Two Ears, One Mouth

Pets as Listeners

July 7, 2021

How pets are sometimes better listeners than people

SUMMARY

  • What we can learn from our pets about being better listeners.
  • How pets provide comfort and support by listening.
  • The age-old battle of dogs versus cats when it comes to listening.

They look at us adoringly and with so much love. They understand us so well and are always there by our side. 

We’re not talking about a loving partner—we’re talking about our furry friends! That’s because a third of pet-owning married women said their pets are better listeners than their husbands. 

Veterinary behaviorist Karen Sueda explains this surprising point, “Pets are great because they provide us with unconditional support. They never talk back, never give us the wrong opinion and they are always there for us.” 

“As much as we love our spouses or significant others, sometimes they are not there, sometimes they have their own thoughts about how we should deal with situations. And sometimes, especially when it’s a husband or male significant other, they want to solve the problem rather than just listening to the problem.” 

Just like us humans, dogs, cats, and other pets have two ears and one mouth. They can listen for the sound of the kibble hitting their bowl. They can bark or meow at the delivery person at the door. 

But unlike in cartoons, pets can’t communicate with actual words or answer us when we ask a question. Although at times it may seem like they understand completely all that is happening around them. And maybe they actually do. 

Dogs and cats respond best to visual signals. They are more likely to first consider our human body language before listening to our verbal cues to understand what it is we are communicating. For example, when you tell a dog verbally to “sit” and point a finger down, the dog is responding to the finger pointing and not to your voice. 

And it’s those body language cues that a pet is reacting to that can make us think they are truly listening to us. When we cry, they snuggle up with comfort. When we need a distraction from the craziness of life, they may drop a toy in our lap. And that kind of support makes us want to open up, share our stories, and let them listen to us.

 

Credit: Photo by Samson Katt from Pexels


Why a four-legged friend just may be a better listener than a two-legged

Pets offer a different kind of listening ear from humans. With them, we can avoid some of the frustrations we may have when talking with our friends or family. Pets don’t interrupt you (well, maybe for a treat!). There is no judgment. They aren’t distracted looking down at their phone while you’re speaking. They do all the things of a good, active listener. 

Pets also bring a high level of trust. We know that we can confide in them and that our conversations won’t be the latest gossip heard through the grapevine. When you feel listened to, that in turn builds trust, loyalty, and commitment to a relationship. And that sense of trust that comes from listening is something you can carry over to the humans in your life.

 

Credit: Photo by Josh Rakower on Unsplash

A paw-sitive approach to listening

This sense of comfort that comes with a pet listening to us is one of the reasons behind the success of therapy animals. There are many mental health benefits of an animal companion. And it’s not just dogs, rabbits generate calm and hamsters can help with stress. Therapy dogs are often welcome in workplaces and have been shown to increase interactions among employees. The dogs spark conversations and get workers to relate to each other, which helps with listening.

One area that therapy dogs have put their listening skills to use is with helping children achieve better reading skills. Dogs visit schools and libraries and children read out loud one-on-one with them. This builds the child’s confidence in reading because the dog is a reassuring, uncritical audience who is willing to listen. Linda, one young participant in a reading to dogs program, said, “I have somebody that listens when I read. If I make a mistake, there's no one around me to laugh.” 

 

Credit: Photo by Anusha Barwa on Unsplash


The battle of the canines versus the felines

So we’ve talked a lot about dogs here and that’s because dogs are better listeners than cats (please listen before any cat lovers start sending us hate mail!). Both dogs and cats can hear well but cats have better hearing. But there is a difference between hearing and listening. Hearing is receiving sound and requires no conscious efforts. While listening is a more active process that goes beyond only using one sense to also include seeing and touch. 

Dogs are much more social animals than cats who tend to be more independent and solitary creatures. A dog will typically seek out social interactions with humans. This is because dogs have evolved from their wolf pack as social animals who hunt and live together. They are used to being in close proximity with people and that has led them to become more attuned to the feelings of their human family. This sociability sets them apart from cats to be better listeners. 

Many dogs and their owners are struggling right now as the world transitions from work-from-home to back-to-the-office. Dogs have become used to having their owners around all day long. Owners have loved having their listening buddy nearby during the workday when they need to talk. To help minimize this separation anxiety, start getting your dog ready for the new routine now and slowly ease them into it. 

One tip to ease the transition is to play an audiobook for your dog while you are away at work. They will love to listen to the sound of a human voice because they are always ready and willing to listen.

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