When was the last time you did an activity with your dog in complete silence? Exclude watching a movie or typing on your computer while your dog is in the room with you. I’m talking about purposefully taking time to be with your dog and not speak. We put a lot of emphasis on training, controlling, and entertaining our dogs because a well-trained dog is a joy. But what if we spent a few moments here and there in “active silence?” Why do this? Keep reading.
I define active silence as moments I share with my dog doing something, but I don’t speak or give commands. I am not distracted by a device, no earbuds, there is no music, no tv background noise. I say nothing to my dog, but I am aware of what my dog is doing, and my dog is aware of what I am doing.
The first step in practicing active silence is noticing how, when, and why we speak to our dogs. It is difficult for my dog to understand what words to pay attention to if I speak in sentences. He may just decide to ignore me altogether because of the constant chatter. Practicing active silence can help me be a better communicator.
One way to create active silence is to practice “information walks.” Your dog on a long leash allowed to explore and investigate. You have this rare moment to peek into your dog’s mind. You as human interested in what your dog is interested in. The only time you interrupt this exercise is if your dog is going toward something dangerous or doing something impolite. You can then request your dog engage with you using verbal cues and leash communication, and maybe do a little obedience. Then follow it with a silent information walk.
I frequently go on active silent hikes with my dog. I have trained to get to a point where he can be off leash, but you can do this same exercise with your dog on a long leash. During our hike I limit my commands to three things: his name, a walk command, and a release command. I say his name if I need to gain control because of other hikers, dogs, wildlife, livestock, etc. He returns and we practice our heeling. I release him when the coast is clear. Then I am silent. I watch him air sniff, stand still to listen to sounds I cannot hear. I show interest in these things, too; not with words, but by pausing in solidarity. I am interested in what he is interested in. When I turn and go the other direction, I do not tell him I am turning. If needed I walk slowly until he notices I have turned, but I do not request that he follow me. No need for words. He should show interest in what I do, too. Mutual respect.
We can create moments of active silence around our homes. I can hide a toy and go find it with my dog. I say nothing. I just start searching and notice if my dog starts searching with me. I smile at my dog when he finds it. Try to find a quiet moment together during other opportunities. Maybe instead of commanding your dog to come to you and rewarding with food, you wait until your dog chooses to come to you. Give your dog a smile, a quick rub on the chest and then return to what you were doing. Keep your interaction silent, purposeful, and short. It doesn’t always need to be about command and performance. This is a collaboration.
Benefits of active silence:
- Clearer communication
- Encourages solidarity
- Builds mutual respect and collaboration
- Creates leadership and trust
- Motivates engagement
In 2021 I spent a month in France training and preparing to compete with my dog, MC2. Twenty eight days in. Trial date tomorrow. My trainer says to me, “Go for a walk with your dog. Do not ask him to do anything. Relax, take your time, and enjoy the moment.” He suggested active silence. The most difficult competition of my life, something I had been personally training for since 2011, and I am told to simply follow my dog around the French countryside the day before I compete?
Trial day. Our turn and we are on an open field being judged for forty-five minutes with no breaks. MC2 jumps and climbs walls for me, ignores food thrown at him, calmly walks or quickly runs as commanded, retrieves and scent discriminates. He then performs various protection scenarios; be calm until asked to protect me, ignore the gunfire, guard the basket, go find the bad guy and tell me where he is. No collar, no leash, no food, no toy. Just me and my dog. I only hoped to pass the test. But I believe practicing active silence took us to the top. It is a moment that will stick with me forever.
Give a little active silence a try. Let us know how it goes for you and your dog. All the best, Bonnie