Dogs are sort of color blind. The anatomy of their eyes is different than ours, so they see yellow and blue, but no red as we do. Why? Canine eyes have fewer cone cells than we do, according to veterinary ophthalmologists. There is an upside; dog eyes have more rod cells than our eyes, enabling a dog to see better than we do in low-light conditions.
Those same sort-of color-blind eyes are superior in another way: they are built to detect moving objects more quickly than static ones. It’s logical. Moving things, prey. Motionless things, inedible. In the wild, a canid that can’t tell the difference could starve. You’ve probably seen this phenomenon at work. Dog, dozing in the yard. Squirrel, nibbling an acorn. All is quiet. Squirrel finishes his snack and scampers for a tree. Dog chases.
Knowing this, why not use motion to better communicate with your dog?
Probably by accident, I found that hailing my dogs from a distance with a raised hand was useful. But waving it back and forth got much better compliance. When I shared this revelation with a trainer friend of mine, he offered his own success story. Young dogs retrieve to hand better when that hand is opening and closing, a la’ making a fist. They power toward him as if he had a bigger bird in his hand than they did in their mouth!
Watch a retriever trainer, and you’ll probably see him throw an imaginary baseball in the direction he wants his dog to go. An eager Lab, sitting enthralled, follows his arm, does an about face, and streaks down a line behind him where a dead duck awaits his retrieve. Training a young dog to “come,” you’ll often have success if you run away from him.
Like many, when I’m training to a marked retrieve I’ll put my hand, karate-chop style, in my dog’s line of sight pointing at the dead bird. Just before I send him, I’ll give my fingers a little wiggle to make sure he’s looking straight down that line.
In the field, when I’m asking my dog to move left or right with arm signals, I’ll often start with my arm overhead, then arc it down to point in the direction I want him to go. Or, I’ll use “jazz hands” – wide open, fingers spread, and then wiggle the whole hand a bit. Sounds silly, but it works … and after all, we’re looking for clear communication between you and your dog, not an invitation to be on “Dancing with the Stars.”