I was just a young girl when I saw the 1967 movie version of “Dr. Doolittle” but I was captivated by how remarkable it would be to talk with animals. I considered this to be a fantasy until animals themselves began to expand my experience. Of course, research into human-animal communication has been going on for millennia and is continuing under the capable efforts of people like our own Leanne Nieforth!
Temple Grandin in her books “Animals in Translation” and “Thinking in Pictures” writes that she thinks in pictures not words. She believes that autistic people in general think in pictures so verbal communication is difficult for them. She further postulates that animals think in pictures, too. In my experience, animals do think in pictures.
Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer, says that dogs get information from the world with nose (energy), eyes, ears – in that order. Humans gather information from the world with ears, eyes, nose (energy.) The least effective way to communicate with a dog is to talk to them or give a verbal command. Another way Cesar expresses this idea is that dogs use Energy, Intention, and Body Language to communicate. I concur with this idea.
Let’s start by considering how humans communicate. We are most comfortable using words to communicate. If we are NOT allowed to use sound of any kind, our ability to communicate is greatly diminished. If we are further NOT allowed to use sight, we are significantly handicapped. A deaf, blind human is completely isolated without assistance and training.
Next let’s consider an animal that lives with many of us, the family dog. I have studied and trained dogs for most of my life – 6 years professionally. Before I worked professionally with dogs, I used positive reinforcement. This worked with eighty percent of dogs, eighty percent of the time – thus people gave up. I was just not satisfied with these results. Along came Cesar Millan and changed everything for me.
Combining Temple Grandin’s and Cesar Millan’s insights I could easily communicate with dogs (and animals in general). I would get myself in a calm, centered mindset, picture what I wanted, make sure I had the dog’s attention, send some energy (pressure) to them, and wait.
An example will help to illustrate. Most dog owners would tell me that their dog did not know how to lay down on command. I would get myself in a calm, centered mindset, picture the dog in a down position, focus on my picture, send some energy through their head and shoulders to the floor and wait. I would experience the dog see my picture and form responses.
- 90% of the time, the minute they saw my picture they dropped down.
- Other times, I would see them acknowledge my picture and send another picture – for example, a picture of them sitting or remaining in the position they were in. We would then negotiate with pictures until we both had the same picture.
- Also, I would occasionally get “no” but “no” almost universally meant “I don’t trust you yet”.
- Sometimes there was confusion so I would break the picture down into small parts. First picture sit, then when they were sitting, picture down.
This communication method has the amazing benefit of allowing us to communicate with any dog regardless of the language the dog’s owner speaks!! Think of all the barriers, human languages pose for us. Pictures are universal.
Now let’s consider the communication methods used by horses. I believe it is the same process as dogs use – Energy (calmness, mindset, pressure), Intention (focusing on a clear picture), Body Language (eye contact, biting, tail swishing, moving towards, etc.) As is true with canines, the only one of these that can be directly observed is body language. Much has been written about equine body language and thus we focus our training methods here. Scientists and horse lovers have even codified minute behaviors. A good horseman can translate the meaning behind a horse’s, tail-set, ear-set, eye contact, and a host of other behaviors.
However, despite our focus on equine body language I feel that it is dwarfed by the first two methods – Energy and Intention. When you are standing with your horse or a group of horses, they are communicating non-stop with pictures and intention, indeed they do not even need to move a muscle to do this. You know it’s true because if you pay attention, you pick up on a feeling, or idea that is circulating around you. You feel it (cue in on the picture) before they move away from the threat. If you are not paying attention, this group of standing horses may suddenly take off in unison. You are left surprised and wondering “what was that?”
Takeaway – When you are with your horse, begin adding in the communication with energy and intention. Do you want your horse to pick up his hoof for inspection? Picture him standing calmly with his hoof resting in your hand.
- Does he send back a picture?
- If it feels like “no” try to figure out what is behind it.
- Does he trust you completely?
- Is he confused?
- Are you calm?
- If you are in a rush, annoyed, disappointed – these are all energy states that horses will not trust – change your state.
Give it a try and share your thoughts and questions!!