Delilah Bloated yesterday right after her dinner, and we had to have her put to sleep. It's been more than 9 years since we got Delilah. 9 years since I haven't heard her pigeon warble in the morning when she wanted my attention. 9 years since we haven't set out her breakfast for her. Although we have a house full of dogs, it seems very empty around here today. She was an amazing dog, and we sure do miss her.
I had first spoken to Lynne Hemmingway when I contacted Willamette Great Dane Rescue about adopting a Dane. As it turned out I never did get a Dane from them but I did strike up a phone friendship with Lynne. For about a year Lynne and I kept talking about trying to create a rescue specifically to train and place deaf Danes. WGDR does not handle deaf dogs and that left a conspicuous gap in rescue service for Danes. I was willing to take on the task of running a Deaf Dane Rescue, but I wanted a young dog as my alpha subject. I felt for my first effort, a dog without lots of bad habits or quirky behaviors was the best approach. Well, my alpha subject finally fell into my lap in early January 2002. A beautiful little 13 week old "merle" bitch was offered to WGDR by its breeder. Lynne talked with them about the girl and she sounded like a perfect candidate for my fledgling program, so Lynne passed the info on to me. I went down and picked her up the weekend of the 20th of January. When I picked her up the breeder informed me that she was not leash trained and was so uncooperative about walking on leash that they just picked her up and carried her most times. She was clearly used to getting her own way, but she was also smart, self assured, and very good tempered. She did in fact seem a perfect candidate for our program. It took only a couple minutes to "leash train" our little girl so that she would walk and potty on leash.
I had never worked with deaf dogs before, but I have trained hearing dogs to both voice and hand signals. In fact I have been working professionally as a handler and trainer off and on since I was 10 years old. I've also worked with deaf kids and with severely retarded kids/emotionally disturbed kids. I have a good background in operant conditioning based training programs that I believed would serve me well in training deaf dogs. What I was looking for in my "alpha subject" was a dog that was still young, had not developed behavior problems, and had a secure, relaxed personality. One that would allow me to develop a routine for training deaf Danes to basic obedience using hand signals. The absence of behavior problems would let me focus on developing methods for training specific behaviors without confusing the issue by having to do remedial work at the same time. For this, the little girl was just perfect. And, thanks to Lynne's efforts she had a potential home to go to when she was ready, which made it easier for me not to become too attached to her, which is always a problem for a dog person like myself. Her prospective owners asked me to call her Delilah, which seemed to be a perfect name for her personality.
Delilah started out a good sized dog. At 15 weeks she weighed in at almost 56 lb., which is just about what our fawn male,Tank, weighed at that age. However, where Tank was substantial and built like a tank (hence the name), Delilah was rangy and tended to look skinny despite her actual weight. In fact when I first got her at 13 weeks, she looked all skin and bones, even though she weighed in at a substantial 50 lb. I started feeding Delilah at the same rate as we had fed Tank, and her skin-and-bones appearance did improve. (She no longer looks like a sack of bones, In fact she eventually got a bit too plump now and is on a diet to loose a few pounds. 7/20/02) She is keeping up with Tank's growth charts, so she is likely to end up to be a good sized bitch. In addition to her weight, her paws also make it clear she is going to be a good size when she grows up. At 15 weeks they are already nearly as big as my 6 year old fawn bitch Gracie's paws.
I didn't start any training work with Delilah at first. I wanted to give her a chance to adapt to her new environment and to just spend some time hanging out with me and our other dogs. I did do periodic evaluations however, working them into the daily interactions so that she didn't even notice. At first she was unwilling to roll over on her back and was very resistant to being "manhandled" She had no problems with hugs and attention and would take as much petting as you could dish out as long as she could control it. She would play with the other dogs, but was not comfortable playing with humans. Slowly she settled in, and once she got so as she would play with me and let me roll her over, or push her around on the bed, then I looked to begin her training. It took about 10 days before I felt comfortable starting to work with her. Interestingly enough, as soon as she started her training, she also became much more confident and comfortable in general.
I started her training the same way I start all my dogs, off-leash and in a group. I start working with them in the house, using both voice and hand signals from the very start. Obviously the voice commands are peripheral to Delilah's training, but I felt it was important not to treat her as if she were handicapped, both for her and for her humans. I also considered that my body language and facial movements while vocalizing would be clues she could cue off, and that the more she had to work with, the better. As with my other dogs I start with food as a primary reinforcer. I will use modeling, and/or shaping, and/or actual positioning and/or contact clues. Basically I find a balance of these various methods that works best for each dog. Some dogs do not need to be placed in a position at all and will settle into the desired position automatically if you present the reward and command correctly (Tank was like this).
Delilah picked up on the sit command in a single 3 min session, and by her third session was 100% on the sit command. After that I added the down command, which took a bit longer. As with all my dogs, I began by giving her the down command only from the sitting position. This meant that sometimes she had to follow two commands before she got a reward. Again, after a few more sessions she had the down command 100%. This doesn't mean she performed these commands *every* time I gave them, it means she always performed them when she saw them and knew they were meant for her. Often she would not be looking at me and would miss a command. To correct this I would instantly work with another dog and give them a treat. She quickly got the idea that she would miss out on goodies if she wasn't paying attention. She will still miss a command now and then, and will sometimes look away so as to not have to see the command, but she is really pretty good about this because a)she wants to please me and b)she wants the goodies.
I started using Delilah's name sign before
giving a command from day one, but I did not try to "teach" her that sign.
I also did not specifically teach her the good sign. I know many say
you should start there, but my feeling was that she would learn those two
signs in the course of life just as any hearing dog does and that there was
no reason to specifically train her to them. I also began to give secondary
reinforcers (pets and loving-up) along with the primary reinforcers, sometimes
giving the primary first, sometimes the secondary first. As soon as she was
solid on sit and down, I started working come into the
program. I would set up five or six feet from her, sign her name and the come
command. If she did not come toward me, I immediately worked with another
dog and gave them treats. If she did come toward me at all, she got a treat
and that was quickly followed up with another command such as sit or
down. Using shaping techniques I refined her response to the
come command so that she progressed from any any movement toward me,
to walking up to within two feet of me. Like the down from a sitting position,
this is a very limited use of the come command. Later I will generalize
the command, but for now I use it only in this specific situation. I did this
because in most day-to-day situations where you would call a dog to come
to you, there are too many distractions and too great a chance the dog will
fail to follow the command, even with a hearing dog. With a deaf dog, and
Delilah in particular, I just felt the odds of success were too low and that
it was best to teach the command in a situation where the odds of success
were high. Later on I could work on generalizing the command. Again, I know
that many people say to teach a deaf dog come as its first command, but I
felt the sit command offered a higher chance of success in my particular
situation. I felt that having had success with first sit and then down,
Delilah would be able to generalize the concept of following instructions
and getting a reward, and would therefore be more motivated to comply with
what I felt was a more difficult command. I made this assessment in part
based on Delilah's specific behaviors and responses to related natural events
in our day-to-day living (like my Greyhound, she tended to freeze if she
was unsure what she was supposed to do and I felt this made her less likely
to learn come as a first command).
I began on-leash work with Delilah on week three. At first we worked only on heeling on leash, and the expectations for what constituted a heel, were pretty basic. Anywhere near my left heel was good at first. Then I began shaping the behavior so that she was not walking on my left foot or straying wide. I gave her a couple of feet behind me and a foot or so in front of me and made that an acceptable "heeling zone". As I narrowed the definition of heel, we hit a wall where Delilah decided she didn't like this and she wasn't going to comply at all. She tried repeatedly to sit and to walk off, throwing a fit if she wasn't allowed to do one or the other. She was very vocal about it and I am sure it sounded like I was abusing the poor little thing to the outside observer. As with a hearing dog, I simply ignored the behavior and used corrections with the training collar to coax her into compliance. Along with that, I used primary reinforcers (her favorite freeze-dried liver snacks) to reward her for any sort of compliance. She worked out pretty quickly that the fits weren't getting her what she wanted and that she could get goodies by staying inside the heel zone. As soon as I saw evidence of her figuring this out, I increased the rewards levels (both primary and secondary) so as to reinforce not only the specific compliance success, but also to assure her that I still loved her and she was still a good girl. She got it slowly, and with a lot of noise.
Once she was back to working with me again, I added to the heel command by adding an automatic sit to it anytime I stopped walking. She picked this up pretty quickly. I made it automatic because that not only eliminated a needless command, it also made it easier for her. From the walking heel position she has a hard time seeing hand signals, and the sit signal in particular is hard to give from this position. My feeling was she could sit automatically and then you could give her the stay or down/stay commands, both of which are more easily seen. Also I felt that since we are stopped and she does not have to pay attention to my gait and other things going on around her, she can more easily focus on my commands from this position.
So it is now February 13th, not quite a month since I picked Delilah up from the breeders. She is 16 weeks old. She has a sound grasp on the sit and down commands in most any indoor situation and most outdoor situations as well. She can "down" from a standing and sitting position. She is just now starting to work on the sit command from a down position. She is fairly good about walking in a proper heel position and also pretty good about sitting anytime we stop walking while heeling. She is learning to work for praise and not just food, and she knows that being a good girl can be lots of fun. So far she has not really been any harder to train than any of my hearing dogs were. In fact in some ways she is a bit easier. Because she is attached to me and wants to please me but is limited to visual clues about what I want and what I am doing, she pays more attention to me than most hearing pups her age would. Of course that is balanced by her not knowing I want something if she isn't looking at me, and by my not being able to verbally scold or correct her. To compensate for the latter I have taken to using a squirt bottle. We have several of them strategically placed around the house so that we do not have to a)carry one around with us all the time or b)go running to get one when we need it. Timing is so critical in rewards and punishments that if we can't get the reward or punishment given within 1-2 seconds, we just skip it entirely. I'd rather not give a reward or punishment than give it late and create an incorrect association in the dog's mind. Interestingly enough, because Delilah can not hear the sound the squirt bottle makes, she has yet to associate that annoying (and she really finds it annoying for some reason) correction with the bottle or with the person holding the bottle. This is a real plus, because it eliminates that unintended learning you get with hearing dogs where they see you with the bottle, or reaching for the bottle, and they associate that with the punishment rather than associating their behavior with the punishment. It has made the squirt bottle very effective with her.
Delilah's housebreaking has been no harder than Tank's was, in fact it's been easier for some reason, even though she was a bit younger than Tank was when we brought him home. She has accidents if I fail to pay enough attention, and she is not really attempting to let me know when she needs out yet. But if I pay attention to her intervals and her sleep/play patterns I can avoid any accidents without having to be "on guard" all day. She has been able to get through the whole night from the day I got her, but I keep her locked up at night so she doesn't really get a chance to mess up. Additionally, as with all my pups, she sleeps on the bed with us. She is very motivated not to go on the bed and I can tell if she is looking to hop off the bed and go looking for a spot. So far though she has shown no inclination to potty during the night. All her accidents in the house have been in the kitchen which is the gateway to the backyard, so I am pretty sure she is always trying to get out and only has problems when dad is being a doofus and not paying attention to her. :-)
In addition to posting regular updates about Delilah's progress, I will post more about my Deaf Dane Rescue program here. I welcome any suggestions as well as inquiries or requests for help.
Update 3/16/02 Delilah is doing very well. She's 5 months old and has just begun to hit her real growth spurt. She's almost 80 lb. now. She's developing into quite the lady, with short spurts of Princess (note capital P) offset by periods of pure puppy. She barks quite a bit and is vocal in other ways as well, in fact she's quite the moaner and groaner. She is easily the most vocal dog in the house. She is starting to show signs of the adult dog she will grow up to be, and she's going to be a heck of a good dog. We've gotten very attached to her and vice versa. She is getting better all the time on her obedience work. We haven't been pushing her much, but she works pretty much every day for at least two 10 min sessions. Sometimes we'll do three or four sessions in a day. I've also taken to making regular trips to PetSmart with her. She is just great and even handles it well when I take another dog along, and she has to share me and the trip. She loves the attention, and everyone thinks she is just beautiful. Most folks have no idea she is deaf and are shocked when I tell them. She has excellent leash manners, not competition level obedience or anything, but better than most family pets you see that are her age. Heck she's better than most family pets of any age.
Thanks to our experiences trying to find a local trainer for Tank, I have decided to start offering my own basic obedience classes. I'm offering personalized training in small group and one-on-one. Word is getting around that I am willing to work with deaf dogs and I've already been contacted by a local family with an older deaf Dalmatian pup. I will be including a free course with all deaf Danes we place through rescue.
I've added some recent shots of Delilah below.
You can see how big she's getting. You can also see how much I hate my Barcalounger
and my dogs :-) Note the two dogs laying in the background on the one shot.
That's Gracie on the left (with her head on the bottom) and Tank on the right.
It's a shame they don't get along very well. I don't know why Delilah's legs
(especially the back ones) tend to look dirty and tan in some shots, because
in person they don't. In person she is gray and black and white and adorable!
5/5/02 - Delilah and I went up to Portland to join WGDR at a Rescue Day event at the local Petco. They were the only rescue group
to set up outside, so the Danes acted as the semi-official greeters. During the course
of the day there were about 6 Danes there. Delilah was a big hit with everyone
and no one could believe that she was deaf. She had a great time and loved
all the attention. There are a couple pics from the event down below.
Also - The folks who were going to adopt
Delilah had to back out and I have decided to keep her. She
is an exceptional dog and not only is she very attached to us and our other
dogs, the attachment goes both ways. Based on how popular she was at the
rescue day, I am sure she will be attending all sorts of events and will
earn her keep as an ambassador for Deaf Dane Rescue and deaf dog adoptions, and
I may even try her out as a therapy dog if I have time.
6/28/02 - I
got a call a few days ago from Lynne, she had been contacted by a man with
a deaf Dane, Connor, that he had gotten through a referral from Lynne about
8 months before. In fact this dog was almost my alpha test dog, but I wasn't
quite ready at the time. It seemed he was having some problems with Connor.
Lynne asked me to contact him and see if I could help. To make a long story
short, Connor is now in our rescue program. He is staying with us and
I am working on training and socialization. As soon as I think he is ready,
I will make him available for adoption.
7/20/02 - Delilah went through a couple weeks of pouting because of the addition of Connor.
She was thrilled to have another dog to play with, but she wasn't all that
happy about sharing my attentions with him. She is over it now and back to
her old Princessly self. She hit her head on the banister a few weeks
back and gave herself a good little gash on the point of her head. It seemed
to be healing okay but then it swelled up and she had to go to the vet. It
was a minor hematoma and we put her on antibiotics. But the bump is taking
forever to go away. Because it is right on the point of the bone at the top
and back of her skull, it really stands out. It ruins her whole Princess
image, but she doesn't realize that, and is carrying on as always. She has
developed the cutest little warbly voice when she yowls at us (which she
does regularly), it just puts an instant smile on both my wife and my faces.
I haven't had time to to do much new training with her, just barely enough
to keep the stuff she already knows fresh. But if she never learned another
thing, she'd still be a great family pet. When we go to PetSmart, we fight
over who gets to walk her because she is so well behaved.