Know Your Pooch
The writer is former director, GSI, and an avid animal lover. His understanding of man's best friend comes from over six decades of dedicated association with it
The Japanese are very astute observers. In their language Kawaii means cute. Something that is cute and triggers positive emotions. Readers must be wondering how this relates to dogdom!
Researchers have found that interacting with your dog/puppy gives a kind of thrill that boosts that sense of well-being, or a bond of happiness develops. I think that the age-old relationship between the dog and the man has thrived on this power of Kawaii.
Let’s learn how this power of Kawaii can help you to develop an infinite bond between you and your dog and also how it can help in training your pooch better. Dog discerns your moods much faster than you can read his mind. If you are stressed, he picks it up and gets stressed too. If you are happy, then he too is happy and expresses through his body language. I believe that the best way to communicate with your pooch is to train him during the time of the day when you are the happiest. It should be a pleasure for the trainer and the disciple both. The retaining power in dogs, during the initial stage of training, is very low, hence repetition in the form of positive reinforcement is vital. A quick reward from you for every command obeyed and an equally quick correction in the form of a frown on your face and a change of tone are no less important in correction.
The entire communication depends upon this reward and correction or punishment. But remember for a positive reinforcement, the duration of the reward should not be less than 80% of the total time spent with a dog on training or communicating. The correction should never be in the form of a threat, raised hand, or a shout. Always remember, their hearing power is far, far superior to ours. In a dog’s life, touch matters a lot. Thus, scratching behind his ears or a pat on the chest also acts as a positive reinforcement.
We have a spoken language. Our best friend, who is a dog, uses his body language to communicate. The day you understand his language and he understand yours; the dog is perfectly trained and so are you in his perception. Often tail wagging is interpreted as a sign of welcome and play. But if a dog wags his tail rapidly with his body tense, it could mean aggression. A normal dog’s eye expression is calm and placid, whereas a cross-eyed dog with a frown on the forehead could be a warning of an impending attack. Just study their faces and body gestures, correlate them with the incidents and gradually you can build a dictionary of dog’s body language.
While you are building up a dictionary, try to visualise his mental condition. He too is trying to build and understand a sequence of commands to follow. His main problem is in discerning between his actions which please or displease you. Here comes the problem. The issue is not with his understanding, but it is with the inconsistent behaviour you show. For example, at times you suddenly welcome him in your bed to cuddle, while at others you suddenly start shouting at him while he tries to climb into the bed. Likewise, you allow him to jump on some people, and stop him from doing so at others. The other problem which he faces with your communication is the long sentences you use in your commands. While trying to call him, instead of giving a simple two-word command, ‘Polo Come,’ using with all the honey in your voice you say, ‘Polo my darling, come over, I want to hold you in my arms.’ Poor Polo is not a graduate in languages. The next time you are off mood and again instead of a simple command, you shout at the top of your voice, ‘You bloody Polo, come or else I will beat the hell out of you…’
The crux of the story is be brief and be consistent. Change your tone and facial expression to show your pleasure or anger. You need not be angry at him in reality. You have to be just a good actor to convey, like he is. Remember, his wagging tale, mouth gaping open as if in a smile and waist twisting right and left to show his happiness and excitement. Likewise, you can mimic him and communicate, but the verbal communication has to be brief. Dogs can pick, learn and remember about 400 words.
In the matter of communication, the puppies are much faster and better than their grownup parents/siblings. They are happy to greet anyone. Barring a few shy puppies, they generally go out to greet and even follow people. That is one of the best features of the puppies and make them adorable. I have seen even dog haters change their attitude towards the puppies.
Dogs are emotionally very intelligent creatures. They pick up your emotions in a jiffy. You may apparently try to appear calm or nonchalant towards the dog, but due to his extreme observation power, he is able to make out what is going inside you.
Talking with dogs helps you to unwind your stresses and in turn also helps the dog to communicate with you better. Many times, people claim that their dog knows when he has done something wrong, like peeing on your costly rug and express by pushing his ears back, avoiding eye contact with you or even hiding under a piece of furniture. Alas, it is not so. His observation is such that the moment you notice his misdeed, he is able to make out the change in your facial expression, the stiffness in your body or the change in your tone and in anticipation he reacts. The social media today has crippled us and we communicate much less in real lives. Dogs help a lot in real time social communication. Imagine meeting another dog lover in the park and both of you start talking about your dogs. Like weather, a dog becomes a common topic of discussion. Dogs are great stress busters too. Imagine playing with your dog when you are highly stressed! They entertain you without demanding anything in return.
The power of Kawaii is infinite. Likewise, a discussion on dogs is endless. I can write pages after pages on this most endearing topic. But I feel it’s enough for today.