Wordless Wonders

As seen on Patch.com

My son is going for the gold. He’s determined to break the world record for the oldest toddler never to utter a word. Einstein didn’t talk until he was 5, so I’m okay with his wordlessness, but still… no “mama,” no “dada,” just a complex combination of bellows and hand signals that convey his immediate desires with startling specificity. He’s only 2 1/2 feet tall, but he’s figured it out: why use up valuable brain cells learning to talk when you can bring an entire household to its knees with one perfectly timed, glass-shattering ARGHHHH! And maybe he’s fine-tuning the theory of relativity, who knows.


When clients tell me they have the dumbest dog in America, I smile inwardly, waiting for the second half of their “dopey dog” theory. It’s always—always–followed by a list of the many ways these wordless creatures have skillfully and utterly trained their families. Barking, jumping, nudging and stealing, these dogs are getting exactly what they want.

Stupid? Nope. Pretty smart, actually.

Misbehaving for attention is not species-specific but dogs, with little else to do than study their people’s responses, have perfected the art of attention-grabbing reactions. Like young kids and most reality show contestants, dogs don’t care what kind of attention they get, as long as someone stops to notice. Barking or bellowing, grabbing a sock or touching the off-limits artwork—if it brings you running, it will be repeated. Often. I promise.

The good news? Dogs and kids can learn new—and more socially acceptable—attention techniques. I ignore my little Neanderthal’s over-the-top theatrics when he wants a toy or a sweet, waiting instead until he taps his chubby fingers together to indicate “please.” Happily, the tapping is quickly replacing the screaming. In a similar way, dogs can be taught to sit for attention or ring a bell to go outside.

The desire for attention can manifest in a variety of noisy, messy and inappropriate ways, but that need can be redirected. What once looked stupid: “My dog is scratching my front door to bits!” now looks brilliant: “My dog knows how to use a doorbell when he wants to go out!” If only all of life’s misconceptions were so effortlessly resolved.