characteristics of communication, hear
chinchilla sounds, speech
General Characteristics of Communication
Also see: General
Characteristics of Behavior, Speech
Animal Sentience Site
It's important to bear in mind that chinchillas
are truly unique as individuals. They vary as much as people do and
they deserve to be considered and related to on an individual basis,
"general" characteristics are just that.
People who have a good,
close relationship with their chin never cease to be amazed at how
perceptive and intelligent they are. Ours
understand several phrases, we've had chins respond on the first try
to something we said just because they're observant of our habits
and motivation and because chins are intelligent enough to use what
they know to anticipate what we're trying to communicate. Chins are
very empathetic and intuitive creatures, this results in a keen ability
to relay what they mean or want from their chinparents, which is successful
provided the chinparents are also observant and practice some empathy
and intuition on their part.
Avoid breathing or blowing directly into your chin's face. According
to our exotics specialist vet,
chinchillas CAN catch a virus from people, such
as cold or flu. Cold sores can also be a danger if they're
scratched before handling the chin or the chin comes into direct contactw
with them. Also, from handling ranchies
we've learned that by instinct a chinchilla reacts to human breath
as if they're being bombarded by another animal's natural defenses.
That is, they think that we use our breath in the same way another
chin sprays urine,
the way a porcupine uses its quills or a squid shoots ink; human breath
can be overwhelming, repulsive and even threatening, especially if
they're not accustomed to interaction with people.
If they want something replenished or adjusted INSIDE their cage,
or if they want a treat,
are eager to greet you and want some attention
or would like to get out for a
run, they'll get your attention by standing up on their hind legs
with their forepaws against the cage mesh as if they're searching
for something or "begging." When they want something changed
OUTSIDE of their cage environment (TV
volume or channel changed, room temperature adjusted, if dishwasher
or something is too loud...), they'll bark.
From the section on Seizures,
about shaking and what it conveys:
There is a head shake or tremble, which sometimes involves the
body as well, that can happen when a chin is being held and he's been
startled or is feeling fear, apprehension or dread. It's not the same
as a seizure or convulsion although it can appear that way, it's actually
a voluntary reaction (that may appear involuntary) that is
situation-specific, such as from being picked up suddenly. "The
shakes" can happen whether or not a chin is familiar with you
and it's been noted by us and others that the black velvet mutation
seems particularly prone to this. When a chin shakes, it's important
to soothe him by speaking softly and reassuringly, hold him close
and gently cuddle him; to release him before he's been calmed would
reinforce his fear. When you get a new chinchilla, he needs affirmation
of your goodwill from the start, see: Initiating
Bonding, A Hands-On Approach.
Chins do smile and wink, and as often as we've seen it done, it's
not inadvertent or blinking, it's really part of the way they communicate
to people. It can be done to show contentment, to acknowledge our
communication efforts, or to say, "please be gentle and
love me, I'm little and scared."
Chins do communicate by anti-social
behavior, but that's not part of their regular communication in a
positive, everyday way. Pressure
bites (in an urgency context) and nibbles are not actually
anti-social behavior, they're a perfectly normal, necessary part of
chinchilla communication, select the hyperlink to read more.
If a chin is getting into something (while outside of his cage)
that he shouldn't, snap your fingers
or clap your hands once or twice and say "no" in a firm,
not loud or frightening, manner. Use this tactic sparingly or its
effect will diminish.
When afraid, they may release an odor from their anal gland, which
is "a scent gland located in the opening of the anus" (ref-
Lioncrusher's Domain). The odor isn't particularly pungent but
it is definitely noticeable within a range of about 2-3', and has
been described as the smell of "burnt almonds."
Expressions of sheer joy and exuberance include: bouncing off walls,
sometimes referred to as "wall surfing" and the mid-air
jump and twitch, sometimes referred to as "popcorning" but
better termed as, "happy dance."
When a male chinchilla is near a female or is smelling a female's
urine marking, this can get him "in the mood." The male
expresses his interest in mating by flirtatiously wagging his tail
(and making the mating call), but the tail doesn't wag from
side to side as if it's one solid piece. Rather, because the chinchilla's
tail has many ligaments (between 20-30), it curls as it moves
rapidly from side to side, like a cat's tail. Females have been known
to wag their tail, too, but this is chiefly a male behavior.
They will learn routines or sounds associated with what affects them:
bags crinkling, footsteps coming down the stairs, a food dish being
Chins will often try to catch their chinparent's attention by climbing
up to their chinparent's eye-level ("they're up high, I'll
have to get up high"), sometimes scaling their cage wall
to do so. Likewise, if you drop a treat in through the cage bars while
trying to hand it to your chin, stoop to where you're at eye-level
with the treat on the cage floor, perhaps gesture toward it as well,
and the chin will find it more quickly when he can better deduce where,
specifically, you're looking.
Hear Chinchilla Sounds
see these sites with .wav files:
J's Micro-Zoo, Lori
Chinchillas are capable of making an incredibly
wide range of sounds which are mostly unique to the species but are
somewhat reminiscient of a squirrel. Even though we've met hundreds
of chins over the years, we still hear sounds that make us stop and
take notice. Depending on their personal disposition, some chins are
very vocal (gruffing, barking) while others may normally make
no noise at all, but most fall somewhere in between.
The "meaning" or "interpretation" of chinchilla
communication sounds varies by situational context and the sound itself
will vary somewhat between chins. Despite how simple online
sound bites may make it seem to understand chinchilla "speech,"
it actually takes awhile, and much listening and observing, to become
accustomed to what a particular chin is communicating when he uses
a particular sound in a particular situation.
Kits make a supplicating sound
to entreat adults to go easy on them, this usually succeeds.
When a chin is grooming another and his
technique becomes too clumsy or annoying, then the chin being groomed
will make a chirp that indicates by tone, intensity and duration whether
he's a little or very perturbed and in the latter case the sound made
will often be emphatic enough to conclude the grooming session altogether.
In this sound
clip (.wav), Zoe makes a little "leave me alone" gruff
for her chinparents.
One of the most common sounds that chins make is
their "bark," which actually sounds
more like honking than barking and the chin makes it by standing
still and abruptly drawing in air through
his nose; sometimes you can see his sides
compress or his lips purse. The
sound will vary in pitch between chinchillas,
this soprano example was made by a female named Munchkin: sound
The bark is probably best referred to as a "distress call,"
and when a chin isn't using it during out-of-cage exercise
time then it indicates a reaction to something in the environment
outside the cage (needs inside the cage are signaled by standing
on their hind legs with
forepaws leaned against the cage
walls, in a begging posture).
What's being regarded as "distressing," however, can vary
greatly: when used during playtime
it can be a heads-up signal to the other chins, when used by ranchies
just off the ranch it can be from fear of the new and unfamiliar in
their environment, when used by pet chins in their cage it can be
to alert their chinparent regarding: temperature, TV channel or volume
change, annoyance with certain noises like that of appliances working,
When a chin is familiar with
you but still new enough not to be totally confident yet, he may make
a kind of high-pitched whimpering sound if he thinks he's in trouble
for some perceived misdeed. It sounds just like the supplicant noise
they make to their parents as kits. Incidentally, bear in mind that
while kits make the supplicant noise in deference to adults, it's
not a guarantee that the adult, especially if not the parent, will
necessarily be considerate of them.
Other sounds can be context-specific also, but this is a good general
description by Chinchilla
"Prone to excited sounds, Chinchillas will also emit chirps
and calls according to their mood. Over time an owner will hear a
multitude of these orations – all indicating the animal's personal
state. A soft cooing might indicate playfulness and comfort. A very
quiet chirping can be heard while the chinchilla is exploring a new
place. Some sounds will originate from the grinding of teeth, which
they will sometimes do after eating.
"They do sneeze audibly, sometimes from the fine dust in their
bath. If a chinchilla feels threatened, a high and loud bark will
be heard, much like a squirrel can bark. A last resort will involve
the chinchilla standing on hind legs and emitting both a bark and
a stream of urine. Sometimes, chinchillas will emit a series of loud,
hoarse barks that serve to warn other chinchillas of potential danger.
They nearly always use this vocalization if they feel nervous, rather
than in response to a specific threat."
in speech perception)
can learn their own and their cagemate's names *IF* you speak the
names regularly while interacting with them, because without repetition
and context reference, they won't make the association. When choosing
a name, one or two syllable names seem to be easier for a chin to
grasp than long names or a name composed of multiple words. Sometimes
a chin may know his name but will show no interest in responding to
it, at our rescue when we get a chin that doesn't respond to his name
we may try other names with him to see if he seems more responsive
to something else, and surprisingly, sometimes it does work to let
them choose their own name.
Chins have been known to learn and use squirrel chatter and parrots
from across the room can mimic "chin talk."
Chins are able to learn short phrases or key words, such as
"no," "good," "treat," "playtime,"
"gentle," etc. Tone of voice and specific sounds, when used
repetitively and in direct contextual reference, are key to helping
the chin make the association between the word/ phrase and its meaning.
For instance, when saying "no" use a deep, serious, negative
tone and when saying "good boy/ girl [or insert name]" use
a more high-pitched, light, enthusiastic and positive tone. Tone of
voice is often more influential with chins than the words themselves,
but in any case be advised that verbal commands should be used appropriately
and not excessively.
One example of verbal command/ communication is when we use the phrase
"pet your paw" to let our chins know that we won't pick
them up even though we're reaching into their cage or reaching near
them during out-of-cage exercise
time. To help the chins make the initial association we would say
"pet your paw" while literally petting their paw. The key
to a continued association between the phrase and not being picked
up is that we would never pick them up after using it, that all we
may do is simply pet their paw.
After using the phrase a few times in context with petting their paw
(depending on the chin, some picked it up on first use while others
had to be convinced that it would not result in their being picked
up) we would proceed to use only the phrase "pet your paw"
while entering their cage or during out-of-cage exercise time and
they remained at ease. Every now and then we reinforce the connection
by saying the phrase and literally petting their paw. We use "getcha"
when we are going to pick them up because it has a very separate and
STUDIES IN CHINCHILLA SPEECH PERCEPTION
The following appear to be landmark studies in speech perception,
they are quoted and referenced often on internet research and educational
"A comparison of chinchilla auditory evoked response and behavioral
(Henderson, D., Onishi, S., Eldredge, D.H., and Davis, H. 1969)
"Speech perception by the chinchilla: Discrimination of /I/
and /[upside-down V]/ in various consonantal contexts"
(Nan Lynn Dunlop)
"Speech perception by the chinchilla: Discrimination of sustained
/a/ and /i/"
(Burdick, C. K., & Miller, J. D. 1975)
"Speech perception by the chinchilla: Identification functions
for synthetic VOT stimuli"
K., & Miller, J. D. 1978)
"Speech perception by the chinchilla: Voiced-voiceless distinction
in alveolar plosive consonants"
(Kuhl, P. K., & Miller, J. D. 1975)
"Tone-on-tone masking in the chinchilla"
(Long, G.R. & Miller, J.D. 1981)
Selections from: Motor
Theory of Language
by Robin Allott
"Burdick & Miller (1975) found that the chinchilla, a member
of the rodent family, could learn to distinguish between /a/ and /u/
not only for different vocal productions by the same talker, but could
generalise this discrimination to vowel statements by different talkers,
changes in pitch level and changes in intensity. Kuhl & Miller (1975)
using synthetic speech had shown that chinchillas can distinguish
between /ta/ and /da/, between /ka/ and /ga/ and between /pa/ and
/ba/. In another study using natural speech, they had found that,
following training, syllables containing either /t/'s or /d/'s can
be discriminated by chinchillas despite variations in talkers, in
the vowels following the plosives and in intensities.
"Work by Sinnott (1974) with monkeys had shown that they are
able to distinguish between acoustic correlates of the place of human
articulation with /ba/ and /da/. Morse's (1976) results using rhesus
monkeys were also strikingly in agreement. Using the discriminations
/b/ /d/ /g/, rhesus monkeys despite their inability to produce the
full range of human speech-sounds, nevertheless discriminate between-category
change in place of articulation better than a within-category change
- an unexpected finding. In this connection Morse commented that it
was of interest that chinchillas classified the speech stimuli so
as to put the boundary in much the same place that human listeners
"...Presumably, it means that in mammals, there is some natural
categorical system, by no means necessarily an auditory one, which
has served as the basis for the construction of human phonemic speech
production and speech perception. In the monkey and in the chinchilla,
as well as in the infant, the sounds heard are referred back to a
system which is organised so as to distinguish between certain categories
of sound, essentially to some neuronal assembly which analyses in
a uniform way.
"What could the nature of this analysing device be? The proposal
in this paper is that the common element is generalised motor patterns,
motor programs. The motor programs for producing phonemic sounds are
derived from the primitive motor programs for producing bodily movement
generally, diverted to producing movement of the organs of articulation.
What the rhesus monkey shares with the human infant and with the chinchilla
is very similar skeletal and muscular organisation, very similar means
to control the length or tension of muscles and so the position or
movement of the limbs, of the skeleton generally or in fact of all
body parts subject to voluntary control."
Origin of Language: The General Problem
by Robin Allott
"Chinchilla (Kuhl and Miller,
1975) or Rhesus monkey (Morse, 1976): ability to discriminate
categorically between speech sounds and to generalise despite differing
formant frequencies (Burdick and Miller, 1975)"
"...chinchillas [can] distinguish different vowel-sounds and
maintain the categorical perception of them over 27 speakers with
very different formant frequencies."
Selections from: The
Motor Theory of Language: Origin and Function
by Robin Allott
"A second important
mosaic element for language is the capacity to discriminate categorically
between human speech sounds in a way similar to that found in adult
speech perception - an ability found in a variety of animals, notably
in chinchillas (Burdick and Miller, 1975; Kuhl and Miller, 1975),
monkeys - and indeed in extremely young human infants. (Morse,
1976; Kuhl, 1987; Kuhl and Meltzoff, 1982)"
"A range of animals and very young infants have displayed, in
repeated experiments, the ability to categorise speech-sounds, natural
or synthesised, in ways which match the category boundaries in adult
speech; very young infants have been shown to discriminate categorically
speech-sounds not found in their mother language. (Kuhl, 1987)
On the motor theory presented in this paper, the explanation for
this must be that the categorisation of speech-sounds is derived from
organisation prior to language, and specifically from the categorisation
of motor programs used in constructing and executing all forms of
"What the rhesus monkey, or the chinchilla, share with the young
human infant is very similar skeletal and muscular organisation, with
very similar processes for the neural control of movement generally.The
specificity of the phoneme is the accidental result of the application
of the different elementary motor subprograms to the muscles which
went to the form the articulatory system.The hierarchical structure
of the motor system is built on the basis of a limited set of motor
elements, which are combined in an unlimited number of ways (motor-words),
just as phonemes can form an unlimited number of spoken words."
Models of Speech Perception Phenomena (.pdf)
by Andrew J. Lotto, Keith
R. Kluender, and Lori L. Holt, University of Wisconsin-Madison
"Infant Speech Categorization:
The final phenomenon that has been argued to be indicative of specialized
processing is the ability of pre-lingual infants to categorize speech
sounds in a linguistically-relevant manner. Kuhl (1983) demonstrated
that six-month-old infants can differentiate two vowels even across
changes in speaker gender. This is rather remarkable considering the
substantial differences in fundamental frequency and formant frequencies
between the sexes. However, this does not to appear to be a special
human ability. Burdick and Miller (1975) showed that chinchillas can
differentiate vowels despite changes in talker and overall amplitude."
Perception by the Chinchilla: Discrimination of Sustained ||a|| and
The Journal of the Acoustical
Society of America -- August 1975 -- Volume 58, Issue 2, pp. 415-427
by Charles K. Burdick and James D. Miller
"Four chinchillas were
trained to respond differently to sustained ||a|| and ||i||. The ensemble
of vowels included two repetitions of each of the vowels by each of
four talkers at each of three pitch levels for a total of 24 ||a||'s
and 24 ||i||'s. The sound levels of the vowels were randomly changed
from trial to trial over a 10-dB range. The animals easily transferred
the training to a new set of vowels produced by 24 new talkers.
"Subsequently, the animals similarly transferred to synthetic
||a||'s and ||i||'s. The only relevant difference between the synthetic
vowels was their formant structure, while there were irrelevant differences
in their pitch contours. We conclude that the chinchilla can abstract
some essential difference(s) between sustained ||a|| and ||i|| and
ignore irrelevant variations of sound level, pitch level, pitch contour,
and voice quality. These results are discussed in terms of perceptual
learning and auditory concept formation."
Semiotic Organ: Language and the Brain
by James H. Bradford
"From the point of view
of semiotics, the most interesting consequence of these theories is
that the motor theory predicts that speech perception is species-specific
and innate (ie part of our biological heritage). The auditory
theory predicts just the reverse. Miller describes ingenious experiments
that address both of these points. The first experiment examines the
claim that speech perception may be species-specific. It should be
emphasized that Miller is not talking about the understanding of speech
but rather the perception of speech (the organic equivalent of
digital signal analysis). In Miller's words (Miller 1990):
'A way to test the claim that speech perception is species-specific
becomes obvious: examine speech perception in nonhuman animals whose
basic auditory systems are similar to those of humans, and see whether
these animals process speech in-the same way humans do.'
"As unlikely as it seems,
the study Miller cites (Kuhl 1978) involved comparing humans
to Chinchillas (Chinchillas were used because they and humans have
very similar basic auditory sensitivity). The experiment compared
the reactions of the two Species to a specific speech feature, Voice
Onset Time (VOT), which is used by humans to help discriminate
between consonants. By varying the VOT of a computer regenerated voice,
the syllable "ba" can be transformed into "pa" (as perceived by
humans). The ba/pa boundary occurs when VOT=25 milliseconds.
"The Chinchillas were trained to have different conditioned responses
when they heard "ba" or "pa". When they were subsequently given the
same stimuli as the human subjects, the Chinchillas showed the "ba"
conditioned response until VOT= 25 milliseconds, where upon they switched
to the "pa" response. This strongly suggests that the two species
share a common (or at least very similar) neurological mechanism
for detecting this particular speech feature. There is still much
research that must be done on this question, but the early evidence
seems to indicate that the auditory processing mechanisms that humans
use to perceive speech are common to other species as well.
"To explore the issue of whether or not speech perception is
acquired or innate, studies were described (Elmas 1971 and Eimas
1987) concerning the speech perception capacities of infants (who
presumably have not had sufficient time to acquire much language expertise).
The previous experiment with Chinchillas clearly suggests that human
infants will ultimately develop neurological mechanisms to support
speech perception, but the question here is whether such mechanisms
need to develop or are they present from the beginning as a kind of
genetic heritage (in other words, is the brain "pre-wired" for
"In these studies, the Voice Onset Time of synthetic speech was
varied to produce a ba/pa distinction. The infants were very young
(a group of 1 month old babies and a group of 4 month old babies)
and were clearly pre-verbal. Determining what humans perceive at this
age is very difficult. Infants at the age of 1 month cannot even be
apparently conditioned as well as Chinchillas."
Spoke: Human Language and Human Evolution
by Philip Lieberman
"The time resolution of the "standard" mammalian auditory
system seems to be about the same for both primitive and evolved mammalian
species. Patricia Kuhl, a psychologist at the University of Washington
who studies both children and animals, for example, found that chinchillas
and humans used the same temporal criteria to tell whether a sound
was a [d] or a [t]. The distinction here rests on the timing between
the moment the vocal cords of the larynx begin to move open and shut
in a regular manner, producing "phonation," and the moment your lips
open, producing a "puff" or "burst" of air noise.
"If the noise burst and phonation occur within 20 msec (a msec
is 1/1000 of a second), both the chinchilla and the human will "hear"
the sound [b]. A longer time delay yields a [p]. The decision-making
criterion seems to be the length of time that must intervene between
two different sounds in order for the hearer reliably to know which
occurred first. Human beings and chinchillas use the same auditory
criterion to categorize these sounds because humans retain the basic
"primitive" mammalian auditory system found in chinchillas."
the Nature and Nurture of Language (.pdf)
by Elizabeth Bates, University of California, San Diego
"Chinchillas can also hear the boundary between consonants,
and they hear it categorically, with a boundary at around the same
place where humans hear it. This finding has now been replicated in
various species, with various methods, looking at many different aspects
of the speech signal. In other words, categorical speech perception
is not domain specific, and did not evolve in the service of speech.
The ear did not evolve to meet the human mouth; rather, human speech
has evolved to take advantage of distinctions that were already present
in the mammalian auditory system."
TAMING OR TRAINING CHINCHILLAS
Characteristics of Behavior, General
Characteristics of Communication, Speech
Training by Seward Ohio Pet Chinchilla, Taming
by Chin ACG Homepage, Training
Chinchillas by Oxford Chinchillas,
Taming and Handling by Chinchilla Cymru, Urinary
Indiscretions by Second Chance Chins,
Training by HellsChillas
Chinchillas will often
test your reaction to different situations, and when they arrive at
the desired result to a certain stimulus, they'll remember just what
to do to achieve success the next time around. In other words, from
everything we've heard from other chinparents and experienced
ourselves over the years, chins are much more accomplished at training
their chinparents than the other way around! They're extremely intelligent,
curious, perceptive and intuitive, their instinct
for understanding and anticipating predators in the wild has adapted
to understanding and anticipating the dominant species (people)
in their life in captivity. Chins are truly a joy to know, they're
very individualistic and complex creatures.
There are some behaviors that you'll think you've trained your chin
out of, such as gnawing on baseboards, then when you're out of the
room you'll hear him start up again. This is not because your chin
is sneaky or disobedient, animals are simply motivated by their natural
instincts and a chin's urge to gnaw
derives from their intinct to keep ever-growing teeth trimmed. From
our observation, when we make an objection that they don't understand
because they don't grasp the reason/s why, e.g., that gnawing on the
baseboard will cause damage, etc., then it appears by their subsequent
conduct that they've concluded that our objection is purely subjective,
a personal preference and nothing more. This reasoning is apparent
when they courteously discontinue the behavior in our presence out
of respect for our objection but resume when we're out of the room
or not paying attention, at which point for them the objection no
longer exists. Take time to watch how your chin thinks, they're truly
fascinating and remarkable in that way.
Once a chin has learned to do or to chew
something, you cannot reverse or control that, they won't "unlearn"
or permanently give up something their mind or mouth has taken in.
You can only make adjustment on your part to compensate for their
ingenuity. For instance, a chin that's learned to unlatch their cage
door or reach new heights in a not-entirely-chin-proofed
room cannot be counted on to reliably quit the behavior, it will be
up to you to keep a latch on their cage door or to ensure that the
room they play in is entirely chin-proofed.
Never physically chastise
your chin as a deterrent to unwanted behavior! This approach will
backfire, read article.
Do NOT use treats to train with, not unless you can limit it to one
treat daily because chinchillas have sensitive digestive systems and
are prone to a number of problems associated with excessive consumption
CLEVER CHIN STORIES, CHINTELLIGENCE
Chinchilla Chat Line/
To thwart escape
artists, see these
water bottle spring suppliers:
Vet Supply, Martin's
cage to accomodate running and playing, a variety of chew
toys, at least one hideaway
per chin and a cage wheel
will help decrease stress and boredom inside the cage while TV
during waking hours will provide environmental stimulation when the
chin isn't actively engaged in out-of-cage exercise
chin is bored, high-strung,
moody or fur
biting, TV can help. It reduces stress, helps desensitize high-strung
chins, and provides a distraction that keeps their active, intelligent
minds happily engaged and entertained, especially late at night when
they're wide awake and the chinparent is asleep. Distractions
are also key to preventing cagemate conflicts.
We especially recommend TV to anyone who does chinchilla rescue work,
it's a useful aid when you're not spending hands-on time with them.
In our experience
working with chins from many different adoption sources
for many years, TV has been an indispensable
tool in helping acclimate them to a new environment, it helps
them relax so that they're less nervous about change,
less affected by stress, and things like thunderstorms, unfamiliar
people stopping by or outside construction become less traumatizing.
When we help ranch
chinchillas adjust to pet life, they're completely unaccustomed to
the sights and sounds of a household at first and TV makes the transition
more bearable. It just pulls them in and they get so enthralled with
watching and listening to it that they don't have time to dwell on
TV also works wonders with chins who are fur biters or those with
behavioral problems. Such characters often possess above average intelligence
and their self-mutilation (fur biting) or acting out is frequently
attributable to sheer boredom, the tedium and stress of being locked
up in their cage with NOTHING to see or do after the fun of exercise
with their chinparent has ended and they must spend the remainder
of the night alone. TV-watching
provides environmental stimulation that relieves the stress caused
when an intelligent animal is bored out
of his mind.
A TV can be purchased inexpensively on ebay,
at a yard sale, store sales or at your local thrift store, our chinkiddies
currently have four so everyone gets a good view! TV-watching is especially
good for giving your chin some company after you've gone to bed or
are going out for the evening and they still have the better part
of the night, their "day" ahead of them. If you take a vacation,
leave the TV on and let your pet sitter know that it's keeping the
chin company, in this case be sure that the volume is kept lower than
usual because your chin will be sleeping
some of the time that you're away.
In general, keep the volume on the low side, just enough to be adequately
heard. The distance between the TV and the chin's cage should be at
least four feet due to the brightness, but bear in mind that older
chinchillas (which usually have diminished sight, if not cataracts,
too) may need to be positioned at the four foot distance just
to be able to see the TV. Younger chins are just fine with a 5-7 foot
distance from the TV screen. Programming should be relatively non-violent
(anime', cartoons and children's shows; classic movie channels; nature,
art, travel and history channels, etc.) and if possible, without
commercial breaks or, "paid programming," they really dislike
that, much like people that way...
The following are some anecdotes from our chins' experience
with "The TV Attraction!"
We kept our first chinkids in the livingroom, on the other
side of the couch on the far wall where it would be cooler for them
(right under the air conditioner). There were two chinnie pairs,
the second was closer to the couch and had a better view of the TV,
but this was before we knew what TV means to chins, before we fathomed
the depth of the attraction… the fascination… the addiction…!
Deedlit was the first chin that really started noticing the exciting
picture-n-sound box across the room. She would rest in her metal
tube and watch "Howard's End," "A Room
With A View" and other "girl" shows with me when my husband had long
since passed out on the couch. You can tell they're watching when
they sit in an attentive pose when the show's on and if they leave
to get a snack or run on the wheel for commercial breaks and then
return as soon as the show does.
Deedlit still watches the tear-jerkers with me, "Beaches,"
the Robert Donat version of, "Goodbye, Mr. Chips," and "Terms
of Endearment". We've seen the latter two about a dozen times
in the past year (2004) alone, I know if she could express
herself the human way that we'd be laughing or crying along together
at the same parts like a couple of silly old biddies!
Chinchillas are capable of human speech
recognition, and this was famously demonstrated for us by Hugo,
our trekkie fan. Once he heard his name called out on the TV by characters
in a black and white adventure movie who were searching for their
friend in the jungle. Hugo immediately stopped running on his wheel,
ears perked up, and he raced to a top shelf and gave the characters
his full attention, as if to say, "Here I am, it's Hugo!!"
Hugo recognizes the voices of the Next Generation and Voyager casts
(he's watched them enough to know!). We know this because when
the show returns from commercial break and the familiar voices are
heard again, Hugo will drop whatever he was doing during the break
to go back to his TV-watching seat. He is always intrigued with episodes
he hasn't seen, and we've observed that when the show is a repeat
of one he's seen before, he'll watch it some and play some, not as
attentive because, after all, he knows what's going to happen!
Tamba is definitely our most demanding TV chin. He would prefer the
TV to be left on always, but during sleeping
hours our chinkiddies listen to soft music. If Tamba's not ready for
bed yet, he'll sometimes bark
to have the TV turned back on, then during waking hours he barks for
channel and volume change. Funny thing is, if he decides to sleep
when the others are awake, he barks for the volume to be lowered,
just for him! Tamba watches all shows with complete absorption, but
especially the action-adventure movies. A true guy's guy. He gets
impatient with "Terms of Endearment" and really loathes British comedy,
so mom has to remind him to share TV time with everyone else, especially
since mom does like British comedy, and that usually placates his
barking. If my husband ever builds a chin-proof remote, Tamba has
I didn't witness this incident myself, but my husband swears this
really happened: we normally watch very mellow programming, but one
particular night near the Halloween season the old horror flick "Poltergeist"
was playing. There is an intense moment in the family backyard swimming
pool where the wife falls in and a skeleton just pops up out of nowhere…
all the chins were completely mesmerized and when the skeleton spooked
the wife, Hugo was spooked too! He yelped and ran to the back of the
cage and hid behind his log house! Of course, to everyone else's dismay,
after dad told mom she changed the channel to something different.
Because Hugo's reaction was to something specific in the course of
the show, this indicates that chinchillas do recognize and relate
to what they see on the TV in a more definite way than just acknowledging
a blur of continuous sound, movement and color.
Another example of their intelligence and perceptive abilities lies
in the general consensus (at its peak, our
rescue maintained between 30-40 chins from 2002-9)
of approval for certain actors and shows, these are watched with great
enthusiasm and full attention with no "channel change" barking: James
Bond movies, John Wayne films, gangster movies, "Silent Sunday" on
TCM, foreign films (the
ears perk up upon hearing the language change) and childrens shows
such as "Little Bear" and "Sesame Street." After tuning in to
early morning Noggin programming
a few times in a row, the chins have recently decided that they like
that routine and will now bark for their Noggin shows near daybreak.
2008 update: Noggin is now on 24 hours a day! The chinkids are ecstatic,
that and TCM are now their main programs.
What this adds up to for us is the conviction that entertainment should
be as much a part of a happy chin's life as good feed and hay, chew
toys, affection and exercise. Since chins are capable of speech recognition
(they learn their names and the names of their cagemates, too!)
and exhibit complex thinking skills when understanding and relating
to their chinparents, TV acts to stimulate and enrich their lives
by bringing the whole world to them, in easy view from the cage. I
have to say, I wouldn't want to spend life in a cell with nothing
of interest to watch or listen to. Sure, they probably won't be replacing
the great drama critics anytime soon, but then, when they finally
do learn to SPEAK the language from watching all that TV, I don't
see why not!