How Pet Psychics Work

Cold Reading

Pet psychics' portrayals of animals and their methods for communicating with them are scientifically questionable. For this reason, many people view pet psychics with skepticism. Some claim that apparently successful pet psychics aren't psychic at all -- they're just practicing cold reading.

Cold reading -- sometimes used to explain ESP, tarot reading and fortune telling -- is a method for extracting personal information. Skeptics claim that all psychics are cold readers and do not have paranormal abilities. Cold readers encourage the person receiving the reading to provide all the details. The resulting reading can be very convincing.

A cold reader claiming to be a pet psychic would probably have a good knowledge of human psychology and animal behavior. Keeping that knowledge in mind, she would:

  • State the obvious. She might watch a dog chew on his paws and say, "He says his paws bother him. They itch all the time."
  • Use vague language. A statement like, "He says something's different in the house" can lead the pet's owner to figure out what the change could be. If the owner replies, "I bought new throw pillows for the living room," the cold reader will base her response on that information. She might reply, "Yes, he says the pillows smell funny. You told me he keeps scratching at the door. He says he's trying to get away from the smell."
  • Make statements that are likely to be true. Most indoor cats like to sit in windows and look outside. If a cold reader says, "She's very curious. She says she loves to sit in the window and see what's going on in the world," she's unlikely to be wrong.
  • Ask questions. Successful cold readers ask lots of questions as they fish for details. When the person receiving a reading answers a question, the cold reader often repeats or rephrases the answer. The reader also uses the answers to the questions to decide what to ask next [ref].

By successfully applying the principles of cold reading, a person can appear to be genuinely psychic. But cold reading does not explain pet psychics' apparent success stories. Many pet psychics claim that they have found missing pets, curbed behavior problems or helped heal sick or injured animals. Skeptics often claim that these successes are really coincidence. Skeptics also claim that psychics supplement their cold reading skills by telling pet owners what they want to hear -- that misbehaving pets will shape up, lost pets will come home and deceased pets are in a better place.

Regardless of whether they use paranormal abilities or cold-reading techniques, pet psychics have grown in popularity over the last few years. This may be part of an overall trend of increased spending on pets. According to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, pet owners spent $17 billion on their pets in 1996. In 2005, that amount more than doubled to $36.3 billion. Industry analysts believe this increase in spending is due in part to a rise in populations who have a high disposable income. These populations include baby boomers and married couples who have chosen not to have children [ref].

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