One of the things I learned at the BlogPaws conference in Nashville was the importance of staying focused on my mission. The question isn’t WHAT is my mission but rather WHO is my mission?
The answer is simple: my mission is deaf dogs. I am writing and working for them, to raise awareness about their existence, needs and capabilities, to be an advocate and to help them live rich, full, happy lives. In order to make that happen , my audience happens to be people- those of you who live with deaf dogs and dog-lovers everywhere who want to help dogs, deaf or not. My audience is you.
In blogging about deaf dogs, I write about things that are deaf dog specific, but I also write about topics that apply equally to hearing dogs. I share lots of stories, photos and videos of my deaf dogs because they are my inspiration but also because they serve as symbols. Edison is my deaf dog but he also represents deaf dogs in general. As true as this is, it would be a disservice to my mission to not share other deaf dogs and their stories. I want to highlight other dogs,and the experience of their parents to help paint a more colorful and complete picture of deaf dogs and a life lived with them.
To this end, I asked Bonnie Dewkett to be a guest blogger. I asked her to share the story of her deaf dog Summit. His needs are very different than Edison and Foster’s, and accordingly, her training goals, techniques and successes are different. But each of us who loves dogs, each of us in the deaf dog community has different stories. It is through this patchwork of personalities, needs, experiences and voices that the deaf dog story can be heard.
You can connect with Bonnie here.
I’m here to tell you the story of Summit, a deaf and scrawny, 6-month old rescue dog who changed my whole life. But let me back the story up for you a bit…
Four years ago, my husband and I adopted our first dog. My husband grew up with dogs. I did not. While I thought dogs were adorable, I hadn’t ever felt companionship with one. And I certainly didn’t want one to LICK me. If that happened, I acted like Lucy from Peanuts…screaming about dog germs, disinfectant and iodine.
So what possessed me to get a dog? I’ll never be able to answer that, but I do know that after months and months of searching, I fell in love with Roxy on the Glen Highland Farm website. She had been deemed unadoptable and was just there for display. She had been through a number of families already and had been returned. She had OCD issues and they were bad. But this isn’t a story about Roxy.
Fast forward about three years when our deaf dog Summit came into our lives. A breeder who couldn’t sell him gave him to Glen Highland Farm. He was also adopted out and returned to the farm. We saw Summit on their website and thought he was adorable (he was then known as Kiran). We thought to inquire about him, but in the meantime we were asked to foster him. A volunteer drove him to our home one winter evening and I was smitten.
Summit was just as kooky as the rescue organization had stated, but his cuteness level was off the chart.
Despite being interested in us, he was skittish and also a little fearful. We started by letting him sniff about and get some snuggles from us when he wanted them. However, we had no idea what was to come.
In the following weeks and months, we slowly started training Summit. We redirected him when he was chasing things or racing around obsessively (while this isn’t a healthy habit, it certainly burns calories and I’ve considered taking it up on my own).
We use positive reinforcement and redirection. If either of our dogs is behaving in an undesirable way, we change what they are thinking about. If they are doing something we approve of, they get positive reinforcements.
Working with an OCD dog is all about redirection. If they are obsessing or exhibiting a behavior you don’t want, like jumping at the ceiling, getting them to stop can be a challenge, especially if he is deaf. However, I found a simple tap somewhere on the body got him to stop thinking about the obsession and pay attention to me. Once I had his attention, we would play or walk or snuggle, all of which changed his mind about how interesting the shadows were.
Getting a dog to change his state of mind is easy. However, be prepared to do it over and over and over again. It’s all about consistency in order to be effective. When we first adopted the dogs, I spent hours and hours with each of them redirecting them. Eventually, they lost interest in the obsession. However, be patient. It takes time and energy and commitment.
I went out and bought an American Sign Language book, read countless blogs and starting doing all the research I could in order to give Summit the best chance of being able to communicate with us. However, we had to stop the obsessing first. This took a while (months and months in fact). However, during this time I just signed to him whenever we did something, like going outside, eating a meal or getting a little love.
Eventually he started to calm down (and we’re still not 100% calm!). At the same time, he started to recognize the sign language and all of those days, weeks and months of feeling like I was talking (signing) to myself were paying off.
Summit now knows about a dozen signs. He recognizes everything from stay to good boy. His favorite sign is “I Love You”, which means pets and snuggles are coming his way.
The process of teaching Summit sign was slow and repetitive. However, I can’t say there was any one time it was frustrating or upsetting. I simply started signing every time I did something. If we got in the car, I signed it. If we went for a walk, I signed it. Eventually, he started to associate the signs with the activities and I found that I could trigger an action by signing it first. When we started, I made a sign sheet for my husband and I as a reference. I also gave copies to my in-laws who watch you dogs a lot. You can see the sign I made on this blog post. I still want to teach him more signs, which I know will come with time.
We’ve had Summit about 18 months now and he just turned two. He is now a love bug who no longer shies away from petting; rather, he demands it. He would rather get snuggled than race around the room. He prefers to have a careful eye on you at all times. If he can be touching me, that’s even better. For example, I work from home and he will sleep under my desk, but he really prefers when he can be ON my foot. If I were to get up and move, he will know it and can follow suit.
The bond between Roxy and Summit is amazing. While I’m sure Roxy was thrilled being an “only dog”, she now engages Summit a few times a day for a friendly game of hide and seek, chase and race around my office area. If Summit has dithered off and I can’t easily catch his eye to get him to come back to me I can tell Roxy to “Go get Summit.” And she will! Roxy was very well voice command trained and Summit is so in love with her, he follows suit. It’s much easier for a deaf dog to have a buddy dog like Roxy.
When I take Summit to places like the park or the vet’s office people are shocked to know he’s deaf. He looks at me frequently and often the signs I give him are so small and quick that they can easily go unseen by someone who isn’t paying attention.
Since I work from home, I could adjust my schedule to work with Summit, as he needed it. I would have had a more difficult time training him if I only saw him in the evening hours after work. I feel that his training success was due to repetition, patience and love.
Summit has taught me that disabilities are not a disadvantage at all. It’s a new way to see the world around us. His deafness has taught me to think about others around me more. I am now more empathetic to people who may be in need. Summit brightens the day of everyone he comes into contact with. Often people tell me they think it’s amazing I chose to adopt a deaf dog. I think it’s amazing he chose me.