“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.