I am not always the bluntest communicator. I don’t like to hurt people’s feelings, and that sometimes creates a battle between diplomacy and direction.
I said, “Come!”
As I have gotten older, I have realized where the problem lies: clear, concise communication is sometimes seen as potentially masculine or overbearing. As a result, many times females downplay their requests. Unfortunately, meek or wishy-washy attempts to explain oneself do not result in effective directives.
Even though I have seen this phenomenon, I have also worked with some powerful, direct, innovative females. Through them, I have begun learning how to channel some of my inner badarse (i.e., my ability to be a direct communicator). But lately, these lessons are sometimes best taught by my dog.
Nora is my first dog. She’s gentle and loving, but like most Bernese Mountain Dogs, she’s especially slow to mature. Knowing this, my husband and I have taken her through various puppy and obedience classes. At a year and a half old, she occasionally pulls me toward a discarded chicken leg, or makes a mad burst toward some yummy goose poop. Overall, however, she is mostly polite and obedient. She did not get this way on her own. It has taken time and training to reinforce her good behaviors. During this process, I have realized that I, not she, was the one who needed training. I had to shed all of my assumptions about training a dog, and instead had to work on being clear and consistent (not loud and repetitive!).
For the fun of it, I am taking a class right now called Understanding Dog Behavior through the Animal Career Academy. This could be renamed, Keep It Simple, Stupid! As humans often try to rationalize and personify dog behavior, they usually overthink things. Dogs are “in the moment” creatures, and aren’t necessarily vindictive, manipulative, or passive aggressive. They are dependent on visual and oral cues, so the clearer those are, the better the results.
It turns out that the pleading conversations I had with Nora were not only ineffective, but actually counterproductive. She, being a dog not a human, was completely confused by my longwinded psychoanalysis of her behavior. Knowing what I do now, I try to give her the same visual cue, complemented by the same exact oral cue, in the same exact intonation Because of this, on a good day, when I talk to my dog, she listens. Although she might be a bit furrier than some of my coworkers, she’s teaching me a lot about communication.