Monday, October 26, 2009

Speaking the same language

I write a lot about communication in this blog. I’m often angry at us humans for not making better use of our brains to understand our dogs and communicate more effectively with them.
I’m not angry today.
In a recent blog, Capitalizing on common phrases, I wrote about using common phrases with consistency and how doing so can aid your dog in understanding you. I also wrote, verbatim, “The problem is, we just don’t speak the same language.”
To clarify, I should write that we don’t, and we do.
Very clear statement, huh?
Here’s the deal. Humans use a highly developed vocal language to communicate. Dogs use vocalizations as well, but it’s not the same or even close to being the same language we utilize.
Both humans and dogs, however, rely heavily on body language to communicate. Like our vocal languages, the body language used by both species is very different.
For a dog, body language may well be the primary mode of communication with other species. Dogs are very, very adept at reading body language.
In fact, dogs usually catch on to our hand signals and other body language cues in their training before learning our vocal command. Eventually, they associate the hand signal with the vocal command.
To test this, I’ve gone through all of Sensi’s commands without speaking a word. I relied upon the hand signals and body language that I wasn’t even conscious of before, and it worked like a charm.
Read more about that topic by going back to my blog Hand signals.
While a dog’s body language may be entirely different from ours, their great ability to learn and read our body language coupled with the fact that some things, like our eyes, convey a nearly universal language makes body language a great tool in communicating with our dogs.
I encourage everyone to do a little experimenting with their dog.
Out of the blue, catch your dog’s eyes and smile, a big toothy smile, at him. Dogs are quick to learn that smiles on human faces are indicative of good moods and good moods equal a better possibility of good things happening to dogs.
When I smile at my dog, he smiles and wags his tail. See what happens with yours.
One of the neatest ways my dog and I can effectively communicate is when I tell him where to go.
Most of us have had the experience of pointing at something and assuming your dog will follow your pointing finger to an object or place only to watch the dog fixate on your finger or perhaps begin running around the entire house with no clue as to where you want him to go or what you want him to do.
Obviously, finger pointing is not one of those universal communications.
What about your eyes, though? Ever noticed that if you look out at the window at something, your dog comes up beside you and tries to follow where your eyes are looking?
Eyes, I believe, are universal.
Here’s a scenario that didn’t work for me until I starting using my eyes.
My husband and I have a sectional couch with an ottoman on one end, which is “our spot.” And the dog thinks it is his spot too.
To be more specific, he thinks his spot is on the ottoman between Brent and I. He is a 90 lb. pound dog, and our ottoman is not some extra-large thing. As Sensi gets comfortable and starts stretching out, our legs get pushed to the edges of the ottoman, suddenly we’re sitting on angles to accommodate him and it’s just a little ridiculous.
Especially when there’s two other very large sections of the couch sitting empty.
So, I would tell Sensi, “Get up, pal, get up.” This is a command he knows means to stand up.
And then, pointing with my finger toward the empty section of the couch, I’d say, “Go over there and lay down.”
He used to jump off the couch and lay down on the floor, sighing like a grump. And I was not asking him lay on the floor; I just wanted him to go to the large, empty space on the couch.
One day, rather than pointing, I turned my head and directed my eyes right at the open space on the couch.
I watched as he turned his head and looked at where I was looking.
Then it happened.
Standing up on the ottoman, he didn’t even bother to get down. He stepped carefully over Brent on the couch and walked right over to where I had looked and laid down.
It was that easy. All along, it was that easy.
Let this be a lesson to explore how much we can use our body language, especially our eyes, as a communication tool with our dogs.

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