Levi is our deaf education bulldog. He was surrendered to us by his breeder on New Year’s Eve of 2013. I had every intention of training him for two weeks and finding him a new home. We had several people waiting in line to adopt him. Along with the waiting list we also had an over-abundance of followers on Facebook asking us why we would not keep him and help teach people how to work with deaf animals. Well, that over-abundance of people got their wish. A year and a half later, he is a major educator here at The Animal Behavior Center, to me and may owners of deaf dogs and other deaf animals.
He is fun to train. He has taught me so much about observation, being a better reader of body language, and being fluent in my communication skills with him. Now every animal here is trained and communicated with through sign language. The parrots, the vulture, the fish, the pigs, the other dog that is not deaf all are trained through visual communication because of Levi. He proudly walks me on the other end of his leash. His body smiles and he holds his head high when we walk. I love this for him and I can’t wipe the smile from my face when walking him. I’m a huge promoter of empowering animals. Did I already say that I love this for him?
I had a conversation with a colleague today. We were talking about the variety of animals I train through Applied Behavior Analysis and positive reinforcement training. When I started talking about Levi, I mentioned he has been fun for me to train and how well of a clear line of communication we have with each other. I told her “His deafness is not a disability.” There is nothing his lack of hearing is contributing to any form of disability. He is easier for me to train than my dog that can hear! His deafness just means he cannot hear. His deafness has caused me to be a better trainer and communicator. Living with and training Levi has caused me to expand on being creative.
Levi’s deafness has taught me to be able to train animals through glass. By this I mean, I can now look out a window and communicate with the dogs, pigs, birds, etc through signing through the glass. This is so cool! Most of my training sessions with the animals are silent. There are no verbal bridges. They are visual. Many times I go through a training session without any sound from me except for an occasional sigh when I am trying to figure out how to communicate better with the animal. I thank Levi for introducing me to his world. His world is a fun place for me to be.
For more information on training a deaf dog: For the past year and a half, I have recorded most of my training with Levi. I am using these videos in the webinars I give on training deaf dogs. I also post behavior and training videos and tips on The Animal Behavior Center’s Facebook page. We are also developing deaf dog training classes, which we will be recording to share with people who care for deaf dogs nationally and internationally. If you have questions, please leave a comment and I will respond as soon as I can.
Recall, shaping, and chaining behaviors with Levi.