"Once I knew only darkness and stillness...
my life was without past or future...
but a little word from the fingers of another
fell into my hand that clutched at emptiness,
and my heart leaped to the rapture of living."
I read the above quote, and I can only imagine the excitement that Helen Keller felt as she realized the meaning of her first word. That moment when she started to connect to the world around her and there was a way for her to understand what was going on. Information! Our minds crave information. Dogs are no different in that regard. They are constantly trying to gain information through their senses. We all feel more comfortable when we know what to expect and are familiar with what is going on around us.
I talk to all my dogs and I sign to Grace. They pick up words and phrases whether I really intend for them to or not. I think they enjoy knowing what is coming up next and what things are called. No, they may not particularly enjoy nail trimming time, but knowing it is coming helps them to prepare themselves for it. It is not a surprise. They know they must lay still and tolerate nail trimming and then I will pay them well with special treats. But no one runs away when I announce that it is time to do nails. Once one dog’s nails are done, they get their treat and then the next dog comes over for their turn. I do not have to chase them down or try to trick them into letting me catch them. They know what is going to happen because I told them before I sat down on the floor.
I wanted to find a way to open that communication up to Treasure as well. She was very good at getting around the house and yard after a short time of exploring, but it seemed odd to live next to this being that only lived in silence and darkness. I carried or led her here and there and she was accepting, but I couldn’t help but wonder if she had any idea where we were going or why. I needed to find a way to tell her about her day. I wanted to open up her world to that excitement the other dogs felt when they knew we were going outside or for a ride in the car.
Obviously talking to her with only words was not going to help. Nor would the hand signals I used with Grace, although I did find myself automatically using hand signals with Treasure a bit at first. Each time was followed by a “duh” moment when I realized she could not see me! So I needed to develop a language based on touch and sensation. I was already starting to teach her some touch cues for behaviors, but this was different. These were not necessarily behaviors that I wanted from her. What I wanted to do was just name certain things for her.
I started to name inside, outside, meal time, bed time, crate time, and car. I didn’t start everything all at once. This was all new to both of us. I needed to go slowly for me, so I could remember the touch signs I was developing and learn to use them consistently so Treasure would learn what they meant. I needed to go slowly at first for Treasure because the whole idea of learning was new to her. I hoped that once she caught on to the idea, I could go a bit faster with the process.