Communication Between Animals and Humans

Evita Apalaki

Language is a unique system of communication that separates humans from animals. However, the process of communication is not characterized only by verbal means but, in fact, is the broader production and exchange of messages and meanings through signs, movements, and symbols. Reasonably, this general definition signifies that animals can efficiently communicate even if they are unable to talk. The big enigma that has fascinated scientists over the last few decades revolves around whether there is communication between animals and humans and how such a connection could be explained. 

Animals have been a part of human life for ages now. This relationship involves multiple needs, including companionship and the need for help in domestic and working environments. It is thoughtful to assume that a basic form of communication is required for the transmission of messages and feelings between humans and animal species. In the past this interaction was perceived as telepathy, but according to contemporary definitions it better belongs to an intra-species communication system. For humans, language is learned through a continuous process that is initiated at the time of birth. It is developed through mimicking behavior and socialization in groups, starting with the core family. On the other hand, animals have a simpler way to transmit messages, which is usually innate and involves instincts and vital needs. The bi-directional communication needs to be based on basics that will help both sides participate. 

Many experiments have been conducted in the past which have tested the ability of animals to learn a language. Apes, dolphins and parrots were usually the subjects of analysis. In fact, the result of those trials led to the theory that animals are unable to learn and reproduce a syntactically structured verbal language, probably due to physiological reasons. However, extensive training contributed to the development of several special abilities for some animals. These particular animals could connect phrases and sounds with specific actions or feelings, or even produce characteristic repetitive sounds for replying each time to the same orders. There were plenty of faulty opinions supporting the ability of animals to talk. For example, it was said that there was a special dove species that was able to understand seven different languages and transmit messages from town to town. Also, there is a story involving a horse that was able to respond with specific sounds and movements to the questions of humans from a crowd in a square, but the truth is that the animal was just responding to the commands of its owner who was standing behind a wall. The conclusion is more that animals are not able to communicate with structured speech, but they can be trained to respond to specific orders.  

The bond between animals and humans is very strong, especially between pets and owners. The training process usually requires simple forms of communication so that the animal will be able to understand and respond to the command. They say that if you want to communicate with animals, you have to keep it simple. Animals can feel, listen, and understand you. It is easier to teach a dog how to behave while is still a newborn. The training process needs to be consistent and strict, usually accompanied by a treat that will train the animal to follow the command. The trainer should be confident, patient and relaxed. Approximately 80% of the success relies on how the trainer will translate the messages sent from the animal. Body language, sounds and behavior can reveal the animal’s feelings, mood and needs. For example, when dogs show their teeth it means that they are expressing anger and if they are shaking their tails they are in a friendly and happy mood. These signs however, may be slightly different among different species or vary with different animals due to personality differences. The training process can efficiently develop a strong bond between humans and animals. 

For many people, animals are guides, healers, and teachers. They are incredibly intelligent creatures that connect to humans in their own way. Communication greatly depends on the way that people interpret the signs that animals send them. Their great instincts enable them to listen to their owners, feel them and know who they are. The training process can feed a deeper intra-species connection and create a healthier relationship in which both parties will be satisfied. Human-animal communication happens beyond the limits of a structured language. Consequently, this fact requires the activation of other deeper sensations. Connecting with an animal can be truly healing for many humans and can also help to develop additional feelings which may benefit people in other aspects of their life as well.  

Sources: Fact Monster, Khan Academy, Nature Education, Oxford Handbooks Online