Helping Two Deaf Blue Blue Heelers Learn to Relax and Behave

By: David Codr

Published Date: March 4, 2015

Sage and Artemis

For this session I worked with Sage (left) a one year old deaf Australian Cattle dog and her room mate, six year old Artemis who is also deaf.

Their owner called me in to help stop Artemis’s anxiety and excitement when going for a car ride (incessant whining and drooling), reaction to light reflections and strong desire to chase company out of the house so that the dog could chase / heard their car. They also wanted some help with Sage who is afraid of everyone and everything and her strong pulling on the leash.

When I arrived for the session Artemis met me at the door while Sage barked and circled the room staying as far away as the floor plan would allow. I always stay at the door and give overexcited dogs a minute or two to settle down when I first arrive for a session. But after a few moments, Sage’s barking was only getting louder and more intense so I had one of her owners put her on a leash.

As soon as Sage was on the leash, she stopped barking but was still clearly anxious and was pulling on the leash. I had her owner bring the dog over and pass the leash to me. Sage immediately kicked into flight mode, so I simply held the leash in place. After a moment she settled down slightly so I put the leash on the ground and stepped on it to prevent her from running away. I didn’t look at her, talk to her or attempt to interact with her in any way. Sage had clearly developed a flight reaction when meeting new people and my initial goal was to help her understand that I posed no threat.

Within a few moments Sage calmed down a little more, but I wouldn’t call her demeanor calm or relaxed. After she laid down I waited a moment to be sure she wasn’t going to get back up. Once I was sure that was the case I slid the foot standing on the leash towards her to take the tension off the leash. After pausing a moment to be sure she wasn’t going to run away, I slowly moved my foot off the leash discretely so she didn’t realize she was no longer restrained.

I suggested that her owners apply this same technique when guests arrived. When we allow an unbalanced dog in an anxious state to run around the room barking their disagreement, they often get themselves all worked up. By adding a leash this way, we can prevent the dog from using their pacing and motion from intensifying their reaction.

It will be important that the future guests do not try to “make friends” with Sage when she is on a leash this way. The end game is to help the dog understand that when these visitors arrive, they mean no harm. While its common for humans to want to “prove” this is case by showing the dog with love, treats and affection. In reality the best thing to do is completely ignore the dog and wait for it to initiate contact with the human. The indicator that this is the case is seeing the dog’s nostrils flare and attempt to move closer to the human on its own.

During the course of the session, one of her owners repeatedly told me that she didn’t want to be mean to the dogs and asked how she could not pet them when they looked so cute. While unconditional love is great for humans, dogs can interpret an abundance of love as weakness. I reminded her that just because she didn’t allow her children to have chocolate for breakfast, it did not make her mean. Sometimes as a parent and guardian, we have to play the part of leader, not friend or follower. It will be a challenge to not shower the dogs with love as she has in the past, but by making the dogs work for it, they will be better off in the long run.

To stop Artemis’s habit of chasing guests out the door, I showed their owner who to claim the doorway. I was able to move him away and communicate the boundary I wanted her to respect fairly easily. Once that was the case I had her owner practice the exercise. At first she was a little slow in her reaction to the dog’s movement and as a result Artemis didn’t respond the same way at first. But we stuck with it and after a few moments her owner was able to claim the space in the same way.

I suggested that her owner apply this same technique at times where Artemis was whining or pacing hear the door as well as when guest arrive or leave. Its important to disagree with anxiety as soon as its starts. Because both dogs are deaf, their owners will need to use movement combined with positioning to help the dogs understand what they do and don’t want.

Next I pulled out a laser to see how reactive Artemis was. Quick answer; VERY. I decided to put Artemis on a leash and then repeated the laser test. But this time as soon as Artemis saw the red dot, i gave a quick tug on the leash. As soon as I did, Artemis looked up to me so I offered a high value treat to reward the action. After the correction, it was easy to break Artemis’s stare and her reaction to the racing dot was almost non existent.

Her owners will need to repeat this exercise before she learns to stop fixating and hunting the laser dot and light reflections, but based on how quickly Artemis responded to my lead, I doubt it will take long.

To stop Sage’s pulling on the leash, I showed her owner how to add my special twist to the leash using the Martingale collar she already had. When we headed out on a short walk, both owners said that while she still pulled, it wasn’t as bad as before. I offered a few exercises and tips and suggested that they practice them with individual dog walks until they adopt the new heel rules. Once that is the case, they can start practicing with the dogs together.

To address Artemis’s anxiety in the car, I had her owner pack them up so I could see it first hand. The dogs were fine getting into the car. No overexcitement or anxiety. But as soon as we started backing out of the garage, Artemis started to whine uncontrollably. I has her owner stop the car and added a leash to Artemis then we headed out again.

As soon as Artemis started to whine, I gave a quick tug on the leash to disagree similar to what I did with the laser. Now Its important to distinguish a quick tug over a violent jerk of the leash; a poor reaction or technique I see many dog owners and some dog trainers employ. This harsh correction does not usually help and in many case can cause damage to the trust and relationship between dog and guardian. My goal with the tug was simply to acknowledge the dog’s anxiety while also communicating that it wasn’t desired. Over the course of a five minute drive, I only had to give Artemis one additional tug.

I asked her owner to return to the home so we could pick up her husband to take my place holding the leash. As we headed out for round two, he only needed to correct Artemis three times. When their owners said how nice it was to be driving with Artemis without a a constant stream of whining, I got a big small on my face.

Usually by the end of my sessions, the dogs are calmer, are listening to their owners better and are in a balanced state of mind. While I was able to stop all of the problems their owners asked me to, I wasn’t able to get sage to relax completely. She is probably the most skittish dog that I have ever worked with and due to being deaf the number of times that she’s been startled unexpectedly and certainly contributed to that.

Sitting on the floor at the end of the session I was able to get Sage to come over and take treats out of my hand, something her owner said no one outside the family had been able to do. One of the dog’s owners commented that usually my session write ups mention the dogs are completely calm and that bothered me as it was not the case with Sage. However she was much calmer than the start of the session, and her owner said she was satisfied as I had addressed the main issues she wanted help with; Artemis was no longer trying to heard people in our out the door, the car whining had stopped and moving lights were not getting the same reaction as before.

It will be important that their owners practice the new techniques and exercises we went over, specifically regarding Sage when guests arrive. If given space and time, eventually Sage will earn that visitors mean her no harm and she will be able to settle down and relax. I told her owners to post updates here often as I want to make sure that we can get Sage into that calm and balanced mindset that my other client dogs enjoy.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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