Sunday, July 22, 2012

Deaf Dogs Do Bark - Part 2

In Part 1 of my discussion of the latest edition to my pack, Hocus Pocus a deaf Jack Russell Terrier, focused on her just being a normal dog. She is. But when training a deaf dog, there are special considerations to be taken into account, which I will go a little here informed by my short experience working with Hokey.

To reiterate from part 1, deaf dogs are absolutely capable of understanding and learning just like any other dog. I can't emphasize that enough. I had posted this link of my working on training her in my first blog entry, but feel I should share it again here as proof:
 Hokey Training
Most of what she is demonstrating in the video was taught to her within the short time frame of 1 - 2 weeks.  I use hand signals - many of which I just made up. I like to keep things simple and mostly confined to one hand so that my other hand is free. It doesn't matter what you use. Deaf dogs don't inherently know ASL. Like any dog, they just need consistency in communication. And, yes, I am using "clicker training". I'm just substituting a hand flash - fingers spread - for an actual clicker.  In addition to training basic commands, I'm currently laying the foundation for eventual agility training and have also started her in nosework.

In my short personal experience, I've found there are two opposing challenges to working with a deaf dog: getting their attention and hyper-focus. Getting Hokey's attention is rarely a problem for me. Like Poppy, she follows me EVERYWHERE. Everywhere I go, instead of one, there are now TWO white dogs shadowing me and watching my every move.

And, as a side note, let me interject that the most common form of congenital deafness in dogs is linked to white coloration. There are plenty of resources to be found online that provide in-depth discussion on the link between coloration and deafness. Perhaps the question I should be asking is not why Hokey is deaf, but why Poppy is not. Both she and Hokey are white to the point of almost being "pink". Both dogs have a patch of coloration on the left side of their heads. Poppy's is larger and bi-colored, but still doesn't quite extend up to the ear any further than Hokey's does. But I'm pretty positive, due to the motion of the ear reacting to a noise, that Poppy can even hear out of her ear on the non-colored side of her head.

But back to the training discussion - inattention vs. hyperfocus in deaf dogs. Unlike some deaf dogs, I don't have to hang a bell around Hokey's neck or go looking for her. She never wanders off to go sleep somewhere else in the house. Unless she is confined to her crate, wherever I am, she is there too. She even follows me into the bathroom while I take a shower and waits for me on the bathmat. From what I understand, this is not outside the realm normal behavior for some deaf dogs. What is a little unusual, I gather, is that I rarely need to take action to wake Hokey up. It is common for deaf dogs to sleep deeply and for their owners to find ways to gently wake them as to not elicit a startled response. Not so with Hokey. If she's out of her crate and asleep on the bed, sofa, etc. and I get up, she senses it and is instantly awake and ready to follow me. On the rare occasions I've seen her curled up asleep in her crate when I walk into the room (she is almost always awake and alert when I enter), she senses my presence pretty quickly and wakes up on her own. It is never a gradual process; one second she's asleep, the next she is wide awake and ready to go! Only rarely do I need to give her crate a couple of light taps to wake  her and only once or twice, early on, did I find it necessary to open her crate and actually touch her in order to wake her.

Although occasionally when we train, something catches Hokey's eye or nose requiring me to refocus her attention back to me, in general, she is highly attentive.

Two focused dogs - Ollie & Hokey during one of our early introduction sessions after Hokey joined the household
Which brings me to the hyper-focus side of things. She is definitely more handler-focused than my other two dogs. She watches me intently when we work together. This is not a bad thing. It would probably be a more than welcomed behavior in a pet home. However, if I decide I want to train her to do agility, being hyper-focused on me as her handler does present some additional training challenges. She will need to learn to take her eyes off of me to focus on her path and the obstacles in front of her and to be able to work at a distance from me. This will be new territory for me as a trainer. Already I find myself thinking of ways to build value for distance and obstacles. I'm hoping that the nosework we've recently begun will help her learn to work independently. Our first session was rough; she spent most of it standing and staring at me looking for information. However, after a few more sessions, she now "gets" the game and doesn't need to look to me at all. Progress. The other day we had a break-through in targeting. Before, she would only nose-target my hand or something I was holding in my hand. She wanted nothing to do with a stationary target. She just didn't understand the purpose of interacting with such a thing as her expectation is to have all interaction and information come from her handler. After using a ball-on-stick target in hand (as seen on the video), I placed the stick into its wooden base. It took a couple of minutes, but after a couple of successful touches and rewards, the light bulb went off  and she started nose touching the ball over and over again. I was able to take a few steps back and she went to it to touch it. More progress! And just this morning I was able to send her running through my practice tunnel after her tug toy or ball rather than her coming instantly to me after running through to receive a food reward. Another triumph on the path to distance and independence. Soon I plan to start doing some shaping with her interacting with objects to help her learn to think things through for herself rather than constantly looking to me for information.

We are on a roll...
Look out world, here comes Hokey!

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