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My dog is a Newfie/border collie mix. She's smart as a whip, very attentive, and likes to "scout" for me when we're outdoors--which is great because I'm out here in the forest alone. She trains very well and has a pretty good understanding of words.

However, she is not very demonstrative when it comes to communicating with me. She'll sometimes sit in front of me and bark once, obviously trying to tell me something. It might mean "I'm hungry," or it might mean "I want to go outside." I've started saying to her, "Show me." I'd like that command to cause her to do something, such as head in the direction she wants me to go. But she's not understanding what I want her to do.

I'd like to build on this concept of communication, but I don't know how to get her to understand that I'm not a mind-reader. She has to do something to let me know what she's thinking. How would you go about teaching her this?
 

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sometimes, you can make a game out of it. Think about what you want her to accomplish. If you want her to go to the door, you could for example, put a small piece of tape or post it note by where you want her to touch it with her nose. (or go to the door and say cheeriily--'outside!' or whatever.
Build on it; reward her each time she makes an effort, keep encouraging her. Have fun with it.
I'm not a trainer; a few years ago, I began training my dog to assist my special kid. Turned out, she didn't need a dog to help her, but I had fun teaching her stuff.

It might take a bit to do that. It's part of the fun.
 

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In your case, I’d teach her to do something specific when I feed her. Maybe offer a paw. When she looks at you and offers her paw, you know it’s dinner time or breakfast time (she should be fed twice a day). You might find she is out of water.

For outside, you can have her sit at the door out of the way of the swing (so, behind you). When she sits at the door you know she needs to go out. If that isn’t plausible, you can teach her to offer the opposite paw, or roll over. Go to the door, get her to roll over using a treat, then letting her out. Then after twenty times omit the treat and let her out. Sign language.
 

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Just be sure to think about what you're doing -- do you want your dog to "tell you" ever time it is hungry? (Or wants food, not really the same). Or do you want them to ring a bell on the door every time they want to go out?

Your answer might be yes - and that's fine. Just be sure to think through your plan. I don't want my dog ringing a bell on the back door to signal me that he wants to go out, because I am quite sure he will ring it every time he's bored, not just when he has to go potty. I also would be hesitant to teach a dog to bark or "paw" if it is hungry (or wants to eat) - just like I don't want my horses to paw either. I am the one that decides when it's time to eat, so I don't need the dogs to tell me (they would be obese). ;)

In general, I would think that a dog sitting in front of you and barking is a request for attention more than anything else. "Hey, mom, I got a great idea...let's do something!"

If you do want to teach a cue, like to ring a bell to go out, you would start by ringing the bell every time YOU take the dog out. (And only then). I am sure if you do some searching you could find step by step plans to teach this specific cue.
 

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Try making the move first. If she is trying to tell you something, start moving forward. Likely she will recognize she has got you moving and turn to head towards what she wants.

Its funny how it works between humans and dogs. I see people saying "sit, sit, sit" to their dogs and it much appear exactly to them as them barking appears to us. I wonder if they get on their dog forums and make threads like this. :)

If you give him a command, he has to make a move to figure out what it is you want, and then receive praise if he is successful. I try and reciprocate this with my dogs, and if they tell me something, just start moving and watch their queues to see if I am doing it right or not.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
It's not really the "I'm hungry" or "I want to go outside" that matters to me; those were just examples of how she's not very demonstrative. I was actually hoping that I could get her to understand the need to communicate in a more demonstrative way and begin applying this to unrehearsed situations. For example, if I were out in the forest and got hurt, it would be important for her to be able to communicate to a neighbor that there was trouble and that they needed to follow her. Am I being unrealistic? Somebody recently accused me of wanting "Lassie," but knowing my dog, she's quite eager to take charge in an emergency. She just doesn't communicate well.
 

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I would think that getting help for you would have to involve a specific command. My dogs all know what get your Dad means and in an emergency I can use it.

I taught it as a game and we still play the game regularly. You need to wait til they go to a specific person and treat or praise. After a few times, I added, "go to Dad"when they were already on their way. 20, 30 times later I tried it before they were showing signs of moving. For me, it worked first time. Big bonus treats!

If it doesnt work first time, go back a step and practice more.
 

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We taught our dogs the bell ring for potty times. They don't abuse it now. At first they may have rung it a few more times than necessary, but if that happened we'd just remove the bell for a while (tuck it behind the door when you close it).
 

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For example, if I were out in the forest and got hurt, it would be important for her to be able to communicate to a neighbor that there was trouble and that they needed to follow her. Am I being unrealistic? Somebody recently accused me of wanting "Lassie," but knowing my dog, she's quite eager to take charge in an emergency. She just doesn't communicate well.
Yes, I think you're being unrealistic. You can train a dog many things, but you can't necessarily train it to think like you would think. Some dogs are more intelligent than others, but that's still not the same thing as being intuitive and able to communicate with humans.

If I were in the forest and got hurt, I might expect my dog to go hunting without me. :) LOL. Actually, he might be more likely to just stay with me, which would be a comfort, but not actually a help.
 

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Agree with the others - you need to associate cues with different actions so you have a common language to reference.

For instance, my dogs know "food" "potty" "swim" "walk" "play" etc. Then I can cycle through them when they seem like they want something: "Want food?" "Want a walk?" "Want to swim?" etc. You can name just about any thing and any action.

Once they understand this, I can progress to "What do you want?" So if it's something new, I can say, "What do you want?" and can often give them enough encouragement to demonstrate their desire. Once I figure out what it is, this new thing gets a name and goes into the lineup of possible cues. So they do begin to grasp the system of communicating want, but you start with cues that they already know.

That said, this doesn't really correlate with the idea of "finding help." Many dogs are very reluctant to leave an owner in distress. It's not a natural reaction for them - think of all the stories we hear about dogs staying by their dead companion's side after it's hit by a car, etc. They tend to remain close in emergencies, not run away - I suspect out of a sense of loyalty/protectiveness.

For that type of action, you could try researching Search and Rescue methodology for ideas. Something like "find Dad" as mentioned above could work, with you practicing farther and farther distances. But again, in general dogs will not want to leave their owner behind in an emergency. It goes against their instincts.

In the few cases I have heard about, a dog stayed with its injured owner, then alerted a passerby who came within a close radius. But they did not search for miles looking for help.
 

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For pawing for dinner I really meant a high five, not ripping my leg apart. You really need to think about what you specifically want before you teach your dog. I taught my dog “go home”. If he showed up at home without me, I’m not sure anyone would notice, or if they did that they would be concerned. In such an instance a cell phone is a better choice.

Clicker train your dog to do a few things. There are at least a dozen books out for clicker training and some of them have tricks that you could utilize.
 
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Yeah, we tried the bell at the door for one dog. She got it almost instantly, and then quickly realized I get up outta the Edith Bunker chair every time she rings it... So she began ringing it when she was bored and just wanted to see me. :-/

The bell went away pretty quickly.

We also use "Go find Daddy" and it's about 2/3 successful... Not sure he would come looking for me after she found him though. He just enjoys the peace and quiet when I'm not around! LOL!
 

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Discussion Starter #13
If I were in the forest and got hurt, I might expect my dog to go hunting without me. :)

Ha! I know what you mean!

I like the "Go find Dad" idea. Being more concrete, it wouldn't require a dog to reason through the situation--just obey. I've got a neighbor that my dog likes. Maybe I could train my girl to go to him. I'll also look into Search & Rescue techniques. I hadn't thought of that, either. Thanks, everyone--all your ideas have been great.
 

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I can tell you what I did many years ago when my son was very young. At that time I had a short-haired German Shepherd that was quite aggressive with all 4 & 2-legged creatures. (I had made the mistake when she was 3 months old of petting her and saying "good girl" when she barked/growled at a neighbor coming into my yard to say hello.)

I would have my son go and hide; then tell my dog to find David. Then I would take her leash and guide her to where David was hiding until she found him; then praise her highly. After a short while, she did not need the leash.

In your case, were she my dog, I would probably put a leash on her and say something like "outside???" then guide her to the door and take her outside. After awhile your "outside???" would be a question you would ask her were she barking in an apparent attempt to talk with you. If she did not go to the door, you would know it was something else. (Knowing your dog well will let you know what words to use and how to train her to identify your words.)

As for asking a dog to go and find someone to come help you should you need it, some dogs simply know this instinctively. When I was a child, the dog we had went after my mother when my sister and I got "hung" by the seat of our pants in a tree. To teach a dog this, you might need a second party with you. You lay on the ground and tell the dog to ??? (go do something) and the party with you guide the dog into doing that and bringing that person back to you...then praise the dog. Do this enough times and the dog learns that when you tell it to go fetch someone, it should do so.

Some dogs are just more attuned to their owners. Maybe it is the breed but I really think it is just the way the dog is raised, i.e. those raised inside the house seem to know more words than those raised strictly outdoors.

Any animal can learn to do what you want. I raise large Nubian goats and I've had them be helpful. One buck literally pushed a 26 ft tree trunk (laying on a wagon David was pulling while I balanced it) over 300 ft to the barn. One doe literally butted a large dog who was playfully pouncing over me after I had fallen. She butted that dog 3 times before that dog decided not to bounce anymore. I really think everything is instinctual for animals, especially if they have a strong bond with the human.
 
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