Dogs do not naturally use language to communicate within their own species, they rely on body language. So teaching signs are helpful for some dogs and less confusing than words, if they have difficulty separating when you are speaking in general or speaking to them to give them a command. But to teach a dog to do more advanced stuff they need a level of greater understanding of our language than the basic commands of sit, stay, heel, down etc.
The first command needed to be ‘look’ (at me), I can’t always get words out well and he’d need to rely on working out what I was trying to sign… before he could work out what I was trying to sign/say he needed to understand what the words meant, so began the quest to teach him to associate a certain sound/sign with an action.
His most complex work was going to be following directions to get something for me.. either something I dropped that had rolled under a table or find my mobile in an emergency when I’d fallen over so he needed to learn vocabulary such as.. on, in, under, behind, go round, look, there (pointing), which, where is it?.. names of rooms.. so I had to have a think and create some games specifically to teach all the language he was going to need.
I start with simple single words.. IN.. JJ is IN the toybox
JJ.. put the ball IN the toybox
advancing to concept words such as ‘which’, ‘where is it? ‘, following simple directions.. one game was for him to choose a toy (learning the word which),
.. after choosing his toy.. (sheep) he left the room.. and I hid it in box of balls.. I make him sit before he comes in and first sign ‘box’.. to see if he would go straight to the box or randomly search the whole room. The next time I may sign ‘box’ then ‘in’, then ‘sheep.. box.. in’.. (the signs follow BSL structure not English).
Other useful language is ‘go round’.. that can also be used outdoors where I am often going along a pavement on road to find a car has parked half way up and scooter can not get past, if its a busy road I prefer the dogs to stay on the pavement. Inca will ‘go round’ between the car and wall.. JJ has been riding on scooter to pass them when he was small.. when he is more confident on busy roads and will stop and wait at the other side of the vehicle, he will do the same as Inca.
.. several of these skills will come together later for example the game where he was learning to post the letters in the plastic postbox combined with him been able to ‘go round’ between car and a wall when someone has parked too close to postbox and I can’t get scooter right up to it.. I can send him forward.. letter in mouth to post it!
We also play ‘find the phone’.. I start off in the room where he can see it ask him ‘where’ and point ‘look’.. even though he’s just seen me put it there he’s also learning to follow a pointed finger for when he didn’t see me drop/hide something… then we move outside of the room and I point back in ‘in the room’, ‘in the kitchen’, in the bedroom etc… if I fell in the bathroom in future and I knew my phone was ‘IN the room ON the table’ I can direct him where to look.