BARKS from the Guild May 2015

Page 35

It’s All in the Management


In the fifth article of the series on deaf dogs, Morag Heirs covers the topic of mouthing,


grabbing and bite inhibition in our hearing-impaired canine companions

hen you are dealing with a deaf puppy or an adolescent deaf dog in a rescue environment, mouthing and nipping is often high on the list of problem behaviors. Do deaf dogs and puppies mouth, nip or grab more than hearing dogs? The honest answer here is that we just do not know. Anecdotally, based on the requests for help we see on forums and websites, mouthing, nipping and/or grabbing does Long-handled tug toys can not seem to be more of a be used for forceful problem for deaf dogs than it mouthing in deaf dogs is with any other dog or puppy. What is certainly more common is that new owners worry about how they will handle mouthing with a deaf puppy. Our handling may be more ‘hands-on’ with a deaf dog, making it extremely important that the deaf dog is not touch sensitive or reacting badly when touched. We have covered teaching a simple tap for attention, and a Gotcha! collar or harness grab previously (see Gadgets and Gizmos, BARKS from the Guild, October 2014, pp. 30-32). Getting lots of practice with these exercises can definitely reduce reactive nipping and mouthing. Here in the UK, we are seeing increasing numbers of deaf Staffordshire bull terriers, American bull dogs and Jack Russell terriers in rescue both as pups and as adolescents. It can certainly feel more challenging to deal with these dogs when they are deaf and mouthing hard, but we often see mouthing problems in these breeds even when they can hear us. A combination of frustration, kennel stress and a lack of effective communication strategies seems particularly likely to lead to forceful mouthing. Anecdotally, my training colleague, Clare Ross, and I find that dogs who are both deaf and partially sighted/blind do seem to mouth and grab more frequently, and with less care. We use a range of long-handled tug toys when working with these dogs. Does the deafness interfere with learning to mouth gently? Some people have suggested that because the deaf puppy cannot hear his siblings squeal in pain when he bites too hard that the he will struggle to learn bite inhibition. While this may be true, a lot of the early learning actually occurs when the pup is suckling for milk. If the puppy is too forceful with those needle sharp

teeth then mom will simply move away. Later on when the puppy is playing with his brothers and sisters, it is not just the squeals of pain that tell him his bites were too hard – it is also the fact that his siblings get up and leave. In our puppy classes, we find that relatively few of the pups reduce their play biting in response to a human squealing in pain. Perhaps the sounds are less important than we previously thought. The communication that the puppy might miss out on though is the low grumbling or growling an older dog might use to indicate displeasure. If the puppy is attached to the older dog’s ear, leg or tail, then the puppy may still feel the vibration and be able to learn what it means. How can we best deal with mouthing and nipping in deaf dogs? Just as with any puppy, the constant refrain is going to be management, management, management. Particularly for new or less experienced owners, the idea of management might need It is possible deaf dogs may find it harder to learn bite inhibition

BARKS from the Guild/May 2015


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