If only my dog could talk. I hear this statement more times than I can count. Well, what if I told you that they do? And what if I told you how to understand what they are saying? Dogs, like all animals are nonverbal. They use body language and subtle nuances to communicate, both to their kin and their kind. Listening is a more important than speaking. Heck, why do you think we all have 2 ears and 1 mouth?
If you do a Google search and type in “listen to your dog” you will find the opposite. The results from that seemingly straight forward keyword search offers topics based on “how to get your dog to listen to you”. Interesting. My experience – professionally and personally has shown me that a patient pause, and an open mind, are what is truly needed in order to invite an animal to share their wants and needs with us.
Listen is defined as “to give one’s attention to”. Sadly, dogs rarely get that. In today’s world, it’s a challenge for many to disconnect and step away from these devices. But we need to if we are to successfully build a relationship and strengthen an existing one. There is sound data out there proving that dogs, in particular are stressed and depressed because there is a severe disconnect with their person. Play time, walks, belly rubs, are seldom done because devices are inserted into our personal lives. Take note, next time you see someone walking their dog – they are often times on their phone. We must slow down, unplug and be present with our dog. That’s what makes dogs so darn awesome – they are always present! Get into silly, happy mode with our dogs. Play some fun music and dance around with them – I promise you, the release of oxytocin, the love hormone, will be abundant – for you and your dog! Ahhh, and then the magic begins.
Humans like to tell a dog what to do rather than wait and see what they are comfortable doing. Having a dog and being in a relationship can’t be a one-way road. There’s a dance of benevolent emotions waiting to take place from the time we wake up and connect eyes with our dog until the time we hit the hay. The sooner we acknowledge that we have a responsibility to listen to and understand our dog, the sooner we will communicate with and learn from our dog.
Anthropomorphizing, attributing human traits to an animal, is a common yet dangerous habit. Try and resist this temptation and hear what your dog, with his individual personality and temperament (they are two separate) is saying to you. On the other hand, observation goes hand in hand with listening. Calming signals are specific body language that an animal uses to speak to another animal. They are an integral part of living with and communicating effectively with a dog. This fascinating topic will be explored in another module that I have on T.R.U.S.T. We can use these subtle calming signals ourselves to speak to dogs and how to read them. Before you know it, you will be able to read with precision what that cock of your dog’s ear means, what a particular bend in their body and gate infers, even what a sniff reveals about their current emotional state. You will learn how your dog is feeling on a day-to-day basis and how to make things better for them.
When you take the time to hear what your dog is saying it changes everything. Ask and listen to your dog What do they like to eat, what friends do they like, what toys do they prefer, what parts of their body to they enjoy you scratching? Dogs just want us to connect with us. It’s not much to ask for, especially for all that they give us.
Listening to ourselves is equally important. While friends, neighbors, veterinarians, trainers and the like give you suggestions, it’s vital that it sits well in your gut. You know your dog better than anyone and your instincts will not fail you.