky, but she primed the way for him, she showed us that we had what it takes to love a special needs dog and give them the life they deserve.
This is the way to honor the memory of those we love.
Take the leap, open your heart, and love again.
Grieving Pet Owner Issues Warning About Kids' Pools After Dog's Death (msn.com)