Last issue, I suggested one can improve handling skills by using imagery to mentally prepare oneself to run an Agility course, an Obedience course, or even a Hunt Test scenario. This issue, let’s connect that practice to nonverbal communication with our dogs. Dogs have been portrayed as telepathic. Wow! How can we handlers use that trait to our advantage in performance events?
Let’s explore that idea.
Webster defines telepathy as “supposed communication between minds by some means other than normal sensory channels; transference of thought.”
Penelope Smith, a well-known animal communicator, similarly describes telepathy as one’s ability to feel another across a distance. She thinks it is an inborn capacity of all species which “is a mindful, yet mindless understanding—a knowing of what the other is thinking, feeling, and experiencing so directly that one being almost becomes the other.”1
These definitions suggest that communication between handler and dog is indeed a possibility. Once one learns how to read his dog and “talk” to him, sending telepathic messages to him while in competition could enhance performance. Really? How does that work?
Once one learns how to read his dog and “talk” to him, sending telepathic messages to him while in competition could enhance performance
Here is one example that I would like to perfect. In the Hunt Test fields, dogs are sent to retrieve birds thrown by a gunner, often into cover where it is not visible to the dog. Handlers watch as well so that we can handle (give hand signals to) the dog to the bird if he has trouble finding the bird on his own. However, handling on marks is discouraged, as dogs are expected to remember their marks and retrieve them on their own. If dogs need to be handled often on marks, they will be given lower scores or even failed for poor performance.
So, before going to the line at a test, I stand in the holding blind watching the performance of the dogs before us. Then I imagine my dog running the test himself. With that pre-test practice under my belt, I go to the line well prepared to help my dog, first by being calm, second by setting him up to his advantage, and lastly by sending him messages to help him if he has trouble.
I do not think this would be disallowed, as many judges evaluating us are in the background mumbling the similar comments to the working dog. I think this can work if the handler is totally focused on the dog and only the dog. I am totally amazed by this experience and realize it may be coincidence, but the more it happens, the more fascinated I am by its occurrence. As I have become aware of this connection with my dogs, I am paying much more attention to its occurrence and have found that it can be a successful approach, but only when the handler and dog have achieved a high level of connection acquired by lots of training and work together. Younger dogs or dogs that I don’t have a strong relationship with are less likely to respond to these mental messages than my advanced dogs.
Due to this observation, my curiosity and my desire to learn and improve have motivated me to research this topic. As noted above, I understand that there may be some coincidence here, but I am also fascinated with the possibilities if one develops such skills. According to Penelope Smith, in order to communicate with animals, one must first respect other species as having the intelligence to express themselves and to view them as more than simple “pets.” Viewing our animal companions as spiritual beings in different physical forms allows us to avoid projecting attitudes of condescension towards them and thereby open up new lines of communication.
Ms. Smith goes on to say that using this approach towards other species changes relationships with them dramatically. She relates that when people meet her animal family, they notice her “kids” are relaxed, happy, and wise while capable of being their own character, but also understanding the balance of her family unit. Each animal has its quirks, needs, rights, and expressions. So, if my retriever has a need to retrieve birds because he enjoys that activity, I wonder if we can learn to communicate with each other to enhance his success doing something he needs or loves to do. Hmmm?
I then looked into concepts and ideas shared by Marta Williams, another animal communicator. She believes that everyone has “intuitive ability” which she describes as an extrasensory perception which is something independent of the five physical senses: sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste.
Extrasensory perceptions parallel physical senses, such as you can see things intuitively by visualizing them in your mind’s eye rather than seeing the actual image before you.2 Marta believes animals are experts at intuition, as no one has told them that communicating intuitively is silly. In fact, they use it to warn one another of danger or opportunities that have enhanced their survival. She believes this skill explains behavior often witnessed before earthquakes, tsunamis, etc. So, again, we have an animal communicator espousing similar concepts which suggest that communication with other species can be a two-way street. This is a huge topic and one that I can’t do justice to in one fairly brief article, but I think we can take a little from this and expand upon it as we learn.
So, how can we apply this information in a constructive way? I think step one is to play with the idea that you can talk to your dog. Marta Williams believes one can begin opening lines of communication at home by practicing with your dog. She lists four methods of communication for one to choose from.
- Talking out loud;
- Thinking your message;
- Sending a picture;
- Sending a feeling.
Here’s how she says this works. Choose one of the above methods and use it to send your dog a message. That message goes into an invisible translator box, metaphorically speaking, and then emerges in a form intelligible to the receiving party; in your case, your dog. No matter which form you use, the animal will receive it in a form best for him. If you choose the first method, use a normal tone of voice and your normal vocabulary. For communication to work, though, you must believe your message will be received and understood. If you are skeptical, try suspending your judgement and just do something as an experiment.
The second method is a good one to use when you can’t talk or when it is too noisy to be heard. Sending a picture usually works better if you close your eyes, so its use may be limited by your circumstances. Using pictures may be good for me when sending messages to a field dog that doesn’t understand turn right but would understand going to a picture of a certain bush. The last method, sending a feeling, can be used when an animal is anxious and needs to be calmed. Since these messages can be sent over long distances, one can use this skill to send comfort or love to an animal boarded at home while you’re traveling or perhaps to a nervous dog in a performance ring.
If you are skeptical, try suspending your judgement and just do something as an experiment.
In closing, I am not an expert on animal communication nor am I a skilled animal communicator. I am fascinated by the thought that, as a handler in numerous types of dog sports, I can communicate with my dogs to help us be a better team and improve our performance.
I would love to hear of anyone’s experience with these concepts so that others can learn how to better meet our competition dogs’ needs.
- Smith, Penelope. Animal Talk. Beyond Words Publishing; 2009
- Williams, Marta. Learning Their Language: Intuitive Communication with Animals and Nature. New World Library; 2003.
- Quinn, E MS. How Imagery and Visualization Can Improve Athletic Performance. https://verywellfit.com/visualization-techniques-for-athletes.
- Munroe-Chandler K.J., Guerrero M.D. Psychological Imagery in Sport and Performance. In: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Psychology. Oxford University Press; 2017.
- Williams, Marta. Beyond Words: Talking with Animals and Nature. New World Library; 2005.