|As I sat in Barry Eaton's garden, I thought how much deaf dogs need caring owners like Nikki. The playful Perdy was enjoying sniffing around this strange new place, and had great fun chasing about and making us laugh. You'd never have guessed there was anything unusual in this delightful scene, and for Perdy, there wasn't. She didn't know she was deaf, because she didn't know what it was like to hear.
Nikki was a calm but determined person who knew from the start she wasn't going to be affected by her dog's deafness. After all, she had known Perdy was deaf when she had chosen her. The breeder had given Nikki the option to take Perdy back if there were any problems. "I enjoy a challenge," Nikki told us, "and Perdy won't be going back." You knew she meant it.
Being deaf isn't really a big deal. The other senses compensate, as Perdy's bright eyes and busy nose were showing. She had already discovered her voice. Without knowing what she sounded like, or how others responded to the noise, she yapped when she was happy or excited.
"Will she get quieter in time?" asked Nikki. "Probably, but it depends how you react," Barry and I said together. "Pat her or give her attention and she will carry on barking. Ignore her, or better still look away, and through the process of non-reward, she should quieten down."
Nikki couldn't have come to a better advisor than Barry Eaton. He is a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, a relatively new network of nearly 200 dog trainers who have modernised the training and socialising of pets dogs. They are all thoroughly assessed before being admitted to the register, and use only reward-based motivational techniques.
These methods are not just kinder than the outdated, harsh methods of choke chains and army style drills, they are much more effective. Dogs will work to gain rewards, and so quickly learn to do simple things like sit and stay. Use harsher methods and you not only frighten the dog and slow the learning process, you strain the relationship between dog and owner.
The rise of kind, effective communication in dog training is banishing the 'do as I say or else' brigade to the rubbish heap where they belong. Pet dog owners are now voting with their feet and going to APDT members.
Being used to one-on-one behaviour consultation, usually with a dog who is trying to eat me, I was happy to let Barry do his expert thing with Perdy. The availability of rewards is really important. Barry advised Nikki to bake cubes of liver and keep them with her at all times.
"Dogs will sell their souls for these," Barry told us. "If Perdy knows you keep them in your pocket, she'll always be checking you're around and haven't run off with them. Once she becomes accustomed to the signals that enable her to earn them, she'll learn to respond very quickly." Nikki's ability to communicate using face, hand and body signals would be vital here. I asked her to give me some good exaggerated facial expressions.
For hearing dogs, tone and volume of a voice are important. With a deaf dog, increasing scales of arm and body movements are the equivalent, with flapping arms replacing a loud or insistent call. But this is in extremis. Dogs are perfectly able to comprehend very subtle changes in hand movements, especially if a definite combination of facial expression and body posture is used.
These signals should remain consistent for each command, and Perdy must be rewarded immediately with touch and a liver cube until she learns what is expected of her. After this, Nikki can slow down the frequency of reward so as to maintain the training or add a new command. All members of the Whittington family will have to agree on unified signals for communicating with Perdy.
As Perdy's training is to be done entirely with visual communication and signals, it is important for her to be on a lead during all initial sessions. Barry also suggested much of Perdy's play should be centred around a particular toy, which could be used to encourage her to stay close and play on a walk, and not move out of 'bodywave' (visual equivalent to earshot).
As with any puppy. Barry advised frequent short sessions of relaxed training at home, where everything is more familiar and there are fewer distractions. Later, she could go to an APDT member's puppy party and then puppy class, but for now, it is down to Nikki and family to teach Perdy some basic signals.
With the right attitude, training a deaf dog doesn't need to be any different to an ordinary dog. Good trainers like Barry and his colleagues in the APDT have a great bag of techniques to reach into for any type of dog or puppy. It makes you wonder why anyone would think of killing something as full of beans and harmless as a deaf Dalmatian puppy such as Perdy. Let's hope more dogs like her find special owners like Nikki and an APDT member to help them!
This article has been reproduced by kind permission of Dogs Today,
where it first appeared in October 1996.