Friday, July 23, 2010

SMILEY faces and biofeedback

Non verbal communication...learning how to read your dog adds such a rich dimension to your relationship. Their whole body tells a story, just like ours.

Their facial expressions especially eyes and ears are my favourite to watch. They can melt my heart, comfort me after a long day or bad day, make me laugh, let me know when they're bored and it's time to work or play.  Most importantly let me know when they need me to help them out.

You can kick things up a notch by learning how to capture their happy relaxed expressions along with calming signals and create a biofeedback loop. That was/is essential to know when you are working through behavioural challenges.

I like the way Leslie McDevitt explained it in Control Unleashed; " Every time your dog is in a physiologically relaxed state, his behaviour reflects that state.  If you mark and reward that calm behaviour, you are both reinforcing the relaxed state and sending your dog's nervous system a powerful message that eventually can cue relaxation."

I first learned about calming signals from Dogsmart, and they recommended  'Turid Rugaas book/dvd  atleast 8 years ago...then I think it was after a Dr. Patricia McConnell seminar on emotions, there was more research out relating to dogs specifically!   Mark Beckoff is one of my favourites who talk about, emotions in animals, to keep tabs on...(Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology).

I remember my "Ah Ha" moment...I was in a hurry to get to work and had brought my beagles outside to take their last pee before I left.  I remember saying 'quick pee', 'quick pee', and then a couple seconds later "quick pee" .. then looking down to see both of them stopped in their tracks, looking back at me and licking their lips. The expression on both their faces was IDENTICAL...pretty much telling me to calm the $#()@ down, I was driving them NUTS. I laughed so hard!  I was busted...

They tell me to calm down all the time, even now, as I can be happy excited about the littlest things.  I turn the tables as well when they're being pests :)

We have captured quite a few facial expressions on cue or that we will reciprocate.  Some even serve as a sort of inside joke.  It's helpful when you're teaching them cues, playing, trying to diffuse a tense situation or when I'm in conversation.  In conversations,  I  can let them know with a facial expression that I appreciate they're hanging out while I chit chat with happy, squinty eyes and tilt my head..a "how sweet and thoughtful sort of look".

I have made the mistake of being too excited in my expression when trying to tell them I appreciate their patience and to just stay put a couple more minutes.  By using a wide eye expression... bursting with excitement.. they got up as if I had cued "let's go!".  So if you can be consistent..and remember that if you want action, be expressive, wide eyes, big smile, excited!   If you want calm...use the full range of sleepy, relaxed facial expressions, slow deep breathing, big sigh...It really helps them fine tune what your expressions mean when you're consistent.  Wonder if anyone else notices that with their dogs.  Click to Calm is another great book!

It also comes in handy to diffuse a tense situation when they are over their head emotionally and need direction on what to do to work their way out of a sticky situation ( leash dogs...or people who are over the top).  They spend much of their lives reading body I don't see how facial expressions would be an exception.

HAPPY, soft, squinty EYES are my favourite!  They're so very different from Daisy's 'Bert" expression, I call it.  Closed mouth and impatient eyes when she's bored and wants a job to do!

I'll have to take pic's this weekend, my laptop died along with most of my photos...what a hard way to learn to BACK UP photos!!!! ...

 Happy Daisy waiting for me to play.

We're almost to the Estuary, one of George's favourite trails!

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