Are you truly hearing your dog?

 

“We are culturally conditioned to believe that dogs are not capable of (or willing to be)  loving, playful, well-behaved companions and partners without being paid to do so. And that is simply not true.”
~Kathy Kawalec

There are five key pillars that all social animals need to connect and thrive. These five elements help you and your dog build trust and come back into balance when things start to go awry, so they’re crucial for a partnership lifestyle!

Each of these pillars can help your dog calm down, think clearly, learn from you, and cooperate with you. So, they’re vital to living the safe, calm, and happy life that we all dream of. In no particular order, these five pillars are:

  1. To be safe
  2. To be connected
  3. To belong
  4. To be heard
  5. To be helpful

In this post, I’m diving into what it means to be heard and how you can better listen to your dog to build a happy, understanding partnership.

 

What does it mean to be heard?

Being truly heard means listening without judgment. This means you’re not thinking about how your dog could be better or different. You’re making them feel understood as they are. This includes accepting all their flaws, imperfections, history, bad habits, and everything else that makes your dog who they are.

Listening in this way means loving without condition. Your love isn’t dependent upon a specific behavior or expectation. You consider your dog perfectly imperfect. They’re a beautiful masterpiece, even if they’re a work in progress.

It’s not always easy to listen openly, but you were made to do this. Listening with your heart is how you create a circle of trust and safety. When you listen with this intention, you’re taking responsibility as the loving leader of your family.

 

How to listen as a loving leader

Being present and in the dialogue loop with your dog is how you can learn to listen. This is one of our partnership principles. As the responsible, loving leader, it’s your role to help both you and your dog develop resiliency. This way, your partnership can bounce back easily from difficult experiences. Each experience teaches you how to level up your partnership lifestyle so that you can reach for brilliance.

The more you use these experiences to strengthen your partnership, the more you condition your mind, body and nervous systems default to a place of resilience and connection. Following and repeating this process isn’t something that comes naturally to everyone, but it is something you can learn.

I want to share a quote with you from the author, speaker and expert on social leadership, Simon Sinek. In his TED Talk, “Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe,” he says:

“Trust and cooperation are feelings. They are not instructions. I can’t simply instruct someone to trust me. I can’t instruct two people to cooperate. It doesn’t work that way.”

~Simon Sinek

I think this is a simple, easy way to understand this concept. But this raises the question, if trust and cooperation are feelings, not instructions, how do we create trust? Where does it come from? Simon goes on to say:

“Social animals have evolved to form circles of safety, where members of the tribe/herd/family felt safe and felt like they belonged. The natural response to feeling safe amongst our own is trust and cooperation.

The only variable that matters inside that circle is leadership. It’s the leader that sets the tone. When the leader makes the choice to put the safety of those inside the circle first, above all else, so that everyone inside the circle feels safe and like they belong, remarkable things happen.”

~Simon Sinek

Just reading this quote gives me goosebumps! It’s a powerful way to describe why there needs to be that strong, mutual trust between you and your dog.

 

Trust and cooperation are feelings. They are not instructions

 

How to help your dog feel safe

Leadership, then, is all about safety. I’ve spoken before about how when your dog feels safe, it opens up space for connection, which is key to living a partnership lifestyle. This reminds me of another quote that I want to share with you on this topic, this time from Dr. Susan Friedman. She says:

“A trusting relationship is the key to successful animal companionship.”

~Susan Friedman

Susan has also said that the single most important thing she’s learned over 40 years of studying learning and behavior is the benefit of giving animals control over their own significant life events. Research demonstrates that control over consequences is a primary reinforcer for social mammals, like dogs and humans.

Susan goes on to say:

“The power imbalance in our relationship with our dogs is vast. We control every solitary aspect and resource in their lives. Conventional dog training reinforces this imbalance and encourages us to use power and control as the model of how we relate to our dogs. But just because things have always been this way doesn’t mean they have to stay that way.

And let me be clear:
Transactional dog training, no matter how positively applied, is power imbalanced.”

My own work and experience, working with hundreds of dogs and their humans over the past 35 years leads me to completely agree!!

As social mammals, both people and dogs value social engagement over anything else. Yes, even if you’re an introvert, lol. It is true. It’s a core need for all social animals.

One thing I have found over and over again, is that our dogs do NOT need to be paid to be our partners … and when we base our relationship on transactions — it literally causes our dogs to ‘act out’ because their basic needs for connection and belonging are not being met.

Transactions are never a good substitute for connection…not for us, and not for our dogs.

 

“We are culturally conditioned to believe that dogs are not capable of (or willing to be)  loving, playful, well-behaved companions and partners without being paid to do so. And that is simply not true.”

 

Five ways to be a listening, loving leader

With all of this in mind, I want to share five key takeaways to bear in mind when listening to your dog. This is where stepping into your role as a loving leader starts and sets us on the path to a successful partnership lifestyle.

  1. Ensure that your family, those that you’re closest to, know that you’re listening deeply to their concerns and feelings. Just as you need to know that you have some agency and control in your life and that your feelings and needs matter to those around you, so does your dog. So, help them feel that you understand them.
  2. Nobody wants to feel listened to on a superficial level. Social mammals need a much deeper connection. I’m talking about true heart to heart, mind to mind, body to body listening, where you’re in a dialogue loop with your dog that goes beyond the surface.
  3. You’re not listening with the intent to fix. Remember, this is all about acceptance, not about influencing or creating an expectation.
  4. Consider what your dog needs you to hear right now. Their behavior is communication, so if they’re acting out, it’s likely that they want you to listen to them.
  5. Embrace quietude and be open and available for listening. Our dogs know how to do this – they do it all the time! If your mind starts racing, and it will, just take a breath. Gaze into your dog’s eyes and listen from your heart. Listen with your intuition.

Now it’s over to you! I invite you to put these five key takeaways into practice and create a lifestyle centered around listening. You can even start right now.

  1. Think about a struggle you and your dog are experiencing right now.
  2. OK, now think about how you could listen more fully to what your dog is trying to communicate. (not on the surface — dig deeper!)
  3. Write down a few ideas and then decide what you’re going to do as the loving leader to shift from struggle to trust and cooperation.

I hope this post has inspired you. Do let me know what listening practices you’re going to implement in your partnership – I love hearing from you and reading all of your comments and messages, so don’t hesitate to get in touch!

 

If you’d like to work with me and learn how to create a partnership lifestyle for you and your dog, you can request an invitation to join us in the Brilliant Partners Academy when the doors open for the next enrollment!

You can listen to everything I talked about in this blog post over on my podcast – Enlightened By Dogs. It’s episode 152, which you can listen to here.

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