All articles by Dr Bailey are reprinted from Gun Dog magazine.

The dog in his world and yours

By Dr Ed Bailey

When the Dog Talks, Who Listens?

Everyone who lives with a hunting dog has experienced it: "The dog reads my mind." From the moment just before you have decided to do it, your dog knows you are taking him for a run. He starts the maddening stuff - spinning around, crashing into you, grabbing your wrist, yapping and whining, and maybe raking your arms with claws you thought were trimmed short. Each time the walk is coming up, he goes through his antics. Each time, you get mad. How nice to have a laid back, stoic dog who will lie chin on paws by the door, or , at worst, sit with ears perked, alert, and waiting. The message he is sending with his gyrations is not, as you might rationalize, the exuberance of your keen hunter.

Reconstruct what happened. He picked up a subtle signal from your bearing, a movement or some slight change in your attitude that said something might happen. But he doesn't know what, so he starts going through behaviors which he has gone through previously and which have ended in success - a run in the fields.

With each preparation you make to go afield, like getting the whistle or leash, your boots, a special hat, you reinforce his bouncing behavior. Then out you two go and he again has proof that the way to get you off to dead center and into something constructive is to go through his "make it happen" routine. Why not? Primitive peoples, when experiencing a solar eclipse, beat on a drum. Sure enough, the sun comes back in a little while so everyone knows that to beat the drum is to make the sun return.

The dog is beating his drum by going through his playbook of behaviors. And each behavior is a stimulus he is sending to you. When presented with each stimulus, you respond appropriately (after all, you have been well trained) with loud commands to "sit," or "be quiet," and he has succeeded in getting your attention. A few counterclockwise whirls and a two-cushion shot off the wall and the door is the next signal to which you respond - pandemonium, and the dog is making it all happen. He is doing it his way, using his signals in an elaborate pantomine, and he must do it that way because you don't understand his language. Finally, out you go and his whole act is applauded by the successful result.

How do you avoid the floor gouging, paint-removing production? First, know he did not read your mind. He read an intention movement and responded with an intention movement of his own. This would be stoppable, before it escalates. You can take control by ignoring his attempts to make you commit yourself. Instead, go on a different lead - have a coup of coffee, wash the whistle, oil the leash, anything, but do not persist on showering him with your attention while continuing your attempts to get it all together for a walk. After trying a few unsuccessful moves, he will become quiet.

When he has become well settled and with no fanfare or excitement of any sort, make him sit and stay, get your gear, and go out for the walk on your terms. Now you are reinforcing the sit -stay response. This response will become his new intention movement in response to some intention movement you made.

Dogs learn by associating a stimulus with getting reinforcement, a reward for making a correct response. Any response producing positive reinforcement will tend to be repeated next time that stimulus occurs. If the reinforcement for a response is negative, the dog will tend to respond differently - but not necessarily correctly - on the next presentation of the same stimulus. If there is no reinforcement - positive or negative - to a response, but the response is just ignored, that response will diminish and disappear on subsequent presentations of the stimulus. We say then the response has been "extinguished."

However, in order to know whether a response or a whole behavir pattern should be reinforced positively, negatively, or ignored, we must know what that response or pattern of behavior means and why it was given. We must "red" the dog and learn his intention movements from the subtle squint of the eyes to the hold of the ears as well as the not-too-subtly-presented signals of urinating on the foot of an overdressed lady visitor or demolishing drapes We have to gain access to the dog's world.

Thanks to the work of John Scott and John Fuller and their co-workers, we have well-documented information on the socialization process in dogs. The dog, better than any other domesticated animal, has the capacity to socialize on people as well as on his own species. be continued...

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