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.

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