Your mood matters to pets


To manage an animals behavior, you must first start by managing your own behavior. Use these eight steps to manage your mood.

Getty ImagesYou're five minutes late-again-your car's making that rattling sound and you just know you're going to need to have a conversation with the practice owner about the way inventory's being handled. You are, in a word, stressed. You may not realize it, but your body language and movements are sending out signals-waves of frustration and anxiety that the keen observer will notice. And those observers include your patients. Dogs or cats already in a high state of arousal and hyper vigilance are especially sensitive to shifts in moods of those around them. Here's how you can adjust your mood-and improve pets' experience at your veterinary practice. 

As an animal trainer, I've been shaped to read emotional state and behaviors in animals. But at the same time I'm watching them, I'm checking myself as well, because I know how my mood can influence animals. Sure, sometimes I might miss signs of my own mounting stress. During these times, it's not uncommon for the animal to give me subtle reminders, such as tensing, that cue me to check into how I'm feeling. 

Connect with animals. In the animal care profession, we have one of the best combatants for stress right next to us: animals. Dogs and cats have a calming effect on us and are actually good for the mind and body. Simply sitting with a friendly dog or cat and petting them can be mutually beneficial for the person and animal, with feel-good chemicals rising while stress hormones decrease. Or, for an extra boost, go out on a walk with a dog to further combat stress. Exercise helps boost a positive mindset and reduce stress. 


Just breathe! Regularly practice deep breathing to reduce anxiety and stress hormones while increasing feelings of alertness and calm. In stressful situations, taking deep breaths stimulates the body's parasympathetic system, which in turn can lower heart rate and blood pressure while promoting relaxation.  Read the case for deep breathing-and learn how to practice more effective breathing-at


There's an app for that! Tools like the Buddify and Headspace apps give you a quick breather in your day to adjust your perspective.


Consider a form of meditation, like mindfulness. Mindfulness has been shown to significantly reduce negative stress and mood disturbance while also boosting a person's quality of life and ability to think clearly. Prayer is another type of meditation that has shown in brain scans to activate parts of the brain associated with language, with the brain responding neurologically similar to prayer as to an actual observable conversation. 


Sound matters-to people and pets. Audit your practice's noise with the list at

Surround yourself with music that's calming for you and for pets-classical music, for example-rather than overstimulating music. Playing calming music throughout the hospital can relax people and animals and block out excess background noise that's potentially upsetting or distracting. Music has various positive effects, including lowering emotional distress, lowering burnout rate, reducing stress, elevating mood and improving quality of life. 



Take breaks. Even a few minutes every hour to stand up, walk around and center yourself is essential. A few ideas for a quick break:

I know what you're thinking: Who has time for a break? Breaks actually make you more effective. Need to convince your boss? Visit for data to support breaks and ideas to create a healthy break space.


> Go outside for a quick walk to soak up a little sun and vitamin D

> Read part of a devotional or inspirational book

> Listen to uplifting music

> Talk to someone who's encouraging 

> Write out thoughts in a journal 

Along with daily breaks, it's important for emotional and physical health to take vacation days. Vacation time has been shown to improve productivity, decrease burnout, boost mental prowess and lead to improved mental and physical health. 


Find meaningful activities or purposes you can devote yourself to, such as volunteering, mentoring or financially providing for a cause.

For me, I find value in helping animals and people in need and fulfill this desire by volunteering my services doing behavior counseling at a shelter to keep dogs and cats in the home. I also fulfill my desire to help children by pledging to an organization that provides care for those in need.

Other activities of meaning include finding a community of people who offer support and acceptance, such as a church or small study group, a support group or a common interest group. 



As an adult diagnosed with ADHD, I felt empowered by my diagnosis because it helped me help myself, including taking medication and creating routines for regular exercise and sleep. 

Develop strong relationships with others, as loneliness is a major contributor to depression. It's important to find ways to connect with others in a valuable manner. Meeting face-to-face is shown to be far more valuable and fulfilling than meeting in less personal ways, such as over the Internet or on the phone. Whether it's investing in key friendships, family, core community groups or finding ways to connect with others who will offer such support, the investment pays off with improved emotional health. 


My grandfather took his own life after battling for years with bipolar disorder and depression. I wonder how different his battle would have been if he'd had the treatment options available today for mental illness. 





Seek support and help from trusted resources when you are suffering and can't cope. Opening up about emotional issues and strongholds is frightening and humbling. It can leave us feeling vulnerable and open to rejection and criticism. But, beyond any doubt, the gift of getting help is well worth the risk, whether it starts by opening up to someone trusted or getting help from a medical care provider. The decision to power through it often doesn't work. Sometimes we need various avenues of help, from counseling to medication.

My dad, Dr. Marty Becker, has bravely shared his story of living with depression. He had a low season where his emotions were bottomed out and he felt little hope for his future or enjoyment of the present. He opened up to our family about his feelings and got help, including rededicating himself to his faith, seeking supportive friends and narrowing his work to focus on issues he's passionate about-such as Fear-Free veterinary visits. Even though my dad felt vulnerable opening up about his struggle, he did so in the hopes of helping others who may be suffering in silence. 

Let's never misplace the importance of caring for our emotional and mental health. It has the power to influence our quality of life and our ability to positively impact the world and those around us. 

Mikkel Becker, CPDT, works with veterinarians and veterinary behaviorists to address behavior issues in dogs and cats. Find more self-care tips at

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