Monday, October 25, 2010

AnimalSign Workshops in Beaverton, OR - helping animals and people communicate in new ways!

Mid October Amber at ForwardStride Barn ( hosted (with Laurel's help) both dog K9Sign and horse EquineSign workshops. It was fun and rewarding for all of the humans (myself included) and the animals. Landing in the Portland airport was a blast. I enjoyed fabulous food, sampled great coffee, and interesting shops. I see why the Portland Airport is considered one of the best in the nation. Arriving at the barn, I saw the beautiful landscape of Beaverton.

I enjoyed meeting everyone, with very diverse personalities, business women, artists, adolescents, horsewomen, and more. Participants (riders, trainers, volunteers, supporters) came from various locations, 2 flew in from Washington, one was planning a science project for school on this 'AnimalSigning'. Several were barn members, volunteers, and riders. A few trailered their horses in from their home. All wanted better communication with their animals. And that they got!

There were several companion dogs, the barn dog, some dogs previously trained for service for blind people, each with distinct personalities. All were very interesting and had cool stories to tell of their relationships with their dogs and horses. Some dogs had interesting stories to tell as well. We listened!

During the dog class one black lab dog kept trying to communicate something to us (and to another dog), initially we tried to quiet him. But we soon realized that he was really communicating something special. So, his communication became part of the class lesson. The dog really wanted to be with another black lab, but his behavior was atypical. He let out a unique vocalization that his person hadn't heard before. So, with the other dog's person she logically traced his history and figured out what he was saying. It turns out that the black lab had been school mates (at a dog's for the blind school) with another black lab in the class. When we figured out what he was saying (and why he so wanted to play with his previous buddy) we gave him time to do so. We reinforced and labelled that sound as his word for 'FRIEND'. (Of course, he already knew that, WE had to realize it.) Now that his person knows that, the next he makes that sound, she'll reinforce it, and know what he is saying. Simple!

AnimalSign is the umbrella term that includes signing, gesturing, vocalizing, tapping, touching as a means of communications (beyond natural). We work with the form of communication dogs prefer. Though the class was focused on gesturing, we had the opportunity to work with the some surprize gestures and vocalizations, thanks to the friendship of two dogs. Signing on the spot!

There were companion, service, and therapy animals of all sizes. Each day we started with the human learning part of the workshops. That is most of the work. People gained insight into what communication is really all about, and how once you have improved it with your animal, life gets easier for both of you. We covered basics of conditioning and feedback and practiced skills.

Fascinating watching each dog learn to sign Food, Toy, or Water! Each animal's learning curve was unique. People took delight in observing the dogs thinking and learning style. Everyone learned something! I was thrilled with the learning progress of people and animals.

The next day, we moved on to horses. We started with the 'Shhh' human sign to calm the horses. We taught the horses to understand the sign YES! (followed by reward). Then we began to teach Food, and some horses Carrot and Apple. The horses learned very fast, and all were VERY interested in the new interaction. One horse became more centered after apparently realizing this 'game' involved taking turns. Another horse offered the signs for Food, Apple, and Carrot sign on his own. Everyone showed off and was proud of the progress their partners made.

Finally, I taught everyone the necessary human sign 'LATER' to be used when the animals decide tbey really get what we were doing (encouraging them to communicate). Surely, the animals will be communicating (all too often) that they want Food, Food, and more Food. They must do so politely and do need to learn limits, too.

A few people requested techniques for improving bad behavior (a horse with rider diving for grass). I offered ideas on how AnimalSign can be used to improve behavior through communication! I'll do that in person on the next trip. We'll be planning another round of beginner workshops, and follow-up classes and private lessons on my next trips. They've only JUST begun to communicate!

After the workshop, I was tired, thrilled, and off to the airport for a nice dinner and reflection on the fulfilling weekend helping people and animals connect in new ways.

Thank you and you are very welcome! See you soon!

The AnimalSigner!
Sean Senechal

Sunday, August 22, 2010

DogSigning at Border's in Santa Cruz, Ca

Chal K9Signs BOOK and Sean and Chal present.

GS Chal and I presented a dog and book K9Signing demonstration in downtown Santa Cruz, at Border's bookstore 8-21. Many people listened and made comments as I discussed my book Dogs Can Sign, Too. Chal signed food, chicken, liver, ball, toy, frisby, human and practiced her K9Sign for DOG.

Two other dogs came to the event. One was a lab hearing dog, Seaton, a student of mine. Chal and Seaton liked each other, and they both signed in sync as I asked them what different foods were. Before Seaton showed up, Chal was just of normal energy, but once she saw/sniffed him, she was energized and ready to show off. I took the opportunity to work more with her on the K9Sign DOG. 'Is DOG,' I said, as I pointed to Seaton. Then I molded her left hind to touch her right hind. I asked her 'What's that?' pointing to Seaton, and Chal lifted her hind left leg toward her right. Good job! I let her then sniff him as the reward.

As we wrapped up, several people leaving from the demo told people in the mall about how they must see this signing dog, Chal. So as we were about to leave another group came in to see this signing dog. So, we unpacked and presented another round of signing. One person had a puppy that Chal was very interested in. She mothered the puppy well. At one point when the puppy nibbled her nose, Chal was not happy and educated the pup to not do that. Then, Chal wanted to sniff and play again with the pup, who was a bit more careful. Good lesson.

By the time we were done, about 30 very interested people had seen Chal sign. I hope I convinced them of the value of teaching dogs to communicate to us. We spend much time being sure we can communicate what we want to them, teaching them sport, companion, or work tasks. We should help them be more 'literate' with respect to the canine potential (which still needs to be examined more deeply). (Not literate as we humans are, of course.) It is about time we also focus on helping them communicate more (than they already do) to us--in a way we can understand and that they enjoy.

Our next event will be at Border's in Palo Alto in the fall, then off to Portland, OR for workshops for horses and dogs.

The AnimalSigner

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Therapy K9Sign Dog Chal visits classroom

GS Chal and I visited a wonderful classroom full of delightful children in Gilroy, Ca. She and I K9Signed to each other and the class. We showed how dogs can communicate and how people and dogs should treat each other - politely. Chal demonstrated many signs, then let each student come up, ask to pet her, then petted her gently.
It was a hot day, so Chal asked/signed for WATER. But, mostly she wanted CHICKEN, which she signed often--even behind my back. Chal was comfortable in class, and the kids were also comfortable with her. We hope we showed the students how to behave around dogs and how well-behaved they can be.
We'll be visiting more classrooms this fall.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Border's in Sand City

Book and K9Sign Event at Border's Bookstore in Sand City, Ca. happened last Saturday, July 10th, 2010. Chal greeted many domestic and foreign people, both adults and kids. She sat next to one child who was reading a book. Chal signed Food, Water, Frisby, Toy, Ball, Liver, Chicken, Human, Animal, and more.
I explained the idea of teaching dogs to communicate, so we can understand each other better. By the time we were done, we'd talked or signed with about 30 people. Chal was tired and took a nap.

Chal and Sean at Signing.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

K9Sign at Eastminister Pet Show

The Eastminister Pet Show in Carmel brought together many animal groups and events April 3, 2010. I showed off one of my first Bijon poodle students, Romeo, with his special person Susan Bradley (
Romeo signs FOOD clearly with his left paw as I show him food. His also signed OBJECT with his right when we showed him a cell phone. StarLight, my Border collie who was there to get used to all the excitement enjoyed the energy at the show. I met several interesting people who were just fascinated with all a dog could do with some language education.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Borders Bookstore Book and Dog Signing-Los Gatos

Chal and I just returned from the Los Gatos Border's Book/Dog Signing Event. We met around 30 people, of all ages, many kids. Chal greeted them as they approached our table. A few kids were scared of dogs and Chal, being that she is a large GS. But, Chal sat and lifted her paw, and the kids were able to gently pet her.
The store was having a sale on bunny rabbits, so I asked Chal to tell us (sign) what a stuffed bunny I held was. She signed TOY. I gave her a treat after she signed FOOD. She signed CHICKEN, LIVER, CHEESE, FOOD.
I explained some of the uses for dogs and humans of teaching dogs to sign:bonding, communication, enrichment, less frustration, service skills, and helper. Dogs can tell you more about what they are thinking. This helps dogs and human.
A dog can tell you why they bark. Say there is a fire and your dog runs barking at you. If your dog knew how to sign, s/he might do so and tell you FIRE.
I had Chal demonstrate her sign FIRE. I lighted a small match, blew it out and asked Chal 'what's that?' and she said FIRE by spinning.
As people stopped by our table, we chatted. A language teacher was very interested the language development angle.
I discussed my book and how the core idea involves viewing dogs as language learners, capable of so much more expression than what they naturally know. If we would just spend more effort teaching them language (both how to understand us AND how to communicate back), their true potential will be known.

That is what K9Sign is all about!