Do Pet Psychics Work?
Animal communicators say they can make telepathic contact with our pets. Can they really?
Our much-loved dog Izzy was found on the street by a kindhearted stranger when she was two or three years old. I would have done almost anything for a glimpse of her early life--who did that sweet girl live with, and how did she come to be running around Brooklyn on her own? Sometimes when I’m working with an especially fearful or aggressive dog I just wish I could have two minutes inside his head, to ask what on earth he’s so freaked out about and to explain how unnecessary all that cowering or lunging is. Maybe an animal communicator could help; they can make telepathic contact with cats and dogs. Well--I wish they could, anyway.
Do Pet Psychics Work?
If you’ve ever consulted an animal communicator or pet psychic, you may have walked away from the encounter amazed by how much the communicator knew about your dog, how spot-on her perceptions were. I used to feel a similar amazement at the dog park, whenever my first mentor in training glanced at a pair of dogs and said, “Whoa, there’s going to be a dogfight any second now,” and then whammo. Spooky! But my mentor’s foresight came from her real-world expertise. Long years of studying dog behavior allowed her to spot trouble signs us amateurs couldn’t see.
Pet Psychics Use “Cold Reading” for Impressive Results
Stage mentalists, mediums, and, yup, animal communicators all use a technique called cold reading. It’s every bit as supernatural as chopping onions or reading canine body language. A cold reader uses her general knowledge of the world, careful questioning and observation, and our own cognitive biases to persuade us that she has learned things she could only know psychically. And she may not be a cheat! I’m convinced that many or most animal communicators honestly believe in what they do. Here’s how cold reading works.
How Do Pet Psychics Work?
Say I’m an animal communicator and you’ve consulted me about your dog. Probably something’s worrying you. What something? Odds are pretty high your dog’s having a behavior problem or he’s sick or lost. I say, “Zippy knows you’re worried about how he’s doing”--and I’ve just covered all those bases. If Zippy is on the scene, watching him is going to tell me much, much more. Is he lively, alert, friendly? Is he stiff and tense? Does he very slightly favor one rear leg? Any of these can point me in the direction of your concerns, plus, bonus: If you don’t happen to have noticed that rear leg and I tell you that Zippy would like you to know it hurts, boy do I look good. (And I have, of course, done Zippy a favor.)
What about Zippy’s history? If he’s a mixed breed, odds are pretty good he came from a shelter or off the street. On the other hand, an awful lot of full-bred dogs come from pet stores or other puppymill outlets. Either way, I’m safe saying something about his troubled early life. Who’s going to tell you I’m wrong? Oh, and if Zippy belongs to some rare breed I didn’t recognize and got a stellar upbringing, I simply explain that there’s psychic interference from the other dogs in the room, or, oops, excuse me, Zippy was actually thinking of a doggy friend. Everybody knows a hard-luck mutt.
Pet Psychics Fish Subtly for Information
Cold readers fish without seeming to: “I’m getting the name Zoe …” Bailey? Lucy? Or, if my client’s dog is a small breed, likely to have small friends, I might ask about Princess and Spike. As dog names go, asking about these is like asking whether there are any girls named Sophie in third grade. When you reply, your facial expression and tone of voice will supply clues about whether Zoe, Bailey, and Lucy are Zippy’s friends, foes, or predecessors.
How Animal Communicators Fudge Their Mistakes
But what about all the things cold readers must get wrong? You don’t know any dog named Bailey! You never have! “I know a Benny,” you say doubtfully, “but he isn’t a dog.” “I feel some connection with Zippy, though--you might have to help me narrow it down,” I say. Suddenly you remember Benny telling you about his brother, whose mutt looks just like Zippy. “Zippy has been wondering whether Benny’s dog might be his brother,” you say. “The siblings were separated so young, and he’s been missing his brother ever since.”
Why Do People Believe in Pet Psychics?
[[AdMiddle]It seems like a stretch--as if no smart person would ever fall for such a thing. But, number one, worried people are emotionally and intellectually vulnerable; they want to believe. And if I’m right about the sincerity of many or most animal communicators, they’ll project caring and concern right back. Two, if the communicator has a good general knowledge of dogs and a good eye and ear, some of her observations will be helpful and accurate, and with practice she’ll get better and better. It’s just that she’s not using psychic means. And her accurate observations encourage us to accept anything she says that we can’t prove or disprove. Three, we humans have a huge cognitive handicap, confirmation bias. Confirmation bias leads us to pay close attention to evidence that agrees with what we already believe and to discount evidence that disagrees. Sometimes we not only ignore contrary evidence, we forget it altogether. We also interpret ambiguous evidence as clear and weakly favorable evidence as strong.
Animal communicators aren’t psychic; they succeed because well-known stage mentalist techniques pair up with human psychology to make them seem credible.
How Can You Understand Your Dog?
What was my Izzy’s life was like before she came my way? I’ll never know. Nor will I ever be able to explain to a dog that he doesn’t need to panic every time his people leave--they really will come home again. But I could make Izzy happy in the present anyway, and I can help that dog’s people teach him to accept separation in stride.
As for you, your dog’s body language can give you a good picture of her emotions at any given moment--is she happy, playful, anxious, stressed? Or if your dog is old or sick and you’re considering euthanasia, you can talk to your vet and to friends who’ve been through the same thing. They can help you interpret her behavior and prognosis so you can come to the best decision for her. If your dog is lost, his microchip plus well-accepted search strategies can help you up his odds of getting home. We don’t need illusions to help us understand and take care of our dogs.
That’s all for this week! Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, find The Dog Trainer on Facebook, or follow me on Twitter – I’m Dogalini. I may use your questions and comments as the basis for future episodes. But hey! Not predicting the future, here. Thanks for reading.