This week’s guest blogger is Shannon Coyner. Shannon is the owner of Ventura Pet Wellness & Dog Training Center. Shannon has been in dog training for over 20 years and is an advocate of positive reinforcement dog training.
The 2016 election is a perfect example of why we need to listen to others and how assumptions can cause us to develop tunnel vision. Often when we make assumptions about what we think we know, it leads us to ignore outside information that shows otherwise. We start looking for information that supports what we believe and ignore the rest.
The polls for the 2016 election gave the Democratic Party a false sense of security that Hillary would win. At the same time many republican supporters had no doubt that Donald Trump would win. But how is this possible that both positions could be so far apart yet the people were receiving all the same information?
On the Sunday before the election I was watching the television show 60 minutes.[i] Republican pollster and public opinion analyst Frank Luntz answered some of these questions after interviewing the opinions of a group of voters. He noted that people had become very entrenched in their feelings about the election. In particular, Luntz attributed these strong feelings to how so many of us communicate through social media. These one sided conversations occur through the anonymity of a computer screen. “There’s no self-censoring. So we say exactly what we feel. And goddammit, you’re gonna listen to me. And that’s really what it is right now. You’re gonna listen to me. I’m not gonna learn from you. You’re gonna listen to me.”
In the end, one side got the election outcome very wrong. My Facebook account is filled with comments from very hurt and angry democrats who feel blindsided by the election results. Many pollsters and political pundits are struggling to figure out how they missed so many signs that the election would be close and eventually go to Trump.
You may be wondering, what does this have to do with dog behavior and how we train our dogs? Well, expectations and listening are two of the most important parts of almost every interaction we have with each other. Getting them wrong can leave us feeling hurt and confused. This is no different with dogs.
For example, I often hear from clients that their dog snapped at or tried to bite someone “out of the blue.” However, I have found this is almost never the case. When I examine the situation closer, I usually find that the dog was put into a stressful situation and was trying to communicate that he/she was uncomfortable.
Although dogs don’t use words to tell us they are uncomfortable, they DO use body language. These body language signs and dog behaviors can include cowering, excessive panting, avoidance (trying to pull away), shaking, and hypervigilance. Unfortunately, many people don’t pay attention to the fact that their dogs are acting strangely or are uncomfortable. They just push the dog forward into the situation until the dog finally snaps. “You’re gonna listen to me. I’m not gonna learn from you.” Often, the owners then blame the dog for lashing out and biting “out of the blue” or label them as “aggressive.”
It is important to note, that these owners do not have any ill will toward their dogs. They just don’t understand why their dog acted out and often feel almost betrayed that they did not see it coming. Generally, once I begin translating their dog’s body language and explain dog behavior, the owners shift their mindset from blame to empathy. When that occurs, we can begin to actually address the problem and begin making things better when similar events happen in the future.
Now that the election is over, I see many people lashing out and growling at the results. In our current world of technology and social media, we express our opinions behind our computer screens with no ability or desire to see or hear differing facts and opinions.
Maybe it is time to start paying attention to others and “listen” (whether verbally or to body language) with some empathy and compassion instead of blame. It may truly make our world a better place for us and our dogs.