Category Archives: Stress and Anxiety



Just Breathe!

Yes, breathe.  Exhale!  Any time you are with your pet, whether spending quality time, practicing new habits, or handling a stressful situation, exhale to improve the situation. 

Try this quick experiment to see how it works:

  1. Hold your breath and clench your fists for a moment and see how it makes you feel.
  2. Now, Exhale!
  3. How do you feel now?

Being relaxed affects your pet.  Breathing normally has many benefits for you and for your pet.  It can help:

  • You be Relaxed and Calm so your pet can pet relax and be calm.  Your pet usually reflects your breathing pattern and your tension.
  • You and your pet be more Aware, Think better, and Make Better Behavior Choices.
  • You and your pet Better Handle Fears
    • Fireworks, Thunderstorms, and Loud Noises
    • Vet Visits
    • Grooming, Nail Trimming and Ear Cleaning
  • Improve overall Health and Wellness by delivering more oxygen to organs and all body systems
  • Improve Mood
  • Decrease Anxiety and lower Stress Levels
  • Improve Digestion
  • Lower Inflammation levels
  • Reduce Pain
  • Improve Sleep
  • Improve Brain Function and Cognition
  • Regulate Blood Pressure
  • Improve Immune System function

In short, good breathing is one of the best things you can do mentally, physically and emotionally to improve your wellness and your life with your pet.

Call or email me for more help with calming your pet and other concerns.





I learned a great technique to calm myself – and later my pets – in an unexpected and unorthoox way.  It was a beautiful summer day in Minnesota, and I was attending my first day of training for the Tellington TTouch® Method. Returning from lunch, a young driver hit the rear of my rental car.

One of my passengers was an experienced practitioner and training assistant. While we waited for the police to arrive, she taught us all how to do Tellington TTouch® Ear Slides, also known as the Ear TTouch. Immediately we all felt better. They helped us to calm down, breathe easier, and handle the situation better.

Ear Slides Help Pets Relax, Be Calm, and More

Ear Slides Help Pets Relax -and much more!

Ear Slides are often the first technique I teach. Clients find it especially good to help their pets be calmer or less reactive.

They are done in a specific way to have the desired effect on your pet. See the resource links below or contact me to learn how to do them.

Ear Slides help:

  • Dogs, cats, and other pets (and people):
    • Be calmer.
    • Be more aware, think better, and make better behavior choices.
    • Breathe normally, which also helps with calmness and making better choices.
  • Fears:
    • Fireworks, Thunderstorms, and Loud Noises.
    • Vet Visits.
  • Grooming, Nail Trimming and Ear Cleaning.
  • Improve health and wellness by stimulating hundreds of acupressure points that connect to every organ and body function, including the brain.
  • Improve digestion, immune system, circulation, and blood pressure.
  • Regulate body temperature, especially for an overheated pet.
  • Performance.
  • Overall Wellness.

And they are Easy to Learn and Easy to Do!

Buddy, our Australian Cattle Dog mix, turned into a terrified wimp when he needed his blood drawn. Read how Ear Slides helped Buddy overcome his needle phobia and made veterinarian visits pleasant and easy.

Read this explanation of How to do Ear Slides. 

Watch this Video Demonstration of Ear Slides by fellow practitioner Elaine Garley.

Want more help?  Call or email me to learn how, when, and where to do Ear Slides to best help you and your pet.




Does your pet fear vet visits? Mine did, until one simple technique helped him overcome his fear of vet visits and his needle phobia.

Buddy – our powerful, brave, 62-pound Blue Heeler-mix dog – was a terrified wimp at the site of needles in the vet’s office. As soon as his leg was held for a blood draw, he’d start to get anxious. When he saw the needle, he would whimper, cry, and do a big alligator roll to get away.

Buddy Liked to Relax and Be Calm. Ear TTouch Helped.

One day my husband took Buddy for his annual exam. As usual, Buddy cried and tried to roll away. The more anyone tried to “help,” and the harder anyone tried to get the needle in his leg, the worse things got.

Eventually the veterinarian asked my husband to go outside and “let them do what they needed.” I don’t know, and don’t want to know, just what happened. They got the blood.

When he got home, Buddy let me know just how upset and traumatized he felt. Ear Slides – a key part of the Tellington TTouch® Method – and a soothing voice helped him calm down and recover.

That was when I said, “Never again. We can make this a better experience.” As a TTouch® practitioner in training, I knew it was possible.

A couple of months later, Buddy needed another blood draw, so I took him to the vet. When the technician and veterinarian came in, they were as tense and nervous as Buddy.

I politely stated that I’d learned a cool technique that would help make things easier for everyone and asked if they’d be willing to try. The tech gave a sigh of relief and said she’d try anything. The vet was more skeptical, but willing.

When Buddy was on the table, before he was restrained, I gave him a few gentle strokes. Then I started doing Tellington TTouch® Ear Slides. I also talked to him with a soothing voice, so that he’d keep his attention more focused on me. The tech was able to keep him in place with almost no restraint.

His leg was prepped, and the vet drew the blood. Buddy barely even noticed the needle. The entire process was quickly over – before Buddy realized what had happened.

To say that the veterinarian was impressed and the technician was surprised would be a big understatement. They stated that they would always do his draws and anything else involving a needle that way. Then the tech asked to learn what I had done, so she could use it with other pets.

Buddy’s behavior change left a lasting impression on the staff at that clinic, and it helped staff at all other clinics he went to throughout his life. Ear Slides helped Buddy every time a needle was used. This easy TTouch helped him be calm and relaxed. It also helped technicians, veterinarians – and me – be calm and relaxed.

They helped so much that he overcame his fear and didn’t need them later in his life. His last vet recently told me she wasn’t aware that he ever had needle phobia or feared vet visits.

I’ve successfully used TTouch® Ear Slides with lots of shelter animals during exams, injections and blood draws. My clients use Ear Slides to help their pets be calm at the vet and in all kinds of situations.

Learn how to do TTouch® Ear Slides with your pet:


By working the ear, we can influence the entire body, the mind, emotions, and behavior of our pets. That’s why Ear Slides (also known as Eas Ear TTouch) are one of the most useful of all Tellington TTouch® Method TTouches.

Just some of the many ways they can help your pet are to: relax and be calm; overcome fear of storms and loud noises; improve digestion, immune system, circulation, and overall wellness; and improve performance.  Read more benefits of Ear Slides, and the unusual way by which I first learned to do them!

Ear TTouches on Cat and Dog

With one exception, Ear Slides are done the same way for dogs and cats.  The pressure is light for both, but even lighter for cats.  For cats, think of stroking a rose petal.  The directions below talk about dogs, but the technique is for both.


  1. Place your dog and yourself in a comfortable position.
  2. Take a deep breath, exhale, and relax yourself.  Remember that your dog is likely to reflect your breathing pattern and your tension.
  3. Support dog’s head with one hand.
  4. Use your other hand to work your dog’s ear.
  5. Place your hand at the base of your dog’s ear, so that the thumb is on the outside, and one or more of your fingers are on the inner part of your dog’s ear.  Always include the index finger, and use more fingers if your dog’s ear is larger.
  6. Alternatively, if your wrist is in an awkward position, you can place the thumb inside the ear and the fingers on the outside.
  7. Begin working the ear:
    1. Use very light pressure.
    2. Start at the base of the ear.
    3. Rotate the base in a circular motion one time, then,
    4. Slide your finger(s) and thumb along the ear, following the natural direction of the ear – up, down, or out.
      For very large ears that hang down, support the ear as you slide.
    5. Be sure to include the tip of the ear.
    6. Finish slightly beyond the ear tip.
    7. The sliding motion should take 2-3 seconds to complete, with the lesser time needed for smaller ears and more for larger ears.
      Dogs with exceptionally large ears, like basset hounds, may take 4 seconds.
  8. Repeat this motion until the entire ear is covered.
  9. Switch hands and do the same thing on the other ear.
  10. You only need to do this once on each ear, covering the entire ear.  If you wish, you may do a few more, but no more than 4 slides on each ear, because they can increase body temperature and blood pressure.
  11. Do the Ear Slide as often as you wish and your dog will allow.
  • An alternative way to do the Ear Slide is to gently fold the ear on itself, with the thumb on one side and the fingers on the other.  The motion, pressure, and time it takes to do the TTouch are the same as above.

Ear TTouch Close Up, Ear Folded

  • Activating” Ear Slides stimulate pets and increase alertness.
  • They are used:
    • in cases of emergency to reduce shock (There are many cases of Ear Slides saving a pet’s life after a trauma);
    • to restore consciousness faster after sedation or anesthesia; and
    • to enhance performance.
  • They use the same position and motion as above.  However, they are done:
    • with a little more pressure,
    • a little faster, and
    • with extra attention being paid to the ear tips.
  • They can be done frequently or continuously, depending on the severity of the situation.
  • Because of the very strong effect on blood pressure and body temperature, they should be stopped as soon as your pet has stabilized, regains full consciousness, or seems ready to perform.

Watch this Video Demonstration of Ear Slides, presented by fellow practitioner Elaine Garley.

Buddy, our Australian Cattle Dog mix, turned into a terrified wimp when he needed his blood drawn.  Read how Ear Slides helped Buddy overcome his needle phobia and made veterinarian visits pleasant and easy.

Call or email me to learn how, when, and where to do Ear Slides to best help you and your pet.




Thundershirts and Body Wraps Help Your Pet’s Health and Behavior

Penny A. Watkins-Zdrojewski
© October 2014

“Is that a ThunderShirt?”
“Yes, it is.”
“Does that really work?”
“Yes.  It can really help dogs and cats who are afraid of thunder and loud noises.  It can help with a lot of other fears and concerns, too.”

I’ve had this conversation many times.

Most people think the Thundershirt is just for fear of thunderstorms, a reasonable assumption based on the product’s name.  It can actually help with many more situations in which pets may feel fear or anxiety, such as car rides, vet visits, and people coming into your home.  I’ve even found that it helps my dog Murphy when his arthritis is flaring up, and have used it for a variety of physical concerns.

The Thundershirt is very similar to the Body Wraps we use as a key component Tellington TTouch Training®.  Body Wraps are simple elastic bandages, wrapped around different parts of the body to apply very light, steady pressure.  Using these has proved very helpful for improving a host of behavior and health concerns, from noise phobia to increased mobility.


So how do Body Wraps and Thundershirts work, and how can we know how it feels?  In August, I had an incredible personal experience with Body Wraps, while attending an advanced training for Tellington TTouch® practitioners in British Columbia.  This special training that combined work with dogs, horses, and humans was a great opportunity to understand more about our similarities and how Body Wraps and other TTouch® work have much the same effect on all of us.

I’ve had two injuries to my left leg in the past 5 years.  Physical therapy has helped a lot, but my balance and gait are still not as good as I’d like.  Challenges with certain activities undermine my confidence, and occasional discomfort and pain can affect my mood.

Instructor Robyn Hood, sister to TTouch® founder Linda Tellington-Jones, has worked with Body Wraps since they were first used on horses decades ago.  Robyn is a genius with the wraps, and literally wrote the book – authoring the series “All Wrapped Up,” for horses, for dogs and cats, and for humans.  She outfitted me with a wrap to address my concerns.  She started with a full body wrap, using several 3” wide elastic bandages that went from both shoulders to torso and hips, then down the legs.  After a few minutes, she made a couple of adjustments to the wrap, and the results were nothing short of amazing.  My balance improved, I was standing straighter, and my gait was smooth and even.  Equally important, my confidence was greatly boosted; I did not feel the need to carefully watch where I was placing my feet and could walk with ease.

Wearing a Full Body Wrap helped with balance, gait and confidence.  Robyn uses lovely colors!

The next day, all of the participants were treated to a demonstration and experience of the Sure Foot™ and Fit Trail, systems developed by Wendy Murdoch, a training participant, equine expert, and Feldenkrais Practitioner.  The Fit Trail involves stepping onto a series of therapy devices, from foam pads to knobbly domes and more.  The goal is to establish balance in challenging situations.  Remember seeing a toddler learn to stand and walk?  Or remember when you learned to ride a bike?  To be successful, we had to find our balance point with each and every new challenge.

Wendy Murdoch (left) and Robyn Hood.
Photo by Indra McMorran

The Fit Trail.  Foam therapy devices are laid out to first challenge, then establish physical balance.
Photo by Indra McMorran

My first pass through the Fit Trail wasn’t a complete failure, but let’s say I’m glad no one will be sharing it on YouTube!

I’m in the pink blouse.  The foam pads on which I’m standing aren’t too difficult.  But notice how I’m thinking hard about how to successfully step onto the blue half-spheres that come next!
Photo by Indra McMorran

After seeing me struggle, Robyn wrapped me in the same configuration as the previous day, to see how that would influence my abilities.  The changes were dramatic and awe-inspiring.  My balance and confidence greatly increased and my discomfort and pain decreased significantly.  I stepped from one object to the next with little challenge, barely losing my balance on even the most difficult objects.   Other participants were amazed, and I got a lot of questions about how it felt.  This was a great opportunity for both me and them:  I was able explore and explain how I was affected; they were able to get descriptive, verbal, concrete feedback – communication we have to interpret when working with animals.

My second try, wearing a full body wrap.
The soft foam slopes were somewhat challenging during my first try, While standing on them this time, Wendy Murdoch tests my balance, and there is no problem!
Photo by Indra McMorran


So, what did I actually experience?  How were my physical, mental, and emotional processes influenced, giving me such a positive experience?  Because the sensory input and nervous systems of dogs, cats and humans are very similar, my experience and the ways in which I was influenced are basically the same.

First, wearing the Body Wraps created specific body awareness – the gentle, steady pressure called my mind’s attention to parts of my body that I may have forgotten, neglected, or consciously tuned out.  Second, they created sensory input – hundreds of nerve endings were gently stimulated, enhancing communication between my brain and body.  The awareness and communication stimulate the mind and body’s ability to restore balance and promote healing.  Third, they provided a sense of comfort, much like what a baby experiences with swaddling.  TTouch® Practitioner Julie Moss summarizes by stating, “TTouch is really good at filling in gaps where there are proprioceptive deficits (lack of awareness and communication between parts of the body).”


There are countless reasons to use a Body Wrap or a Thundershirt for your pet, and we’ve only scratched the surface of the many benefits.   Just as a Body Wrap helped my mobility, it can help dogs and cats who are mobility-challenged from aging, injury, or surgery.  In addition to mobility concerns, my dog Murphy is also afraid of thunderstorms and fireworks, and his Thundershirt is a great help.  Some of the many reasons you may want to use wraps or a Thundershirt for your pet include:  phobias (noise, strangers, car rides, visits to the vet); nervousness or anxiety; excessive barking or whining; balance or mobility issues; increased speed of recovery from injury or surgery; and enhanced learning with new skills.


Here are some guidelines to get started with Body Wraps:

  • Materials: Use an elastic bandage that does not stick to itself.  Self-adhering bandages do not move freely and can cause excessive pressure.  High-quality bandages, like Ace brand, work best; cheap bandages tend to be flimsy and are difficult to apply correctly.  The bandage width depends on the size of your pet, which body part is being wrapped, and how much area you want to influence at once.  If you are wrapping a larger animal or multiple body parts, you will need multiple bandages and may want to tie, pin or Velcro them together.  Bandages with Velcro ends are easier to secure, but you can also tie the ends or use a diaper pin.
  • Introduce Before Putting On: Remember that this is a new experience for your pet, so introduce the wrap before applying it.  Let your pet smell it.  Use it like a platter and place a treat on the wrap so that your pet associates it with something positive.  Rub it lightly on their fur.  Lay across their back for a just a moment, and repeat.
  • Configurations and Pressure: There are no limits to the ways in which a Body Wrap may be applied, and you are encouraged to try different configurations as you learn more about your pet’s responses.  The basic Half Wrap is a good place to start.  See the instructions at the end of this article.  The wrap should fit snugly enough to stay in place and give awareness, but should not be tight or apply excessive pressure.
  • How Long To Wear and Frequency: For the first experience, leave the wrap on for no more than 5 minutes, and remove sooner if your pet seems agitated and is unable to relax after a minute or two.  You can gradually increase to 25 minutes for dogs, 15 minutes for cats.  Between experiences, allow plenty of time for your pet to process the experience and information.  Using the wrap 2-3 days a week will have noticeable effects.  If you can use it every day, the effects will be more rapid.
  • Movement: While Body Wraps and Thundershirts give input and create positive influence in sedentary positions, their effectiveness is increased with light movement.  Any movement increases awareness and brain-body communication.  Purposeful movement provides the greatest benefit.

Ready for a Thundershirt?  Not sure?  Here is some information to help:

  • Availability: Thundershirts can be ordered through Penny at HappyPAWZ, and are available at many pet retailers, online stores, and
  • Size: For dogs and cats, size is generally determined by weight.  The material is very stretchy and the design allows for a lot of adjustment. If in doubt, buy one size larger.
  • Introduction and Movement are the same as for Body Wraps above.  If you are using the Thundershirt for any type of fear, be sure to introduce it when the fear stimulus is absent, to avoid any negative assocations with it.  For instance if your cat is afraid of storms, introduce it several times when the weather is good.
  • How Long To Wear and Frequency: For the first experience, leave the Thundershirt on for no more than 5 minutes, and remove sooner if your pet seems severely agitated and is unable to relax, as with Body Wraps.  Gradually increase the amount of time.  Once used to the Thundershirt, your pet should be able to wear it as long as needed to help with its fear or other concern.  In warm weather, be conscious of the possibility of overheating.
  • A Tip Before Buying: If you are unsure about whether a Thundershirt may help your pet, try using T-Shirt that fits snugly, but not tightly.  For a small dog or cat, use a newborn’s Onesie or large doll T-Shirt.   To further test the effectiveness, apply the Half Wrap Body Wrap illustrated below.

For additional guidance and help with Body Wraps or Thundershirts, contact Penny at Happy PAWZ.


While there is no limit to the ways in which a body wrap may be applied, the basic Half Wrap is a good place to start.  It is a basic figure-8 that begins at the chest and covers the torso.  While illustrated on a dog below, the Half Wrap is applied the same way to a cat.


Start by holding the wrap slightly off-center.  Place this point on your pet’s chest. Cross over the shoulders, under the belly, and up to the back.  Connect the wrap with Velcro, with a pin or tie it, ensuring that the connection does not sit directly on the spine.


TTouch® senior instructor Robyn Hood offers a good explanation of Body Wraps and demonstrates how to apply the quarter wrap on a dog in this YouTube video:


A dog and his guardian enjoying the benefits of his Rugby-striped Thundershirt
Photo by Penny Watkins-Zdrojewski

Applying a Body Wrap to a Labradoodle at a TTouch® Training
Photo by Penny Watkins-Zdrojewski

Penny’s dog Buddy wearing a custom Body Wrap to help with some hip issues.
Photo by Ed Zdrojewski


Toenail Trimming: How to Make It Easier

Penny A. Watkins-Zdrojewski
December 2013

Many dogs, cats and critters don’t like to have their nails trimmed and display behaviors that make it nearly impossible to try.  Working harder to get it done only increases your pet’s fear and your frustration, producing even worse results the next time.  If you live with one of these animals, you know how frustrating and stressful it can be.

Are long toenails a major health hazard?  Usually not, but they can be for some animals.  Nails that are excessively long can affect an animal’s gait and balance, permanently deform the foot, or curve too far and puncture the paw pads.  Long nails are also prone to snagging, breaking and tearing.

Check with your vet to determine your pet’s optimum nail health.  Even if your pet’s health isn’t an issue, nails trimmed to the appropriate length are better for the overall wellness and comfort of a pet animal, as well as the comfort his human guardian.

What do you need to look for when trimming nails, and how can you make it easier?  Here is some information to help you get started on the right foot – or paw.  Read on to learn about toenail anatomy, types of equipment and selecting the right tool, how to correctly trim with clippers or a rotary tool, the importance of being comfortable, the best ways to introduce tools and help your pet accept them, and damaged nails.


Dog, cat, and mammalian critter toenails consist of: a nail bed, or germinal tissue; a nail shell; the “quick”; and, in the case of cats, a sheath.

The nail bed, or germinal tissue, is at the base of the nail, and appears to be part of the paw.  The germinal tissue is the beginning of nail growth and affects the health of the nail.  Toenails grow out from the base, downward in a curved arc.

The nail shell is hard and curved.  It may be black, white, or translucent.  Black nails make it more difficult to see the quick, and may be tougher to cut or file.

Immediately inside the shell is a darker, somewhat softer tissue, which protects the quick.

The quick is the soft cuticle in the center, which consists of nerve and blood vessels.  If the quick is cut, it will bleed and cause your pet pain.  As nails grow, the quick grows with them.  The quick should normally be near the “hook,” or most curved part of the nail.  If nails are not cut or filed on a regular basis, the quick will grow toward the nail tip, making it more likely for it to be damaged during trimming or if the nail is injured.

Dogs have fixed toenails and cats have nails that can be retracted into the nail sheath at the base of the nail.


Pet toenail trimmers come in a wide variety of styles, and each has its own use.

  • Guillotine style clippers are mostly used for dogs.  They require that the nail be inserted through a cutting hole and do not have a trim guard to prevent over-clipping.  They may be less effective on larger dogs or dogs with very tough nails.
  • Pliers (or “Miller’s forge) style clippers are commonly used by professionals and experienced pet guardians for most dogs.  They come in a of range sizes, with and without a guard to prevent over-clipping.
  • Scissor style clippers are the type most often used for cats.  They can also be used for puppies and small dogs.
  • A power rotary tool can quickly grind and file nails as an alternative to clipping.
  • Human Nail Clippers can be useful for small kittens and puppies, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, and other small critters.
  • A metal hand file is sometimes used to smooth tips after cutting the nail, and can be helpful with some damaged nails.

When trimming nails, it’s good to have a clotting agent in case of bleeding. Styptic powder is common.   Kwik Stop is styptic powder with Benzocaine, an numbing agent.  In an emergency, plain flour can work.


When selecting a nail trimming tool, your first consideration should be whether it is an appropriate size for your pet.  Tools that are too small will not cut well.  If they are too big, they may break the nail or make it difficult to see and avoid cutting the quick.   As pets grow, you may need to switch tools.

Any tool needs to fit well in your hand.  It should also be comfortable and be easy to use.

If you choose clippers, it’s important they be sharp enough to cleanly cut your pet’s nails.  Your pet’s tolerance for noise and vibration may be a factor in choosing a rotary tool.  However it is generally possible to help them become comfortable with any tool, as explained below in “How to Introduce and Desensitize to Tools.”


Identify the Quick

If your pet has light or translucent nails, the quick should look pink, and should be easy to see.  With dark or black nails, it is not possible to see the quick, but the anatomy is the same. If you look at the anatomy of the underside of the nail you will see a triangle. The end of this triangle is generally where the quick begins.   When in doubt, cut or file just a little nail; you can always remove more in a few days or a week.

Trimming with Clippers

Ideally, you should make the cut 2-3 millimeters from the nail quick.  With dark nails, where you can’t see the quick, trim a little at a time and check the nail.  If the tip has a waxy look you are close to the quick.  If it looks dry, you can remove a bit more.  You can also look for a pale, third, inner circle, or a dark spot in the middle of the clipped nail. Stop clipping here.

If you go too far, the nail will bleed and cause pain.  While you may feel like panicking, don’t worry.  Apply styptic powder, Kwik Stop, or, in an emergency, plain flour.   The nail will heal quickly.  A common misperception is that a pet who has had their quick cut will never allow their nails to be trimmed again.  While they may have some fear the next time, you can help to make them comfortable again, following the steps outlined in the section below on introducing and desensitizing to tools.

Remember to clip the dew claws located on the inside the legs.  They can curl in and cause pain, and can tear easily.

Filing with a Rotary Tool

Guidelines for length, identifying the quick, and what to do if you trim too far are the same as for using clippers.  However, the actual process for filing with a rotary tool is a little different from using clippers.  The process and additional precautions are detailed in the next section.  You may also need to take longer to introduce the tool, due to the noise and vibration.


If your pet won’t tolerate having her nails trimmed with clippers, you might try switching to an electric rotary tool, such as the Oster Gentle Paws Nail Trimmer or a Dremel® tool from the hardware store.  For animals whose nails tend to be brittle or fragile and break frequently, I highly recommend that you file the nails instead of clipping.  Getting your pet used to the electric trimmer may be a long process, and you may have to put your efforts into it for a while.  But the results, which are positive for most animals, will pay off your patience and effort.

Still, the electric trimmers offer a set of challenges as well.  What can you do to help your animal learn to accept having its nails filed?

Select the Right Rotary Tool:

Do a little research and buy a high-quality (not necessarily high-priced) electric trimmer.  You can find lots of specialized models in pet stores.  Similar products sell for much less in hardware stores.  The main thing to consider is how comfortable the tool will be for you and for your pet.  Factors include: whether the tool is corded or cordless; how it fits in your hand; the motor noise; and the vibration.

Follow the Guidelines for Comfort and for How to Introduce and Desensitize to Tools below

How to File with a Rotary Tool:

Start by removing the curved tip until the nail is blunt.  Next, file straight across until you are near the quick or at an appropriate length.  Finally, round off any sharp corners to prevent snagging and scratching.  Filing builds heat, so only trim for a few seconds on any nail.  You don’t need to do each one start to finish, and can work on each toe several times during any given session.


It is important for both you and your pet to be comfortable.  If you are uncomfortable, it will affect your breathing and your stress level, and frustration.   If your pet’s foot or leg is being held at an odd angle, it will make her uncomfortable, she will want to move away, and you will both become frustrated and stressed.  Some pets are more comfortable on a table or similar surface; others do better sitting next to you or in your lap.

Exhale frequently while trimming; this will help regulate your breathing and reduce your stress.

When possible, partner with someone.  One of you can help calm and relax your pet while the other trims the nails.  You and your pet will be more relaxed, and will make it easier for her to accept the process.  Treats can help, but I highly recommend TTouch Ear Slides and other pleasurable types of touch.


The principal here is simple: turn something potentially scary and painful into something fun and pleasurable.

This process “chunks it down” – instead of trying to cut or file nails right away, each part of the introduction to the tool, including its effects, is a separate step.  It’s very important to take things slowly, moving at your pet’s pace.  At any point, if your pet starts to become distressed, back up one or two steps until he is completely comfortable again.

Using either clippers or a rotary file, let your pet meet and become comfortable with the trimming tool before you use it:

  1. Let your pet meet the tool.  Allow him to sniff and explore it.  If necessary, use treats to make it more interesting.  Sometimes putting a little wet food or peanut butter on the tool will help him associate it with something good.
  2. Gently rub or massage your pet’s legs and feet with the tool.  If he doesn’t easily tolerate having his legs touched, start with rubbing his back and shoulders, gradually moving to the legs, then returning to the shoulders.
  3. Lightly tap his toes with the tool.
  4. Lightly tap his toe nails with the tool.
  5. At this point, if using clippers, follow the instructions in #6; if using a rotary file, follow the instructions in #7.
  6. When Using Clippers:
    1. Put the clipper around your pet’s nails, one at a time, and remove quickly without cutting any nails.  Repeat this for several days.
    2. When comfortable, cut one nail, and then massage the foot with the clippers.  You may be able to cut more than one nail, but be aware of your pet’s comfort level.  Repeat for a few days.
    3. Continue in this fashion, slowly building up the number of toes that can be cut and the length of time the clippers can be in contact with the toe, while decreasing how frequently you have to stop cutting and go back to massages and rubs with the tool.
  7. When using a Dremel® or other rotary file:
    1. Help your pet become comfortable with the rotary tool with the motor turned off.  Start with an introduction, then massage legs, and feet and progress to tapping toes, all with the motor off.
    2. After your pet becomes comfortable with the tool while the motor is off, you will need to repeat the process with the motor turned on.  She needs to be comfortable with the sound and vibration before filing any nails.  First remove all attachments from the tool, so that your pet can’t touch any filing surfaces with his nose.  Turn the motor on and repeat the steps:  introducing, massaging, and then tapping toes with the body of the tool.
    3. Add the file attachment.  Do some massage and toe-taps with the body of the tool.  File just one toe for only 1-3 seconds, then switch back to massaging with the body of the tool.
    4. Continue in this fashion, slowly building up the number of toes that can be filed and length of time the grinder can be in contact with a toe, while decreasing how frequently you have to stop filing and go back to massaging with the body of the tool.

Regardless of what type of tool you use, you will accomplish a lot more, and you and your pet will be happier, if you have patience, take deep, frequent breaths, are consistent, and back up to easier steps at the first sign of stress.  It’s is better to only file a few nails, or just one, in a single session, than to make your pet (or yourself) upset, or to break the trust you’ve built.


The best way to prevent damaged nails is to keep them trimmed or filed to a proper length.  They are less likely to get caught in things and tear.  Still, some pets have nails that are naturally prone to splitting, breaking and tearing, even when well-trimmed.  Here is some information on common nail problems and what to do if your pet’s toenail becomes damaged.

Splitting and Breaking

Healthy toenails can split or break under ordinary circumstances, however, nails that frequently split or break may indicate a health or dietary issue.  Brittle nails that are accompanied by nail deformities may be indicative of medical issues.  If your pet’s nails appear abnormal or split and break frequently, take her to the veterinarian.  Brittle nails, left untreated, can lead to tearing injuries.  Dietary changes may also improve nail health.  Consult a qualified nutritional counselor for advice.


The most common cause of a torn nail is it getting caught on something.   Some pets have brittle nails that are more prone to tearing.  Because of the way toenails are attached, dewclaws are the most prone to being torn away from the body.  In any case, if a nail is torn, it will likely be sensitive.  Here is what to do if your pet’s nail tears:

  1. Stop the bleeding with styptic powder, Kwik Stop, or plain flour.  Determine if the injury requires the attention of a veterinarian.
  2. Keep the nail clean. Watch carefully for signs of infection, including swelling, sensitivity, and redness.
  3. If needed, wrap your pet’s paw with clean gauze.  You may be able to secure this with self-sticking wound wrap, or cover the dressing with a snug (not tight) toy or infant’s sock.
  4. To help prevent excessive licking, apply diluted tea tree oil to the nail before wrapping.  In addition to having an off-putting scent, the oil also has antiseptic properties.

Nail biting

Pets with allergies may bite their nails.  Allergens can irritate the paws and nails, and licking or chewing helps them relive the itchiness.  Controlling your pet’s allergies is the best way to prevent this.  Often, a change in diet can help reduce allergy symptoms by supporting the immune system.  Consult a qualified nutrition counselor for advice.

Some pets develop a habit of biting their nails for other reasons, and you may need the advice of a pet wellness counselor or behaviorist.


If a nail is sufficiently injured and the wound is exposed, it may become infected.  Look at the area around the base of the nail for signs of infection which include redness, swelling, tenderness, and seeping.  If there is infection, you will need to take your pet to the vet, who will prescribe an antibiotic.  Removing the toenail is rarely enough, particularly for dogs.  The bone in a dog’s toe extends out to the quick, reaching the blood supply.

Your veterinarian will give you instructions on how to manage your pet when you return home, and may recommend an e-collar to prevent chewing and biting at bandages and the injured nail.  You may also be able to add some of the management techniques listed above.


In summary, there are a few steps to making toenail trimming easier.  Start with selecting the right tool, and then properly introduce and desensitize your pet to the tools you choose.  Understand the process of trimming, including identifying the quick and knowing where to cut.  Most importantly, be comfortable – take deep breaths, have patience, and back up at the first sign of stress.  With a little time and patience, you and your pet can turn nail trimming into a stress-free, pleasurable experience.

Stress Management For Pets

Penny A. Watkins-Zdrojewski
September 2012

This article focuses on a common issue that affects both health and behavior in pets. Recently, Buddy, our 9-year old Australian Cattle Dog mix, had an experience that reminded me just how much stress can affect our pets.  He became agitated by a wild animal and tried to go over our fence, cutting his leg in the process.  While sitting in the ER waiting room in the wee hours of the morning, I realized what a good lesson he was teaching me.

  • Did you know that many behavior problems are caused by stress?
  • Did you know that stress can be caused by underlying health concerns?
  • Did you know that stress is one of the leading causes of illness and death in animals?

Read on to learn about how stress works, causes, effects and tools you can use to help your pet.

How does stress work?

When a stressful situation or stimulant is present, animals, like humans, respond with changes that are physiological, psychological, emotional, and behavioral.  Nearly every system in the body responds in some way.  The endocrine system produces an overabundance of corticosteroids, and the ability to produce and absorb “good” brain chemicals, such as serotonin and endorphins, is greatly decreased.

The mere presence of stressful stimulants is not the biggest problem.  More important is how the animal deals with stress—how well they are able to cope, and how long their systems continue to be affected.

Acute Stress And Chronic Stress

Acute stress is generally a short lived response to a one-time event, such as a trip to the vet or a thunderstorm.  Acute stress is generally not a problem, provided your pet can respond to the stress in appropriate ways and quickly recover from its effects.  Buddy’s injury and treatment caused acute stress, from which he was able to recover pretty quickly.

Chronic stress results from long-time or multiple experiences of stress, resulting in a state of ongoing physical arousal. Effects of stress can continue long after the cause is gone.   Chronic stress is often more difficult to recognize and alleviate.  The causes may be hidden, and you may need to enlist professional help.  Chronic stress, left undiagnosed and unmanaged, will generally continue to increase, leading your beloved pet to live in a constant state of anxiety, stress, unbalance and un-wellness.

Animals are built to handle acute stress, which is short-lived, but not chronic stress, which is steady continual.

Effects of Stress

Chronic stress can adversely affect the immune, neuroendocrine and central nervous systems, create or intensify anxiety, strain the heart, create chemical imbalances, and contribute to the development of major illnesses.

Causes of Stress

The causes of stress may be environmental, situational, or physical.  Stressful situations cause physical changes, and some physical factors can be the cause of stress.  The mental/emotional aspects of stress and the physical aspects of stress are intricately connected.  It is very common for animals with chronic physical issues, such as undiagnosed or untreated chronic pain, to exhibit behavior problems.  Therefore, when choosing how to deal with stress, it is very important to look at all aspects of your pet’s life—environmental, social, emotional, psychological, and physical

Hidden Stress

Some stress, particularly acute stress, is obvious – the cat that fights getting into its carrier to go to the vet; the dog that doesn’t like its nails trimmed; the rabbit that bolts or charges when its going to be picked up.  Other types of stress are less obvious.

An increasing number of household pets are rescues, adopted from shelters and rescue groups.  These animals may have experienced days, weeks or years of stress about which we have no knowledge.  Pets adopted through the very best, reputable breeders may not be stress-free.

Hidden stress is often a major cause of behavior issues.  It can also cause a host of health concerns.  And undiagnosed or untreated health issues can also be a major source of hidden stress.

Regardless of the cause of stress, known or unknown, there are ways to help your pet.

Tools to Manage and Alleviate Stress

In cases of acute stress, you will generally know the cause – loud noises, fear of a vet visit, injuries, strangers visiting, and so on.  Some of the tools discussed below can help your pet deal with these acute situations.  For chronic stress, whether the cause is known or unknown, there are several things you can do to help your pet cope with stress, relax,  and become the best they can be – mentally, physically and emotionally balanced.

If you know that certain things cause stress for your pet, think about ways you can make changes so that the instance, situation or environment is less stressful.  For example, our dog Murphy reacts to the sound of pop cans being opened – he barks and becomes hyper-vigilant.  We invite him to sniff the can and watch us open it, then reward him when he reacts calmly, which he now does nearly all of the time.

Your pet may need a multidiscipline approach, combining two or more tools or therapies.  This will depend on the degree of stress, underlying causes, how long they have been experiencing symptoms, and your pet as an individual.  When working with professionals, let each know what you are doing with the other.  Whenever possible, it is best to have your professionals share information and collaborate with one another.

  • Exercise and Play help to release physical tension and stimulate the mind.  Spend some time each day actively engaging your pet in play time or stimulating walks.
  • Healthy Food is essential.  If your pet’s food has ingredients that they cannot digest well or that turn into too many sugars in the system, they can experience digestive distress, compromised immune systems, anxiety and a host of other issues.  The problems may show up as physical issues, anxiety, behavior concerns, or a combination.  My last newsletter discussed commercial foods in depth.  If you would like a copy, just let me know.
  • Therapeutic Touch
    • Therapeutic touch begins with mindful touch – simply be aware of how you are petting and holding your animal, and more importantly, the effects of your touch on your pet.
    • Massage can decrease physical tension and help your pet relax.
    • TTouch can also decrease physical tension and help your pet relax.  Moreover, it can promote a greater state of calm and balance.  By influencing the mind-body connection and central nervous system, TTouch can help your animal change patterns, learn new behaviors, and improve many physical conditions that cause stress.
  • Music can help with both acute and chronic stress.  For noise phobias, try rock- or world-music with a strong, steady beat.  For soothing in general, calm, low-key classical music can be beneficial.  There are also CDs orchestrated specifically to promote a sense of calm.
  • Pheromone products are available for dogs and cats.  They mimic a mother’s natural comforting pheromones to calm stress and relieve anxiety.
  • Diagnose and treat underlying causes, whether physical or mental.  It is usually necessary to consult a professional for help.  Professional counselors, veterinarians and behaviorists not only have the training to evaluate your pet and suggest solutions, but can view your pet from a different perspective, noting things that can easily be overlooked by someone who lives with the animal.
  • Behavior Modification uses operant conditioning to replace undesirable behaviors with more desirable ones.  You can teach your pet an appropriate activity to do each time they encounter a specific stressful stimulus.  This will help them to know what to do, will reduce their internal conflict, and help them relax.
  • Natural Supplements come in many varieties and forms that can help with different types of acute or chronic stress.
    • Bach Flower Remedies help animals as well as humans.  Rescue Remedy can help acute stress and can be found at most health food stores.  Certified Bach practitioners can create formulas for your pet’s specific needs.
    • Homeopathic Remedies are available in formulations for either acute or chronic stress.  Homeopet® has a line of anxiety remedies developed for pets.
    • Vitamins, Fish Oil, Joint Support Supplements and Digestive Aids can help to alleviate the symptoms and reduce the effects of certain health conditions, thereby reducing associated stress.  Before using these, consult your licensed veterinarian.
  • Medications can be prescribed by your veterinarian or a Veterinary Behaviorist.  The current thinking among most Veterinary Behaviorists is to use psychoactive medications only for as long as it takes for the animal to be calm and learn appropriate behaviors, then wean them off of the medication.  They can also prescribe natural supplements, such as Composure, that have a strong calming effect.

Consulting a Professional

Seeking professional help for pet stress management is wise.  Animal Wellness Counselors (like me), Animal Behaviorists, and Veterinary Behaviorists can help identify the symptoms and underlying causes of stress in your pet, then work with you to develop a plan to reduce your pet’s stress.  When choosing a professional, ask questions: are they certified, and in what; where did they get their training; how long have they been doing this; what kind of success have they had; what kind of work will they do with your pet;  will they consult with your veterinarian and other professionals?

Buddy’s Experience and Outcome

Buddy was able to handle all of the activities and treatments in the ER pretty well.  While I was with him, I was able to do some TTouch techniques to help him.  The ER veterinarians took an interest and learned how to do TTouch Earslides to help him when I was not allowed to be with him.  I also used Earslides and other TTouches to help reduce my own stress.

Buddy is doing well now, and the entire experience is a distant memory for him, if that.  With the help of stress-reduction techniques and my use of TTouch, his wound healed remarkably fast, and he has completely recovered from the physical and emotional effects of spending 10 days in an e-collar.

In Summary

Stress in pets is difficult.  It affects their mental, emotional and physical well-being, and it affects the well-being of the humans who live with them.  With careful observation, the use of stress-reducing tools, and the help of a professional to determine causes and the best approaches to management, you and your pet can lead a happy, well-balanced life together.


Contact me for additional information and help.  You can request a phone consultation for assistance on these tips, or we can schedule an assessment and work session in your home.


Noise Phobia

Crash, Bang, Boom!  Animals and Noise Phobia

Penny A. Watkins-Zdrojewski
June 2012

Is your pet afraid of loud noises?  Do thunderstorms and fireworks send Kitty running for cover or put Spot in a state of extreme stress and high anxiety?  Loud noises may also adversely affect rabbits, guinea pigs and other small animals.  Here are some things you can do to help:


Establish a Safe Place

Start by observing your pet.  Where does she tend to go when she wants to relax or get away from it all?  Dogs often create a “den” space, under a piece of furniture or in a crate that is their safe space.  Cats may hide under the bed.  Rabbits and Guinea pigs may prefer to be in their hutch or kennel.

Once you know the preferred space, make it even more comfortable for him.  Use a light-weight blanket to cover the space, making it more den-like and blocking out some of the lightning flashes.  Place soft bedding or an anti-static mat in the space to make it more comfortable.  Put a small dome-home inside your rabbit or Guinea pig’s kennel.  Some animals may like to have high-value food or treats in their safe space.  Others will not eat when sufficiently stressed.  When your companion goes into his safe space, leave him there.  Do not attempt to coax him out; rather let him feel safe and attempt to soothe himself.

Behave Normally

Remain calm yourself, and behave normally.  Your companion will look to you for guidance.  If you seem okay with the situation, she is more likely to believe things are okay.  If she wants to be close to you, simply pet your cat or dog as you normally would, slowly and mindfully.  Speak in a low, calm, reassuring voice.  Tell her “You’re Okay” so that you are reassuring, rather than “It’s Okay,” which can send the message that her anxious state is a good choice.


During storms, some animals respond adversely to the electricity in the air, instead of, or in addition to thunder and lightning.  Rubbing their coat lightly with a dryer sheet may help.  You can also add an anti-static mat to their safe place.


Desensitization works in some cases.  Obtain an audio CD with the sounds of rain and thunder.  Start by playing it at a volume level barely audible to you for just a few minutes.  In subsequent sessions, gradually increase the volume and length of time.  Watch your pet carefully for signs of stress.  If the stress level is increasing, back off the volume and duration, increasing even more gradually.


Counter-conditioning works by pairing a positive response (such as food) with a negative stimulus – in this case, noise.  Determine what your animal will like the best, whether it is high-value food, certain types of touch, a favorite toy, play, or something else.  For example, a dog may love turkey.  You can mix turkey baby food with kibble, stuff it in a Kong and freeze it.  Whatever your animal responds to best, keep this as a special reward that only happens when there is thunderstorm or fireworks.  Have it readily available, and make it easy for the animal to engage with.  Over time, the thunder or fireworks become positive, as your animal gets to indulge in high-value, positive rewards.

Music and Sound

Music or white noise often help to soothe animals in stressful situations.  It can also provide a positive focus to take away some of the effects of fearful noises.

A great choice for dogs is “Through a Dog’s Ear.”  You can also play classical music for dogs and cats, preferably single-instrument.  White noise can be generated by a fan.

Anxiety Supplements

Some over-the-counter, holistic anxiety supplements can be very effective.  These are generally available at health food stores and through many internet venders.  Two of the best are Bach Rescue Remedy and Homeopet Anxiety TFLN.  Rescue remedy is given orally, usually on a biscuit or treat.  Some pets willingly take the same formula as humans, even though it is in an alcohol base.  Bach also makes a Rescue Remedy formula for pets, which is in a glycerin base.  Homeopet makes a full line of homeopathic remedies for pets.  Anxiety TFLN is specially formulated for noise phobias.  It comes in small tablets which need to be administered orally.  Most pets will take it more easily if it is wrapped in peanut butter or cheese.

Thundershirt and Body Wraps

The Thundershirt helps many dogs and cats become calmer during stressful situations.  Like swaddling a baby, it provides a constant “hug,” soothing the animal and helping her become more comfortable in her body.  You can start by trying a regular T-shirt or onesie that fits your animal snuggly, not tightly.  TTouch® body wraps are usually very effective as well.  They can be used alone or over a T-shirt.  Body Wraps are a good choice for rabbits and some other small animals.

TTouch® Ear Slides

Tellington TTouch Method® teaches several TTouches that can be highly effective.  Ear Slides are particularly helpful for noise phobias.



Contact me for additional information and help.  You can request a phone consultation for assistance on these tips, or we can schedule an assessment and work session in your home.