Through fostering, I've learned about reactive dogs, shy dogs, older dogs, and impulsive dogs. I've learned about training beagles and shepherds, sight hounds and herding dogs and pit bull type dogs, puppies and cats and kittens.
But until now, I've never had the chance to learn about deaf dogs.
A lot of it is pretty intuitive. Instead of verbal commands, there are hand signals. They are similar to the ones you would use for training a dog who can hear, which you do before introducing verbal cues because dogs respond more readily to motion than they do to sound.
Instead of a clicker, you mark a successful Sit or Down or Shake with a "flash": showing the dog your hand and quickly spreading out all five fingers, and then following up with a treat.
In many ways, the experience of fostering Daria is no different than its been with any of the young, active pups I've fostered over the years (which of course have been most of them, since as I've learned from Kristina Finney, the Foster Coordinator with the Washington Humane Society, the dogs most likely to linger on the adoption floor are high-energy pit bull-type dogs of around 2 years of age, particularly if they are dark-colored and female).
There's been the initial delight of seeing her smile, when I knew that in the shelter she'd been so nervous and unhappy.
There are the adoption events, and the chance to romp and frolic with a couple of other pit pups who are dark-colored, young, and energetic and have yet to be adopted.
There's the fun of watching a new dog's personality unfold like a flower as she adjusts to being in a loving home,
and demonstrates that in addition to the cow and the piglet that are among her ancestors, she adores the water and must also be part duck.
There's the slow period of adjustment with the resident dog, although this aspect is I think challenged by Daria's inability to hear.
Daria is unusually persistent in trying to get Fozzie's attention, and her somewhat less than charming play style consists largely of nipping, biting, barking and humping. While the vast majority of communication among dogs is undoubtedly body language, I have to believe that her indifference to his signals is at least in part due to the fact that she can't hear him telling her to go away.
So as with any impulsive dog, we use it as an opportunity to learn self-control by going to her bed, lying down and doing a nice Stay.
There's the fun of seeing how affectionate and loving she is when she finally does settle down, and of hearing her snore when she sleeps.
These are all things you'd experience, to one degree or another, with any new foster dog. But what's really fascinating is the ways in which a deaf dog is different, most of which I hadn't thought about at all.
Of course training is more difficult because I can't use my voice to get her attention. If she's harassing Fozzie in the other room, I can't holler to redirect her but have to physically stop what I'm doing and go where she is.
Sometimes, I have to tap her on the shoulder. Often, maybe because her other senses are so acute, or maybe because we've worked on rewarding eye contact, she knows the moment I am nearby and gives me her full attention.
There are also unexpected advantages to having a deaf dog.
When she is in the midst of a deep snooze, I can go into the kitchen for a late-night snack and rustle bags around, open the fridge, and make food preparation noises that would have other dogs salivating on my feet, and she'll just go on snoozing. I can argue with my spousal figure or yell at my computer, and she won't take it personally or think that the world is about to end like so many sensitive dogs who can hear. She'll just go about her happy-go-lucky way, oblivious to the discord.
When I come home from work, and she is crashed out on the couch, I don't have to worry about being mobbed at the door. She'll remain crashed out, blissfully snoring.
Of course, a lot of what's unique about Daria is the connection I have with her, which is unique for every foster dog. There is something just so adorable about that little pink face and that loving spirit, about that innocent, joyful consciousness that exists in a world so different than what we who hear can imagine.
Though I have experienced deep, heart-level connection with other pint-sized pocket pitties of the snorty, spunky, female persuasion, I wonder if Daria is particularly sweet and loving because with me she's experienced communication for the first time.
Because for her the world is silent, and the human world makes even less sense than it does for most dogs. So she is relieved that finally there is structure and a sense that she can control her environment.
is important for any dog, not just the snorty deaf pittie-cow-duck-piglets.