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Communication and scent work, theory and practice II

Following the article on the different types of aggression, I received a request for help with a younger dog, which was beginning to growl at its much older companion dog, that was now showing signs of senility. Dogs were never programmed to understand such strange body language. In the wild there never can be a senile dog. Once they cannot compete for the food there is no pension fund. Dogs will not share to keep an old dog alive.

We can now extend the life of our dogs with the way we live, and when a dog becomes senile, the decline is sudden and rapid. There must be many dogs retired with their owners to Spain where the mild climate is extending the dog’s natural life. As senility is more of a veterinary topic I have written to Bruce Fogel DVM, MRCVS, who is a very popular Vet, and has written many books, often appearing on the Jimmy Young programme, asking him if he would be willing to contribute an article on Canine Senility.

I also received an e-mail regarding a two-year-old shelter dog. This dog sometimes fouls in the house. Please remember that although shelter dogs may once have been house trained, when they are left roaming loose in a compound for some time, they do forget their training, from necessity, and can be lazy enough to continue this practice after they are re-homed. Normal house training will usually retrain the dog within a week, if you take notice of when the dog needs to go to the toilet. One of the quickest ways to teach this is to restrict the dog to a small area where it sleeps for a while, as dogs do not foul their sleeping areas.

As to the now-not-so dominant bitch, she still walks past the two very aggressive barking dogs without retaliating, with her tail up, which is a very good sign. She has had only two squirts from the gas collar eight weeks ago, so the collars do work and have a lasting effect.

I must also watch out for my spell check, with my bowls and bowels, when feeding my dog, and check which end I am going to feed. (Ooops)
Communication continued

Last week I covered the point that we rely on language, but disregard the effect our own body language and scent signature have on a dog. Dogs do not think in words, but they do understand one-word commands providing we keep them simple. When I tell you not to talk to your dogs as if they were human, this is because they cannot understand you, and that begs the question, then why does it seem to work?

Humans communicate with words, scent and body language. On the technical point, a teacher I know tells me that body language is 80% of communication, where you stand, how you stand, is what matters, tone and pitch convey 15% of the message, only 5% is the actual word meanings. It may be subconscious but the way you stand affects your control as a teacher, or lack of it, and communicates to the class more than anything else. If anyone read the Mail last week, you will have read about the Silent Talker, which is a new form of lie detector test, that reads the facial body language and this confirms these percentages.

Dogs in order to survive over the last 13,000 years needed to learn to understand us by reading our body language, the tone of voice, our moods, and our scent signatures. It does seem that whatever language you talk in, your feelings, moods etc are being translated into a very similar body language. I watched a Frenchman, whom I knew could speak in three other languages, yet his actions were so similar, whomever he talked to, in any of those languages.

When I was sixteen, I lived with a family in Germany for two weeks, and they could all speak excellent English, but they would not do so unless I was really having difficulties. The lifting up of a bottle of wine, partly tilting it, giving a smile, plus the tilt of the head towards my glass, was sufficient to know the question asked of me. Look at the way we display with our arms and hands, when we say no thank you. We cross and uncross our arms with the palms of our hands forward, or just display a single palm. We always look at someone’s face first, when meeting people to gauge their mood.

Body language in all its forms is the most important way in which we communicate with people and our dogs. The 5% we attribute to words are only useful to those who understand and speak our language and dogs do not.

The way we use words when commanding our dogs causes them confusion. In any language, how many commands do you have for come? There is "come", there is "Rover come", we have "Rover, come here now", "Rover get yourself here now." I am certain there are many more and even more if you include the tone change from happy to being angry. Your dog may pick out the simple "come" from all the other unimportant gibberish or your dog has learnt six or seven different very long one word commands all for the same action.

It is then handlers say to me but you are always talking to your dogs. This is a fair observation. When teaching criminal work we need to have the dog playing retrieve of the padded sleeve, and enjoying the only game where it is allowed to pull and win, before they meet "the criminal". When we teach the dogs to fetch the sleeve from the criminal, the handler must restrain the dog from moving forward, the criminal will bait the dog with the sleeve showing loads of aggression, shouting and waving the arm but holding out the sleeve in a teasing motion, then the handler on the other hand will talk loudly to his dog to say to get the sleeve, its your sleeve or fetch the sleeve. This builds up the excitement in the dog to bark, and he tries to jump forward but cannot. The Criminal, when he sees the dog lunge forward, will change to show fearfulness and retreat from the dog, building even more confidence. At the right time, the handler releases the dog to jump forward, biting the sleeve and receiving loads of praise from both criminal and handler. (This is for civilian training) The question does come up: Why do we use all these words, to excite the dog, if they do not understand?

The criminal is baiting the dog and is playacting, as is the handler, and in order to display aggression, fearfulness, excitement for the dog to understand they role-play to help them display the appropriate body language. To the dogs, the words are probably just like excited barking.

For a demonstration we take a handler and a toy dog and he must verbally abuse the dog telling it that is the worst dog he has ever seen, show he is angry, and wave his arms about. The second time we then tape up his mouth and ask him to show the dog the same anger without words. So far so good. We then show the handler some short naughty rhymes and to pick out the one he likes best and memorise it. He then has to still show his anger as before at the toy dog but repeat the rhyme in his head. This creates laughter from his mates because they see the confusion of body language between anger and humour created by the rhyme. They do not know the rhyme but know something is funny.

Dogs have been reading human body language for over 13,000 years in order to survive, so they excel at this. I hope you can appreciate that whilst your dog does appear to understand what you are saying, it is actually translating your body language and actions. This means you can give your dog a mixed message by using so many similar sounding commands. You think your dog should understand, you become angry, your body language changes, which is what the dog is really reacting to. From the dog’s point of view, you are moving, or standing differently, your tone and pitch have changed, so the command must be different, it does not consider the exact rhythm of your barking to be important.

It is far better to use a few, same tone, single words, as action commands, in order not to confuse your dog. Do not rely on your dog understanding a full human sentence. Hand signals, whistles, clicks, and handclaps are far superior and less confusing to your dog, whether you wish to just train for sociability or try training for working trails.

The Theory of Scent for Fun and in Working Trials

Last week I described how a field may appear to a dog, and how it uses scent to see more of the world than we can. Much of it may not register, as it is unnecessary, like the track of a rabbit that passed by many hours ago, rather than one passing some minutes ago. We train a dog to override this habit, by teaching it that we do need it to register information that would not normally concern it.

In Bruce Fogle’s book, The Dog’s Mind, he states that a dog has 220 million scent receptors in its nose, but we only have around 5 million. We are therefore out of the scent detection league, but we are able to have dogs work with us to help us in so many marvellous ways. Personally, I would love to know how a dog perceives the world in scent.

If you try to use the idea of rising plumes of lightly tinted coloured smoke, then you could use that to understand how a dog can see my wallet left in the field. To find the article we can search in two ways. We have the track and we have the search square.


The type of tracking we use here is not where we show the dog an article of clothing, belonging to a person, for their scent signature and then say "Track". This is the realm of the bloodhounds. With this method, the dogs run these tracks a short time after the person has set off over hill and dale. It is also neither aniseed, nor something else in a bag, dragged across the ground for hounds to follow.

For our type of tracking, a police or civilian dog finds the start of the track at the entrance to the field. The dog wears a harness, attached to 30 feet of rope held by the handler, allowing the dog to look for new scent patterns that are different to the surrounding normal scent pattern. If the scent track is very fresh, the dog will probably not track the ground, as it will follow the abundance of body scent still clinging, but quickly dissipating, that is just hanging over the ground, and could be to the left or right of the original track depending on the wind direction.

As the track becomes older, much of the body scent will have gone and the dog will now identify the changed scent patterns rising from each footprint. Because of the damage created from each step, this becomes a little powerhouse of dissimilar scent to the surrounding ground. Scent is actually minute particles emanating from the ground, from plants and insects damaged by the footprint until it heals and becomes once again similar to the surrounding ground.

We are able to track over concrete up to half and hour, but over grass land this increases. We have tracks in competition at 3 hours old, and we have trained where another person has crossed the track later, yet the dog still keeps to the correct track. We have tested with twins, where one has crossed the track of the other and we believe that twins do not have identical scent signatures. Dogs can follow scent over long puddles as the damage scent rises from below and over deeper water body scent appears to cling to the surface of the water as long as it is not quick flowing. If the person has stolen a bike, then rides it over the grass, then the scent pattern changes but the dog can keep following. Even if over difficult terrain where the dog may loose the scent with 30 feet of rope, the dog can probably pick the track up further on.

If the dog follows my track across the field, it will come across my wallet. Even if it is off to one side, the dog will notice a scent that is different to the surroundings, or has a similar scent signature to the one it is following, mine, and will recover my wallet. It could also be tracking for a missing child who is injured or hiding criminals.

The Search Square

With this method we know that the item, my wallet, was lost approximately in a given area, which we mark off as a no go area with four poles. The dog is sent in and works round the area looking for anything with fresh body scent on it and should home in on the scent raising from my wallet and flowing down wind just above the ground.

I hope you can see why I needed to run both these articles simultaneously because to work with our dogs, we need both good communication skills, and have some understanding of what the dog is doing.

Next week:
more behavioural updates,
training a dog reluctant to get into a car,
teaching the next step in the search square,
the first steps in tracking.

If you have any questions or queries, please contact me. My ID on Yahoo messenger is alannewmanmoore. If you cannot obtain any special doggy items please look at and I can bring them over for you.


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