Tag Archives: animal behavior

Creature Thoughts, February 2018: Animal Dreams

Last night, I was in bed, about to drift off. Ryder was asleep at the foot of the bed. I felt him start to twitch, and sensed his breath quicken. He lifted his head, still sound asleep, and let out a mournful, heart-breaking howl.

As most of you know, Ryder came to me at the death of his heart-human, my dear friend, Lin. She passed in December of 2015, a couple of months after Kai, and her family asked if I would give Ryder a home. Of course, there was no question in my mind that it was right, and three days after Lin passed away, he moved in with us.

Since then, Ryder has had frequent nightmares. At least several times a week, he will howl like this in his sleep. I’ll go to him, pet him, talk to him, and gently call him back to waking. Sometimes, like last night, it’s difficult to do so, and he’ll continue to cry in his sleep for a minute or two before he finally wakes up. Then, he’ll whimper and moan for a moment as he gets oriented, and settle down when he realizes that he’s not alone.

I have tried, many times, to get a focus on the images in his mind when he does this. Most often, when I can get anything at all, I see Lin, walking away, and feel the painful emotions of not being able to go with her. Is that what he is really dreaming? Is it my imagination because, to be honest, I miss his mum very badly, too? I guess only Ryder knows for sure.

Animal studies have shown that dogs (and all animals who experience REM sleep) do, in fact, dream. Following the electrical readings from various areas of the brain, it’s been shown that they often (as do people) dream of the things they experience when they are awake.

MIT studies on rats proved that the animals run the same mazes in their dreams they run when awake. Researchers have even received such accurate readings, by comparing daytime scans with the sleeping ones, that they can tell what section of the maze the dreaming rat is running.

Studies on Zebra Finches showed that they accurately reconstruct, during REM sleep, the songs they practiced during the day. I can easily believe this, as there have been many times I’ve heard my starlings talking quietly, only to discover that they’re sound asleep with beaks tucked into their shoulders.

An evolutionary psychologist at Harvard Medical School, Dr Deirdre Barrett, has surmised that dogs most likely dream of their owners. Their actions in sleep are very similar to the way they would respond to their owners during the day. This, of course, makes perfect sense, as most dogs’ primary attachment in life is to their beloved humans.

Ryder was Lin’s heart dog for eight and a half years before he came to live with me. It is no surprise that, over two years later, he is still dreaming of his mum—and missing her. Although it hurts me to see him having sad dreams, I would never, ever want him to forget her, after all. He was by her side during her long battle with cancer, and most of his life’s memories center around her. I (more and more as I get older) often dream of my childhood, my parents (who have been gone for years), and the things I did in my youth. It makes sense to me that Ryder, also, would dream of his younger days, and the person who filled them with love.

Cats also dream, of course. Anyone who has been owned by cats has spent time watching them in sleep, as their paws and whiskers twitch, and their eyes move under the lids. Although more studies have been done on dogs than on cats in this regard, those researchers who have observed cats sleeping (and more) suspect that when cats dream, they may be hunting in their sleep.

In both dogs and cats, though the thought horrifies me, studies have been done after removing the part of the brain (or otherwise inhibiting it) which keeps the body relatively immobile during sleep. If we didn’t have that area in our brain, we’d continually be doing things while sleeping that might get us hurt (or worse). When that part of the brain (the pons, located in the brainstem) is deactivated or removed, both dogs and cats have actually gotten up and acted out their dream activities. Cats will stalk, pounce and growl. Dogs will wag their tails and move about excitedly, as if greeting a friend. Although I’m not overly fond of the idea of doing brain surgery in order to learn things, what was learned is a valuable step toward understanding our animal friends.

Our dogs and cats dream, just like we do.

May all, or at least most, of their dreams be happy ones. When they aren’t, we’ll just have to do our best to hold them, comfort them, and reassure them that they are safe.

Further Reading:

Do Dogs Dream? From Psychology Today

Dogs Dream Of You While Cats Dream Of Death. From IFL Science

Creature Thoughts, April 2017

Know Your Teachers

Northern Harrier (Marsh Hawk)

Last month’s newsletter touched on how we are constantly teaching our animal friends with our actions, and how we respond to theirs. Most of us who live with animals as integral parts of our lives know that they are forever teaching us, as well.

We learn so much just by watching them and interacting with them. The more we open our eyes, and our hearts, the more we can learn. We learn about unconditional love, about forgiveness. We learn how to calm and comfort ourselves. We learn that it is possible to find peace in the midst of chaos. (And yes, we also learn things like the best way to get cat puke out of a carpet and dog-hair off the furniture.)

One way we can expand what we learn from our pets, is to do all we can to learn about our pets. Who, really, is your dog? What makes a cat tick? What does a horse say with his body language? Why do our animals react to circumstances the way they do?

I touch on this topic on one level in Through Their Eyes, which looks at the “problems” commonly faced by pet owners from the point of view of the pets themselves. The book takes into account the instincts and nature-embedded behaviors that lead our animal friends to respond in certain ways to their environment.

When we study animal behavior, and seek to understand who the being deep inside our furry friend really is, it makes it easier to see that our dog is just being a dog, and our cat just being a cat, when they misbehave. They’re not out to punish us or cause us problems. Taking that emotional misunderstanding out the equation makes it easier to fix problems in a methodical (and forgiving) way, and enhances the relationship we have with our animal companions.

Whether we are talking about pets, farm animals, or wildlife, the more we learn about their inner nature, their history, their behavior, the more we can learn from them. Knowing the wild prey animal that drives our horse will allow us to see that horse in a new light. It will allow us to learn a bit about what it is like to be a large equine with finely tuned reflexes for survival.

When we become acquainted with the highly-skilled predator inside our cat, likewise, we embark upon a journey through the undergrowth of time. By opening up to the true nature of our little lap-warmer, we become closer to her in so many ways.

I believe that all humans who live with, work with, or dedicate their lives to animals, should do all they can to study those souls, and learn their natures. Yes, it’s very important to know accurate information about health care, nutrition, and the mechanics of training. It’s also important, though, and so enriching, to know the soul of that being. Who did he evolve from, and why is he who he is in modern times? What were his ancestors like? What aspects of his life and behavior can be traced back to the wild creatures in which his DNA took form?

Our animal friends enrich our lives in so many ways. I hope that we can all continue to expand that enrichment, as we open our knowing to the lessons they teach.


News and Updates:

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Blessings and Light,

Creature Thoughts, July 2016



This month, I’d like to share an excerpt from Through Their Eyes: The Nature of the Beast

I first encountered the word anthropocentrism when I was beginning to seriously study animal communication. It was mentioned in When Animals Speak, a book by Penelope Smith, who is a fore-runner in the field and a woman whom I’ve since had the pleasure to get to know personally. Anthropocentrism is, essentially, the opposite of anthropomorphism … the tendency to attribute human qualities to animals. Anthropocentrism is the assumption that the only creature capable of exhibiting “human qualities” are humans. The fact that these attributes are considered “human qualities”, is in itself anthropocentric. Love, devotion, the ability to think and reason, the ability to communicate clearly, spirituality…. All of these things are often considered to be exclusive to homo sapiens.

I assure you they are not. Animals of all species exhibit these attributes regularly within the framework of their own kind; they are a part of their existence just as they are a part of ours. However, this does not mean that there is no such thing as anthropomorphism. There is, in fact, and it can be a problem in trying to understand our animal friends, just as much as anthropocentrism can be a problem.

The truth, as it often does, lurks in between the two.

While being an animal communicator necessitates the acceptance that animals have thoughts, reason, feelings and beliefs, it also means that we have to accept that these thoughts and feelings may not have the same nuances, the same meaning, the same motivations that they would have as expressed and understood by a human being. If we wish to truly understand our animal friends, and help them to adjust to a happy life within our human-centered society, we must try to separate ourselves out from the man-view and see things through their eyes. Although this sounds fairly obvious when stated like this, it’s not always as easy to put into practice as one might think. An animal rarely sees things clearly from our point of view without assistance.

An animal communicator’s job is as much to explain to the animal why their humans have certain idiosyncrasies as it is to explain to the human the motivation behind the animal’s actions. It is to find a compromise, a balance, and a mutual understanding that works for both worlds.

Anthropocentrism, in a broader sense, is the tendency to view the universe from a point that assumes that we, as human beings, are its center. It is a habit of comparing everything our fellow earth-walkers do to the “proper” point of view of a human being.

The animals have taught me that it doesn’t work that way. The universe is so much bigger than that, and to fully appreciate it, one must learn to accept that the universe has many centers, and the circles all intersect in a most wonderful way.

Opening up to new viewpoints, and learning to understand our animal friends for who they are, enlarges the universe for us all.

News and Updates:

Please take a look at my Important Info Page for the changes that have taken place as of January 1st. My rates have gone up to $45 for the base rate, and there are some minor changes in the way billing will be handled, etc. It’s all spelled out on the website, for your convenience.

Be Aware: This is just an early summer notice, on the behalf of our wild friends. Babies are leaving the nest, getting bolder, moving around more on their own. Little birds are hopping about on the ground and in the bushes, learning to use those inexperienced wings. Just because you don’t see parent birds and animals with the little ones, it does not mean that the youngsters are in distress. Enjoy from a distance, but don’t interact. They are supposed to be mischievous and adventurous at this time of year, and mom and dad are not far away.