13/10/2019 - Deaf Dogs
Last week my 12-year-old beagle, Barnaby, had a routine ear and teeth clean while having surgery. Unfortunately, wax and plaque weren’t the only things he lost – he awoke completely deaf.
He also initially suffered vestibular issues – walking in circles, falling over and flickering eyes. For the first 24 to 48 hours he was very confused and it was quite distressing. My priority was to make him feel safe again. I did this by letting him know when I was leaving the room, being there when he awoke and there was a few more cuddles than usual.
Whilst we are unsure whether his hearing loss is permanent (in all likelihood it is is), I also needed to review how we communicated.
Anyone who knows me will tell you, I’m quite a verbal person. And this experience has made me realise I am a very verbal trainer. I needed to dramatically change my communication strategy!
Barnaby had one of the fastest and reliable recalls. No matter what he was doing, I simply called ‘Come’ and he would run as fast as his wee beagle legs would carry him to where I was. Not anymore!
We are in our early days of navigating this change. I have taught him a new visual marker and also a visual recall cue. However, he isn’t always looking at me, so how will I work that? Step 2, I have reinforced check-ins (when he turns his head towards me for eye contact). I initially made a rookie mistake of reinforcing any check-ins which resulted in amazing heeling on our morning amble - not the result I was after! My walks are all about sniffing and exploring. So I taught him that lead pressure (either he gets to the end or I jiggle it) equals check-in. Then you may get further instructions - carry on walking visual cue, stay where you are visual cue or come back to me visual cue.
The more training of our new communication strategy I have done, the more confident and happy Barnaby has become. We just returned from a really enjoyable walk. There was wagging tails, frequent check-ins but also wonderful sniffing.
I have some new ideas swirling in my head, so stay tuned as Barnaby and I learn new ways to communicate. I am thankful we have the wonderful foundation of a trusting relationship.
And for Barnaby I think there is a silver lining - he doesn’t have to put up with a noisy Labrador squeaking his loud toys anymore! I have a feeling he will manage just fine.