The woman opened her eyes and nodded at me. “I met Millie,” she said.
Though she had actually just met my dog Millie about ten minutes prior, what she was now telling me was that she had met Millie in a much more intimate way. A way that would allow her to connect with my dog more deeply than I could ever hope to. A way that would encourage Millie to reveal her innermost thoughts, feelings and hopes to the stranger through telepathy.
That is, if you believe in that sort of thing.
I’ve built my career as a science-based dog trainer, and all good trainers know how to read dogs. Although it might seem like we can telepathically communicate with our canine students, what we’re actually doing is taking in every body language nuance the dog offers and responding in kind. It’s not magic, it’s not “whispering”—it’s science. Every ear flick and tail wag can communicate reams of information that enable us to help the dog understand, and be understood. We don’t talk to the animals, but we come awfully close.
So, it was with a healthy dose of skepticism that I found myself sitting on my bright sun porch with my two dogs and a calm, gentle woman who professed to be able to read their feelings and emotions through the act of clairvoyance.
The Reading: Getting to Know Millie and Olive
After a typical over-the-top greeting from my dogs Millie and Olive (no, they’re not perfect, despite my profession) we settled down so that the communicator could “check in” with them.
She opted to address Millie first since she’s the older of the two dogs and that was the courteous way to go about the business of mind-talk. Initial reports from Millie, who sat next to the communicator on the couch, revealed that she was a “dear” and that she loved everything about our home, yard and life. Good to hear, and easy to believe. The communicator went on to say that Millie was a snuggler and just wants to connect with people, which was the first hiccup in our reading. Millie is a Brussels Griffon, and while the breed is known for being very affectionate and sensitive, our Millie is a departure from the breed standard. She’s more catlike, and you might get an evening snuggle from her if she deigns you worthy that day. Otherwise, she’ll take up a position down the couch from you and judge you with a resting bitch face that could wither a drag queen.
The designated snuggler in our household is silly, goofy mixed-breed Olive. (As I write this, Millie is sprawled at the end of the couch, and Olive is in her usual spot, asleep with her body pressed against mine.) She’s never met a lap she doesn’t like and was sitting on the communicator and offering sticky kisses from minute one. The communicator called Olive an “electric person,” a description that tickled me both because of her use of the word “person” and her acknowledgement that Olive fills any room she enters. The communicator said that Olive’s energy surrounds her like a dancer’s tutu, whereas Millie’s is more like a long shirt that hangs close to the body. This is true, but the statement was more an assessment of the behaviors they had been demonstrating rather than a deep insight into their personalities.
Our Millie is a departure from the breed standard […] she’ll take up a position down the couch from you and judge you with a resting bitch face that could wither a drag queen.
There were other inconsistencies throughout the hour-long reading. My dogs “described” my husband as a lumbering, hulking presence, when, in fact he’s an easygoing, silly, good-natured guy that’s as prone to sing to our dogs as I am. She repeatedly told me that Olive is incredibly intelligent, and though it pains me to say it, our girl Olive is the equivalent of the little kid in kindergarten who ate paste and hugged everyone too tightly. The communicator said that we feed Olive a different type of food and Millie was jealous and wanted to eat it too (they eat the same thing). She mentioned several times that Millie loves being cuddled and Olive just tolerates it, when it’s the exact opposite scenario. And in the strangest revelation of the hour, she said that Millie was disappointed that she never had the chance to become a mother, and that she would’ve been a “strict and kind mom.”
The communicator told me that she connects with animals both in words and pictures – the animal essentially shows or tells her what he or she wants to say. According to her, my dogs communicated in full sentences as well as images. I laughed to myself, envisioning Millie explaining herself in poetic flowery language, and Olive projecting crude hieroglyphics in an effort to be understood.
My Verdict on Animal Communication
Despite my skepticism, I’ll admit that I enjoyed the session. It was fun to let someone focus completely on my beloved girls and then chat about how awesome they are, how much they love me and our lives together. I liked imagining them having a conversation with the friendly stranger.
I wasn’t swayed, though. I don’t think that anyone has harnessed the ability to Dr. Doolittle animals, because if that was the case, animal crime scene witnesses could identify the perp in an instant and longstanding potty training accidents could end in a single heartfelt conversation. I remain a skeptic after the session, but I’m not so factually based that I’m immune to the inexplicable.
A few of the communicator’s observations were surprisingly on point. She said that Millie would’ve preferred to be an only dog, and there is no doubt that is the case (Millie only tolerates her energy-rich sister). She said that Millie’s favorite play style is to “chase bouncing things” and her favorite toy is a very cat-like toy, which is also true (She goes crazy for a small stuffed animal on a string). And the most damning revelation of the session – the communicator said that Millie feels that I favor Olive because Olive “does cuter.” Guilty as charged. Olive seems to like an audience, and I’m always in the front row for her antics, showering her with attention.
The most important take-away from my experience with animal communication is that I need to revisit how I’m relating to my dogs on a daily basis. My belief that Olive is the less intelligent of the two is based only on her ability (or inability) to learn new training exercises. What I often forget is that Olive is the more emotionally intelligent of my two dogs. All I have to do is frown and sniffle and she’s on my lap, comforting me with kisses, whereas Millie just ignores me. The communicator repeatedly brought up my dogs’ need for fairness, which made me realize that I’m not as fair as I should be. I do favor one over the other, and it needs to stop. She said that Millie craves alone time with me, and it dawned on me that I never walk them separately. In doing so, Olive’s leash reactivity has increased, so this insight was the slap-in-the-face reminder that I needed to start walking them individually. She also mentioned some undiagnosed pain points on both dogs, and she suggested that I take them to a chiropractor—an excellent idea, in good health or bad.
My final ruling on animal communication? I don’t believe that Millie is mourning missed motherhood and that Olive hates our evening snuggles, but I do appreciate the way the communicator helped me to reframe my relationships with my dogs. It’s always a good idea to take stock of how you “talk” to your pets. It’s wise to project for a moment and envision how your pet sees you. Do you really understand each other? My experience with animal communication didn’t turn me from a doubter into a believer, but it did make me think about my dogs in a new and different way. Perhaps from now on I’ll take my science with a side of magic.
Illustration: Courtesy Nan Lawson
Victoria Schade is a dog trainer, author & speaker who has contributed to The Washington Post, Martha Stewart, and other publications.