Updated: Jul 29, 2020
All animals communicate. For social animals, it is a natural and integral part of life. Now the question is -- can we humans learn to communicate with them? Not by imposing our communication styles, such as verbal language, but by entering their world. If communication is as natural as life itself, couldn't we learn the ways of communicating as animals do? Do we have the capacity to hear what they are saying and to know what they are feeling? Is it possible that they could understand our intentions, thoughts and desires? Could we connect with them in a way that "makes sense" to them?
For me, personally, the answer is yes! I believe we can learn to get peaceful enough to get out of the "noise" of our own minds. We can learn to separate true intuition from mental chatter, hopeful thinking, or projections. This takes training, patience, and persistence, but it is possible. Animals need to feel a certain sense of trust before they will want to communicate, or even to recognize that some human is tuning into their thought-wave length. But they almost always respond easily, joyfully, once they realize that your intentions are harmonious.
Animals, just like people, have a wide range of readiness to communicate. Some hear better; some can articulate their thoughts and feelings more clearly. And I have even had the experience of having a horse "put one over on me." Jericho was a horse who had started acting like the barn bully -- charging and nipping at the mini horses he had always been around before. But his owner had moved to a new barn, and they were at their wit's end, trying to figure out how to deal with this situation. They asked me to see if I could have a talk with their quarter horse. I spent some time with Jericho, and he told me he was not happy with the new stall situation. In his previous barn, he had been able to spend his days be in a large corral with "his" female, Millie as well as the two other male horses.
I told the owner, "Jericho says he wants to be with Millie. That's why he's acting out." Whereupon the owner told me that Jericho does get to spend nights with Millie. This is something he left out when he told me what was bothering him! So I went back to Jericho and mentioned this. And Jericho said, "I want to spend my days with her too." Well, once we got that straightened out, fortunately, the owners were able to build a new structure so Jericho and Millie could spend their days together. And peace resumed at the barn.
But this was a good lesson for me, in my early days of learning to trust that I could communicate with animals. As with people, sometimes you have to get all the facts clearly. Just because a trickster horse says something, doesn't guarantee it is exactly accurate. But I was really happy to finally get it right, and Jericho and Millie are happy, and he has returned to his sweet self.
The more social the species, the more complex their communication systems are. But on the most basic physical level, animals communicate as a way of life. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica website:
"Animals communicate by sending and receiving signals in which one animal provides information that other animals can incorporate into their decision making. The vehicle for the provision of this information is called a signal. The signal may be a sound, color pattern, posture, movement, electrical discharge, touch, the release of an odorant, or some combination of these mediums."
While this definition may describe the physical components of communication, there are many practitioners of animal communication who believe there is more to animal communication than just physical elements and signals. One of these is Barbara Martin, who states: "There is a mind-to-mind communication between animals and animals as well as animals and humans." This "natural language of animals" is the subject of study for various animal communicators, such as at The Gurney Institute, whose website states that "Animal Communication in its purest form is speaking with animals through telepathy."
Another animal communicator, Debbie McGillivray, says on her website that she believes that animals communicate regularly through telepathy and that as humans we have: "…learned to rely on verbal communication and our telepathic skills are pushed aside and become rusty. Like a muscle, unless used regularly, these skills become weak and inefficient. Humans, given the proper mindset and training, have the ability to communicate with all species. …even across distances."
There is a growing body of science, exploring inter-species communication between humans and animals that makes it increasingly impossible to deny that animals have complex inner lives and emotions. Extensive amounts of research on the brains and intelligence of dolphins and other species have expanded our understanding of the potential for their emotional lives and their ability to communicate, even without language as we define it.
Dolphins at the Dolphin Institute Hawaii Kewalo Marine Research Lab not only are trained to do numerous tricks, but they are rewarded for an action called "Tandem Create." This means the dolphins, with their playful sensibilities, are tasked to create a new trick on their own, teach it to another dolphin, and perform the trick together. Clearly, this is an example of fine-tuned teamwork and demonstrates that words are not the only method of communicating between animals.
Koko, (the gorilla who has been taught sign language), will sign to herself when she is alone, make up new words or word-connections, has a sense of time, and very strong opinions on just about everything. As mentioned in one of my other blogs, she signed, communicating her grieving process when her kitten died. A notable Koko story is when Penny, her trainer, had to leave town for two weeks and didn’t think that Koko knew the cognitive concept of two weeks, so she told her she would be gone for one week. When Penny returned, she saw that Koko had ripped out her sink, and asked Koko if she did it. Koko denied doing it. Penny signed, "You lied to me," and Koko responded, "You lied to me first."
There are many stories of animals alerting humans about cruelty, perhaps indicating their compassion for those who are helpless. One story that illustrates the “theory of mind” aspect of intelligence is that of Killian, a black Labrador-Shepherd mix, who was an otherwise very friendly dog, but began showing very aggressive behavior towards a new babysitter. The Jordan family took the hint, and although this babysitter had excellent references, they set up a hidden camera and discovered their dog was right. The babysitter was being abusive to the pre-verbal child.
On a personal front, my dear cat Wolfie, who rescued me in New York City, was in his end of life process. The vet suggested euthanasia, and I wasn't sure if this was the right thing to do. Fortunately, Wolfie and I had a very intuitive relationship. He always had better insights into important decisions in my life, such as what projects to work on (I would put the papers on the floor, and he would choose the best one by laying on it!). He had clearer instincts about the men in my life than I did! And when it was time for him to cross over, he told me when he was going to go. He said, "I will pass between three and four AM." and I was able to hold him in my arms as he took his last breath at 3:30 AM that night. Thank you, Wolfie! I love you!
Genie Joseph, PhD
Director: The Human-Animal Connection