a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: Deaf Dog Training Day 1

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Deaf Dog Training Day 1

SUMMARY: Some training notes.

First, note that Tika is not completely deaf, and has been with me for 10 years of training, so she's also not a brand-new-to-training dog. She's clicker trained, too, and is quite "operant"--that is, attempts various behaviors on her own when the clicker or even the treats come out, allowing me to easily shape behavior.

Tika's hearing, however, is getting bad. I'm sometimes convinced that she can hear me across a field, and yet--f'rinstance, yesterday she was lying on the landing at the top of the stairs, with her back to my bedroom door, about 2 feet away, awake with her head up. I stuck my head out the door and whispered "Tika!". No response. Said it in a normal voice three or four times. Not even an ear twitch. I then yelled "Tika!" and she visibly perked up--but all her attention was in the same direction she was already looking. So, yeh, real problems with hearing and detecting the direction of noise.

My goal is to leverage her existing command set and work on converting verbals to visual cues. The point of the new vibrating collar is simply to get her to look at me when it vibrates, and then I will give the verbal/visual command from there.

For regular commands, that means I'm going to do a lot of repetition of basic behaviors, adding the gestures.

For sit, down, and come, I'm using fairly standard dog obedience gestures; DeafDogs.org has animated pictures of these gestures.

They also suggest using American Sign Language (ASL) signs for other common words, because others might use the same signals. So I'm using "thumbs up" with one or both hands for "yes!", which I have previously trained as my verbal equivalent of a click.

Tika's release word is "OK", but I like the ASL gesture for break, which uses two hands--imagine grasping a stick and breaking it so that your hands move up and apart (see video).

So, today, I started by "loading" my thumbs-up the same way I loaded the clicker originally: Show her the thumb, give a treat; repeat about 10 times about 3 times during the day. Then to tie it to the verbal, I repeated another 10 or so times with the "Yes!" as well as the thumb up.

Later in the day, I've done several of each sit, down, and come with the verbal command and gesture, confirmed correct behavior with verbal "Yes!" and gesture of thumb up, and given her a treat. Then I use the verbal "OK" with the break gesture, and of course she releases because that's what "OK!" does.

This is challenging for me, as I've previously avoided gestures for commands because wisdom has it that dogs, being body-language oriented, learn gestures much more quickly than verbals and I wanted to maintain the strength of the verbal commands.  So, for me, it's challenging to remember "Sit" and lift hand simultaneously, say "Yes" and thumb up simultaneously, then quickly give a treat, then "OK!" and the break signal simultaneously. It requires coordination and reprogramming myself, and anyone who's ever watched me try to figure out a handling move in agility knows I'm not that coordinated.

Lastly, I've been following the deafdogs.org suggestion to just vibrate the collar repeatedly and toss a treat to her, several times a day, several times each time, and then at some point after 2 or 3 days of this, I'll do the vibrate and wait to see whether she looks at me before tossing a treat, as in, "Hey, you've been giving me treats for that; where's the treat?" and then we're on our way to what we want, which is her to always look at me when she feels the vibration.

I'm still futzing with how tight to make the collar, and there are so many holes so close together that it'll be challenging to get the same hole every time; will have to put tape or something on the collar to mark it (it's black plastic so can't write on it).

And I've been wondering whether a level 1 vibration is enough or whether it needs to be 2 or 3 to be sure she's really noticing it (it goes up to 15). I tried it with my hand under the collar touching the side of the vibrator, and I felt it just fine, so I'm guessing that she's probably feeling it ok-- the one thing I'd have liked is for the collar to beep or otherwise let me know when it vibrates, but there was no device in the whole list on deafdogs.org that had all the features that one could want, so I'm going on faith that it's actually vibrating when I hit the button. It's supposed to have a range of half a mile. Wonder how to test that? Get a friend out there with me, I guess.

So both Tika and I are learning, and meanwhile I'm trying to also make sure that Tika plays normally while wearing the collar and that I don't neglect Boost while focusing so tightly on my own learning curve and tika's as well.


  1. Wow, that is some dedication, good for you. Cody lost a good portion of his hearing a year or two ago and we just let him bumble about his day. He responds if I'm nearby and yell really LOUD or if I clap but otherwise he's in his own little world. Cody was never very good with verbals and had selective hearing anyway.

  2. Wellllll that selective hearing has been part of the challenge in deciding how deaf Tika really has been. Now I have enough real data points (e.g., not involving being out in a park off leash and looking for food, when "come" might have less value than iotas of food on the ground) that I know how deaf she is. I'd like to have her deaf recall be stronger than her hearing one--don't want to lose the ability to have her off leash on the trail or at a big park.

  3. Isn't the internet a marvelous thin -- soooo much useful info at one's fingertips. Glad to hear you've some some great resources and tools to help out with this transition.