BARKS from the Guild May 2017

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Agility with a Difference

Morag Heirs explores the world of activities available to deaf dogs and their owners, and outlines the different aspects of training


Grub and his guardian Lisa Jarvis have developed into an excellent agility team because they have adapted to working with each other efficiently

gility comes in various flavors depending on where in the world you live, and most organizations are sufficiently enlightened to allow deaf dogs to compete. It is also one of those sports where we are constantly reminded that it is our body language that really matters. How often have you seen a handler calling a cue or obstacle name but their dog follows the accidental hand signal and goes off course? There are many successful deaf dogs taking part in fun agility, weekly training sessions and competing at all levels. In most cases, spectators would be hard pressed to tell the difference between the deaf dog and the hearing dog. In this article I am going to look at some real life examples of deaf dogs learning and loving agility, while explaining some of the training aspects that can be a little bit different. Case Study 1: Body language is more important than signs for obstacles Dog: Grub Age: 5 years Breed: Sealyham/Jack Russell terrier cross Guardian: Lisa Jarvis

Says Jarvis: “Starting agility training with Grub was simply a natural progression from our puppy and follow-on training classes at Heavens Gate, National Animal Welfare Trust in Somerset, UK, the organization I adopted her from at six months of age. The in30

BARKS from the Guild/May 2017

The focus Horus needed for agility overrode his anxieties about the environment

tention was always just to have fun and not compete, to progress our training and bond, with the added bonus of being able to volunteer as members of the Heavens Gate Agility Display Team and show just how wonderful deaf dogs can be. “Grub took to agility training and rapidly gained confidence in using all of the pieces of agility equipment, showing no fear or apprehension of heights on the A-frame or dog-walk and a preference for the tunnels, even the cloth ones, which, considering her small size, still surprises me. This lack of fear, or awareness of heights, is why the seesaw is the only piece of kit we have a distinct sign for, mainly to get Grub to slow and allow time for the seesaw to lower to the ground. “More time in training was, and still is, spent on me being clear and consistent with my signs when running a course. Wonder Woman had nothing on me when trying to master a frontcross! A lazy wave of my hand has caused Grub to jump onto and run along the top of a tunnel rather than through; not helped by me and the trainer falling around laughing and thereby reinforcing it – cue one clown of a dog repeating it! Although in height we differ widely, our running speeds are just about matched, so more emphasis is now placed on my feet, their direction and momentum. [This is] useful for Grub as, even when lowered, my hand is still above her natural eye gaze and she needs to be looking at the next obstacle. However, it does make for some interesting maneuvers on my part as it means, if Grub suspects I am slowing or turning, she is less likely to commit to a