Parker: Teacup Poodle (parti-color). Copyright Christine Pellicano 2007
I awoke with a lot of questions about Parker, the little parti-colored Teacup Poodle who apparently has some hearing loss, may be totally deaf, we’re just not sure yet.
Parker is now I believe five months old. He is truly tiny, but, I’m not sure his size has anything at all to do with his hearing loss. I don’t know that the cause matters any longer. His owners love him, as his pet-sitter, I love him, and, we will deal. I should mention, I have a partially deaf dog of my own. My male Maltese, Giorgio, had to have two total ablations (removal of both inner ears) owing to recurrent ear infections that were causing him great pain and simply couldn’t be cured (not even by the “miracle” Blue Power mixture of gentian violet, boric acid, and isopropyl alcohol. See Helen McKinnon’s website “It’s For The Animals” for the correct recipe as there are many bad formulas circulating online). It is different to have a young puppy that is deaf. Giorgio had already grown up and experienced regular obedience training, familiarizing him with all the hand signals (as well as looks I may give for something he shouldn’t do or something that made me happy). What to do for a teeny deaf puppy who at some points whines so loud he just might pierce one of MY eardrums?
So, of course, I Googled “deaf puppy.” First, I found websites that provide some answers to the various causes of deafness. I’m assuming no one has punctured his eardrums, that he had no serious diseases before he came to live with his humans. I’m thinking genetics.
I don’t get into genetics much. Frankly, it makes my head spin. I know coat color can indicate many genetic problems in a dog, the dapple, double-dapple, merle and double merle, and, something called “lethal white.” I’ll provide a link or two now so that you can read all about the genetics of coat color and the problems (sometimes fatal) in the dogs created for these looks: Deaf Puppies, Deaf Dogs; and, A Study of Congenital Deafness In Dogs is another good article.
As I said, the why isn’t important except, perhaps, to help a prospective puppy buyer learn about what they might be in for if they go for some of the fancy looking coat color combinations and patterns. At least, know what you’re getting into, and, what to ask the breeder of your potential puppy.
My question, why is he barking, whining, if he can’t hear me, actually has an answer as I found on this website: Why The Deaf Dog Barks Well, the answer is sort of there. It is a problem of communication and instinct. I guess the puppy Parker has the instinct to whine for momma’s attention, and, because he can’t hear himself, his whine gets louder and louder and piercing. And because we can’t communicate with him other than to give in to his whine (example, pick him up), he continues.
We don’t want to simply give in because that will reinforce his whining for attention. Hand signals definitely work to communicate with a dog. In fact, I’m positive much of our body language and eye contact communicates with dogs. So the thing will be to come up with specific physical signals Parker can begin to associate with specific behaviors, like come, sit, good, and oh boy can we get a “quiet” in there too please!
The article Why The Deaf Dog Barks is from a clicker training site, and, they suggest use of a laser toy to get the pup’s attention so that he can see the signal and associate it with the behavior and then reward the behavior. They stress caution because of the potential for retinal damage if a laser is shined into the eyes directly. There is also a problem if you have other dogs around and a problem if one mis-uses the laser, because, lasers for play can create obsessive behavior in a dog.
Quote from the above site:
Besides the difficulty of merely trying to praise your pup, another constant challenge will be in getting your pup’s attention. You will not be able to “call” the dog in a conventional fashion. Until you create a signal connected with “attention”, your deaf puppy will not have a “name”. Outside of actually touching the pup, you will be unable to communicate.
For the inventive owner, technology can help make communication easier. While flashlights work well at night, they are of limited use during daylight hours. A laser pointer can be used, instead, as a way of “calling” the dog. Laser light is far brighter than flashlights, and can reach up to 100 yards, at night. By shining the laser spot in front of the dog, or on a wall, you can attract the dog’s attention the way a hearing dog responds to its name. Because of potential damage to the dog’s retina, special care should be used to make sure the laser light is never shined directly in the dog’s eyes.
In Parker’s case, I think a laser might be useful. Fortunately, Parker is reliably paper-trained. That’s a huge hurdle overcome for a deaf puppy. And, he hasn’t been definitively diagnosed yet as deaf; maybe something will change for him?
A better alternative to the laser, perhaps, might be a vibrating collar as discussed on the Deaf Dog Education Action Fund The website provides a graph comparing the various vibrating collars available. We’ll have to see if there is one that is tiny enough to be worn by a one pound dog. Like the laser light, the vibrating collar is an attention getting device, not a training device. The training takes place by using visual signs to communicate with the dog, assigning specific signs to specific behaviors, and, rewarding and positively reinforcing those behaviors. Just like hearing dog-training only modified for communicating without sound.
Training a deaf puppy can be done. I think, for one as tiny as Parker, the training would require some modifications. I usually put small dogs up on a table (with a harness and leash on) to teach basic behaviors anyway, so, I am optimistic that basic obedience can be learned.
This little guy is bright as a new dime and a quick learner, with no fears. He has a true Poodle spirit. I set out the doggie stairs when Harry (Yorkie) arrived last night, showed Parker just once how to climb them to the bed, and, he was running up and down the small stairs on his own in record time.
All this is well and good. I just want to stop that ear piercing whine! LOL
One more article for you: Training The Deaf Dog