Training for Deaf Dogs
-- By John Richardson
It may come as a surprise that some breeds of dogs are particularly prevalent to deafness, or being hearing impaired. There is data available from scientific tests carried out by the Louisiana State University (USA)on Dalmations, showing that 7.8 percent of dogs tested were totally deaf, while a whopping 21.7 percent were deaf or hearing impaired in one ear (unilaterally deaf). The percentage of deafness in English and French Bulldogs in that study was even higher. In Australia, it is recognised that around 10 percent of Cattle Dogs are born deaf, or hearing impaired.
So what is the cause of this? Genetic defects can cause a dog to be born deaf (congenital deafness) and it appears to be far more predominant in certain breeds. A dog can also experience sudden hearing loss because of an ear infection or injury, or a dog's hearing may gradually deteriorate, as it gets older.
Unfortunately, a lot of people don't believe a deaf dog can be trained, but this is not true. Just as a dog that loses a leg learns to adjust its balance and often capably walks on three legs, a deaf dog's other senses are usually more acute, and I have found deaf dogs can be more intelligent and easier to train than dogs with full hearing.
Case History - Max
Anna adopted Max, an Australian Stumpy-tail Cattle Dog, at nine weeks of age. At first, Anna wasn't aware of a lack of reaction when she spoke to Max. After all, he was still a puppy. However, eventually she started to suspect that something was wrong. One day, while Max was looking away from her, Anna dropped a cooking pan on the floor with a loud clatter and Max did not react in any way, so she knew then that there was a problem with his hearing.
After taking Max to the vet and having his deafness confirmed, she then approached some of her local dog trainers for help. However, one by one they told her 'deaf dogs can't be trained' and recommended that poor Max was 'put down'. Anna was horrified at this suggestion, and when she heard from a friend about the work that I do with dogs' behavioural issues, she contacted me for help. I assured Anna that what she had been told couldn't be further from the truth; deaf dogs can definitely be trained! I explained that, unlike humans, dogs are not verbal communicators, they are into body language, and this is the way I taught Anna to train Max.
I started by introducing Max to a soft lead and then taught him to sit on command. To do this, I had Max on my left side, with the lead held loosely in my right hand, and a treat in my left hand. To get Max's attention I brought the treat to his nose and then in a smooth motion, moved my hand up and back about 40 cm above his head. As Max's head went back to follow the treat, his bottom went down into a sitting position, and I quickly gave Max the treat. After a few more of these exercises, I gave Anna the lead and watched as she became familiar this technique.
Max proved to be a quick learner and we were able to move on to the down exercise. I once more held the lead in my left hand, with treat ready, and brought the treat up over Max's nose, as before, so he would sit. However, instead of giving him the treat, I placed my left hand on his back while bring my right hand (holding the treat) down to the ground directly in front of Max, and gently guiding his body down with my left hand, and when he went down, I immediately gave him the treat.
I explained to Anna that she should never apply pressure to Max's back as it would simply cause him to brace himself, rather than follow the treat to the ground. My hand gesture, as I moved the treat forward, was the signal for Max to go down, and he soonrealised what was required of him.
The next step was to show Anna how to walk Max on the lead, starting with Max on my left hand side. I prefer a short lead (80-100 cms) as I find it makes training a dog to walk on lead easier than on a long lead. I demonstrated how to hold the lead, across the body from left to right, holding the lead loosely with my right hand. I placed a treat in my left hand and brought it down to Max's muzzle (nose) with my knuckles forward and holding the treat in my fingers. This immediately got Max's attention, and as soon as this happened, I stepped off slowly on my left foot, with my left hand slightly ahead of Max. As he followed the treat I walked for a few paces and, with my hand remaining in the same position, gave Max the treat. I then passed the lead onto Anna and guided her through this exercise until she felt confident of doing it by herself.
I suggested to Anna that she practise the sit, down and heel exercises over the next few days and then give Max the treat randomly, sometimes rewarding him with a smooth pat across his head (from front to back) instead of the treat. If Max wasn't paying attention or looking at her, I told Anna to stamp her feet, as Max would sense the vibrations, even though he wouldn't hear the sound.
I'm pleased to say that Max proved to be an excellent pupil and we were able to add to his training during future weeks.
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