My 12-pound Chihuahua terrier isn’t afraid to tell you when something displeases him.

And he mostly does it through a vast range of growls and groans and, also, teeth. So far he’s taken on one raccoon and one German shepherd. Pretty sure he lost both battles, the latter of which landed him in the pet ER where he received stitches, a drainage tube and half a shaved face, which has since all grown back and healed. Do you think he’s learned his lesson? Because he hasn’t. He’s ready to do battle at a moment’s notice. But his mom has learned many lessons, and hopefully she’s paid her last vet bill, in terms of gladiator-ship.

He also likes to nip at me when I do something that rubs him the wrong way. He’s slowed his roll by a lot since I adopted him a few years ago, but we still have our moments. And I’d love to find a way to strengthen our bond or somehow communicate I’m a lover and not picking fights with him.

Colorado Springs animal communicator and certified reiki practitioner Rebecca Blackbyrd (whose name is an aptronym — a name appropriate to their occupation) believes we all have the ability to interact with our beloved pets in a deeper way.

“A lot of what I do is affirming and confirming what people know or feel about their animals and maybe second- guess,” Blackbyrd said. “We get a lot more information from our animal companion than we think we do or trust that we do.”

Blackbyrd was working at a Northern Colorado animal sanctuary and using her reiki training, a form of energy healing, on sick or dying animals when she first heard the critters speak to her. After the euthanization of two pigs, one of which had a stressful time through the death transition, she stood alone in a barn at the rescue, feeling distraught and like she didn’t belong there. A sheep walked over to the gate separating them, climbed on a pallet and stared at her. She said hello. He nodded his head. Silently she asked if he had something to say to her, not expecting any response. But one came.

“I heard a yes that didn’t feel like me,” she said. “I said OK, what do you have to say? I heard if you want to do this work with the animals you don’t get cocky. It’s not about you. You need to listen and listen well. And this feeling bad about yourself thing, stop doing that. I said thank you and he did a head nod, got off the pallet and left the barn.”

After she deduced she wasn’t having a psychotic break, she began to regularly work on her communication skills. That was two decades ago. She’s been talking to our beastly friends, both dead and alive, ever since.

“It went from hearing words to now I get a combination of things,” Blackbryd said. “I’ll see images. I’ll feel physical sensations in my body if they need to talk about things going on in their body. Or if there’s pain or nausea I’ll get the quality of it. I get physical and emotional sensations.”

Any relationship is improved by clear communication. Relationships with our animals is no different. If, for example, you have a dog with separation anxiety or who feels nervous when he sees you packing for a trip, it’s best to talk out loud about where you’re going, what you’re doing, how many sleeps (nights) you’ll be gone and who’s going to take care of them. And if you’re good at visualizing all of the above, you can do that, too.

“Every word we say has an image in our mind’s eye and animals pick that up,” Blackbyrd said. “If people know what time they’ll be home they can visualize what the light will look like when they walk in. It helps to give animals the plan and know they’re part of the plan and you’re always coming home.”

Visualization also is important in training, like getting your dog to walk well on a leash. Before you even leave the house, Blackbyrd says to visualize the outcome and the feeling you want to have while going for a walk. Get as clear a sense of success as possible so your dog can pick up on the image. Then get outside.

“And say I’m going to pay attention to how my dog is feeling, especially a dog who might be reactive,” she said. “You can feel that edge and you’ll turn around as soon as you feel that edge in them. Or move off the path. Have them look at you so you can both take a breath. They have their triggers, but the more you’re clear with them about how you know they’re smart and you know you both can get there.”

Pet owners also need to give themselves a break. The more you think about a stressful experience you’ve had with an animal, the more you’re giving that image to the pet. Be clear what you’re asking the animal to do. For example, if you’re worrying about and imagining a cat peeing outside their litter box, that cat gets the image and thinks that’s the behavior you want, Blackbyrd says.

“I‘m seeing this image of me urinating outside the box so OK,” she said. “It’s recognizing when we’re visualizing something that’s upsetting or stressful and what am I going to visualize to show them this is the behavior or outcome I want? Visualize them getting in the box and peeing and that helps me relax a little bit.”

Maybe the hardest part of being a pet owner is knowing when to say goodbye. Again, it’s about communicating with your animal how much you love them and even though it will be incredibly sad to let them go and you’ll miss them, their well-being and happiness is most important and you’ll be OK. And then you make space to hear an answer, Blackbyrd says, which she acknowledges is easier said than done. But trust you’ll feel or see it in the way they look at you or the way they move.

“Animals aren’t afraid of passing,” she said. “They pick up our stress and fear and anxiety about it, and think if you’re not OK I’m just going to hang around.”

The other burning question: Do our pets like it when we hug or kiss them? (Please say yes, please say yes.)

“I definitely have talked to animals who are like OK, that’s plenty,” Blackbyrd said. “Everybody is different, like people are different. Some of us have a bigger bubble.”

Contact the writer: 636-0270

Contact the writer: 636-0270

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