Training ; when Silence really matters

Training; when Silence really matters.

One of the things I notice most about people relating to other beings (human or animal) is the tendency to speak too much. In an age when keeping one’s own counsel is anathema to many people there seems to be a compulsion to “make noise”.

Around Ireland’s recent referenda there was simply too much “noise”. The ballot box is secret …for good reason. But daily, we were bludgeoned on the airwaves or on social media with the very loud opinions of others. “Shut up!” I eventually wanted to scream “We are adults…we can make up our own minds!”

Likewise, when it comes to training or teaching others we appear to have lost the capacity to shut our mouths. I see it regularly with those who own dogs and try to train them. They can’t shut up! They arrive someplace that is exciting for their dog…a dog show, a boarding kennels, a dog training class, the local park…and …they immediately start to talk at the dog.

Usually, they begin at once with the “Sit! Sit! Sit!!! Sittttt!!!”  litany.

Just this past week I counted one woman’s number of demands for “Sit” of her little dog. Eleven times.

Eleven times in a row, machine gun like, she told him to SIT. Eleven times he didn’t.

Why do we not just shut up? We really don’t mean SIT in the first place…we just mean “Behave!” or, more accurately, “For pity’s sake, please behave and look like you have a semblance of manners”.

Why not just let the dog alone and let him stand there and take in the scenery? Then nobody loses.

Same with more formalised dog training. Silence gets us further. I quite often tell those I work with that “Dog Training” involves a lot of just standing around and appearing to do not very much. But very often that is training. It is the training the dog needs. Doing nothing is doing something.

You teach the dog to simply stand beside you and wait. Wait in silence. Wait till his owner is ready to move. Wait in any position he likes (he can do hand stands for all I care as long as he doesn’t drag his owner around the place). Just wait.

And the owner? Just shut up.

How do I know all this? Because I had to learn it with my own dogs. I learned that saying nothing is often the most eloquent thing of all. It gives the dog the space and the peace and the silence to absorb information and to think.

The first dog of mine that I “trained” I couldn’t leave him alone. I constantly verbally prodded and poked him and commanded him and made demands of him…and I eventually just switched the light off in his eyes. The poor dog never got a second’s peace …because I was determinedly “Dog Training”.

Better now. A lot better.

And the people in our lives? Should we learn to offer them more silence too? Yes! We should.

I work a lot with young people as well as animals and I am often struck by how teaching the animals has affected me in my approach to teaching the humans. Sometimes, for instance, it is better to offer silence to a young person. Especially the more volatile ones. Sometimes, silence is a far more useful form of communication. It gives space.

When we are relating to another human there is often that pivotal moment when just one more sentence will tip a situation over the edge. As trainers/ teachers it is crucial to be able to recognise when we are balancing on the edge of a cliff. At those moments silence is often the safest offering.

I recall recently having managed to arrive at agreement about a Homework assignment with a young person and feeling quite relieved that conflict had been avoided. Unfortunately, another adult in the party decided that an opportunity for a lecture on the benefits of completing homework assignments had fortuitously presented itself and shouldn’t be missed. World War Three ensued!

I watched the fireworks with a mixture of sadness and frustration and words I had read somewhere came whispering into my mind…

”Wisdom is having plenty to say. And saying nothing”

“Training” my dogs taught me a lot of that sort of wisdom.

Working with dogs has helped me to understand that when it comes to training / teaching any other being Silence really matters. A lot.

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About consistentclarity

I have been involved in education all my working life. I am trained as a teacher and have taught both children and adults. I am fascinated by how people and animals learn and all that they have in common. Music and literature have been central in my life.
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