Friday, July 15, 2011

On Talking Terms with Dogs

On his show, Cesar Milan often talks about reading dog's body language and off-handedly mentions various behaviors that he sees.  The behaviors are so quick and subtle, I often have to stop the video and go back several times to really see it on the screen.  Cesar is so confident about what he notices and what it means that I've been longing for a clear list of behaviors and their meanings.

Imagine, then, how thrilled I was to discover On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas.   While the book doesn't cover every doggie movement, the focus on calming signals is quite fascinating.  With a list of about 15 calming signals, I've found the information useful for both communication with Mason and other dogs and for better understanding the state they are in.  Each page includes lots of great pictures to illustrate each signal.  The book is short, concise and easy to read. All the pictures makes for a super kid-friendly dog guide, too, as my kids are compelled to leaf through, enjoy and try to interpret every dog in each photo.

In the past few weeks, I've focused on a few signals, getting comfortable at recognizing them as dogs use them.  I've also started adding them into my communication repertoire.  Somehow even though I understand this is how dogs communicate with each other, I'm amazed at the success.  Mason, a little low on exercise this week, was having a full-out puppy crazy session upstairs.  He usually gets on all fours really low and then tears around at a berserk pace knocking people and things down as he goes.  Normally getting him to stop and calm down takes a while (or a really big treat) and involves some personal risk.  Instead, I turned sideways to him, yawned a few times and then as he watched me, I knelt down and scratched the carpet for a bit. He relaxed and sat down, calm for the moment.  Pretty cool!  Pretty easy!  (I did take him down to the lake for a serious swim shortly afterwards.)

For fun, I'm going to do a quick run down of the signals - if you're interested in using them I highly recommended checking the book out as Rugaas' clear descriptions of the signals and what they mean are invaluable.  Here are the major signals: head turning, softening the eyes, turning away, licking the nose, freezing, slow movements, play bow(!), sitting down, lying down, yawing, sniffing, curving approach, splitting up two animals and tail wagging.

Enjoy experimenting on a canine nearby and let me know what you learn!

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