Reading Lassie's Mind

"It is okay to guess what an animal is feeling, just as it's okay to guess what any human is thinking. This is how we learn to know one another, by guesses based on our own experiences, our (always imperfect) understanding of how someone else communicates what they are feeling or thinking, and our willingness to accept feedback and fine-tune our behavior. It's okay to guess what your dog is trying to communicate as long as you're willing to accept that you might be wrong, correct your misunderstanding and try again. It is not okay to guess what an animal is thinking or feeling if you are unwilling to accept nothing less than absolute compliance with your wishes. Far too common are assertions that someone 'knows' why a dog did or did not do something; rarely is that guess tested against the reality of the dog's responses. I make a lot of guesses based on my observations of a dog's behavior, the situation and many years of experience. But I'm also interested in testing my guesses against reality. In one way or another, I create a situation that asks the dog, 'Is this so? Is that how it is for you? Did I guess right?' I'm as grateful when I'm wrong as when I'm right. Results I did not expect are evidence that I've guessed wrong and need to try again; they are also opportunities for me to learn more than I knew when I guessed incorrectly. This is how all of us learn anything, and it is how all of us learn to understand others."

--Suzanne Clothier, Bones Would Rain from the Sky: Deepening Our Relationship with Dogs (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2002), pp. 100-101.


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