I’ve learned a great deal about communication over the last three years from my deaf boxer, Teddy. Born deaf, Teddy does not know he is deaf, or rather, he does not know everyone else can hear. And I have learned that deaf dogs adapt quickly between hand signals, sounds/verbal commands and lip-reading.
Teddy can tell when I am talking to or about him, he takes his cues from the visual input he receives from all his pack members, including me. When I say his name, he tilts his head as if to say, “Yes?”. I know Teddy doesn’t hear me, but he has keen observation skills and has learned how my lips move and my eyes crinkle when I say his name. He also knows other words, such as treat and crate. With three dogs, Teddy also relies on his pack members by continuously reading their body language and energy. Like our hearing dogs, Teddy has learned basic hand signal commands. However, I often find he does not need the hand signal but instead relies on lip reading and visual cues. All dogs learn best through operant conditioning and positive reinforcement. And because they are so observant, deaf dogs learn very quickly. Through repetition and operant conditioning, Teddy has learned to associate some of his favorite things (treats and people) with certain noises. Ultimately, Teddy has learned how to successfully navigate within our household through repetition and reward.
Most white Boxers are deaf because of a lack of pigmentation in the ears and the loss of hair follicles. And deaf dogs present special considerations, because they don’t behave exactly as hearing dogs do. Teddy startles more easily, in fact you cannot wake him with a loud noise. Teddy is also unable to hear a dog whistle, but he has enough hair follicles left that he can distinguish changes in what he does hear. He reacts to the neighbor dogs barking even when he cannot see them, he knows when our vehicles pull into the driveway and he can be woken by the squeaky treat cupboard door opening. There are many benefits to owning a deaf dog, including the fact that noises aren’t a distraction to them. While deaf dogs can pick up on the vibrations in their environment, they simply don’t have the sound sensitivities that can afflict hearing dogs. Teddy has been such a great addition to our household – he loves to cuddle, he is not alarmed by fireworks or thunderstorms and I would encourage you to consider adopting a deaf dog the next time you’re looking for a new addition.
Karen Pryor is a renowned trainer see what she has to say on operant conditioning
Here is a link to a great article on white Boxers and deafness