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Do You Talk to Your Pet?

By Linda Cole

Everyone I know talks to their pet, but I don’t think all pet owners do. However, those who don't believe animals understand our words are missing an important means of communicating – and bonding – with their pet. Research has shown dogs are capable of learning so much more than once thought. And we can learn what our pets’ whines, yaps, meows and barks mean, if we take the time to listen. Of course they don't understand everything we say, but they can and do pick out the words that mean something to them. Conversations with your pet can help you nurture and strengthen the bond between you and your pet.

My cat Jabbers, pictured above, is a handsome black kitty with a splash of white on his chest and huge emerald eyes. He got his name because as a kitten he jabbered constantly, and still does. Jabbers and I have discussed everything from what's going on outside, to a first base umpire who needs glasses, to what's for supper. He doesn't care what our conversations are about, just that I took the time to talk to him, and he's definitely a cat with an opinion, which he freely expresses during our conversations. And he never disagrees with me; well... at least I don't think he's disagreeing. He rolls over on his back and sticks his front legs up in the air and rubs his head against my hand as I talk to him. Then he whirls around and sits up so he can talk to me. I had a cat years ago who would put one of his paws on my cheek every time he talked as if he wanted to make sure he had my full attention.

I can't imagine not talking to my pets. I tell them I'm sorry if I've accidentally stepped on their paw or tail. My Border Collie Keikei and I discuss why she can't herd the cats. And I just recently had a conversation with one of my dogs on the perils of trying to eat the TV remote and why it doesn't belong inside her mouth. Of course they don't understand everything we say, but that's not the reason why we talk to our pets. Our touch and voice are special to them – just as special as when we are touched by or hear the voice of someone we care about. Hearing our voice gives them a comfortable and secure feeling.

Talking to your pet is one way they learn what we expect from them through informal training sessions. My dogs all learned how to back up not because I set out to train them that particular command, but as a result of conversations with them. To keep them from rushing through the door every time we went outside, I was in the habit of saying “back up” as I blocked the doorway. The full conversation was, “Back up so you don't run over me or the cats.” One day it dawned on me how well they all backed up when I asked them to, and how much easier it was to control them. They learned on their own what “back up” meant. It may have happened because of consistent training, even though I didn't consciously train them to back up, but it was also made possible because of talking to them and letting them know how I wanted them to behave. After all, that is what training is all about – communicating with your pet.

Pets are good at picking out and learning specific words we use in conversations with them and with other people in the home. They recognize words that describe things they want, like their favorite CANIDAE treats. Pets understand when we are getting ready to leave or put them outside because of our actions and what we say. Even when you try to confuse a dog by changing the words you use, sooner or later, they will learn those words too. They are so much more observant than we realize and they are always listening to our voice when we talk.

As pet owners, the most important thing we want to always maintain is a positive feeling of us in their mind. I want my pets to greet me when I return home. I want them to sit beside me on the couch or cuddle with me at night. I love those moments because it gives us a chance for some small talk. It doesn't matter if they understand my words or not, they do understand the moment. Talking to your pet is one way to instill that all-important positive attitude in them, along with trust and respect.

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