Conversations with Animals: Cherished Messages and Memories Told by an Animal Communicator by Lydia Hiby with Bonnie S. Weintraub.I liked this book. It was easy to read and there was a lot of useful information in the book for those owners who know that pets have feelings like us. They also know A LOT more than you give them credit for. Lydia tells about a cat, Boo, who had stopped using his li...
Have you ever wanted to sit down and have a conversation with your dog? Or just ask your dog “Why are you barking?” Well that could be possible according to Sean Senchal. In her book “Dogs Can Sign Too,” she introduces a method of communicating with your dog, a gesture system that she calls “K9Signs” that could allow your dog to “talk” to you. The goal is to teach dogs to use sign language to ask for things, ask or answer questions, and respond to your commands or comments.
Senechal has established an “academy” (the AnimalSign Center) where people work every day with dogs and other animals to see what their limits are as “language learners”. The author emphasizes that it will probably be years before definitive conclusions can be drawn about the ability of non-primate animals to communicate with us, but she offers several examples of what she has accomplished by working with her own pets.
One example had to do with his dog Chal, with whom he has worked for several years. Chal walked into a room where Senechal was talking to a friend and hit a storage drawer with his nose, then raised his right front leg, which is the K9 sign for an object. When Senechal made the “what?” Sign, Chal raised his right front leg and moved it slightly, the “braces” sign. The author opened the drawer and there was the key to the patio door; Chal immediately ran to the door and waited for Senechal to open it.
That story may not seem that unusual or interesting; after all, he had a border collie whose parents herded cattle and sheep and were able to respond to a wide variety of hand and voice signals. The main difference is that in the case of Chal, it not only responds to various signs, but also offers its own canine signs. If you thought Lassie was brilliant, imagine a sheepdog who might come up to you and sign “Lamb trapped under a branch in a ravine over there; bobcat sneaking up on her – hurry up.” That’s the fascinating part of K9Signs; not just the ability to communicate, but the complexity of information that can be exchanged in a few signs.
K9Signs training, as Senechal points out, is fundamentally different from obedience training. It requires encouraging your dog to display creative behavior rather than obedience. Your dog should be instructed to initiate communication and make requests rather than simply responding to commands. Conversation involves give and take, a two-sided communication method, and that means your dog has to feel free to “respond.”
Perhaps the most important thing to remember in K9Sign training is to make signing fun. If your dog is obviously having trouble understanding what you are doing and seems to get frustrated or lose interest, go back and try breaking the lesson down into simpler steps and reward the achievement of each smaller step. Or go back to something your dog has already learned and enjoys (like playing with his favorite toy) and signal that. Later, you can go back to work on the new sign. Senechal constantly emphasizes the importance of patience, rewards, and slow, easy steps in teaching K9Signs.
I’m not sure I have the patience for K9Sign training and really, like most dogs, my two already communicate with me without the animals signing. For example, my lab will bark and alert me if someone comes to the front door. But if he and I could make use of K9Signs, who knows, maybe he could tell me “Pat at the front door, he’s got pizza” or “Two strange men at the front door, he smells nice.” Or instead of just fidgeting, maybe our Rottweiler could tell me “Feel bad, I need to go out and eat grass.” It would take a lot of time and patience, but maybe one of these days I’ll find the courage to give K9Signs a try (and find out what my dogs are really thinking).
If you are interested in learning more about Sean Senechal’s K9Signs system or his animal signing method in general, his books “AnimalSigns To You” and “Dogs Can Sign Too” are available at http://www.amazon.com.