I chatter to Emmett and Lucas all day long. A lot of what I say to them has created an odd set of routines. For instance, they tend to follow me around the house. So when I’m in the office and I say “I’m going to refill my coffee,” they know I’ll be coming right back, so they don’t follow me.
Other things have really specific meaning to them – Want to go for a walk? Are you hungry? Let’s go see Cady! (meaning, play with the darling dog next door). They have really specific reactions to each of those things. At “walk,” Lucas runs and sits at the front door. At “hungry,” Emmett runs and sits in front of his bowl. And at “Cady,” they both run to the backdoor and start dancing with excitement.
But recently I realized that they respond more consistently to nonverbal cues. Like hand signals with training, dogs seem to respond to visual directions… even ones you don’t try to teach them!
For example, when I pull my navy blue running shoes out of the closet, Lucas dashes to the front door just as reliably as when I say “walk.” He has learned that these sneakers – not my black ones, not the yard work ones, THESE ones – mean we’re going for a walk.
Likewise, they’ve learned that when I pick up the single key to our mailbox, they know that they’re not getting a car ride, they’re not going for a walk, I’m not leaving… I’m getting the mail. So as soon as I pick up that one single key on its Colts football key chain, they dash to the front window to watch me walk to and from the mailbox.
Those are just two small examples of our nonverbal conversation. It goes on throughout the day with all the different cues that they’ve learned – this happens, then I get to do this! I know a lot of it is routine, but it takes some pretty deep intelligence to really get the cause and effect associated with certain actions.
What nonverbal cues does your dog respond to? Do you find that your dog does better with verbal or nonverbal communication?