At the beginning of January, my master stopped speaking, and I have finally realized that this is probably going to last a while. (Yes, sometimes I am a slow dog.) I thought maybe he was just stuck in some sort of a post-Hawai’i phase, but I guess not.
Just in case there are any other dogs out there dealing with this same issue– and, I suppose, for you humans who might bump into him–I thought it a good idea to offer a few pointers about how to deal with a human who stops speaking (since it can be rather awkward at first). To that end, here are my five best pieces of advice:
1. Ask questions. It’s okay to ask questions to someone who isn’t saying much. I’ve noticed that my master is still totally capable of hearing, and I finally figured out that he’s not shunning me. His not speaking doesn’t really have much to do with me– it’s about him, he told me. Still, it feels a little like it’s about me. He told me it feels that way because I’m part of his community, so what happens to him happens to me, and vice versa… and that that’s just the way it is when you love one another.
He said that I’m free to be the same dog I’ve always been, and I don’t need to change my actions other than trying to figure out his sign language or new whistles. (It’s so much easier when he simply writes things down for me!) Considering he’s kind of a sensitive guy, I thought maybe he wouldn’t want to conversate about his not speaking, but he actually entertains all my questions about it, so I’m sure you can ask, too, if you want.
2. Don’t rush the conversation. Since his part of any conversation is going to be written or signed, I generally have to block out a bit more time to get any real meaning out of the lad these days. I asked him how this was working out at his job, and he let me know that that’s one of the FAQs he’s received since coming back from Hawai’i– and his answer is that he’s been very much welcomed at work.
Many people actually appreciate that he responds in writing because then they keep the answer to their question when they need help at work… or he emails them a transcript of his conversation. Some humans don’t seem to care and have no questions, while others ask many things, and others have questions but don’t feel comfortable asking them. (I refer that last group to #1, above.)
3. Make more eye contact. There are a lot of reasons why my master stopped speaking, and to increase his understanding of non-oral communication is one of the big ones. So, whether you’re a dog or a human, it’s important to make eye contact with him. This gives him an opportunity to return it, which he needs practice at doing (as do most people who are “on the spectrum”).
Also, I’ve noticed that he tries to use more body language, and he explained to me that he thinks he’s picking up on others’ communications better, too. I decided to test this, and lately I’ve been sleeping on his part of the bed, right next to his head. So far, he hasn’t picked up the idea that I want him to get on the so-called “dog bed” and leave me the real bed all to myself… Don’t worry, I will keep trying.
4. Have a sense of humor. Truth be told, my master doesn’t have the best sense of humor. He’s a rather strict and straightforward guy that laughs at jokes because it’s socially desireable even though he doesn’t get most of them. His mind is usually too busy connecting the content of the joke with the narratives of our country, or something academic like that. One of these days, I’m hoping he will learn to pick up a better sense of humor rather than relying on puns and poor grammar for his entertainment.
So, if you see him around, don’t worry about whether or not it seems funny for him not to speak… it might very well be, depending on the situation. We’ll chalk it up to a stiff learning curve for him to actually be able to figure that part out.
5. Enjoy the silence. Granted, he’s not technically silent. He still laughs and says, “Oh” and stuff like that. He sorta says a word here or there, but not really. It’s usually just a noise from a word, like a “ouw” or “meh”– so, he sounds a bit like me when I talk! Really, I just enjoy the quiet and don’t worry about it. I asked him if he even has the desire to talk– Does he have to hold it back? He was pretty solid about not even having much of a motivation other than when he wants to tell others that he loves them.
He noted that there are some social conventions that prompt one to speak without thinking about it. And I’ve noticed this, too: Humans tend to say the same thing to each other at prescribed moments… “Hi, How are you?” “Fine, thanks, and you?” “Fine, thanks.” Also, they tend to say, “Thank you” “You’re welcome” and “Have a nice day” at just the right time, almost in a Pavlovian way. From my perspective, he doesn’t seem rude, but if my master fails in one of these social to-dos and comes across the wrong way because he doesn’t say the right thing, then I won’t be surprised.
I’ll let you know how it goes. Until then, enjoy the song below.