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Listening Like A Dog

 

Cricket can be a very good listener. Even in a dead sleep, limbs flopping in midair, she can hear certain words (like: walk, chicken, go, out, and, of course, pee) and be up on her feet and stretching within half a second.

Don't be fooled. Cricket can hear everything!

Don’t be fooled. Cricket can hear everything!

She listens to the sounds of her people sleeping, and shifting, to determine when the waking up drama is about to take place, so she can mark it with screeching and scratching and growling and jumping. She listens to the outdoor sounds, to make sure terrorists are not hiding in plain sight, pretending to be birds or squirrels. She often listens by sniffing, hearing the story of her sister’s visit to the vet by smelling her ears, armpits, and, of course, her butt.

This is Butterfly sniffing Cricket, but you get the idea.

This is Butterfly sniffing Cricket, but you get the idea.

Listening like a dog means actively looking for the information someone wants to give you. It’s not about being nice, or friendly, or polite; it’s about tying an imaginary thread between you and the talker and letting them feel the tug each time you understand what they’ve said.

Butterfly even listens with her tongue!

Butterfly even listens with her tongue!

My rabbi went to Israel this summer with a group of other liberal rabbis, and they spent a week with different groups of Israelis and Israeli Arabs, and at the end of the trip they spent three days in Jerusalem, hearing from Palestinians from East Jerusalem, during the height of the Gaza war. These speakers had to spend hours travelling, because of the heightened security measures, but they felt it was important enough to come and tell their personal stories to this group of American Jews. The rule was that the listeners had to wait until the end of the presentation to speak, and even then, only speak in the form of a question, to try to understand better where the speaker was coming from, rather than to argue with them.

That way, even if you hear something early on that’s provocative, or that you think is untrue, or unfair, you don’t interrupt. You keep listening, in case there’s something for you to learn. And isn’t there always something to learn? Maybe you learn why the other person believes as they do, or why they are willing to go through the difficult journey just to speak to you. There can be a moment of understanding, and compassion, and even progress, through dialogue. Not total agreement by any means, but maybe one or two points of connection will come through.

It is taking me forever to learn how to listen when listening is difficult. Patience was never my strong suit. And to be fair to me, people keep saying the craziest things and I feel like it is my job to set things straight so that the world won’t tilt out of control.

Cricket is listening, but she doesn't like what she's hearing.

Cricket is listening, but she doesn’t like what she’s hearing.

Butterfly is a much better listener than I am. She very rarely takes offense. She listens to her sister’s diatribes with curiosity and patience. She even sniffs an ear to see if there’s more to find out. She uses a tactic I’d call whole body listening. You can see her ears lift and rotate, and her nose twitch, as she focuses her gaze on you. But even more, you can feel her listening, feel the heat of her body leaning against you to see what mood you are in, or her tongue licking your palm to let you know that she’s paying attention.

I can probably skip the licking part, but the rest of her listening skills seem worthy of imitation. Now, if only I could get my ears to lift up and rotate the way hers do…

Look at those ears!

Look at those ears!

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About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

97 responses »

  1. This is very nice, Rachel — very thoughtful, and true, about listening and how difficult we humans can make it — unlike canines, who really do seem so far superior to us, don’t they? 🙂

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  2. I too am very bad about interrupting before the speaker has even finished a thought, as though I know what s/he will say. I work very hard at not doing that. Discipline. Your little Butterfly is very profound.

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    • It’s so much easier to “listen” to other people all the way through when I’m reading their words. Butterfly is a savant at listening. She can do it under almost any circumstance, in the face of almost any conflict. She’s my role model.

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  3. Rachel, this is one of your best posts! Love the thoughts. Though I am Jewish, I am not religious because I feel like organized religion is exactly why our people and the Palestinians have fought for so long for nothing. If everyone could listen AND LOVE like dogs–and all animals for that matter – the world would be a better place…

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  4. Love “whole body listening”…we ought to teach it in schools. I have to tell you, though, Rachel, my dog believes squirrels ARE terrorists!

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  5. I love the ear rotation part – my dogs do that often. And sometimes that makes me laugh.

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  6. They are definitely tuned in hearing. Sissy knows the sound of my car;even if I’m away in freezing temps, when I leave her inside with access to her dog door she is up by the front of our yard in front of where I park (behind the fence) when I come home! I know she did not stay there! Glad your Rabbi was able to go. I was stationed in the Sinai with the Multinational Force and Observers in 1989 during the Intifada the PLO organized! Until you travel there, most folks hve little idea what life is like!

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    • I have friends in Israel, but I still feel like I know very little about what it’s like to live there. My rabbi does a lot of work to try and educate us about all sides of the situation there, and I work at listening, but I know I’m missing a lot, turning away too soon, and getting scared off too soon. Butterfly would do a much better job at it than I do.

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      • Hard to describe without staying there for at least 6 months I talked to the folks on the streets shop owners, market shop keepers both in Israel and Egypt All I can say is everyone was better off with Mubaric. I know buttrfly!

  7. Beautifully intertwined. Lovely thoughts. Well written as usual.

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  8. How adorableeeeeeeee! My pup – Oreo – is bestowed with some wonderful hearing abilities (much to my chagrin, at times 😛 ). You are blessed with a wonderful talent of ‘tugging at your audience’s heart’ with your words #HUGSS Kitto Date: Sun, 7 Dec 2014 00:04:14 +0000 To: kitgetssocial@outlook.com

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  9. tugging at your audience’s heart– that was my favorite part of your blog, just perfect. 🙂 To be fair, humans use talking to understand their own mind and get feedback. But we also use language in our ‘ranking’ domination positioning. It does not change the fact that someone who is always talking, will miss the gems. Our dogs our submissive to us and love us- they cannot wait to hear what is next. But have you noticed that they know what is happening before you do sometimes? 🙂

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  10. Oh, dear. My name is Lois and I am an Interrupter. Gosh, I wish I could stop….I love the whole body listening idea. My cats ears rotate but they could not care less what I am saying. Dogs, on the other hand…we could learn from them. Butterfly is so adorable, but you just gotta love Cricket and her pretend sleeping. So funny.

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  11. This is brilliant! Dogs can actually teach us humans a lot about life if we would only LISTEN!

    Cricket and Butterfly seem to have much in common with Ginger and Buddy (or vice versa). The picture of the back-end smelling is very similar to photos I have of Buddy sniffing Ginger. The ear cocking, tongue talking is Buddy, Ginger more elusive and all-knowing with her eyes. She can’t hear as well now but she listens to every signal and every sign.

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  12. Outstanding post. Thank you for sharing.

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  13. Loved this! Very cute doggies too!

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  14. I used to be a great listener but now, in my dotage, I can’t hear too well which makes listening very difficult. I do notice a trait in humans-they don’t listen but just are eager to say something-including interrupting and the human being interrupted doesn’t listen to the interruption.

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  15. Hi Rachel!
    I was checking out other WordPress blogs, so I thought I’d check out yours. Question: You have a rectangle on the right with Archives, Follow, etc. in it. We are both using WordPress. How did you get that? I don’t know if my theme will allow something like that off to the right, but I’m still curious. Thanks.
    I didn’t realize until I saw you’re archives how long you’ve been blogging. For me it’s only been a month.
    I hope all is well.
    Janice

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  16. Whole-body listening; what a splendid concept. This will explain why Trevor, my JRT, doesn’t wait for me to say anything. He knows even before I have completed the thought. They pick up so well on non-verbal cues, too. Reaching for the remote around 11pm means I’m about to turn the television off, which means I’m about to get up and let him and his brother (Wire Fox Terrier Ulysse) out for their pre-bed pee. He becomes excited; a,d that because I leaned forward in my chair. But I did it in just the right way at just the right time.

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  17. What a superb post. I really enjoyed reading it. Listening is a great skill to have. I read recently somewhere that we rarely really listen, we just wait for a gap so we can reply. Guilty as charged, M’lud. Must try harder.

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    • I’ve always found it hard to figure out where those gaps in the conversation are, but I notice that I spend a lot of time talking to myself (silently!), planning what I might say. I wish I could take notes while people are talking because that really helps me in class with teachers. But most people run away when I take out my notebook.

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      • Hahaaaa I bet they do – I’d run away as well 😀

        The thing is – the world needs listeners AND talkers otherwise it would be terribly quiet. Being able to do both well without working at it would be great, wouldn’t it.

        I’m married to a man who is neither a talker nor a listener. Most of the time he’s away in his own little world. Bless him. I chat away happily knowing he hasn’t taken in a single word 😀

  18. Hi Rachel,
    Loved this post and how you tied in the Jewish culture and the dogs. I made a decision to improve my listening skills a few years ago and some of my friends were completely taken aback. They had actually likes my animated banter because I didn'[t ask them too many penetrating questions. Suddenly, they were running for cover. I actually, found them annoying because I wanted reciprocal friendships so I don’t see them much anymore.
    Through my health and mobility challenges, I often end up mmore on the fringe these days and have become more of an observer and listener. It’s been interesting. Everybody has a story to tell and I’ve been quite amazed at the stories that have come out through more active listening.
    Like your dogs, mine are also great listeners and observers. Love them!
    xx Rowena

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  19. Such a wise, thoughtful piece. We were interested to hear about your Rabbi’s experiences with the group of Palestinians – fascinating and a good idea for promoting understanding others. Pip

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  20. Sometimes people think they are listening, but they are not hearing, as you said. Your Cricket & Butterfly always bring a smile to my face. Dogs are for sure the best listeners. ❤

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  21. This is why I love living with dogs – they listen so well. Many humans I know talk far too much.

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  22. Dogs don’t miss a trick do they. Ours is ‘asleep’ on her rug, but every so often, an eye will open and she’ll look round, then close it again with that contented sigh. Lovely photo of Cricket on your cardy.

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  23. Your puppies are so precious.

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  24. With dogs there is a huge gap between listening and hearing. The former is simply part of their nature; a complex survival mechanism within the pack. The latter seems to me to be purely selective. Max “listens” to everything but curiously only “hears” the things he wants. Come to think of it, that maybe applies to people, too.

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  25. I always love reading about Cricket and Butterfly. They’re so cute! (and my Belle is much the same when she’s sleeping – amazing what they wake up for!)

    And the trip to Jerusalem! There’s always something to learn and what a great way to do it!

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  26. They do listen, and we should too! My dogs respond vigorously to “Getcha shoes on!”

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  27. hi Rachel, I like your your wordpress theme . how did you get that “about Rachel”/”view all posts” box at the bottom of your posts pages? feel free to delete this, but i didn’t know any other way to ask you 🙂

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  28. Little Butterfly is such the listener, you can see it all over her darling face. Cricket is a very good watchdog, she will always protect her family. 🙂

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  29. love that big Butterfly grin!

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  30. Great post and lesson for all us humans. Why do we want to convince everyone who we don’t agree with to change their perspective and be like “me”? Our little Smokey, Kali’s sister, like your Butterfly is good listener. He patient, tilted head, and deep brown intense eyes staring at the talker trying to grasp what is being said. Really like this post.

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  31. Such a joy to read and see!! Tweeted this and two others:)

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  32. Never doubt the insight of our dogs. Great post (from one pooch lover to another).

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  33. we have so much to learn from our animal companions and your wondeful post gets to one of the main problems we have today and that is certainly lack of good listening skills. I do agree though that when someone is sayinh utter crap you are obliged to comment 🙂 SO THANKS for your post as it is a good reminder for me to pay attention to my dogs listening. love from Muppet and Evelyn

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  34. Lovely, Rachel! Our pets are role models on many levels…and the ear level is truly important.

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  35. Wow that was such a smart way for those rabbis to structure their meeting. We could all learn a lot from that, and just think, if powerful government leaders would follow their example, we might actually have a brief moment of peace, understanding and enlightenment in this world.
    PS- Those pictures of your pups are TOO cute!!

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  36. I def think humans should learn to listen like we do…

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  37. This was a lovely piece, and I enjoyed seeing the pictures of your dogs. They are just precious. Dogs can teach us so much, and they are always communicating. You are certainly a strong listener when it comes to recognizing that! Best wishes.

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  38. Reblogged this on Wags&Feathers and commented:
    We can learn so much from our canine companions!

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  39. I think I am in love with Cricket and Butterfly. (I’m whispering that so my dachshunds, Sammy, Chloe and Jasmine don’t hear me – they get very jealous. 😀 )

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  40. Love the listening concept. We humans arent very good at that.

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  41. Hi Butterfly and Cricket, and Happy Hanukkah to Rachel (My human Mum told me to say that).
    Butterfly, i cannot believe you look so much like me. I thought I was the cutest dog around but you match me easily.You might have to check out my blog again to see how similar we are. I’ll check up one photo to show you. Woofs from KoKo

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  42. Lovely post – listening is so important

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  43. The thing we forget is that dogs, prisoners, and children all spend an inordinate amount of time just watching us. We all need to slow down. Still trying to figure out how to follow your blog. It is not aht apparent sometimes. I have two or three people I am still trying to figure out how to follow on wordpress.

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  44. Great blog! This was excellent:))

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  45. I like that idea of only asking questions!!

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