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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Have We Listened Well Enough?

Another gem from my TTouch notes:  If we get to "stop" on the feedback scale, we haven't listened well enough! 

How does a dog tell you to "stop?"  There are the more obvious, hard to miss signals such as a snap, a growl, or a bite.  But what about all the signals way before that?  Do we pay attention to them?  By the time a dog gets to a snap, a growl, or a bite, things have gotten way out of hand.  Someone is likely to get hurt, and it is almost certain that the dog will be blamed for the situation going bad.

Why do we wait for the dog to YELL at us to stop before we listen?  Dogs that live in human society often put up with our human-like behaviors that make no sense to them, and that they do not like.  Many dogs don't like to be hugged and kissed and patted.  Yet we enjoy doing those things, so we do them anyway.  Some dogs tolerate them anyway, just because they are exceptionally tolerant dogs.  But that doesn't mean they like it.  And it doesn't mean they aren't trying to tell us to stop.

A slight stiffening or moving away when we reach for them means, please don't touch me right now.  But do we notice?  A dog turning his head away is saying, I'm unsure, please don't do that right now.  But we may think they are just looking at something over there, and so we continue doing what we're doing.  A dog photographed with his tongue sticking out is cute to us, but most likely it was the dog's way of saying, hey that camera looks a little scary - I'm not sure I like this idea. 

No matter what our dog is telling us, there is always a softer, more subtle signal that we haven't noticed yet.  If we wait until our dog is telling us clearly to stop, we've missed a chance to observe some softer signals.  We've waited too long.  We haven't listened well enough. 

With the dogs that we live with every day, we often notice subtle signals.  If my dog wrinkles her eye brow just a certain way, I know she's noticed something that she has cause to stop and think about.  That isn't quite her "stop" signal, but it means that likely she will be making a decision shortly as to whether she likes something or not.  By paying attention to her subtle signal, I can make sure I scan the situation to make sure there is nothing happening that will cause her to get to "stop." 

Living in a multi-dog household, I can often see this subtle communication better when watching the dogs interacting with each other than when I'm actually participating in the situation.  Just a slight movement of an ear or an eye is enough to get the message across to one of the other dogs to "stop."  There is no drama, no argument, no yelling.  Just simple communication. 

Now, if the other dogs had not listened to the first dog's warning, things would have escalated into more obvious signs ... a lifted lip, a harder stare, moving her weight forward towards the other dogs, and then it would progress even further still until it resulted in a growl, a snap, or even a bite.  But no one likes all that drama, including my dogs. 

To keep the peace, listen well enough so your dog doesn't have to YELL "stop!"  Respect her softer signals.  Let her know that you understand. 

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