Deaf Dog, Old Dog, New Tricks
Golden Labrador Sadie is thirteen years old and the only problems she now has are physical. She used to be anxious and jumpy around loud or sudden noises, but her loss of hearing has taken care of that.
Deaf dog’s quality of life to be the best possible.
The nearly deaf dog is adored by her lady owner who wants to give her what she considers to be the very best quality of life right to the end. She wants to enrich her life as much as she can bearing in mind Sadie’s physical restrictions. Sadie is friendly and interested despite various health problems and medication. She is massaged daily and also has two swims a day which are keeping her relatively mobile.
The lady would also like Sadie to come to her when asked. It could keep her safe.
‘Eye contact’ and ‘coming when called’ were never particularly successful even when Sadie had full use of her ears! I put this down to lack of motivation.
So now the deaf dog can learn a new prompt that makes coming to the lady very motivating indeed. It is vital that any work should be rewarding and fun for both her and for her owner.
Sadie is never on lead. There is no need because she doesn’t go very far and she’s very slow. The old dog chooses where she wants to go and the lady follows which is absolutely fine. Occasionally she may go after a scent, probably where a cat has been, and then may panic because she thinks she is lost.
A little brain work could be good for Sadie – particularly now physical movement is no longer so easy. Sessions should be very short and should be terminated immediately Sadie shows any reluctance or tiredness.
The overriding thing is that Sadie should enjoy it.
She must choose to engage in the gentle training – we will call it ‘play session’ – and she must also have the choice to stop at any time.
It should be with full regard to Sadie’s physical comfort. She spends a lot of time lying down – more comfortable for her than sitting – and the groundwork can be done while she’s down. The other work will be done when she is already standing up and active. She won’t be encouraged to get up unless standing is something she has herself offered.
Sadie, at her advanced age, will be introduced to the idea of earning food. She is a Labrador so this shouldn’t be too hard, particularly if these ‘play’ sessions are before meals!
First the lady will work on getting eye contact from Sadie – using a very gentle remote-control vibration. This will be a very slow and gradual process starting with the deaf dog being introduced to the smell and look of the equipment – using constant food reinforcement. Next it will be just held against her so she can gently feel the buzz and paired with food until she is actively looking for food when she feels the vibration, leading eventually to giving eye contact.
I shan’t go into the process in detail here because this isn’t a ‘how to’ manual for other dogs. What will work best for Sadie may not be appropriate for another dog with perhaps a different temperament but here are some general instructions on how to introduce a vibrating collar. We are going to experiment with the gently vibrating box stitched against her body in a soft harness – somewhere less sensitive than her neck. We will see.
When the lady reliably gets Sadie’s attention and eye contact, what next?
It seems the useful thing is for Sadie to come when ‘called’. For this the lady will teach her to come and touch her nose on an outstretched hand. It will be nice and clear from a short distance.
Again, it will be a slow and gradual process using the clicker technique (a gentle finger-flick ‘yes’ on the dog instead of a click which she wouldn’t hear. A light flash may have been another way of telling her ‘yes’ but I have reasons not to use that).
Over time and only if it’s going well, the lady can put the two new skills together – the remote vibration for attention and the hand out to get her to come to her.
They can then progress outside into the garden. She can then try it when Sadie is walking ahead of her, off lead, as she always does.
With lots of rewards, keeping sessions short, only expecting Sadie to move when she’s up and active anyway, they will hopefully have created a new game appropriate to Sadie’s twilight life stage.