It’s not very often that I come across an article or post from other dog trainer that makes me yell, YES! PERFECTION! THANK YOU!!
I found one today.
I am taking the time to sit down and share this with you because it is one of the most powerful and effective ways to listen and communicate with your dog. And it’s simple.
Check it out.
Whisperering: What is it Really?
Challenge for the day…. Don’t talk to your dog today. Instead, talk only with your body language and see what happens. You’ll find out how much you chatter to your dog, meaningless words and wonder why she tunes you out. A surprise may be that your dog pays closer attention because she’ll have to rely on your body language (her first language). This is the tip of the iceberg in training.
If you aren’t aware of your own body language and energy around dogs you will have very little idea what kind of training your dog needs. Your dog is responding to your body language first, secondarily the words coming out of your mouth. I love this cartoon [Gary Larson above] because it speaks brilliantly to how we relate to dogs. We are relating to a different species entirely yet we are relating to them as if they are human. This is why trainers have jobs, people get bitten, dogs don’t pay attention to you, they are destructive, they play chase when you are trying to call them to you, and the list goes on. It’s a total disconnect without this awareness.
Let’s dissect this cartoon. Our friend with the glasses is clearly in a reactive state; pointing fingers, yelling, bending over/leaning forward, big energy. The dog is sitting there trying to figure out what this man is saying. Is this dog just sitting there calmly listening to his owner letting it blow over his head, tuning him out? If you said YES, you are incorrect. Everything in this dogs’ body language is saying “I”m stressed”: Direct eye contact, alert forward ears, closed mouth, wondering whether to flea or retreat but by no means calm and relaxed. If the dog did something offensive to the owner like take a sock or not come when called and this is the reaction of it’s owner don’t you think the dog may not want to ever come when called or try to make a game out of getting the sock to perhaps change the tone of the owner and get a game of chase going? Dogs do things to engage us and if we don’t know who we are being or how to read a dog’s language, we’ll have little success with a healthy relationship with our dog.
Okay, if you can’t do it for a whole day try using body language for 2 hrs while you’re interacting with your dog. If you find yourself in his face to get his attention then you’re a prime example of a dog owner with a dog who has learned to tune you out.
Pay attention to these things:
What is your facial expression when interacting with your dog?
Is it hard not to talk?
Do you have big energy?
Is your energy relaxed and calm?
Are you reactive?
What did you notice in your dog?
Do you use your hands a lot or a little?
When you ask your dog to do something what is your body doing? What position are you in when asking your dog to COME to you?
When walking on the leash, how are you holding the leash?
What do you do when you see a dog approaching while walking on the leash?
What do you do when you stop to speak to a neighbor?
What is your dog doing when you stop to speak to a neighbor?
What else did you observe about using your own body language with your dog?
Relying simply on your body language should prompt a whole slew of awarenesses you had no idea of about yourself in relating to your dog. This awareness could raise the bar to the connection you have with your dog because you are now actually whispering/speaking in a language your dog can understand. It’s not magic, it’s awareness and understanding.
Once you’ve become more aware of who you’re being, try this. As you begin to speak to your dog, whisper. Literally, whisper the cues/commands you are asking for, along with a hand signal for the command and see how much more attentive your dog will be to you. This takes practice. Learning to understand body language, yours and your dogs can be the connection you’ve longed for and will be life changing. ~ Jill Breitner
I absolutely love this! And I couldn’t agree more with Jill’s expert advice. This method of compassionate awareness is what I teach kids and clients. For some, it’s very hard to do at first, but with practice, you can learn to do it every day with your dog! I promise you can. I learned how to do it, and so can you.
I learned the method of “becoming more aware” way back in the day when I first started training komodos, crocs and giant tortoises. Take a guess who is not listening to you ramble on while you’re training them. Reptiles. They want the food. Not meaningless words.
This was a huge challenge for me. Keeping my mouth shut was not easy. I used to talk a lot, and didn’t listen very well back then. But one thing you learn very quickly when working with a crocodile (who has you on their menu) is to shut up and listen. If I wanted a hungry crocodile, a clever Komodo Dragon, or a 500 pound tortoise to station, target, or give blood voluntarily, I used training tools, not my words. My words were meaningless to them.
Oh, and I should also mention that back in the day I was kind of a spazz, too. Flailing my arms and body around didn’t help anything. In fact, moving quickly and without forethought was dangerous. I learned to slow down, and to think before I moved or reacted. I learned to be aware of the power of body language; it was a direct line of communication to these animals. I could speak to them softly with my body language, or I could speak loudly and become a threat. Speaking softly was always the better choice.
I also learned how to read their body language. I watched their very deliberate moves. Even a subtle shift in weight was a huge signal! By watching and observing them, I was listening to them. I learned what they wanted. And I learned how to ask for what I wanted. It was a cooperative dance. I learned how my energy affects the animal I am working with. And I learned to honor and respect their space. I never intimidated them or pushed them around. I was never a bully. I treated them all with the utmost respect. Always.
We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen more than we say.― Zeno of Citium
Now fast forward to today. I don’t live with crocs or komodos, but what they taught me carries over to how I interact with my dog. I listen more than I talk. I watch more than I move. I observe. I absorb. Then I assess. I don’t react. I redirect. And I set my dog up for success.
I don’t yell at her – e v e r. I don’t poke, jab, hit, kick, or harass her. I don’t hurl oppressive cues like tssst! at her, or snap my fingers in her face. I don’t steal things from her to teach her I am the boss. I respectfully ask her to do something when I need to, or redirect her attention. Because of this we have a relationship based on total and complete trust.
I would rather make mistakes in kindness and compassion than work miracles in unkindness and hardness. ― Mother Teresa, A Gift for God: Prayers and Meditations
These days I listen more than I talk. I observe more than react. But most of all, we always have fun together.
I am not special. I made mistakes and learned from them. Now I do better because I know better. You can, too! Becoming aware of yourself and your dog will change your lives. I promise.
This is dedicated to every animal who taught me how to talk less, observe more, respect every animal, and to remember to have fun in the process! Thank you Chopin, Zazous, Coal, Magma, Kadar, Corky, Feldspar, Xaviera, and Obsidian.
Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.