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The Power of Quiet

We humans tend to talk first and think later.  Scold and then find out what the problem really was.  Yell because we’re scared/mad/anxious and then find out that maybe wasn’t the most appropriate way to react.  We’re a noisy species – probably because of that hard-wiring for language!   We think loud is the way to be heard. As the proverb proclaims — “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”  Not even going to speculate how true that might be if we’re trying to get another human to listen to us, but it’s definitely NOT the way to engage a dog’s attention!

Take one of the most common scenarios – your dog is barking.  Dixie drives you crazy with her yapping every time she hears someone walk by.  You want her to STOP – NOW!  So, you yell at her and scold and if anything Dixie gets louder.  In the dog world, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, when one dog barks, the others in the vicinity start barking, too!  A lot of experts, including Stanley Coren, think that when we yell, the dog might just think we’re joining in like all the other dogs, rather than giving a command.

Or another instance – Doug is having a good time out on your walk sniffing and looking around. (Squirrel!) He doesn’t respond when you ask him to SIT.  So, you repeat the command over and over, finding your voice getting louder, and louder, and LOUDER!  But Doug doesn’t pay more and more attention to you, does he?

How about watching Daisy dashing off into the sunset after slipping her leash?  What do we do?  Yell!  And loud!  Mostly we’re scared because she of what she could run into, but pretty soon we’re sounding like a drill sergeant and practically foaming at the mouth,  Still, it doesn’t help Daisy’s sensitive ears tune in our “dulcet” tones at all!  Funny that!

A dog’s hearing is very, very good.  We don’t need to yell to make sure the sound waves activate the proper mechanism and transmit info to their brains.  A dog can hear a cellophane wrapper being crinkled two rooms away!  Kita can hear my voice inside a client’s house while she’s parked in the car in the driveway!  Whisper the word “walk” in most households and a sleeping dog will beat you to the door!

Any trainer can tell you that the WAY we speak, speaks far louder to our dogs than do the words themselves!   If you want to get your dog excited about something (perhaps you’re trying to teach her how to fetch) you speak in a high, quick, fairly loud voice and repeat words and phrases.  Staccato!  Forte!  Whereas if you’re trying to get a dog to NOT do something (STAY for instance) we speak in a lower-pitched, softer, slower way, drawing out our words. Legato…Piano…

The change in SOUNDS helps get the message across to the dog. But beyond the acoustics, we need to speak quietly to become calm and still inside.  Dogs pick up on our energy quicker than our words.  By speaking slower and softer we slow our own respiration and probably our heart rate and blood pressure, too!  Dogs can hear and certainly pay attention to those physiological signs of stress and anxiety.  They can see the muscles in our neck and shoulders get tense.  We move differently when we’re tense and dogs are extremely sensitive to HOW we move, just like how we sound!  If their person is anxious, the dog is anxious, too!  So, take a deep breath, consciously RELAX your shoulders, neck,  jaw and arms — and speak very, very quietly (like you’re hunting wabbits!)  It’s amazing!  In short order you’ll feel much calmer and your dog will be listening.

Today has been a real test of this training technique; seven dogs — boarding and daycare doggies plus my own girl! One of the seven is sure to catch any little movement or suspicious sound outside!  When one hears a truck rumble by, or the propped-open back door bang against its prop, or a car door slam across the street, it lets loose a barrage of barks — and the rest of the pack gives voice right along side.  Instead of yelling (as I feel like doing); instead of saying a few bad words (as I’m tempted to do) I’ve taken that big calming breath, shaken my arms and neck, and breathed, “Quiet!  Quiet, puppies!”  It’s absolutely amazing how quickly they trail off and look at me as if puzzled to know what all the ruckus was about — and come over to be petted or lie down.

I don’t know if it’s the “energy” shifting from me to them.  I don’t know if they see me, as the leader, being unconcerned and so they figure there’s nothing to worry about.  I don’t know if they have to stop barking to hear me!  And I don’t really care.  It gets results!  The power of QUIET is very powerful indeed!  Also less stress on the vocal cords!

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From the Couch’s Potatoes

I am a confirmed couch potato! I like nothing better than curling up on the sofa with a quilt, a book and a cup of something hot by my elbow.  Can’t say I’m exactly PROUD of preferring a life with little physical activity, but I’m definitely NOT ashamed of being an introvert who needs privacy at home to recharge my batteries!  For some reason, I always thought that recharging was best done from a reclining position on the couch!

For years as an adult I’d lived with cats, who approve and support the introvert lifestyle — as long as THEIR introvert is properly trained as warm-blooded furniture! Not that I didn’t LOVE dogs and want one, but my job was in the theatre and that means long hours away from home. Two cats can keep each other company and be happy to snuggle with their human when she finally drags in, but a dog or even two dogs — not so much!

Finally, I adopted Kita, in spite of the scheduling issues because I realized that my aging body needed motivation to pry it off the couch cushions! I couldn’t keep to a walking schedule all on my own, but would have to get moving in order to exercise my puppy! And it worked! Though I had to re-arrange schedules at the theater and come home between activities, Kita got a good 45 minutes of exercise in the morning (even in the dead of Winter when that meant setting forth  in the dark before dawn) and 45 minutes to an hour every evening. And the couch potato did, too!

At least the evening “walk” always started out as aerobic, but in my neighborhood, EVERYBODY took their dog to the park after work. It wasn’t unusual for the humans to stand around socializing and let their dogs frisk about, socializing on their own. The neighbors encouraged me to let Kita off leash so she could have fun with the other dogs and I couldn’t resist!  Yep, Kita had fun, but after she organized and lead break-away adventures in the woods a couple of times, they stopped suggesting that!  (Kita was far more independent than most 6-9 month old puppies and still doesn’t have a rock-solid recall because of that trait.  But that’s another subject.)  Still, she got a good measure of movement, and compared to the pre-Kita days, I’d added quite a bit of activity to my day!  Until Kita was over a year old, it was no problem getting her enough walks and play-dates to keep in shape.  Then we moved.

Foolishly, I thought that we’d get MORE activity in a semi-rural area. It wasn’t until we were all unpacked that I realized a couple of things — out here there are no sidewalks or streetlights.  In addition, the road we live on may be only two-lanes, but is one of the only connecting roads between two communities and a college, so I don’t feel safe walking on the shoulder even in daylight.  With the leash-laws (by township ordinance, even CATS have to be on-leash) and Kita’s Recall being iffy, I couldn’t safely bend the rules and let her romp in the wild land behind our house even if I was scrambling around with her.  We have 2/3 of an acre fenced in behind the house, but a dog doesn’t exercise herself.  And even if she did, that doesn’t exercise ME!

This is where I started to really envy those folks with high-fetch-drive dogs.  Romping and throwing ball or Frisbee with Kita would have gone a long way to keeping us both off the couch.  After a year or so of intermittent walks at parks we had to drive to.  Short walks along the same “safe” backstreet. Running around our yard which got to be a more than a bit boring without the ball-or-Frisbee component, I broke down and adopted a companion animal for Kita – Rilka.  (It’s her picture I use as my blog avatar!)

That solved the dog’s exercise requirements — for about a year.  The girls would play and chase each other around the small barn, and we’d all walk a couple of times a week, so with yard-work I was doing OK, too.  Then, as these things happen, the girls played less, and we walked less, too.  It all happened so gradually that I didn’t recognize the increasingly frequent doggie break-outs as the symptom of what they were – two still young, lively dogs weren’t getting enough exercise!

By break-outs, I mean literally and figuratively!  The girls would break out their own fun with “boredom” chewing, garbage exploration and digging inside and outside the house.  On the literal side, Rilka was an escape artist and Kita no slouch, neither.  They took many, many opportunities to slip under the chain link, or enlarge a gopher hole under the privacy fence, or punch out a screen in a window, to get out and chase furry critters all over the area. (I wanted smart dogs and they are – they thought of ways to break out faster than I could think of what they might be thinking of!)  Considering how busy the street out front is, it was fairly miraculous that they stayed safe – except for tapeworm from eating little furry creatures, scratches, burrs, and Kita blowing a knee – for nearly 4 years.  But it eventually killed Rilka who was hit by a car.

They say hind-sight is always 20-20. I now see that I let my “couch potato” inclinations take over and — not to put too fine a point on it –neglected my dogs and myself.  Even if I found our only safe walking route boring, the dogs didn’t – the smells were always new and interesting.  There was always time, and walking in the pre-light before dawn always revealed wonderful wildlife.  No, I just failed to do the duty I got a dog to force myself into in the first place.

Since then  DRAMA DOG TRAINING activities — boarding, daycare and classes – are making sure both Kita and I keep moving,  Even though she’s now, at 9 years, considered a “senior,” Kita plays more and more with the client doggies!  If we don’t have dogs that exercise each other, Kita and I take one dog at a time for walks, so we’re doing pretty good there, too!

And it’s kind of amazing that I’ve discovered even an introvert’s batteries get recharged all the better with a little physical activity!  After a good walk, I’m more creative, relaxed and refreshed that if I sat down with a book and cup of tea!  The benefits to me are great, but to my dog, they can’t even be measured. It’s my job to keep us from “couch-potato-hood” and I wish I’d lived up to my responsibilities in time so that my sweet Rilka might still be here with us.  But I can point to myself as a bad example and assure clients that exercise DOES make a huge difference in a dog’s behavior and “bad” habits as well as her health — and theirs!

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You Get What You “Pay” For

puppy and ball

(Thanks to the German Shepherd Dog Community for this cute pic!)

One subject that inevitably comes up when talking “dog” with anyone, anywhere, are those dogs that LOVE to chase a ball, stick, or Frisbee, but a) won’t bring it back, b) try to morph into TUG the instant a human lays a finger on it, c) seize the opportunity to turn FETCH into KEEP AWAY, or d) spit the object out at the human’s feet before he can take it. Actually, I’m always envious of folks with ANY of the above issues because it means their dog will at least FETCH to some degree.  Both of my GSDs, though with HIGH prey drives, preferred to chase live, furry things and seemed to think I was trying to trick them somehow with balls and Frisbees.  (You want me to do what….?)

Having lots of different dogs come to stay at DRAMA DOG TRAINING for the day or week, I’ve seen many dogs exhibiting one or more of the four issues above.  In all cases, it only took a little persuasion to convince them to play by my rules.  You see, dogs are smart!  If they can get us to play THEIR game THEIR way, then why shouldn’t they?  The pay-off for the dog, as always, is how much attention they get!  We reap the behavior we feed with the most attention – and doggie doesn’t care if we’re happy or upset as long as doggie’s getting our focus.

Consider the dog that just won’t bring the ball back.  One might think that Tucker isn’t getting to play FETCH much at all if he runs off with the ball, but who says that’s the game he wants to play?  If he runs and grabs the ball – it becomes HIS!  “Nyah, nyah!  It’s my ball and you can’t have it!” Tucker  seems to taunt as he’s dashing about the yard; a doggie grin plastered on his face!  I guarantee if you turn your back or start go in the house he’ll probably deflate like a pricked balloon.  If you don’t care he has the ball and are taking away your attention and company, most dogs will drop the toy to run after you, or bring it along (forgotten) in his mouth.  Even if Tucker DOESN’T, his fun is over because you’re not there to gloat over any more.  After a few repetitions, he’ll be looking for a game that’s more fun and FETCH might have a chance, after all!

Most dogs that instantly morph into a game of TUG have been taught to do that by their human!  We don’t MEAN to, but we do!   Joey brings the stick right back and you grab it.  Joey hasn’t been taught what “Drop it” means, so you pull on the stick trying to get it out of his mouth to throw it again.  You ARE playing FETCH, right?  Not after you’ve started TUGGING, you’re not!  That turns it into a brand new game with new rules – and you started it!  Can’t blame Joey if he joins in!  Or if ever after he thinks the two games should alternate.  HE Fetches and then YOU Tug!  That sounds fair, doesn’t it?  Not so much from our point of view!

So, when Joey tries to pull, decline to reciprocate!  You can let go of the stick, or move along with him as he TUGS.  The idea is you’re going to wait him out — until HE releases the stick.  You can wait until he drops it on his own.  As he it leaves his mouth, say, “Drop it! YES!” then pick up the stick and throw it.  If you keep hold of the stick, watch as he’s chomping to shift his grip.  When his jaws release the stick, suddenly pull it out of his mouth, saying “Out! YES!” and throw the stick.  In either case, Joey is learning a new CUE and you’re not being trapped into playing TUG!

It’s no wonder so many dogs return the Frisbee only to keep it just out of our reach.  KEEP AWAY is the game voted most-fun-to-play by 9 out of 10 dogs of all sizes, ages and breeds.  Ringo’s reactions are so much faster than ours that he gets a good doggie giggle at our fumbling attempts to grab the Frisbee.  “Sucker! You’ll never get it!”  And that’s true.  A human’s chance at winning the KEEP-AWAY game are pretty slim!

SO DON’T PLAY THAT GAME!  Instead, play FETCH with TWO objects that Ringo likes equally well.  As he’s bringing back the first one, hold up the second and waggle it enticingly.  Most dogs will drop the first without a second thought as they focus on the one in YOUR hand – that you of course THROW to keep the game of FETCH going.  Pick up the first toy as Ringo runs off, and you’ll stay in business!

I honestly used to wonder a bit at folks who thought D was a PROBLEM.  A dog that returns and spits the FETCH object out without being asked or coaxed!  Isn’t that what we WANT? But then, I encountered a high-drive Australian Shepherd!   Cooper was so intent on getting ready to go after the re-thrown ball that he would dash up, dropping the ball somewhere in my vicinity as the ran half-way out in the yard to wait for the next toss.  Stooping over to pick up a ball once or twice isn’t hard, but after 50 repetitions, it gets old.  So I refused to pick it up!

Actually, that was the final step.  The intermediate steps involved not picking up a ball that was dropped further away than the previous time.  Then I only picked up balls that were CLOSER to me, until it was consistently left at my feet.  You see, I’d only throw the ball AFTER I picked it up, so if it was too far away and I was just standing there, Cooper couldn’t stand it and would move it a little closer!  (Ha-ha!  All according to my fiendish plan! ) Finally, when Cooper was bringing the ball right to me, I’d point to the ball on the ground and say, “Gimme the ball!” and WAIT!  Cooper would get so frustrated at my stupidity that he’d pick it up and nudge my hand with it.  Grabbing it, I’d say “YES!” and throw the ball as the reward.  It only took a couple of days for Cooper to learn MY rules! That the ball got thrown again much QUICKER if he put it in my hand!

It is temporarily a bit costly in terms of time and effort to enforce OUR rules, but if we let THE DOG dictate the game, we can expect to be frustrated for the life of the dog.  The dog is out for maximum amusement and it will probably be at our expense, not its own!  The truth is that dogs will play WHATEVER “game” you play WITH them.  You’ll always get the results you’ve earned with your attention. In dog play as well as dog obedience — you get what you pay for!

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Just This Once

We humans are addicted to short-cuts. We’ll skip steps and rush through directions. I don’t like to call us lazy, but especially if we’re feeling rushed, we’ll latch on to just about any excuse to let things slide—temporarily, of course!  Giving things “a lick and a promise” as my granny used to say, we blithely assume we’ll be able to go the full distance later, tomorrow, some OTHER time.

We humans are pretty good at fooling ourselves, too!  Ever notice that tomorrow or that OTHER time, it’s even harder to make the effort and do whatever it was?  I’m not even talking about something BIG, like walking the dog.  No, it’s the little things that tend to get washed away in a flood of just-this-once!

I don’t think anyone really likes being bowled over by the dog (or dog pack) on our way outside.  There’s no reason for dogs to bowl us over because they really pick up the WAIT/OK cue at the door with amazing ease.  On high-traffic days, out of self-preservation – I make all dogs SIT, and WAIT until I get the door open and they are released with OK.  My mom thinks it’s the funniest thing in the world to see 7 or 8 bottoms hit the ground more-or-less simultaneously.  Even the first-time visiting pups get the hang of the business in just a few minutes.

So, do I make the dogs do that ALL the time?  Of course not!  I know it’s a breakdown of training!  I know making them SIT and WAIT won’t really take appreciably longer than fighting my way close enough to lean over the large jostling bodies to grab the  door handle.  I know it will be less aggravating and stressful!  I KNOW it’s safer and better and yada, yada, yada!  For some reason – call it temporary insanity – I think it’ll be easier to skip the whole WAIT business.  Even when it demonstrably takes as much time or MORE to push past the “puppies” and persuade them to move enough to let the door open.  Even as I strain to hold the door open against the onrushing wave of wolves wanting to win the “outside” race, I still think (at the time) it’ll be easier.

In my going-out-the-door example, at least the actual DANGER to anyone is relatively low.  Sure, I get jostled, but that happens outside during playtime, too.  Yes, dogs that were a bit protective of their place in the pack might get a little ornery, but I’m not tempted to skip steps when there are ornery dogs visiting.  However, I’ve seen a lot of skipping steps just-this-once that have potentially lethal consequences and leave me with sweaty palms and a pounding heartbeat!

For nearly a year, until his mom moved out of state, a lovely Basset Hound/Beagle mix came for daycare a couple of times a week, and often boarded while “mom” was away on business.  Max was a real sweetie, but he was a typical scent hound.  Let his nose point at the ground and he was off — and never looked back or even heard you calling to him.  His mom consistently – because it was easier, just from the car to the training room door – wouldn’t put his leash on.  For a while, she carried him. Well, Max was short, but no light-weight!  So soon, his mom would put him down on the ground for the last few feet, then a few more…

Well, you know what happened!  The first time he trailed a squirrel towards the road (a busy thoroughfare where cars whip by at 50 mph plus) I thought I’d have a heart attack.  We’re lucky that he heard us that time – and that the time he DIDN’T hear, he was headed off back into the shrub woodland and went slowly enough for us to catch up!  After chasing Max for 20 minutes, I determined that I would take the time to rush out with my own leash and put it on him from then on!

Obviously, not taking the MAYBE 10 seconds with a squirmy dog to clip a leash on the collar did NOT save time.  Equally obviously, clipping the leash on could very well be the only thing that would someday save Max from getting hit or lost, but his mom never did put his leash on!  And we all do this sort of thing.  I’ve done it with Kita — just going out to get in the car — even KNOWING she’s not 100% on recall if there’s any furry critters out there!

Yep!  My only explanation is temporary insanity.  It’s not like we don’t REMEMBER what happened the last time.  It’s not like we really expect things to be different the NEXT time! (And if we do, that’s more evidence of incipient lunacy!)  What is it with the human brain that it doesn’t recognize that making a LITTLE effort “just this once!” will save us time and aggravation – and perhaps tragedy – in the long run?

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Saying, “Boo!” to a Dog

I remember as a child, once walking by a tied-out dog. My mother was with me; we were at a campground, as I recall.   I knew enough not to approach a tied dog, even calm and lying down as this one was, without its owner present. However, I didn’t want to just ignore him!  It seemed rude as he was watching us in a hopeful way, so I said something like, “Hey there, Boo!” and the dog thumped his tail on the ground and grinned at me, dipping his ears and looking rather goofily happy. I remember asking my mother why dogs always seemed to like being called “Boo!”  Poor woman. I probably asked crazy things like this all the time. She did her best and came up with, ” Because it sounds friendly!”

Looking back, I think she was right.  But I don’t think it was the name, “Boo” alone that sounded friendly to the dog.  I’m sure (because I still call dogs, “Boo” today along with “Sweetness” and “Babycakes”) that I used a form of exaggerated speech that is closely related to baby-talk.  Nowadays I believe it’s called Motherese or Child-directed Speech.

It has been noted by many psychologists that humans (especially women) speak to animals (especially pet dogs) in almost exactly the same way as they would speak to a small child.  It seems to be an instinctive response.  I have never had children of my own, never baby-sat very small kids, and have few friends or relatives within easy-visiting distance who had infants for me to “practice” on.  Yet, I invariably use this special form of speech to all dogs, cats, and to a lesser extent the other domestic animals, and wild creatures I encounter around my home and on walks.

This isn’t necessarily the stereotypical baby-talk where words are distorted almost beyond recognition — “Did oo hurt ooself, widdle beebee, Did oo?”  But there are some shared characteristics:  higher pitch, drawn out sounds, musical cadence, rhythmical delivery and repetition.  Think about the last time you asked your dog if she wanted to go for a walk.  I bet it sounded something like this — “Puppy wanna go for a walk?  Wanna go?  Wanna walk?”  Probably the “walk” and “go” as final words were drawn-out and had an upward swooping pitch.  And I bet your dog got very excited and happy!

Well, you, say.  That’s because Fifi understands those words.  Yep!  I believe it!  And she understands the words precisely because the delivery was designed to help others acquire language!  Of course it was evolutionarily designed to teach our own children, but when we adopted dogs into the family, they benefited from the same speech patterns that were already well-honed by thousands, if not millions of years of mothers talking to their babies.

I’m not trying to be sexist here!  A lot of guys use this sort of language instinctively, too – especially if they’ve been the caretaker of small children.  However, men seem to have a harder time with applying it to a dog.  A lot of my clients just can’t wrap their minds around the need to talk baby-talk to their puppy (or adult dog!)  Even if you’re not trying to teach the dog word recognition, they just RESPOND better to that form of talking!  If you want to get a dog excited, encourage it to come to you, or make him work harder – speak in baby-talk.  Most dogs go all soft and goofy when they hear it and will do anything for you!

Some guys seem embarrassed by it all.  I point to K9 cops and Military Working Dog handlers.  Those big tough cops and soldiers invariably praise their dogs in this very same, high-pitched, sing-song, silly way.  And the big tough police and military dogs eat it up with a spoon!  They get the very same happy grin on their faces that the tied-out dog so long ago did for me.  It is plain that this silly-talk is the reward they work so very hard for and risk their lives to receive.  Saying “Boo!” to a dog is exactly what they want from us!

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Never Hesitate

Today is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day and someone posted this quote of his on FB:

“Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake.  Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”

This is quite a co-incidence.  The low temperatures and blowing snow of the past day reminded me of a time I “looked the other way” and I’d already decided that today’s post would be about that incident, though I’m not proud of what I did — or rather DIDN’T do.

I don’t remember how many years ago it was — at least a dozen, though it could be more.  I don’t remember what month, only that it was in the depths of winter.  I was driving home from work in a particularly nasty snowstorm, a blizzard, really.  Stopped at the last traffic light before home, I happened to look to my right and in a gap between buildings only wide enough for viewing from exactly where my car stopped, I saw a dog outside in a backyard. 

I don’t remember what breed she was, though my mental snapshot shows me a dog without a double-coat of insulating fur. I don’t know why I think of her as “she.”  I don’t really think I saw a chain on her, but that is my mental picture.  Perhaps I imagined a chain because her body posture spoke so eloquently and obviously of cold and suffering, and being unable to move someplace warmer.  She was sitting, ears slicked flat against her head, hunched with her back to the wind and her eyes squeezed shut.  I also seem to remember that she was shivering, but couldn’t possibly have been close enough to see something like that.  Snow was piled around her and on top of her.

I wish I could say that I don’t know why I didn’t stop and hammer on her owner’s door.  It was late.  I wanted to get home.  I didn’t think her owners would appreciate me barging in.  Those rental houses always seemed to hold “undersirable” sorts.  I was afraid, but even more than that, was disinclined to put myself out and take the time to help a poor suffering creature.

Dr. King was right; by looking away I have wounded my soul so deeply that it will be with me forever.  I’ve thought of that miserable dog many, many times in the intervening years.  I wonder if she survived that night.  If she ever got brought inside to the warm. If she had to suffer again and again through many more such snowstorms.  

No, the wound I inflicted on my soul will not heal.  I don’t want it to get better! It’s not so much that I think I deserve the punishment, but that I need the reminder — the pain as a spur to action.  I hope the memory of that long-ago, pathetically helpless dog will be such an irritation of spirit that I will never again hesitate to act on behalf of an animal in need.     

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Speaking “Doglish” part four

Many people tell me that it sounds like I’m talking about little kids when I write about dogs.  Well, a lot of experts, including Dr. Stanley Coren, are of the opinion that a dog’s language and emotional development is that of a child 2-3 years old.   Their cognitive and problem-solving “age” is probably higher, but it’s difficult to establish comparisons because after age 2-3, a child uses language to think and a dog doesn’t have those same language skills. 

Temple Grandin in ANIMALS IN TRANSLATION hypothesizes that dogs (and other animals) think in pictures, like she does.  That the language-center of the brain is a late-comer to the evolutionary party.  That sounds logical to me.  No one can deny that a being who thinks in pictures is unable to think very deeply and solve very complex problems.  Not with Temple’s example and PhD to prove it!

So, I think comparing dogs and their behavior/thinking to a toddler’s is quite accurate, and a very helpful way of explaining behavior to clients and friends.  Most humans have a lot of experience with kids and can use that to help them deal with the crazy things their dog throws at them.  Just remember that dogs are like pre-verbal kids and a lot of the same strategies for teaching and disciplining will apply!

For example:  ATTENTION-GETTING!  Any parent or dog owner knows that if you answer the phone, the child or doggie who was happily playing with toys instantly needs something, anything, everything that will result in YOU paying attention to THEM!  Dealing with the situation offers the same choices.  1) Hang up and pay attention to the child/dog, 2) try to continue the phone conversation while tending to whatever the child/dog needs/wants, or 3) ignoring the child/dog and the subsequent escalation of concentration-breaking strategies. 

Usually, we can’t just hang up, and I don’t know about you, but my concentration levels aren’t up to doing two things at once these days.  Plus, I don’t recommend pandering to a dog by giving it instant notice every time it begs, unless you want a dog that expects you to ask “how high” when s/he says “Jump!”  So, that leaves ignoring.  And you know what?  That’s what another dog would do! 

Dog’s don’t have the verbal language to say, “Mommy’s busy right now, go play nicely on your own.”  Instead, an adult dog being pestered by a puppy looks up and away from the puppy.  This insures that there is no eye contact,  The adult dog doesn’t paw at or growl/bark at the puppy.  They just IGNORE until the puppy gets the idea.  I’ve also seen adult dogs do this with younger, smaller and/or subordinate dogs. 

So, when a dog tries to get my attention in an inappropriate way or at an inappropriate time, the first thing I do is imitate Mama-dog.  I look up and away.  In “Doglish” that means “go away, you bother me!”  Puppies (and older dogs, too) are programmed to understand that!  Whether the dog is barking because I’m on the phone, or jumping up on me in a greeting, IGNORING is the way to go!   

Just remember that “Ignoring” means “no looking, no talking, no touching!”   Even, “No, no bad dog!” is ATTENTION!  Even giving the dog a dirty look is ATTENTION!  Even pushing the dog off your lap is ATTENTION!  A dog will take negative attention to NO attention, any day of the week! 

Another thing to remember and mentally prepare yourself for is that ignoring an established behavior (one that’s gotten the dog attention in the past) will provoke MORE and WORSE behavior, at first.  The dog will keep trying what worked before — and try it louder and harder and longer! 

My friend’s dog, Funky, stares and gives little croony growls when she wants on your lap.  Well, the first time it wasn’t convenient to have her on my lap, she started in and I ignored her.  Fifteen minutes later. my friend was asking if she should put Funky outside.  I said she could, but Funky might take that as attention (though attention resulting in an unwanted result — not a BAD way to handle things) but that Funky should give up soon, and though she might try it again, it wouldn’t last this long.   A minute or so later, Funky gave up and after 15 seconds of quiet, I called her over, asked her for a SIT and gave her a little positive attention — though NOT a place on my lap.  That provoked some croony growls. As soon as my head went up and I looked away, Funky stopped!  Now that was a fast-learner! 

Not all dogs learn that fast, but they all do learn faster when you speak their own language.  They don’t have to learn what you’re saying first and then learn to apply that to what’s happening!  And all dogs will learn very quickly what behavior is acceptable when the alternative is being ignored.  When it gets right down to it, whether you’re talking about dogs or kids, your ATTENTION is the most potent training tool! 

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