Clinical Animal Behaviourist

Sally's Blog

My thoughts on intuition, animal behaviour and healing

We're Only Human, After All - Force-free Training and the Word 'No'

17 Jan 2019

As a force-free animal behaviourist who is against using positive punishment and aversives, there is something that I have to admit that I still can’t help but do – I still find myself using the word ‘No’. It just slips out when I need to ask animals not to do certain things, as if they understand. Strangely enough, this seems to work within certain contexts, even though such methods would be considered disciplinary by some.

I’m not talking about scolding animals here. The way that I say ‘No’ is cordial and pleasant but still has a firm undertone and in many cases, does not work unless I know the animal very well and we have a good, trusting relationship. Is a simple ‘No’ between friends such a bad thing if it’s for all the right reasons? This is a compelling question as it leads to a more complex one; how do we discern what is truly force-free? Can the word ‘No’ be construed as the equivalent of ‘sit’, ‘stay’ or ‘high five’ if an animal is willing to act upon it accordingly?

For example, one of the dogs I give Reiki to has a small sore on one of her front legs that is almost healed. Occasionally, during our Reiki sessions, she will sometimes start to lick at the sore. I gently place my fingers between her tongue and the sore spot and quietly say ‘No, don’t lick it’. She then usually stops licking it and puts her head back down to rest on her paws.

In another example, our cat, Monty still has moments when he lies down with his claws in the bottom step of the stairs, as if he is going to scratch it. He used to do this all the time when we had our old carpet but as soon as we got new carpet, we bought him a horizontal scratcher, which he loves, which saved our new carpet from being shredded. He chooses the scratcher over the carpet 99.9% of the time.

On the occasions that he has a mad, crazy-eyed moment and dashes over to the bottom step with claws prepared for a full-on carpet attack, he looks up at me just before he intends to commence his assault and pauses. With our gazes locked, I say to him ‘No, we don’t do that anymore, do we?’ Disappointed, he releases the carpet from his grasp and can be tempted away with a toy or will voluntarily move on to ‘attack’ his cardboard scratcher, which results in a ‘Good boy!’ from me.

Another of our mutual understandings is a ‘No, it’s not dinner time yet’ when he is in the kitchen begging for food just because he can. After saying this line, I no longer glance in his direction and continue with whatever I’m doing. After a couple more minutes, Monty will go and find something less boring to do. I can’t see anything aversive going on here and, hopefully neither can Monty.

What concerns me here is that what I preach to others and what I do naturally myself makes me a hypocrite. Here’s me telling people not to use the word ‘No’ or physically intervene because the animal will learn that their behaviour gets their human’s attention, whether good or bad, yet I still do these things myself, albeit in a calm and ‘non-punishing’ way.

The point I am trying to make is that as force-free trainers and behaviourists and, of course, people who share our lives with our animals, where do we draw the force-free line? When does our communication with animals begin to blur into the realms of being considered being distinctly un-force-free?

The ethics behind force-free are no fear, no pain, no force. Most of this is obvious to caring animal lovers but for those working within this industry, closely examining our own behaviour and relationship with animals is something that will help us to understand the behaviour of our human clients. Their natural inclinations when communicating with animals may mean that their force-free line is drawn somewhere far further along the continuum than our own. They may not see anything wrong with shouting at their animal companions, tapping them on the nose or putting them in another room for a ‘time out’. These may seem reasonable actions to them, but to me, they make my blood boil!

All too often I see comments and posts on social media and television shows that advocate old fashioned training methods rooted in incorrect and misguided information based in ‘dominance’ and ‘alpha’ theory. As disheartening and infuriating as this is, I have to remember that not everyone thinks and feels about animals the way that I do. When I would like Monty to do something, I ‘ask’ him in a way that he seems to understand. This results in a combination of body language, eye contact, facial expressions, words and actions, all designed to make what I am asking him to do as ‘force-free’ as possible. I make an effort to be consciously aware of how my behaviour could be affecting him; and, yes, on the odd occasion, there might even be a ‘No’, meant with the best of intentions.

So where does this leave me and my prospective clients and receivers of my advice? It leaves me in the position of realising that I am only human, just like everyone else. When I began my studies into animal behaviour and doing things the ‘right’ force-free way, I would get on my high horse and dish out disapproval to those who would dare to disagree with what I was saying. This is all part of life’s learning curve and realising that none of us are perfect and also that, when it comes to our animals and us, each and every human-animal relationship is unique.

Does Monty cower in fear when I ask him not to scratch the bottom step of the stairs? No. He just gets on with his day, albeit with an unsatiated desire to tear into the carpet with his claws. Does my canine Reiki client feel threatened when I subtly prevent access to her sore spot with the digits of my hand? No. She stops what she is doing and relaxes again. We have a mutual understanding that my actions are for the greater good and mean no harm. We trust one another.

There are more instances in which I say ‘No’ to the animals that I look after, especially when the dogs in my care try to eat nasty things off the street. It is a reflex action that simply happens when we know that there is something that we would like to prevent. There isn’t much thought involved. If a gentle and straightforward ‘No’ works every time, why wouldn’t we use it? Sometimes, communicating with animals just flows and we understand each other fully.

If a quick look and a ‘No’ stops a dog eating a piece of abandoned chocolate then sooner that than a sick dog. It all depends on the context and what the animal already understands. As a carer for other people’s animals, it’s often difficult to know the best method for preventing them doing certain things as they may have not received training for the ‘leave it’ command, for example. I need to find the kindest ways to keep them safe.

It is all a matter of degree and how the energy flows between us and our animals. I wouldn’t recommend ‘No’ as a training tool and I certainly wouldn’t recommend that we say it in a harsh or raised voice. A ‘No’ can often be futile or could make a situation worse if it gives an animal the attention they desire to keep repeating the unwanted behaviour. If saying ‘No’ gets you ‘No-where’ then better methods are required. If the situation is more serious than a cat’s misplaced claws or a casual lick at a wound, saying ‘No’ is like trying to catch the breeze in a jar – it is pointless and is only helping the human in the equation to feel like they are ‘doing something’ to remedy the situation, no matter how many times they have to say it.

In situations such as a cat toileting outside the litter box, a dog constantly pulling on a lead, jumping up or an animal playing too aggressively, a ‘No’ just won’t cut it. Ramping up the ‘No’ to a shout, reaching for the spray bottle or giving the lead a good tug will not help either and could make matters worse. This is where the force-free training and behaviour modification can be the most successful option.

Us humans need to train ourselves to be consciously aware of our behaviour around animals and the relationship that we share. They are intelligent, attentive and often one step ahead. When our relationship is so good that we reach a point where our communication is so effective and reliable, as much as a quick facial expression or slight change in body language can be effective in asking an animal to do or not do something, providing they haven’t learned this through fear.

This is another reason why I work holistically, examining every detail of every case from the physical to the intuitive. I do not train animals, I train humans how to better relate to their animals. I also cut them some slack when they are getting things ‘wrong’ or have been following bad advice. It hasn’t been so long since I used to watch television shows that promoted less than desirable, outdated methods and it didn’t even cross my mind that they were unpleasant or scary for the animals involved at that time.

I am at the point in my learning curve where I am working out how I can change human behaviour, thought patterns and beliefs for the betterment of non-human animals. The word ‘No’ is a rare thing to slip out from my lips when I spend time with animals but it does happen. The force-free way is the best way for everyone but admonishing those who don’t always relate to animals in this way will only be met with resistance. Teaching and informing others who are willing to listen without confrontation is essential, as is backing this up with firm evidence and not presenting an empty argument which could fall on deaf ears. Learning to bite my tongue and not be triggered by those looking for an argument has become an acquired skill.

Until I remember that I’m human too, nobody is going to learn anything. I’ll try to encourage myself and others to turn more of those ‘No’s into a ‘Yes’ in future but I’m afraid that Monty still won’t be getting his dinner two hours early just because we both happen to be in the kitchen!

By Sally Chamberlain,

IAABC Associate Certified Cat Behaviour Consultant

ICAN Certified Animal Behaviourist

Reiki Master Teacher

Author of:

‘Power Of The Purr’

‘Weird Is Wonderful’ and

‘Being Kind To Dogs’

What Does It Mean to be 'Psychic'?

12 September 2019

When I first started delving into my psychic abilities, I was looking for something that wasn’t there. I was trying so hard to tap into my psychic abilities and predict future events that I completely missed the point. I was disappointed when I didn’t know the correct symbol on a hidden card or gave an incorrect reading about a stranger in a photograph. I began to feel that maybe I wasn’t psychic after all but my sense of spiritual energy and intuition felt so strong they were like a tiger in a cage trying to get out!

It took many years of soul-searching, research and life lessons for me to understand who I am and what my true abilities are and, with every passing second, I continue to learn more. Being ‘psychic’ isn’t something that you ‘do’, it is part of who you are as a person; an intuitive and sensitive person.

My initial expectations all those years ago were the product of social conditioning in which so many of us are led to believe that psychic people sit in booths shrouded in curtains telling the future in a crystal ball with mind-blowing accuracy then proceeding to pick up a pack of tarot cards to finish the job. Of course, there are still the stereotypical old-school psychics out there who make a decent living in such ways but this barely scratches the surface.

It was learning the Japanese healing system of Reiki that enhanced my intuition and sense of spiritual awareness and brought me into alignment with the true nature of what it means to be psychic. The two are not directly related but for many of us who are attuned to Reiki, we tend to find that Reiki cleanses our system, allowing intuitive and spiritual information to flow more freely. We receive greater clarity and wisdom in what we intuit and this has the power to change our lives for the better but it can be a little unsettling at first until we become used to the stronger flow of energy. Learning Reiki is, of course, not a prerequisite for enhancing intuition but it is one of the many healing arts and spiritual practices that can assist us on our path.

After joining a spiritual development circle, attending workshops, watching many videos by like-minded people and reading and researching extensively, I have discovered that the most fundamental aspects of developing our psychic abilities are rather surprising but actually very obvious – self-care and self-awareness. After all, until we know ourselves on the deepest level and are functioning at our optimum capacity, we cannot set ourselves up for the greatest chance of success.

Being psychic is not just about giving readings to other people. Being psychic is mostly about looking after ourselves so that we are better able to serve others when we feel drawn to do so. We cannot serve from an empty cup!

When we break it down to its simplest form, self-care and feeling well make the world seem like a brighter place. We can hear the birds singing more clearly, feel the glow in our skin as the breeze gently blows against our face, we can smell the freshness of the air, the energy of the earth and sunlight filling us to the core.

Self-care is not just about nurturing our physical bodies; it’s about our well-being as a whole including our mental, emotional and spiritual health. One of the key elements of self-care for sensitive, intuitive and empathic people is setting boundaries. These may involve our own daily routine such as not allowing ourselves to lose out on valuable sleep or ensuring that we eat well but we also need to set boundaries with other people.

Setting boundaries to protect our own energy and reduce stress levels are vital but this is not always easy for the people we are setting them with. Finding ways to be firm but kind will go a long way towards other people respecting your boundaries. It can be as simple as asking your loved ones not to call round unexpectedly or to not keep asking you for lifts everywhere. There are also emotional boundaries that need to be set in our relationships. These can be tricky but you need to be honest with yourself and others about what you can and cannot tolerate for your own well-being.

As we become more self-aware, we can implement more self-care. This does not mean that we are shying away from certain aspects of life or becoming a hermit; we are giving ourselves more freedom to explore our own interests so that when we feel inclined, we can share our energy with others in the form of healing, guidance or simply enjoying their company. Life is a lot easier and makes more sense when we are not a frazzled mess! It is much easier for intuition, spiritual energy and our psychic abilities to flow when we are feeling energised and well-rested.

Cultivating self-awareness often begins with knowing what we like and what we do not. This may sound simple but it sometimes means that we have to be brutally honest with ourselves and let go of things that are no longer beneficial, such as bad habits, old grudges and toxic people. Self-awareness also involves our understanding of how we receive intuitive information and our own sensitivities. Keeping a journal or a recorded log can help with this process of learning about who we truly are and our preferences. We are aiming to raise our vibration by doing more of what we truly enjoy and letting go of what we don’t.

Another aspect of being psychic that I misunderstood in my younger days was that I believed it was for the benefit of everyone else so that I could give them readings and attend psychic fairs. I have since had many psychic and intuitive experiences, most of which have either been directly related to my own life or have been very calm and sedate animal communication readings for my clients.

The vast majority of them are spontaneous but I have found it possible to give readings that involve psychic elements when I set my intention to do so for the greatest and highest good. Psychic readings come from a loving place by making a connection with another spirit, whether they are here on earth in their physical body or if they have passed on into pure spiritual energy.

Being psychic comes from the heart and is not a separate commodity that a psychic person gets out of their toolkit as and when required. It is an intrinsic part of who they are and is intricately woven into the fabric of their soul. Being psychic often feels magical but it isn’t always easy. It often comes with a mixed bag of other intuitive abilities and sensitivities, from the physical to the mental and emotional. Many people are not aware that the intense and sometimes overwhelming way in which they experience life is because they are blessed with abilities that some people have to work extremely hard for if they do not come naturally. A lot of these people wish they could switch them off and be ‘normal’.

So, what do I conclude when asking ‘what does it mean to be psychic?’ To me, it means that you have to take good care of yourself and understand how your psychic abilities work for you. Being psychic is about energy flow and learning how to receive and perceive intuitive information without it becoming overwhelming or allowing people to take advantage of your good nature.

Genuinely psychic people often hide their abilities if they are not supported or understood by their immediate family and community. Others don’t realise they are psychic and may think there is something wrong with them. Even those of us who are aware that we have some unusual abilities don’t tend to shout about it too much. We sometimes attract the wrong attention! I feel that my role as a person with psychic abilities is to help others on a similar path to feel more comfortable and also offer readings to others when it feels right to do so. 

We are not charlatans or weirdos; we’re just everyday people who happen to have a little magic going on!

By Sally Chamberlain,

Reiki Master Teacher, Animal Communicator, 

Author and Intuitive

Author of:

‘Power Of The Purr’

‘Weird Is Wonderful’ and

‘Being Kind To Dogs’

How to choose a reputable dog trainer or animal behaviourist

30 September 2019

Our cats and dogs are part of our family and when we need to choose a trainer or animal behaviourist, great care needs to be taken. The animal behaviour and training industry is unregulated in the UK and although there are organisations working towards changing this, change is all too slow.

There are many people out there who offer their services as a dog trainer or animal behaviourist who are unqualified and use outdated methods based on dominance theory and being the ‘pack leader’ or ‘Alpha’. They might also advocate the use of tools such as choke chains, prong/pinch collars, slip leads, electric shock collars, rattle cans, spray bottles, air horns, giving dogs ‘corrections’ on the lead, scruffing cats and all manner of other unpleasant things. If you come into contact with any of these people, please run for the hills!

Dominance-based methods are not only unpleasant for our animals, they also don’t sit well with animal-lovers but because they are working with a ‘professional’ they assume they are receiving good advice. It may appear as though a quick-fix has occurred when these methods seem to work but all they do is suppress the unwanted behaviour, creating a ticking time bomb in which an animal can feel afraid, overwhelmed or frustrated. Such methods can cause animals to lose trust in their human guardians and they may shut down into a state of 'learned helplessness' or react aggressively, seemingly without warning.

My advice is to choose a professional who is a member of one or more of the organisations listed below and is open about the methods they use. They should also be qualified, experienced and insured. Please, always check out each individual you are considering before allowing them to work with your animals. A veterinary check-up may also be recommended in some cases.

Effective animal training and behaviour modification does not need to involve any force, fear, pain, discomfort or intimidation. Instead, modern methods can be used that have their basis in science, animal welfare and compassion. These are usually referred to as ‘force-free’, ‘reward-based’ or ‘positive reinforcement’. The following organisations are a good place to start but a thorough check should be carried out on each individual member to find out which methods they use:

International Companion Animal Network (ICAN) 

The Pet Professional Guild (British Isles)

The Association of INTO Dogs

The Animal Behaviour and Training Council (ABTC) 

UK Association of Pet Dog Trainers

Please also see the following articles for more details about choosing a dog trainer and what questions to ask:

I hope that my advice resonates with you and that you take it on board. Force-free trainers and behaviourists are often misunderstood, especially by their so-called ‘balanced’ counterparts who are prepared to use punishment and harsh methods on animals.

Please get in touch if you would like some further information and links to resources. I wish you and your animals a happy and harmonious life together.

Sally Chamberlain

Force-free Animal Behaviourist

at Karma Paws Pet Care

Author of:

‘Power Of The Purr’

‘Weird Is Wonderful’ and

‘Being Kind To Dogs’