What Did You Say?

Stormi Parrish King

Meet Jack, he's deaf.
Have a deaf dog? Know anyone who does? University Canine Learning Academy is proud to announce the Pacific Norhwest's first ever all deaf dog obedience class. That's right. You CAN train deaf dogs, and Washington state is home to many hearing-impaired dogs, many of whom were born that way. Congenital deafness is trait found in over 90 breeds, more commonly Dalmatians, herding breeds such as the Australian Shepherd, and "bully" breeds such as the Bull Terrier or Boxer. Deafness can also onset later in life as a result of aging, excessive loud noise or trauma to the ear. In the past, dogs that were found out to be congenitally deaf were most often euthanized for being untrainable, but we've learned that they're just as capable of learning as hearing dogs, and just as capable of being our best friend. Deaf dogs can excel in therapy and service work, competitive dog sports, and the important role of family companion

Dogs are very visually oriented creatures by nature- they communicate almost entirely in body language. When was the last time you watched two dogs greet at the dog park and strike up a conversation about last weekends Seahawks game? They do a great deal of communicating to both their doggy friends and humans when they socially interact, but they do it via body language and visual cues. Ever noticed how when you pick up your dog's leash to go for a walk, he prances around in excitement? He has learned the visual cue of your reaching for that leash always predicts he's about to have a fabulous time outside. Dogs are learning with their eyes every moment they're awake, so its no wonder why deaf dogs adapt so well.

Training deaf dogs really isn't all that different from training hearing dogs. They can learn to respond to as many hand signals and visual cues as your imagination can create, and are capable of everything from basic obedience to complex skills such as skateboarding or grabbing us a coke out of the fridge. Why a specialized deaf dog class, you ask? Although deaf dogs do learn by the same principles as hearing dogs, they do present some unique challenges. Because deaf dogs are so visually stimulated by everything in their environment, working on foundation behaviors such as attention and focus are imperative. Behaviors such as "come" and "leave-it" are trained in slightly different ways in the deaf dog world. Every ounce of our communication with them is visual rather than verbal, so rather than giving them verbal cues such as saying "sit" and "stay", we must create our own doggy sign language. All dogs present their own unqiue challanges and advantages, and deaf dogs are certainly no different.

There are plenty of myths floating around out there which assert that deaf dogs are more likely to startle or snap, or that they are difficult or impossible to train, don't do well with children, need a hearing dog to guide them, or oodles of other misinformed statements. Truth is, just like any dog, with proper socialization, training, and positive associations at being handled and touched, they can develop into perfectly well-rounded canine citizens.