Pawsitive Outlooks - Animal-Assisted Programs & Theraputic Interventions

Recent Posts

Can Bullies Change?
The Good Child: An Overlooked Sign of Trouble
Relax With Music and Mindfullness
The ABCs of Happiness
Power Over Impulse: Tips for Building Willpower


Bella Zoi's Beautiful Life (Stress Managment)
Piggy Backed Mondays
The AssemBULLY Line
The AssemBully Line (stop bullying)
Tuesdays With Salem (Anti-hate)
Wolfer Wednesdays (Resilience)
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The Pawsitive Team Blog

Can Bullies Change?

It takes a village to raise a child, but did you know a community can change a life?

I’ll show you an example of how this can be done, but first I want to explain a bit about learning. Bullying and aggression are learned behaviors. 

Sometimes, these behaviors are learned passively from the observed behavior of parents and role-models, as in social referencing. Other times, these behaviors are learned through positive reinforcement because they offer individuals a way to sooth their anxieties.

The good news is that bullying and aggressive behavior can be reversed using social referencing and positive reinforcement.

The following video is about an aggressive dog, named Nicholas.  A community of volunteers worked together to reverse Nick’s aggression towards humans and anxiety around other dogs.

It’s thought that Nick’s issues were the result of poor socialization. In people, poor socialization skills can also result in negative behavior.

Watch Nick’s video then I’ve written several specific techniques that aided in his rehabilitation.

You need Flash Player in order to view this.
A Miracle for Nicholas: Diary of a Poorly Socialized Dog
NOTE: This video was taken over the course of a year with a lot of time and patience put into his rehabilitation Do not try without a professional trainer.

Deconstructing a Bully Using Nicholas as an Example

Positive Reinforcement

Volunteers ignored Nick's barking, snarling and lunging at the fence, and praised him the moment these aggressive behaviors stopped.

In positive reinforcement, timing and consistency are very important. The brain needs to associate praise with the behavior.

For bullies, the positive reinforcement comes from things, like making victims cry and having a crowd gather to watch. The community can rally together to remove the these reinforcements by intervening.

For positive reinforcement, the community must identify and praise a bully's efforts no matter how small to stop or walk away. Use phrases like, "Good, walk away". or "Good, you ended that well."

Extra praise and recognition should be given for greater efforts, like apologies or handshakes. If people can cheer on fights, they can surely cheer on a bully's efforts to stop bullying.

Bringing Attention to Negative Behavior

Because Nick was poorly socialized, he didn't know how to behave around other dogs and people. He would jump on his pen-mates and push them aside to lunge at humans beyond the fence.

Nick's pen-mates corrected his behavior the way dogs do. If did something they didn't like, they would snarl. If he continued his bad behavior they snapped at him.

Bullies who were poorly socialized though social referencing, often don't know they are bullying.

An example of social referencing gone bad: A parent laughs when someone trips, so their child believes laughing is an appropriate response.

Humans can use their words instead of teeth to bring attention to negative behavior. Parents and adults can do this, but enlisting peers through education is more effective.

Programs that help kids understand what constitutes bullying gives them to tools to recognize it and take action bring attention to the specific bullying behavior.

Setting Good Examples

Since Nick didn't know how dogs should behave around strange humans, he lashed out at people because they made him anxious.

As Nick progressed, he wanted the same loving attention his pen-mates received from people, but he didn't know how to get it. When Nick jumped on volunteers they ignored him. Eventually he became so frustrated he would growl and jump more. So volunteers put Nick in a  "time out" holding pen, where he could only watch as people lavished attention on his pen-mates who were calmer.

As time passed he displayed more "good" behavior than "bad" behavior. Then volunteers could show him being calm meant more affection came his way.

Adults and peers can help stop bullying by example too. If more people are getting recognized and praised for helping stop bullying... bullies will want a piece of that action because it's a positive reinforcement to get recognized and praised.

Anti-bullying recognitions can come in the form of awards, praise or privilege, but recognitions should be consistent (even written down) so bullies know exactly what behavior is necessary to earn rewards.

The Natural Connection

For Nick, walks were essential for bonding and his progress. His aggression always decreased after a walk. Why?

  • Walking and roaming fulfilled the natural instinct to search for resources, like food and water.
  • Research shows that exercise markedly reduces anxiety in humans and animals.
  • The act of walking on leash for dogs and for humans (on an uneven trail) forces attention away from negative thoughts and actions, and instead forces attention on the task at hand, which is for the brain is a positive experience.

Getting connected with the world outside of comfort zones can make a huge difference in attitude.

Setting Limits and Building Esteem

Once Nick understood being calm meant good things would happen, it was time to set limits and raise the bar. While Nick would eventually calm down on his own, he needed to learn how to be proactive in calming himself.

Volunteers would ask him to sit before he received affection, before he got leashed for walks, and before he got a treat.

In the human world this is something that comes naturally when the bully begins to see and feel changes in the way people interact with him/her.

  • It feels good when people want to be in your company because they like YOU and don't want something from you, like social status.
  • It's also nice to know you're not being avoided because people fear you.
  • It's relaxing to not have to "impress" a crowd with sarcasm and insults.
  • And it's empowering to have people look up to you because you're a good and well-liked person.

Because of the dedication of a community of people and animals, Nick is on his way to a better life. 

With the help of community it is possible to change a bullies life, and a healthy community lives better.

NOTE: Do not try rehabilitating aggressive dogs without a professional trainer. Serious bites, injury, and disfigurement may occur.

The Good Child: An Overlooked Sign of Trouble

Sixteen-year old Kaylee is a straight A student. She is polite, quiet and punctual. Her classmates shun and exclude her throughout the day. She is a victim of long-term bullying.

Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, and not wanting to go to school are common signs of a child in crisis, but one sign is often overlooked because the whole picture is bigger than what’s on the surface.

Think of an iceberg. What’s on the surface gleams in the sun and moonlight. What’s below is an enormous weight.

Good grades, and or overachieving could be a symptom of fear of failing, rather than a desire to achieve. The good, quiet and polite student may actually be viewed as good because they don’t act up, quiet because no one talks to them, or polite because they’re afraid to speak up.

Dr. Bridgett Ross, a Licensed Clinical Psychologist states, “designing a life around “not failing” – has left them surviving the day rather than thriving in life.”

Don’t let these children fall through the cracks. Look at the whole picture. Look at all the signs because there may be trouble in “good” behavior.

Other signs that may indicate a child is being bullied from the CDC:

  • Frequent headaches or stomach aches, feeling sick or faking illness
  • Changes in eating habits, like suddenly skipping meals or binge eating. Kids may come home from school hungry because they did not eat lunch.
  • Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares
  • Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations
  • Feelings of helplessness or decreased self esteem
  • Self-destructive behaviors such as running away from home, harming themselves, or talking about suicide

Look out for our "good" children and ask them them specific questions. You may save a life or lives. Too many people described as "good", "quiet", "keeps to themselves" and "loners are making too many headlines these days.

Relax With Music and Mindfullness

Mindfulness is a form of meditation where you're invited to sit back, be in the moment and watch the world without reaction or distraction. It's been proven very useful as a long-term relaxation technique.

But sometimes it hard to sit down and meditate... add background noises, thoughts and visual stimulation and it can be impossible.

To get you started on the track to mindfulness, it may be easier to take baby steps toward training your mind into a relaxed and mindful state by using music and videos.

You can find lots of relaxation videos online but be aware there are pranksters out there who seek to lure you in and scare you. If that should happen be mindful and laugh along with the joke, chances are it gave you a good adrenaline rush without physical harm.

Here are two videos with moving imagery to music:


Next week: Drum Circles and Tribal Music

The ABCs of Happiness

Remember what it feels like to be happy: Do at something you enjoy to remind yourself there is a life beyond being bullied.

Act silly
Bathe leisurely
Catch a favorite TV show
Eat a cupcake
Feel some velvet
Get some fresh air
Hold a teddy bear
Investigate a new book
Just hang on the couch
Kick a ball for the dog
Look for funny YouTube videos
Make a bracelet from a shoelace
Nudge someone for a hug
Open picture files of your vacation
Put on your favorite tee shirt
Quietly sneak up on a loved one and yell SURPRISE!
Read a good book
Share a funny joke
Take a walk
Utilize that iTunes gift card
Voice how much you love someone
Work on a long abandoned project
X-tract a useless negative thought by writing it down and tearing it up
Yell, I am AWESOME!
Zigzag around the house. Who cares if it looks funny!

The point is to do something, anything to make your day!

Power Over Impulse: Tips for Building Willpower

New Years Eve is a great time to strengthen self-control skills, or at least think about doing it.

Willpower or self-control is a mental exercise, and the same principals we use to build muscles (with routines and discipline) can be applied to beef up our brain’s power over impulse.

Here are a few science-minded tips for strengthening your self-control:

See No Evil

A study about how visibility and convenience influences candy consumption found that people who kept goodies in hidden away in their office were less likely to sneak a treat than when the same candy was placed on their desk.

Simply asking a waiter not to leave bread on the table or keeping your cell phone out of reach could go a lot further than relying on a resolution to lose weight or spending more face time with loved ones this year.

Make Alternate Plans

A good strategy for self-regulation is to plan ahead for an alternate ending. Have you vowed not to overindulge ringing in the new year? Make a plan for the party before you leave, like “when offered a drink, I’ll ask for a soda.”

I’m not happy about waking to alarm clocks. My most successful plan has been to allow one snooze button hit before getting up instead of snoozing until I get up. I’ve been late a lot less.

Choose Your Battles

Studies have found willpower can be depleted when we take on too much at once. Making a long list of resolutions is a set up for failure. Pick one manageable goal and start then go from there because studies have also found being able to successfully reach a goal gives us the will to complete another. 

Happy New Year Pawsitive People! Build that will!

Stop producing better bullies in 2013

Not all bullies have violent monsters in the closet. Many bullies have caring and loving families. But the bully mentality does start at home, on play dates, and other gatherings. Social referencing teaches young children how to respond to the world around them through the facial expressions and behaviors of adults.The way we react to situations can have a positive or negative result on children from a very early age.

Examples of social referencing:
  • If we smile at a stranger, our child will believe the stranger is safe.
  • If we laugh when someone trips, our child will believe laughing is an appropriate response.
  • If we turn in a found wallet, our child learns honesty.
  • If we poke fun at a neighbor’s clothing style, they will find teasing acceptable.

A sense of being above the rules of society is another learned behavior that runs in the family, like using a cell phone in a restricted area.

When parents break the rules or feel they’re more important than others, their behavior is easily passed onto the child because they see fast results. The wrong message is taken a step further when the role model is also viewed as good and noble.

Here’s an example of a hero/bully role model:

  • A father and son enter a donut shop. Dad makes an effort to hold the door open for a woman with several packages and a toddler in tow, but when he gets in line it’s moving slowly. He starts heckling the employees about their sloth-like performance then tells his son, “Go to college so you don’t end up working behind a counter like these losers.”

By being more aware of our contribution to the bully mentality perhaps we can grow a new generation who views bullying as an immature lifestyle and not see it as an acceptable pastime.

In 2013, let’s all take a hard look at how we promote bullying and take action to stop it.

How Cool Would It Be If We Were All Alike?

If everyone in the world was alike and there were no differences, there would be no prejudices, hate, or problems, right?
We'd all get along because we'd like the same things, do the same things and do them all the same way.
If you could wish for a world where everyone was alike, would you?
Be careful what you wish for because you may not get what you think.
Read the story from: The Partners Against Hate Anti-Defamation League's activity guide, from Rainbow ABCs Curriculum Supplement
Then think of how your world would be.
“Jason’s Wish”
Jason was angry as he took out his bike.
Why is everyone different? Why can’t we all be alike?
He sat by the river and he tossed in his line. If people were like me, it would be mighty fine.
All of a sudden he caught a strange fish. It said, “Let me go, and I’ll give you your wish.”
Jason headed for home, and he said, “Outta sight!
If everyone’s like me it’ll be all right!”
He saw his mom; she looked just like him. And so did his dad and his sister Kim.
At first he thought, “This is really neat! With a team full of me’s we can’t ever be beat.”
He headed for school at a full speed run.
“Boy what a day, will this ever be fun!”
He called to a classmate, “Say, what’s up today?”
But since all thought alike, there was nothing to say.
He left for a movie with plenty of time. But everyone went so there was quite a line.
He looked for his friends who he wanted to see. But all looked alike, so which could they be?
Well, after awhile, he shouted, “No More!
One of me is fine but a hundred’s a bore!
There are differences in beauty, I now understand.And the beauty of differences makes this a wonderful land.

The Assembully Line: Helping Victims of Long-term Bullying and Exclusion

Not only can long-term bullying and exclusion cause severe damage to one’s self-esteem, it can result in posttraumatic stress and even depression.
While solutions to bullying and exclusion may not happen overnight, there are a few simple things you can start doing to help victims that will have positive effects on their future.
Give Them Hope
There is little joy in the life of someone who dreads. Do something extraordinary or special to remind them that life can be awesome! Surprise them with a trip to the beach on a snowy day, a midnight drive to see stars in the desert, or a marshmallow roast in the backyard. Be creative and keep it simple so you can do something new everyday and never run out of reserves (money and time).
Get Them Involved
When kids are passionate about something they excel in learning and developing skills in that area. But...too many times, afterschool activities are loving chosen by well-meaning adults. We want them to meet friends so we sign them up for team sports or scouts, or we want them to feel confident so we get them into martial arts, it's what experts suggest, right? Well, sometimes it works if the child loves these activities, more often it’s another opportunity to feel left out.
There are clubs and volunteer groups for almost everything. Search and find the closet match, then get them involved, even if it means you or a spouse needs to tag along. They will find friends and belonging with others who share their passions.
Get Them Talking
Bullying and exclusion victims would rather avoid feeling anymore pain so it’s easier to tuck unwanted emotions away than it is to face them. Still, they’ll need to express their emotions and talk about their experiences to start healing. Start with a walk.
Nothing clears the mind better than fresh air, and nothing inspires conversation better than silence. And yes, I've heard many parents say, "My kids won't go for a walk. They'll complain the whole time" Actually, once these same parents made walking a weekend routine, the complaints stopped and the words started flowing.
The trick... start off on hikes at least one hour long. Make them scenic, and announce, "Collective Solitude" which means no talking, cell phones, DSs, or iPods, just walking and admiring the beauty. By the end of the walk, you will find out that your teens actually have a lot to say. After awhile in the routine, you won't ever have to ask what's going on in their lives because they will offer the entire dish.
These are all building blocks for resistance, aka “bouncing back”. Resilience is an important part of healing because bad things and people will always come along in life, but if we feel good in our skin, nothing can cross the barrier to our hearts.

Bella Zoi's Beautiful Life: Research...Preventive Mental Health Care For Children

Getting mental health care for children in the US is a real challenge, but there's a glimmer of hope on the horizon in preventative care.
Today I received an email detailing research in mental heath. I was very happy to see researchers in the Netherlands are looking into providing preventive care to children who have a caregiver or caregivers with anxiety and or... depression.
While few children inherit mood disorders, many are exposed to the drama, guilt, and trauma of living with a family member or caregiver in crisis, which can result in future mental health issues, substance abuse, and aggression.
It's believed that early intervention for these children with a limited schedule of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (to teach children to identify and change negative thinking), parental counseling, and Resilience Training will help these children rebound from childhood crisis.
In a perfect world, US researchers will follow the Netherlands' lead and start viewing preventive care in mental health as a public health issue to be funded by government.
Unfortunately, mental illness still carries a stigma and many eligible families will not apply for such programs.
But either way, I hope the research will bring attention to crisis intervention and prevention, instead of dealing with problems after the fact.
For those interested the article (you will need an account):

Wolfer Wednesdays: Resilience and Volunteering

Wolves rarely do anything unrewarding. It’s in their nature to pursue pleasurable activities, like playing, hunting, and basking in the sun. Humans are pleasure seekers too, but the activities we enjoy are far more diverse and tailored to each individual.
Last week’s Wolfer Wednesday topic was about cultivating positive relationships and support systems to build resilience.
I can’t think of a better, more fulfilling way to expand your supportive circle than volunteering.
So, what are the benefits of volunteering for a cause you love?
  • You meet like-minded people - and they love the things you love.
  • You’re all focused on a mission – and not focused on petty differences.
  • You learn to support each other through ups and downs – and practice makes perfect.
  • You go out of your way to work cooperatively toward goals – because you strongly believe in your cause.
  • Your fellow volunteers become family – because who wouldn’t want a family of like-minded people, who didn’t focus on petty differences, practiced at supporting each other, strongly believed in your cause.
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