Thursday, February 7, 2008

Training the deaf dog


As a dog trainer I get different e-mails from dog related companies regularly. One of those is from http://www.dogwise.com/ A fabulous place to get dog books and DVD's. Todays offer highlighted a book I am familiar with, "Living with a deaf dog" by Susan Cope Becker. Now because I regularly work with deaf dogs, and have a deaf doG daughter myself, I do have the book and have read it. I have to say, it is NOT a good training book!!! It does have some wonderful tips on living with deaf dogs though. In her defense, the author admits that she isn't a trainer. It wasn't a book written about dog training either. It was only written for the average deaf dog owner.
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My biggest peeve about the book is that she advises using both alpha rolls and hard eye contact as forms of punishment. Alpha rolls are an antiquated method recanted by the people who came up with the technique in the first place. (based on what they now know was misinturpreted wolf behavior) The last thing you want to do with a deaf dog is anything that doesn't promote good eye contact between you. You can't direct them if they avoid looking at you after all. Not to mention in dog language hard eye contact is a threat or challenge. (And some dogs will meet that challenge.) So hard stares are a very very bad idea.
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Why am I bringing it up? Because I want people to have GOOD info if they are looking for training information for deaf dogs. I haven't read the other deaf dog book out, "Hear Hear A guide to training your deaf dog" by Barry Eaton (yet) but I have to think it is better than the alternative.
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As a trainer I have found that using the lure reward method of training as outlined in the book "How to teach a new dog old tricks" by Ian Dunbar as a great way to train deaf dogs. The only difference is attaching a hand signal as a cue instead of a verbal one. The best part is that initially the lure method IS teaching hand signals! Sit, down, come and stay are all used the exact same way as if it were a hearing dog. I use a thumbs up along with a smile as my reward marker for Yes! and a shaking finger with a (slight) frown as my auh auh no reward marker. You can also use American Sign Language for other words you want to teach your deaf dog. (also known as ASL) Amazon.com sells a variety of ASL dictionaries with photos of the signs.
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Another thing about training a deaf dog, is to continue using your verbal cues and facial expressions. First, trying not to speak while training will interfere with your body language. Remember that dogs communicate with each other with facial expressions and body language so they learn to read ours very easily. Second, not everyone will know your dog is deaf and the dog needs to learn how to read other people as well.
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Here are a few great websites about deaf dogs that include info about training and hand signals and signs.
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British site:
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Check out the deaf dog in training photos:
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Fabulous deaf dog apparal:
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I have to admit I love working with deaf dogs. Not only is it a challenge I enjoy, but the moment I see the "lightbulb moment" between dog and owner is very rewarding to me. Training is all about learning how to most effectively communicate with each other. That is the same for every dog and owner, regardless of any challenges that may be involved.

Happy training!!

6 comments:

Fuzzy Logic said...

I'm a reformed Alpha Roller... It (ahem) worked with my first dog (ok not really, but at the time...) but when I tried it with my dainty flower girl, it almost DESTROYED our relationship.

There was a deaf dog in one of my training classes (I was a student- not a teacher) and it was amazing to watch how quickly he learned handsignals.

Marie said...

Reformed Alpha Roller, I like that! Me to for the record. :-)

BTW when I try to read your blog it gives me a message saying "Internet explorer cannot open the site etc.....Operation aborted" and then it boots me off.

Not sure what is up with that. I'll keep trying but thought you might want to know in case others are having the same problem. I can get to your regular site fine though.

FrogDogz said...

Oh wow - we all learned the same crap! Alpha rolls, 'change direction' heel training, ear pinches... hard to believe how much has trained.

I admit, I was trained so pro Koehler that my first exposure to clicker training was a shock - I just automatically assumed it was stupid and pointless.

Now, of course, I wouldn't use anything else.

Anonymous said...

I'm a proud "owner" of a deaf dog, my second. The biggest thing I found, is to keep talking to them. Most people don't realize how much their bodies talk when they verbalize their thoughts.

Marie, where's Genki's picture? He was your first deaf dog student!

Fuzzy Logic said...

Thanks for the heads up.. I think I fixed the problem.. it's an IE thing so I didn't notice (drat).. I think it was my email comment responder.. can you try it now and see if you can read it?

Marie said...

Fuzzy,

Yup! It works fine now. Thanks!