A little background on how Siren and I met. As is the case with a lot of medical detection work, the dog naturally picks up on changes in body chemistry and alerts the owners. Dogs speak, but the key is listening to what they are saying. Sirens owners picked up on her alerts, and decided they needed help in the basics and enhancing her abilities so she can become a proper service dog. That is where I came into the picture.
I have been working with this couple and “Siren”, training her for asthma alert. They had a physical therapy session and we had one of our training classes there as this will be a common trip they take together. I have Siren in a down/stay. She begins to get agitated, even more so than normal as she is barely a year old and high-energy! She does not break her position, but she starts whining and I could tell she wanted to jump up. I knew immediately what she was doing, took her right over to her owner and sure enough she started signalling for an oncoming attack.
This behavior and response initiated a conversation with the physical therapy personnel. They were aware of the need of Siren, the purpose she served and that we would be having these types of classes every so often with them. They were very accommodating and accepting, making sure we could arrange for our training when there were no other patients around initially. But they had not witnessed her in action before and it led me to a deep conversation which then lead to this blog.
Both of the physical therapists had a dog, both had a tight bond with them. Of course they had heard stories of how dogs had detected cancer, or alerted to seizures, etc. Neither had witnessed it, and neither understood how it really worked. Of course there is the scientific side of it, but from a trainers perspective it comes down to listening and understanding the language of the dog. When the dog speaks, are you listening to them or is it just “noise” to you?
When Siren tells her owner of an oncoming attack, she now speaks very clearly. She initially did a combination of jumping and licking. We curbed the jumping (not proper behavior for any dog but especially a service dog) and encouraged the licking. But we also had to limit the licking to just her owner. Now all involved understands when Siren speaks, what she is saying and the proper response.
So many times it is not that simple, or people tend to just ignore/overlook the behavior. Your dog will have common behavior traits that it will exhibit daily, any deviation from those traits will be their attempt to communicate a change. That change can be with them, with their environment or with you.
By listening to your dog you can build your bond even stronger. They are very intuitive and we can take advantage of that great gift! So when your dog speaks, listen to what they have to say. You never know, it just might save your life or the life of someone you love.