Sunday, October 24, 2010

Effective Communicators

Last night Ranger jumped up next to me and sat. I knew he wanted something so I put a toy on one of my knees and a chew on the other. I signed this is toy and this is food and asked him to tell me what he wanted. I was hoping he'd sign a reply but his method of communication was just as effective as a sign would have been. He jumped down and touched the chew with his nose. The more I think about it the more I realize that that's what this whole experiment is about, establishing clear and effective communications across species lines. The first step, of course, is making sure both species understand that such communication is possible. As I've spoken to people about my experiment in teaching Ranger K9Sign everyone has accepted that I'd be able to communicate with him and he'd be able to understand me but it isn't automatically assumed that Ranger would in turn be able to communicate with me and I'd be able to understand.  I'm confident that we both recognize that such communication is possible. Now we're working on finding the places where understanding already exists and how to establish more communication intersections.

My in-laws frequently hosted foreign visitors as part of the Friendship Force. Often their visitors would speak little or no English. Watching how they communicated across the language barrier has informed some of how I'm working to establish communication with Ranger and how I perceive his efforts to communicate with me and others. Ranger is an effective communicator both with other dogs and with people. He "speaks" clearly and distinctly--actually touching the chew with his nose rather than simply pointing it for example. He makes eye contact with the person to whom he is communicating so they know he is addressing them. He waits for people to understand what he is communicating and if they don't understand he tries again.

It's nice for both of us that Ranger is able to tell me whether he'd rather play with a toy or have a chew. And every time he's able to tell me and I'm able to respond appropriately it deepens our bond and strengthens our ability to communicate.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Signing toy? Maybe

I didn't have the chance to post this yesterday but there was an interesting occurrence. We were playing fetch with squeaky toys and I was signing toy then throwing it. At one point it Ranger dropped it in his wading pool. He jumped in after it and using his right paw, remember he's left pawed, dunked the toy up and down in the water using the motion/gesture for toy. It was a beautifully formed gesture repeated over and over dunking the toy. He was using the paw that is designated for signing toy even though that isn't his preferred paw. It could have been entirely random or perhaps it was meaningful. It was certainly suggestive of intentional signing. I'm glad I'm in this for fun rather than true science the question of how you know with real certainty that it is intentional signing would drive me wild.

Something interesting I'm discovering as I talk to people about teaching Ranger to sign. No one has any doubts that he can learn to read signs but for many people the idea that he could learn to make intentional signs to communicate to the humans through a shared language doesn't even register even when you're explaining that that's exactly what you're doing. For a large number of people communication with a dog can only flow one direction.

Saturday, October 2, 2010


I'm enjoying this journey and the process of thinking about why I want Ranger to learn to sign and how I'll know if he gets it. I have many examples of Ranger communicating his wishes to me and to others and how clearly he manages to make his point with the tools he has. I like the idea of giving him more tools with which to communicate. And I like the fact that I'm doing this simply for us.  I don't have to prove anything or consider scientific standards. That's part of the reason I'm not worried about doing this according to the book but am willing to take a more organic approach and simply make it part of the fabric of our life together. Even if he never learns anything we had fun together.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Definitely Getting the Idea

Visiting Grandma's house today Ranger nudged the bait bag I was wearing with his nose and signed food. Much praise and of course treats. The context was not one in which treats would be expected. We were stretched out on the floor and he was getting tummy rubs. Tummy rubs are their own reward so he wouldn't automatically expect treats in that context. Of course, he's a dog which means an opportunist. Treats were right there in front of his nose why not point them out to Mom and make that paw wave that she gives treats for. Or perhaps he really has figured out that a lift of the left paw means food. I can't tell how much he grasps or how he processes information. Still, I found it very encouraging.