Judging by feedback, I may have struck a chord with some of you with the previous post. Or at least raised your eyebrows…That’s good, not because it increases my readership, but because I feel that this is only the beginning of something. There are a lot of questions yet to be answered about “Dog-Speak”. Input from others observations will be very valuable ,well into my research.
It seems fitting to start out with what the Communicative Approach Training & Theory” is NOT. Since I just noticed the coincidental acronym, I will be referring, in the future to the C.A.T.T. methodology! (That amuses me to no end!!)
Many that revile, or just want to criticize Cesar Millan, often refer to his use of the word “energy“. “What exactly does he mean by that?” they wail in derision. “Is it some sort of weird voodoo vibe that we’re supposed to either have or not have? It’s most certainly NOT scientific! If he had a degree he’d change his ways…He should just go away and let the real trained pro’s take the reins. ” Energy”, indeed!”
Let me say right up front, that the Communicative Approach Training & Theory (C.A.T.T.) will be based on scientific methods of theorizing, testing, questioning, and providing quantifiable evidence. But it will also employ those esoteric “feelings” that come when you practice observation without bias or preconception. It is not some dream world concept that summons the “dog’s inner-being”, or turns them into four-legged humans. I am not looking for the dogs existential existence as a sentient being. The dog is not expected to write poetry, or compose sonnets in its communication with its owner. IT’S A DOG. WHATS MORE, IT’S AN ANIMAL. But , this animal is symbiotic to humans as a matter of design…
I’m pretty down- to- earth about what I hope to discover. I understand what Cesar means by “Energy”. But the terminology turns some people away. I also understand that the constant refrain of “You need a Degree to be a proper Trainer!” is also silliness. Again, C.A.T.T. stands in between both, hopefully being able to unify them someday. It is my goal to develop new wording that best describes what dogs are “communicating” to us. I’ve already referenced the work of Roger Abrantes and his description of “Dominance”. That’s a Good start. http://rogerabrantes.wordpress.com/category/animals/behavior/
Simply stated, in the best scientific method, is this. I have a Theory that, “Dogs are trying to communicate with us everyday in a language peculiarly their own.” We just don’t understand it very well. And I don’t think we are applying ourselves to understanding them. We prefer to teach them “human communication”, (be it vocal languages, sign language, clickers or other crutches) because we feel it’s better. Superior even. This, I believe, is our mistake.
In May of 2011, this idea was first conceived. I posted a blog entitled “Letting the dog decide”. https://germanshepherdadventures.wordpress.com/2011/05/30/letting-the-dog-decide We had realized that Hansie was happier doing some types of work than others. He was simply bored with Therapy work, and he showed it. We “listened”, for the first time.
The C.A.T.T. idea developed on the human end of a long-line Tracking leash. I am a member of a canine Search & Rescue team, and have the rank of Lead Handler. We practice four days per week, 52 weeks per year. Including real world searches, practice, and competitions, we run more than 500 Tracks per year. Some are long and difficult. Others short and difficult. We challenge ourselves to improve constantly. It is there that I finally began to “listen” to my dog “talk” to me about what he was detecting. Gradually, I’ve learned to shut down my instincts about the movements of our “victims”. I’ve witnessed “Hans” go in the complete opposite of where I thought we should go. And he’s always right. He was always speaking to me, but I missed the conversation. Body language, narrowing of the eyes, a nose moving along a different sight line, a tongue flick…all bits of vocabulary in my German Shepherds language. Every book I read, every seminar I attended, “reading the dog” was discussed. Most of us missed the point entirely… in too big of a hurry to listen to the dog.
When this “language” finally got thru my thick skull on the Search trails, it occurred to me that maybe the dog was talking to me in other places. I also noticed other dogs that I saw regularly were “speaking” to me. The look in their eyes spoke volumes.
The first dog that I listened to clearly was a retired Law enforcement GSD named Heidi. https://germanshepherdadventures.wordpress.com/2011/06/29/ausdauerngeist-the-story-of-heidi/ She was an older girl, and had been retired from LE work by injury. She was rescued by a wonderful lady that was giving her the best possible home she could. But a few behavioral problems were developing, and her owner was at her wit’s end. What was Heidi’s problem? I spent a lot of time with Heidi, and her eyes and demeanor suggested to me that she had a hollow place in her life. Life with an elderly lady, was pretty sedate. After getting permission from her owner, I put a K-9 harness on her one fine morning. Her ears went straight up and her eyes brightened! Her hip injury wouldn’t allow her to be tried at a long trail, but I took her on a School Narcotics search, and she acted like a 2-year-old puppy! Obviously having been trained in this work, she had been bored out of her mind, watching Mom crochet at home. We even tried some less aggressive bitework, which she loved. She managed to COMMUNICATE with me. Now ,we still work with her a couple of times per month, and she remains healthy and happy at 13 years of age.
Other dogs that I see “speaking to me” with their eyes and bodies, are training at a local academy for Service dogs. This is a great program, that I support fully. However, these specially bred Labrador, talk to all that will listen about how they feel. They work hard, constantly. After a successful training period and placement with a needy person, they are alway “on the clock”. I read something in them that needs to be addressed. My first subject was a beautiful Chocolate Lab named “River”.
I am especially proud of this team, as I was privileged to play a part in their development. Several months before, a woman who saw us working every day, approached me. She wanted a Service Dog for her 10-year-old daughter. Amongst other physical limitations, the young girl could not speak. Long story short, I was able to introduce them to the program here in Central Ohio. Acting as a sponsor, I got to watch them meet their dog, train together, and form a bond. “River” is a wonder-dog. And Marlee, the young girl in this story, is a treasure to behold. They communicate in a special and intimate way, in the language that “River” is teaching Marlee. I visit as often as possible, and one day Marlee signed to me (she has learned ASL)that “River” was “lonely”. Marlee’s Mother could not understand what she meant by this, and we asked Marlee what she meant…She signed, “River ball want…play,play, run,go go. I impossible help him.” This hit me like a bolt of lightning. This 2-year-old Labrador, accustomed to sitting by the side of a paralyzed , speechless, little girl was dying for exercise. Marlee knew it, but her family and I had missed it. Entirely. And, I suspect that many other Service dog owners are also missing this. These dogs are so well “Trained” that they lose the “Dogness” about themselves. They are totally dedicated to their person. I look into their faces, and I see a small bit of anguish, tinged with dedication to their job.
We made the arrangement for Dad or big brother to play “retrieve” with River everyday for a few minutes. Marlee was ecstatic watching her partner play and be a dog. They both seem so much happier now. And we missed it. But River was able to get this thru to a young girl that depends on him for everything…That’s the Communicative Approach…
This is going to be an ongoing series of posts. I have much more that I’ve observed and tested. I’ll let you digest this for now, and I invite your civil responses. In the meantime, Go be your dogs friend…