Playing Charades with Dogs

The True Value of Patience

I have a deaf Pug. He wasn’t always deaf, though. Auggie gradually lost his hearing over the past year and a half. Now, he’s as deaf as a post, a door knob, a rock.

My little old man

I still talk to him all the time, just like I always have, except now Auggie can’t hear me. And, I feel cheated, like I’ve lost a conversation partner, a confidant. An interlocutor.

I know he couldn’t understand a word I said before; but, now he can’t even hear the words. That he couldn’t understand before.

He no longer turns his head to look at me with that wonderful look of expectation when I say his name. I think I miss that gesture the most.

Auggie’s life has always been a grand adventure and he’s always seemed to expect the best in any situation. Especially if treats were involved.

Now, stuck in a world without sound, you can almost see the wheels turning in his head. Trying to figure out what’s happening or what’s expected of him. Trying to tell me what he needs or wants. Sometimes, it’s a little painful to watch.

It’s like Auggie lost part of himself when he lost his hearing and doesn’t know how to adjust.

Playing Charades with Dogs

Unfortunately, god love him, Auggie is not the sharpest knife in the drawer. So, he’s never figured out referential signaling to the degree our other three dogs have – especially Millie.

Referential signaling is a non-verbal form of communication, a type of gesturing meant to convey a message. For instance, when Millie needs to go potty she comes over to me, stands up on her hind legs, puts her forepaws on my leg, and pushes while looking at my face. If I don’t respond right away, she pushes harder.

When she wants her belly rubbed, Millie lays on her back and wiggles back and forth – fast. Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle.

These are referential signals. I’ve tried to teach my dogs to use the Head Turn with no success whatsoever. The head turn is when your dog looks at you and then turns its head to look at an object s/he wants. Back and forth until you get the idea that your dog is pointing at something.

The variation I tried to teach my dogs is to walk in the direction I tilt my head. Like signaling someone across the room at a party that you want to head for the door. Never worked.

Referential signaling between dogs and humans is remarkable because it’s true inter-species communication arising from sharing existence for over 30,000 years. It’s especially amazing because young human children do it all the time.

What’s a Deaf Dog to Do?

But Auggie doesn’t seem to grasp the concept. So, he barks. A lot. His barking doesn’t really signal anything – unless he’s in his crate. Then, barking means, Let me outta this thing!

He also scratches the bottom tray of his crate when he wants out – like he’s trying to dig a hole under the prison walls. You know, that might be considered a referential signal because scratching at the bottom of his crate always means the same thing – Let. Me. Out.

Auggie’s barking is like being in a detective movie. We need to figure out what he wants because the poor guy can’t hear verbal queues any more. Outside? Drink? Toy? Treat? Walk? Those words, at least, he knew. Those words plus No Pee. Auggie has had a lot of practice with that one.

So, we need to figure it out. Fortunately, at 11-years old, Auggie is a creature of habit. He goes outside to the bathroom at certain times. He eats and gets his treats at about the same times every day. Others are trial and error.

Check the water dish to make sure our four dogs didn’t drink it dry – or wash their dirty paws in it. Toss his toy to see if he chases it – or give you that What’s wrong with you? look. Walk to the garage door where we keep his halter and leash – and see if he follows.

Or just give up and give him another treat. Probably what he wanted all along, anyway.

Driving in Circles

Having a deaf Pug is unfamiliar territory for me. Auggie’s learning how to cope without his hearing. Actually, he just plods along, oblivious to things like looking both ways before crossing the street. I’m learning that communicating with a deaf dog requires a new set of skills – and a healthy dose of intuition.

What I don’t want to do is be so focused on Auggie’s deafness that I drive around in circles – doing the same stuff over and over again – instead of exploring a circumstance that should bring us closer together.

How have you handled having your dog lose his/her hearing? How did it change your relationship? What did you learn from the experience? I would love to hear your stories.

Having a deaf dog teaches me the True Value of Patience

~ George

In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn’t merely try to train him to be semi-human. The point of it is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming partly a dog. – Edward Hoagland


Fantegrossi, D. (22 June 2018). Scientists decode the meanings behind 19 common dog gestures. Retrieved online at:

Wikipedia. (11 Feb 2004). Animal communication. Retrieved online from:

Zachos, E. (06 July 2018). Dogs use 19 signals to tell us what they want. Retrieved online from:

Zuberbuhler, K. (Dec 2003). Referential signaling in non-human primates: Cognitive precursors and limitations for the evolution of language. Retrieved online at:

A Short History of Dogs and People

From Then to Now

About a bazillion years ago, Mog the Mighty was returning home after a successful cave bear hunt to present a certain cavegirl cutie with a new bear-claw necklace. Even in prehistoric times, women loved jewelry; and, well, sabre tooth tiger-claw necklaces were so last season.

Evolution of Dogs
Saved from The New Yorker Magazine, 12 Oct 2015

Anyway, hearing a rustling in the underbrush and deciding to investigate, Mighty Mog found three frantic dire wolf pups trying to wake their mother who, unfortunately, had died.

Mog scooped the pups into his bag, thinking that between a dinner of puppy stew and the bear-claw necklace, that cute cavegirl would soon turn his lonely cave into home sweet home.

As the wolf pups squirmed inside the bag on his shoulder, Mog was thinking about the perils of a lone hunter facing the ferocious cave bear. While his people usually hunted together in groups, like dire wolves, today had been different because of the necklace.

Suddenly, Mog had a radical thought: What if, instead of hunting alone today, I had some wolves to help track, corner, and take the cave bear? I’ll bet I could raise these pups and train them to hunt with me! And, they could protect the cave and my cave wife while I’m out working my caveman job!

And, that’s how humans domesticated wolves, which became dogs, which became breeds as diverse as Saint Bernards and Teacup Chihuahuas.

The Canine-Human Value Proposition

Of course, we can theorize about how dogs came to be man’s best friend; but, we may never be 100% certain of all the whys and hows. For instance, which species took the first step that got the whole ball rolling – canines or humans?

Saved from

Even our ideas as to when and where humans and wolves, which later became dogs, started interacting together is still subject to debate. What we do know is this: We raised puppies well before we raised kittens or chickens; before we herded cows, goats, pigs, and sheep; before we planted rice, wheat, barley, and corn; before we remade the world.

What is a value proposition, anyway? It basically means that I’m offering something that you want or need. Whether I’m providing a product (food) or providing a service (security), you believe there’s value or benefit in having whatever it is I’m offering.

So, you’re a wolf. Unfortunately, you’re not the wolfiest wolf and the other wolves out-wolf you for the best food and the best wolf babes to snuggle with on cold nights. Or, maybe you got hurt and can’t fight or hunt or run very well anymore.

You notice that humans throw away some pretty tasty stuff and crunchy bones and always have a warm fire going on cold nights. And, it’s safer, too, ‘cause you don’t have to fight or run so much anymore. So, you start hanging around where there’s people and, pretty soon, you’re a regular old cave dog.

So, What’s In It For Me?

The other half of our value proposition is that, if humans offered things that wolves needed or wanted, what did wolves have to offer in return?

Assuming they didn’t get kicked out for pooping in the cave, domesticated wolves may have helped their humans hunt.

They were also likely the first pack animals used by humans for energy intensive labor – in other words, they carried the heavy stuff. And, you couldn’t ask for a better early warning system than a half-wild wolf-dog. Or, better protection. Not to mention companionship, warmth, toy for the cave kids, garbage disposal, and if times got lean, Fido steaks.

So that’s a little bit about how we got from these mighty hunters:

Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

to this one:

Auggie the Pug_073107

Show your dogs some love today. Remember, you’re the whole world to them.

~ George

Hey, if you’re writing a paper for Mr. Stewart’s fifth period History class; or, if you’re just interested in reading something I didn’t write, here’s where I got some of the info for this blog post:

Opinion: We Didn’t Domesticate Dogs. They Domesticated Us.

Origin of the Domestic Dog.

Yong, Ed. A New Origin Story for Dogs: When, Where, and How Many Times Were They Domesticated. The Atlantic, June 2, 1016.  Located online at:

Value Proposition.

Humanity’s Best Friend: How Dogs May Have Helped Humans Beat the Neanderthals.

Michael J Pieropan. Essay 1: Relationship Between Early Humans and Their Environment. Incentives for Domestication. February 6, 2006. Located online at: