Netizens are turning to “pet communicators” to improve their relationships with their furry friends, despite a lack of science behind these animal psychics
Xinyu claims he can speak with dead dogs. He sells this “spiritual communication” service to departed dogs’ bereaved owners, alongside meditation and other pet interaction services for owners looking to develop better relationships with their living canine companions.
Xinyu, who asked to be identified by his social media handle for this article, is a pet communicator, who claims to unpack the mysteries of animals’ thoughts by “observing and understanding both the clients and the pets, interpreting from their body language as well as their facial expressions,” he tells TWOC.
Pet communicators like Xinyu have grown in popularity in China in recent months, with people turning to these self-professed dog whisperers to help them get closer to their animal friends. On Weibo, the hashtag “pet communicator” has garnered nearly 502,000 views, while social media platform Xiaohongshu has over 7,000 related posts. Douyin (China’s version of TikTok) is awash with videos of pet communicators and the results of their interventions. Despite little science behind pet communicators and most sellers having few qualifications, this new profession is booming with a population increasingly obsessed with their animals.
For 50 to close to 1,000 yuan per hour, pet communicators claim the ability to establish a “connection” with pets, often without meeting the animal or even having extensive conversations with the pet owner. Some say they can talk to and relay messages to pets based on just their name, age, and photos.
Unlike traditional trainers, who seek information on a pet’s actions before suggesting physical training techniques to improve behavior, such as giving food as rewards, pet communicators are more concerned with abstract concepts like establishing a spiritual connection with the animal.
Xinyu first gets basic information about the pet from its owner, including its breed, weight, color, and any recent unusual behavior the owner is seeking an explanation for. Then he writes up what he calls a “report” (a series of answers to questions the owner has asked in advance) that explains the animal’s personality and why it might be acting out. Despite lacking any formal qualifications in animal behavior or related subjects, Xinyu is confident in his methods. He claims he can detect an angry kitten for confused owners, for example. His recommendations to owners often include spending more time with the animal and buying it more toys to play with.
Pet owners are drawn to communicators for various reasons. Some are simply driven by curiosity, wishing to understand their pets’ emotional states and daily lives (or just test the accuracy pet communicator’s novel service). Others aim to find missing pets or converse with deceased ones.
One Xiaohongshu user described in a post earlier this year how a pet communicator that she hired for 468 yuan correctly identified her dog’s favorite activity (“when mom takes photos of her”) and somehow knew the dog enjoyed chewing on bed sheets and had respiratory issues. Another user detailed how, for 300 yuan, a pet communicator accurately suggested her cat craves egg yolks and doesn’t appreciate men in the home.
But a report by Yangcheng Evening News in November pointed out that most of this information could be obtained from browsing the social media feeds of pet owners, or that, like fortune-tellers, pet communicators often make generic claims that can appeal to almost any scenario. Most pet owners ask similar questions of communicators—such as, “Is my pet happy when we’re together,” “What does it like to eat,” and “Why is it picky with its food recently”—and are satisfied with similar answers.
However, some owners remain unsatisfied with their communicator’s work. Tong Yao, the owner of a 2-year-old border collie named Qiuqiu, told tech news outlet 36Kr that she spent 60 yuan to pose five questions about her dog to a pet communicator. She provided the communicator with Qiuqiu’s name, sex, and age, and was told to tell Qiuqiu that the pet communicator would “help mom speak to you.”
Tong asked whether Qiuqiu felt bored and sad at home alone, what his favorite food is, and whether he knows he’s been bad when he gets punished. The pet communicator quickly messaged back saying Qiuqiu had communicated his desires: “[Qiuqiu] responded excitedly, ‘My favorite is egg yolks!’” But Tong already knew this was false. “Maybe because most dogs like egg yolks, the pet communicator will use it as a set answer to the question. But Qiuqiu is picky with what he eats,” she told 36Kr. Tong never contacted the communicator again.
As demand for pet communicators has increased, training institutes have also sprung up online. One pet communicator training company, Ting’s Studio, offers a 13-day online course for prospective pet communicators for 2,599 yuan on Xiaohongshu. The training is conducted through online video conferences and chat groups.
Training firms offer certificates on completion of their courses, but since there are no industry standards or official qualifications, the quality and content of training can vary wildly. Despite some companies promising that pet communicators can expect salaries of up to 10,000 yuan per month after completing their training, many pet communicators forego any formalized training. “I practice the skills myself...so I don’t feel the need to pursue certifications,” Xinyu tells TWOC.
With the pet industry still growing in China, many worry that owners are being suckered into irrational spending or scams. “Pet communication has no scientific proof, and pet communicators are using owners’ psychology to anthropomorphize pets, and gain their empathy and trust,” commented state media outlet Beijing Youth Daily in September this year.
Shen Huiliang, a pet psychology specialist, told Beijing Youth Daily that dogs “mainly communicate through their voices, eyes, and body language,” so it would be impossible to communicate with a dog simply by viewing a photograph.
That is unlikely to deter Xinyu while his orders continue to roll in. The most important thing for him is to satisfy customers, even if that means telling them what they want to hear about their favorite furry friends: “If what I say aligns with what you’re thinking, isn’t that basically accuracy?” he tells TWOC.