Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Unexpected Delights of Fostering a Deaf Dog

As everyone who's ever fostered a critter knows, fostering brings all sorts of unexpected opportunities for learning. 

Through fostering, I've learned about reactive dogs, shy dogs, older dogs, and impulsive dogs. I've learned about training beagles and shepherds, sight hounds and herding dogs and pit bull type dogs, puppies and cats and kittens.

But until now, I've never had the chance to learn about deaf dogs. 

A lot of it is pretty intuitive. Instead of verbal commands, there are hand signals. They are similar to the ones you would use for training a dog who can hear, which you do before introducing verbal cues because dogs respond more readily to motion than they do to sound. 

Instead of a clicker, you mark a successful Sit or Down or Shake with a "flash": showing the dog your hand and quickly spreading out all five fingers, and then following up with a treat. 

In many ways, the experience of fostering Daria is no different than its been with any of the young, active pups I've fostered over the years (which of course have been most of them, since as I've learned from Kristina Finney, the Foster Coordinator with the Washington Humane Society, the dogs most likely to linger on the adoption floor are high-energy pit bull-type dogs of around 2 years of age, particularly if they are dark-colored and female). 

There's been the initial delight of seeing her smile, when I knew that in the shelter she'd been so nervous and unhappy.

There are the struggles with hyperactivity and impulsive behavior, which as with most young dogs are at their height at precisely the time when humans would like to relax.  
There are the adoption events, and the chance to romp and frolic with a couple of other pit pups who are dark-colored, young, and energetic and have yet to be adopted. 

There's the fun of watching a new dog's personality unfold like a flower as she adjusts to being in a loving home, 

and demonstrates that in addition to the cow and the piglet that are among her ancestors, she adores the water and must also be part duck. 

There's the slow period of adjustment with the resident dog, although this aspect is I think challenged by Daria's inability to hear. 

Daria is unusually persistent in trying to get Fozzie's attention, and her somewhat less than charming play style consists largely of nipping, biting, barking and humping. While the vast majority of communication among dogs is undoubtedly body language, I have to believe that her indifference to his signals is at least in part due to the fact that she can't hear him telling her to go away. 

So as with any impulsive dog, we use it as an opportunity to learn self-control by going to her bed, lying down and doing a nice Stay. 

There's the fun of seeing how affectionate and loving she is when she finally does settle down, and of hearing her snore when she sleeps.

These are all things you'd experience, to one degree or another, with any new foster dog. But what's really fascinating is the ways in which a deaf dog is different, most of which I hadn't thought about at all. 

Of course training is more difficult because I can't use my voice to get her attention. If she's harassing Fozzie in the other room, I can't holler to redirect her but have to physically stop what I'm doing and go where she is. 

Sometimes, I have to tap her on the shoulder. Often, maybe because her other senses are so acute, or maybe because we've worked on rewarding eye contact, she knows the moment I am nearby and gives me her full attention. 

There are also unexpected advantages to having a deaf dog. 

When she is in the midst of a deep snooze, I can go into the kitchen for a late-night snack and rustle bags around, open the fridge, and make food preparation noises that would have other dogs salivating on my feet, and she'll just go on snoozing. I can argue with my spousal figure or yell at my computer, and she won't take it personally or think that the world is about to end like so many sensitive dogs who can hear. She'll just go about her happy-go-lucky way, oblivious to the discord. 

When I come home from work, and she is crashed out on the couch, I don't have to worry about being mobbed at the door. She'll remain crashed out, blissfully snoring. 

Of course, a lot of what's unique about Daria is the connection I have with her, which is unique for every foster dog. There is something just so adorable about that little pink face and that loving spirit, about that innocent, joyful consciousness that exists in a world so different than what we who hear can imagine. 

Though I have experienced deep, heart-level connection with other pint-sized pocket pitties of the snorty, spunky, female persuasion, I wonder if Daria is particularly sweet and loving because with me she's experienced communication for the first time. 

Because for her the world is silent, and the human world makes even less sense than it does for most dogs. So she is relieved that finally there is structure and a sense that she can control her environment.  

Which, along with good food, lots of affection, and abundant opportunity to enjoy tactile pleasures,

is important for any dog, not just the snorty deaf pittie-cow-duck-piglets. 


  1. I love her SO much!! What a goon! Have you engaged her sense of smell yet in any training? I know they do that with blind dogs

  2. This was a great post. It's easy to see how much Daria feels loved and wanted. You may want to think about keeping this one. My mom and dad had a deaf dog named Wupper. He learned hand signals too. And it'll be 10 years, early next month that he passed but my mom and dad still miss him. They'll turn on the porch light that day and think of him just a bit longer than they do the other 364 days of the year.

  3. Oh yeah, we forgot to tell you that Owen's fur has always been like that - curly, wavy and very fine. It's really smooth and soft. Different from Sam's even though we were litter mates.

  4. I truly enjoyed this post. We have fostered many dogs and all different. So far we haven't fostered one that was deaf. You are doing a great job with her. She looks happy, content and we love the picture of her stretched out in the water relaxing. Thanks for sharing

  5. I wonder if being with a deaf dog makes us better communicators. After all, words are more important for humans then they are for dogs.

    My first dog, Agatha, became deaf as she aged. I found that she paid more attention to me then before since she couldn't rely on her hearing to keep track of me.

    I love seeing how smitten you are with little Daria. Hope she doesn't beat up on Fozzie too much.

  6. Our pug Ping has gone deaf from old age, she is 11, basically she is exactly the same. We wouldn't have even known because it was very gradual except she was sleeping soundly when we came home and didn't hear the door. Usually she compensates by responding to cues from the other dogs, but this time she was asleep. Luckily our other dogs are older, except Weasley, and so don't really startle or bother hair. I think its more challenging to deal with younger dogs

    retro rover

  7. I've never been around a truly deaf dog, but this amazing post makes having Daria in your life seem so very rewarding. I had never really thought about the advantages.

    And good for Fozzie for being understanding and patient.

  8. Beautiful post. My great friend who lives with a damaged, highly traumatised ex-puppy mill breeding dog, has just found out she's deaf, or almost deaf. It explains a lot of the difficulties they've had and she's just learning to adapt their lives together to help her better.

  9. Great post! I did chuckle at the fact that she knows you are near and gives you her full attention....really?! My experience with my deaf ACDs is the subtle glance and then looking away. In a "I am not paying attention because I don't want to do what you are telling me." A light tap and then the "ME? You wanted ME?" Daria is doing so well, keep up the good work - all of you!

  10. Once you own a deaf dog, you are already chosen to take care of a unique blessing. Deaf dogs have their own charm and challenges, but this doesn’t make them less of a dog. I learned a lot about this special condition from this really inspiring article that I’d like to share: http://dogsaholic.com/training/how-to-train-a-deaf-dog.html


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