My cat Molly likes to eat breakfast with me. I don’t actually eat anything. It’s just her at her dry food bowl, crunching away while I watch. This does seem like something she could do by herself. But every morning it’s the same thing:
1) I sit down at my computer to check my emails and write stories for On Pasture.
2) There’s a little “Mew..” and Molly taps me on my thigh. This is Molly-speak for “I need something.”
3) I turn in my chair, rub her head, and say, “Show me what you want.”
4) She leads me to her food bowl, which is full, and eats while I look on.
If I walk away while she’s eating it only means that I’ll have to repeat the process until she’s eaten enough. But I seem to be a slow learner because we repeat this process at least 3 times. Later in the day, she’ll lead me to the front or back door so I’ll let her out. Occasionally she leads me to the bedroom because apparently she thinks I should sleep a little more. And once she was trying to warn me that she was about to use my head to launch herself onto a bookshelf above my desk.
Yes, I know that my cat has trained me. But it started out that I thought I was training her. I wanted her to tell me when she wanted out, so I started the “Show me what you want,” thing and followed her until she got the idea. I also trained her to go where I point, to sit, and to come when called. Setting up a way to communicate has made our lives together easier. At a minimum her being able to “talk” to me gets me out of my chair and away from the computer for a good stretch.
I’m sure you’ve experienced the same things with your livestock. They may have learned to moo or baa when you show up because they see that it encourages you to move them to the next green pasture. Your horse may have learned that if she runs when you come to saddle her up it means you’ll make her keep on running until she stands and waits for you, and so now she just stands quietly when you come into her corral. Or maybe you’ve had a relationship with an animal like the one Don Ashford describes with Petey, their lead steer, who taught new calves how things worked around the place.
The more time animals spend with you, the better they get to know you, and the more likely it is they’ll learn to “speak.” “Talking” to your animals can be a mixed blessing. On the one hand, we can get things done faster and more easily together. On the other, they can train us so that we spend time doing things we hadn’t intended to do. In the end, it’s a relationship, like all the others in our lives, with all the good and bad that is part of it.
I know it’s happening to you, and I know that some folks find it embarrassing, so I promise not to bring it up unless you do first. It can be our little secret! 🙂