February 22, 2018

Do I Need a Vibration Collar for my Deaf Dog?

Terrie Hayward

The question of whether or not you need a vibration collar for your deaf dog is a hot topic which has garnered a lot of extensive discussion recently. First I’d like to distinguish between a shock collar vs a vibration collar.

Shock collars have settings which allow people to remotely deliver a shock. Sometimes this is called by other euphemisms including “stim,” “tingle,” “stimulation,” and “tickle.” The way that they work is by delivering a shock with the intent that the dog will stop or change his behavior in order to avoid this feedback.

deaf dog vibration collarThe learner, in this case your deaf dog, is the only one who gets to determine whether or not something is aversive. This means that you have no way to tell ahead of time if this will be something deeply problematic. Too, anytime that you intend to stop or decrease behavior by adding something to the equation, you may run the risk of dangerous consequences, including apathy, aggression, escape/avoidance, and generalized fear. I recommend that you avoid ever using a shock collar as there are alternatives which do not have the potential for harmful fallout.

Vibration collars which do not have the shock feature provide a vibration sensation to the dog’s neck. You want to keep in mind that the neck is a very delicate part of the dog’s body. Additionally, remember that it is your individual dog  who decides whether or not something is scary, painful or anxiety provoking. With this in mind, I suggest holding off on a vibration collar until you have: A. developed a strong relationship with your dog over time and B. until you have learned about counter conditioning and desensitization as they pertain to introducing something new and possibly aversive.

To break down the A and B points above a bit more, I recommend the following. First, work on establishing a marker system so that you can communicate effectively with your deaf dog. Practice your timing and clarity with regard to communication skills. Conditioning a visual (or even tactile or physical) marker allows you to let your dog know when you like his behavior. It also let’s him recognize that repeating the behavior is a worthwhile thing to do.

Next, I suggest that you teach your deaf dog that orienting towards you is highly reinforcing. In other words, make it worth his while to look back at you. To begin, teach him to focus on you.  At the same time  reinforce any voluntary glances your way. Start by teaching your deaf dog to orient to you at regular intervals by marking and reinforcing this response. Then, over time you can build up this “check in” to a fluent and reliable behavior. When your deaf dog is looking back to you frequently and your “check in” is well ingrained you now have the opportunity to add cues and learn new behaviors together.

When your deaf dog understands the system of marking and reinforcing, the check in behavior is well established, and you have several cues under stimulus control you could then consider adding a device such as a vibration collar to the repertoire of choices you might use to enhance your communication. You would introduce a vibration collar slowly and at a pace that your dog is comfortable and use it as an alternative to “call” your dog. However, once more, this is an option to be considered once the basics are well underway and you and your deaf dog have a positive, clear communication system and relationship in place!

September 4, 2017

Food Puzzles for your Dog–Eating the Smart Way. Your Dog Will Thank You!

Terrie Hayward
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Blanca eagerly peers over this food puzzle: green interactive feeder

Does your dog still eat out of a bowl? Then this post is for you!

Using a food puzzle for your pup’s meals provides both mental stimulatio! Think: fun ways to alleviate boredom while working your dog’s brain in a healthy manner. And, food puzzles provide information for your dog about their environment: consider this-more intel about thier surroundings helps dogs to feel more secure and confident!

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Food puzzles for your dog: snuffle mat, Kong Gyro, Kong Wobbler, Tricky Treat ball, slow feeder, etc.

There is even science behind all of this food puzzle fun. The concept is called, “contra freeloading.” This means that animals will work for food even though identical food can easily be obtained from a nearby dish. This is because dogs (and other animals) are hard-wired to hunt, scavange, and seek out opportunities for food. That is to say that this food puzzle process is more reinforcing than just accessing the food without effort.

Take a look at some food puzzle options in this video–Your dog will thank you for these challenging meal time choices. Food Puzzles for your dog are the way to a happier, healthier meal-time option!

August 26, 2017

Adopting a Deaf Dog

Terrie Hayward

deaf dogHave you recently adopted a deaf dog? Are you confused about just where to start? Would you like some direction as to what to do first?

Great! This post is for you! In addition to a recent post about first steps, these videos will walk you through the process.

Step 1: The number one spot to begin is by establishing a form of communication. A marker system can help you to do this. In the case of a deaf dog you will use a visual marker. In the video that follows the visual marker is a “hand flash” where you open your hand like a starfish and then close it again.

Markers are always paired with reinforcers. We want to keep up this practice so that they maintain their value! Remember, it is up to the learner to determine the reinforcer’s value.

The marker lets your deaf dog know that, “Wow! That exact thing that you just did has just earned you access to something that you find reinforcing!” We know that behaviors that are reinforced will be repeated, so marking and reinforcing behaviors that you would like to see more of is the way to make that happen!

STEP 2: The next step is to teach your dog to check in with you. A “check in” behavior means that your deaf dog regularly glances back in your direction which allows you to provide further instructions. We can create a regular and re-occurring check in behavior by teaching a “watch me” cue and marking and reinforcing when your deaf dog maintains eye contact with you.

STEP 3: After establishing a communication system and a way to implement that system (your dog regularly makes eye contact with you), a hand target is a great next behavior to teach. Hand targeting is a confidence building behavior and dogs who are confident are self assured, calm, and well mannered.

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A hand target is also a nice foundation behavior upon which many other behaviors can be built–behaviors such as a weave or a spin which are incompatible with other less desirable behaviors. Too, with targeting you can teach your deaf dog to move onto a veterinarian’s scale or in/out of the car without any physical manipulation nor pulling/pushing.

You can teach your dog to relax and let you have their paw for nail trims or to learn a chin rest target to communicate when they are feeling calm enough for other grooming or veterinary procedures to continue. Both husbandry and fun behaviors can be trained from the hand target base.

A complement to starting out with your deaf dog, would be the pocket guide, A Deaf Dog Joins the Family. Using the techniques in this post will help to set you and your deaf dog up for success!

Ready for better dog or puppy behavior?