Can and Will

As a result of my just talking to him, one of the things Max has picked up is the phrases "Can I pick you up?" and "I'm going to pick you up." "Can I pick you up?" is used when it is optional. For instance, he is often more comfortable in the presence of strangers if I pick him up so he is at eye level. He also may find the terrain we are walking in difficult given his small size - he doesn't always like walking in tall grass where he can't see where he is going. He has started offering the behaviour of coming and sitting on my right side in response if he wants to be picked up and moving away and to my left if he does not.

Of course, sometimes Max has to be picked up. He might need to get up on the exam table at the vet. I might be picking him up to deal with a hazard like a hot street we are crossing. Often if strangers are coming over I don't give him the choice and just pick him up because I know he is less stressed that way. For those situations I tell him "I'm going to pick you up." and he knows what is coming.

Having these kinds of options is a great thing for your dog to have. I plan to generalize Max's use of positioning to say yes or no here for other situations, so he will be able to answer yes or no questions using vocabulary he has learned.

Talking To Your Dog

When Pico and I were talking our service dog training class, our instructor told us to talk to our dogs all the time. She said that if we told them what we were doing as we did it, named items and otherwise just talked to them conversationally, they would pick up words and phrases. I did this with Pico and she picked a vocabulary of hundreds of spoken and ASL words and phrases. She knew more ASL than I did because other people used it with her and she had a better memory.

I have done this with my subsequent dogs as well and while they haven't picked up as much vocabulary as Pico, they certainly have picked up quite a bit. Remember that they didn't spend 24 hours a day with me like Pico did as a Service Dog.

Having a large vocabulary isn't just a dog party trick. It allows you and your dog to communicate wants and needs and builds your relationship.

Camera Shy Dogs

brown chihuahua type dog in a fabric box with rags
Max Doesn't Like Photos

Many dogs don't like their photo taken. This includes many of the dogs you see in super cute photos. If you think about it, most photography involves looking directly at the dog - or to put it directly staring. For some dogs, a camera lens (sometimes even on a phone) feels like another eye as well. Staring is rude in dog language and that naturally makes many dogs uncomfortable. Some of the behaviours that commonly show up in photos are dogs looking away, whale eye, nose licks, various facial positions (see Max in the photo for some good examples) and holding themselves in various postures that express stress like a rounded topline.

This doesn't mean that you should never take photos of your dog, but you should work with them to make it more enjoyable.