HOW TO COMMUNICATE
BETTER WITH ANIMALS
Now that you’ve learned how to work at the deepest level with your animal, you may be looking for a few shortcuts in the work. I mean, doesn’t everyone like to take an easier path? One of those shortcuts is putting yourself in a position to be able to align more completely with the animal in your life. It’s all about communication, and I’m not talking psychic communication, although that is certainly a great way to deepen a relationship. Here, I’m talking about taking actions to create the best possible two-way understanding between beings (human and animal).
Some of the most common questions I’m asked are these:
• How can I communicate more clearly or more effectively with my cat/dog/hamster/goat?
• What’s the best way to make sure my animal will understand what I want her to know?
• Does my animal really get what I need?
So far, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about how you can understand and most benefit from the message your animal is giving you, but we haven’t talked much about things the other way around. After all, in any relationship, we want to be sure that there is a balanced give-and-receive, and as you work to grow your own soul, wouldn’t it be great to feel confident that your desires are getting through?
First, the stance that you’ve had to adopt so far through this book still applies here: animals are incredibly smart, expansive beings that know more than we often give them credit for and often know more than us. Communicating effectively with your pet or that goat on your farm or the rescued llama you met on that trek in Peru won’t work if you assume that the animal in question isn’t as smart as you are. He simply is. And often, he’s smarter because animals always understand the big picture.
Match What You Say to What You Think
As people, what we say often doesn’t match what we do. I’ve had plenty of disagreements with my husband over the years because he has told me that couples time is important to him, but his actions (dedicating his after-work hours to playing hockey, coaching hockey, and working out, for example) told me differently. Animals are the same way. Telling your dog he’s the most important being in your life and then failing to take him out and give him enough socialization and walks, for example, tells a very different story to someone who can understand the nuances of life. In fact, in a situation like that, you may end up experiencing a “problem” with that dog because he wants to help you learn how to be reliable and loyal to yourselves and to others (and then you should just reread this book on that one!).
Additionally, the words you use with an animal must not only match your actions but also the visual in your head in order to most clearly communicate your meaning. What do you immediately picture in your mind when you hear the following sentence?
“Get off the sofa!”
Think for a moment.
Now, what did you imagine? You imagined a dog or cat or whoever it was on the sofa. Animals are inherently in tune with more than our words; they also pay attention to the tone of our voice, the emotions behind what we’re saying, and yes, the images in our head. In fact, many animals communicate in this intuitive way with each other every day! As a regular ol’ human, when someone says, “Get off the sofa!” in an angry tone, we’re trained to pay attention to two factors: the words that are spoken and the tone in which those words are said. Animals tune in differently. They hear the words we speak, feel the tone in which we say it, and connect to the emotions we’re holding, but they also intuitively clue in to the image we hold in our heads. Tuning in this way is a natural part of an animal’s ability to survive. So when you angrily say, “Get off the sofa!” while also picturing the animal on the sofa, you are actually sending a mixed message to the animal. You’re not being clear in your communication.
Luckily, it’s very easy to clean up this aspect of communication with animals. Ensure that you are always present with your animal. This doesn’t mean you must spend every minute of every day with him—it only means that when you’re hanging out together or spending time around one another, you’re completely aware of everything going on with the two of you. Talking on the phone, half-watching TV, chatting with a friend … these are all times when messages can be easily unclear because you are not concentrating on the exact message that you are sending out.
Additionally, changing up how you talk with the animal in your life will help too. Instead of telling your animal to get off the sofa, say, “Go lie down” or “Come sit in my lap.” Concentrating on the positive aspects of what you do want rather than concentrating on the behavior that you don’t want will work better for you and for the animal in your life. Remember, though, you have to keep your friends and family in line as well. Help them understand how an animal works, and you’ll find that everyone’s relationship improves.
Match What You Feel to What You Say
As you were going through this book, did you hit a point when you thought, “Well, I’ll just pretend I’m not anxious/worried/angry/fearful/insecure/etc., and then all this drama with this animal can be over with!” This seems like a pretty good idea, doesn’t it? This animal is helping you learn to believe in yourself, feel powerful, or find peace, so to speed up the process (or perhaps just to get away from the process), pretending that you feel different from how you really feel will sometimes look like a promising option.
Remember how I explained earlier about how animals are so in tune with us? Well, this means they are going to figure out you’re trying to pull the wool over their eyes. Not only can animals tap into the visuals you carry around in your head, they can also feel the emotions you feel. Animals can naturally sense and experience exactly what we’re feeling in very much the same way that you can get off the phone with a friend who’s going through a horrible breakup and feel that sadness and anger yourself. Yes, they feel this even when we don’t want them to.
As humans, we’re used to “putting on a happy face” for our boss; pretending we like a birthday present when inside our head we’re saying, “Really?”; or telling ourselves our feelings aren’t hurt at our friend’s comment when the reality is we’re very hurt. People spend a lot of time censoring and adjusting their feelings, thoughts, and emotions to be more politically correct, to be more socially acceptable, to cover up their insecurities, and more. As humans watching all this go down with others, we’re really taught to try and take people at face value. If a man is pretending everything is okay, even though you sense something might be amiss, it’s not polite to really dig in there and push to get to the crux of the issue. With animals, things are very different.
Animals are not taught to hide their emotions, fears, or thoughts. When an elephant is alarmed, she lets the rest of the herd know it through her trunk. When a cat feels insecure, he takes steps to hide behind the sofa to alleviate those fears. When a dog has anxiety, she shakes. Clear communication among animals has helped them survive and grow for millions of years, and yet on this humans often miss the point—they hide their real feelings from those around them.
It is very disconcerting to an animal when a person feels one way but pretends to feel another way, and many animals will feel this disconnection within and react to it. If you’re someone who had the plan to just “pretend” you weren’t still feeling a certain way about yourself or believing specific negative things about yourself, you’re probably laughing now because you already experienced how badly that backfired. The animal in your life knew exactly what you were doing and upped the game, didn’t he?
It’s perfectly fine to not always be happy, calm, curious, passionate, or loving around the animal in your life. No animal expects for any person to be in that state all the time. To have the best relationship with your animal, to have the most success in this human-animal relationship work, to be the clearest with your animal, all you have to do is be transparent in who you are, how you feel, and what you’re thinking. You know your animal is not going to judge you anyway! So let loose. Be in a bad mood—it’s okay. Just remember that the animal in your life is going to do everything in her power to help you shift out of that. And that’s not really a bad thing though, is it?
Animals have an inherent ability to forgive. Humans do not. This morning I was looking through my Facebook newsfeed and I came across an informative little photo meme. It was two pictures. The top picture was a barren landscape with the words “A world without bees,” and the bottom picture was a photo of a gorgeous jungle with a zebra, parrot, tiger, and more peeking out through vegetation, highlighted by a rainbow. The title of that photo was “A world without humans.” This struck me. Not because I didn’t believe bees were that important. I certainly believe that. It was more striking that the world can get along so harmoniously without us.
Yes, animals eat animals. Yes, floods and storms occur. Yes, there are challenges. But the animals are so resilient in a way that we humans are not. Unless molested by humans, most animals recover from their traumatic experiences very quickly. They don’t sit around worrying, “Will it happen again?” or “What did I do to deserve that?” or “I’m so mad that happened that I’m going to take it out on everyone around me!” In a very survivalist, natural way, animals forgive easily and completely. They view each and every experience as something to learn from—how to be a better stream fisher, how to avoid the tiger next time, how to get that honey more easily. People, on the other hand, hold on to all of that and continually beat themselves up about it.
Be in the Present Moment
The next way to communicate your message to the animal in your life most effectively is to stop making your decisions on how to communicate, what to do, what to say, and how to be, based on how bad you feel for something you did in the past. Animals aren’t hooked into the past—they connect in the present moment, and that’s all they’re looking for from you. Last night, for example, my son, Cole, forgot to walk our dog, Tuukka. Unfortunately, because of the all-day rain we’d been experiencing, that meant that Tuukka was really short-changed on walks.
Now, Cole could have felt terrible for this, fretted over being a bad dog owner, and promised to make it up tenfold the next day, but luckily he’s a teenager and didn’t do this. Instead, he simply told me (and Tuukka) he would take her for a little longer walk tomorrow. And this is what he did. Without guilt. Without beating himself up, and without worrying about whether or not yesterday’s mistake made him a bad person. The result? He and Tuukka had a great walk that was a little longer than usual. Tuukka benefitted from Cole’s upbeat demeanor this morning and got a little more excitement and heart in her walk. The connection between them was clear. When you add in guilt, fear, worry, self-criticism, the message becomes marred and stops making sense. Here, the message was clear.
To connect and communicate most effectively with the animals in your life, it really takes being aware of what you’re experiencing in the moment and managing that. Animals want us to be clear, happy, concise, transparent, consistent, and powerful in our communication, but when we can’t, simply acknowledging this rather than wishing it away or trying to sidestep it will be your next best option. When you consider that the animal in your life understands you, often better than you have understood yourself, it paves the way to letting go of pretense and just going for it. That’s what they are looking for anyway!
Don’t Expect an Animal to Do the Work for You
Another way to have clear communication with the animal in your life is to be very aware of exactly what you’re communicating. In my line of work, I meet people at various stages of challenge in their lives, and often the solution to those challenges is to lean not on a human support system but on the animal. Many people don’t want others to know of their pain, their sadness, their grief, or whatever the negative emotion is so they decide to hide their pain from the world, only letting it out when they’re in the privacy of their own home with their animal.
What does this look like? It looks like crying every night over your loneliness with your cat in your lap. It looks like allowing yourself to feel your grief but only when your dog is with you. It looks like going through your day in full-blown anxiety but showing it to your bird and no one else. This is a defense mechanism that a lot of people develop when they don’t trust people to come through for them or when they don’t want anyone to see their own imperfections. It seems like a perfect solution, but it really isn’t.
Animals can handle and hold space for a lot of our emotions. After all, you’ve seen how your cat comes to be with you when you’re feeling sad. It’s so comforting to have your animal come to your bed, nuzzle your hand, and “be there” for you as you go through your tough time! Animals of all types are willing to do this, but as people we often become dependent on it. This can be a problem because animals aren’t just holding space for our emotions—they are absorbing them in exactly the same way that we absorb them. Remember the example earlier about how you can feel upset after being on the phone with an upset person? This is because there is a part of you, and of all people, that can take on the emotions and energy of others. Animals do this same thing.
To have a great, balanced relationship that carries clear communication with your animal, you must manage your emotions yourself. Leaning on your cat or horse for emotional support isn’t really fair to the animal who is in your life to help you learn something, not to do the work for you. Why are you leaning on your dog in this way? Why aren’t you looking toward your support group instead? And if you don’t have a support group, this is something to look at as well!
Just because animals have the capacity to take on our emotions, thereby helping us feel better, it doesn’t mean we should take advantage of this. Most likely, if you’re finding yourself in a situation like this, you’ll be better off going through the human-animal relationship process, so you can change it rather than continuing to rely on your animal in this way. In a healthy, clear relationship with an animal, you have your support system, and you’re comfortable relying on it—and any support that your animal gives you is purely a bonus. That way your animal is not taking on your stuff!
Animals of all types—pet and wild—are truly incredible beings, willing to do whatever they possibly can to assist us in alleviating our pain, learning to be our best selves, and creating happiness and unconditional love in our lives. Doesn’t it make sense that your interactions, expectations, and experiences with them should be as clear, concise, and full of love as possible?
Animals in Action: Nicole and the Bird in the Purse
When Nicole was a little girl, she felt very lonely. She didn’t play often with the other kids on the street, as they tended to be unruly bullies. One day, after returning from school, where she was in second grade, she had time to go out into her backyard and explore. Nicole loved the trees and the grass and always felt happier and less alone when she was able to spend time outside.
While she was flying through the air on her swing, a movement on the ground in her peripheral vision caught her attention. She landed a huge jump off the swing and ran over to check out whatever it was that was squirming around on the ground. It turned out to be a tiny baby bird that had clearly fallen out of the nest from the tree above her.
Nicole ran to get her mother, who wiped her hands on her jean-clad thighs as she came out of the house and said, “It’s probably sick, Nicole! Don’t touch it!” But it was too late. Nicole had already run ahead and was backtracking with the little guy gently cupped in her hands.
“Mom! We have to save him! He’s a baby!” exclaimed Nicole, and Nicole’s mom heaved a sigh of giving in.
“Okay, Nicole. Bring him in the house, and we’ll make a little nest for him.”
For the next week, Nicole and her mom took care of that little baby bird, feeding him mashed up dog food every few hours. Nicole would even wake during the night to reach over and peek into the shoebox to see how he was doing. Finally, Nicole’s mom decided it was time to send him back to the wild backyard, as he seemed strong enough to hop around. Like her mom said, “We can’t train a bird to fly!”
That day, before Nicole left for school, she and her mom returned the baby to the backyard looking much healthier and happier. They released him in the exact spot where Nicole had originally found him, hoping that his mom would fly down and return him to the nest. Nicole spent that whole day in class feeling proud of herself for helping this baby bird and knew that she wanted to help more animals in her life somehow.
When Nicole returned from school that day, she saw the kids from the neighborhood standing in a pack. They looked excited, and Joshua, the leader, was telling them all to shush. As it turned out, they had caught her baby bird and were walking up and down the street with him in one of the neighbor girl’s purses.
When Nicole found out what was going on, she was immediately devastated. Her little guy—the one she’d spent the past week nursing back to help—was trapped by the bullies on the street! She ran inside the house to ask her mom or dad for help, only to realize neither was home, and Mrs. Perkins, who lived in the apartment below, was watching her.
Well, Mrs. Perkins was an old, crotchety woman who only barely watched over her and certainly wasn’t about to help her stand up to those bully kids to rescue some bird.
Nicole thought about it. What should she do? Should she wait until her mom returned home from work? It’s possible that her baby bird could die before then.
Should she try to distract the kids so that they would drop the purse and start playing with something else? She couldn’t think of anything that would be better to play with than a baby bird—and besides, they were bullies. They weren’t going to care about anything the lonely girl in the upstairs apartment who never talked to them had to say.
When she saw Joshua throw the bird-filled purse up in the air and then catch it, she realized she had to do something.
Taking a big breath, she put on her biggest big-girl voice and forced herself to march over to the group.
“Joshua! That is my bird. I nursed him back to health. You took him from my backyard!” she screamed.
Joshua was startled. What was the quiet girl who never said anything yelling at him for?
Nicole continued. She told him that she would tell everyone at school what he had done and that she was going to have her father come over to their house and talk to him. He was in big trouble. Nicole tried everything she could think of to get her hands on that purse.
And she did. As soon as Joshua handed over the purse, Nicole ran back to her yard and released the little bird, which luckily seemed no worse for wear.
Nicole stayed outside with her bird friend for the next couple of hours, talking with him and petting him until her mom came home. While she sat with him, she realized that what she just did to those bullies—and especially to Joshua—was actually really cool. She’d finally stood up for herself. Well, really she’d stood up for that little bird, but she never would have known that she could do that if she hadn’t been so attached to the little guy.
The bird ended up dying, and whether it was from the experience with the neighborhood bullies or because the care that Nicole had given him wasn’t enough, it was then that Nicole decided that there was nothing more she wanted to do with her life than help, save, rescue, and fix animals. She knew that it would take quite a voice to do what she wanted to do, but even as a little second grader, she knew that she could do it. Why? Because her experience standing up to those bullies on behalf of her little bird told her so. Before that day, she thought she was destined to be friendless because of how scary Joshua and his friends seemed. That day, her belief began to change, thanks to a little baby bird.