Previous: 5 Signs Your Bird is Sick
Next: Ask Jessi 7!



View count:52,288
Last sync:2023-01-19 16:15
Jessi does an unscripted show and brings on a few of the animals to share. She talks about how they're communicating using body language and behavior that's typical of each species and individual.

Our Video Sponsors:

Chris Jones
Sara Salley
Robert B Friedman
Jenni Berrett
Kerstin Soderquist
Holly Burkett
Lucy McGlasson
Jessie van Heuven
Courtney White

Thank you so much for helping make these videos possible!

If you'd like your name here or featured at the end of an episode, you can become a sponsor at
Looking for more awesome animal stuff?
Subscribe to Animal Wonders Montana to see all of our videos!

Other places to find us:
Amazon Wishlist:
Hi guys, welcome back to Animal Wonders.  I'm Jessi, and today, we're doing one of those awesome and fun unscripted shows.  I get asked a lot about how I understand what an animal is saying, so I kind of wanted to do a communication talk with you guys and just bring out some animals and talk about what they're talking about.


This is Sydney, the brush-tailed bettong, and she's about three years old, which is still pretty young, but that's mature for bettongs.  So right now, I just woke her up.  These guys are nocturnal, so she's kind of shivering a little bit saying, "Oh, man, you woke me up."  I'm sorry.  But she's comfortable, because she's licking me and now she's going to go try and hide.  She's snuffing a little bit, which is showing me that she's starting to get a little uncomfortable, she's huffing, she's going (panting sounds).  If she was really upset, what she would do is she would hiss, do a full hssss, hiss, not baring her teeth, just like, an exhale, pretty loud exhale, and then if she really wanted me out of her territory, she would swish her tail, kind of like this, back and forth, she would be like, hsss.  Alright, she does not want to be held right now, she wants to get back down, and I want to put her back so that she stays nice and comfortable being held the next time I want to bring her out.  So we're gonna put her back pretty quickly.

We're pretty hands-on with our animals because we do a lot of education with them, but I never want to make an animal do something that they're really uncomfortable with unless it's for a medical procedure, so she was telling me that she was starting to get uncomfortable so I wanted to respect her wishes.

Let's get another animal that's a little bit slower moving.  This is Yucca, the red-footed tortoise, and she was just eating her meal, so she's taking a little break to say hello.  You can see some food on her face.  Yucca loves her food, but what's really interesting about her is that she actually recognizes faces, so she knows whether it's me, she'll react differently than maybe Matt or a cameraman or Augusto or another stranger.  She acts differently for each of us.  For me, she'll come running right over, well, walking briskly right over to get some shell rubs, which I call butt rubs, because I rub right here and she--she really likes it, it feels good.  For others, strangers maybe, she's gonna be a little bit more wary and she'll hang back, assess the situation, and then if she's comfortable, she might saunter on over and ask for some butt rubs, too.

As far as other communication, if she was really nervous about something, she would tuck her head all the way in, and you could hear her exhale when she did that--I startled her a little bit because I touched her right on the nose without letting her know, but she'll exhale and it sounds like a hiss.  Now, she's not actually hissing.  She just needs to exhale in order to get her head to fit inside this space in here.  If she gets really scared, she'll then cover her head with her front legs and become impenetrable.  

So the reason that she's not inside her shell right now is because she's comfortable.  Now her legs are moving around a lot and that's her telling me, I just, I want all four feet on solid ground.  I'm a tortoise and I'm not meant to fly.  Now, she is quite curious and when she encounters something new, she does this funny thing where she moves her head in and out and then in and out and it's basically saying I want to know what that is, but I'm a little cautious, but I want to know what that is, and eventually curiosity wins out and she goes and investigates and usually tries to eat.  Alright, I'm gonna let Yucca finish her meal and I'm gonna bring out another animal.

This is Charlie and he's a dog.  We don't know what kind of dog he is, but right now, he is showing me some submissive behaviors.  His lips are slightly pulled forward, his ears are back a little bit, and right now, he really just wants some pets, but he was being cautious because I'm being quite loud with my vocalizations so he wanted to make sure that this was gonna be an okay thing that he was asking for pets, huh, buddy?  I got a little bit of a tail wag, and licking of the lips.  Now, licking of the lips, that's another submissive sign.  Let's see if I pick up his foot.  You see his eyes got a little bit squinty and he's like, ehh, makes me a little bit nervous, how about I just--more pets.  He put his head by my hand so I would stop touching his foot and instead touch his head.  Now let's see how his behavior changes when food enters the scene.

You see that?  See how he's extending his body a little bit and his head is up, his ears are more perked, you want that?  Yeah, you do.  Good boy.  What do you think?  Ears perked, curious, with my whistle.  Good job.  So he's a very subtle communicator.  I think it's easier for us to read a dog's behavior just because they're so ingrained in our culture but at the same time, it's still difficult for humans to read a completely different species' communications.  What do you think?  What if we get high pitched voice?  Are you super excited?  What do you think?  Do you want some treats?  He's like, I'll just steal them from you.  Most dogs will get really excited if you used a high pitched staccato voice.  (kisses)  I got some tail wags, which is usually a sign of happiness.  Here you go, up here.  There's no treats in that hand, it's here.  Oh there you go, you got it, good boy.

Now, these squinty eyes now aren't a sign of nervousness.  This is a sign of relaxation like he's getting a massage.  Charlie is nine years old, so we've gotten to know each other quite well over his lifetime.  So that's a little bit about how Charlie is communicating with me.  Now, not all dogs are going to communicate the same way as Charlie.  He's quite a submissive dog, and other dogs are going to have different personalities. 

In general, if a dog gets still or stiffens, that's a sign of discomfort or nervousness, but the more comfortable they get, the looser or more wiggly they get.  If a dog stiffens and then bares their teeth, listen to them!  That is a very clear communication that they are not comfortable with the situation and things will progress further if you don't listen to them.  If a dog perks their ears like you saw Charlie pull these muscles and perk his ears up when he saw the treats, it means that they're curious or attentive to the situation, but if their ears flatten, that's a warning sign.  Sometimes that can mean they're communicating aggressiveness, but other times it means submissiveness, like Charlie's doing right now.

I know that he's not being aggressive right now because there's no other signs of aggression.  He's not baring his teeth, he's not growling, he doesn't have any hackles up, he's just very calm.

I hope that you guys enjoyed our unscripted show today about communication.  If you have any questions for me about how your animal is communicating to you, then go ahead and leave them in the comments below and we'll see you next week.


Bird behavior tends to be difficult for many humans to read, partly because they don't have any facial expression and their bodies don't move like us, and birds are really good at hiding any symptoms of an illness.