The McBriber – Prevention and Treatment

by Kara Hollars, owner of Personal Family Dog Trainer

The Problem
You see a person working with their dog, using treats as a reward. The person shows the dog a treat, then asks them for a behavior. The dog complies 100% of the time, which looks very impressive! This goes on for some time. Suddenly, a look of panic crosses the persons face. They’ve run out of treats! They ask their dog for another behavior, the dog looks for the treat, then gets up and walks away. The owner follows, desperately trying to get the dog to listen. What went wrong?

What Happened
These types of dogs are what we call McBribers. They feel that they should get a treat for everything that they do, and if their owner does not have a treat they don’t need to listen. These stories are always sad ones to hear, mostly because they are so easy to prevent!

The good new is that no matter what stage your dog is at, you can work on this. The best news is that we have never worked with a dog who hasn’t improved their behavior significantly in a short period of time as long as the protocol was applied correctly!

How Do We Work On It?
Most McBribers are created when an owner is taught how to begin training their dog, but not how to finish training. As trainers, when we talk about how to prevent McBribers we often begin by discussing how our parents used our allowances as children. All experiences are different, but when I was a toddler, my parents used to ask me if I’d like a quarter while showing me a bright, shiny quarter. Of course I would say yes every time, and they would tell me that if I picked up my clothes I’d get the quarter. Each time I picked up my clothes they would praise me for picking up the clothes, then they would give me the quarter.

When I grew into a young child my parents began asking if I would pick up my clothes without showing me the quarter. Based on what I had learned previously, I knew I would receive praise and a quarter if I did what was asked of me, so of course I would complete the task without fuss. As an older child my parents upped the ante by asking me to do four tasks which, coincidently, meant that I would clean my entire room. I was a little leery, but since they were consistent with their praise and quarters up until this point, I decided that I trusted them and completed the four tasks. They praised me each time I finished a task, and at the end I got four quarters! My parents continued working with me in this manner until I became a teenager and was proficient at working through the week in order to get my allowance on the weekend.

By the time I began working at my first real job receiving a weekly paycheck made sense since I had already been doing something similar for the past few years. That job was also my favorite, because sometimes our boss would give us a bonus during the week! Not only was it a great pick-me-up on that day, but it made me excited  to come into work every day!

The Breakdown
Now, let us take that scenario and translate it into canine training. In the scenario above, we read about a few points in the life of a Toddler, Young Child, Older Child, and Teenager. Just as my parents continued working with me until I understood the world around me, we continue working with our dogs until they understand their world and how they must behave in it! However, since we cannot train children and dogs in the same manner, we adapt the parenting methods mentioned above into something that we can use for the dogs we train.

Canine Training Timeline

100% Guarantee – Toddler Training – The first thing your dog needs to learn is that you are the giver of good things! This can happen in a variety of ways, but the most common are hand feeding your dog or working on the behavior “Touch”. In any case, in this step the dog is asked for a behavior, shown the reward, then receives praise and the reward for completing the behavior. This is a great beginning, but it doesn’t stop here!

Trust Gambit – Young Child – The second step in this process is to teach your dog to trust you. Begin by placing the rewards in a bowl next to you, in a pocket, or even in your closed hand. Ask your dog for a behavior, such as a Sit or a Down. When they complete the behavior, they are praised and rewarded. (At this point your dog is still being rewarded 100% of the time for the correct behavior, they just no longer see the reward before offering the correct behavior.)

Introducing Roulette – Older Child – Now we work on expanding the limits of your dog’s trust by asking your canine for multiple behaviors, then giving higher rewards. For instance, you may ask your dog to Sit, Down, and Spin in a circle. If they complete those three behaviors, they get 3 rewards. The next time you may ask for four behaviors before you reward them. After that you may ask for one behavior and reward that one behavior. If you continue playing this game with them, you’ll end up with a dog that will always perform the behavior, because they know that sooner or later they’ll get a reward for it!

Roulette For Life – Teenager And Beyond – The last step in this process is to play Roulette without having a reward near you at all. For instance, you may ask your dog to Sit, Down, and then Stand in the living room, when the rewards are in the kitchen. After your dog has successfully completed Sit, Down, and Stand, you both walk into the kitchen and your dog receives their reward. This shows your dog that even though you don’t smell like (or look like) you have a reward, it doesn’t mean that they won’t get rewarded.

Jackpot! – Bonus – In addition to playing Roulette For Life, you can spoil your dog occasionally with a Jackpot. A Jackpot is when you give more rewards than normal for the behavior(s) offered. This is a great way to reward your dog for a job well done!

Words, Wisdom, And Wisecracks

– Have Fun! Nobody enjoys working with a sourpuss.

– Don’t get discouraged!

– There is no such thing as a perfect dog, but you can work towards having a dog who will be a perfect fit for you.

– Nothing in life is free – Dogs should not receive a reward without working for it, and they should not work without receiving a reward.

– Each dog is uniquely made and has a purpose. As their owners we have the pain and the pleasure of helping them discover what that purpose is. 😊

Author bio:

Kara HollarsKara Hollars is the Owner and Lead Trainer of Personal Family Dog Trainer, a professional canine training business that works with clients and canines throughout the Midwest. Kara comes from a family of dog lovers and has worked with rescues for as long as she can remember. She began formally training in 2008 and opened Personal Family Dog Trainer in the fall of 2011.

The decision to begin training professionally came when she began seeing holes in the training programs in her area. She realized that most trainers in her area were treating symptoms instead of fixing problems. Kara began developing a whole-life canine instruction program, which starts with The Ultimate Puppy, then moves onward through Companion Dog and Family Dog programs. For those with specialized goals, she incorporated a Therapy Dog Program, Behavior Adjustment Programs, and a tri-level Trick Course.

In addition to teaching others, she also is a believer in continuing education herself. She enjoys communicating with others in her field, is a member of the International Association of Canine Professionals (IACP), and a Canine Good Citizenship (CGC) Evaluator for the AKC.

When she is not training, she is volunteering in the community. She and her Therapy Dogs can often be found at local hospitals, nursing homes, and schools. In her free time, she enjoys gardening, spending time with her family, or sitting down with a good book.

Kara Hollars on Petmasters


Animal Behaviorist or Pet Trainer: What’s the Difference?

woman training two dogs to sit

Here’s the scenario: your pet recently began to do something really out of character. Maybe she started snapping at another household pet, or maybe he started to -gross!- eat his own poop. You know this calls for a professional’s input, but who can help? Should you bring in a pet trainer, or is this a case for a different kind of specialist known as an animal behaviorist? We’ll share the differences between the two pet pros so you can get the help you need. Continue reading “Animal Behaviorist or Pet Trainer: What’s the Difference?”

Teaching Your Cat to Sit

by Stacy Ferrara,  Pawsitive Potential

cat trainingThere’s that old joke about “herding cats” that’s used to describe something extremely difficult, if not impossible. Cats have always been thought of as independent and aloof creatures that do what they want on their own time. This likely comes from comparing them to dogs who have entirely different behaviors and motivations. The reality is that cats can be trained to do a variety of things. It can be retraining a negative behavior to something more pleasing to their guardians (such as using the litter box) or learning to “SIT” on command. Sometimes the biggest hurdle is training the guardians to realize that training really is possible.

As a feline behaviorist, many of my clients have concerns about scratching furniture, aggression towards other cats in the home, or the most dreaded – not using the litter box. The specific method and training technique varies for each, but all of these behaviors can be retrained using some form of positive reinforcement. Reward the behaviors you want to encourage, and humanely discourage the ones you want to stop. Cats get the message and learn how to do what makes everyone happy.

Like any animal, training cats starts with finding the right reward that they’re willing to work for. Cats may be a bit more particular than dogs in what will motivate them, but all cats value something.  It could be a particular brand of treat, a piece of fresh turkey or a favorite toy. Once you find that beloved favorite referred to as the high value reward, you save it for the training sessions and only use it when it counts. Training before meal time is helpful so they’re a bit hungry too.

Any valued treat should only be paired with doing something you want to encourage. Many guardians give treats randomly if the cat happens to look cute at that particular moment, or as a “dessert.” Without realizing it, they are reinforcing whatever was happening at that moment. If you cat jumps on the dining room table during dinner, don’t give any table scraps to appease them for the moment unless you like that behavior and want them to keep doing it. One scrap is a reward and reinforces jumping on the table again. Do they meow at 5:00 AM looking for breakfast? Each time a guardian satisfies that request by waking from sleep to prepare their meal, that morning wake up call will be reinforced and continue. Their behavior is being rewarded.

Teaching a cat to “SIT” or put up their paw for a “High Five” is accomplished using positive reinforcement too.  I’ve seen some cats learn after just a few repetitions. You hold a piece of their favorite treat over their nose while they’re in a standing position. By slowly moving the treat backwards toward their tail, they are led into a sitting position and you instantly say “SIT” as you give them the treat. Any cat can be taught to do this and more. Remember to give the treat with command within 1-2 seconds of their bottom hitting the floor – cats have very short attention spans and won’t make the connection if it’s longer than that. Soon just saying “SIT” will be all they need to hear to go into the sitting position.

Training like this is a great way to provide mental stimulation and bond with your cat. Enrichment is important for all cats, particularly those kept indoors only or in shelters. The training is fun as long as the trainer is patient and allows it to be a fun experience – going at the cats pace. It should never be a negative experience with loud voices or frustration. When you see your cat start losing interest – the session is over. Start again later or another day.

feline behavioristThere’s a big movement in the shelter environment that links training programs with increased cat adoptions. Jackson Galaxy (The self proclaimed “Cat Daddy” and host of “My Cat From Hell” on Animal Planet) initiated his Cat Pawsitive program that teaches shelters who apply for the program how to train their cats to do various things like “SIT” and “High Five.” They then measure the success of the program through adoption rates. His results have shown that cats going through the training program are adopted faster. It’s partly due to adopters being impressed with a trained cat, but also the fact that it raises their confidence levels. They’re more friendly and outgoing which are traits adopters typically look for.

Shelters are encouraged to work with the less adoptable cats which can include shy ones that stay in the back of the cage as people walk by. Boosting their confidence alone is huge in increasing adoptability even if they’re not learning to sit on command. It’s a win win particularly for older adult cats that aren’t always the first choice due to age, and have been stuck in a cage longer than others. The enrichment factor alone is a rewarding experience for them.

The next time you want to give a try to herding some cats, grab a few pieces of grilled chicken and give it a try. They might just surprise you.


Author Bio:

Stacy FerraraStacy Ferrara, CAFTP, CFTBS, is a Certified Advanced Feline Training Professional, Certified Feline Training and Behavior Specialist and owner of Pawsitive Potential, LLC. She is on the Board of Directors for Last Hope, Inc., an organization devoted to cat and dog rescue and rehabilitation, serving in a variety of capacities. Stacy has a BS in psychology and biology and is a Professional member of the Animal Behavior Society and The Animal Behavior Management Alliance.




A Balanced Equine Diet – At All Costs

by Dr.  Stephen Duren, Ph.D. in Equine Nutrition and Exercise Physiology and owner of Performance Horse Nutrition, LLC

For those people who own horses, properly feeding them is an important responsibility. A nutritionally balanced diet will allow horses to perform, reproduce, grow and maintain their health. However, with the current economy how do horse owners balance their horses’ diets under a barrage of economic pressure?

balanced equine dietWith the exception of fresh, clean water, forage in the form of hay or pasture is the most important dietary ingredient we provide to horses. During the winter season, temperatures typically fall below that necessary for pasture grass to grow. Pastures that are depleted of natural forage become exercise areas and force the horse to replace pasture grass in their diet with stored forage in the form of hay. A horse requires a minimum of 1.5% of the body weight in dry forage per day. This means a 1,000 lb. horse would require a minimum of 15 lb. of hay per day. Horses can consume up to 3% of their body weight in hay (30lbs for a 1, 000 lb. horse) if the hay is of good quality.

Horses require good quality hay because their digestive tract is “one-way” in direction. Horses normally are not capable of vomiting, and they become sick if fed moldy or dusty hay. Hay quality can be determined in many ways. Stage of maturity, leafiness, color, foreign material, odor and condition are physical parameters that can be judged to determine quality.

Physical quality can be determined by observation and comparison of hay samples.

Physical Characteristics of High-Quality Hay

high quality hayStage of Maturity – Early cut hay is more palatable and digestible. Look for short plants with few or no seed heads.

Leafiness – High quality hays have a high percentage of leaves (blades) to stems. Look for abundant leaves or blades, small, thin stems.

Color – Bright green color indicates proper curing, high vitamin content and good palatability. Loss of color indicates weather damage. Look for bright green color.

Foreign Material – Hay should not contain weeds or foreign material such as dirt, wire, sticks. Look for grass or Alfalfa bales with no weeds.

Odor/Condition/Mold – Odors such as musty or rotten odors indicate low quality hay that was not properly cured or stored. Look for: Clean, fresh smelling hay free of visible mold or excessive dust.

When high quality hay is in short supply, horse owners often must settle for marginal hay. Marginal hay is hay that was cut late, meaning it is very mature resulting in poor digestibility. Marginal hay may also have lost leaves and its green color indicating weather damage. These hays will have a lower nutrient content and lower calorie content, meaning more hay is necessary to meet the nutrient requirements of the horse. If more hay is not fed, or if horses will not eat enough hay, horses will become thin and have poor coat condition. Hay that is moldy, musty or contaminated with weeds, sticks, wire, paper or other foreign material is considered poor hay and it should never be fed to horses.

performance horse nutrition If marginal hay must be fed, the remainder of the diet must be adjusted to account for the lesser quality hay. There are several methods to account for marginal hay. The first is to replace a portion of the hay with a pelleted and/or cubed hay product or a forage extender product. These products typically contain high quality fiber that horses can readily digest. Feeding 1/3 of the total hay requirement as a forage pellet, cube or forage extender product will drastically improve the nutrients provided by the forage portion of the diet. If you account for the increased digestibility and less waste when feeding these products, their cost is often justified. A common concern with these products is if they provide horses with enough fiber. Since we are only replacing 1/3 of the hay portion of the diet with these products, fiber and length of fiber are not a concern. It is important to remember that hay pellets and/or cubes and forage extender products are not heavily fortified with vitamins and minerals. Therefore, they help account for marginal forage but they do not replace the grain concentrate or the supplement portion of the diet.

Another method to account for marginal hay is to feed “complete” products. A complete product is one that contains the forage, grain, vitamin and mineral portions of the diet. The word “complete” indicates they can be the only ingredient fed to the horse with the exceptions of water and salt. As you would expect, properly feeding a “complete” would entail a large feed intake. These intakes typically range from 10 to 20lb of “complete” per 1000lb horse per day.   If plenty of marginal hay is available, a third method for making up the nutrients not in adequate supply in the forage would be to feed a low intake vitamin and mineral supplement pellet/  Commercial grain concentrates can never replace the forage component of the diet, but they can provide nutrients that are not in adequate supply in marginal forage. If your horse needs more calories than are being provided by the hay then feeding a grain concentrate with higher calories would be necessary.

In conclusion, always make sure the horse first has an adequate amount of forage available. If that forage is in limited supply, feeding a forage pellet and/or cube, forage extender product or complete feed would be appropriate to provide additional fiber. If the forage is of marginal quality but in adequate supply, the nutrient deficits of the marginal hay can be made up by feeding grain concentrates. This is a better option than adding unfortified grains and bucket supplements which can be expensive.


About Author:

dr stephen e durien

Dr. Stephen Duren, a native of Soda Springs, Idaho, completed his Bachelor of Science in Animal Sciences at the University of Idaho. Dr. Duren earned a Master of Science and Doctor of Philosophy in Equine Nutrition and Exercise Physiology from the University of Kentucky.

Dr. Duren, a former consulting equine nutritionist for Kentucky Equine Research, Versailles, Kentucky, has formed his own company, Performance Horse Nutrition, LLC., and consults with feed manufacturers and horse owners throughout the world.

Additional Links:


What You Need to Know About Pet Insurance

You wouldn’t think twice about having insurance for your car or home – but what about for your pets? As pet owners, we never want to think about our furry, scaled, or feathered friends becoming sick or injured. It’s certainly good to be prepared in case the unthinkable happens, a.k.a. that time Fido’s sock-eating habit turned into emergency intestinal surgery. Want to determine whether pet insurance makes sense for your fur family? We’ve covered some of the top-asked questions here, including a helpful plan comparison chart to weigh your options! Continue reading “What You Need to Know About Pet Insurance”

Twelve Things to Consider When Deciding Whether to Keep Your Horse at Home Or Board Him

by Denise Cummins, The Thinking Equestrian

horse boarding
It’s the first of the month, and you’re writing out a check to pay for your horse’s board. “Wouldn’t it be cheaper,” you wonder, “to just keep him here at home. I’ve got enough land for a paddock. And it would be so nice to just look out the window and see him out there.”Yes, boarding can be expensive. The average cost of boarding can range from $300 to over $1,000 a month, depending on where you live. But before you take the plunge to keep him at home, consider these twelve factors:

1. Horses need to be fed at least twice daily–every day. That doesn’t seem like a big deal. But it also means you’re locked in to a twice-daily routine, which plays havoc with vacation time or weekend visits with friends for family. There are two ways to manage this. First, check out the boarding facilities close to you to see if they can accommodate short term boarding requests. Second, see if you can arrange a reciprocal arrangement with a horse buddy–I’ll feed yours when you’re out of town if you’ll feed mine. It will bring you peace of mind knowing you have options. Otherwise, you can end up resenting your horse because you feel trapped by the demands of basic horse care.

The amount of hay and grain (feed concentrate) a horse needs depends on his age, breed, amount of daily activity, season, and many other factors. Do you know how much your horse needs?

2. What about water? Horses drink gallons of water daily. How are you going to get water to your horse? Horse troughs are easy ways to do that, but they need to be cleaned frequently because algae builds up in them easily. Cleaning a horse trough requires draining the remaining water, and scrubbing with bleach or other cleaning solution to remove the algae. An alternative is an automatic waterer. They must be plumbed in order to supply water when the horse drinks. These, too, must be cleaned frequently to prevent algae build up.

3. Where are you going to buy and store your hay and grain? If you don’t know much about to assess the quality of hay, you will need to buy it at a local feed store or other hay retailer, which can be expensive. If you’re knowledgeable, you may be able to buy directly from a hay farmer. When comparing prices, consider whether they will deliver and stack the hay for you. Do you plan to pick up and stack the hay yourself? If so, you’ll need a pickup truck that will accommodate a week or month’s worth of hay. Also consider that hay bales can weight anywhere from 50 lbs to over 100 lbs depending on the type of hay and how tightly the bales are bound. Do you know how to tell whether hay (or grain) is moldy or “off”? Also keep in mind that grain attracts rodents, so you will need an airtight storage container in which to keep it. If you just toss the 50 lbs bags in a corner of your property, expect to find rats, squirrels, chipmunks, and birds rooting around in the bags.

4. Remember that your horse’s stall or paddock will need to be cleaned DAILY. This is absolutely essential basic horse care. Letting manure pile up is not only a health hazard, it can cause problems with your neighbors. They won’appreciate the sight and smell of manure, or the flies manure attracts. That means you will be out there every day mucking out–rain, snow, or shine. One solution is to divide the mucking out chore between yourself and other people, such as spouse, teenaged children, or horsey friends who will reciprocate the favor. Many high schools have 4-H clubs whose teen members are responsible enough and eager enough to do farm work for reasonable pay or in exchange for the opportunity to ride your horse.

5. What are you going to do with all that manure? So you’ve mucked out your horse’s stall or paddock. Where are you going to put it?  Thinking you can just make a manure pile? Re-read #2 above. Some options include taking it to your local county dump (they may charge you for this), have a farmer remove it (hog farmers have good use for manure), or find a tree nursery that would be interested in it. It makes fabulous fertilizer!

6. Do you have enough room for a 1,000-1,500 lb animal to move around in? Horses are grazing animals, and their digestion system works best when they can move about freely. One acre per horse is recommended by most veterinarians and equine professionals. If you keep him in a small paddock or stall except when you’re riding him, this could be a problem. He may have a lot of pent up energy and you might end up having to lunge him before his mind settles down to actually be ridable. And all that idleness can increase his risk of colic. If you think you have enough land to keep him in a pasture, consider this: Horses graze all of the time if they can. So your green pastures will turn into dry lots very quickly unless you can rotate your horse among two or more pastures. That means 2-3 acres that can be divided into separate grazing areas.

7. Horses are social animals, so they need friends. Can your property accommodate more than one horse? If not, one solution is to coordinate and rotate grazing areas with your horse buddies who are also keeping their horses at home. That not only gives pastures some time to recover but it will give your horse a social group to interact with. Horses are naturally social animals, and isolation can be hard on them. Turn out time with other horses is an essential part of basic horse care.
8. Do you have enough insurance? Keep in mind that a horse is often considered an “attractive nuisance” by county laws. If a child decides to jump over your fence to pet your horse and is injured in the process, you will be liable. If you decide to hire someone to muck out your horse’s stall or paddock, and that person is injured, you will be liable. Make sure your home insurance covers this contingency.

9. How much do you know about horse care and handling? Do you know how to take a horse’s vital signs (pulse, temperature, capillary refill rate, and respiration?) Do you know how to tell whether your horse is lame, and if so, which leg is the problem? Would you be able to tell if your horse were colicking, and would you know what to do? Would you know what to do if your horse injured himself? Do you know which vaccinations and dewormers your horse receives, and when he needs to get them? Do you know how frequently your horse’s teeth need to be floated? Do you know what a Coggins test is, and when/whether you need to have one done annually? Do you know how horses’ feeding and care needs change as they age? If your horse got lose in the neighborhood, are you confident you could retrieve him safely on your own? If you have any doubt about these things, take the time to learn about basic horse care and basic horse veterinary care. Keep the phone number of a local vet in your phone contacts or prominently posted where you can find it in an emergency.

10. Will your farrier come to your property? Most farriers prefer to shoe horses at facilities that give them multiple horses to shoe, and have barns large enough so that they can drive their vehicle inside or at least right up to a sizable barn door. Check to make sure your farrier will come to your property. If not, then try to get on his shoeing list at a local hors boarding facility.

11. Do you have a horse trailer or access to a horse trailer? This is absolutely necessary for emergencies, veterinary procedures, or taking your horse to be shod if your farrier will not come to your property.

12. Do you know which plants, weeds, and trees are toxic to horses? Some of the most beautiful trees, shrubs, and plants are toxic to horses, such as black walnut, oleander, and chick weed.

With enough careful planning, you can keep your horse safely at home. You can find useful information about each of these issues here.

Happy riding!

Denise Cummins
The Thinking Equestrian

Author bio:
 Denise CumminsDenise Cummins has  over 30 years experience in training horses, showing them, giving riding instruction, and owning/running a successful equestrian boarding and training facility. She is also a research psychologist who has taught at the university level and continues to publish papers on human and animal learning and behavior. Her writings are backed up by scientific studies, veterinary expertise, and decades of experience in horse training and horse care.

Being Fully Present With Your Pet

by Alison Martin, founder of Animal Soul Connection

Sonny Brenton

As an animal communicator, one of the topics I hear from my clients is “What I can do to make my animal companion happy?” What we often learn is our animal friends simply would like to spend time with us – time uninterrupted, without distractions and with us fully present. When you spend time with your animal family, are you watching TV while you pat your dog on her head; texting while you take a walk around the block; brushing your cat but thinking about work? I think you see where I’m going with this. When we’re not fully present with our animal companions, we are missing out and so are they.

The love our animal receives from us when we are fully present with them, heart and soul, delights them.

There is nothing else like the unconditional love we receive from our animal family.  The love our animal receives from us when we are fully present with them, heart and soul, delights them. I hear this from the animals I work with time and again. They ask so little of us. If we could all work on being truly in the moment when we’re with our animal companions, can you see how the energy of Earth might enjoy a slight shift?

I encourage you to let go of all distractions, even for a few minutes, and simply enjoy being with your animal friend.

In addition to the practice of connecting with our animals when we’re together, animals are natural meditation teachers. The key to meditation is being totally in the moment, and that is where animals are, all the time. They don’t live in the past or future as we often do. They are easily here, right now, in the present moment. Whether you are a seasoned meditation practitioner or have never tried to meditate before, slowing your mind down in connection with your animal will bring many benefits!

Charlie Andy Libby Gracie

Just a few benefits of meditation:

  • It improves concentration.
  • It encourages a healthy lifestyle.
  • The practice increases self-awareness.
  • It increases happiness.
  • Meditation increases acceptance.
  • It slows aging.
  • The practice benefits cardiovascular and immune health.

When we slow our minds and tune into our breathing and relax, our pets are reaping the benefits as well. By finding a quiet time to really connect with your animal friend, you are strengthening and deepening your bond. Animals like routine, so by starting a new habit of daily meditation with them you can increase their feeling of safety and comfort.

Andy in grassNo worries, this does not have to be a lengthy process! Even five minutes a day can get you on the road to feeling more peaceful. Once you start, my bet is you’ll want to develop this healthy practice into longer sessions. It’s easy, fun and there are really no rules. You can’t mess this up! Just simply being, not doing anything, with your pet and connecting with them on a soul level helps them thrive.

Let’s get started!

● Sit near your animal, get comfortable with your spine straight, hands open in your lap and close your eyes. You may place a hand on your animal if she is comfortable with you doing so. If she moves away, that’s ok. You can join together without touching.

● Take a deep breath in through your nose. Feel your stomach expand and the cleansing breath go deep into your body. Think of the gratitude you have for your animal on the inhale.

● Exhale through your nose, or mouth, and think of the unconditional love you and your animal share.

● Repeat this deep breathing three more times then resume your normal breathing pattern, staying aware of your breath and how it fills your body.

● Next, picture one of your favorite things about your animal. Focus on that and quiet your mind. It’s ok if your mind races. Simply recognize the thoughts and let them go – returning again to your favorite thought. Try to stay with this for a few minutes, breathing in and out, relaxing and feeling your pet relax with you.

● When you are ready to end your meditation, send deep love and gratitude to your animal. Take three deep breaths in and out – breathing in gratitude, breathing out unconditional love into the world.

● Slowly open your eyes and return to the room. How are you feeling? It may be nice to start a meditation journal to record these beautiful times with your beloved animal companion.


Author Bio:

Alison MartinAlison Martin is the Founder of Animal Soul Connection. As an animal communicator, reiki practitioner and pet loss grief counselor she brings her passion to life. For over 20 years, Alison has made a positive impact in the lives of animals and their people through her professional work from contributing to a large humane society and veterinary clinics, to owning her pet sitting business and teaching holistic care classes, she has helped one animal at a time with love and compassion. Volunteering with rescues and shelters since her early teens, Alison knew her life’s purpose was to give her heart to animals. Her animal family of seven dogs, one cat, two horses and two goats teach unconditional love every day. Alison believes our animal friends have an unlimited depth of love and knowledge to share with us and is dedicated to making a true difference in as many lives as possible



How Can I Raise My Own Chickens?

backyard chicken coop
Photo Credit: The Easy Chicken

What the cluck!? When it comes to raising your own chickens, there’s a lot to consider. You probably already know the benefits of backyard chickens, like the ability to produce your own food, or the chance to teach children how to care for animals. Before you get started with a backyard coop, though, here are some other important things to think about – and some pretty awesome services to help you out along the way! Continue reading “How Can I Raise My Own Chickens?”

Celebrating Your Pet in Art

by Karen Robinson, Pet Portrait Artist – Devon, UK

There are many reasons why you may decide to commission an artist to paint your pet. After all, the earliest paintings we have any record of were made by our ancestors of animals on the walls of their homes (caves).

Here are a few tips for you if you are considering asking an artist to create a painting or drawing of your own.

The artist’s style

Look at as many examples of artists’ work as you can. When you find some work that clicks with you, ask the artist to send you more images to view if necessary to help you choose. The most important thing is that you like what you see! There are many artists offering to paint your pet all around the world so you, the pet parent, have a huge amount of choice. You do not need to commission the first artist you find.

The art: size and medium

Consider what size you wish to commission. Price is not the only consideration: if an artist, whose work you have decided you like, paints 4 ft x 4ft canvases and you live in a tiny apartment you may wish to reconsider. “Can you do one like this but much smaller?” is not
likely to work well!

The most common mediums for pet portraits are: oils, watercolours, pastel and graphite (pencil). Paintings in oil – the traditional medium – are usually more expensive than other mediums and take longer to create. Beautiful work can be found in watercolor, and pastel
is a medium that allows for highly realistic rendering of fur. Both of these mediums need to be framed behind glass before hanging, whereas oil paintings do not.

Here are 4 examples, from left to right: graphite, pastel, watercolour, oil:

Working with the artist

It is obviously very helpful if you feel comfortable working with the artist and are at ease in your discussions with her about your requirements.

This is what you have a right to expect from the artist:

  1. A clear, written statement of what your art work will cost you and the terms and conditions surrounding payment, including shipping cost (if applicable).
  2. Most artists will ask you to pay a deposit of 20-50% of the agreed price up front before they begin work. The balance becomes payable when you approve the completed work.
  3. Artists working in oils will usually price their work excluding the cost of a frame.
  4. Artists working in pastel, pencil and watercolour will sometimes price to include the frame, because it is essential that these media are framed to protect them.
  5. Make sure you are clear what is included in your quote.
  6. Unless you have specified and agreed with the artist very clearly what you  expect the finished painting to look like (eg. “I want one of my dog that looks just like THIS” with an example of what you mean), then you should expect a clear description, or better still a visual (such as a rough working sketch) of what your painting is likely to look like. At the very least, you should know whether the painting will be portrait, (on the left) or landscape (on the right) and what size it will be.
  7. An indication of how long your painting is likely to take to complete (or to start, if the artist has a waiting list).

This is what the artist is likely to expect from you:

Karen Robinson Pet Portrait ArtistA clear idea of which pet or pets you want the artist to paint: “adding in” an extra one half way through is unlikely to be possible, especially if the pets are very different sizes. Tell the artist all the important points that will ‘make or break’ the painting for you. For example, if you provide the artist with a photograph of your dog wearing a collar but do not want the collar included in the final painting; if you need the background of the painting to “match” your room’s wallpaper or paint color; if you want the painting to be the same size and shape as one you will be hanging it alongside. Good quality reference photographs to work from. It is unlikely the artist will work from life – although sometimes artists will sketch the animal from life if this is practicable. Most of my customers live in a different country to me, usually a different continent – so I always work from photographs. This is so significant to the quality of the finished piece, here are a few tips specifically about photographs.

  1. Try to familiarize your pet with the camera, especially dogs as some dogs may find the camera confrontational.
  2. Have an assistant if possible. They can help keep your pet in one place and looking in the right direction, whilst you concentrate on getting the shot. A supply of dog treats and a few favorite toys, such as a ball if you’re after an action shot, or a squeaky toy for grabbing attention, will come in useful.
  3. You’ll need a background as clutter free as possible so as not to cause a distraction from your pet. A plain sheet simply draped over a chair might do the trick. Think about the main colour of your pet’s fur, especially if it is very dark (black) or very light (white). For example, If you have a white dog, don’t sit him against a white sheet but choose a darker colour/fabric so it is possible for the artist to see where the dog ends and the background begins.
  4. Try not to photograph your pet looking down from a standing position, try to get down to their eye level for a more engaging image. If the pet is tiny, place him on something higher up so that you can look into his eyes.
  5. If there is something specific you want in the background of your painting, you can send a separate photograph of that, you do not have to try and get the perfect shot that includes both the dog and the item. Just remember to
    photograph whatever the item is from the same level (position) that you photographed the pet.
  6. Remember that artists paint what they see – when I am painting a pet to commission, I am painting one particular pet – YOUR pet – not just any pet. So I cannot “make things up”. For example, If you want a full body painting I cannot do it if you send me a photograph only of a head. Or, if you would like all four of your dog’s paws in the portrait, please do not “cut them off” on the photo.


A painting of your pet is a very personal and individual piece and cannot simply be bought off the shelf. Be willing to engage with the artist and answer any questions she may have. An artist who specializes in painting animals will want to get to know your pet through your words and your photos and will want to delight you with their work. Have fun with your commission and enjoy the process – the finished painting will be well worth the time!

Pet Artist Karen Robinson

Author Bio:

Karen Robinson paints from her home on the Devon/Cornwall border, looking out over her easel across open fields. Usually there are sheep or other livestock peacefully grazing, sometimes rabbits,  often pheasants. In summer there will be flocks of swallows and house martins gathering mud for their nests and, in winter, murmurations of starlings.  

Karen came late to painting after many years of raising children and earning a living in other ways. Practising for many years as a textile and fibre artist, the move to traditional art media came about because she could no longer achieve in stitch the degree of realism and expression she sought. She found herself stitching less and painting on to the fabric more.

Inspiration comes from the world around her and the work of many realist painters from Velasquez to John Singer Sargent, but especially master animal artists: Sir Edwin Landseer, John Emms, Rosa Bonheur.

Special mention must be made of her dog, Bilbo Baggins, who was her first model and continues to be her Muse. Karen’s paintings hang in homes around the world, including Europe, Scandinavia almost all the States of the USA.