I’m a volunteer dog foster. This job entails me bringing a rescued shelter dog into my home and helping the animal get used to being with a family and other dogs. So far, my fosters have been great. My latest foster dog has presented me with a challenge I have never dealt with before—she is deaf.
I was originally asked to foster her because she is an Australian Cattle dog (also known as Blue Heelers, or simply heeler) and I love the breed. I currently have another rescued heeler and had another in the past. They have proven to be easy to train without much effort. So even though I knew my new foster was deaf, I figured she was a heeler, do how hard could it be?
It turns out that habits are hard to break. I knew Lupine, my foster, was deaf, but it took me a few days to remember that she could not hear me. Worse yet, just trying to get my kids and other dogs understand that as well. Needless to say, the first week was a mess. The poor dog would jump about 3 feet in the air whenever she was startled or bolt out of the door. I couldn’t call her back; she can’t hear me. Whenever she would hop on the table or steal a shoe, I’d yell for her to “drop it” or make a loud sound to distract. I’ve had dogs for most of my life, and this is what I was used to doing to correct a bad behavior. My kids reminded me time after time, “mommy, she can’t hear you.” After almost two weeks of general chaos and YouTube research, I got my act together.
I get that Lupine needed to decompress after coming out of the shelter and into a new environment, so she was extra skittish. My first step was to get her comfortable with my presence and touch. I told my family that we were going to stop yelling at the dogs and each other to get attention. Dogs and people read our body language, and we all needed to work on being better communicators without raising our voices. My kids and husband laughed. My oldest son said, “I don’t think you can go a whole day without yelling.” Wow. That really hurt. Did I yell that much?
I decided to take up the challenge. On day one, I focused on just getting Lupine’s attention. I made sure I was in her line of sight and attempted to project a kind, but confident pose. All those Cesar Milan Pet Whisperer episodes I watched were playing in my head. Be a calm, assertive leader. She made eye contact with me and proceed to sit or lay down. I tried this when she was engaged in bad behavior. I would step into her sight to distract and calming stare down at her—she stopped and sat. Awesome! I tried it on my kids next.It worked okay with the kids. Me standing there while they were fighting caught their attention, but it also solicited questions about why I was just standing there. It was still effective because it disrupted the behavior and distracted. I could do this.
I’ve been at my “no yelling” experiment for a few weeks now. I slip up every now and then. I find that Lupine, my other dogs and my kids are responding better now that I’m not yelling. With Lupine, I’ve learned that to get through to her, my non-verbal communication needs to be clear and deliberate. The same is true for my kids. Many times my yelling did not send a clear message (other than anger) that my kids comprehended. They were just focused on the anger and were too scared to process anything else.
I’m not perfect. Sometimes I just want to yell to express my anger more. However, Lupine has taught me that I can communicate better though my body language and often the message is clearer. Do my kids like this new non-yelling mom? Yep. When I discipline them for their bad behavior, they aren’t scared, they are disappointed. I am finding that I don’t need to discipline as much and feeling better, physically and emotionally form not yelling. Even better, my kids yell less. They love trying to communicate with Lupine and are not screaming at each other. Who would’ve have thought a little deaf dog would make such a positive impact on my life and family? Thanks Lu!