Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Clicker Training and Depth Psychology Working Together

Some would say there is a world of difference between Clicker Training and Depth Psychology.  However, coming from both worlds, I see how both blend and compliment each other.  Behavior psychology and training stems more from B.F. Skinner who studied and wrote about operant conditioning.  If a consequence is unpleasant, the chances are the behavior or actions won't continue.  On the other hand if the consequence is pleasant the action or behavior is reinforced and more likely to be repeated.  Behavioral psychology would generally be defined as polar opposite to depth psychology that is based more on the intuitive, dream and symbolic world of an individual.  However, having worked using both modalities, I see the connection and beauty of understanding both areas especially working with animals.  I use clicker training extensively to modify and create new behaviors in my alpacas and dogs.  However, it is my intuitive side and experience that helps me greatly in connecting with my animals.  I would venture to say that behavior psychology is more left brain thinking and depth psychology is more right brain.  So, in essence, I'm actually using both sides of my brain at the same time! 

When I was counseling, I worked mainly with children.  Being able to use positive reinforcement techniques and understand depth psychology was invaluable.  Children heal emotional wounds using their imagination.  They don't possess the emotional vocabulary to sit in a chair and discuss issues.  They use symbolism so art and play therapy work well with them to understand the issues and to work through them.  Combining that with positive reinforcement to teach or modify a behavior works so well together.  The two modalities truly compliment each other.  Now that I work with animals, I find that the skills I learned working with children are very similar.  I need both my intuitive abilities to listen and communicate along with my positive reinforcement or behavior modification techniques.  I love studying alpaca behavior and it is even more fun trying to figure out how to modify their existing instinctual behavior to one that is more user friendly.  It has been a wonderful experience being able to connect to the alpaca in a deeper fashion.  We often mistake their flight instinct as lack of intelligence but in my experience, they are very smart.  Once I started clicker training them, I was amazed how fast they learned a behavior.  They often picked it up faster than my dogs did.  And, I know they have learned and accepted clicker training because I "listen" to them with that third ear or eye. 

Perhaps the most important reason that behaviorism and depth psychology work well together is because to be a really good trainer and alpaca handler, you need to be self-aware.  Training and handling still involves being in a relationship.  The relationship is between the trainer or handler and animal.  As in any relationship, there are two coming to the partnership.  We humans tend to think that it is the animal's behavior needing to be modified but what we don't realize is that we are helping to create that behavior.  So it is important to understand what we are bringing to the plate along WITH the animal. When I'm teaching my alpaca handling workshops and I see an alpaca jump or act startled, I quickly ask the individual handling that alpaca what happened.  It often takes some time to get them to realize they moved too fast and that is what created the alpaca to jump.  They see other things first so it is a big part of my workshop to help the people to hold up the mirror and see what their body is doing.  Are they breathing?  Because, most people hold their breaths when they are holding an alpaca for the first time.  When you hold your breath, you tense up and the animal senses it too.  It becomes an endless loop -- you tense, they tense, they tense you tense more, etc.  Once I make the student aware of their breathing, I have them notice what the alpaca is doing.  Do they feel the alpaca relax any?  It takes practice and concentration in the beginning to be aware of what we are doing as we work with the alpaca or animal.  I do it now without thinking.  If an alpaca acts startled or not doing what I want, the first place I look is within myself.  Where is my body, am I breathing, should I try a different stance?  I ask myself a ton of questions first before I say, the alpaca just isn't getting it.  If the alpaca isn't getting the idea, then I'm 99% sure that it is because I haven't done the right thing yet.  And, I'm certain that if I keep examining what is going on, I will figure it out.

The hard part for us humans in looking at ourselves that way, is that we sure get caught up in a lot of our own dynamics!  But the beauty of doing it is that it does get easier and the alpaca really doesn't care about our dynamics so what a great and safe place to let those things come out a little and be worked on!      
Alpacas Being Taught Namaste   

Monday, August 19, 2013

Alpacas and Jungian Psychology

What do Jungian depth psychology and alpacas have in common?  One answer is ME!  I earned my Master's degree in Counseling with an emphasis in depth psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute and now I own an alpaca farm.  From a glancing look, you wouldn't think there would be much in common perhaps.  But, I have found I use my education considerably owning my farm.

The last couple of weeks have been rough ones but not out of the norm either when you own any kind of farm.  It comes with the territory losing animals, having sick ones and having open farm events happening simultaneously.  After I dealt with the first couple of animal issues, I had a couple of dreams.  Both are recurring dreams, or at least the theme of them are.  The first dream was with my mom who in real life passed away about 7 years ago.  I was her main caregiver for much of her later years.  It was such an intense time especially her last year or two of almost full time caregiving all her needs.  I miss my mom terribly but I don't miss the caregiving role I was in.  When I have a dream with my mom, it is almost always having me stopping what I'm doing and going back into caregiving mode to aid her.  Those dreams are typically premonition dreams because either later that day or within a day or two, I find myself having to be in a caregiving role to either animals or someone close that is ill.  When I had this particular dream a few days ago, I thought it was because I had already been in the caregiving role with a couple of sick animals.  I was hoping that was the case and not a premonition dream of me having to go back into that mode yet again.  I was pretty tired physically and emotionally from the last two rounds.  I went back to sleep and had a second recurring dream of witnessing a large plane crashing near me.  In this recurring dream, sometimes I'm in the plane and sometimes I'm a witness.  This time I was a witness to the crash.  I woke up again after having this second nightmare feeling not very good about the day ahead.

That evening after my two nightmares, I found Cosmos sitting oddly while I was feeding the gang.  He belongs to a client and is boarded at my farm.  I contacted his owner and we wound up having to take him to OSU the next day to have emergency surgery.  He is recovering nicely and will be heading home soon.  My dream was most likely a combination of what had happened earlier in the week and a premonition dream telling me I wasn't done caregiving yet.  The plane crash that I was witness to was telling me that I was more a witness to the main caregiving and decision making for Cosmos.  Since he wasn't my animal, I was there to support my friend and aid in his caregiving but the decisions were not mine to make.  If I had been in the plane while crashing, I would have been more involved in the actual caregiving role.  I was the one that first witnessed Comsos "crash," but after helping get him into capable caregiving hands, my role was virtually done other than sending him lots of prayers and energy from afar.  Even though I dread when I have those dreams, I also know to become even more vigilant and aware of my surroundings because I may very well be needed to step into action in a moments notice and to be ready.  I think it made me discover Cosmos faster having an issue and because of that, we got him help faster and gave him the best opportunity for a healing outcome.
Handsome Cosmos getting cared for and on the road to recovery (even sick has such a sweet smile!)

Dreams are one way that alpacas and Jungian Psychology have in common.  But I use depth work in dealing with alpacas on a daily basis too.  It has gotten to the point, I don't know I'm doing it.  Alpacas are such intuitive creatures.  Having that training and education as well as interest in depth work, has made me more aware and attuned to the alpacas.  It taught me to listen with a third ear and eye.  Whether I am picking up that they are sick quicker or while I'm training and socializing my alpacas, having that ability to listen beyond words and body language has allowed me to be better at doing things more effectively and efficiently when handling my animals needs.  And, I'm proud that I have some of the most social alpacas around.  My depth psychology background has definitely helped me deal with the ups and downs of having a farm too.  Being able to look at the challenges as a personal growth opportunity is a way of me dealing with those hard times.  However, let's hope no more caregiving and plane crash dreams for awhile.  

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The New Alpacas at Hum Sweet Hum Cria: BFF's

BFF's Bad to the Bone's Johnny Be Good (left) and Q'inti's Lady Marmalade (right)

The last couple weeks on the farm have been rocky ones.  I wrote about the challenges of farm life in one of my recent blogs.  One of those challenging days happened when my dam, Q'inti that I co-own with Aragon Alpacas, didn't look herself.  Her eyes and body language indicated she didn't feel well.  She had a week old cria at her side.  I weighed the baby and she hadn't gained but a few ounces in days.  I had been busy with a new cria that wasn't doing well and had passed away that morning and I hadn't been as diligent about weighing the other two babies as I would have normally.  There was no time for mourning the loss of the one cria because I had to be focused on figuring out what was going on with Q'inti.  Ann, the co-owner of Q'inti, and I loaded up mom and baby in her van and ran her up to our vet in Corvallis about an hour away.  We took blood tests and fecal to see if we could figure out what was wrong.  We went ahead and gave her an antibiotic and brought them home for monitoring.

The baby was hungry so I pulled out a bottle to supplement.  I noticed she was under mom constantly nursing but mom wasn't making enough milk.  The baby was hungry and drank down a couple of ounces and then went to mom again.  I started Q'inti on the homeopathy Pyrogen I use when my animals stop eating well.  It is so critical to get these alpacas and ruminants to eat.  I gave Q'inti lots of choices of things to eat, alfalfa pellets, regular pellets, fruit from my trees and blackberry leaves plus her standard hay.  I made them nice and easily accessible.  I closed them up in the barn area and opened up an empty pasture for the rest of the gang to stay in while Q'inti got better. 

The two babies had been playing so nicely together and they missed each other terribly.  They could see each other from the their respective gates but I couldn't let them together.  Until I had Q'inti back on track, they had to be isolated.  Q'inti didn't like being cooped up either, but I knew she didn't feel well because she didn't stress as much as she normally would being away from the herd.  I bottle fed the baby a few times more and after about the 4th dose of Pyrogen, Q'inti began eating better and her milk came back in.  Between the Banamine for pain relief, antibiotics and homeopathy, they did the trick.  I also did my energy work on her to try and clear whatever it was that got her down.  The baby gained a pound after all the treatments given!  Whew!  Her blood tests showed some levels off but not the numbers weren't too out of norm.  We caught it early enough before it got serious.  Two days in the barn area and Q'inti and baby were eager to join back with the herd.  I was waiting for one more test result to get back before letting them go out.  It is such a balancing act of keeping animals in by themselves when they aren't a 100% and keeping them with the herd.  They feel better with their units and don't stress as much but if they need added care, I can't catch them in the big field. 

As soon as I got the results back that she was ok, I opened the gates and Q'inti didn't have to be coaxed out.  She and her baby, Marmalade trotted out to join the herd.  I watched to see how Johnny Be Good would react to seeing his long lost friend, Marmalade.  He was already out with his momma and the herd.  He didn't notice Marmalade for a couple of minutes.  The others greeted Q'inti and Marmalade sniffing their butts.  Johnny started to walk to where the action was and I saw his eyes as he noticed Marmalade.  They lit up and all four feet left the ground.  He did a big leap straight up into the air and like the cartoons, ran to Marmalade.  About every few feet, he couldn't contain his excitement and he'd do another vertical leap in the air.  Marmalade noticed Johnny and ran to him.  They met nose to nose and then off they ran racing the field in loops and circles.  Johnny kept leaping in the air as they raced about.  They have barely been separated since those two days when Q'inti was under the weather.  They nap together, play together and are rarely apart.  What joy in watching two these two BFF's.  After such sadness and challenges on the farm, these two babies have been the best medicine and keep me going. 
Johnny Be Good having a discussion with his dog Moose

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

HSH Miss Marple: The Sweetest Alpaca at Hum Sweet Hum

Miss Marple:  Smart and Cute as Can Be!

When they created Miss Marple, they broke the mold.  She is a one of a kind alpaca.  She came out of the womb curious to explore the world and she liked people.  She is the daughter of my first alpaca Dulcinea who has had quite a few cria and trusts me so she doesn't worry over her children.  She knows when they need her and to when feed them but otherwise, she lets them explore their environment.  Other dams will keep their babies to their side and threaten to spit at me if I come near their baby but not Dulcie.  Within days and weeks of Miss Marple's birth, I knew I had a special alpaca.  She just wanted to engage with everyone.  She would greet guests at the gate with a kiss on their cheek even at two weeks old!  She is very Cosmopolitan about it with a kiss on each cheek too. 

Miss Marple is the smartest baby I have had too.  She was only 3 months old when she discovered she liked carrots.  It was right before I had a farm event open to the general public.  I had a big bowl with cut up carrot pieces and dixie cups for guests to fill up to hand out to my alpacas in the pastures.  I like using this particular bowl because it has a plastic lid.  I can keep the piggie alpacas out of it, or so I thought.  Miss Marple followed the person who had the dixie cup and saw where the source of carrots were coming from.  When there was a lull in the guests providing her carrots from their cups, she came over to the bowl and was checking it out.  Several of us were sitting in chairs visiting by the bowl.  I figured I had nothing to worry about since the lid was on the bowl.  We enjoyed watching Miss Marple play with the lid trying to figure it out.  She found the tab that you lift the lid with.  She played with it using her lips.  They have a split in their upper lip that acts like a finger and it's very dextrous.  It took her just a minute or two when she managed to lift the lid.  Her eyes lit up and she reached in to help herself to some carrots.  We laughed and I got up and let her have her bite since she earned it after figuring out that puzzle but didn't want her to have free access to it either so after two bites, I replaced the lid and shooed her off.  More guests came and she got carrots from the cups but when she decided she needed more, she came back to the bowl and figured out the lid again.  She did this several times and each time, we let her have a bite or two and then replace the lid and shoo her off.  On the fourth trip to the bowl, Miss Marple lifted the lid and slid it to the side but not totally off the bowl.  She reached in, took her two mouthfuls she had been allowed to get and then she took the lid and replaced it on top of the bowl and walked away!  We all sat their laughing hysterically at what she just did and I cringed too because I realized how incredibly smart this little girl truly is!  She was going to take a lot to keep her smart brain challenged in a healthy way and not let her get into destructive behaviors that often come from a smart but bored animal. 

So far, Miss Marple has been the sweetest alpaca.  I am mindful of having a cria and not turning them into a pet.  They need appropriate alpaca behavior and sometimes having such a cute and sweet cria, it is so tempting to cuddle too much with them like they are a dog and then when they become an adult, they seem to get screwed up and spitty and their behavior is no longer cute.  Miss Marple is now 14 months old and still sweet as can be.  Last night I was cleaning their water bucket and bent over scrubbing when Miss Marple came over behind me.  She poked her head through between my left arm that was supporting me as I leaning down scrubbing.  She watched what I was doing and nuzzled me as I scrubbed away.  When I was done and waiting for the bucket to fill, we nuzzled each other forehead to forehead.  I kissed her nose and stroked her chin and cheek how she likes.  She could pull and walk away any time.  I wasn't holding her.  We stood there for over 5 minutes just communing and enjoying each other forehead to forehead.  It was such a special few minutes.  My heart was so full and if you have to do a chores like filling water buckets, it couldn't be more fun than doing it with Miss Marple!

Miss Marple and Friend

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Alpaca Farm Life Question: What is Hardest Part?

This week has been the answer to the question of what is the hardest part of living an alpaca farm life?  The answer is easy really.  It is losing an animal.  This week I lost two lovely creatures.  A cria lost its valiant effort at living after only a few days and I lost my sweet barn kitty the following day.  It never gets easy losing these sweet animals.  It breaks my heart each and every time.  The next question I get asked is, "How do I do it when I do lose an animal?"  That question is a little harder to answer.  These animals have taught me so much about life and living it to the fullest.  And, they have taught me much about grief.  My Master's Thesis I wrote was on the topic of grief.  How I wish I could rewrite that now because I understand it at such a more depthful way after owning and experiencing it WITH these alpacas.  I highlight "with" because it truly is with them.  They grieve for the lost of their friends and babies too.  By observing their grief, it has helped me deal with my own grief so much better. 

Our American culture doesn't handle grief overly well.  We don't teach and educate ourselves and our children about it yet it is something we are 100% guaranteed we are going to face in life and face it many times.  It seems like this culture does its utmost to avoid any idea of death and grief.  I had to experience grief for the first time at a young age when I lost my father.  Yet, it hasn't been until getting alpacas that I better know how to deal with grief.  Before, I wanted to avoid the feelings grief brings about.  It is painful and gut wrenching yet if it is avoided, it is prolonged and comes out usually in unhealthier ways.  I recall losing my first cria.  I was so devastated.  I didn't think I could do this business after that.  I sat in the pasture with Dulcinea, the mother, and bawled my eyes out.  I wanted to comfort her yet, it wasn't possible. I  was so lost in my sadness that I couldn't stop crying.  Then, I watched as Dulcie stood up and walked to me and she placed her forehead on mine and left it there for a few brief moments.  We shared our grief together and in that moment of shared pain of loss, I knew I wanted to keep doing this life.  It was such an amazingly intimate, genuine and special moment to share with my alpaca.  If I wasn't willing to accept the pain, then I'd miss all these incredibly special moments that are rare and a true gift.  And with each loss I have had (which have been thankfully been few), I have gained so much from witnessing how the alpacas have grieved and what they have offered me in these intimate moments.  They have been more real and genuine than what I experience with most humans and I wouldn't give those moments up for anything including avoiding the pain of losing them. 

For now, I try and learn and see if there is something I can do better next time, I allow myself to feel really sad, and because I have to still care for the animals that are still here alive and well, I get up and rake, haul hay, and fill up water bins and I treasure watching the cria romp and play and fill the farm with life again.  I also give myself a few extra moments to be with my special animals like Jamilah who is my best alpaca teacher.  Or I spend a few more minutes playing with my therapy dog, Harper who is so good at her job!  And, I have surrounded myself with great two-leggers who have come through and walked through the pain of loss right along with me.  If you want to be in this business, surround yourself with great friends.  You need ones that are willing to share in the laughter as well as the pain and I am so blessed to have some really special friends that do just that.  That is how I make it through the losses and hopefully, I'm a better person for it.

Weaver Kitty Such A Great Barn Kitty and Buddy

Rest In Peace Dandy

Monday, August 5, 2013

Energy Work: Helping Felix the Sheep

I got a call the other day from a friend who's sheep was sick.  She said he had gone off feed and the vet had been out earlier and treated him as best he could but Felix hadn't improved.  He wasn't eating, pooping or peeing.  I asked her if she had heard of the homeopathy Pyrogen.  She had not.  I told her that I had used it on several of my seriously ill animals and found that it had helped them get back to eating.  I wasn't sure how or why but it seemed to work.  I give them 10 doses about 10-15 minutes apart.  When the animals are that sick, it can help and can't hurt them and being in such a crisis state, I'm willing to try just about anything.  The treatments hopefully help them hold on until at least the traditional vet medicines can kick in or buy me time to get a vet out to get diagnosed and treated.  When you are in the country, getting a vet out can take a day or two or longer.  I try and have as many tools at my ready disposal to use in emergencies.  I use aromatherapy, homeopathy and traditional vet care and medicines.  I want every tool I can get to take care of my herd.  And, unfortunately, sometimes vet care is beyond my financial means so I need to find alternatives that can hopefully help when there is an ill animal on my farm.

I ran over to my friend's place and brought a bottle of my Pyrogen to let her try it.  While there and helping her get started treated Felix with the Pyrogen, I offered to give him an energy treatment too.  She readily agreed to let me try whatever I could.  I haven't spent much time with sheep so I wasn't quite sure what to expect and had never done energy work on one either.  I have visited with my friend's sheep before and they have always run away from me so I was surprised when Felix stood still.  I let him sniff my hands as I got the energy started.  He seemed to sense that I was there to aid him.  I walked slowly and carefully up to him prepared to use distant energy on him, but he allowed me to place my hands on him.  I could feel his energy was weak and unbalanced.  I focused on his first chakra area which is for basic survival.  I knew he needed a boost there and I like to start there anyway unless my intuition tells me otherwise.  I worked on each chakra area sensing his energy starting to flow better.  I didn't work too long when my lower back started to ache terribly.  It was very painful for me to stand and work on him.  At first I thought it as because I had to bend slightly to reach him and then realized it wasn't me but coming from him so I used that information to guide me in focusing my energy towards that area that was hurting.  It felt like some sort of blockage like a kidney or urinary tract blockage.  After getting his energy flowing better, I felt my back relaxing.  I could work on him longer and my backache stopped hurting altogether.

I took breaks every 10 minutes or so to help give him another dose of Pyrogen.  In my experience using Pyrogen, if it is going to help, the alpacas pop up and start eating after the 5th or 6th dosage.  But we went through those with no change.  I kept work on his energy feeling that one spot that had made my body ache.  I worked on him about an hour and a half and he piddled just a thimble amount and he pooped out one or two pellets.  It was a start and had been more than he had done all day.  I suggested that she borrow my alphasonic machine.  Perhaps that would help if there was a blockage of some sort to break it down.  The alphasonic emits a low frequency pulse and if nothing else, is very soothing and calming.  Most animals love it and fall asleep quite often when I use it on them. Again, it couldn't hurt him.  My friend had used my gizmo as I call it, before and thought that was a good idea.  She took over giving the last couple of doses of Pyrogen on her own and I went back to my farm to tend to my evening chores but was ready to head back if I could be of further assistance. 

I got a call after my friend gave the 10th dose.  "He's eating!"  We were both thrilled.  Still no pee or pooping.  She ran to my place and borrowed my gizmo.  I had told her what I was experiencing on Felix and suggested that was where she should focus the alphasonic.  She called after using the gizmo and said that Felix started pooping a considerable amount and more normal looking after using the gizmo.  We were beginning to become more hopeful that our efforts were working! 

The next morning, Felix was off feed again.  She went back and started the Pyrogen and Gizmo treatments.  After the treatments had been completed, she decided the best thing was to let Felix out with his flock mates.  He seemed to want to get to them.  I agreed.  It's a balancing act of deciding when to keep an animal isolated and in a pen to recuperate and when to let them be with their herd or buddies.  In this case, there wasn't much more anyone could do so letting him be where he was happiest was best thing for him.  My friend went to check on Felix later that afternoon and she said he took one look at her coming and bolted running quickly away from her.  She had to do a double take to make sure she was walking up to the right sheep.  The day before, Felix could barely walk and even stumbled a few times as I did energy work on him.  So her seeing him run so easily and quickly away from her was thrilling.  She brought him in with the others for their regular evening routine.  Felix went straight to the hay stack and began eating voraciously.  The other sheep were in another area so she knew it was just Felix in there eating and then she heard him peeing.  It was dark so she couldn't see but she said she heard a constant good flow coming out of him. 

Felix is doing well now and acting normally, eating well and doing all the other bodily functions anyone needs to do.  He is an example of why it is great to have all these tools at our disposal.  It has motivated me to learn more about Homeopathy and get back to being a good student practicing my energy work again.  It was such a moving experience to work with Felix, my new sheep buddy. 

 If you like this blog, you can read about similar experiences in my soon to be published book, Alpacas Don't Do That.