Bridging the language barrier

I took a dog training class Sunday where I learned how to properly walk a dog. Inspired, I came home and decided we would finally teach Abe the proper way to walk on a leash. Generally, we let Abe’s nose guide him, so he walks in a series of loops and swirls, and Greg and I have to dance around each other to avoid becoming tangled. We also have to feel embarassed every time we meet a well-behaved dog, a dog that calmly heels next to its owner while Abe strains against the leash, drools, and whimpers, dragging us toward the well-behaved dog.

We will tolerate that embarassment no longer.

Abe took to the training like a natural. We have had to correct him a few times during each walk, but for the most part, he stays right at our heels. But the training couldn’t be that easy. There had to be a problem. And there is.

Sometimes we get tired of having Abe at our heels and want to give him the freedom to sniff around. On our first walk, Greg got Abe’s attention and said, “Release!” in a happy voice. Abe stared, dumbfounded.

“Release!” Greg said again, shooing Abe with his hands. Abe remained still. He watched Greg with a slightly furrowed brow, his tongue dangling from his mouth.

I knew I had to step in. During the training class, I learned that dogs mainly communicated with body language. Most dogs need a long time to learn verbal commands, but they can almost instantly understand physical commands.

“Abe,” I said, “Release!” As I said this, I curled the top half of my body inward and tucked my arms to my chest. Then, I threw my arms outward as if I were about to welcome my soldier husband home from war. Abe took off. Success!

But not really success because in the past three days Abe still hasn’t learned the word “release.” He may never learn it because he already learned the body language. Greg and I will forever have to communicate with him in sweeping gestures, as though we are exuberant cheerleaders encouraging our dog on to victory. Instead of us being embarassed by Abe … well, can dogs be embarassed?

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