Communication has many aspects, and one of those aspects, a most important one is  reflective listening. This piece first appeared in Irish Canine Press in August 20 14 in my column “ The Reality is …..” so it has many references to dogs and dog events. But it can apply to a wider context too…

Listen and Learn

Listen! Really listen. Do you ever do that at a dog show? Listen to what is being said around you? You can learn a lot by listening, you know. Listen to the words people use and then think about what they are really saying.
There are some people at dog shows who are really worth listening to. The Aged Breeder, for example. There are others who have nothing to say or who are simply boring (“What my dogs have won” or “Why my dogs didn’t win” are favourite topics here). There are The Gossips who do nothing but run down other people and dogs and there are The Negatives who will depress you and run you down if you stay in their company long enough.
But it is the actual words that are always so revealing. It is through their words that people allow us to peer into their souls.
Recently I was in conversation with a man who lives alone. He was contemplating getting a dog. He said he feels lonely in that big house all by himself. I told him that a dog is great company and he should give it serious consideration.
“But then”, he said, “I overheard a woman on her mobile phone yesterday. She had a dog with her on a lead. And yet, she said into her phone that she was there on her own”
And so, he argued, even if he had a dog he would still be alone. I countered that it surely depends on how you see your dog.
I told him about my friend Gina and about how she talks about her dogs. I told him about the words Gina had used to describe something to me recently. Gina had said that she had been out walking her three dogs when a huge jeep had passed them by spraying up a puddle all over them.
“The four of us just stood there” she had told me. “We were drenched to the skin. We had to go home and change everything”.
Now look at the words there. “The four of us”. “We”. No differentiation. All equals. Everyone had to go home, dry off and get comfortable again. This is someone who certainly would not feel alone in the company of her dogs.
Words show how we think
The words we use say more than we think they say. I noted at the recent Swords dog show how simple words can tell how we think about our dogs and their handling. I met an experienced dog handler who is competing in the Obedience ring as long as I am myself. I asked her if she had her new dog out competing that day.
“Oh, she’s here alright” she said, “But I just couldn’t get her switched on today. Neither inside  the building nor out here. I just couldn’t switch her on”
Note the “I” word here and that it is the subject of the sentence. Not, “She wouldn’t switch on today”.
There is significance in the “I” word. It tells us how this person regards her dog and her work with her dog. Here, “I” is responsible.
Compare this to a novice handler who complained to me a few days after that show about all the things that his dog did wrong. “He wouldn’t” do this at the show and “He wouldn’t” do that. The dog was at fault and the handler was consequently without hope. When we blame our dog we lose hope because we disempower ourselves. If we accept that we are to blame then we can learn to change (new method, new ideas, new approach…) and so we have hope.
We can’t replace the dog.
Around the show ring we hear similar telling words that reveal how people think. How many times have you heard “I won the Green Star today”?  No, you didn’t. It was the dog. Likewise, “He won thirty Green Stars for me”. Nope, he didn’t do that either.
And don’t get me started on “Give Mummy a kiss”. Because dogs don’t do kisses. But if they did do kisses they’d probably be …well, you know the rest. .

Words for dogs

I’m often astonished at the lack of understanding that supposedly “experienced” dog people sometimes display about dogs and words. For example, I was once penalised in the ring for giving an extra command to my dog in a Test A class where only one command is permitted. I had sent out my dog to retrieve using his retrieve command which was “Holdit!” I was told by the judge that this constituted two commands because …wait for it….it is “two words”.  Now, how on God’s green earth would the dog be able to tell that this was two words?!!! Dogs do not speak any English words. Plus, they can’t count. I had given one sound cue -“Holdit”. Not “Holdit…holdit!” which would have been two commands as I would have been making the same sound twice. I could have grunted like a
Neanderthal and as long as I didn’t grunt twice there was only one sound/word/command as far as the dog was concerned!
As the judge was an English lady I asked her, in my incredulity, if I had given the dog the sound cue in Irish (i.e. Tog e) would she have known how many words it was. No answer. Flummoxed I think was the word there.

Annual General Meeting words

Also interesting are words around A.G.M season (which will soon be upon us). Note the difference between…
“I got onto the Committee” (of the XXXX breed club) and “I was asked to go on the Committee”. Who here, would you say, has the interests of the club or the breed at heart? And who is there for their own reasons?
This would be the same self seeking person who “works” their way around a dog show speaking to those they perceive can be of use to them in the near future. They will tell you quite innocently afterwards that they “got talking to” X at the show. Not that they simply “were” talking to him. Subtle, I know, but…listen!
And remember, some people always have an agenda.
I find that when I have an upcoming judging appointment, for instance, some people do waste a whole lot of words on me.
I was quietly amused for many years when certain people assumed that I was on the Ard Comhairle of the Irish Kennel Club. It was always at autumn shows that these people would approach me, look me directly in the eye, state for me their “name” word and shake my hand. Vote catching for the upcoming I.K.C. elections! They always
struck me as quietly desperate. But I shook all their hands politely. And voted for none of them.
And then, my absolute personal favourite set of words…
“I want to pick your brains”

“I want to pick your brains”

That is so insulting on so many levels that I hope it doesn’t need further clarification.
What “Word” are we?
It was this awareness of words and their implications that prompted me to contact R. T. E’s Liveline programme last month. (www.rte.ie/radio1/liveline   July 29th under “Dangerous Dogs”, for those interested). Somebody had used the word “Breeder” where they actually meant “Puppy Farmer”. Except that they did not know that this is what they meant. So I told them.
Words make all the difference. Calling some people a dog “breeder” is like calling Nidge a pharmacist. We need to watch the words folks. We are losing the “Breeder” word. It is becoming a reviled word where once it had a meaning that was due respect. We need to be watchful and to reclaim our word. It does not belong to the puppy farmers.
I am not sure what “we” are any more. People who breed “occasionally and ethically” is what I said on the radio.
Mind you, we can all slip up from time to time. Having not bred anything for three years our male Belgian Shepherd had his own ideas about that. He took matters into his own hands when he took a ten second chance with his own daughter who had given no sign of being in season.  Caught! Horror!!! Straight to the vets. Twice. But one little man survived both vet trips and made his appearance nine
weeks later! So I know “things” can happen. Accidentally. Unintentionally.
But it is a far cry from the “Lady” on UTV’s Tonight programme which was aired in the same week as I had my say on Liveline.
The undercover reporter asked to buy a particular number of puppies which were clearly to be taken into the U.K. illegally. No problem, says the good lady, but the man would need to buy more than he wished to order. Why? Because “They will die in transit”. From “The Stress”, don’t you know. Like buying plants. Always buy a few more than you need because there’ll always be a few dead ones.
See! Words again. They tell so much more than we intend.

The Reality is…

The Reality is…words say much more than we think they do.
And nobody will talk to me now at a dog show because they’ll be afraid I’ll be… Listening!

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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