Speak softly…..


Animal whisperers seem to communicate on a special level with the species they love. Whisperers work primarily with higher mammals and they all have a number of things in common, regardless of the species with which they work.


Probably the most common trait all whisperers share is that they work in the “now”. They recognize that one cannot change the past or own the future so the only successful strategy is to deal with every issue and every behavior in the moment. Higher emotions such as guilt, pity and fear have no place in the instinctual vocabulary dealing as they do with past events or future possibilities. These emotions and others like them can only be owned by the human and the dysfunction they cause in the human is transferred to the animal. In many cases, this is the singular cause of inappropriate behavior in that animal. Living the relationship in the moment removes complexity, disallows mirroring of dysfunctional emotions and allows interaction on a purely instinctual level.


The second trait they share is that they work exclusively from a calm, assertive centre. Regardless of the behavior of the animal they never lose their focus on being calm and assertive.


The third trait they all share is that they prioritize by starting at the most basic levels and then moving to those which are more complex. In an animal this translates to first addressing the animal, then the species, next the breed and finally the individual. The importance of this approach is that they begin at the simplest level and in doing so need look only at instinctual behavior, initially ignoring the complexities they will deal with later. By beginning at the simplest level they are able to immediately establish trust because the only complexity at this level is instinct. The task is to establish their dominance as a leader in a calm, assertive way and nothing more. Trust is a natural outcome from this approach.


Once that basic trust is established (usually very quickly) they begin relating to the species. It is only at this point that psychology begins to come into play. Some species are herd or pack animals; some are not and understanding how particular animals relate to each other within each species begins to be important as it determines how whisperers will tailor their approach to behavior modification. Animals which operate in groups are easier to manage as they more readily accept leadership from a dominant individual.


The next level of complexity is breed and of course each breed will have a unique imperative. Horses are bred to pull, jump, run or cut. Dogs are bred for sport, herding, hounding, working or other tasks. Understanding what drives the animal’s behavior (good or bad) becomes very important as fulfilling that imperative is the simplest way to initiate a trend toward balanced behavior. It is also the starting point for determining which kind of physical and mental challenge will most readily fulfill the imperative and in doing so most easily disrupt inappropriate behavior without needing to resort to or depend upon discipline.


Only when these three levels are dealt with does the whisperer begin to deal with the individual personality.  While people tend to humanize animals – and in doing so give this level of interaction the greatest weight, it is in fact the least important in whispering. A successful whisperer uses an animal’s “name” only to trigger specific, trained behaviors. Included in this level are the other forms of communication which might involve verbal commands, hand signals and sounds. It must be recognized, however, that without first establishing trust, asserting dominance and exercising an animal in a breed appropriate way, trained behaviors are not easily accomplished or consistently achieved.


Another common understanding among all true whisperers is that they appreciate the hierarchy of exercise, discipline and affection. While these simple terms can carry a universe of complexity, they can also be taken at face value and still work effectively in behavior modification.


Exercise can be just that but it can mean so much more. Any animal which is neurotic, aggressive, excited or nervous cannot maintain that state if exercised until tired. An animal which is being challenged in an appropriate way will tend to break from its unstable state and revert to a baseline instinctual behavior. In that state it is much more malleable and accepting of behavior modification. Exercise is the most basic of challenges and has good success in behavior modification because of that. It is also fairly easily understood and implemented in species and breed appropriate ways.


Discipline is critical but it is important to recognize that it is not punishment. Discipline is really only expecting proper behavior without negotiating, commanding or asking. It is comprised of addressing the problem and then following through with the expectation of proper behavior. The nature of the discipline depends entirely on the species. Discipline for a dog is simply a firm touch in the neck or haunch. The purpose is ONLY to break the animal from its unstable state without hurting it or fostering distrust. Instead, one is simply setting rules, boundaries and limitations and consistently following through in a calm assertive manner.  Punishment almost always springs from anger, excitement or fear and only serves to translate those emotions back to the animal. This transference will reinforce or escalate the animal’s dysfunctional state.


Finally, only when the animal is in the desired state can affection be appropriate. It is the reward for desired behavior. One can love an animal but should only show affection as the reward for desired behavior. Affection at any other time only serves to reinforce the behavior prevalent at that time and so is totally counterproductive.


There is often no quick fix for profoundly dysfunctional behavior so patience is often required. Tension in the relationship will be picked up by the animal so staying in the moment with a calm, balanced and assertive attitude is critical.


This is all fine and good but for one more thing. Whisperers do not try, they do. Successful singers don’t try to sing. They sing. Famous actors don’t try to act. They act. Gold medal swimmers don’t try to swim. They swim. The common thread is that to be successful, one needs to DO. It helps to be centered, calm and confident. Success will follow. Response from the subject is purely a reflection of the whisperer so half-hearted commitment will result in flawed results.


Before we move on, remember this is only the barest summary of whispering and while it covers the main points is by no means the totality of the subject.


Here is the twist.


Man is an animal and a higher mammal and really not so different from other higher mammals. Until fairly recently it was commonly believed that what separated us from all other animals was our ability to displace. However, we now know at least one other species exhibits displacement and a number of other mammalian species are proven to have complex “languages” which we are not yet capable of deciphering. Certainly mankind has raised the bar when it comes to achievement but our roots are closer to the surface than many are willing to admit and so the tenets of “whispering” should apply just as well to man as to any other animal. It certainly removes much of the complexity from the search for appropriate treatment for dysfunction. It would not apply of course to psychiatric disorders or behaviors triggered from purely health related problems which are better treated through medical intervention.


Let’s apply the basic tenets of whispering to humans who might be maladjusted but otherwise whole. As a human whisperer we must be calm and assertive at all times and never lose our patience. The primary goal is to never intensify a bad situation with inappropriate behavior on our part. We must live in the now and refuse to allow guilt, pity, anger or any other strong emotion which might be present due to past interactions. We cannot fear for the future as we can transfer that personal imbalance to the person with whom we are interacting. If nothing else, removing these destructive emotions from the equation is profoundly self-empowering and sets a brilliant example for the person on whom we wish to have effect.


We begin then by gaining the trust of our subject on the instinctual level by first being completely consistent in our calm, assertive behavior and secondly by responding to the most basic needs of the subject. These needs are food and shelter – which are provided without conditions attached and without reservation. There are no exceptions to this rule. Basics do not include Nintendo, motorbikes or iPods. These are rewards for appropriate behavior. When an individual escapes into gaming, music or other secondary pursuits in place of respectful interaction with the family unit, those behaviors need to be controlled and access to them treated as rewards. They can be given as rewards for good behavior at any time but in appropriate amounts.


The species in this scenario is human. We are a pack (tribal) animal and so the whisperer must take the role of pack leader and be calm and assertive. Pack leaders expect calm, submissive behavior from the pack and NEVER back down in the face of inappropriate behavior. They also never lose their calm, assertive centre. There is an expectation that everyone in the group will work to the benefit of the group to the best of their ability in an age appropriate way. An absolute expectation of respect is a good starting point.


Breed can translate in humans to culture. Culture is an enormously strong imperative and can become a very complex issue particularly when dealing with mixed cultures (such as Indo-Canadian) but for our purposes we will keep it simple. In our case, culture addresses functioning within a family unit and expecting behaviors which are appropriate within a family. Those might include bathing, respectful behavior, completion of duties which support the family and other such things which are required by law such as attending school. Again, these behaviors are non-negotiable and by creating challenges which are sex and age appropriate we are more likely to break an individual from disruptive or destructive behavior and find success in achieving balance. The greatest hurdle for the whisperer is to use the environment to arrive at creative solutions which provide those challenges. We need to remember that a thoroughly challenged individual cannot easily maintain a dysfunctional attitude.


Finally, we can begin to deal with the individual as an individual. If we have been calm, assertive, patient and consistent in our own behavior our likelihood of a favorable outcome is greatly increased. It is only once we have succeeded with the previous steps that we can with all fairness expect such things as better marks in school, practicing the trombone without being asked and vacuuming just because it looked like it needed doing. For some funny reason, humans are motivated by positive feedback and it is at this point that rewards become more appropriate. Rewards can and maybe should be offered for all appropriate behavior – even very early in the process, but should be tailored to the situation. One does not reward taking out the garbage without being asked by buying a gift which reinforces undesirable behavior (such as a computer game for a game addict). It is also important to understand the difference between love and affection. Unconditional love is almost better expressed with calm, non-judgmental, supportive behavior on the part of the whisperer while affection is expressed through rewards.


When we overlay the trilogy of exercise, discipline and affection (all of which have been mentioned previously) our ability to have a positive impact on a relationship improves even more.


Choosing breed appropriate exercise for a dog is relatively easy. Choosing age and sex appropriate exercise for a human is somewhat more complex. Issues such as interests, abilities, costs and time constraints need to be considered but this should not be a stumbling block for the human whisperer if failure is not an option. It simply becomes a matter of deciding what is possible and appropriate and making it happen. The reward for both the subject and the whisperer is a fulfilled, tired and pliant subject.


Discipline might on the surface seem to be an even more slippery slope but if considered first from the viewpoint of self-discipline becomes somewhat more decipherable. Successful self-discipline is a matter of deciding what behavior is appropriate and then following through with it. Discipline is simply a matter of transferring that concept to another individual. Again, discipline must not be mistaken for punishment. It is simply a matter of setting rules, boundaries and limitations and then sticking to those guidelines without exception. The guidelines need to be as achievable in an age and sex appropriate way for the subject to fulfill as they are for the whisperer to enforce. Starting with simple expectations might be smart but the framework really must be tailored to the individual and the situation.


Affection is the easiest to give and the most difficult to give appropriately. We must remember that affection is not love. Instead, if we correlate affection with reward we are closer to meeting the standard for whispering. Small rewards are given for small successes, big rewards for big successes. Since this issue was discussed previously in this essay, no more needs to be said at this time.


The final word is a simple reminder. Any imbalance or strong emotion in the whisperer will be reflected and magnified in the subject so remaining calm, centered and assertive is beyond critical. A whisperer must work in the moment. Fears of failure in the future or guilt from failure in the past are destructive for this process. Whispering and judgment are mutually exclusive. Being judgmental requires living in the past. Love is always and forever required but affection is given for appropriate behavior. Last, but not least, patience and repetition are both sides of the same coin but repetition without patience will not work. Impatience foments tension and is counterproductive. If a whisperer is truly functioning in the now, patience is a given.


A successful whisperer is successful not because his or her subjects are fixable but because the whisperer is confident, centered and calm.


Speak softly and there is no need for a stick.


2 Responses to “Speak softly…..”

  1. Julia Says:

    I just love reading what you write. Such insight.

  2. ceo Says:


    This particular peice of work speaks to me and I will have to read it many time to get the full worth of it.

    Philosophical buddy of yours

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