WE PLANT THE "SEEDS OF IDEAS" IN DOG OWNERS MINDS - THESE IDEAS EVENTUALLY BLOSSOM INTO A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF DOG BEHAVIOUR - Sally Hopkins
WE PLANT THE "SEEDS OF IDEAS" IN DOG OWNERS MINDS - THESE IDEAS EVENTUALLY BLOSSOM INTO A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF DOG BEHAVIOUR - Sally Hopkins

TRAINING A DEAF DOG FOR AGILITY By Helen Brown

About the author of this article - Helen Brown

I was trained as a horse riding instructor and from college went straight into various jobs with horses - from instructing 4 year olds to traveling around the country with a three-day event team. I became assistant trainer at a National Hunt yard, but too many falls while show jumping and training young horses meant I took another direction - Agility!

 

In the beginning I didn't even know which side to put the dogs into the weaves, and what were "contacts"? Then I met my husband, Andy, got him a dog and he gave up his motor bikes, I gave up the horses, and we began competing together. I won out of Starters in April 1990.

 

We began with rescue dogs until we bought our first Border Collie. She was full of problems but we learnt a lot from her. We have had several terriers, a rescue Belgium Shepherd who thought in the beginning he had to bite everything - even me. Also two deaf dogs - the first a Border Collie, the second we saw on the Channel 4 TV program "Pet Rescue".

 

We have both qualified for many major finals over the years. The last two dogs we have acquired have been pedigrees, hoping that we may make it to the World Championships (which demand that the dogs be pedigree!). Another story....

But Andy's Belgium Shepherd (Sky) qualified to be in the Belgium Shepherd World Championships in 2005 so I have taken on the FCI training for the United Kingdom Team.

 

(NOTE: Andy and Sky were part of the winning UK team and they also won the Individual World Belgium Shepherd Dog Championship! Sky was the youngest dog in the whole competiton too!)

 

I also teach competitive agility handlers on a professional basis (both private lessons and small groups) at my own inside and outside venues and also at training days at other clubs.

For further information please contact me on maddoghouse@btinternet.com

With the basic training completed I began to train Gale to do agility. With so many commands given in agility I had to narrow it down -

"GO"

I taught her a go - just a sweep of the hand which would do to send her to the equipment and also to release her from the Contacts.

CONTACTS - A FRAME, DOG WALK & SEE SAW

I couldn't have a separate command for each of these pieces of equipment so I decided to just send her to each obstacle using the "GO" command. So to start with I taught her the contact points - just the contact point. I did this by lifting her on to the painted area and then using a flat hand to command "Wait", then using the "Go" signal to release her. Once this training was solid on all three pieces of equipment, I then just did a normal contact, running next to her on the lead using a "GO" command to send her on to the piece of contact equipment and putting the "STOP"....."GO" commands at the other end. As you can see, the main problem with this training method is that you have to be there, but that is the case with most agility with a deaf dog.

JUMPS

These I taught the same as a normal hearing dog, beginning with the poles on the ground and re-calling her over them, then using the "GO" command to send her over. If I hit a problem I would just put her back on the lead, gradually building the height of the jumps just as you would normally.

TYRE

Once again, with someone holding her on one side, I trained this the same as a hearing dog. Using a "GO" command, with a toy in my hand, I indicated to the gap in the tyre; once she went through, I gave her the toy. Gradually I worked further back from the tyre, sending her to it again on a "GO" command.

Remember that with all training to use lots of positive rewards. Toys are great but treats work well too.

WEAVES

I only train weaves one way - using normal upright weaves (see Weaves page in the Agility section of this web site) - as I have only ever taught weaves this way. As we have had several Advanced and Senior dogs who have been taught using this method we know this works well for us, but I am sure other methods would work as long as you are really confident in what you are doing.

 

I always begin by using only three poles, with Gale on the lead. The signal I use as I help her through the weaves is that of a snake like movement, with my hand moving forward on its side, emulating the movement of the weaves. Just using three or four poles means the action is very quick and the reward is soon given. You can build up the speed very quickly and if you have a problem you can just tuck a treat in under your thumb to encourage the dog to follow the hand. Do not forget to teach your dog to weave on both your left and right side as agility requires that dogs can work with their handler on either side of them. As your dog's confidence grows you can then add more poles.

TUNNELS

Get a person to hold the dog at one end of the tunnel while you go to the other end. Use a toy in your hand in a "GO" command, get the dog through the tunnel and travelling away away from it, so the dog learns to run in and away. Once again move further back and send your dog into the tunnel using the sweeping hand "GO" movement.

BASIC HANDLING

Teaching the equipment is just the beginning - putting it together is the hard bit! One of the main problems is not ending up with a whirling dog because he is looking at you too much. Getting the balance of looking at you and going off doing their own thing is hard.

  • But what ever happens you will have to run - there is no getting around this problem - so when you get your deaf puppy begin to get fit!
     
  • To get around the course, a "Wait", or even a bit of a wait, will help. You have to constantly use your arm, keeping it smoothly going in the direction you wish your dog to go.
     
  • Always use the arm nearest the dog - I know some people use the opposite arm with their dogs but this will not work with a deaf dog as too much twisting of the body causes them to turn across your body.
     
  • You need to be able to travel from one and to all the equipment. Try to be as smooth as possible.
     
  • Call Throughs (where a dog runs between jumps or other pieces of equipment rather than going over them) should be fairly easy - if you drop your shoulder back and your arm down the dog should follow. Jut make sure that you do not make this "Call Through" command too much like a "GO" command or you could loose your recall start, as I did with my first dog. She would still wait on the start line but when I released her she would run to me, confused as to whether it was a "Call Through" or a "GO". I changed the "Call Through" to a pointed finger, not a sweep of the hand, but it was a bit late for me.
  • Turns are needed as well - twizzles (turning & changing direction in front of your dog while looking at it) and even blind switches (turning direction in front of your dog with your back to it) are useful so get your trainer to teach you these movements. To start with try to learn these moves with another (hearing) dog before attempting them with your deaf dog.

Good luck with all your training - the most useful thing to know is to put your dog away if nothing is going right, or if you are confused you are not as confused as your deaf dog!

 

Dog Games also recommends Chrissy Gough of Cara Dog Training who has plenty of experience of training handlers of deaf dogs

 

 

This web site has been written by Sally Hopkins (unless the author of the web page is stated otherwise).

 

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