On the 24th of June 2018 when Piran asked me to honour my promise that when his cancer became unbearable I would do the kindest thing a dog owner can do. I said on my personal Facebook page that ‘Maybe I should write a blog about canine listening without pre-judgement, faithfulness & trust. All traits we have lost in human society, if we ever had them, though empathy & reciprocity may go some way towards.’
Well Piran gave us just over 15 years of non-judgemental listening & friendship during which time we went through some really life destroying episodes. So, to have a friend who sits down next you and gives you the hope & reason to carry on is just life changing.
Be honest how many times have you been in a conversation where you are forming your own opinion/ response before the person speaking has completed their story?
Now be really honest how often is your opinion influenced by your assumed viewpoint of that person, whether it’s their dress sense, vocabulary / accent or ‘social’ status.
Or even worse, have you been engaged in a conversation where you sense that you are being watched for your response, feel isolated from the social situation or find yourself under tremendous pressure to confirm to the group’s norm? According to Fels Institute of Government at University of Pennsylvania.
“Whenever we listen to a statement, particularly one that is charged with emotion, our immediate tendency is to evaluate it from our perspective. That’s natural and human and an impediment to communication if we don’t deliberately put on the brakes and control it”.
Step One in Effective Communication – Listen https://www.fels.upenn.edu/recap/posts/813
Based on the research of: Adler, R., Rosenfeld, L. and Proctor, R. (2001)
Interplay: the process of interpersonal communicating (8th edn), Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt.
- canine listening without pre-judgement,
So, if 45% of our time spent communicating is actually listening, are we? No, I don’t believe we are, primarily because we’re too full of our own self-importance rather than truly caring what the other person wishes to say.
This conversation we have with dogs is communication at an unspoken level, where there is an emotional response so lacking in many human situations that I can recall.
How many reading this have been bullied by a ‘so called friend’ into behaving not how you would wish to from your heart? On reflection this is usually as a result of their fear causing a manic desire for control & need to dominate.
If we looked at this from the other side of the mirror as in seeing what the speaker is seeing in us would we possibly change?
To do so we should enter into the conversation as a truly humble listener where the speaker has the most important subject to talk about – well it usually is to them.
Does your dog actually care about your dress sense, vocabulary / accent (unless you’re screaming at it) or ‘social’ status? A lot of which has been manipulated for a sense of power.
- faithfulness & trust
What a dog probably cares more about is faithfulness & trust. Both of which can be established in human conversations through listening as a service to the person speaking.
Maybe it is time to quite our human cleverness both with ourselves and other species. The review below of Donna J Haraway’s When Species Meet expresses this clearly.
In this deeply personal yet intellectually ground-breaking work, Haraway develops the idea of companion species, those who meet and break bread together but not without some indigestion. “A great deal is at stake in such meetings,” she writes, “and outcomes are not guaranteed. There is no assured happy or unhappy ending-socially, ecologically, or scientifically. There is only the chance for getting on together with some grace.”
Ultimately, she finds that respect, curiosity, and knowledge spring from animal–human associations and work powerfully against ideas about human exceptionalism.
For further insights to the trust that street dogs put in soldiers in war zones please visit
- empathy & reciprocity
If empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, which we seem to naturally have with dogs. Then why do we struggle in our human relationships? Is it because this relationship between a dog & it’s owner could be described as a form of mutualism as in the symbionts benefiting from each other.
Or are we just pre-conditioned to mistrust our human relationships from a survival aspect?
Reciprocity originates from the Latin reciprocus as in ‘moving backwards & forwards’ and thus if empathy is not quid pro quo as in Often times the concept of reciprocity arises when thinking about both the honour of giving and the honour of receiving as the basis for Native American philanthropy. Reciprocity is defined as “the obligation to return benefits for benefits received” (Moody, 1994). Further, Rebecca Adamson suggests that “The reciprocity [in Native America] is not quid pro quo but the gift is given, the beneficiary is expected also to give, not necessarily back, but on, so the gift is always alive” (Wells1998) https://www.learningtogive.org/resources/native-american-philanthropy-paper-i
Then is your gift of listening always alive and moving backwards & forwards?
So how can we practice our genuine listening skills to be of service to others?
One amazing way is through the work of programmes such as Karma Rescue’s Paws for Life Prison Programme in the USA
where rescued dogs who don’t have much hope are trained to be sociable by inmates who have usually had nobody listen to them all their life. So that the dog develops social skills aiding its chance of finding a forever home & in reciprocation the inmates gain life skills enabling them to contribute to society after release.
If you would like to join in a conversation about creating a social-impact network to forge confidence respect & trust among rescued dogs & disadvantaged people please contact me at:
This blog is dedicated to the memory of Piran pup 11/06/2003 to 24/06/2018 Thank you for listening without pre-judgement & your faithfulness and trust.