Communication is the cornerstone of every relationship –without it, a relationship can’t exist. There are many studies highlighting the importance of communication with your partner, children, employees, employers, and friends – along with tips on how to improve communication in relationships – but one topic that is rarely discussed is communicating with your pets. Some people don’t feel comfortable talking with their pets, but it is crucial to understand that communication is part of nurturing your pet. While pets can’t talk back, they are always listening and benefit from being spoken to by their owners. Think about this study led by researcher from University of York that found young children who are exposed to large amounts of adult speech tend to have better cognitive skills. These young children can’t communicate back to parents with words, but they are benefiting greatly from their parents talking to them. Even though it may feel weird at first to talk to your pet when they can’t talk back, communicating with your pet will only make your relationship stronger and I bet you’ll understand them better!
My first dog, SHERPA, became a part of me. And that is what you want, a strong human-animal bond. I learned early on with SHERPA the importance of communication and have been a believer (and advocate) for talking with your dogs. So much, that I was recently invited as a guest on the podcast Talking with Your Dogs where I chatted with host, Liz Murdoch, about everything from my book to how I communicate with KoKo and KARTU (my current dogs!).
If you already talk with your dog, GREAT! If you need some inspiration, here are three ways I implement communication in my relationship with my pets:
Getting groomed is not a fan favorite among pets; however, it is critical to their self-care. A bath can be uncomfortable, slippery, and unnatural for pets, but you can try to turn this into an enjoyable experience by communicating to your pet beforehand what is going to happen and explaining the process to them during it. It is important to have a soft, gentle, calming tone (I have the same voice I use for every grooming session) and use key phrases every time you undergo this process. For me, I tell KoKo “I am going to make you a pretty girl” and start to lay her down and brush her coat, all while reassuring her with my calming voice. This has been a routine since she was young, and our communication has helped make this event more enjoyable!
Traveling makes me feel so alive. It has been hard for me during Covid to stay in one place for two years. When I finally was able to book a trip to Paris, my home away from home, I immediately started talking to KoKo about the trip to help her prepare for it. This was her first trip traveling abroad, and I was so excited for her to experience the city alongside me. Days leading up to the trip, I explained to her our travel plans and let her know it was going to be a long day. She is always watching me, picking up on my body language, so when I put out the absorbent liners for her SHERPA Bag, which is a must when traveling, she knew she was going to be in it for a long time. While traveling, I made sure to keep her updated about every leg of the trip, just as you would do with any travel partner. While traveling can be hectic and cause some stress, it is important to try to remain calm for your animal because, again, they pick up on your body language and attitude. This always is a helpful reminder to me to keep my composure no matter what is thrown at me. My past career as a flight attendant has helped with this!
KARTU was my jet-setting Lhasa Apso, but at 15 years old (105 in human years!) she basically told me she had enough and no longer wants to endure the long travel days. I have traveled countless amounts of time with her to Paris, communicating with her prior, during, and after the trip, so it was easy to tell when her excitement began to dwindle and she no longer wanted to be my travel partner. I now leave her in California when I travel, with people I love and trust will take care of her. Before I leave, I make sure to repeatedly tell her that I am leaving and how long I will be gone for followed by “you are my best big girl.” I have certain phrases that I use, such as that one, with KARTU and I make sure to write them down for whomever is watching her, so they can communicate with her and make her feel comfortable while I am gone.
If there is anything I can stress it is talk with your pet with intention. Start slow. And you will see that you will begin to feel motivated to do it a little more and develop your own words and phrases for different situations. Dogs and cats both have similar needs and all they want to do is feel safe, comfortable, and connect with us. And guess what? Communication can help with all three. Give it a try and let me know how it works for you!
Gayle Martz is the SilverDisobedience Pet Ambassador who will be sharing her insight on a variety of pet-related topics. Gayle is the founder of The SHERPA Pet Trading Company, where she single-handedly designed, manufactured and marketed the iconic SHERPA Bag you see everywhere! This carrier, which millions have bought for their dogs, cats and other animal companions, continues to be THE top-selling, prize-winning, globally-popularly soft-sided pet carrier. Further, it is because of Gayle’s advocacy and entrepreneurship that pet travel on airlines is now possible and common. Gayle’s the author of “IT’S IN THE BAG”, which is part memoir and part business book.