Let There Be Light – A Deaf Dog Training Conundrum
By: Erika Proctor – Director of Animal Behavior and Specialist at Green Dogs Unleashed
Photo above: Notice the dog going after the light reflection of the doggy pool on the carport?
Photo credit: Great Dane Chasing Laser light from Why Dogs Chase Laser Beams on www.livescience.com
“Should I use a flashing light device to train my deaf dog?”
A question I recently seem to be asked daily. As an Animal Behavior Specialist that specializes in working with special needs dogs and cats, I feel a strong need to weigh in on these recent “Light Training” questions.
These questions often arise over finding a new method in which to communicate with a Deaf Dog. Although I will cover other tried and true methods in another article, there are many reasons I am adamantly against any use of light training or play with deaf but sighted dogs, as well as hearing dogs. The recent viral videos portraying some of these Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) behaviors as “adorable” have left a huge chasm of concern for me.
The use of any light flashes, be it at play or in training, can inadvertently CAUSE OCD Behavior. If you purposely teach a dog to seek out light, and reinforce that behavior either with treats or positive play, you will not only teach that dog to seek light for your own purpose, but also to seek light in other areas, which will then become self rewarding. This behavior can lead to shadow chasing, car chasing, ground pounding attacking the television, and dogs that are unable to stand for pictures with a flash. This is often seen in high-energy breeds such as Australian Shepherds, Cattle Dogs and Boxers, but is extremely prevalent in deaf dogs in general.
In a world were clicker training is “all the rage” I stand on a slightly different platform. My concepts are the same, to mark a positive behavior with a consistent and reliable marker, thereby alerting to the dog he performed the task as desired. However, my delivery methods are much different. I believe wholeheartedly we should never use a “marker” that is not permanently attached to our body. With hearing dogs this may mean our voices. After the command is preformed, a simple “yes” or “good”, following this compliance, is enough. With a deaf dog, I prefer either a thumbs up, or an open flash of the hand depending on food reward delivery. I feel strongly about this, as few people keep a clicker attached to themselves at all times, and our dogs rely heavily on these “markers” in order to continue behaviors. If you repeatedly miss these, because you have misplaced your “device,” then your dog will quickly learn you are not reliable.
Which leads me to perhaps the most important reason NOT to use Light Training with dogs. Whatever “marker” you choose needs to be consistent. The trainer (you) needs to make sure it is not something that can be accidentally given. With a “Light” marker, there is absolutely no control what-so-ever in any environment. People use flashes on their camera, lightening occurs naturally, shadows are cast on the ground, headlights of oncoming cars, flashes of colors and light on television, and even turning the lights on and off, can “accidentally” cue a dog. In extreme cases, you can have dogs that are “light seekers” attack the flashing lights aggressively, and possibly displace this aggression on whatever or whoever is nearby. In many cases, once the dog realizes these cues occur often and un-rewarded, you run the potential for them to become satiated, thereby no longer responding to your cues.
I know it is difficult to toss out new ideas and technology, as positive trainers have learned to rely on the sharing of information and new research. The desire to find a faster or “better” way of doing things is always strong, however the well being of the individual animal always needs to be taken into account, not only in the present, but in the future as well.
Please do your research before preaching a “newer better training” device to the masses. It could ultimately lead to the destruction of a dog that is unable to re-focus himself, as his sense of sight is heightened by his lack of hearing.
For more information on training your special needs dog, please visit us on Facebook or at GreenDogsUhleashed.com
Deaf Dogs Nitro (L) and Bud (R). Bud has come a long way with consistent redirection and keeping him out of situations that elicit OCD behavior. He is 1000% better since he constantly being redirected by me and my husband Chris.
Note from Christina of Deaf Dogs Rock: If your dog is showing signs of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, prevention is crucial to help stop such behavior, so whenever possible redirect your dog from such behavior or keep you dog out of situations that elicit OCD behaviors. When I first got our deaf dog Bud he had OCD. He would pounce at shadows on the floor or pounce on shadows on the walls. He would turn into a crazy dog whenever a butterfly would fly over his head. He would never actually chase butterfly but chase the shadow of the butterfly. It was obvious to me I couldn’t control or eliminate shadows, movement (falling leaves in the Fall were the worst) or specks of light but I did try to take simple steps to lessen the effect of OCD behaviors. For example I pulled all the curtains and blinds closed throughout my entire house. I turned on more lights in the main living room because the shadows from lamps were much worse. In the Fall when the leaves where falling, I did not let him chase the leaves. Sometimes he would completely freeze from all the leaves falling at the same time in the back yard. One day I had to go out to my back yard and literally pick him up off the ground to bring him inside because he was frozen in place from all the movement around him. It was like he had a complete brain freeze!
Your number one goal with a dog with OCD is to interrupt and redirect 100% of the time if you can. Never punish your deaf dog for something he/she can’t control. Distraction is key to the success of helping a dog get over OCD behaviors or at the very least minimize such behaviors. When Bud is having an OCD episode, I usually will stuff a Kong with kibble and Peanut Butter and give it to him in his crate. Sometimes I will get one of his favorite toys out of his toy drawer (I rotate his toys in a drawer so he always thinks he is getting a new toy). Be sure that your dog gets plenty of off leash exercise. Remember with a consistent training commitment, proper exercise and a positive outlook, you can help your dog overcome Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.