“Come!” “Sit” “Paw” “Leave it!”
A dog’s life is full of the commands that we use in order to convey important information, and to elicit the behaviour we want from them. Like most new dog owners, we devoted countless hours to practicing these simple commands with Gus when he was a puppy. He, in turn, rewarded us by dutifully performing on cue -often in front of an attentive audience. Let’s face it, what good is a dog if you can’t impress your friends and family with his tricks?
As Gus grew up, we began to have trouble with some of his “listening” skills. We found that he didn’t always respond to our commands consistently anymore, and we began to get frustrated. I was reduced to tears on a number of occasions as he galloped insanely through the park; ignoring my pleas for him to come to me. We decided that we needed some help.
Enter Troy; a fabulous trainer who had been discovered by some of our neighbourhood dog people. Now, I won’t go into all of the details of what Troy did with us, although I will tell you that the kids were convinced that he is part dog (they kept trying to see the tail concealed under his jacket!). What I will tell you is that, through our “dog training” sessions, Troy helped us to develop a better understanding of ourselves.
It all came down to the fact that we weren’t giving Gus the messages we thought we were when we interacted with him. Dogs are so finely attuned to what is around them, that they pick up so much from us that has nothing to do with the words we are speaking. We began to focus on things like our tone of voice, head angle, and body stance when we gave commands to Gus. We came to realize that the total of all our nonverbal cues was overriding the commands we thought we were giving. These lessons were invaluable. We began to focus more on how we were delivering our messages, and by following Troy’s suggestions we soon found a huge improvement in the issues we had been struggling with.
Life is all about communication. Every day we have thousands of interactions with those around us. How much of what we think we are saying ends up as the real message read by the person on the receiving end? Simply changing our tone of voice and posture can give an entirely different meaning to a phrase as simple as “what are you doing?”
We humans aren’t as skilled as our canine friends, but we sure can read the subtle cues conveyed by arms tightly folded across a chest, a tip of the head, or a sarcastic tone at the end of a sentence. The subtext may become the headline; and the impact of our words may not be at all what we intended.
When we run into problems with one another, more often than not it’s a result of signals getting crossed, or messages being muddled. Focusing on all the components of the message we are sending makes it much more likely that our true meaning will come across as intended, and that we will see our desired response. Imagine that. . .
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