August 31, 2013

Raisa Stone: Should You Dress Up Your Pet?

People ask me, "What is the most common thing animals say?" 

For pets who have had a home other than their birth home, and especially if they've been in tough circumstances, it's, "Are they keeping me?" voiced in a plaintive tone.

For dogs and cats, a common complaint is lack of fresh meat. 

Equally common, is....what? A lack of play time? Not enough animal shows on TV? The need to visit a dog park?


With a great deal of distress behind it, a common request I receive from pets is, "Please make them stop putting that pink/blue/red/green THING on me. Don't they like my fur? Do they think I'm ugly?"

The energy behind this creates a choking sensation or creepy crawlies on my skin.

Except for certain Labrador and Golden Retrievers, animals are almost universally frustrated and humiliated by being dressed up. 

They can certainly be made to understand and calmly (if not cheerfully) accept a rain coat or a modest sweater in subzero temperatures. 

I'm talking about costumes. Outfits that are for our vanity, the ones that make people squeal, "Kewwwwwt!"

Your dog/cat/rabbit/pony/bird is fuming. 

Animals highly prize their natural coats. They feel dignified and at One with the world in them. They consider clothing a cross between human vanity and our need to cloak fragile (and unattractive) naked skin. To animals, our skin looks as if we've been scraped raw. They feel compassion for us. And don't envy our fragility or nakedness in the least. A component of their tenderness towards us, is their belief humans are, at least partially, un-furred infants.

After major holidays, I receive a flood of complaints about behavioral problems. Fluffy is suddenly peeing all over the house, Taffy is touchy, and Blackie has started swinging his rump at you when you approach.

Did Fluffy not get enough turkey? Or Blackie not enough brushing? Did visiting kids pull Taffy's ears? Sometimes. Every situation and animal is unique. 

But across the board, I hear angry statements by pets: "Tell them I'm embarrassed by the red coat...I hate it when they try to make me look like another species...That black thing was stuffy, and I couldn't see well. I was scared!"

Animals are incredibly dignified. Humiliation can damage trust and change behavior radically. In my experience, as much as physical abuse and neglect. 

Think back to your childhood: can you remember being humiliated? Do you recall that it stung your heart and lingered as badly as a slap to the face---or worse? Shaming by a schoolyard bully hurt, shaming by a trusted adult was excruciating.

Your pet only has you. They can't protest to their teachers or neighbours. They're unable to retreat to a safe place and shed the hated costume. Instead, their humiliation is usually paraded in public.

I've spoken with pets who desperately try to give their owners the message. They pee on their clothes. They destroy the laundry basket or some precious item. They become inexplicably aggressive or sullen.

Dressing animals stunts their senses. Animal fur is a highly evolved antennae. You know that prickly feeling you get on your neck, or the goose pimples on your skin when "something's up"? Animals live by similar sensations, much amplified. 

As well, costumes limit their vision and hearing, e.g., I see a trend towards dressing them in hoodies. Yo. Not kool.

Dressing animals attracts unwanted attention and even aggression from other animals, who fear them and view them as threatening. It's much like the first time you were exposed to a monster in a horror film. The same adrenalized response that caused you to scream or dive under a blanket, heart pounding, can cause an approaching animal to attack yours.

Small dogs seem to get the worst of this dressing up trend. Please consider that they struggle with carrying wolf size spirits and hearts inside of bodies that don't measure up. They're poignantly aware of their limitations. Small dogs need their self esteem and courage bolstered, not infantilized. They're not eternal babies. 

If they need weather-appropriate gear, purchase the most mature looking raincoat or sweater. Involve them in choosing. I've seen dogs clearly indicate their choice of weather gear in pet stores. 

Watch and listen for clues. The pinned back ears are a big, "No way, buster!"

You know what your pet's "happy face" looks like.

An animal's lack of struggle doesn't always mean acceptance. Sometimes, it's shock. An animal in distress has three responses: flight, fight or freeze.

Take your time. Watch for the genuine clues of their emotion. The trust in your relationship could depend upon it.

I've never met an animal who likes pink, or sparkles. Being cute is of no interest. Here's an article I wrote about the small dogs' experience. 

Given what I hear from clients (who thankfully want to know how to humanely solve problems) and their pets, I have to wonder how many pets end up in shelter or even euthanized due to behavior triggered by costuming.

An extra tip for Halloween: put on your costume, piece by piece, in front of your pet. Your familiar scent and voice coming out of a costume will scare them, and could easily damage your trusting relationship. People who jump out and yell, "Boo!" at animals, well, I have no words. Just don't be that person.

Dignity is merited by every creature on our beautiful planet.

Raisa Stone
Expert Animal Communicator
Energy healer 


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Copyright 2013 Raisa Stone. All rights reserved. If you wish to reprint material from this blog, contact Raisa Stone. Must be reprinted in entirety with all links and credit intact.

August 27, 2013

Raisa Stone: Which Dog Collar or Harness is Right For You?


I get a lot of questions about the effect and purpose of various types of gear for dogs. I'm also the type of person who'll walk up to strangers and say politely, "May I show you how to use that?"

And once in a while, "Um, you have your choke chain on backwards." It's always some big blustery dude, but I brave on anyway, for the poor dog's sake.

I started in "old school" Kennel Club Obedience classes with my Dad, our two Great Danes and Boston when I was seven.

I've shown and trained dogs of many descriptions and temperaments, and worked with countless rescue and shelter animals. I was privileged to learn from German trainer Otto Prockert, who worked almost exclusively telepathically and with "a quiet word," and also from Chuck Eisenmann, beloved trainer of The Littlest Hobo.

I routinely work with Animal Communication clients who also request assistance with training tips. My practice successfully helps animals who range from ultra-timid, to ones on death row due to aggression.

I've tried just about every type of collar. No matter which you use, the better part of training is first explaining and visualizing what you want your pet to do. It's important to figure out what motivates them, too. Some dogs love an energetic, playful tone, while others prefer you to be serious and focused.

You can't just fasten any type of collar or harness on them, yell, "Heel!" and expect them to understand. Training is an art and a science. This article is meant to briefly describe commonly used tools, and clear up confusion about these.

Here's a rundown: 

Martingale: This is a flat collar with a built in safety chain. It tightens the collar when the dog pulls, but does not squeeze the neck. 

Pros: No strain on neck, if dog doesn't pull. A great choice if your dog walks easily at your side, and you just want the assurance of a collar that will not easily slip over her head if she backs up. Strictly a safety collar.

Cons: The martingale is often misunderstood as a training tool, a sort of "half choke chain." Snapping it does nothing to correct a dog's behavior, teach her to heel, etc. I've seen too many people snapping the martingale, as if it's supposed to have a training effect. The noise just annoys the dog.

Choke chain: A short term training tool, for experienced hands. Used correctly, it gives a little "zip" to the large exterior neck muscle. 

Pros: Used correctly, it can work. I prefer the very thin chain, which I test on my own skin.

Cons: Used incorrectly or long term, it literally chokes, bruises and can permanently damage the windpipe. For short term use only. Should never be left on dog, as she can strangle. Seen applied backwards too many darn times. If so, the chain never releases, and the poor dog is in a state of constant discomfort and confusion.

Prong collar: Digs blunted points into the neck. Usually used for particularly strong pullers who are resistant to the "zip" of the milder choke chain. 

Pros: Gives the user a false sense of security that the dog has been trained. 

Cons: It hurts! Can cause long term damage. Points can damage eyes. Many people pull it on and off over the head, rather than unfasten. Pulled hard enough, can damage the neck.  

Instilling fear of pain is not good training. It creates fear and resentment, and as soon as an animal figures out they can either resist or get away from pain, they'll rebel against you.

Haltie: Fashioned after horse halters, to control the dog's head, rather than neck. 

Pros: Gives better control than a flat collar. Doesn't usually slip off. Looks cool.

Cons: Dogs do not have thick, strong necks like horses. A sudden run to the end of the leash can snap the neck and cause both vertebral and muscular injury.

Top clip harness: Used by people who don't like putting a collar on the neck. Also for tiny dogs whose fragile necks can't withstand pulling.

Pros: Hard to squirm out of, so high safety factor in public. Comfy for small dogs, especially if padded. The only option for cats.

Cons: Dog harnesses were invented for pulling heavy loads, like carts and sleds. In modern society, that heavy load is usually YOU. Dogs like to brace against them. Not a training tool in the least. Not for medium to large dogs, anyway. 

Many tiny dogs get along with a harness just fine. Harnesses are the only option I know of for leash training cats.

Fitting must be ultra careful, as potential for rub sores and even dislocating leg and shoulder joints exist. Harness must be routinely checked for sizing, as a small weight loss or gain (the dog's) can cause fit and comfort problems. The sling type with velcro can come undone.

Front clip harness: I'm a fan.These work by giving the dog's ribs a squeeze when he pulls. He immediately looks up at you for guidance. 

Pros: Trains the worst pullers to stop this, in short order. I worked with a big, unruly adult Mastiff/Pit X at Animal Control who'd never been leash trained. 

She liked constantly leaping up at her handler, which could be injurious. Everyone at the shelter was at wits' end. She was unadoptable as she was, but too sweet to give up on.

I explained what I wanted from her, and gave two small tugs on the front clip harness when she jumped and pulled. Lots of praise when she heeled and sat. By the end of a half hour, we were really in synch, and I didn't even need to tug.

I'm physically disabled with a spinal crush injury. With the front clip, I can work with even dogs like this, without exacerbating my chronic pain.

Cons: Prolonged use can damage the dog's spine and ribs, and create joint problems. This is a powerful tool. Not for people who use a leash like they're starting a lawn mower, when a simple gesture with two fingers will do. 

As with any tool, you must have lessons to use the front clip. Judiciousness and delicacy with your hands are a must. 

Millan's Illusion collar: Works like a choke chain, but not as "zippy." 

Pros: It does work as described. It keeps the collar behind the dog's ears for the duration of the training session. You don't have to reach down and adjust it, like a chain.

Cons: May provide a minutely longer choke effect due to fabric instead of chain.  The pro is also the con. If you want to take a leisurely walk before or after your training session, this collar doesn't relax lower on the neck. 

Because it looks cool, is celebrity-related and costs significantly more than a chain choke, may stay in use much longer than is warranted for training. I'm a fan of removing a training tool AS SOON as no longer needed.

Flat/rolled leather or web: These collars are for puppies and well trained dogs who will heel, or walk obediently beside you. 

Pros: No strain on neck, if the dog doesn't pull. If you're blessed to meet a trainer who can show you how to genuinely train your dog without the need for a choke chain or front clip---hang on and don't let go.

I like training dogs to heel in a flat or martingale collar by doing exercises around trees, lamp posts, mailboxes, etc. I make it a game, and make it seem spontaneous. I also heel them along a fence, and if they barge ahead, I just step my left leg in front and box them in. Then praise when they fall back to heel.

By the way, this is the only way to leash train cats. I use a harness, and would never dream of a corrective device. Cats don't forgive like dogs. Give cats plenty of time to roll around and ignore you during lessons.

Cons: Big strain on neck muscles and larynx (voice box), if dog does pull. Not a correction device. Can be wiggled out of. Of the incidents where dogs escape the leash, a flat collar is usually involved.

I've met people who think it's humane to use a flat collar and endlessly tug on it while the dog gags. They're usually the ones loudly proclaiming the inhumane nature of any other type of training tool. We've all seen these folks. They need lessons, badly. A briefly used choke chain or front clip harness is much more humane than months or years being "softly choked" with a collar.

Please don't leave collars on unsupervised. A dog can get hung up and choke. If you rely on the collar to i.d. your dog in case of loss, you're much better off to get her microchipped.

A word about leashes: Use a six-twelve foot leather, web or vinyl lead, folded in your hand. Cotton horse lead shanks also look cool on big dogs, are very sturdy, and feel nice in your hand. Avoid the nylon ones.

If you have one of those trendy leashes that come slithering out of a toilet paper dispenser (sorry, that's what it looks like to me), promise me you'll cut it up and recycle it. It's not only a deadly fashion faux pas, but more dogs have been hurt and killed from getting out of control with those things...

I always knew they belong in the bathroom

Shock collar: Just. Don't. Whether for "training" or as part of your electric fence system.There are so many things that can go wrong with an electronic device. These things can get stuck to deliver long term shock, or stuck on High. 

Dogs have been permanently damaged, physically and psychologically. Sometimes, dogs don't heed the shock, so people tighten the collar. The dog ends up with holes burned in his neck. Electricity is too risky to use on a living creature's body!

In conclusion:

I strongly recommend enrolling in obedience classes. It's possible to train a dog to heel, sit, stay and come without ever using a collar at all, but you need instruction. It's fun, and will create a life long bond. You can choose from private sessions with a trainer, to community based programs.

If you're wondering how your pet is enjoying their current training, book a session with me to speak with them. I can help you with suggestions for the best methods, as well as find out what kind of activities your dog would enjoy, e.g. would they like agility or tracking? Herding or protection work? Or are they a natural babysitter? 

Yours in the love of animals,
Raisa Stone
Expert Animal Communicator

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August 26, 2013

Reisa Stone: The Ongoing Saga of the Lake

The Ongoing Saga 

Trying to swim in the lake


BC summers are short, and you have to make the most of them. Two weeks of rain now. Ah, heck with it. During a momentary sunny break, I left for the beach.

A sudden downpour, just as I got in the water. Did you know that when it's pelting rain, the drops bounce off the surface and fly in your eyes?

I persisted for an hour. A little girl, fully clothed and fishing off the dock, yelled, "Is it warm?" I yelled back, "NO!" She laughed hysterically.

The rain lightened, but everyone else had fled the area. Suddenly, I was completely alone, a crazy lady swimming in a cold rainy lake. Even the triathlete-looking guy only lasted three minutes. Good thing I have a decent layer of fat.

The birds came out. I swam alongside a flock of Canadian geese, then a Mallard couple. A Kingfisher noisily flew from tree to tree, enjoying the crazy lady enjoying his territory. 

He followed me, all along the shoreline. I swam east. He flew east. I turned around and swam west. He flew west. He told me to, "Keep it up!" and cackle-laughed. Two seagulls (we're 70 miles from the ocean), flew over me, calling.

Not what I expected, and magical.

Raisa Stone
PS I looked up the symbolism of the Kingfisher on several sources, and here is my favorite: 

Mythologically, they're beloved of sea nymphs. I suppose I was of mythic proportions today ;-D

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Copyright 2013 Raisa Stone. All rights reserved. If you wish to reprint material from this blog, contact Raisa Stone. Must be reprinted in entirety with all links and credit intact.

August 03, 2013

Reisa Stone: Minimize Your Companion's Anxiety

My August Animal Soul Newsletter

Chill Out!

Minimize Your Companion's Anxiety

If you've followed my work as an Animal Communicator, you'll know it's always about the animal's point of view. How do they see the world? Why are they acting that way? How can we work with their unique point of view to create harmony?

I had an eye opening experience recently. Before I broke my back, my role at horse and dog shows was mainly as a professional groom/handler or competitor. I took excellent care of my charges, and paid little attention to others' animals except to briefly watch their performances.

For the first time, I had a vendor table at a horse show. The kindly managers placed me in an optimal location---right inside the competitors' barn, where I had an opportunity to observe everyone. It was great meeting many of the competitors and their gorgeous equines, from a tiny, snorty Welsh pony stallion who was crushing on an equally enamored Sport Horse mare (let me get you a chair, fella), to leadline toddlers perched adorably on top of patient "baby sitter" horses.

Despite these vast differences, I saw the same issue over and over. Anxious equines. Horses with tummies so nervous, loose manure was everywhere. Equines calling to each other with a frantic note in their whinnies. Sudden explosions of energy: kicking, rearing, sidestepping, breaking gaits. Some competitors approached me with these problems. Anxiety was affecting ring performance. It was causing worries about leaving horses overnight.

This was another first for me: observing herd behavior, outside a herd. I'm well acquainted with herd hierarchy. How horses make friends and enemies, how they find places in their society. But at the show was a different kind of herd. One where each horse was exquisitely aware of the presence of all the others, yet had no way to make solid contact. They couldn't see each other over the solid stall walls, let alone touch noses, do the squealing, kicking, biting, mutual grooming, play and advance/retreats necessary to create herd security.

Our traditional wisdom of bringing horses to a venue the night before to "settle," can create more anxiety. They're not settling. They're freaking out over being away from home, and being thrust into new surroundings. In my showing years, I subscribed to this practice as well. It became clear I'd not done all I could at the time. What can we do to reduce anxiety?

I spoke with a Lead mare who was lathered with anxiety over being unable to manage what she felt were her new charges, and simultaneously worried about her herd at home. Imagine a high energy executive, thrust into a company and unable to see either her new or old staff. Another mare, more a "middle of the herd" personality, was shaking with vulnerability at suddenly being solo. Imagine a meek clerk being asked to give an impromptu public speech! Stallions sensed competitors from whom they couldn't defend territory; geldings feared being unable to defend themselves.

Their anxiety increased as they were taken into the ring, where yet another herd configuration met them. And yet again, no opportunity to truly connect. Some competitors were clearly at wit's end, pulling hard on lead ropes and reins. I'll repeat what I said in my last article about nervous symptoms in animals. Yanking on them in this state, drives the symptoms deeper into the nervous system. Petting and soothing may be of little use. They need their needs met. They need to feel secure. Neither correction nor affection can provide that.

To an animal, their herd is comfort, security, protection against predators. Being thrust into the show milieu can be something like you or I being given a few music lessons in the comfort of our homes, then being thrown naked onto the stage at Carnegie Hall---without first meeting your fellow musicians! Wouldn't you be anxious? Would someone patting your head or pulling on your arm, create a feeling of security? Not likely.

What does work? Besides giving each competitor the viewpoint of their individual equine, I counseled the same exercise: calm and ground yourself. Lead your horse slowly down the middle of each barn aisle, giving them an opportunity to see and have a word with every other animal. Tell them it's temporary; they're going home soon. Bring a buddy, and either rent a double stall or stall them across the aisle. If you can run home and get your horse's favorite hay, local water and treats, please do. Take your horse outside and let them see the ones in the warm up ring. Keep your energy and movements low and slow. Take your time with everything. If your horse lifts their head and stares at something you can't see, let them. Their senses are so much keener than ours.

It worked. I was thrilled to see, from my central location, horsewomen returning from the show ring with ribbons. They smiled at me and held their prizes high. Their horses' energy had dramatically changed. They were now calm, walking with their noses down instead of waving frantically in the air. Stall kicking and squealing lessened. These horses had had their anxiety dialed down, by their owners pro-actively showing their place in a temporary herd.

You can apply the same principles at competitions for other species. Cats are  a bit different, as they're not typically pack animals. However, they're highly territorial. It's comforting for them to see their entire environment. Take a lesson from their love of perching in high places, and allow them to view the show venue. Explain to them that the enclosure they're in for the duration, is their exclusive territory and impermanent. Again, favorite treats and water from home. Make things as familiar as possible. Enter the "animal zone" I teach in my digital guided journeys, and have a conversation with your companion well before the actual show. Tell them what to expect.

By the way, this is an excellent way to train your animal to enjoy the vet's. Calm your energy. Drop into the waiting room "for no reason," and treat them. Tell the receptionist what you're doing, hang out for a few minutes, then leave. Next, take your pet to a place they love. Build positive associations around the anxiety-producing event. Create security.

What if you need a way to consistently calm and ground yoursel
f? I offer a digital guided journey called Awaken the Gift of Animal Communication on my website. It contains a deep, Nature based meditation that engages the part of your brain which usually wanders during such exercises. If you do this meditation a few times, you'll be able to quickly put yourself in the grounded, relaxed zone which connects you with your companion.

All my best to you in the show ring, the vet's office and at home with your beloved companion.

Copyright 2013 Raisa Stone

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~Raisa Stone

Expert Animal Communicator