Several years back, Malcolm Gladwell wrote an article in The New Yorker about Cesar Millan. He credited Millan’s success with not only his knowledge about dogs, but also something called phrasing, what he described as “the vocabulary and syntax of gesture and movement”. This “phrasing”, this ability to move in a way that communicates intention, draws Cesar’s audience in – both human and canine. This notion of communicating with intention got me thinking about how humans and animals communicate, through physical cues, language, and other ways too.
Alexandra Horowitz, author of ‘Inside of a Dog’ postulates that dogs do not have ESP, but that they rely on their senses, which are so much more finely honed than ours, to “read” our intentions. Maybe that’s the reason that it’s been noted that throughout history, humans who lived with working dogs accepted that dogs “just knew” what was expected of them. In what ever way information was communicated, it seemed that both parties were on the same wavelength.
Despite the amazing ability of dogs to perceive our intentions through sense, other theories are accepted among veterinarians and trainers, for instance, in Dr. Michael W. Fox’s book, Dog Body, Dog Mind’, he describes something he calls the empathosphere. He uses this term to describe the connection that dogs have for the earth and living things. This, he writes, rather than psychic or telepathic power, is the reason that dogs have been known to react at the precise moment of a loved one’s death, or run to the door awaiting their human’s return, well before anyone shows up.
Do dogs possess the powers of telepathy and psychic communication? I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that people do. And some of these are the people that pet owners go to for answers they can’t seem to get anywhere else when it comes to their pets.
I’ve consulted with a few animal communicators over the years. My experience has run the gamut – from receiving information I at once knew to be untrue (for instance, a diagnosis of hip dysplasia and advice that my dog would be happy enough to be a back yard dog), information I felt could be true for just about any dog, common sense training advice, insightful observations, and, well, receiving information that seemed true enough to validate the communicator’s ability – but which left me vaguely dissatisfied. It took awhile for me to put my finger on the reason, but after thinking about it I came to this simple conclusion.
Much of the information I got whether it could be validated or not was superficial… mundane minutiae and unimportant details that didn’t really reflect what it was I was trying to get at. I was looking for an answer to something deeper. I willingly take some of the blame for this – perhaps I didn’t communicate clearly myself what it was I was looking for.
Back to phrasing, in her book, ‘As Others See Us – Body Movement and the Art of Successful Communication”, Ellen Goldman talks about the power of gesture, postures, and Integrated Movement in communication – and how if how we move is not in sync with the words we use, confusion and misunderstandings are likely.
If we have such trouble communicating with other human beings, imagine the confusion our mixed signals must cause in dogs, who are usually willing to meet us 99% of the way. Revisiting this concept from a different angle strengthens my resolve to improve my communication skills and my relationships – both with humans and animals, thus, my communication manifesto moving forward: Keep it simple, keep it clear, keep it real!