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Working with a deaf dog

I was very excited to work on this case. Simply put, Sophie was like many dogs that get over-excited by things outside the home and things on television. In Sophie's case, the behavior toward the television was so bad that the family stopped watching t.v. and only would use their phones to watch sports and shows. I described it like they were being held hostage by Sophie. She also was highly energetic and mouthy when she demanded the attention of her owners. These parts of the case were normal. The part that was unusual was the fact that Sophie was deaf. This of course led to a few complications. Not only was it difficult to cue her when she wasn't looking, but how do you let her know when she did a good thing when she wasn't looking.

Cases like this really bring out my time in the zoo field. In zoos, we often have to think outside the box due to the variety of species, personalities, and potential medical complications of the animals. So I brought this style of thinking to the case. We can't use verbal cues so we focused on hand signals, a tactic commonly used in zoos. But one of the things we wanted Sophie to do was go away from the owners to her bed. We needed to mark the moment she did the wanted behavior so she would realize her reward was coming. For this, I found some simple $1 LED flashlights from Walmart. Then we got to work. Once Sophie made the connection that the flash of light signaled a treat on the way she was able to focus and counter-conditioning could start.

The program went so well the family was not only able to watch the television with Sophie in the room but they even started incorporating some agility course exercises for Sophie in the backyard!

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