This is a guest post from Eric at Dog Spelled Forward. Be sure to pay him a visit where you can find lots of information on Dog behaviour and much more. This is nearly the end of the Dog training Online series so if you want to submit a guest post to this Dog blog you only have a few days left in which to do so. Thanks to Eric for a great article.
When we are training our dogs, we start with a huge handicap right from the start: the communication gap. We speak in words and sentences, while dogs don’t really “speak” at all, at least not with nouns, verbs and indirect objects. They are, however, constantly providing information to the world via body language and behaviors.
There is one form of communication that we primates use that dogs can use in almost the same way: eye contact. Eye contact means you have my attention. When we call our dog’s name, what we are looking for is eye contact, very much the same way we expect it when we call a person’s name.
Eye contact is also something we look for in “impulse control” behaviors like wait and stay. A good handler is watching his (or her) dog’s eyes. If they wander, attention is waning and it’s time to regain it. If they meet with yours, you have your dog’s attention.
When we train these behaviors, we shape our dog’s behavior into giving us sustained eye contact. A good trainer never releases a dog from a wait or a stay without eye contact. Even in a “heel,” most trainers are probably more concerned with where their dog is looking during a heel than anything else. Where the eyes go, the rest of the dog is sure to follow.
A while back I was out walking one of my dogs, Gage, early in the morning. I was not feeling well and was not paying attention to him, anything else really. We walked across a long municipal parking lot that is always empty at that time of day to his favorite spot, to just outside the entrance. This is a very quiet area and Gage is probably my best loose leash walker, so I can get away with not paying attention.
We got to the far end of the lot and went through the smaller part of the entrance gate for people. The larger part (for vehicles) was closed and locked. After we went through, we stopped. I stood there for a moment, still under the influence of Nyquil and inadequately caffeinated. I looked down at Gage. His body was pointed across the entrance of the lot, directly at his favorite spot. He turned and looked me dead in the eye, as if to say “Can we go there? I really need to go.” We did, and he did.
We brought Gage into our home about 3 years ago. He was already 6 – 8 months old and terrified of everything, especially people. Getting any sort of eye contact from him was very difficult. Now, he uses it to tell me where to walk him.
We can’t hold a conversation with your dogs, but when we pay attention to the details we can truly communicate. Trying watching your dogs eyes the next time you work together.