How The Hen House Turns: Whispering Works

How The Hen House Turns:
Whispering Works
By CAROLYN A. NEEPER, Ph.D
Los Alamos
 
I know little about horses, but I understand horse whispering. Horses simply need to know that you are a reliable leader of the herd. They like attention from human hands.
 
It’s very much like the neck nibbling they do to establish close relations. Whispering works with most animals, even chickens. But you have to listen carefully.
 
Chickens respond with quiet murmurs when you say, “Good morning.” It was easier to hear Lucy Goose. Her “good morning” was a very distinctive “honk honk.”
 
Dogs have a very special way of whispering. They do it with their eyes, especially a beta type dog. Their look says, “What’s next, Man?” and they really mean it. Of course, dogs can also be naturally dominant. An alpha dog will accept a human’s command when he or she insists on that position in the pack, but it takes stubborn willfulness with clear consistence, not shouting.
 
I think horses are a lot different in their need for clear leadership, not dominance.
 
A recent PBS program filmed a hamster climbing up the side of his cage, opening the latch, climbing out, running across the floor leaving a scent trail, climbing into his
exercise ball and getting out just in time, before the ball fell downstairs. He went to the bathroom, stuffed his cheeks with toilet paper, followed his scent trail back to his cage, spit out the TP, and added it to his bedding before going back to sleep.
 
So much for the dumb little passive rodent pet. Makes me wonder if and how he communicates with his humans.
 
So it was with the cats of our family apricot ranch in California. Our kitten, who grew up into a roaming calico we named Oscar, would disappear for days at a time. The hills were his to roam, but he brought home his mates and their offspring to drink the milk my dad provided them, with a squirt from the cow. They seemed to know milking hours. We kids tried every trick in the book, but we could never catch, much less tame, his kittens or their mothers. No whispering for them.
 
Then there was Turkey One and Turkey Two, both raised in New Mexico by us humans.
 
T One bonded strongly with us and would run across the yard barking every time we appeared outside. However, when she matured, she challenged me with a strong peck, until I erupted and swatted her on the top of her head. That did it. I was alpha bird after that. No problem.
 
The same challenge from turkey two did no good. She simply huffed up her feathers and pecked at me whenever I stayed in Her Pen too long. She never challenged the men who came by. In fact she would sit down and watch them for hours as they worked on the chicken pen.
 
Recently, it has become more common in zoos for predators to adopt animals that would be their natural prey. Since they are well fed, the predators obviously prefer company to an additional snack.
 
So what does all this mean? I guess it’s that animals are individuals, just like the rest of us, individuals with fantastic hard and soft wiring—brains so complex they are more conscious than we thought, and more communicative than we imagined. And none of us likes to be shouted at.
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