We teach our dogs “Watch me” for a number of reasons. I, for example, mostly use it to distract Lilly from anything that might upset her. Since her list of scary things is ever growing, we spend a lot of time looking at one another. Truth be told, she passes the better part of every day monitoring my every move and every word. Lilly is the queen of watching me. Yet, there’s a bigger reason we want our dogs to watch us.
On page 177 of her book “Animals in Translation,” Temple Grandin, PhD, explains it like this: “Through all the years dogs have been living with humans they’ve developed a lot of ability to read people, to know what people are thinking and what they’re likely to do. We know this from research comparing dogs to wolves. Even a wolf who was been hand-reared by human beings never acquires the ability to read people’s faces the way any normal dog does. A human-reared wolf mostly does’t look at his master’s face, even when he’s in a situation where he could use his master’s help. Dogs always look at their owner’s faces for information, especially when they need help.”
When I read that, something clicked.
Yes, I want Lilly to focus on me when she’s scared, rather than the trigger-du-moment. But, I also have a responsibility to use my face to instruct her. Not only does this highly sensitive border collie read every inflection of my body, but she reads my face too.
I’d best learn to be a better actor real soon.
In the book, Grandin often discusses these topics in relation to animal aggression, especially towards people. On that same page, she says, “I think that as dogs were learning how to read us, we were learning how to read them. The reason dogs don’t hurt people more often is that dogs and people belong together.”
So, “Watch me” is more than an attention-getting cue. It’s a healthy way to convey partnership and to say, “It’s you and me, kid.”