Nearly three years have flown since I e-mailed firstname.lastname@example.org [deaf dogs long Flexi hearing aid] with my desperate plea for ideas to prevent our vivacious, bright, brisk and busy Brittany, Annie, having an impossible future of on-lead walking because of age-related deafness. The e-mail was also published in the May 2010 magazine. Annie was then 11.1/2 years old, could hear neither my voice nor the whistle I used, even if she was close to me, and thus became virtually out of control. To be permanently on-lead would have been cruel.
I thought it might be of interest if I followed up with the experiences with Annie who, with a little extra care, very happily continued to be allowed to “free-range” without harm to herself or anything else and most thoroughly enjoyed life.
Before that I want to thank Dogs Today and those who responded to my query.
With my query was one from another person about dog whistles. As a result of that, the first thing I did was to telephone Acme Whistles (0121 5542124, www.acmewhistles.co.uk) who, without guarantee, suggested I try their Acme 212. It arrived next day. Contrary to efforts when she first came to live with us at 18 months’ old, Annie was a joy to retrain, it taking only two days’ retraining “recall”, “this way”, “stop” in the house, then garden, before I was using the whistle successfully in the fields and woodland. Her whistle-hearing range was up to about 60 feet, sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on the conditions. It was brilliant.
Secondly, I bought the wonderful booklet “Hear Hear” by Barry Eaton (01264 860108, www.deaf-dogs-help.co.uk) which contains so much sensible and practical advice suitable for training any dog, deaf or not, and which I wish we’d had years earlier. We had already learned from Annie that she responded well to signals and we had to be careful that the use of our hands did not confuse her. Barry Eaton’s booklet helped to refine this means of communication, again “recall”, “this way”, “stop” and many others. Her response to the whistle and signals was spectacular, enthusiastic and joyous and I wondered if her hearing had not been right for some time (she came to us with a severe infection of ear mites, amongst other things).
We chose not to try a vibrating collar; as well as being willful and bossy, Annie was very sensitive and could become “spooked”. She was also selectively deaf so we would not have known if it was successful or not.
We also chose not to use a long line, having tried one for nine months in unsuccessfully training her when we bought her at 18 months old. Although this was for a different purpose, many difficulties encountered then would be the same.
Where necessary the 28-foot extending lead was more than adequate. When we walked in populated areas, an 8-foot extending lead was easier for control. These were possible because years earlier we had devised a leg harness to attach to a commercial chest harness. Although the chest harness on its own was an instrument of torture for Annie, she accepted the linked harnesses very happily, causing her no problems and enabling us to take her on otherwise out-of-bounds exciting excursions. Without these combined harnesses her impetuosity and obsessiveness would have made such excursions impossible. In addition we always ensured she had plenty of “free-range” exercise.
For in-house, and for when she wasn’t too far away in the garden, when the whistle was rather too intrusive, I successfully trained her to come to the ringing of a bell which I think is used for caged parrots to play with. She could hear this for up to about 15 feet away.
More recently Annie confused the long loud whistle of “recall” and the two short sharp of “this way” as both meaning recall. I don’t know whether this was because of her hearing but I suspect I became sloppy in my rewarding. Either way it didn’t matter as the two short were much easier for me for when she was not too far away. As she aged she became more attentive and didn’t run as fast, far or wide.
I am surprised that many people fail to understand that a deaf dog cannot hear and that signals and/or whistles have to be taught.
For those, who are concerned that their dog’s failing hearing is causing it a less fulfilled life, I would recommend making the effort to try retraining. If it works it is wonderful and rewarding; it enhances the lives of dog and owner. It strengthens that very special bond which we are so privileged to experience with our dogs for far too short a time.