Battle Ground, Ind. | October 1, 2003
Lori Renda-Francis, a Boxer breeder and a veterinary technician from Michigan, knows firsthand that deaf dog training requires a special touch. Powder, a white Boxer puppy deaf since birth, receives just that from Lori.
Powder stood out from the others in her litter from birth due to her color. She is white, and according to the AKC, white is not considered an acceptable color for Boxers. The AKC standards is a document that describes desirable traits to look for in each breed of dog. According to the AKC there are two acceptable colors of Boxers – fawn and brindle. While Lori knew that Powder would never be a show dog, she knew that the cute little puppy would make someone a good companion.
Lori discovered early that Powder was different from her litter mates in other ways too, especially the way she reacted to stimuli. When Lori walked into the room to play with the puppies, they all would wake up and run to her, wagging their tails, and in most cases their whole hind end. Little Powder would remain sleeping until Lori touched her. She did not seem to respond to voice or voice tones at all. As an experienced breeder combined with her knowledge as a veterinary technician, Lori realized that because Powder was a white puppy, she may be deaf.
According to the American Boxer Club, approximately 25 percent of boxer puppies are white or almost all white. Of those white puppies, approximately 10 percent are deaf. Deafness may be present in one or both ears.
Lori knew that she needed to start early communicating with Powder and she would have to work hard to find her a special home. Deaf puppies can be trained using a variety of methods including hand signals, sign language, flashlights, vibrating collars, and many more. Communicating involves tuning into the world of movement, vibration, light, and some types of sign language. A vibrating collar can be used as a tool for getting the deaf dog’s attention. It is not a shock collar, but gives off a very mild stimulation and acts as an attention getter, like calling the dog’s name. Training a deaf dog requires extra time, patience, and understanding.
Lori started working with Powder by desensitizing her to being touched unexpectedly or wakened from a sound sleep. She walked up behind her when she was not looking and gently touched her. As soon as Powder turned around Lori provided her with a treat. Lori enlisted the aid of her son and others to desensitize her.
Getting Powder’s attention can be challenging. Lori has found that if she stomps on the floor, the vibration gets the puppy’s attention. Lori can then give one of the hand signals that she has taught her as further direction. Ringer, another of Lori’s dogs, has also been enlisted to help with the training. Powder follows Ringer around, so when Lori wants Powder to come, she calls for Ringer and follows that up with the hand signal appropriate for what Lori wants the puppy to do. She has found that raising a deaf puppy is easier when another dog is with them.
Some studies have shown that deaf dogs between five and seven years of age can know up to 50 different signs. Food rewards are one of the most successful ways Lori has of reinforcing Powder’s learning. So far she can sit and “go to her home” (which is her crate) with the use of hand signals. Powder’s new owners will have to make sure that they use the same hand signals that Lori has started with.
Having a deaf dog as a part of the household will be very challenging for Powder’s new owners. Lori will insist that they are willing to make the commitment to provide Powder with a safe, loving environment for her lifetime. This means working a little harder to communicate with their new dog and providing it with a safe, fenced in yard to play. In return, they will get years of love and affection. There are great resources to learn more about deaf dog training.
The National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America, NAVTA, was organized to represent and promote the profession of veterinary technology. Founded in 1981, the association provides direction, education, support and coordination for its members and works with other allied professional organizations for the competent care and humane treatment of animals. The association is headquartered in Battle Ground, Ind.