Even the cutest pets can have habits that work their people’s last nerve. Why does your pet do that thing that drives you crazy? How can you get your animal to stop doing it? Maybe the place to start isn’t with your pet but with YOU…..
I recently talked with a woman whose cat would not stop….ahem…..remodeling her fine antique wood furniture.
She loved her cat. She also loved her furniture. And she loved her partner, who was increasingly less keen on the renovation contributions of the feline family member.
What to do? What to do?
When I connected in with her cat to ask about this crazy-making behavior, the cat was quite calm and matter of fact. Yes, he was aware his person was providing a variety of designated feline scratching posts and pads. And yes, he was aware he wasn’t using any of them.
He liked the furniture legs better.
The wood was nice and hard – a perfect polishing surface for the gleaming sharp claws he was so proud of. As we continued the conversation, the cat made it clear he had no plans to stop clawing the crap out of his human family’s hardwood antiques.
Oddly, my anxious client began to calm down when I shared her cat’s message.
The cat showed me quite clearly that he regarded that entire room – the room full of such wonderful cat scratching posts – as his. “Well,” she quipped, “he has basically ruined all the legs on the furniture in that room anyway.”
Why did she get calmer after finding out the furniture would never be safe from the household feline?
I have a theory about this. And my theory is simply that the information I got from her cat and passed along to her matched what her intuition had been telling her all along.
She knew why her cat was clawing the furniture instead of the expensive scratching posts she had bought at the pet store. She already knew it, but not at the level of her mind and thoughts. The part of her that already knew was in a place her mind had marked as firmly off-limits to her, tucked away deep down in her gut where all intuition resides.
When my client accepted that her cat had already ruined the furniture and, well, why not let him just have it at it at this point, her sense of humor returned and with it her trust in herself. She no longer needed to make herself mentally crazy each time she heard the tell-tale sounds of enthusiastic claw-sharpening in the next room.
She could breathe again. And breathe she did – audibly so. I could hear her exhale, laugh it off, shake it off, re-enter the negotiation from a new place of calm strength.
We continued the dialogue, eventually ending up with a very reasonable trade-off – the cat would get the already ruined furniture plus some new hardwood baskets to replace the wimpy scratching posts.
And she would put any future antique hardwood finds in a different room that was kept off-limits to her cat.
The moral of this particular (true) story is that it doesn’t matter how cute our pets are or how much we love them. Eventually, they will find a way to make us crazy.
With this being a given, it is up to us to be proactive and find coping strategies we can turn to when issues arise in our interspecies family.
If I may, allow me to suggest these absolute favorites for maintaining or restoring calm when calm is most needed.
I have three go-to breathing patterns that I turn to when the animals (human or non-human) in my life are trying to drive me crazy. I let my intuition guide me to the right breath work for the situation. Sometimes I use all three together until I feel calmer.
Box breathing (four square breathing): Inhale to a count of four, hold to a count of four, exhale to a count of four, hold to a count of four. I find it helps to visualize my breath drawing a box as I am breathing each “wall” of the box into life.
Dr. Andrew Weil’s 4-7-8 breathing: For this breath technique, you breathe in to a count of four, hold to a count of seven and then breathe out to a count of eight. Do this no more than four times in a row until you get used to it.
Belly breathing: When you do belly breathing, you actually breathe into your belly area. You will know you are doing it right when your lower ribs (right above your waist) expand out as you breathe in.
Breath is the stuff of life. Literally. Having said that, sometimes moving the breath alone isn’t going to be sufficient to convince you to calm the heck down already.
If you’ve ever watched a wild prey animal after escaping a would-be predator, you may recall seeing that animal right itself, look around and then – amazing – vigorously shake itself off before walking, crawling, burrowing or flying away.
The act of physically shaking the body expels cortisol (the stress hormone) and literally “shakes off” the scary experience and brings the animal back into the present moment.
This response is vital. Why? Because an animal that is still stuck reliving past trauma or strategizing too hard against future perils will not be paying attention in the present. And any animal that isn’t paying attention at lunchtime isn’t likely to make it to dinner!
While there is no one “right” or “wrong” way to shake off frustration, irritation, anger, confusion, grief or other strong unwelcome emotions, here are my top three favorite ways to move away from stress and towards calm.
Yoga: I fell in love with Hatha Yoga three decades ago and never looked back. Hatha yoga is the yoga of the body and physical movement. Practiced mindfully and regularly, Hatha yoga can be a gateway to Raja yoga, the yoga of soul and spirit.
Walking: There is something about a nice long walk that gets all the parts of you talking to each other again. Walking actually requires a surprising degree of coordination on a mental as well as a physical level. Often, walking also gets you out into nature, which has its own restorative powers.
Punching: When my precious dad passed, my mom gave me his punching bag. It is amazing how much stress flows out of me with the very first (admittedly wimpy) punch I throw!
While assembling a self-care and stress response toolkit is an admirable goal, sometimes all the strategies in the world are no substitute for just taking a pause. It is all too easy to busy ourselves with doing to the point where it no longer matters what we do…what we really need is to stop doing for a moment and just be.
Here are my favorite ways to pause.
Pet time: I know, I know….isn’t it our pet that is disrupting our calm in the first place? But that-thing-they-do that drives us crazy is just an aspect of them. It isn’t the whole picture. I might be nearly deaf from listening to my soul bird, Pearl, screaming all morning long for no apparent reason. But the moment I stop my stressing and scratch his super soft neck feathers, I am liable to forget all about whatever it was that had me so in knots just a moment ago. Because he is just so CUTE.
Nap time: Naps are golden. The older I get, the younger I feel after a spontaneous and decadent daytime nap.
Laughing: Laughter puts a pause on stress. I actually keep a video playlist for just this purpose. It doesn’t matter how many times I watch Christopher Walken in SNL’s “Googley Eyes Gardener.” I’m always going to laugh watching him attempt to make eye contact with his ferns.
Going out of your stress comfort zone with problem pet behaviors? Can’t solve the mystery of why your pet is that way that s/he is? Click the button below for help!