Separation anxiety (mine) and the canine oxytocin connection

While in Atlanta for BarkWorld, I missed my doggies like crazy. More than usual, probably because I was thinking about dogs and surrounded by dog-lovers all weekend.

The highlight of the social “petworking” conference for me was meeting Victoria Stilwell. As a fan of her television show, I already knew that she is a champion of positive reinforcement training, but I did not realize the depth of her passion for educating dog owners and old-school trainers that force-free methods are the only humane way to work with animals. Her talk at BarkWorld was inspirational.

On the flight home, I began reading her book, Train Your Dog Positively, appreciating its well-written, scientifically backed explanation of dog psychology mixed with anecdotes about her own dogs and client dogs.

On page 51, I had to nudge Rob to take off his earphones and listen to this:

When we pet a dog lovingly, for example, the warmth and happiness we feel comes from a release into the bloodstream of oxytocin — a “bonding” hormone that has a powerful effect on dogs and humans. Dr. Kerstin Uvnas-Moberg, a doctor and professor of physiology and a pioneer in the study of oxytocin, studied this hormone release by taking blood samples from dogs and their owners before and during a petting session. When owners stroked their dogs, they had a release of oxytocin similar to what mothers experience while nursing babies.

Interestingly, petting also triggered a burst of oxytocin in the dogs themselves. Miho Nagasawah, of the Department of Animal Science and Biotechnology at Azabu University in Japan, showed that even eye contact between a dog and human causes an increase in oxytocin. This interaction between our two species has a powerful physiological effect on both of us, promoting feelings of love and attachment while lowering blood pressure and heart rate, soothing pain, and lessening stress.

Oh my god, yes. Forget eye contact, I feel releases of oxytocin just by saying my dogs’ names.

Here’s a scenario that played out in about a dozen variations throughout the weekend: Rob would mention one of the dogs, let’s say Mia. I would moan, “Meeeeeeyaa. I miss her so muuuuch.” Then I might chant her name, “Mia, Mia, Mia,” or sing the song Rob made up about her resemblance to a bear, then autotuned and used as the soundtrack to this montage of photos:

 

The Leo version often included some form of his nickname: Leo Bug or DJ Leo Bug, which I then abbreviated to DJ LB, realizing that LB also stands for Little Boy. Little Boy Leo Bug.

I know. I’m completely insane.

But saying their names, thinking about them, looking at their pictures in my Facebook albums — all of these fill me with a warmth and happiness reminiscent of petting them and kissing their soft heads.

Naturally since we’ve been home, I’ve been on an oxytocin bender. Every time I leave the house, I look forward to my next opportunity to revel in our scientifically proven bonding ritual.

Our dog sitters (Grandma and Grandpa) reported that Mia seemed anxious while we were gone, but Leo was his normal self. Maybe he wasn’t distraught by our absence, but I can tell by the smile on his face that he’s sure happy we’re back.

Leo sports his new bandanna, courtesy of Unleashed by Petco

Leo sports his new bandanna, courtesy of Unleashed by Petco

A thousand words at a time

I completed the first draft of my memoir in September and spent the succeeding months revising it. Honestly, I could revise the thing forever, so a few months ago I decided to set it aside while seeking an agent and editor to guide me on the next stage of revision. Nothing to report on that front, but I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime, I mean to get back to my neglected novel. I’ve been meaning to do that for several weeks now. As soon as I sit down to write, I thought, it’ll be like riding a bicycle.

The first time I sat down to write, I looked back at the 47,000 or so words already written. Imperfect, yes, but I wasn’t ready to revise those, I needed to get to the end first. I did notice, however, that half of my chapters are in the present tense and half were in the past tense. Had to make a call. Present tense it will be, so I spent some time bringing the past tense chapters into the present.

Sometime during the past week when I wasn’t behind a keyboard, I had the inspiration for the next two scenes of my story. Fantastic. Just gotta sit down and write those.

Picture this dog on the cover of a book with a pink boxing glove in its mouth. You'd totally read that book, right?

Picture this dog on the cover of a book with a pink boxing glove in his mouth. You’d totally read that book, right?

Let me interject to say that since I set aside my memoir, I’ve felt a little out of sorts. Not full-fledged depressed, just disconnected. I was happiest in the throes of writing that story, and I recognized that I needed to throw myself into another writing project to recapture the confident, content side of myself that I’ve discovered these past couple of years.

Saturday, after the Red Wheelbarrow Happy Hour, I sat down at one of my favorite public writing spots to craft one of these new scenes.

Not really. I intended to put that off further by editing a scene in my memoir, but I forgot the jump drive containing that manuscript. My little laptop would not connect to the wireless. I was forced by circumstance to craft a new scene.

I stared at the blank screen and thought, “You know, maybe I don’t want to be a fiction writer after all.”

I considered packing it in and going home. If I’d been able to connect to the Internet, I surely would have spent the next twenty minutes on Facebook. Possibly I would have put it to good use researching the scenes I meant to write.

Somehow, I found a place to enter the scene and I started to write. When I had about 700 words, I remembered a goal I set back when I was generating new material for my memoir. A thousand words. Write a thousand words a day. Doesn’t matter if it’s for the memoir. I let myself count for-the-day-job writing and blog posts. Just aim to write a thousand words a day.

I finished the memoir that way.

So I wrote another 302 words and closed my laptop for the day.

Pet Blogger Challenge

Rather than have an existential crisis about whether Rhymes with Safari counts as a dog blog, I’m gonna just jump in and participate in GoPetFriendly’s Pet Blogger Challenge.

me and doggies

1. When did you begin your blog?

I started blogging in 2002, when I was living in Prague and working for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

2. What was your original purpose for starting a blog?

This was before Twitter and Facebook. I didn’t even know what a blog was until my friend Chelsea told me she started one. At the time, I posted whatever random musings I had during the day, much the way we all use Facebook and Twitter now. I also posted links to funny things on the Internet, and commented on the international news events I covered at my job.

3. Is your current purpose the same?

Not at all. You’ll notice that the above description has nothing to do with pets. My fella and I got our first dog, Isis, in 2006. For a few years, I blogged fairly infrequently, but when I did, it was usually about Isis. I posted lots of  pictures of her with soccer balls.

Isis died in 2011. I have written a memoir about Isis’s life, and am starting the process of getting that published.

Now my blog focuses on the antics of my delightful muses Leo and Mia.

4. How often do you post?

A goal I feel I can meet is to post at least once a week. I would like to post more often.

5. Do you blog on a schedule or as the spirit moves you?

As the spirit moves me. I find it hard to stick to “dog blog” topics only, so I also write about pop culture a lot, books and authors, food and fitness.

6. How much time do you spend writing your blog per week? How much time visiting other blogs? Share your  tips for staying on top of it all.

I find myself thinking of topics and mentally writing blog entries throughout the week, and spend less than an hour actually typing up each post. But then, I write pretty fast. I could never charge by the hour for my services!

I visit other blogs all the time, as part of my regular social media diet. Every time I scroll through Facebook and Twitter, I find lots that I want to read. When I’m on a desktop computer, I’ll click all of them and read at my leisure, but it can be tough on a mobile device. Especially when the wifi is temperamental.

7. How do you measure the success of a post and of your blog in general (comments, shares, traffic)?

All of the above. Mostly I look at my stats in WordPress. I’m learning to use hashtags in Twitter to stimulate sharing. Last fall, I got more “likes” on my posts about a trip to Russia (which did not include the dogs) than I did on my most heartfelt dog posts. I started to wonder if I should be writing a travel blog instead of a dog blog.

8. If you could ask the pet blogging community for help with one issue you’re having with your blog, what would it be?

I would like to attract more readers. Can I do that by writing about other topics besides my dogs, or will I lose my cred as a dog blogger?

Please subscribe and/or follow me on Twitter: @KariNeumeyer

9. What goals do you have for your blog in 2013?

More readers! Post 2-3 times a week. Lose 25 pounds. Sell my memoir! (OK, those last two are more personal goals than blog goals.)

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Pet Blogger Challenge Jan. 10
The Pet Blogger Challenge was started by Amy at Take Paws– Go Pet Friendly and Edie of Will My Dog Hate Me? as a way for pet bloggers to meet each other, learn about each other’s goals for our blogs and find support for our blogging. This is the 3rd year and the number of bloggers joining in grows each year.

This is a Blog Hop, but WordPress won’t allow the Javascript to include the links. Please visit Take Paws to see the complete list of Pet Blogger Challenge participants.