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10 Things Our Dogs Teach Us About Healthy Communication

10 Things Our Dogs Teach Us About Healthy Communication

If a dog will not come to you after having looked you in the face, you should go home and examine your conscience.- Woodrow Wilson

The Humane Society reports that approximately 47% of U.S households own at least one dog, and when we refer to the dog as man’s best friend, we mean it so sincerely that according to clinical psychologist Dr. Suzanne Phillips, we treat our dogs better than our spouses: “What is interesting in my work with couples is that although couples may disagree vehemently on most topics, they usually both soften in tone and manner to agree that the dog, cat, bird, or horse is great.” As much as we love our four-legged, furry friends, they demand a lot of responsibility; they need food, shelter, medical care, and attention, but when they chew holes in our favorite pair of high-heels or toss their biscuits all over the newly-cleaned carpet, we forgive them.

The reason why we sometimes seem to develop stronger relationships with our dogs than with the humans in our lives is so simple that we easily overlook it. Dogs operate on the Golden Rule; they treat us the way we want to be treated, and we respond in kind. Here are 10 things our dogs can teach us about healthy communication in our relationships.

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1. They don’t hold grudges

According to a recent study led by ethologist Johan Lind at Stockholm University in Sweden, dogs’ short-term memory span is approximately 27 seconds. This might explain why your dog has no recollection of that vigorous game of tug you just played fifteen minutes ago and insists on whacking you around the legs with his rope for another go at it. On the other hand, this can actually work to our advantage. No matter what we do, whether it’s coming home late from work, snapping at them for wanting to play fetch when we’d rather watch TV, or boarding them at the vet for two weeks while we go on a family vacation, they still love us. A dog will never turn his back on you or withhold a snuggle, even when every other human in the vicinity declares you to be the most unlikable person they’ve had to deal with all day. Our dogs know we aren’t perfect, and because of this, they forgive our mistakes. IF we can learn one thing from this, let it be to never let the sun set on our anger. Our dogs certainly never do.

2. They always remember to say “I love you.”

One of the things I love most about my dog is his demonstrative displays of affection; tail-wagging, nuzzling, and licking are all ways to let me know he loves me. More than this, I love that I never have to ask him for it. Not only does he forgive me for being an absolute pain in the butt (which happens more often than I feel comfortable admitting), he reminds me that, however imperfect we are, we’re always worthy of love. Never miss an opportunity to tell a friend or family member you love them. It might be said that too much of a good thing is dangerous, but if we can learn anything from our dogs, it’s that this rule doesn’t apply to love.

3. They value quality time

Does your dog jump up eagerly every time he sees his leash or his favorite fetch toy? Does he nudge his nose between your hand and the laptop keyboard as you frantically type away, racing to meet a deadline? This is his way of reminding you that sometimes, work can wait. When we take fifteen minutes to jog around the block with our dogs or throw the Frisbee in the back-yard, we should also challenge ourselves to think about how we can transfer this practice to the relationships we cultivate with other people. Take a few minutes on your lunch-break to text your best friend and ask how her day is going. Stop by your girlfriend’s apartment after work with Chinese takeout and a bottle of wine and enjoy a few hours in her company. Time with our loved ones is finite, and since we can never know how much of it we have left, it’s a luxury we can’t afford to squander.

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4. They always listen to our problems

I love those classic sitcom or movie scenes with an angst-ridden teenage girl, sitting on the porch with her Golden Retriever, asking why the boy at school whom she’s convinced is her soulmate won’t give her a second look. In response, the dog simply wags his tail and licks her face, as if to say, “Whatever. He’s an idiot. I still love you.” Your dog will never roll his eyes at you when you complain about a coworker for the tenth time or wonder why your ex still seems to have you dancing on a string. Your dog also won’t tell you to just cut the cord yourself and stop replying to his texts, because that’s not what you want to hear. He just offers his big floppy ears as a vessel for your frustrations without complaint.

Think about this the next time you find yourself serving as a sounding board for someone else’s problems. Pretend, just for a few minutes, to be your dog, as if you can do nothing but listen sympathetically and nod. (Just don’t lick anyone’s face. It probably won’t end well).

5. They’re always happy to see a friend

Whether it’s been five seconds, five minutes, or five years, our dogs always greet us with a yip and a wagging tail. This likely has to do with that so-called short-term memory problem I mentioned earlier, but again, this works in our favor. A dog treats each time he sees someone he loves as an opportunity to rejoice and reunite. Imagine how much sweeter our interpersonal relationships would be if we treated each other that way.

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6. They teach us about sharing

We share our food, our beds, and our spot on the couch with them, and never once do we complain. If we do, it’s a half-hearted complaint while the dog casually raises his head from his position in the middle of the bed, gives a look that, roughly interpreted, means “Yeah, right,” and goes back to sleep. WE share the spaces in our homes and our hearts with our dogs not under a sense of obligation, but simply because we want to. Our willingness to reach out to other people in our lives, physically and emotionally, can be just as rewarding because we have the mutually beneficial experience of sharing our resources and making a connection with someone who might one day return the favor. No one is meant to walk through life alone.

7. They force us to listen

In addition to being great listeners themselves, our dogs force us to listen in order to understand their way of communicating. The yips, the whines, the barks, and the howls are all nuances of the canine vocabulary, and we learn whether Sparky is happy, sad, frightened, or feeling threatened based on the tenor of his bark. We can similarly improve our communication with others just by listening to their tone of voice, learning to recognize shades of emotion that can help us to show more sensitivity toward one another’s feelings.

8. They teach us about trust

When we take our dogs into our homes, they simply trust that we’ll treat them with love and kindness. They trust that we’ll feed them, walk them, and care for them when they’re sick because, having been domesticated, they’ve learned to depend on humans for survival. In doing so, they hold us accountable. They remind us that we need to show others with our actions that we’re worthy of their trust and respect. I sometimes think that if people saw in me whatever my dog does, I’d have a lot more friends.

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9. They remind us of the importance of physical contact

In this increasingly technological world, virtual is something of a buzz-word, but as convenient as having the world at our fingertips can be sometimes, it also eliminates a lot of the need for human contact. Even in the digital age, our dogs crave physical touch. They need pets, belly rubs, and scratches behind the ears as affirmation of our affection, and they reward us with licks and snuggles. Texts are great, but according to the National Institute of Health, our brains crave hugs. The release of oxytocin that hugs trigger creates feelings of pleasure by lowering blood pressure and stress hormones.

10. They teach us to read body language

While dogs communicate verbally by barking, they also use body language, much as humans do, to tell us how they feel. A wagging tail might indicate happiness, while a drooping tail and ears might indicate fear or sadness. I used to have a Labrador who would pace incessantly whenever he heard a crying baby. This was his way of alerting us to something unsettling that he knew required attention.

Recognizing these signs in our dogs’ nonverbal communication is easily transferable in our human relationships as well. Noticing posture, facial expressions, or hand gestures can help us to read between the lines in our conversations and gain a deeper understanding of each other’s emotions.

Featured photo credit: Walking the Dog via pixabay.com

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Last Updated on May 21, 2019

How to Communicate Effectively in Any Relationship

How to Communicate Effectively in Any Relationship

For all our social media bravado, we live in a society where communication is seen less as an art, and more as a perfunctory exercise. We spend so much time with people, yet we struggle with how to meaningfully communicate.

If you believe you have mastered effective communication, scan the list below and see whether you can see yourself in any of the examples:

Example 1

You are uncomfortable with a person’s actions or comments, and rather than telling the individual immediately, you sidestep the issue and attempt to move on as though the offending behavior or comment never happened.

You move on with the relationship and develop a pattern of not addressing challenging situations. Before long, the person with whom you are in relationship will say or do something that pushes you over the top and predictably, you explode or withdraw completely from the relationship.

In this example, hard-to-speak truths become never- expressed truths that turn into resentment and anger.

Example 2

You communicate from the head and without emotion. While what you communicate makes perfect sense to you, it comes across as cold because it lacks emotion.

People do not understand what motivates you to say what you say, and without sharing your feelings and emotions, others experience you as rude, cold or aggressive.

You will know this is a problem if people shy away from you, ignore your contributions in meetings or tell you your words hurt. You can also know you struggle in this area if you find yourself constantly apologizing for things you have said.

Example 3

You have an issue with one person, but you communicate your problem to an entirely different person.

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The person in whom you confide lacks the authority to resolve the matter troubling you, and while you have vented and expressed frustration, the underlying challenge is unresolved.

Example 4

You grew up in a family with destructive communication habits and those habits play out in your current relationships.

Because you have never stopped to ask why you communicate the way you do and whether your communication style still works, you may lack understanding of how your words impact others and how to implement positive change.

If you find yourself in any of the situations described above, this article is for you.

Communication can build or decimate worlds and it is important we get it right. Regardless of your professional aspirations or personal goals, you can improve your communication skills if you:

  • Understand your own communication style
  • Tailor your style depending on the needs of the audience
  • Communicate with precision and care
  • Be mindful of your delivery, timing and messenger

1. Understand Your Communication Style

To communicate effectively, you must understand the communication legacy passed down from our parents, grandparents or caregivers. Each of us grew up with spoken and unspoken rules about communication.

In some families, direct communication is practiced and honored. In other families, family members are encouraged to shy away from difficult conversations. Some families appreciate open and frank dialogue and others do not. Other families practice silence about substantive matters, that is, they seldom or rarely broach difficult conversations at all.

Before you can appreciate the nuance required in communication, it helps to know the familial patterns you grew up with.

2. Learn Others Communication Styles

Communicating effectively requires you to take a step back, assess the intended recipient of your communication and think through how the individual prefers to be communicated with. Once you know this, you can tailor your message in a way that increases the likelihood of being heard. This also prevents you from assuming the way you communicate with one group is appropriate or right for all groups or people.

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If you are unsure how to determine the styles of the groups or persons with whom you are interacting, you can always ask them:

“How do you prefer to receive information?”

This approach requires listening, both to what the individuals say as well as what is unspoken. Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson noted that the best communicators are also great listeners.

To communicate effectively from relationship to relationship and situation to situation, you must understand the communication needs of others.

3. Exercise Precision and Care

A recent engagement underscored for me the importance of exercising care when communicating.

On a recent trip to Ohio, I decided to meet up with an old friend to go for a walk. As we strolled through the soccer park, my friend gently announced that he had something to talk about, he was upset with me. His introduction to the problem allowed me to mentally shift gears and prepare for the conversation.

Shortly after introducing the shift in conversation, my friend asked me why I didn’t invite him to the launch party for my business. He lives in Ohio and I live in the D.C. area.

I explained that the event snuck up on me, and I only started planning the invite list three weeks before the event. Due to the last-minute nature of the gathering, I opted to invite people in the DMV area versus my friends from outside the area – I didn’t want to be disrespectful by asking them to travel on such short notice.

I also noted that I didn’t want to be disappointed if he and others declined to come to the event. So I played it safe in terms of inviting people who were local.

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In the moment, I felt the conversation went very well. I also checked in with my friend a few days after our walk, affirmed my appreciation for his willingness to communicate his upset and our ability to work through it.

The way this conversation unfolded exemplified effective communication. My friend approached me with grace and vulnerability. He approached me with a level of curiosity that didn’t put me on my heels — I was able to really listen to what he was saying, apologize for how my decision impacted him and vow that going forward, I would always ask rather than making decisions for him and others.

Our relationship is intact, and I now have information that will help me become a better friend to him and others.

4. Be Mindful of Delivery, Timing and Messenger

Communicating effectively also requires thinking through the delivery of the message one intends to communicate as well as the appropriate time for the discussion.

In an Entrepreneur.com column, VIP Contributor Deep Patel, noted that persons interested in communicating well need to master the art of timing. Patel noted,[1]

“Great comedians, like all great communicators, are able to feel out their audience to determine when to move on to a new topic or when to reiterate an idea.”

Communicating effectively also requires thoughtfulness about the messenger. A person prone to dramatic, angry outbursts should never be called upon to deliver constructive feedback, especially to people whom they do not know. The immediate aftermath of a mass shooting is not the ideal time to talk about the importance of the Second Amendment rights.

Like everyone else, I must work to ensure my communication is layered with precision and care.

It requires precision because words must be carefully tailored to the person with whom you are speaking.

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It requires intentionality because before one communicates, one should think about the audience and what the audience needs in order to hear your message the way you intended it to be communicated.

It requires active listening which is about hearing verbal and nonverbal messages.

Even though we may be right in what we say, how we say it could derail the impact of the message and the other parties’ ability to hear the message.

Communicating with care is also about saying things that the people in our life need to hear and doing so with love.

The Bottom Line

When I left the meeting with my dear friend, I wondered if I was replicating or modeling this level of openness and transparency in the rest of my relationships.

I was intrigued and appreciative. He’d clearly thought about what he wanted to say to me, picked the appropriate time to share his feedback and then delivered it with care. He hit the ball out of the park and I’m hopeful we all do the same.

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Featured photo credit: Kenan Buhic via unsplash.com

Reference

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