Caring for a pet can teach you many things. One is the importance of communicating through actions rather than words.
I find myself talking to my dog a lot. I tell Milton I love him hundreds of times a day. I like to think he gets it, but I know my words don’t really mean anything to him. I could be saying “I love glue” or “I ate stew” and he’d comprehend it just the same.
Sure, my tone conveys some sense of meaning, but using a particular tone of voice and accompanying speech with movements or even facial expressions are actions. As far as the actual words, it’s all probably “blah blah blah” to his ears.
We know dogs recognize their names. We also know they can respond to commands. Unlike people, though, it’s not because they understand the language and make the connections. It’s through repetition and training that our pets associate certain sounds with certain consequences. In effect, and to repeat, it’s the actions they understand.
The communication thing works both ways. Milton’s use of my native tongue is worse than limited. He tries, though. Barks, grunts, whines… he vocalizes to get my attention and try to get a point across. It’s the looks he gives me and the way he acts when he makes his noises that help me interpret what he might want.
Being aware of this, I do try to demonstrate how much I care for Milton as often as I tell him. We play, we take walks, I pet him, I give him treats. I do my best to take good care of him and make his life comfortable. I pay attention to him.
This relationship with my dog helps me realize my interactions with people, particularly people I’m close to, needs the same kind of care. They may have the advantage of sharing a language with me, but simply telling folks they are special isn’t communicating well enough. Real understanding comes from showing them how much they mean to me.
I probably shouldn’t pet and cuddle the people around me like I will my dog, but I can and should give them attention. I can help them when they need it. I can do things, large and small, to make their lives comfortable, to help them feel cared for.
It’s easy to say things. Sometimes too easy. Caring requires thoughtful action.
It’s been said many times before: You can’t just talk the talk, you have to walk the walk. Sometimes with a leash and a clean-up bag.