Episode 65: Listen, then Train with Kathy Sdao

Marissa MartinoPaws & Reward Podcast


In episode 65, I talk to my dear friend, Kathy Sdao, about a necessary topic for pet parents and pet professionals, and that is listening. Some questions that are addressed during the episode include:

  • What are the three levels of listening?
  • Why is silence so important?
  • How could our own best intentions be getting in the way of truly listening?
  • When should we educate -vs- empathize? Can we do both?

Watch our conversation on my YouTube Channel.  

Kathy Sdao, she/her, is the owner of Bright Spot Dog Training in Tacoma, WA. She is one of the original faculty members of the Karen Pryor Academy ClickerExpo. She has trained animal actors, written for The Clicker Journal and the Seattle Times, and consulted with Guide Dogs for the Blind and with Susquehanna Service Dogs.

Kathy has taught more than 300 seminars, workshops, conference presentations & webinars, enjoying these opportunities to share her passion for the incredible power of positive-reinforcement training, confirmed over decades of working with dozens of species.

How are we defining listening in general or in this context? 

We spoke about the three levels of listening in Episode 59: Compassionate Communication with Lisa Mullinax. As a refresher, they are:

Level 1: Internal Listening

  • Listening to something and thinking about how it relates to you.
  • We tend to miss important things when listening at level one only.

Level 2: Undivided Attention

  • Putting aside how this is going to impact you.
  • Consciously dropping into the conversation without attaching personal meaning.

Level 3: Global listening

  • You’re completely focused on the person with a broader focus.
  • Hearing subtext and tuning into more than what they’re saying out loud.
  • You pick up on tone, energy levels, and body language changes.

When we’re talking about listening, what behaviors does that include? 

When listening to dogs, it often means watching their body language. They speak to us with their bodies.

When listening to people, observing body language can be vital to the whole picture. We can take in their behavior because it’s meaningful to us. Ways we can actively show we heard what someone expressed to us, we can:

  • Meet their expressed and unexpressed needs
  • Create space for grief and disappointment
  • Validate their experiences
  • Let people show up with everything they are experiencing 
  • Take time to process their words
  • Allow space for silence

Rushing through solutions may create miscommunication.

– Kathy Sdao

What are some antecedents that get in the way of listening to your clients? What behaviors get in the way of being a good listener?

Holley Humphrey, a certified trainer with the Center for Nonviolent Communication, wrote an article titled “Empathetic Listening”. From that article, we can find the ten most common ways to take the spotlight away from the speaker. They are:

  • Give advice/Fix It
  • Explain it away
  • Console
  • Telling a story
  • Shut down feelings
  • Sympathize/Commiserate (different from empathy, shines the light elsewhere)
  • Interrogate 
  • Educate 
  • One up them (“you think THAT’S bad, listen to this…”)

Some other obstacles to being a good listener might be:

  • Feeling rushed or in a time crunch
  • Making assumptions
  • Feeling like you already know the solutions they need

By giving them our undivided attention, becoming curious without judgment, replying with the intention of understanding, and allowing for silence, we can become more empathetic listeners.

What antecedent arrangement is ideal for you (and maybe others) to drop in and fully listen? 

It can be difficult to give someone our full attention when there are visual and auditory distractions. Putting the dog in a safe and comfortable place while speaking with the client can be a wise choice. Instead of writing down notes, record the conversation for later review so you can be fully present. This will help the speaker feel you truly care about what they are saying.

“You are offering value when you are listening to your client, just like you are offering value when you offer a management or training strategy. Listening is just as valuable.”

– Marissa Martino

Where to find Kathy Sdao:

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