“Jasper, Sit!”



And here’s what happened next:


Hey buddy, so glad you are trying to work with me on this. And that’s almost right. You are so close. Except you are laying down rather than sitting. So while I am SO glad you know how to lay down, do you think you could try sitting next time?

This is a sample of the internal dialogue in my head  as I’m training my greyhound Jasper. As a people-pleasing-glass-is-half-full-kind-of-person, I want to affirm any type of action my canine pal takes. There is a part of me that thinks if I thank him for getting it partly right, or for trying, he will want to try harder and get it right the next time.

There is one problem with this….Jasper doesn’t understand subtle correction. He understands either “Yes, this is right” or “No, that’s wrong”.

I have had Jasper over 4 months now and he’s teaching me a lot about the importance and benefits of clear communication. Dogs learn best when the instructions are simple and the feedback is immediate. Like within 1-2 seconds of their action.

(Really, they need for you to respond within 1/64th of a second to get the most benefit from correction but my dog trainer Paul said it’s been studied and shown to be impossible for humans to react that quickly. Which is a relief because it is hard enough for me to respond within 2 seconds.)

They say dog training is all about training the owners. And this is very true. Most of that training revolves around giving  clear instructions and feedback. That’s it.

I tend to have  problems with being direct.

The biggest problem I have is  I confuse being direct with being mean. Especially when it comes to talking about the hard stuff with people I really care about.

Certainly, you CAN be mean and direct. Your tone and intention have a lot to do with how your words come across. A good example of this is the wicked witch in the Wizard of Oz saying “I’ll get you and your little dog, too!” <Insert cackling crazy laughter>

But you can also be kind and direct, even about hard things. I had a good friend say to me a few months ago “You just said something that sounded mean. I know that is not like you. What was that about?”

I really appreciated her honesty. A remark she had made earlier in our conversation had triggered a fear in me and I responded by lashing out. She took the time to say something direct and kind, and in doing so, created a stronger connection between us.

I have learned from Jasper and my friend that there are three things that create a positive, direct interaction.

How to be More Direct:

  1. Say what you see/hear/etc. without judgement. When my friend gave me feedback, she said “You SOUNDED mean” not “You ARE mean”.  Her language kept me engaged in the conversation without triggering a defensive response from me.
  2. Avoid “fillers” that water down your true feelings. If I tell Jasper “That’s sort-of right, but I kind-of wanted you to do something different”, he doesn’t get it. Kind-of, sort-of, and maybe are all words that can send a mixed message about your feelings.
  3. Ask questions to avoid misunderstandings. My friend did a great thing by asking “What was that about?” when I said something that sounded mean. By asking a question, she invited me to share what was going on, rather than making her own assumptions that may or may not have been correct.

The Budda said, “When words are both true and kind, they can change our world.” I used to believe words could ONLY be kind if they were compliments or words of encouragement.

But I now believe all words can be kind, even ones that are spoken very directly.

It is a process, but my buddy Jasper is teaching me to be direct with my communication. We are both happy with this change because the clearer I am, the faster he learns.
Check this out:

This photo is blurry because when he sits, he likes to sniff the camera :)

This photo is blurry because when he sits, he likes to sniff the camera 🙂

And direct communication has paid off….Jasper passed his Canine Good Citizen Test this weekend! Which means he is now eligible to begin training as a therapy dog. And he can start hanging out with me at work soon, too. Lots of rewards for clear communication!