Talk to the animals

One day my brother was playing with Keetna, my black lab. He looked up and said, "it's almost like she understands English!" We laughed, but that's exactly what we expect of the dogs we live with - that they understand us on our terms and even in our language.

But what if we could understand them on their terms? We have some common ground besides words - touch, eye contact, body language. Humans and canines use these communication avenues every day. If you're a dog lover, it's hard to resist reaching out to pet a dog - that's usually our first impulse. Eye contact is another way of reaching out. I'm always amazed at the steady gaze of dogs, as if they're figuring me out. Many people are uncomfortable with prolonged eye contact, but it's rare to find a dog that will constantly shift his gaze like we do.

We humans have other options for communicating that we don't think about much - smell, vocalizing in ways other than language, and intuitive connection. Dogs use these tools all the time. Now, I'm not suggesting that we use our sense of smell in the same ways dogs do, I am saying that we can be more tuned in to changes that in our dogs that we can pick up through the sense of smell. You probably notice that sometimes your companion's breath is bad and sometimes it smells fine. Sometimes your pet can have gas from an upset stomach - which is hard to ignore! These clues can give you a starting place to figure out what's going on with your pet's health.

Dogs are also great at vocalizing when they want your attention - barking, growling, or "talking."  My dog would get all excited when I came home. She would jump and bark and bark. It was a happy bark that she just had to express. I understood this behavior as telling me about her day - any stress or excitement that happened during my time away. If I just let her get it all out, she would relax. If I didn't let her "talk" to me, she would be restless for the next couple of hours. Either way, it kind of drove me crazy, but the barking lasted just a few minutes, so I usually let her do it. Then we could have a mellow evening.

I have a beagle neighbor who is a great singer - he does this howling-singing out the window to greet me when I get the mail. I'd love to howl back at him - it just seems the thing to do - a kind of joyous "how are you?" But I don't, because my human neighbors might wonder what was wrong with me. Sometimes it's fun let go and howl along with our canine friends - it's a great way to release stress and connect with your wild side at the same time.

When you're stressed or feeling down, do you notice that your dog seems to know that something is wrong? Many dogs are very attuned to their humans' changes in mood or thought. When I was an angst-ridden teenager, I had a wonderfully intuitive Australian Shepherd mix named Yogi. He was normally rambunctious, but would sit next to me and lean all his weight against me when I was sad. Yogi would let me hug him and cry into his fur for as long as I needed. When I felt better, he would go back to jumping fences and running around. 

Caring for a sick animal can make you more aware of what they're feeling. Although most of your information comes from watching your dog, you are also getting information from other avenues you might not be conscious of.  My friend Denise's dog Amber was very ill, throwing up and feeling lethargic. At some point, Denise "got a feeling" that her dog's condition was much worse, even though the dog's symptoms had not changed. Denise rushed her to the veterinarian, who determined that Amber had a twisted stomach and might not have made it if she'd gotten there any later.

You can probably relate to that "gut" or intuitive feeling that you get about your pets. They are communicating something to you, and, because you're so close to them, you are able to be open and receive the information.

There are ways to increase your skill at communicating with your dogs and other animals. You can practice making your senses more acute by focusing more on animals and their behavior and preferences. Observe the way they touch things and what they sniff. You can use meditation and visualization to better understand their perspectives. All these methods require "getting out of your mind," as animal communicator Trish Scott says. This means putting your constantly spinning, thinking mind aside and getting to that primitive brain that all animals (including us) share.

Wild Grace is your connection with nature - including your pets. Amy's Wild Grace meditations and readings help you connect.