Since your dog can’t speak English, or any other human language, how will you know what he is trying to tell you?  How will you know what he needs or wants?  How will you know when there’s an emergency, and if there is, what it is?  Sure, there’s body language.  Sure, there are yips, barks and cries. Sure, he looks at his water bowl and then into your eyes.  Or at your ice cream cone and then makes a moaning sound in his throat that means “If I don’t get some of that I am so going to die.”

But what about more complex communication?  How will you know if he’s trying to tell you how to fix a problem, yours or his?  How will you know if a service dog is alerting a seizure or just asking for some attention?  By watching carefully, that’s how.

First you need to open the door or window, metaphorically, that is, and let your ego float on out.  You need to let go of everything you ever read about dogs, of everything other people say, of what your breed or mixed breed dog is supposed to be like, of the need to control and to feel you know things.  Okay, done?  Now you need to quietly observe your dog in the same way he watches you.  By doing so – aha, he does this, and then he does that – you will start to see two things, the same two things he already knows about you.  First, you will see his particular patterns of behavior.  Next, you will begin to see things he does to get your attention and communicate with you, things you may have missed because, hey, we are human beings here and we don’t have all day to sit around watching the way a dog does.

Once you start to see new things, you can take all this to another level.  On one level, there’s the thing the dog is doing.  On another level there is the meaning underneath.  Your dog, okay, my dog may not merely be “saying” Pet me, pet me.  She may also be saying, don’t pay attention to that other person or dog.  Only pay attention to me.  (Understanding the message does not mean you will alway accede to it.)

As humans, we are sometimes so involved in what, for instance, we are trying to teach a dog, we may not see what a dog is really learning.  If a dog does the wrong thing, you may think he’s stubborn, stupid, not paying attention.  But he may have learned that thing, because your timing was off, because you moved in too quickly to assist him, because the thing he learned instead of the thing you asked for got him more treats, praise, games, whatever.

Seeing the world through your dog’s eyes takes some doing, some time and a lot of letting go of previously held ideas, but can result in a deeper, clearer kind of communication, an even closer friendship and some really interesting and surprising information.

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