How to Communicate with Animals

Three Methods:Observing Your PetListening to Your Pet’s VocalizationsCommunicating With Your Pet

Have you ever wondered what your pet is thinking or feeling? Have you ever tried to figure out what he is trying to tell you? Do you sometimes wish that your pet could talk to you with words? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be looking for ways to not only understand your pet’s communication, but also communicate back to him. Animals (including humans) use their bodies and vocal chords in many different ways to express their thoughts and feelings. Learning how to communicate with your pet will strengthen your bond and relationship with him.

Method 1
Observing Your Pet

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    Observe how your pet uses his eyes, ears, and face. Animals will use many parts of their bodies to convey various feelings. Being observant to how your pet uses his body can let you know if he’s feeling playful, sick, or maybe even angry. For example, your horse’s eyes can indicate that he is alert (fully open), drowsy (half open), or having problems with one eye (problem eye stays shut).[1]
    • Your dog may narrow his eyes and stare at you to indicate that is feeling aggressive.[2] He may also avoid eye contact with you to show that he is submissive or showing deference to you.
    • Your cat’s ears may go back if he is feeling particularly anxious about something.
    • Dogs and horses will prick their ears up and slightly forward to indicate concentration.[3]
    • Your dog may hold his mouth slightly open, without showing his teeth, to indicate that he is feeling relaxed yet alert.[4]
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    Look at how your pet uses his legs and tail (if he has one). Just like the eyes, ears, and face, your pet’s legs and tail can provide helpful insight about how he’s feeling. For example, your horse may slowly his flick his tail to swish away flies, but may flick it more quickly to convey anger or annoyance.[5] Similar to horses, cats will flick their tails quickly to indicate anger.[6]
    • When your dog is holding his tail at a position that is either level to, or slightly lower than, his body, he is showing that he is feeling friendly.[7]
    • Your horse can use his legs to buck and show that he is feeling playful. However, bucking could also convey uncertainty.[8]
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    Observe your pet’s posture. Your pet can also communicate with you through the ways in which he positions and moves his body. For example, if your dog suddenly freezes and tenses his body, he could be conveying that he is uncertain about something or possibly preparing to attack.[9] If your horse is walking very stiffly, he may be stressed, nervous, or in pain.[10]
    • If you have a small pocket pet, such as a guinea pig, you may notice that he is particularly fidgety if he is feeling irritable or agitated.[11]
    • If your cat is lying on his back, he may be conveying two different things: relaxation (usually accompanied by a purr) or anger (usually accompanied by a growl).[12]

Method 2
Listening to Your Pet’s Vocalizations

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    Listen to your horse’s vocalizations. Your horse is capable of making a number of different sounds. Learning how to differentiate these sounds will help you determine how your horse is feeling. He will neigh for several reasons, including acknowledging his presence and expressing anxiety.[13] Other than neighing, he may squeal when he is meeting another horse for the first time.[14]
    • Your horse can also sigh, which can indicate feelings of relief or relaxation.[15]
    • Younger horses (foals, weanlings) may clack their teeth in the presence of older horses so that the older horses do not hurt them.
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    Listen to the sounds that your cat makes. The meow is a very common sound that your cat makes. He will meow for a variety of reasons. For example, he may meow to greet you, indicate that he’s hungry or thirsty, or let you know that he objects to something that you are doing.[16] If your cat starts growling or hissing, it would be in your best interest to leave him alone.[17] His growls and hisses indicate that he is very upset about something.
    • You will also hear your cat purr, which usually means that he’s feeling relaxed and contented. However, a purr may also be your cat’s way to comfort himself.[18]
    • Your cat may howl or yowl if he is in distress, such as if he is stuck somewhere. If he is an older cat and has dementia, he may make these noises when he is disoriented.[19]
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    Listen to your dog’s vocalizations. The common vocalizations of a dog are the bark, growl, and howl. If your dog is feeling aggressive or territorial, his bark will likely be rapid, loud, and high-pitched.[20] On the other hand, a high-pitched bark may also indicate friendliness or playfulness and can be accompanied by yapping or whimpering.[21]
    • Growls are often your dog’s way of letting you know to keep your distance. However, they can also be signs of contentment—similar to a cat’s purring. Read your dog’s overall body language to determine what your dog is trying to say with his growl.
    • Your dog may give a long and sustained howl if he’s feeling lonely or suffering from separation anxiety. In addition, he may howl more than usual if he is injured or feeling unwell.[22]
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    Identify your guinea pig’s vocalizations. Guinea pigs tend to be very vocal animals. Your guinea pig will make high-pitched noises, such as squeals or whistles, to indicate that he is excited or anticipating an exciting event (e.g., feeding time, playtime). Such a high-pitched sound is called a ‘wheek.’[23] Purrs from your guinea pig can convey several different emotions: contentment (deep, relaxed purr), agitation (high-pitched purr), or fear (short, anxious-sounding purr).[24]
    • Your guinea pig may start chirping to indicate aggression or anger.[25] Give him some space if he chirps when you are playing with him.

Method 3
Communicating With Your Pet

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    Talk with your pet. Although your pet may not exactly understand the words that you are saying, he can at least pick up on the tone of your words and your body language when you talk to him. For example, if you speak with him in a stern voice, he might pick up on the fact that you are unhappy with his behavior. Talking to him in an authoritative tone when giving him a command will likely signal to him that he should follow your instruction.[26]
    • Talking with your pet can also help soothe him if he is feeling anxious or fearful.
    • Giving your pet verbal praise when you are training him is also very helpful.
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    Use non-verbal communication with your pet. Your non-verbal communication is just as important as verbal communication. Non-verbal communication is often used in training to teach your pet to do a certain activity. For example, if you are sitting on your horse, you would use your legs and hands to command your horse to turn on the forehand. When you teach your dog to sit, you would actually combine verbal and non-verbal communication (hand signals) to give him the ‘sit’ command.
    • Getting up and walking away from your cat without saying anything is a way to let him know that you do not approve of his behavior.[27]
    • Be mindful of non-verbal communication that your pet may not like. For instance, your dog may not want you to rub his tummy. If he growls or tries to move away from you, give him some space.
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    Avoid punishing your pet. Verbally or physically punishing your pet is never a good idea. Punishment can make your pet fearful of you and possibly lessen the trust and respect that he has for you. In addition, some species, like cats, do not necessarily make the connection between your punishment and the behavior you are punishing them for.[28]
    • Making the unwanted behavior less desirable and making the correct behavior more desirable often works to dissuade your pet from misbehaving. For example, if your cat is scratching up your furniture, putting double-stick tape on the furniture will make it less desirable for him to scratch on.[29] Sprinkling catnip leaves on the scratching post will make it more desirable for him to scratch on.[30]


  • Animals can communicate in more ways that can be feasibly listed in a single article. Visit your local bookstore or pet store for recommendations on books that provide in-depth information on animal communication and behavior.
  • Communicating with your pet is a two-way street—he needs to understand your body language and sounds as much as you need to understand his.
  • Learning how to communicate with your pet, or any other animal, will take time. Do not rush the process.
  • Talk with your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist if you are unsure of how to interpret your pet’s communication.
  • Many people misunderstand the meaning when a dog has a "guilty" face... Your dog is not guilty if he destroyed the furniture, he's fearful when you raise your voice and/or discipline him.


  • If your pet hisses, growls, or tries to scratch you, it is best to give them some space.
  • Do not attempt to approach a wild animal to try to communicate with it, especially if you are not familiar with its body language or vocalizations.

Sources and Citations

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Categories: Pets and Animals