Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Charades: The Canine Version!

It's been hot here in northern California, with many days in the upper 90's to low 100's where we live.  We do have air conditioning and Ozzie can frequently be found hogging one of the A/C vents in the house to stay cool.  I bought a really quiet, tower fan to have in my office to keep me cooler and circulate the air.  Ozzie loves this fan as much as I do!  How do I know that?  Here's what happened.

I was sitting at my desk with the fan near me, but not turned on.  Ozzie came into the room, walked over, tail loosely wagging with a goofy grin on his face.  He proceeded to nudge my arm gently, so I obliged with a few pets and lovies.  When I moved my hand away, he very pointedly looked at me, then looked at the fan, then looked at me again.  I said, "Do you want me to turn the fan on?"  He literally huffed and looked at the fan again.  I turned the fan on and he immediately plopped down between my chair and the fan, so it would blow cool air on us both.  Pretty smart dog, right?  I like to think that I'm a pretty observant human as well ;)  

So, why am I sharing this anecdote with you?  Because this is basically an example of dog charades; Ozzie was using his body, his voice, pointed glances, and contextual cues to get me to turn away from my computer and turn on the fan.  While I initially thought he wanted attention, I think that was secondary to his desire to have the fan turned on!  I'm not sure what he would have done if I'd ignored his nudge, but my guess is that he would have gone to lay down elsewhere in a huff, waiting for me to look up from my computer so he could try again. 

One more fun anecdote:  Desi is a very chill dog.  He doesn't demand attention, but he is always happy to receive it.  There is one exception to Desi's easy-going disposition and that is meal time.  If it's 8 a.m. or 5 p.m. and Desi hasn't been fed yet?  He'll let you know.  If I'm folding laundry at the back of the house, Desi will find me and solicit lovies.  As soon as I pet him, however, he starts to bounce around and stare at the door out of the room.  If I try to walk anywhere else other than toward the kitchen, he literally herds me in that direction! And if I ask Desi if it's dinnertime when he finds me, he'll wag his tail and bark, trotting off toward the kitchen, looking back to make sure I'm following him.  You see, dogs play charades with us ALL THE TIME!

Ever had your dog walk up to you and bow outside of the realm of play?  More charades.  This is your dog saying, "Hey there human.  I'm interested in engaging your attention."  I like to think that it's similar to one person walking up to another and getting their attention with a touch to the shoulder or forearm.  It's not demanding, but it does indicate an interest in engaging.

I know I've said it before, but it bears repeating.  Dogs are really good at reading our body language and facial expressions, much better than we are at reading theirs. Humans always seem to assume that they are the superior communicators, but I beg to differ.  Take away our words and we're back to playing a challenging game of charades as well, trying to make our needs and desires known.  Dogs have mastered charades and they are in it to win it.  There is one thing, however, that can really throw a wrench in the works and that is when dogs live with people who don't take the time to observe them and learn their language. Owners who ignore the bark or whine in the middle of the night, for example, might be missing out on the fact that a car pulled up out in front of your house, there's a skunk in the yard, or the carbon monoxide detector isn't working, but their noses are.  Dogs can only tell you what you are willing and able to hear/see.  

Now, I realize observing dogs is a big part of my job.  I encourage all of you, however, to spend just a bit more time on it as well.  First of all, it's very enjoyable.  Second, your dog will appreciate your efforts, much like that person playing charades with you would jump up and down and touch their nose with their finger when you guessed their clue correctly. You may be surprised to discover all the things your dogs have been trying to tell you that you were too busy or distracted to notice.  Really is surprising that they don't get more frustrated with us overall.  Please share some of your stories with me as I truly enjoy them.

As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

Not the best photo, but you can see Ozzie has successfully told me to turn on 
the fan so we can both stay cool in the office.

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