Sure, my dog talks.

He puts his nose on the doorknob when he needs to go out. He moans impatiently (but just once) when he thinks his daily trip to the park is being unnecessarily delayed. His head on the bed means "Can I come up?" And his tail in full curlicue says he's happy; when it droops, he's not.

Or so I think.

Beyond those signals - beyond my whistles and clucks, his nuzzles and licks, and all the other unspoken signals that form our silent bond - I didn't suspect that Ace, who rarely barks, would be much of a talker.

But talk he did, and at some length, at least judging from a translator - Terri Diener of Pikesville, who works as an animal communicator. Diener agreed to meet Ace and see what he might be able to tell us about his past.

In my quest to uncover Ace's background, including sending off his DNA for an analysis that might determine his breeds, I tried going down a less scientifically accepted path, as well - one that, while it has its skeptics, has a growing number of practitioners and believers.

Partly because of Animal Planet's popular TV show The Pet Psychic, which featured animal communicator Sonya Fitzpatrick, the field is growing. And a growing number of pet owners - most often out of frustration - are turning to its practitioners.

Diener, who has been communicating with animals for more than 10 years and is the author of The Pets Speak, eschews the term psychic.

"It's not like a psychic - 'Tell me this and that and the other' - that's not what I do. I ask him, and I get his impressions," she said, sitting in my backyard and stroking Ace's head.

Diener, formerly a human resources consultant, became an animal communicator after seeking help from one. Her cat, Victor, had suddenly decided to forgo using his litter box in Diener's bathroom. On the recommendation of her holistic vet, she contacted a Philadelphia animal communicator.

The first thing the communicator asked was whether Diener colored her hair.

"I was a little bit irritated and said, like, 'Yeah, what does that have to do anything?' She said, 'Do you do it at home?'"

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When Diener told her no, the communicator told her to check the other hair products in her bathroom because the cat was allergic to one of them.

When Diener changed her shampoo, the problem went away.

"I called her up, and I said, 'I don't know what you do, but I want to do that, too.'"

Through workshops, Diener said she learned the trade and, more importantly, to trust her instincts.

"We get impressions, thoughts and feelings," she said. "It's about trusting what you get."