Helping a Deaf and Fearful Dog Stop Being So Nervous

By: David Codr

Published Date: August 5, 2016

Artemis and Sage

For this session I revisited a pair of deaf Blue Heelers I first worked with two years ago; Artemis (Front) and Sage. The guardians called me back for another dog obedience session to stop Artemis from protesting and trying to block guests who leave as well as Sage’s continued fear around new people. Helping a fearful dog is challenging, but one of the more rewarding parts of my job.

It’s quite possible that Sage is the most fearful dog Ive ever met. The fact that she cannot hear makes things more challenging as a number of the techniques that I would normally use to distract her involve sound. Training a deaf dog doesn’t have to be difficult, but it certainly is a different challenge.

If a dog is in an unbalanced state of mind; fearful, anxious, nervous, etc – you cant really train it or change its behavior as its in a state of hysteria. Positive reinforcement or positive dog training only works when the dog is in a calm and balanced state of mind.

A better strategy is to distract the dog by throwing a ball, doing some training, going for a walk or engaging with a toy etc. If you can, try to get the dog moving forward. Dogs get over things by literally walking, running or moving in a forward direction.

After a brief discussion about how and when to pet the dogs to reward them for desired actions, we got to work on his behavior problems. First up was Artemis’s behavior when guests try to leave.

Being a herding breed, I’m guessing that Artemis’s behavior is an attempt to try to control the situation. Most likely to tell the person that they don’t need to leave or that she doesn’t want them to.

Dog’s often gets more excited and fired up the more they move around. I did a little leash training to show the guardian how she could use this tool to help her dog settle itself down and maintain control while the guests are leaving.

I suggested that the guardians practice this technique every time a guest leaves for the next two weeks. If they practice it enough, they should be able to transition to having the dog on the leash but not holding it. The next step would be to practice moving to the same position on the left of the door and then asking to talk to sit/stay while the guest leaves without a leash at all. It will take some practice, but if the humans are consistent and practice regularly, Artemis should be able to stop the behavior and remain calm at the door without any restraint.

Next I went over a counter conditioning technique that the guardians can utilize to stop Artemis’s reaction to seeing sailboats or planes flying overhead.

Counterconditioning is a long-term solution, but it does take a little bit more time and effort. It will be important for the guardian to utilize the counterconditioning technique every single time that a boat or any other object outside of the window attracts Artemis’s attention. If they are patient and do not get the dog too close to the stimulus too fast, Artemis should learn to stop behaving this way when she see’s sailboats, planes or anything else that currently cause her to react.

I have found that the Watch exercise is a great way to help the dogs develop control and give the guardians a tool that enables them to redirect their dog. I grabbed some high value treats and set out to demonstrate this technique with Artemis.

I recommended that the guardian practice the Watch exercise with both dogs, but separately. It will be important that they incorporate a hand signal so that they can redirect the dogs into a watch anytime they are anxious, nervous or overexcited.

Throughout the session up till now, I had ignored Sage completely. As a result she had grown more comfortable and was getting closer and closer to us, sort of circling the room. I had hoped that she would come over all the way, but it was clear that this was still just too much for her to process.

I tossed some treats on the floor to get her moving around. Some between us and some further away. DOgs can get locked into things so getting them moving around can help stop them from focusing on one thing.

While running is great exercise for us, running next to a human is not as good of a workout for a dog as being able to run and pull as fast as they want. I have found one of the best activities to burn excess energy while running is what I like to call Dogsking.

By the end of the session, Sage was able to stay in place while I got within about 15 feet of her. Considering she normally would run to the far side of the room and bark constantly, this was good progress.

It’s going to take some concerted effort’s from the members of Sage’s family to help her get over these fears. Number one on the list is to stop petting her anytime she is anxious or nervous.

I would also like to see all of the members of the family practicing the Watch exercise with her at least once a day. Just like any other skill, the dogs will get better at it the more they practice it.

I also suggested that they start trying to pet the dog for a purpose. By asking Sage to sit or lay down before they pet her, they can help her start to identify more as a follower. I think a big part of Sage’s problem is that she is a dog breed that is designed to be a leader or independent thinker.

But in her case, her deafness combined with lower self-esteem and humans not acting like followers is most likely causing her a lot of stress and anxiety. If the humans can help the dog start to identify as a follower, they can remove a lot of this responsibility which should result in a big drop off in the amount of stress she feels.

Even something as simple as adding structure to mealtime can go a long ways towards helping Sage adopt the followers mindset that we are looking for. To that end, I showed the guardians how they can change meal time to help in that regard.

But in the end, I think that it’s going to be assisting Sage in confronting her fears that finally allows her to get over the hump. Choosing the right people, taking their time and having guests ignore the dog until Sage shows that he is comfortable will be huge factors in Sage’s rehabilitation.

I asked the guardians to follow up with me in one week so that we can monitor the progress that they are making and make any necessary adjustments. It’s clear that both dogs are intelligent so with the right technique, consistency and good timing, we should be able to help Sage learn to stop being so fearful while Artemis learns to stay cool when people leave.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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