Animals|Animal Communication|Body Language

Does Your Animal Understand a Word You Say?

Animal communication is not about the words you say. Learn to communicate “horse logically” — or change horse to dog, cat, or whatever critter you fancy.

Bonnie Kreitler
5 min readMar 7, 2022
Photo by Eduardo Arcos on Unsplash

One of my most satisfying writing gigs was a long-term collaboration with equine educator Ron Meredith on marketing articles for Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre. Ron had a folksy way of describing horse training techniques step-by-step that editors loved and their readers ate up.

The very first of those articles was about being “horse logical.”

That was a term I’d never heard from any of the other horse people I studied with or interviewed. You can change out “horse” for dog or cat or any other critter you fancy. The principles apply just the same.

Ron said that before communicating clearly with any animal, you need to study how that species communicates.

Observe and appreciate how an animal communicates with others of its species. What are its “logical” default settings in given situations?

Animal Default Communication Settings

Ron gave an example.

Horses are prey animals. Their eyes are set on the outside of their skulls so they see almost 360 degrees around them. Cats are predators with their eyes set on the front of their skulls so they can focus clearly on what’s ahead at a distance.

What happens when predator meets prey?

A herd of wild horses will bolt at a gallop if one of them spots a mountain lion creeping along the ground toward them with laser-focused eyes, crouching low, muscles tensed to explode.

They will react differently if that same cat comes into view dragging some prey it has just taken down, with eyes soft, muscles relaxed, moving at a leisurely pace. The horses might move away a little or turn just enough to keep an eye on the cat while they keep on grazing—no need to worry and run.

The cat’s posture and attitude were the horses’ clues to whether they saw a “cat hunting” or just a “cat walking by.” It’s body language spoke volumes.

Are you observant enough to pick up on and translate the multiple body language signals the animals in your life telegraph to you and to one another?

Animals pay very close attention to every body language nuance. And keep in mind that, to them, you’re a prey animal because your eyes are on the front of your skull.

Human Default Communication Settings

Humans have and use body language for sure. But unlike other animals, humans have developed a communication system that emphasizes speech. Our primary mode of communication with one another is the spoken and written word. According to undocumented web sources, there are 7,117 languages spoken around our globe (and yes, studies confirm that women speak almost twice as many words daily as men).

We love to talk!

We not only talk person-to-person but also on our phones and computers, through walkie-talkies and other radio transmitters. Anywhere. Anytime. Any way we can. We love talking so much we even go inside our heads and talk to ourselves.

So naturally, we talk to our animals, too.

We talk to them a lot. And while they do make associations between our words and specific actions or objects, they never actually “speak” back to us in English or any other human language.

Pictures? Words? Something Else?

Animals vocalize with others of their species, for sure. And people interpret the vocalizations of their companion animals to try to understand what their animals may want or are thinking. But remember, words are not their default.

Scientist, animal behaviorist, and author of Animals In Translation, Temple Grandin describes how animals think in pictures. As an autistic person, she’s found that picture communication seems to come naturally to animals. She’s used that understanding to help her design humane livestock handling facilities.

The primary mode of communication that animals use to communicate with us is body language. They telegraph volumes of information through their eyes, ears, muscle tension, tails, etc., about how they feel, where their attention is, and what they might do next.

Can you “hear” your animals now? Can they “hear” you?

Start Communicating Logically With Animals

To put your conversations with animals on steroids, pay attention to these three basics:

1. Pay attention to how much you talk to your animals.

Don’t talk too much. When you do, lower your volume. Dogs, cats, and horses, for example, hear far better than humans. They probably think shouting is our default setting. And wonder what our problem is.

Lower your volume and watch how your animals react. Become a whisperer.

Yes, part of training often involves getting an animal like a dog to associate a particular sound (word) with a specific response we want. Sit. Lie down. Stay. Etc. But associative training isn’t necessarily horse or dog or cat logical.

Another reason for talking less is that you can’t talk or listen to someone or something else and be fully in the moment with your animal. Put down your cell phone, take the earbuds out, stop the mind chatter and be 100 percent with your animal when you’re interacting.

2. Pay attention to your animal’s body language. Become more observant.

It breaks my heart when I see someone talking on their cell phone or plugged into music or a podcast instead of paying attention to their dog. They may even be pulling on their dog’s leash while the poor critter is trying to potty. Stop!. Please!

Become a better observer by talking less and shutting out distractions.

Study your animal’s body language to learn more about its likes, dislikes, habits, etc. Pay attention to those ears and tails and other pieces and parts of the ongoing dialogue you may be missing. Be with your animal.

3. Pay attention to your body language. What does it say to your dog?

If you observe what your body language says to your animals, communication can also improve exponentially.

Just as we often speak louder than necessary to our animals (whose hearing is much more acute than ours), our body language can be louder than necessary.

We might invade an animal’s comfort zone and not notice subtle signals like a tongue flick or head turn that telegraph anxiety. We might roughhouse with an unfamiliar dog and miss the signs that the animal’s arousal level is escalating too far. Or that they aren’t enjoying that hard rub, maybe it’s even making them anxious. To the point that someone gets nipped.

Animals’ body language never lies. What does your body language say?

Becoming aware of what your body language says to your animals starts a much deeper relationship with them. And they will let you know what they “heard” you saying by the body language they use to react to yours.

Don’t make this hard. Work on these “attentions” one-by-one, gradually building them into your daily interactions with your critters. Eventually, they will become your default settings instead of speech to help an animal understand what you’re asking of them.

You’ll have an awesome animal communication skill set when you use body language to “listen” to what they are saying with your eyes and “talk back” in your own body language without saying a word.

© Bonnie Kreitler 2022. All rights reserved.

Writer Bonnie Kreitler creates content to help fellow animal addicts build rewarding relationships with the critters in their lives. See more at



Bonnie Kreitler

Author, journalist, animal addict, observer, and explorer creating connections between our critter relationships and life lessons at