Not Listening & Lainey!

Dog events always cause me to think about stuff, and interestingly the non-dog events of the weekend had a theme similar to what I observed at the agility trial -- and even more interesting is that it is all related to something I talked about in my grad class on Friday...

The process of communicating is not a simple one, and there are so many places it gets messed up. Step One involves understanding our own internal experiences -- thoughts, beliefs, emotions, etc. This is way harder than it would seem -- most of us are at least partially unaware of our own inner life.

Step Two in the process of communicating requires that we take that keen awareness of our internal experiences and translate it into some kind of language -- verbal, nonverbal and/or virtual. And then we send the message -- that is Step Three and all kinds of things can interfere with the transmission of a message!

The message lands on the other person, initiating Step Four -- decoding. The other person must translate the content into meaning -- in other words, Person B has to figure out what Person A was trying to say.

When Person B doesn't successfully decode the content in a way that exactly reflects what Person A meant -- what happens? Miscommunication, but that is not what we usually say -- we say, "You are not listening!" or worse -- we say/think some version of "You don't care."

Sigh -- all that equals one big mess and broken relationships.

So, Person A can mess all this up by not being clear with herself about how she is feeling/thinking, and then Person A can make a huge mess of this by expecting Person B to be a Mind Reader or to somehow pick up on less than clear messages about how she is feeling/thinking. Further, Person A can blow things up by sending poorly constructed messages during "noisy" times -- times of stress, for example, when it is hard to focus. Finally, Person A can toss the final grenade in the whole thing by assuming that Person B doesn't care and/or is not listening, and reacting as if that were true.

Person B needs to pay attention! And Person B needs to understand that the message received is not always the message that was intended -- especially about "hot" topics that we have trouble expressing. So Person B needs to perk up a bit and ask for clarification: "I want to make sure I am understanding -- are you telling me that you do not like it when I eat the last pop tart?"

And EVERYONE needs to assume good intentions!!!!!! None of that, "he doesn't care" and "she isn't listening" crapola -- that makes a process that involves two all about one.

So when the handler tells the dog, "you are not listening" I want to say -- "handler, you are not communicating your wants in a way that your dog is ready to hear/respond." In other words, the two of them have some work to do -- TOGETHER -- it is not the dog's fault that the message sent is not clear enough.

And when Person A says, "I told him that I was unhappy" I have to say -- "sweetheart, not in a way that he understood."

So blaming the dog or Person B -- or worse, giving up on a relationship because of miscommunication -- is really sad to me, and so unnecessary. And it results in all kinds of unfortunate things -- including force training and the death of relationships.

When we lack the skills to effectively communicate our wants/desires in a respectful way that accurately conveys our meaning and values the relationship, we resort to unilateral and unkind means of communicating. And when our failure to effectively communicate doesn't give us the desired results, we blame others -- including partners, canine and human -- because that is easier than doing the hard work of learning to be better at understanding ourselves, and transmitting our inner content/meaning to others.

On Sunday morning Zoey and I had one miscommunication in our excellent standard run -- that costs us a leg. I could blame her for not responding quickly to my cue ("ZOEY -- you are not listening!") -- but instead I realized that my verbal cue was late, and that my nonverbal cue did not signal the need for collection -- and that we need to train for the particular situation (fast, short chute to sharp left turn to dogwalk entrance). No big deal -- I was thrilled with how well we did and now I have information about what to work on. (BTW -- I shared my observations of my communication shortcomings to my friend, who handled it as I suggested, and got the dogwalk entrance because -- she said -- of what I told her.)

I assume -- because I know this to be true -- that my dogs will respond if I am clear and they are prepared for the work. I do not need to impose consequences or "force" to get desired results -- because I know how to train a dog without that kind of stuff. And when people suggest that force is needed for this or for that, I can just go stare at my wall covered in awards and think, "whatever." And then I can go look in the mirror and have the satisfaction of knowing that my dogs were not made uncomfortable because of what *I* wanted.

None of us are perfect, and we will never be 100% reliable -- including our dogs. And we all make mistakes -- those become learning opportunities. And nothing matters more than relationships -- they are worth all the hard work.

But if blaming the dog or Person A/B is what you need to do -- well, I guess that is part of your journey -- but I am sad for all involved. And when we do not learn the lessons life presents in the form of challenges, we assure ourselves that we will be presented with them again and again until we learn -- best to suck it up and be/do better sooner rather than later, I am thinking (me included!).

And here is the pictorial illustration for those who are more visual learners.

Togetherness requires sharing of all sorts -- space, toys, feelings, experiences, etc.

Sometimes relationships are hard and they hurt and you wonder if they are worth it...

...they are...

Don't give up. Assume good intentions. Be nice. The end (or the beginning :).

P.S. To Above and Lainey Pippi!!!!

Communication is a process, and therefore we are all both Person A and Person B when we are comunicating with others. And we should do so with Letter R for Relationship as the most primary consideration -- not me, not you -- US.

And speaking of relationships -- one of my most favorite people, Cindy, sends this update on my her puppy, Lainey:

"Where has the week gone?  Lainey is such a joy - the most stable puppy! We can take her anywhere - she even does perfectly when we go out to eat and she sits with us on the patio! Everyone comments on her mature behavior - they will say, "that's a puppy isn't it?? but she is so well-behaved."  It's really wonderful how she came "already" trained... 

She does have the barking gene and a very loud, deep voice. She continues to be an expert counter surfer :) (Editor's Note: We should all aspire to be excellent at whatever we do -- good job, Lainey!).

The first picture is of her favorite place to cuddle every morning...

 ...and the second picture is for Mary-Ann...

Vic really likes this puppy - says she has the best personality!!!! (she is the only one allowed on his couch :)"

Thank you, Cindy, but I am suspicious that you paid him to get that picture -- we need a picture of him kissing her and then we can believe it!

6 comments

by Kris Bazzano on Tue, 02/28/2012 - 06:57

Thank you for a great blog today, and the pictures are wonderful too!

by Lisa K on Tue, 02/28/2012 - 07:13

that is what today's blog is. I will re-read this one a few times. I was doing fine until the pix, then I had tears. Dang! Thanks for the insights and reminders, M-A!

by Toby E on Tue, 02/28/2012 - 08:08

For saying things so clearly and eloquently!

by Kayla on Tue, 02/28/2012 - 11:02

I think our puppy legitimately doesn't listen!! When we call him from the yard he will look at us to acknowledge he heard us and then return to whatever it is he was doing... we get a kick out of it though. If I wanted a robot I would have gotten one of those. I appreciate that he has his own personality and agenda!! I've found if I pay him he will humor me (in food). He's not so different then myself when I think about it... I wouldn't go to work if I didn't get paid ;-)

by Favorite Auntie... on Tue, 02/28/2012 - 11:22

Love today's post... and plead GUILTY to having a "you are not listening!" moment (or 10) with my sweet girls, over the years.

Visiting with Harper B on Thursday... most FAVORITE Thursday plan EVER! I'm very flexible; I'll shoot you an email that a.m. and we can firm up, okay?

by Lisa K on Tue, 02/28/2012 - 15:48

Does that first pic look almost identical to some other dog in M-A's house, or is that just me? So we need background on the hubster! Not a fan of dogs on the couch or is 3 dogs 2 to many? Details! ;-)
PS: I adore that pic w/hubby and Lain together!

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