Helping a Deaf Catahoula Leopard Learn to Behave Better

Maddie and Tioga

Maddie (left) is a nine-year-old year old terrier mix who lives with Tioga, a one-year-old deaf Catahoula Leopard dog.

Their guardian wanted me to work on Maddie’s protective behavior around high value treats and other food items along with over-barking at guests. For Tioga, the guardian wanted me to show her how to get the dog to relax and stop guarding his food or blocking Maddie from eating.

As soon as I stepped into the home I could see the both of these dogs had issues with self-control and overexcitement. They didn’t over-bark but they did move around quite a bit with Tioga continually trying to jump up on me.

As many dog guardians do, Tioga and Maddie’s human had gotten into the habit of pushing or pulling them away from guests who entered her home. However dogs usually only push or shove each other when they are playing, so this technique doesn’t usually communicate to the dogs what the human intends.

Their guardian mention to me that she like to use a spray bottle as her “weapon.” As I mentioned in the video, most people use this incorrectly.

The better method is to use body language and movement to claim the area and move the dogs away by taking territory from them before opening the door.

When I sat down with her guardian to discuss the situation, I offered some tips and suggestions on how she can use petting to condition the dogs to engage in actions and behaviors that are desired by human.

While petting a dog is a good thing, the state of mind and whatever the dog is doing at the time that you provided the attention is crucially important. Essentially you are agreeing with whatever the dog is doing at the time that you pet it. So making sure that the dog is calm or engaged in some form of obedience before you provide affection can go a long ways towards conditioning the dog to be better behaved.

Next I offered some tips and suggestions for the guardian’s interactions with Tioga.  Whenever you’re dealing with a deaf dog, hand signals and body language are even more important than for other types of dogs.

I also showed their guardian a number of nonverbal communication cues to employ whenever the dogs are engaged in an unwanted action or behavior. By using his nonverbal communication  cues on a regular basis, the guardian and dogs will both have a better understanding of what each other is trying to communicate.

I like teaching dog guardians how do use these nonverbal communication cues because it’s close to how the dogs interact with one another. This allows them to instantly understand. But when dealing with a deaf dog, these nonverbal cues are even more important.

To help the guardian practice using my escalating consequences, I ran Tioga through a leadership exercise that I developed a few years ago. The exercise involves asking the dog to ignore a high-value treat that is left in the middle of the floor. I stood over the treat to claim it as another dog wood, and only moved away once the dog showed to me that he was no longer challenging for possession of it.

Tioga picked up on the exercise pretty quickly. As soon as it was clear he understood, I coached his guardian through it until she got the same result.

I recommend that the dog’s guardian practice this exercise every day with both dogs individually until they start laying down right away. Once that’s the case, then she should start to increase the amount of time she asks the dog to wait before she gives it permission to claim the treat. By waiting one additional minute at a time, we can allow the dog to develop its self-restraint muscles and ability to stop unwanted behaviors altogether.

Another problem that Tioga had was over-excitement at the prospect of being released from his kennel. I had his guardian place him inside the kennel and we pretended to leave and waited for a few minutes before returning.

I used this opportunity to show Tioga’s guardian how to get the dog to calm himself down inside the kennel before she gave him permission to exit.

While it’s not always convenient to wait for a dog to return to a completely calm and balanced state before releasing it from the kennel, doing so on a regular basis will condition the dog to do just that. And the more you do it, the better at it the dog will get. Basically you’re telling the dog the only way that you’re going to allow it to be free is by being completely calm.

Another activity that got these dogs overexcited was the thought of going for a walk. To see just how intense the reaction was I asked their guardian to go through the leashing process so that I could see it for myself.

Many people mistakenly muster through once the dog starts to get overexcited; literally grabbing and holding the dog in place so that they can attach the leash to the dog’s collar because it can’t control himself.

But if the dog has this much difficulty controlling itself inside the house, it will be even worse once it gets outside. To stop this overexcited behavior, I had to the guardian go through the leashing process again but this time without narrating.

Additionally I had the guardian stop and go to sit back down on the couch anytime the dog walked in front of her or acted over-excited. We had to stop and start this way about a dozen times before the dogs were finally able to remain completely calm while their guardian got ready for the walk and attached the leashes to them.

If the garden consistently applies this technique when leashing the dogs, they should start to settle down quicker and quicker until they no longer get excited when they see their guardian preparing to go for a walk.

Now that the dogs were completely calm, I pulled out a couple of Martingale collars and showed their guardian how I attached them to the dogs with the special twist to the leash to stop them from pulling.

Now that the dogs were in a calm state of mind, we were ready to go out for an actual walk.

Taking the time to keep the dogs in a calm and balanced frame of mind paid off big-time. The Guardian commented on how much easier it was to control them.

I went over the rules I like to use on a structured walk to keep the dog in the heel position, and then coached their guardian until she got the same results with both dogs.

Because both dogs are fairly excitable, I suggested that the guardian take them out for a quick game of fetch before going out on walks. Engaging in a high-energy activity like fetch prior to an activity where you need the dog to pay attention is always a good idea. Depleting the dog’s excess energy generally helps them focus and listen much better.

Once we returned from the walk I wanted to show their guardian how to feed the dogs in a more structured way.

By controlling access to the food and the order that the dogs eat, their guardian’s status and authority level will rise in the dog’s eyes.

I was pleased with how well the dogs picked up on the new techniques and exercises during the session. Both dogs were responding to the new nonverbal communication cues, already respecting the new rules we had it put in place and their guardians timing and technique had improved considerably.

That said, the guardian will need to put in some additional work to make these new habits and behaviors permanent. Mastering the leadership exercise, petting with a purpose and taking the time to make sure the dogs are calm before proceeding are all important aspects of the rehabilitation process that need to be fully mastered.

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