Two weeks ago I talked about a type of pet with special needs, blind dogs. Many factors can make a pet seem less adoptable, such as a missing eye or limb. Also included in the list are those with health problems, such as cats with FIV and dogs with heartworms.
Other special needs may have to do with past emotional or physical trauma. This month, to promote these special animals, Petfinder has designated the third week of September as Adopt-A-Less-Adoptable-Pet week. Additionally, Deaf Dog Awareness Week is September 18-24 and highlights another type of special needs pet that may also be considered less adoptable.
We had a deaf dog. Although we didn’t test her, it was very apparent, as she never reacted to anything quieter than a megaton blast. However, she barked, played and, to all appearances of her, she did not seem to realize that she was deaf. She continued to be happy with her life. We learned that deaf dogs don’t care that they are deaf. We learned that deaf dogs are just dogs, and like people, they have their own quirks and personalities. We learned that deaf dogs are just as loving and devoted as any hearing dog.
Deaf dogs really do make wonderful pets. Take it from someone who knows. Anything you’ve heard to the contrary is shrouded in misunderstanding and prejudice. The only genuine limitation is that a deaf dog should not roam freely unless there is an enclosed, safe and secure area available for him to do so. A deaf dog cannot hear an approaching danger, such as a car. Otherwise, a deaf dog is just as easily trained as a hearing dog. The only difference is that one must use non-verbal cues, rather than verbal commands.
Like any training, you need to get your student’s attention first. Deaf dogs won’t respond when you call their name because they simply can’t hear you call. However, they will react with other types of stimuli. Stomping with your foot on the ground causes vibrations that you can feel. Waving a flashlight, or turning it on and off, will usually attract attention, especially when the dog responds and the reward is a tasty treat. Also, you can use a vibrating collar, which differs substantially from shock collars. These collars only vibrate and are not annoying for the animal.
When teaching basic commands to any dog, the use of hand signals is a common practice. Therefore, training a deaf dog to use them is perfectly natural. As always when training, after gaining the animal’s attention, it is given a command (cue) to perform a specific act, after which a reward is provided. Some people create their own set of hand signs for specific words like sit, stay, crouch, walk, etc., while others learn a few basic words in American Sign Language.
Regardless of what you choose to do, remember that the signal must remain constant for the animal to associate the word and the action. Lastly, never hit a deaf dog with your hands. Your hands are how you communicate with the animal and should always be positive and reassuring tools.
A common myth is that deaf dogs are more aggressive. The reason behind the myth is that if you scare a deaf dog, it will bite you. Any dog, deaf or not, when he gets scared can bite or growl out of fear. Therefore, it is important to work with the dog so that the animal is comfortable with someone coming up from behind and touching it. A few times a day, wake your dog up with a very light touch on the shoulder or back, then immediately reward him with a treat.
Soon the dog will associate waking up with something good. If you don’t want to scare the dog, stomp or hit the bed he’s sleeping on. The vibration will most likely wake them up. Again, always provide a reward.
Deaf dogs tend to bond strongly with their guardians. In the deaf dog community, these animals are affectionately known as Velcro dogs, as they are most comfortable when they are close to you. As with hearing dogs, some can develop separation anxiety. However, the training methods to condition them to not be afraid of being alone are the same as for any other dog. Always remember, deaf dogs can do agility, therapy, etc., just about anything a hearing dog can. There is nothing wrong with them. They are simply dogs that cannot hear.
If you’re thinking of adding a deaf canine companion to your life, the Deaf Dogs Education Action Fund (http://www.deafdogs.org/) and Deaf Dogs Rock (https://deafdogsrock.com) websites /) are good locations to find additional helpful information and resources. In addition, the books, “A Deaf Dog Joins the Family: Training, Education, and Communication for a Smooth Transition” by Terrie Hayward, “Living with a Deaf Dog” by Susan Cope Becker, and “Acorn’s DEAFinitely Sign Dictionary Awesome” by Mary L. Motley can also be very helpful.
As author Charlotte Schwartz wrote: “Because perhaps, if the truth were known, we are all a little blind, a little deaf, a little handicapped, a little lonely, a little less than perfect. And if we can learn to appreciate the full potential of a dog, together we will make it through this life on earth.” I could not agree more. Why not give these special pets a try?
Ronnie Casey has volunteeredg with the Tehama County Animal Care Center since moving in 2011. A retired Registered Nurse, she strives to help animals in need within Tehama County. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.