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!