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Dogs Steal With Their Eyes

“Steal with your eyes” is one piece of wise advice that has been handed down through the generations in my family. But dogs don’t need to be told to do this?they do it naturally. When I came across this article, “Dogs Automatically Imitate People,” I needed no convincing. I’ve seen it firsthand. To see for yourself what good copycats dogs are, try this: The next time you catch Fido gazing at you, give him a wink. Wait a few seconds, and then wink again. Pair it enthusiastically with the word “Wink!” and I guarantee you that he will be winking back after only a few repetitions. I would bet that 99 percent of dogs can learn to wink in one short session. And it’s unbelievably cute.


A corollary to this is that if you look at Fido and let your eyelids droop as if you’re very sleepy, his eyelids will start drooping, too, and he might even lie down and go to sleep. This can actually be used as a technique to calm excited dogs down, because they’re not just going through the motions?they actually become sleepy.

And dogs imitate each other too. This is why it’s so helpful, when trying to heal an abused dog, to bring the psychologically damaged animal into a household with psychologically healthy dogs. The unstable dog will imitate the stable dogs and learn how to become balanced and normal again. That’s what happened in my household. One by one, I brought Chihuahua puppy-mill survivors into my pack of three large mentally healthy dogs, and the psychologically damaged Chihuahuas were able to heal relatively quickly through their exposure to normal, healthy role models. For example, at first they were frightened to walk on a leash and would dig in their heels, panicked. But if I took one of my big stable dogs along, they would quickly fall into step with that dog.However, the rescued Chihuahuas have something for my original resident dogs to copy too. In the last few months, the puppy-mill survivors have been teaching my big dogs how to have fun howling together, which is music to my ears.


The copycat factor can also be a boon to dog training in a multidog household. After each meal, we have a group training session with treats during which each dog is individually asked to do one or a series of actions, such as to lie down, sit, come to me, wink, hop onto the couch, hop off the couch, stay while I hide behind a door for a few seconds, etc. But even though I single out just one dog at a time by name for training (and they all know each other’s names), all dogs participate in the other dogs’ exercises! So each dog practices six times instead of just once, even though only the designated dog gets a treat. They just really get into it and can’t resist copying, treat or no treat.That copycat instinct is a strong one and can definitely be put to good use! Note: The dogs shown in the above videos are not from my household. Sadly, I have not been able to successfully film my own dogs winking or howling.

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  • regan says:

    ive been having a blast this past 2 weeks with the stray pup i found. ive been filling his mind with all kinds of new tricks. hes such a smarty. he has learned to sit and retained ot so well, he is till practicing the stay command, and i just cant wait to try the winking thing on him 😛

  • Cindie says:

    That is so cool. We have two dogs who mimic each other. So cute! I am using this to get my husband to rethink getting a rescue dog.

  • Carrie Boyko says:

    I’m going to work on teaching my dogs to wink. I’ll get back to you shortly….cool idea!

  • Jody says:

    Puppy dogs are so smart!! They also learn by others mistakes….knowing what not to do if it didn’t work out very well for the other pup. Great article!

  • Betty says:

    This is a very sweet and informative blog. I am trying some of the techniques on my rabbit.

    Karen, you are just full of good ideas.

  • Pret Orian says:

    I have experienced that first hand.
    A neighbor point me the fact that my dog would walked behind me the same way I walked…he thought it was hilarious… I thought it was so cute…

  • sarah daugherty says:

    rabbits are also very good copycats, showing word recognition in connection with certain mannerisms. For instance, if one shakes his hair and says “pretty,” the rabbit will eventually waggle his ears or primp his ears with his paws at the word “pretty.” This comes from working at a college where there are hundreds of abandoned as well as “wildish” rabbits on the premises. I do feed them on a regular basis, but they also like human attention.

    Rabbits respond to other catch phrases, as well. For instance, if they are sitting under a tree with their ears flattened, it means (to me, as a volunteer caretaker), that the rabbits are unhappy or stressed. I smile at them, say “ears up,” and they eventually put their ears up and cheer up. They will also sometimes allow me to pet their noses if i say “pet, pet?” At this phrase, if they are in the mood, they will lean forward, lower their head to the ground, extending their face to be petted. At times, they’ll refuse my petting, and pet each others noses at the catch phrase instead. In other words, rabbits are so damn smart, it breaks my heart that there have been so many abuses to them.

  • Rebecca Parks Barnard says:

    This is SO great! I’m going to teach Sugar to wink right now! She was a 3-year-old rescue who didn’t know how to play until an absolutely relentless pit bull puppy came over and insisted. Now she plays. LOVE this, Karen.

  • Lois says:

    Those chihuahuas howling are so cute!

    “But even though I single out just one dog at a time by name for training (and they all know each other’s names), all dogs participate in the other dogs’ exercises!”

    When I tell my friend’s dog, Fizzy, to sit, Pippin plops his butt down on the floor and looks at me expectantly, as if to say, “See? *I* can sit, too!”