Picking up on — and ignoring — cues

April 28, 2012

“Such a smart dog,” say people who know Riley, and yes, he is.

But really, what it is is this:  he’s very good at picking up on our cues.

When he sees me getting dressed and especially putting on my shoes, he knows I’m leaving the house. Sometimes, when he’s cued in, he’ll automatically go to his room. Not that he’s usually real obedient. But he definitely knows what to do, whether he chooses to do it or not.

Dogs live by cues. When we open the dog treat cabinet, Riley’s already sitting at our feet, before we even open the bag. The jangle of his harness and leash means a walk and is the source of much excitement.

And when the outside and foyer lights go on, that means company’s coming, and of course, they’re coming for him! (Who else?) So he barks with excitement.

We humans aren’t so good at picking up cues from our own environment. They’re there. If they don’t fit our definition of our world, though, or how we’d like our world to be, we often ignore them. But if we pay attention, cues tell us most everything we need to know.

Some cues we might not want to believe, but should:

  • When we’re always the one initiating calls to our love interest.
  • When s/he stops doing nice little things.
  • When a teenager becomes sullen and withdrawn, more than expected for his/her age.
  • When a young child’s grades fall and his/her behavior changes.
  • When our elderly parents behave unpredictably.

You get the picture.

Most of the time, it’s an if X then Y kind of world, and we should be drawing those conclusions, at least tentatively, and then looking more deeply.

Are there cues in your life that you’re ignoring?

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