The Language of Love

By Andreea Gabriel

 

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About four years ago, my husband surprised me with the most wonderful gift I had ever received. When I opened the door, he handed me an adorable snow-white Maltese puppy that seemed and continues to seem to me the sweetest and cutest creature I have ever seen. My husband and I welcomed him into our lives with great joy and named him Rey, which means king in Spanish. Rey is truly the king of our house and of our hearts. He sleeps on the bed with us, eats at the table with us, watches TV with us, and does a lot of human activities.

Rey speaks the language of love. From the first moment when our eyes crossed, Rey and I started to communicate in a way that I am sill trying to understand. What makes Rey a special communicator? He does not bark much.

He communicates with his face and body like no other dog that I have seen. He has an extremely expressive face and a super-flexible body. He often raises both his brows as high as possible when he is puzzled and he stares at me, while shaking his head. Other times, when he wants to entertain us, he first raises his left brow and lowers the right other. Then he switches the pace and raises the right one and lowers the left one. He keeps doing this for a few minutes, while my husband and I keep laughing and applauding him. Other times, he just winks at us and then he goes hide under the table. He likes playing hide-and-seek.

Every morning, the very moment we get out of bed and put our feet on the floor, Rey does a special good morning ritual. He greets us in front of the bed, by stretching his rear legs backwards and his front legs forward until he lies completely flat, face down on the floor. He continues his ritual by raising his left paw and then his right one, alternating this movement a few times. He knows how to do many other funny and unique body postures, which are hard to describe and which resembles yogic asanas. He does yoga in his own way and sits so quite when I meditate. His energy is so blissful and serene.rey-2photo-by-barna-tanko-3

Rey is very expressive not only kinesthetically, but also acoustically. He literally sings, but he needs a special musical tone. Before we moved into a condo, we used to live in a house, which had a musical doorbell. The house had a very large front window, which covered almost the entire wall, right next to the entrance door. The window was positioned so low on the wall that even our tiny Maltese could look through it and wave at us. Every time someone rang the doorbell, Rey would run to the window and start singing, imitating the musical sound of the doorbell. His singing continued for a few minutes after the doorbell stopped. We had neighbors who told us that they liked ringing our doorbell when we were not at home just to hear Rey sing and see him through the large front window. Even if I had the key with me, I thoroughly enjoyed ringing the doorbell just to witness one more time this priceless show.

Rey can do various other tricks and he responds well to some commands such as: “up, come, sit, turn around, up and turn around”, but I am sure that other dogs can do more tricks than him. He has never been formally trained. What makes Rey a special communicator is a gift that goes beyond the ability to respond to some obedience commands. In fact, Rey is not really obedient, because sometimes he likes to lead the way, but he is truly empathetic and energetically in tune with us. Every time my husband or I accidentally bump into something in the house and say “Ouch” or express pain or suffering in some way, Rey automatically runs to us and covers our face in kisses. He gives us hugs and holds us tight with his tiny paws. If we are sad or in pain, Rey does not leave our side and continues to kiss, lick, and hug us until we feel better. He has an amazing ability to comfort, amuse, and amaze us.

Like me, Rey likes to express himself through the clothes that he wears. He has quite a wardrobe, consisting of cute little silk scarves for summer, raincoats, sweaters for fall, and coats for winter. In fact, not only that he doesn’t mind wearing clothes, but he actually seems to enjoy it, the same way he is perfectly fine with being shampooed and blow-dried in order to maintain his snow-white appearance. He walks with his head and tail high and we walk at the same pace. The color of his scarf or coat generally matches the color theme of my outfit. So many people stop us to tell me how much they like the way my dog’s clothes match mine. The most amazing part is that he has scarves in all possible colors and that many times he knows which one to pick from the pile to in order match the outfit that I am wearing that day. In fact, Rey has quite an obsession with clothes and when I wear casual socks indoors, he particularly enjoys pulling them off my feet with his teeth. Then he goes hide the socks somewhere, but after he plays with them for a while, he eventually brings them back to me. Rey has never ruined anything. He is way too sweet and smart to do that.

Whenever we bring him a gift, he senses it even before we take it out of the bag. It is very impressive how, out of all the new items in the shopping bags that we put on the floor, he goes and picks exactly the item that we bought for him, be it a toy, a piece of clothing, or a bag of treats.

I have suddenly had the realization that Rey must have developed a personality that mirrors mine. He is very empathetic, adaptable, flexible, intuitive, a linguist/communicator in his own way, stylish, considerate, likes yoga, loves nature, adores trolling though the Kitsilano neighborhood, senses special people, and has an interesting sense of humour.

I believe that we are just beginning to scratch the surface in terms of human-canine communication. There is so much to be explored and understood. All dog owners must think that their dogs are special in some way and all dogs should be special to someone. What makes your dog special? How does your dog communicate with you?

Photos of Rey, courtesy of Barna Tanko

www.barnatanko.com

Bio Note:

Andreea Gabriel is a writer, educator, metaphysician, and researcher. She is passionate about languages, energy, consciousness, and ancient mysteries. She feels blessed to have Rey as her wonderful canine companion.

Are You Up For the Challenge?

 

By Valerie Barry, KPA-CTP

In Partnership With Dogs

www.ipwd.ca

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I cannot over-emphasize the power and the value of mentally challenging activities for dogs.  Every single dog I meet, either during one of my group classes or in a private training session, would benefit from more mental stimulation.  Physical exercise is important, but only the addition of mentally stimulating activities can result in a truly content pup.

Mental challenges should be:

  • incorporated into any behaviour modification program;
  • incorporated into any puppy rearing program by both breeders and puppy owners;
  • provided as part of introducing a newly adopted dog to your home;
  • increased as your dog ages and becomes less mobile;
  • creatively added as part of any injury or illness rehabilitation;
  • should ideally be added into any shelter or rescue facility’s daily activities; and
  • part of every dog’s daily activities.

All of my clients get to hear my spiel on adding mentally challenging activities into their dog’s day!  Some recent client examples have included:

  1. An elderly dog who had started exhibiting anxiety and restlessness.  In the absence of any medical reason, we can’t know why this is, but I’ve seen the same thing happen to my aging dogs over the years.  It may be as a result of the stress of adjusting to hearing loss, eyesight fading or mobility issues – that certainly occurs with humans, why not dogs.  
  2. A reactive dog who, during his behaviour rehabilitation, needs to participate in activities that keep his dog reactivity to a minimum.  If you live in a busy area, this rules out long walks through town and visits to the dog park so you need alternative ideas.
  3. A young puppy with more energy than her family had planned for who shouldn’t be running and playing hard yet due to her developmental stage.
  4. A newly adopted dog with way more energy and drive than the dog she was adopted to be a companion for.
  5. A group obedience class of young dogs all with different levels of confidence and impulse control.

The lives of all of these dogs would be enhanced with the addition of more mentally stimulating activities, and their families will see a positive difference in their dogs.jack-treat-hunting-fernie

The primary value of mental stimulation is building confidence.  If you are provided with a challenge that is intriguing and solvable for you (and that’s different for every individual), there is a reinforcing feeling of accomplishment when you’re done.  

There is nothing better for confidence than accomplishing something on your own, maybe getting something good for it as well and even praise on top of it all – think job challenge, bonus pay and some kudos from the boss and co-workers.  There is nothing better than that feeling of accomplishment.  If you get enough of that on a regular basis, you’re starting to feel pretty good about yourself and you start to feel like you can tackle even greater challenges.  If you’re a dog you begin to start feeling the confidence to try a different behaviour in situations that may have previously been too overwhelming or scary to do more than react to in some way.  Dogs will start to use their thinking brains more and their reacting brains less.

A lot of people are simply focused on getting the dog out for his daily walk or walks. No question – physical exercise is important for dogs. However, what if your dog can’t do much physical exercise for some reason (health, age or behaviour)?  Or what if you can’t physically exercise your dog very much and can’t afford to have someone else do it for you, or what if it’s not appropriate for your dog to be walked by others?

Physical exercise can be mentally stimulating too – exploring and sniffing around new streets or trails is part mental and part physical and your dog can explore at his leisure.  Even routine walks are different every day to some extent – what animals have passed by since we were last here?  However, there are some really good ways to up that mental challenge and reap the benefits of a uniquely tired and satisfied dog.

 

Adding Mental Challenges to Your Dog’s Life

The easiest way to add mental challenges to your dog’s day is to make use of the vast array of treat dispensing toys currently on the market.  This has become a pretty big retail category for pets – not just dogs, but all small companion animals are benefitting. Even larger animals like horses, cow, pigs, etc. have options available for mental stimulation.  My own horses eat out of hay nets designed to challenge them and make meals last longer. 

I put treat-dispensing toys into 3 categories:  

  1. slow feeder bowls or puzzle toys – stationary items; 
  2. toys that move – roll, wobble or need to be pulled or shaken; and 
  3. toys that you need to chew or change the shape of in order to get the food out.

Slow feeder bowls or puzzle toys are designed to hold your dog’s full meal.  The idea is that the bowls or toys slow your dog’s food consumption down which is great for dogs who gulp their food too quickly.  They also require your dog to put a bit of thought into how to get their food out which they can see and smell but can’t just gulp up easily without changing their usual behaviour in some way.  I highly recommend that all people make use of these types of things, at the very least, as a way to feed their dogs on a daily basis.  It’s easy, you can use them with dry, wet or raw food and it takes very little time on your part.  

I think of it as the beginning stage of getting your dog “into” mentally challenging activities.  For dogs who aren’t particularly food motivated and may even just pick at their meals, it increases interest.  For other dogs who are happy to quickly gulp down their meals, it starts to build a work ethic – now we’re asking you to work, just a bit, to get your food.  The challenge of most of these bowls and toys isn’t so hard as to be defeating.  Once dogs figure them out, they aren’t hard but still take time and still require more effort than a regular dog bowl.

Once your dog is happily consuming meals this way, an easy next step is to use toys for entertainment.  I like to use filled chew toys like Kongs or rolling toys like balls with kibble or other dry treats in them in this next step.  

Benefits of using Entertainment toys:

  • useful for teaching puppies or newly adopted dogs to be content when left alone. 
  • gives your dog something to do when you’re not home or are too busy to play.
  • beneficial as a way to re-direct the adrenaline of physical exercise which tends to amp dogs up for a short time after a walk or run.
  • comes in enough variety that you can find something to accommodate almost any injury or illness rehab.
  • can be very easy or really difficult and you can help your dog work up in difficulty by how you fill them.

(Important note:  be sure to initially monitor any dog with toys you intend to ultimately leave them alone with to make sure they play with them safely.)

Making use of the toys available on the market is an easy thing to add into your dog’s day.  Christmas is coming – here are a few of my favorite entertainment toys (well tested!) to tuck into your dog’s stocking this year:dante-green

  • Green – a slow feeder by Northmate
  • Fun Feeders by Outward Hound
  • Snoop treat dispensing ball by Planet Dog
  • Kong Genius Leo by Kong
  • The Wobbler by Kong
  • Tricky Treat Ball – a classic by Omega

If you’re creative, you can also find some great DIY ideas on the internet.  Here are a couple of ideas that caught my attention:

Train the Brain

Being a practitioner and passionate advocate of the science of positive reinforcement training – of course I need to include a plug for training as way to mentally challenge your dog!  Shaping, in particular, is something that can be easy, fun and really challenging for your dog – it’s also great for increasing your own observation and training skills.  Shaping simply means breaking down a behavior into tiny increments, and reinforcing the dog at each incremental step until you’ve achieved the full behavior. 

Shaping allows you to create behavior from scratch without physical control or corrections, but rather by drawing on your animal’s natural ability to learn.  The benefit of shaping is helping your dog learn how to offer behaviors, try new things, and think creatively in order to solve problems. Try this fun and easy free-shaping game – 101 Things To Do With a Box, from Karen Pryor’s website, http://www.clickertraining.com/node/167?source=tt_1402.

The Nose Knows

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Perhaps the best way to mentally challenge your dog is to make use of their very talented nose.

An quick and easy way to encourage your dog to use his nose is to scatter treats in the grass and teach your dog to use their nose to look for them by giving them a cue, “Find It” and pointing out each treat until they begin to respond to their cue by searching and sniffing around on their own.  The longer the grass or wilder the terrain, the longer the search takes.  You can use the same kind of training to teach your dog to find a treasured toy or even a family member hiding somewhere in the house.

Nose Work

A more formal way to challenge your dog’s nose is to participate in a dog sport called Nose Work.  The training of professional scent detection canines inspired this fun canine sport.  It’s open to all dogs including dog-reactive or fearful dogs, as there is only one dog in the search area at a time. It’s appropriate for any dog – young or old, injured or even disabled dogs. No previous experience or training is necessary to get started – for the dog or the handler.  It’s a really fun way to spend time with your dog and tire them out mentally and even physically.  Best of all, you can practice it at home with minimal equipment needed.

Nose Work is an activity that uses real-world environments and can be done almost anywhere. Every search has the potential to be a dramatically different just by changing hide placement, or searching under different weather conditions. Participating in Nose Work gives your dog the freedom to express and refine his natural talents, and he’s giving you a glimpse into how he “sees” the world.

In Nose Work, dogs learn how to search for a specific odor or odors and find the source. Dogs start by searching for their favorite food or toy reward (soon paired with various odors) hidden in a variety of environments, increasing the challenges and adding new search skills as the dog progresses.  Odors dogs are taught to search for include birch, anise, and clove.  As you progress in your training, dogs are introduced to four different search elements: container, interior, exterior, and vehicles. Dogs build their hunt drive and learn foundational search skills in all four elements. 

Throughout the training, the emphasis will always be on creating learning experiences for the dog and supporting his independent problem solving, not commanding him to perform a series of tasks in a predetermined manner. Nose Work is all about the dogs and all about celebrating their amazing abilities.  All the training is positive supportive for both dog and handler.  No corrections or aversives are used in any part of the training.

If you’re interested in trying Nose Work, check out this site for classes in your area:  www.nosework.ca.

 So – I challenge you to up the challenge for your dog! Make a New Year’s resolution to give your dog some more mentally stimulating activities to occupy his brain this coming year.  As always, keep it positive!

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