If humans are understandably a bit slow at responding to the visual signals that our dogs are sending, we are downright dense about the signals that we generate ourselves. Your dog, however, is a pro: he or she notices just about every move that you make. Here’s an experiment that you can try, focusing on the signals that you give to your dog, whether you mean to or not. This one is really easy, because now you’re the actor, and your dog is the observer. Your job is to identify the visual signals to which your dog has learned to respond.
Take yourself and your dog to a quiet place, away from the hubbub of the rest of the family and other dogs. Stand relaxed but immobile and ask your dog to “sit” without moving anything but your lips. The first thing I notice when I do it is how hard it is to keep from moving. Did your head go down just a tiny bit when the dog approached? Did you raise your eyebrows a millimeter? All of those movements are easily seen by your dog and could possibly act as cues. Now sit down on the floor, stop moving as best you can, and ask the dog to sit. Now leave the room and ask the dog to sit when she can’t see you (peek or ask a friend to see what she does).
Now ask you dog to sit in the way you normally do. Allow yourself to move freely; let your body do what it normally does. There’s little doubt that you’re going to move somehow. While you’re playing this game, don’t worry whether your dog sits or not, because I want you to pay attention to your behavior. Did you raise your hand or your finger? Did you step forward a bit? Tilt your head? After you’ve observed your own behavior, see if you can find a pattern to what movements your dog sits to and what he doesn’t (beyond Fido’s getting sick of your asking for a “sit” over and over!). Experiment with different movements and you’ll probably discover that your dog is keyed in to specific actions, just as much as, or more than your voice.
Fascinating, insightful, and compelling, The Other End of the Leash is a book that strives to help you connect with your dog in a completely new way – so as to enrich that most rewarding of relationships. Click here to purchase The Other End of the Leash.