Dog’s Eye View: Cellphones among other training tools
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
She was practicing a sit, stay with her dog. All was going well. There was good eye contact and focused attention between dog and owner. It was lovely to watch. Then she got her out her cellphone and checked the text. Her dog immediately got up and walked away.
I’ve written so often about the power of eye contact and of true engagement. In class, we teach our students how to “end a conversation with their dog.” It can be as simple as looking away and perhaps also saying, “All done.”
There’s more to this story, and it’s not just the interrupted engagement. I believe technology is a good thing, but just how we are affected by it can be alarming. We seem to have unwittingly drawn our dog into the high tech world of cellphones. The interesting thing about this is that dogs, being so adaptable, are going right along with it. Cellphones are just a part of their daily communication with humans.
The other side of the above story, as told to me by a friend, is of a man whose dog was inadvertently taught to hold a solid sit, stay by bringing out his cellphone and staring at it in order to time how many seconds his dog would stay. His phone had become a visual part of his dog’s cue to stay.
Sigh. Well, OK, why not? For years we have used our hands to give signals to dogs. Hands are attached to the end of our arms so they are conveniently always with us.
Anymore, it seems as if cellphones are conveniently attached to our hands. Has dog training come into the age of technology? Yes, in many ways such as access to current training techniques. But are we eliminating the beautiful human/dog bond that takes the form of eye contact on its many levels?
When my feisty, little terrier mix, Lawrence, lies on his back on my lap, he leans his head back and gazes into my eyes. I also gaze back at him, and we just look at each other, both blinking softly and slowly and breathing deeply.
This is one of the most peaceful times that I can share with him. I can honestly say that I feel a sweet peace and calm when we do this. It feels like Lawrence is inviting me into his world and saying, “Let’s just fully be together for a while.”
Studies have revealed that dogs are one species that follow our eyes with their eyes. If we look at them and then look at some object, dogs can follow our eyes to that object.
If we give a hand cue to lie down to our dog such as moving our hand from his nose straight to the ground in front of him, following our hand with our eyes, he can then see that we are watching our hand and follow it to the floor.
Dogs use eye contact constantly in communication with each other and with us. They can give us a direct hard stare. This is a threatening look, indicating, “Stop. Back off!”
Soft, oblique eye contact indicates nonthreatening and affiliative behavior. Showing the white area around the eye, called “whale eye,” indicates stress or threatening behavior.
I’d rather have my dog look at me than at my cellphone. I’m not a robot. This is a fact that I occasionally have to declare on the internet. However my dog responds to my eye contact conversation. I don’t interrupt that even if my phone is beeping.
Sandra Kruczek is a certified professional dog trainer at Total Teamwork Training with more than 30 years of experience.
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