Monday, September 13, 2010

First Language Lesson

I've started reading Dogs Can Sign, Too by Sean Senechal. Senechal has created a signed language which can be used by both dogs and people. The idea that using a gesticular language would allow Ranger and me a broader range of communication intrigues me a great deal. I haven't completely finished reading the book but decided to skip ahead and look at the first language lesson. Just as with any program the first step is to get your dogs's attention; rather than the "watch me" that Ranger and I learned in basic manners class Senechal uses "Attend." The gesture I use for "watch me" is the first two fingers of the right hand tapping my chin twice. The gesture for "Attend" is right hand in front of you, first two fingers form a V shape and you bring your hand up as if you intend to poke out your eyes. Ranger's name has never had a gesture associated with it. In Senechal's K9Sign his name is associated with the gesture of a slight bow with head, neck and top of shoulders.

Sitting on the couch with string cheese--a particularly high value treat--I spoke and gestured Ranger's name followed by the word and gesture for attend. I expected to reward any flick of his eyes to mine but he seemed to get the replacement of his familiar "watch me" with the new "Attend" with no trouble at all. The instant my hand finished the gesture his eyes snapped to mine he was praised and rewarded. We repeated it several times both with and without the spoken component and he always directed his attention to me when asked. Out of curiosity I tried signing/gesturing "Ranger, Attend" while he  was nearby at the dog park and got the same focused attention. At least on day one of trying this idea Ranger seemed to grasp the "Attend" sign and meaning quickly and easily. His name, however, has no meaning attached when gestured/signed. Sometimes he looked at me as if wondering why I was twitching but other times he didn't even seem to notice it, looking at something else and not turning his head until he saw or heard "Attend."

We have a number of names for Ranger and I've decided to sign/gesture his name each time I say one of them to him. I'm not entirely persuaded by Senechal's program of how to teach K9Sign. Much of it I agree makes sense but I've taught two children to communicate and taught Ranger labels for objects and actions and think that immersion is an important component so rather than just during class/training time I intend to use the signs I know in all conversations with him and when we reach the point where he's beginning to sign his own words to teach/train those the same way I did with the children.

This is going to be a fun adventure.

1 comment:

  1. Great start you have Ranger with teaching your dog to K9Sign! Made good progress and your understanding that immersion is good is important. It's implied to use signs through out the day especially when relevant to the needs of the dog's interest. Use opportunities to have focused lessons (they may not be when you planned).
    We've continued progressing with multiple forms of lessons and methods with easier steps and more tools! Stay posted, we will be on Dogster and be having TeleSeminars and YouTube TV-demo tips starting in April/May!
    I am an applied behavior analayst (postiive approach) and work with autistic and speech delayed children using the applied behavior analysis functional communciation training....very similar to the tools we have used with AnimalSign! Of course every child, every animal is different and benefits from a custom program. But, it works!
    Signing off!
    AnimalSigner Sean Senechal