Sunday, February 27, 2011

Deaf dogs can make good pets with training

By Leanne Italie, from The Daily Reflector

Morgan Shumard and fiance Tim Self are experienced dog owners, but they weren't entirely sure about Norton, a 70-pound pit bull, after they fell in love with him on a website.
It's not the breed. The couple in Burton, Mich., had lost a pit bull and were in search of another. It's that Norton is completely deaf.
They were nervous about whether they could train him, and how he would fit in with their two other dogs, a mid-size English bull terrier and a Chihuahua. They were concerned he might be too skittish and nippy to mix with their young nieces.
They needn't have worried.
A rescue group that saved Norton from euthanasia after he was left with a veterinarian taught him some basic sign language that his new family built on using treats and repetition: an “OK” sign placed on a forehead for “drop it” and a thumbs up for praise.
“In the beginning, when the dogs would all play fight, it would get rougher, and it was a big change from being able to communicate with a dog verbally,” Shumard said. “I was worried about him being startled or running all over the other dogs, but he's very sweet, very tuned in.”
Six months after his adoption, 2-year-old Norton is the hit of the neighborhood. “He uses our other dogs to hear noises for him,” Shumard said. “When he's asleep we tell Gracie, our bull terrier, to go wake him up, and we stomp to get his attention so he can feel the vibrations. I call him my one-in-a-million dog.”
The prevalence of hereditary deafness in dogs, which is the most frequent cause, isn't known across breeds, but the likelihood increases with the presence of white pigmentation, either in patterns or solids, said Dr. George Strain, a professor of neuroscience at Louisiana State's veterinary school in Baton Rouge.
About 90 breeds in all are most affected, he said. There's also a strong correlation between deafness and blue eyes.
Dalmatians have the highest prevalence of deafness in the United States, Strain said. Based on hearing tests he conducted on 5,638 of the dogs, he found 7.8 percent (or 411) were deaf in both ears and 21.7 percent (or 1,226) were deaf in one ear.
“If a Dalmatian is in a pound, there's a very good chance that he's deaf,” Strain said.
The notion that deaf dogs have no hope for happy lives angers some owners and members of the human deaf community. A particular sore spot is a written recommendation from the Dalmatian Club of America that all bilaterally deaf Dalmatians — those deaf in both ears — be destroyed.
Scott Facey of the club's hearing research committee defended the recommendation. “You have people trying to put human traits on an animal. That is not the case,” said Facey, a Dalmatian breeder in Springfield, Mass.

1 comment:

  1. Dogs who lose their hearing later in life, may become aggressive but it is only because of their confusion. Unlike humans, they do not understand what is happening to them and can lash out in fear when startled. Never come up behind a deaf dog who is sleeping. Even when he is awake, if he can't see you come up behind him, he may be momentarily startled and and act aggressively.

    It is extremely important to learn how to communicate with, and train, your dog using hand signals. Whether you use American Sign Language, standard obedience signs, or signals of your own development, it is very important that you and other people who interact with your dog, are consistent with the signs that you use. Additionally, it is wise to use signs that require only one hand and can be easily detected by your dog from a distance away.



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