Companion Dogs, Redd and Rikki, both use a
Language Board for canines evolved over time in
an effort to improve communication with the Foundation's
gorilla companion dogs. Most people who take care
of dogs know that they understand quite a bit of
spoken language, and can often demonstrate what
they want through actions, vocalizations or gestures
with their paws, heads or whole bodies. We thought
we'd extend their communication range by giving
them a new tool — a Language Board (see above
figure). The Language Board is fashioned from magnetized
plastic with a white coating, cut into squares that
adhere to surfaces such as refrigerators.
Using a magic marker, we printed frequently-used
words — such as hungry, yes, now, out,
play, food and drink — with
a simple illustration on each square. We refer to
these as icons. Alcohol applied with a
tissue will remove ink from the plastic surface
and allow easy changes to icons.
You can engage your dog with the Language Board
by pointing to the appropriate icon as you say the
word (under the appropriate circumstances) and encourage
the dog to point too, usually with his/her nose.
Initially, a treat held in the hand to get the dog
to follow your pointing action may be helpful.
The above 43 icons started as a set of about a dozen for the dog Rikki Power. As new situations arose, more icons were added. Note that the sketches can be very simple as long as the set is logically consistent. Feel free to use our language icons (we provide a standardized set in the figure below).
You may be wondering if the idea
for a Dog Language Board was influenced by our interspecies
communication research with gorillas (Project
Koko). The answer is yes. Koko has been exposed to words since the beginning of the project, and even as an infant was quick to discriminate identical objects marked with different words.
|Recently, the gorillas have
been using plastic container lids or cards with printed words and phrases to augment their sign language
communication with their humans caregivers.
It seemed natural to try
it out with dogs too. The Foundation's puppy Redd is particularly adept at communicating with phrases on plastic lids. These have the advantage of portability.
On a few occasions, Rikki and Redd have also removed
icons from the Language Board to leave a "note"
or make a point. Interestingly, as puppies, both
removed and attempted to destroy the bad
icon (note the teeth markes in the upper left corner
of this icon, above) even though we only use this
word in conversation (and never say "bad dog").
Learning occurs easily and very quickly with puppies from the time they are mobile until about 4-5 months, but older dogs can learn too.
We'll be posting occasional
updates on this topic in the interspecies communication
research section of our new website which is scheduled
to launch later this year.
(PS: If you're interested in exploring teaching
your dog to use a form of gestural sign language
adapted for canines, you may want to consult Sean
Senechal's web site animalsign.org.)
If you have any questions,
or would like to share your experiences using a
Dog Language Board, please email us at:
|Standardized Dog Language Board:
If you'd like to download a larger, hi-resolution PDF version of the above Standardized Language Board, click here