The Human Whisperer

I adore my dog. This blog is a pretty obvious testament to that fact. I don’t think anyone questions it. But while I love Shiva to bits and pieces, she is not my “heart dog”. We just don’t have that deep, other-worldly kind of connection many bloggers talk about. We both struggle to understand each other almost every day. I am sure many times she is just as frustrated with me as I am with her.

However, just because I don’t think she is my canine soul mate doesn’t mean my dog doesn’t have an important role of her own. From the start of our relationship, Shiva has been my teacher-dog. With patience (usually) she has worked hard to instruct me on the ways of her world. I’ve jokingly called her “sensei” and “coach”. More recently, I’ve started calling her the “human whisperer.”*

Shiva is a far better teacher than I will ever be. She instinctively knows everything that has taken me years to learn.

1. Shiva never punishes my mistakes. Back when I attempted some old-school methods of my own, she chose to simply ignore my behaviour. My pathetic corrections had no effect on her whatsoever.

2. When I get it right, Shiva rewards, rewards, rewards. And then rewards some more. It’s party-time all over the place.

3. Shiva is an awesome motivator. Even when I don’t feel like working, she knows how to push me just enough to get me off my butt. But so much that I am yelling at her in frustration.

4. Her timing is excellent. She knows when I need a break and when I am about to have a lightbulb moment. Shiva can sense when I am struggling and gives just enough hints to help me figure it out.

5. Shiva makes me feel smart. Her lessons are simple and short. She shows instead of tells and teaches me how to discover things on my own.

6. If I regress, which is bound to happen sometimes, Shiva doesn’t sigh or get angry. She knows it’s not personal or a reflection of her abilities. She simply waits for me to remember the right way. When I do, we have an even bigger party than the first time.

7. Shiva is a cheerleader. No matter how long it takes me, she never gives up.

Due to her excellence in the classroom, our future dogs are going to be awesome. That is, if I retain everything she has taught. Applying my knowledge has never been my forte.

Does your dog play a specific role on your life?

*To be clear, I mean the pre-Millan, Paul Owens kind of whispering. Shiva doesn’t believe in physical corrections. Which is a good thing for both of us!

22 thoughts on “The Human Whisperer

  1. Luna has been a teacher for me too… though I feel she is more pushy than miss Shiva, so maybe a different word than teacher fits better. Just like you I know Luna is not my heart dog either, I love her to bits and life would not be the same without her but it’s just not there. I do know that just about any dog after her should seem like a piece of cake with any number of things she has put me through. That’s not to say she has not been a bad dog, she just has been a challenge (she is too smart!). I think if I took even half the dedication you have for working Shiva and put it into Luna she would be even better. I find it so hard to know where to start some days when I get in the mood to work her, I gotta find a book to work through or something. Do you know of any building blocks sort of trick books?
    Take care


  2. I loved this post! And I kept on thinking how sad it is that Shiva doesn’t have opposable thumbs. If she could actually operate a clicker, just imagine what tricks she could teach you.

    I worry a little about all the discussion of “heart dogs.” It’s a difficult notion for me. But I will suggest to you that your thoughts on Shiva when she’s no longer with you may be quite different then they are now. You may be surprised someday to find she’s that very special heart dog after all. But it’s impossible to see when you’re in the middle of life with her. Or maybe not.

    I don’t think our “heart dogs” are always the easy ones. I think the easy ones can confuse us.


  3. I don’t know about the heart dog stuff. I can’t imagine my life without Thunder or Storm and I still miss my Gordie every single day.

    Shiva is a good teacher. Maybe she is teaching that a heart dog doesn’t always fit conventional definitions? 🙂


  4. What a wonderful teacher you have in Shiva!

    Oreo has taught me so much ~ Be slow to trust others. When you have trust, love that person with all your heart and never let go. Never do anything to betray that trust, because it takes a long time to build it back up again.

    Chewy has taught me that life should be a party. Running and jumping makes you happy. Take nothing seriously.


  5. I personally have never really understood or believed in the concept of a “heart dog.” Now, those who have might say that it’s because I’ve never had one. I don’t really agree. Every dog I’ve ever loved owns a piece of my heart forever, though admittedly some of those pieces are larger, and seem to go deeper, than others. The bottom line, I think, is that this terminology is a largely ineffectual attempt to put into words something that really can’t BE reduced to words, no matter how heartfelt or eloquent they might be. Fortunately, the dogs don’t care. They just want to go for a walk, chase a ball, play a game, or snuggle on the couch. They know we love them, and they prefer showing to telling anyway. I think the dog I lost four years ago, Dakotah, was probably my teacher dog. He was a handful in more ways than one, but also insanely smart and incredibly devoted. In the sixteen years we were together, he taught me a great deal. Tucker on the other hand has been my easy dog, or perhaps it is just that I learned so much with Dakotah that he was the beneficiary of all of those lessons learned previously, but I don’t really think so. I take no credit for him – he’s just a great dog, with really not much more than basic, common sense handling from me. Phoebe on the other hand is obviously here for comic relief, and also to teach me that physical size is really no reflection whatsoever on the strength of the dog’s will.


  6. Great post and great list.

    Ranger was our first dog and really, was the perfect first dog for us. Calm, easy-going (for a terrier), and willing to do whatever we wanted to do. As long as we are together, he’s happy. Even though he’s only 20 pounds, he has a BIG attitude. He constantly reminds us that any limitations we have are really all in our mind and to always expect to achieve great things.

    Mayzie was a different story, of course, because of how fearful she was when she came to us. The list of things she’s taught me is endless. But the main lesson she’s taught me is to never stop trying. Even when things are scary or seem insurmountable, it’s always important to try. Yes, it’s possible you might get eaten. But more likely, you’re gonna end up with a big hunk of delicious cheese!



  7. Hi, there’s four of us. We make sure that we have a specific role in our mom and dad’s lives. We’re all a little different, some are needier than others, we have a bossy sister, one or two of us is a little reactive, I’m pretty good with most dogs and people. My dad meets more people when he takes me out for a walk so that’s good. I’m kind of the social one. Does Shiva bring out the social person in you?


  8. Barbie taught me patience, and to treat more ‘softly’ – she is the first ‘soft’ dog I’ve ever trained and it’s helped me refine my coarseness. I realised that it’s masterful to get your dog to do what you want with the quietest and most subtle signals. I think that ‘softness’ has definately contributed to our bond because it does feel more like she knows what I am thinking.

    I am not sure what Bender is trying to teach me. Maybe to be a better leader. He is a strong and stubborn dog, and he isn’t into subtlety, though the more i work with Barbie, the more I learn to be softer with him. He is easily worked up into a frenzy and that is something I’ve only just learned it would be better to avoid. I used to think frenzy was good, but now I’m not so sure it’s conducive to us communicating well.


  9. All of my dogs have been fantastic teachers! I have been well and truly blessed, and I think, one day, you’re going to realize that Shiva IS a heart dog. No heart dog immediately secured his or her place as such. It grew there over time. The hardest thing for me after Treat, my heart dog, died, was starting over with a new relationship. Every time I faced a new challenge with Bunny, it was hard for me to remember that there was ever a time with Treat wasn’t perfect. One day, I came across something that reminded me about a funny story of Treat being, well, less than perfect. It reminded me that in the beginning, we had to learn each other to form that bond. And now, several years later, Bunny has definitely grown in my heart when I thought there could never be another.

    P.S. I had to laugh about your comment about the photo studio in our house! There really isn’t one. I use the attic room for a lot of our photography, because I can get the best light up there, but that picture was taken in front of a white sheet hanging over the backs of two old rocking chairs! The light is just a plain old extendable desk light! 😛


  10. I think every dog is a heart dog. I don’t think there is anything that makes any dog more or less than the other. My connection with my dogs are as unique and different as they are. They all teach me something different in just their own special way. Shiva is teaching you what you need to learn the only way Shiva can and just for you. That makes her a heart dog in my book. 🙂


  11. I hear that, Dante teaches me all the time! He rewards me when I pay closer attention, is patient when I don’t feel well (migraine days), and ends every lesson with a snuggle and kisses. 🙂 Granted, he’s also amazing at giving sad eyes that weigh me down with guilt, but I’ve learned which sad eyes are for real and which are just aiming for special treatment. I like the sound of Sensei Shiva!


  12. I think all dogs are amazing teachers if we are only open to learning 🙂 Shiva is so patient and loving – I’m so glad you two found each other 😉


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