Saturday, January 23, 2010

Lessons and Blessings from Mac, A Deaf Pit Bull

Mac was brought into this world from a backyard breeder and spent two years of his life chained. He was eventually surrendered to the Castaic Animal Shelter where it was discovered that he had been physically abused, neglected and was deaf. A group rescued him in 2005, and kenneled him at a training facility where he spent most of his days confined in a cage for almost two years.

I was looking to rescue a pit bull and when I saw his picture on the internet, I knew he was coming home with me. I had no knowledge of deaf dogs but Mac instantly captured my heart. My first visit with Mac was heartbreaking when he was released from his cage. He continuously spun in circles, let out high pitched "pig squeals" and chewed his back legs. The trainer's vet put Mac on Prednisone and he received occasional injections of Dexasone. Mac and I were sent home with a training CD which proved to be nothing more than harsh techniques using a prong collar.

I realized that training a deaf dog is the same as training a hearing dog
with the exception of using hand signals, facial expressions, and body posture to communicate rather than spoken words. In fact, most dogs respond to facial and body expressions so it was a matter of studying the ASL handbook, although there were times that I couldn't remember the signal even though they were posted on the refrigerator! So, I decided to mix ASL with whatever simple gestures that I knew I would remember, particularly the ones that came naturally to me, and invented my own. Mac taught me that facial expressions and body language counted the most. Deaf dogs pay close attention but pitties have a way of awakening the things inside of you that you didn't know existed. Mac caught on quickly to my hand signals and started to blossom. Even though Mac couldn't hear me, he responded beautifully when I spoke or sang to him. Love transcends all boundaries and limits and our bond was solid.

Since deaf dogs are not distracted, their other senses are much more acute. Mac could see everything from small insects to flashes of light that would go unnoticed by a hearing dog. Vibrations, sound waves and changes in air pressure are all things to which a hearing dog may pay little or no attention. He was visually stimulated outside and loved to walk in the rain. He would oftentimes stand still and take everything in with his senses. He taught me the importance of living in the present moment and was truly one of my greatest teachers.

At the end of the day it was always important to remember that deaf dogs don't know they are deaf; they are dogs first.

~ Nikola


Jack and Livvy said...

What a beauty! He looks just like our pit bull, Bella. Great, positive story!

Pibble said...

He's beautiful! It's not clear from the post - do you still have him, or did you train him for a future home?

sallie said...

He reminds me of my beethoven who passesd away a few years ago. He was also deaf and had been used as a bait dog before we found half dead chained in a yard. He survived thanks to a kind vet. and I adopted him soon after. He was the best dog I ever had.

Paula Chait said...

He is one of the cutest Pitts I've ever seen! I hope you have a long and happy life together :-)

As for training help, there is a wonderful book titled "Smarter than You Think" that is one of the best dog training books I've ever read, plus has excellent information on diet and health as well.

Dog Foster Mom said...

Mac was lucky that you found him and took the time to learn to communicate with him! I have a deaf pit bull that I adopted, and another deaf pit bull that I'm fostering now. They are two of my favorite dogs in the world. I learned a lot about working with and training deaf dogs from Deaf Dog Education Action Fund (