Last year I saw a video making the rounds. It showed a busy intersection in some Indian city, a dog and a policeman patiently waiting till the policeman decides it’s the right time to stop the traffic and let the dog cross. First off hat’s off to this policeman. His heart is made of gold.
Secondly, one can’t help but notice that the dog is actually waiting for the policeman’s cue on when to cross the road. How did this happen?
When I walk around on the streets, and come across a street dog, I often look to check if he or she is friendly and might be interested in some petting. Many times, a dog that seems to be trotting off somewhere on a mission, will stop dead on his tracks and turn back and look at me. Not a single word is exchanged. But the dog knows what my intentions are. I am sure many of you who stops to pet street dogs have experienced this. Before you’ve uttered a word, the dog knows what you plan to do.
Then I’ll notice the dog consider it for a second or two before either heading back on his mission or spending a few seconds with me. The beauty of dogs of course is that, most dogs will make those few extra seconds for me. Some won’t and that’s the free will that people keep referring to in dogs that they find hard to give up, if they go from being a street dog to an house-dog.
I bet if we were to film all street dog interactions with people and other dogs some fantastic observations and explanations will emerge. In the case of the policeman, an astute client of mine observed that he is in fact signalling to the dog to stay put, while he waits for the right moment. I spend a lot of time teaching many such signals to my client. So how did this policeman and dog know this signal already?
I tell all my clients this. I don’t know how or why these signals work. But they do. Dogs get it. And if we learn to get their signals, we have a full language that just seems to exist. Perhaps man and dog co-developed these signals to be able to work with each other. After all, wolves use these signals to work together as a pack. I don’t know and we need more studies on these signals. But I know they work. And the policeman in the video is my proof.
I have seen many people, who have not learnt the signals, use them on dogs. That tells me that we inherently know this language. It’s in our bones. People who interact with street dogs often tend to start picking up a few signals, if they are good in observing dog language. I have seen so many people in villages signal with ease. They just don’t seem to need dominance or clickers to get their dog to do very complicated things like figuring out when and how to follow the farmer (follow to field, not to the market), when to bark at strangers, where the boundaries exist, not to jump on people, not to “play bite” etc…
The earliest depictions of man and dog show them working together, not a main training a dog to sit. Man and dog can become a very successful inter-species partnership if we focus on communication, instead of training. Early man showed us it can be done. Start learning a new language today – dog language (formally documented as calming signals for reference).