A Large Part of Communication is Simple Observation

You don’t have to be a trained animal communicator to interpret most of the messages animals try to send us. Sometimes being observant is enough. Animals communicate more clearly that we give them credit for much of the time.

One of my students has a cat who knows how to communicate quite clearly. She tried to switch the cat’s food, and the cat was displeased, so it urinated on the stove. This clearly conveys the message that “you have changed my food. I am displeased. I shall show my displeasure where you prepare your own food.”

Naturally, we would usually prefer that our animals communicate with us in ways that does not involve their elimination process. But how many of us pay such close attention to our animal’s actions that we are able to interpret them without the animal doing something shocking? The more pleasant communication methods are generally lost on us and the animals in our lives resort to the dramatic and stinky.

A friend of mine has a Caucasian Mountain Dog, which is a large, rare (in this country) breed that is fairly close to wolf. She came to me one day concerned, because she had caught the dog eating out of the cat litter box. Cat litter, of course, is made of clay and can stop up the digestive system, which is potentially fatal in a large breed dog. I checked in with the dog remotely, asking for an explanation as to the poor choice in snacking material. The first message I got back was that the cats were getting better nutrients in their food that the dog was, and, much to the dog’s indignation, weren’t even using them! When I asked what the dog would prefer to eat, I started to get pictures and impressions of boiled rice and lamb, or, less interesting but still acceptable, boiled rice and chicken. I asked my friend if she had changed her dog’s diet recently, perhaps going from preparing food to using store-bought food. She was amazed, because this was indeed the case. I advised her to switch back to the specially-prepared food if she wanted her dog to stop litter diving.

Had she been paying closer attention, some or all of this would have been obvious to my friend. Most commercial-grade dog food is lower in nutrients and higher in fillers that the cat food equivalent. While this may be acceptable for some or even most domesticated breeds, the closer to wolf a dog is, the more picky their digestive system is going to be. If you add to the equations the fact that she had recently changed the dog’s food, and all indicators point to a dietary cause to the behavior.

Open your eyes and really pay attention to animal behaviors. If you remember that animals come into our lives as teachers, it becomes easier to apply logical thought to the communication style of the animals in our lives. Sometimes an animal communicator needs to be called in, but if you open your eyes, your heart, and your mind, you can figure a lot of this out on your own.

(2004)

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