A Ray update!

This Blog was started in 2014, a little over a year after Ray moved in with us. Ray not only triggered the book “Who Said I was up for Adoption?”  (click cover in right side column for more information) but also this Blog. Having said that, he has not been getting much coverage here recently!

For all the work that Ray was during the first few (quite a few) years, the past few have been relatively uneventful. He is now showing clear signs of being in his senior years, and has mellowed accordingly …. or has he? For a dog with no English vocabulary at his disposal, he has learned quite a lot and knows how to use body language … especially his head.

Our introduction to the subtleties of Ray’s communicating technique was during his early time with us when he used to bark at every dog he saw. He was clearly not comfortable and barking made them go away (at least from his perspective). When we involved a trainer, she watched him under controlled conditions and dropped on the issue straight away.  She told us that he was giving us a really clear message when a dog approached, but we were not responding so he took charge!

As she explained it to us, when Ray saw the other dog, he gave a very slight turn of his head in our direction. He was basically “saying” that he was uncomfortable and turned to us for direction. “C’mon guys. This is not looking good so either you take charge or I will.” As we had not responded, he took charge! We soon had him meeting other dogs and people.

This has more recently been developed in other areas. Sadly for Ray, he was very happily in the routine of greeting people and other dogs when the COVID-19 scene unfolded. Based on past training, Ray was given a treat after he had greeted satisfactorily, and he therefore tried to greet everybody he could … because he would get treats, but then we started avoiding everybody!

We had a dilemma of how to handle a very disappointed dog, who obviously had no knowledge of COVID-19. The solution was to treat him whenever he made a gesture towards another person or dog. He will now get as close as his leash allows, and then look up at whoever is on the other end of his leash (“Where’s my treat?”).

We taught him to make eye contact with us so that we can hold his attention if he was tempted to distractions. He has reversed that process in his favour. Last  night we had our dinner as usual, and were chatting away such that I forgot to give him his regular after dinner pumpkin biscuit! Carol suddenly gestured to me with her eyes to look down … and there was a big furry face just staring at me. Eyes unblinking, there was only one likely interpretation (C’mon Colin … my pumpkin biscuit!”).

Whether he is looking to us for direction, or reminding us of our routines (at least as he sees them), or simply drawing our attention to an apparent oversight … it is all done with head movement and eye contact. I know some people who have no concept of body language, and I know a dog who uses it very effectively. There’s something wrong here!


30 thoughts on “A Ray update!

    • Hi Rae. He really uses his face and eyes to his advantage. He is very cute when he looks at us with his head rigid, but his eyes just go from me to Carol and back. He knows one of us will “get it”! Alternatively, he just stares at us with those big eyes, and tilts his head occasionally. He is very good at body language but then, he doesn’t have much of a vocabulary per se does he! 🙂

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  1. Love the big guy. He’s not alone in being confused though, there are a lot of dogs that don’t understand why they can’t be fussed like the used to be, though a lot of owners are now using extendable leads so that human to human distancing can be observed.
    Love the picture Colin. How recent is the middle one?
    Zak is still around and I do a double take every time I see him. I called him Ray the other day and the owner laughed because he knows about him.

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    • Hi Di . I don’t understand how extendable leashes are helping, unless they are allowing dog to dog contact? We have been warned against that because just as COVID-19 can live on our clothes and in our hair for a while, so it can live on a dog’s coat. There was also an original belief here that dogs had a natural immunity … but more recently, dogs have tested positive for it, so that position has changed dramatically. Needles to say we are super cautious with ourselves and with Ray,
      As for that middle pic of Ray … April 2017. Take care. Stay safe. 🙂


  2. As you know Kali had the same dog aversion issue when we adopted her. We were not quite as adept as understanding her body language at the time. But Over the years we learned and used many of the same techniques you have used with Ray with Good success. Kali’s body language vocabulary is extensive and we now are very good at understanding them. In some ways it is so much more effective and efficient than verbalizing. 🙂 Have you found that stubbornness and highly selective learning has come along with age (Ray, not you 😉)?

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    • Hi Michael. I hesitate to call it stubbornness, but he “exerts himself” a little more now. If we are out on a walk and he wants to go (or not go) in a certain direction, then we may suddenly have close to 80lbs of dog sitting down … and just looking around as if we don’t exist. He has done that for quite a few years, but is being much more demonstrative now. Given his heart-worm history, and natural aging, we often wonder whether he is having any difficulties walking, but then we turn into “his” direction of choice and he bounces along like a big puppy! As for selective hearing? Definitely … although we know very well that he is hearing everything. He just chooses not to respond! 🙂

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    • Hi Kate. Apart from a lot of grey, he is much the same. He is still rounding us up periodically; reminding us of our obligations and routines, and generally keeping us on track. While (to me) he is one of the family, in his mind I think we are part of his pack! 🙂

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