Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Consider the whole picture

Key to successfully communicating with your dog is the ability to look at the whole picture.
Over time, our dogs get in routines and form ways of communicating to us what they want. Standing by the door means he wants outside, whining by his food bowl means he thinks it should be dinner time, etc.
But what happens when your dog is trying to communicate something new to you?
Perhaps he whines and you think, “He always whines when he wants dinner, so that must be what he wants. Too bad — he’s already had dinner and he doesn’t get a second one.”
In those situations, you have to take in the whole picture to get the message.
A perfect example was Sensi’s behavior last night. I could tell he was bored and he’s been so well behaved lately, I wanted to give him something enjoyable.
For months now, most of Sensi’s toys have been locked up in his cage (which we never use) because of his allergies. Last night, we walked back to the extra bedroom where the cage is and I let him take out a stuffed animal. He was thrilled — he pranced around the house, tossed it up in the air, chased it around and then promptly destroyed it.
Then, he walked right in front of the TV and just stood there, staring at us. Eventually, he sat down — his eyes still burning holes into us.
“What is he doing?” I asked my husband. “Do you think he wants to go outside?”
“I don’t know. He isn’t sitting by the door like usual,” Brent said to me.
With no response from us, Sensi began whining. In no time, he jumped up on the couch and sat down in front of us, still staring at us with great hope in his eyes.
“Do you want to go outside?” Brent asked him.
If the answer was yes, Sensi would’ve jumped down, done a little a circle dance and raced to the door. But he didn’t. He just cocked his head and looked at us.
“What if he’s trying to tell us that he wants another toy from the cage?” I asked my husband.
“Get up and see what he does,” Brent suggested to me.
So I did. I stopped in front of the foyer and asked Sensi again, “Do you want to go outside?”
As soon as I said the word outside, his tail stopped wagging. That’s a pretty solid “No, I don’t.”
I turned and started heading down the hallway, at which point Sensi began running toward the bedroom with a grin on his face and his tail in full wag.
I opened up the cage for him and he promptly reached in for another stuffed animal, then took off back down the hall.
Brent and I effectively figured out what our dog was trying to tell us by taking in all the little details of the situation. First, the circumstances came into play — Sensi had just gotten a toy out and played with it vigorously. Maybe he wanted another one.
Secondly, everything about the way Sensi asked was different. It might’ve seemed similar to what he does when he wants outside, but it was very different. He stood in front of the TV, not in front of the door. He did not react with excitement to the word “outside.” We watched his tail wags and lack thereof to help determine what he could possibly want.
So the next time you’re wondering what your dog wants, remember to take it all in — from the circumstances to the body language to even the geography (is he standing or sitting where he normally stands or sits?).
Remember, your dog is always trying to communicate with you and you can learn to decipher those communications.

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