It is very important to always communicate in positive terms— “see” what you want your dog or cat to do, rather than focusing on unwanted behaviors. Dogs and cats live fully in the moment, so picture them as you want them to be. For instance, don’t ask them if they want to go to the vet or the groomer or for a ride in the car. Why? Because, they don’t know how they’ll feel until they get there to that exact moment in time. Unlike us, dogs and cats live in the moment. What lessons we can learn about being here—right now! So visualize them peacefully riding in the car, or calmly allowing the vet to examine them.
Practice visualizing positive, loving pictures rather than negative, worrying ones. Have you noticed that the things you worry about often seem to happen? Practice positivity, and positive visualization, and you’ll find it spilling over into every aspect of your life.
This is so crucial when communicating with your animal companions. If you say, for example (either out loud or nonverbally), “Don’t jump on the couch,” your dog or cat sees an image in your mind’s eye of him jumping on the couch. He won’t get the “don’t” part of it. He’ll think oh, she wants me to jump on the couch. Your yelling at him to not jump on the couch is then a mixed signal. Instead, say and visualize what you DO want him to do. In this case, you would say, in an even but stern tone, “Go to your bed!” Then gently carry or lead him to his bed to reinforce the positive behavior.
It’s impossible to hide your feelings from dogs and cats. They always know—and they may “get it” even before we know ourselves. They can even take on your stresses, fears, and frustrations. Over time, these may manifest as illness. So it’s a good idea to even refrain from arguing in front of your animal companions; it’s extremely stressful for them. It’s not fair to treat them as if they’re not in the room when we lose control of our emotions. Their sensibilities should be respected.
To give you an idea how sensitive dogs are, Rupert Sheldrake, a British biologist and the author of Dogs That Know When Their Owners are Coming Home, did an experiment in which he placed video cameras with time codes in the house, aimed to catch the action of the homebound dog. At a random time, unbeknownst to the human or dog, the human would get a phone call on a cell phone many miles away, saying to return home. At that very instant, cameras showed that the homebound dog would become excited and run to the door to wait for their human. This experiment was repeated hundreds of times, and were all confirmed by the videos. The moral of this story: don’t feel silly practicing nonverbal communication, EVER!
You can also practice this pure heart-to-heart communication skill with a new pet, or with animals at dog or cat shows or shelters, or even at your vets office. First, learn the cat or dog’s name, if possible. Try saying the name in a sweet, soft, “feminine” (high-pitched) voice. We pretty much all do that with animals and babies, right? It seems, in the animal world the female voice is the most nonthreatening. If you’re a man, or a woman with a deep voice, raise your pitch and speak softly.
Of course, always ask the guardian if it’s okay to work with and touch the animal; and then ask the animal’s permission.