Dog Behaviour Advice - Dog Advice Articles
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Communication and scent work, theory and practice
For us to teach a more sociable dog we must learn to communicate and I see so many problems because we either fail or confuse our dogs. As this is important, I will need to spread this over the next few weeks.
I will also write each week for those interested in Trials how to train their dogs using the dogs scent ability to our advantage be it for work or fun.
This week a lady needed help with a high-speed greyhound that failed to return when called. I suggest the purchase of doggy treats letting her dog know she had them and her dog would only get some if she came when called. I received a call some days later amazed about the result. The only thing that would come towards her faster now would be a Scud Missile.
The Staffy is coming along fine and has not destroyed the Kong toy. He is still chewing it and to get at the treats inside. With the positive socialisation of being taken out and meeting other dogs whilst wearing a muzzle it no longer lunges at them and will wait, even off the lead, whereas before he would have run off and attacked the other dog.
Visualise in you mind walking into a field of unknown wild flowers and trees. How would you enjoy the warmth the fragrances the quiet without automatically translating this all into words in your head. Could you not simply enjoy these feeling without words? What if you closed your eyes could you still visualise the field with the scent coming from in front or from the left or right. Think if the person next to you could not speak your language or you theirs is it not still possible, to share exactly the same feelings. Think of just listening to music and how some can change your emotions. Have you ever seen a film without mood music? Its odd isn't it and yet we do not walk down the street to mood music. Mind you with personal stereos, we probably do now. The music is influencing our mood without words. We have all are senses working for us but seem to only be aware of language as our only way to express it. Look in a mirror and see your arms and body giving off vital information as well.
Yet, we can and do express all our feelings and never need to use words.
In the Shopping Mall in Bucharest talking to the interpreter, I commented that we could be almost anywhere in the world. I watched two people obviously in love and their body language is so universal. Why is this? Our old survival brain is taking over as lovers step into a perilous personal relationship and whatever words are spoken it is the mental thoughts of does he or she love me and all that entails that we see in the transmission of information that is so visible to us all. The most famous one is to rest your face in your hands so framing the face to say look at me am I not good looking. It is remarkable how different nationalities still have almost the same body language. Italians are more vocal with their body than most but when asking directions of a foreigner we all use the same signs. We each may recognise one or two words but the body language we use is almost universal. Here in Spain you must notice this more than in your homelands. Many people think they cannot read body language yet do in fact react to standard body language signs unaware it is happening. They are not use to reading body language only using words, but without knowing, they are reacting. Look at people around a table mimic one another’s body positions.
We also react to scent and in particular, pheromones yet unaware our reaction is a direct result of these senses working. Researchers sprayed chairs with pheromones in waiting rooms and this affected the people who sat on them. Some had pleasant sensations some not so but they were all unaware at to why. We have not lost body language we are just not conscience of it and prefer by habit to rely on words.
In my work, I meet many owners who say to me “my dog understands every word I say” and receive a demonstration of how their dog can do mathematical calculations. Many years ago, we had an experiment carried out on a man and his horse that appeared to do amazing calculations. We all know that this was achieved by body language but no one could detect the “tells”. The proof was to place the owner at the other side of a screen and sure enough, the horse could not perform. Never the less we must marvel at their ability to communicate with one another using body language.
When I see such demonstrations, I am in awe at what I am witnessing like a magic act. I know it is communication but cannot always see how they have achieved this. I do not dismiss the demonstrations just give SAY a wider definition of to communicate using all the senses and body language. What I witness is a dog and owner who have learned to communicate. Some have made it so subtle that it is so difficult to spot the “tells”. I know it appears that the owner asks the dog a verbal question but uses body language to set the dog up. It appears to answer but it is receiving instructions all the time like when to start and stop barking. This is indeed intricate and complicated body language needed in order to achieve this amazing slight of hand. These is not researchers these are ordinary people who do this so we must all be able to do it.
All my dogs could open and close doors when they came in and out the house. One day my dog came rushing in slamming open the back door ran into the lounge and dived into his chair. I remember looking at him and just thought to myself “have you not forgotten something?” At that, moment he jumped out of the chair charged into the kitchen and slammed the door. He ran back to the lounge, jumped into the chair, and sunk into it as if to say, “there, satisfied?” I doubt it was telepathy but my thinking must have made my question appear in my body language.
We use and rely on language so much even to talking to babies and dogs as if they understood yet we know they cannot. A dog does not think in words or numbers so why do we do it. That is why I asked if you could sense a field of flowers without having to translate into words. The Spanish person will have exactly the same feelings as the English person but in words, it only sounds different. Without words, we can tell that each of us is enjoying the same experience by each other’s body language. Knowing this we still persist in talking to dogs using words with sophisticated tones etc as if they are human and yet it appears to work so why.
The Theory of Scent for Fun and in Working Trials.
If you have ever seen the police films using a heat camera when a criminal runs across the ground each footprint will leave heat and shows up on the camera almost like rising smoke. Scent is similar accept it is being given off all the time. We each have a basic scent signature but changes do occur especially with our moods. Almost everything gives off a scent. Some are nice some not so nice but for us we are so far behind dogs with their senses. Dog’s eyesight is in colour but with some colour blindness. Their hearing has a phenomenal range and their sense of smell and taste is way beyond humans. We now have a pet dog that can detect the difference between cancer and benign cells. For yourselves how can a dog pick out your keys in a house full of your scent? It is not the dog trained to do it, it only needs to know what is it you want and it will use scent to find it.
What is it a dog is looking at with its senses? I have seen my gundog appear to look at a ferret underground by using sound. I always knew where the ferret would emerge by just watching my dog. I use the term looking in the wider sense, as we would use to see. It is as if the dog sees scent and not only sees it they taste it. I watched a dog in training on very difficult terrain and the dog went from footprint to footprint and actually tasted each of them with its tongue.
The dog is seeing and checking the area but what is it the dog is viewing. Humans see by scanning with our eyes looking for edges and dogs must be able to move through scent by scanning or analysing for changes in distinguishing features. I will not go too deeply into the science, as you only need to know that it works and why in order you can understand sufficient to put this skill to good use.
Try this simple test move your finger over the back of your hand to feel the texture of the hairs. Now keep your finger still and there is no feeling. Are brain is only registering changes. Maybe dogs are the same and only register the changes they need to focus on. They simple ignore the rest of the mass of information but we train them to read it for us. Normally a dog would show no interest in a track that was three hours old as the prey would have long been gone.
If you look at the same field I mentioned earlier how does a dog see the field. Is it like plums of scent constantly rising from everything merging into a layer upon layer dissipating and mingling until finally a bland constant mixture dissipating higher up in the air?
We too can smell the grass all around and the flowers to our right but we are unable to detect the mouse hiding in the grass. Even a dog my use sound first then home in on it with smell. I try to visualise it as if scent was faintly multi-coloured smoke.
If I were to be the only person to walk straight across the field what would happen. I would certainly swirl the scent about in the area that I walk in mixing my signature scent with the surrounding air and this would raise and move away.
As I walk, I leave some body scent on the ground. My shoe heel cuts the ground squashing and cutting the plant life and ground changing the smell mixing the smell from the area of my last footstep. It will also add the distinctive smell of the sole of my shoe and my body scent.
Even the shape of my sole indicates to the dog the direction of my walk because the shoe heel has a stronger scent than made by the sole. I am squashing the grass, insect’s worms etc so making each footprint look like a miniature power station with its now distinctive smoke plums rising into the air.
As I walk along, I drop my wallet with my scent on it. When I reach the other side of the field, I have made a jumble of the scent in the form of a tunnel compared to the normal constant scent of the field. If we had, a heat camera far more sensitive than we have now it would see each foot print and even see the plume of heat rising from my wallet.
Unfortunately, heat lasts a very short time so the cameras we have now are only sufficient for finding people if moments behind them or it they are laid up and injured so providing a constant heat source. For now, we use dogs for finding people or objects from half an hour behind to three hours behind. We have tested up to ten hours for areas left over night but it does depend on conditions.
Heat is only part of the spectrum of scent so how a dog sees and interprets the world we can only learn from more rigorous testing. We have hidden tiny amounts of drugs inside plastic sealed bags inside Hoover bags and still the dogs can find them. It is not that the dogs are learning to become more sensitive, though this must play a part, but only from communicating to our dog, what it is we want it to look for.
Next week is behavioural updates, communicating continued and scent work theory and practice continued. If you have any questions or queries or want any back issues of any articles or the index to these then as before, please contact me. My ID on Yahoo messenger is alannewmanmoore. If you cannot obtain any special doggy items please look at www.companyofanimals.co.uk and I will bring them over for you.