It’s Time to Start Listening

And then it was Al Franken.

I began my day by reading a statement by radio personality Leeann Tweeden, who described a truly disturbing encounter with Senator Franken. While “rehearsing” for a USO show in 2006, Franken purportedly grabbed Tweeden behind the head and then shoved his tongue in her mouth. Later on he took a “funny” picture of him holding her flack jacket where her breasts reside, while she was sleeping. OMFG.

Franken has since written what reads to me to be a genuine apology. He appears as disgusted and offended with himself as we are with him, and he agrees that there should be an investigation into his horrific behavior.

So how did this man, who fights for the underserved every day in the Senate, go from having no qualms about pushing a woman way past her comfort zone and acting against her wishes to becoming the seemingly empathetic guy we know today?

Well, I have a theory: we humans tend to do a lousy job respecting boundaries, reading body language, and listening to others’ needs.

I see it every day in my world of dogs.

Remember Jennie the Pointer? She grew increasingly uncomfortable as more and more dogs and people walked into the animal hospital, and when she growled to ask another dog to give her space, her guardian hit her. Had he paid attention to her body language, he would have seen that she was scared, and he could have helped her out of the crowded room. Instead, he didn’t notice that she was trying to shift her body away from each dog coming and going, that her body had stiffened, and that she had tons of eye white showing. And because of his ignorance and body language illiteracy, he hit her  

Many of my discussions with clients revolve around these themes:

  • Dogs have feelings too.
  • Let your dog vote with her feet.
  • Let your dog make decisions.

So often, what I see are people snatching up their puppies whether the dogs are ok with it or not, manhandling their dogs to force a harness or a collar on them, and yanking their dogs back to them when the pups try to stop and smell the urines.

What if we all stopped for just a moment and, before we reacted, looked and listened to the person, or dog, or cat, or bird we are with, and made sure they were comfortable doing what we would otherwise thrust upon them?

We live in a society that doesn’t listen. And from where I sit, I can tell you that, because of it, women and dogs (and I suspect babies, children, grandparents, etc.) are pushed way past our comfort level over and over and over again each day.

My friends and colleagues in the force-free dog training world have been crying out for decades that humans need to treat our pups with care and compassion rather than with leash jerks, shocks, and alpha rolls. But even those who want to do right by their pups have a lot of difficulty reading their dogs’ body language, so they often miss their pups’ cries for help. That’s why I started iSpeakDog. If people knew what fear looked like on their dog, and if they understood that dogs chew and dig and jump because they’re DOGS, rather than because they’re on some crusade to get even with their humans, maybe then they’d finally and truly get that dogs do have feelings too, and dogs need to have a say in how they live their lives.

It’s not ok to yank up a puppy and toss him around to everyone without asking the dog if he wants to do that. It’s not ok to get mad at your pup for chewing up a chair leg because you didn’t properly chew train her to teach her to chew approved toys rather than your belongings. It’s not ok to always force your dog to walk in a straight line with you as fast as you want to go, regardless if he wants to take in his environs with his nose or if he is tired and needs a break.

And men, it’s not okay to touch women, flirt with women, and stick your tongues in our mouths because it seems like a fun thing for you to do, regardless of how we feel about it.

There is a silver lining on the women front: the dam has been breached, and we are all speaking out. I know that I held my tongue for decades after my first boss tried to force me to have sex with old-male clients, because I was afraid that I would be ridiculed for speaking out. So, instead, I quit my job, did nothing about it, and cried for months.

Thank you, Leeann, for speaking out. Every time another woman does it, I feel stronger and more confident and more comfortable in my X-chromosone laden skin.

Now, how can give our dogs the same ability to speak out…



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