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Dogs Can Sign, Too – A Breakthrough Method For Teaching Your Dog to Communicate – By Sean Senechal

Have you ever wanted to sit down and have a chat with your dog? Or just ask your pooch “Why are you barking?” Well, that might just be possible according to Sean Senchal. In her book, “Dogs Can Sign Too,” she presents a method of communicating with your dog — a system of gestures she calls “K9Signs” that could allow your dog to “talk” to you. The goal is to teach dogs to use this sign language to ask for things, ask or answer questions, and respond to your commands or comments.

Senechal has created an “academy” (the AnimalSign Center) where people work daily with dogs and other animals to see exactly what their limits are as “language learners”. The author stresses that it will likely be years before any definitive conclusions are drawn about the ability of non-primates to communicate with us, but she offers some examples of what she has been able to accomplish working with her own pets.

One example involved her dog Chal with whom she has worked for many years. Chal walked into a room where Senechal was talking to a friend and tapped a storage drawer with her nose, then raised her right front leg which is K9Sign for an item. When Senehal made the sign for ‘What?’, Chal raised her right foreleg and tapped it lightly, the sign ‘keys’. The writer opened the drawer and there was the key to the courtyard gate. Chal immediately ran to the gate and waited for Senehal to open it for her.

This story may not seem that unusual or interesting. After all, I had a border collie whose parents herded cattle and sheep and was able to respond to a wide variety of hand and voice signals. The main difference is that in Chal’s case she not only responds to various signs, but offers her own canine signs. If you thought Lassie was brilliant, imagine a pack dog who could come up to you and sign “Lamb caught under a branch in yonder gully; wild cat sneaking up on her — hurry up.” This is the exciting part of K9Signs. not just the ability to communicate but the complexity of information that can be exchanged with just a few signs.

K9Signs training, as Senechal points out, is fundamentally different from obedience training. It requires that you encourage your dog to show creative behavior rather than obedience. Your dog needs to be encouraged to initiate communication and make requests rather than just responding to commands. Talking involves give and take, a two-way method of communication and this means your dog should feel free to ‘talk back’.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember in K9Sign training is to make signing fun. If your dog is obviously having trouble understanding what you’re doing and seems to be getting frustrated or losing interest, back up and try to break the lesson down into simpler steps and reward the completion of each smaller step. Or go back to something your dog has already learned and enjoys (like playing with a favorite toy) and make that sign. Later you can return to work on the new sign. Senechal constantly emphasizes the importance of patience, rewards, and slow, easy steps in teaching K9Signs.

I’m not sure I’d have the patience to train K9Sign and really, like most dogs, my two already communicate with me without animal signing. For example, my Lab will bark and let me know if someone comes to the front door. But if we could use K9Signs, who knows — maybe it could tell me “Pat at the front door, he’s got pizza” or “Two strange men at the front door, they smell friendly.” Or instead of just walking around anxiously, maybe our Rottweiler could tell me “Feel bad – you need to go outside and eat grass”. It would take a lot of time and patience, but maybe one of these days I’ll work up the courage to try K9Signs (and find out what my dogs are really thinking).

If you are interested in learning more about Sean Senechal’s K9Signs system or the painting method in general, her books “AnimalSigns To You” and “Dogs Can Sign Too”, are both available at http://www.amazon. com.

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