Animal Lessons by Danielle MacKinnon

Three Ways You’re Miscommunicating with Your Pet

Animals are innately intuitive beings. People… not so much. Animals survive in the wild using their five senses and gut instincts. People, on the other hand, generally turn off their intuitive abilities by the time they’re six or seven years old. So, when an animal (a highly intuitive being) meets someone out-of-touch with their intuition (most humans), there’s lots of potential for miscommunication and high jinks.

Most people unknowingly miscommunicate with their pets. Why? They assume they should communicate their needs the same way they would with a person: simply say or demand what they want. Not only is this tactic ineffective, but it often results in challenges, angst, and even tears! Want to know the best way to train your dog, spend time with your cat, or work with your horse? Yes, it’s all about communication — but maybe not in the way you think.

Animals depend on their instincts (knowing where to find the most abundant fish, sensing when danger is approaching their den, etc.). How else would a herd of horses know within seconds that they are in danger? This sensing is more than processing empirical facts: animals also communicate through their intuitive senses.

Most people invite animals into their lives expecting them to understand human needs and motivations based purely on their words and tone of voice. So, when they say something in a harsh tone, or “bark” out a command, they assume their pet will understand. Alas, despite the size of our brains, we’ve been slow to learn this isn’t the way things work in the animal kingdom!

Here are the three biggest miscommunications people have with their animals and steps to fix them:

Miscommunication #1 — Words Versus Feelings. Animals do more than hear your commands. They also feel the energy behind them. So, if you come from a long, lousy day at work feeling hopeless and defeated and yell at your cat, “Stop scratching up the sofa,” buess what? She’s not going to listen.

Why? Because this is one of the big differences between animals and people. People will listen to your command and, if it’s forceful enough, will probably obey. But animals don’t just listen to your words. They also connect to the energetic and emotional state of the people around them. So, if you’re in a defeated state, no matter how loud or forceful you are, what you’re really saying is, “I don’t believe in myself and I can’t protect you, but I still expect you to listen to me.” What creature, whose first instinct is survival, would obey that mixed message?

Luckily, once your words and feelings are in alignment, you can bet your cat will let go of that sofa arm!

Miscommunication # 2 — Outer Versus Inner Power. As forward-thinking people, many of us like to project an image of power. We want to appear as if we have it all together, all figured out, and we’re confident — even when we don’t feel that way. With most animals, what you see is what you get. No dog pretends to be pack leader unless that’s their role. And no beta dog apologizes for not being in command.

Animals intuitively tap into both faces of humans — the one you’re showing the world and the face you hold privately inside. This tapping-in skill is critical for survival in the wild. Think about it — what a great skill to have, to know when the sneaky lion has shifted his thoughts from his nap to how to catch you for dinner. It’s the same for your pet. When he notices you’re smiling and happy on the outside while crying and unhappy on the inside, he views it as a red flag, regardless of your intention. After all, these messages in the wild usually signal danger!

The key to avoiding this miscommunication is simple transparency. It’s OK to feel unsure or insecure. Whatever your deep down feelings, just express them.

Miscommunication #3 — Words Versus Images. Finally, and this may be the coolest (yet most challenging) way you could be sending mixed messages to your pet: Animals have an incredible capacity to intuitively “see” the pictures we hold in our minds as we talk. When you hear, “Dog! Get off the sofa,” what image immediately comes to mind? An image of a dog on the sofa! Animals intuitively tap into these images and often pay more attention to them than the words you say aloud. So when you want your dog off the sofa, see him on the floor while you tell him to get off. This is hard to do, but it’s surprisingly effective! While the “fix” of making sure the words in your head match your desired outcome may seem simple, it may take you a bit to get the hang of it.

People are much more accepting of ambiguity in relationships than animals. Your pet really expects and wants you to live your life in alignment. That includes your words, your images and your feelings.

Animals don’t expect you to have yourself together every moment of every day — no one can truly achieve that. They’re simply looking to you to be clear and concise in your relationship with them. They have a wonderful way of knowing when we come from a place of weakness, and when we hide emotions, fears, and thoughts. When you think about it, that means animals are really looking for the same thing that most people want: a wonderful, loving and reliable relationship.

Danielle MacKinnon is the author of, “Animal Lessons” (Llewellyn). Visit her online at