The other day I was sent an email about a dog I might like to adopt. She was a collie with some brain damage and blind in one eye. Her foster was using T-Touch to help the dog become more intelligent. I looked up T-Touch and watched part of a video of a human systematically petting a dog. The claim was that this woman’s magical petting/massage technique made dogs more intelligent and easier to train.

Any dog who has physical contact with its human frequently is going to be easier to train because it’s more closely bonded to that human. It doesn’t make the dog “more intelligent.” If anything, by petting and massaging the dog the human is finally smartening up to the reality that dogs don’t understand words in the same way we do. Verbal language is not their “go to” means of communication. If Lassie messes with Rover in a way Rover doesn’t like does Rover say, “Excuse me, but if you do that again I’m going to throw you to the ground and put my mouth over your neck (at the very least).” Rover snaps at Lassie and then “says” something (growls). If Lassie doesn’t “get” it, Rover doesn’t tip-toe around the issue making passive-aggressive remarks, hoping to be understood. Rover goes for the throat. A really strange book I once had called Animal People had an article by a guy who ran a wolf sanctuary. He said, “Humans really admire wolf society but they don’t understand that wolves respect each other because they understand well what every other wolf can do to them.” I loved that because the message was that, for the wolves, according to this guy, it was more about pack survival than an individual wolf getting his/her way.

There’s a theory that humans learned to talk from dogs, and some wolfie breeds are pretty vocal with a wide range of expression. My personal jury is out about what they’re saying to each other, but I suspect it’s just basic information like, “Yo! Lamont! I’m over here!” Up close? Continual physical contact combined with sounds. The more our dogs know us, the more they will understand. OK. But the obverse should also be true. The more we know THEM the more we will understand about THEM.

That said, anything that brings a human closer to its dog and helps build a bond of mutual trust and understanding is a good thing. I also believe that animals have not lost (assuming humans ever had it) the ability to communicate without words. My life with dogs has shown me that they have the ability to understand a lot more than we’re saying to them. Just one small example, when Bear and I walk in the Big Empty, invariably, soon after we reach the turn around point, she stops hunting, sniffing and exploring and walks pressed against my left leg. I believe she knows we’re sharing mutual happiness. And now, with Teddy wounded, when he tries to play with Bear, Bear just lies down. She knows this is not the time for that little guy to roughhouse. Some of my dogs have demonstrated these qualities more than others; the more “primitive” breeds seem to have the strongest “psychic” (for want of a more accurate term) awareness.

A couple days ago I invited my friends who live nearby for what we’re calling a Covid Tea Party. We formerly had kind of fancy tea parties a few times during the year, but this past year that hasn’t been possible. We’ve celebrated St. Lucia’s day, Mid-Autumn Festival (featured photo), Australian National Day, and the mere wonder of existence. During summer we brought our beverage to each other’s house and sat on the deck or patio, but winter made it difficult with the Covid restriction. Finally, I invited them to my house this past Tuesday. I figured I could open windows. By now we’re inured to the cold and, anyway, it’s been in the 40s in the afternoon, and we could sit 6 feet apart. I de-doggified the living room and put the kettle on even though I knew they’d bring their own.

Teddy had to attend the party, but as he’s doubly obnoxious with is cone on top of his absolutely physical and joyful personality, I tied him to the table in front of me on a short leash. He was over the moon to attend the party and finally calmed down.

We talked for a couple of hours about all kinds of things, with only minimal sharing about the emotional stuff we’re all carrying around. Why? I don’t think my generation has gotten very skillful at that kind of conversation, but also because the atmosphere and desire is escape from all that for just the time we share together. When it was time to split up, everyone felt better. Humans and dogs are really NOT so different. Some people need hugs. Elizabeth did. I think sometimes we feel these days like wanderers in a vast wilderness and when we find ourselves near a person we like, we’re happy and relieved, like coyotes yipping in the night, looking for their pack mates.

Here are a couple photos from tea parties past and, I hope, similar ones are in our future though our Covid tea parties might be the most important and the most precious.

27 thoughts on “Communication

  1. Once upon a time, I went to visit a friend who had a small child of maybe 8 months. They mentioned he was making a strange sound over and over. And indeed it was going “yip” and making other sounds. Then I heard the dog start yipping and barking and realized the kid was doing an almost perfect mimicry. I’m not quite sure why they hadn’t noticed it.

  2. The tea parties touched my heart. I understand everything you’re saying….everything. Sometimes when I read your posts (ok most times) it’s as if you’ve read some part of my mind or heart. It’s the stuff I think about. All I can say is Woof. 🤗🐶❤️💚❣️

  3. I have seen some interesting videos of a dog whose human has programmed a bunch of switches each with a single word. The dog can press a switch to speak and (in the video anyway) he combines words to make understandable phrases. Is he speaking, or does she not post the random combinations that make no sense to us? It is impressive but also speaks to a sort of species imperialism. Would we rather teach animals to use our language than try to understand theirs?

    • I’ve seen that, too. And videos of Border collies who can distinguish between an absurd number of toys. I think it’s species imperialism. We’re already trapped communicating with each other in words. Humans have their 900 million different languages. It’s a nightmare. We are too lazy (many of us) to learn any HUMAN verbal language but the one we grew up speaking, so it’s not surprising we don’t realize that animals communicate all the time with each other (and with us). But then I’ve been living almost exclusively with dogs for a while now and I might be out of my mind 😉

  4. I love a good tea party. Here’s to many more for you and your friends, and for Teddy too. He realises it is a real treat.

    Martha, excuse my ignorance but are your tea cups upside down in the first photo? Or is it a special design that keeps the contents warmer for longer? They are very nice cups.

  5. I remember when “T-touch” was new and novel and someone was making a bunch of money off it. Really, it’s just touching your dog, gently massaging them as you would want to be massaged. Nothing technical or ground-breaking about it. As each of my dogs has aged, they’ve enjoyed massages more, and more frequently, and I enjoy giving them. It’s a wonderful way to bond, with dogs, with people. Aging bones and muscles need warm, gentle touch – hugs, a light touch on the arm, a massage.

    I’m glad you’re finding ways to remain connected with your tea party crew. It will be such a relief when we can all hug again. I have a suspicion people will hug more, and hug tighter, than they did pre-pandemic.

  6. T-Touch? Pffft. Straight up massage is where its at. As you have already discerned, dogs communicate through vocalizations, smell and especially touch. People are not so different from dogs in that we communicate with verbal and non-verbal languages. We bond through touch – with each other and with the animals in our lives and homes. I see more articles urging people to learn to communicate with their dogs than to learn to effectively communicate with other people… I wonder why that is.

    • Well, in my case, I have a better shot at making sense to a dog than do a person. I’ve learned that through getting to live with 27 dogs over 34 years. It was such a RELIEF to finally have a dog of my own to hang out with! Seriously. 🙂

  7. Love this. Sitting with friends and talking and drinking tea. Nothing like it. The power of touch for all living creatures makes perfect sense to me. I am not experienced with dogs except when I visit my kids and their dogs. The dogs come right over and look expectantly at me and seem satisfied with a few head scratches or belly rubs. But maybe they really wanted treats. Who knows! 🙂

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