A recent twitter that appeared on this page extolled the virtues of signing, not with babies, but with dogs. Usually what this comment is referring to is the ability of dogs to understand hand commands to do things like sit, come, lay down, stay, etc. In some cases, these few are just the tip of the iceberg and owners report comprehension of many, many more signs.
Of course, as helpful as this ability is, it can’t hold a candle to what babies are capable of doing with signs. It’s hard to imagine a dog spontaneously signing “cat” when seeing a cat on a window sill, or spontaneously signing “sad” upon hearing another dog howl, or spontaneously combining the signs for “airplane” and “fan” when a helicopter suddenly appears overhead. And yet, these are just a few of the ways babies routinely use signs.
That said, my ears always perk up when I hear someone mention signing and dogs. The reason is that it reminds me of the day Dr. Susan Goodwyn and I (as co-authors of the book Baby Signs) appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show. It was, of course, tremendously exciting—all the way from 6:30 AM when a limo picked us up at our Chicago hotel, through the 4 hours in the “Green Room” getting hair and make-up done and simply waiting for the taping to actually start, and finally through the approximately 90 minutes of taping necessary to produce the footage that would finally be used in the show. Whew! We were drained by the end, but things had gone very well.
Another guest on the show didn’t fare as well, however. His name escapes me, but what I do remember is that he was a beautiful dog! His role on the show was to demonstrate just what we’ve been talking about here—that dogs are great at responding to sign language. The problem, however, was with the long stretch of time leading up to the grand moment when the dog and owner were seated on the stage in front of the audience. All the excitement, unfortunately, had been too much for the dog and all he wanted to do was sleep; he wouldn’t do anything! Needless to say, that segment never made it into the final cut. Susan and I felt so sorry for the owner!
Which brings me to the photo I’ve posted with this blog entry. To the right you’ll see my own favorite signing canine, Divot. (Obviously, I’m a golfer.) Divot comprehends a good number of hand signs and even some important words—like “dog park.” I’m not so sure, though, if she performs any signs, that is unless it counts that when I do say “dog park,” she jumps up and down like a jumping bean!
(By the way, this whole blog entry was so I’d have an excuse to post this picture. Is she cute with her “Baby Signs” T-shirt or what!?).
Happy Signing! (And don’t forget to visit us on Facebook.)
Linda Acredolo, Ph.D.
Co-Founder of the Baby Signs® Program
Professor Emeritus, UC Davis