Are You Communicating Mixed Messages?

Have you ever had your pet look at you and they cock their head slightly as they try so hard to figure out what we are saying?  Have you asked your pet to do something and they look confused?  We assume that they just don’t understand us and we are right, but we think it is them that has a limited ability to comprehend.  We don’t take a look at HOW we are saying things and examining if how we say what we want is clear.  When I was training Wiley, my Australian Shepherd, I’d get so frustrated when we were working on our heeling.  He’d pull constantly.  Then one day, I heard myself. I used so many different words to tell him what I wanted him to do.  It wasn’t one word, “heel.”  It was “wait,” “stop,” “don’t pull,” “slow down,” and “heel.”  I thought no wonder he isn’t learning, I’m confusing the heck out of him.  So I became more conscious of saying one word to mean heel and that was heel!  It was amazing. Being more clear with one single word for what I meant,  he suddenly got what I wanted.  I even saw it in his eyes that he got it and I could feel like I had lifted some of the pressure off of him.  He had been trying, but he was totally confused by what I was telling him.

This wasn’t just a huge aha moment for him but for me as well.  Learning to mean what I say and say what I mean was so valuable in learning how to communicate better with animals and with people too.  However, I then discovered another glitch in how I say things.  I thought I was being so good at communicating what I mean and being more exact but I still had some troubles with getting my animals to do what I was asking them.  A couple of my alpacas had a habit of spitting as I fed them their highly desired dinner pellets.  They love them and get very protective of their turf (bowl) as I put pellets down for them.  And one way they protect them is with a quick spit at the one near their bowl.  Although they aren’t usually mad or aiming at me, I sometimes would get hit by it and it is NOT pleasant being a recipient of alpaca spit.  I’d tell them, “Don’t spit!”  And then I’d get really mad when they did just that, spit!  Here I was quite clear on what I wanted. Right?  Well, no not really.  I was not clear to the animal’s perspective. What I pictured to them and what they heard and saw was spitting! So they took that as the message to go ahead and spit.  They don’t understand the word “don’t.”  They just hear “spit.”  So what I learned was how to rephrase what it is that I really want.  And that is, keep that wad in your mouth!  Alpacas make a noise often before they launch a wad, and that is when I tell them to “keep that in your mouth!”  I’d say it is 90% more effective with me wording and thinking it that way. I’ve cleared up my language even further.

That was such a great lesson for me to witness and experience the positive outcome from making that language adjustment.  Not only do I work to become more clear with my language directions but do so in a positive fashion of what it is I REALLY want to happen.  I apply that not just with my animals but in my daily life too.  If I get a big bill that I need to pay, instead of worrying about how that is going to deplete my bank account, I think, so what is it going to take to fill up my bank account to pay my bill!  Instead of seeing my account as being depleted, I see it being filled.  See the difference?  There are some key words to look out for that tell you when to check your language.  I’ll write about those words and how to examine your language further in blogs to come.