Many years ago, I saw an American documentary film called Unusual Powers. The film crew had travelled all over the world interviewing psychics, spoon benders, mediums, the Philippine doctors who operate without instruments.
One of the interviewees was a girl who talked to animals. She worked with vets in the United States and since diagnosis is the hardest part of veterinary medicine, hundreds of animals were brought to her daily and they communicated their symptoms to her.
In the documentary, a little boy brought his newly-acquired grass snake, which he complained, refused to eat. The snake saw the girl and virtually leapt onto her shoulder. A few minutes later, she told the boy that the snake only ate white mice and not the grey ones he had been trying to feed it.
The next in queue was a sceptic. He had brought his ram. This ram, he said, was given to him by a friend who said it was unmanageable. But with him, it was perfectly docile.
‘Can you tell me why?’ he asked. The girl laughed. ‘He’s in love,’ she said. ‘You have a female goat whom he fancies greatly and he is on his best behaviour so that he doesn’t get given away again.’
In a newspaper, I read a tragic piece about a dolphin whose tail fins had been cut off by a boat. She couldn’t come to the surface to breathe. Her mate propped her up with his head and carried her hundreds of miles to the nearest human settlement by the sea looking for help. He found a boat and circled it until the fishermen understood his plight. But, by then, it was too late because she was dead.
All forms of life communicate with man. It’s just that we don’t understand them. Even a plant, that needs more sun, shows you this by stretching itself out to the light. Have you seen how the birds cluster around some small children? There is communication there, which we lose as we grow older.
Do you ever understand what your dog is saying to you? Of course, you expect it to understand your language and moods automatically. When you desire quiet, it should be still. When you want to romp it should be ready for play!
If you love animals, it is not good enough for them to understand you, (which, I would think, makes them superior to you.) Think of how lonely it must get for your dog when it has nobody to understand what it is trying to say. Try improving your relationship. Here are a few simple pointers that I have picked up over the years:
1. Urine is used for territorial marking— ‘This belongs to me.’ It is accompanied by vigorous scratching on the ground. This is to mark the area even deeper. Sometimes when you get new things in the house — new curtains, a new stereo system, the dog will immediately urinate over it. This is his way of appropriating a strange thing and making it his. Sometimes, if a bitch on heat is lying in the house, the dog will urinate on an object close to her. This is also marking her off as his property. If there are two dogs in the house, you will often see the second dog urinating in the same place as the first—overmarking it as his territory instead. Both males and females do it.
2. Dogs will eat more if fed in groups than if fed singly.
3. Boredom is an important problem. It can result from being a single dog — the dog being a social animal, it needs interaction with its own kind.
4. I am completely against bringing in a new puppy when the dog you have is old or ill. I have noticed that the old/ill dog just gives up his will to live and dies much sooner. If you must get another pup, do it before the first one is three years old. Instead of bringing it straight into the house, try introducing the pup on neutral territory so that the older one does not feel that his territory has been violated. Let him tolerate the young one and then bring it home. Give the older dog lots of attention, or he may become aggressive or depressed if he feels that his relationship with you is threatened. Allow him to growl and dominate the young pup up to a point.
5. Dogs have as peculiar stress responses as humans. New homes, new people, being left alone while the owners go on holiday – all these can cause stress. There is only one cure to all these –talking to the dog gently and often, giving it lots of love and reassurance, spending time with it the way you would with a sick child.
6. Nibbling is an important part of the canine social interaction. Dogs nibble each other as a form of intense greeting, even love. Male dogs courting females will do a lot of nibbling. Sometimes the nibbling will extend to you — nibbling your ears or a hand when you are asleep. It means affection.
7. Dogs dream. You can see a dog deep in sleep growl, whimper, make muffled barks. His legs make running movements, the tail wags.
8. When a dog is reprimanded he may look away and raise one forepaw. This is not a handshaking attitude but a signal of his intention to roll over. In effect, the dog is indicating absolute deference and saying — I’m sorry, now stop scolding.
9. Raising the upper lip to show the sign of teeth is a sign of hostility.
10. All dogs respect each other’s personal distance. When a subordinate dog attempts to enter the sphere of the alpha dog, he will crawl on his belly but at the same time will wag his tail and attempt to lick the alpha's face.
11. Dogs have a large repertoire of facial expressions and body postures. Erect ears and tail are a sign of alertness and confidence. When one dog meets the other, both lower the ears and tail to show that no attack is intended. If from this posture the dog draws back and bares its teeth, it is frightened and defensive. If, after that, it extends its head forward, it may attack. A dog that is aggressive, and not frightened, looks quite different. It raises its hindquarters, places its front legs wide apart, holds its neck and ears erect, raises the hair on its neck and spine and bares its teeth. The same posture, without the raised hair and bared teeth, is an invitation to play and this is usually followed by a gentle nibble on the tail of the other dog, or by standing side-on to show the lack of hostility.
One of the oddest incidents that happened in our house recently was my dog’s interaction with wasps. While I was poking around in the garden accompanied by Sabra, the alpha dog of the house pack of 12, we came across a small wasps’ nest. Sabra smelt it and two wasps came flying out. She took one look, put her tail between her legs and literally flew into the house and under the bed. Now, here is a dog that has never seen a wasp before, has never been bitten or seen anyone bitten — how would she know?
Could it be a genetic memory?