In our quest to bring our first Koolie into our lives after a long-term fascination with the breed, we looked at a number of available Koolies all of which were hearing ones. As an animal trainer I really wanted my first Koolie to be trainable but also challenge my abilities & this led me to look at acquiring a deaf Koolie knowing that we could provide an excellent home, be able to train it & it would be needier of a home compared to the hearing dogs on offer. Our enquiries led us to find our beautiful deafie Keira who had been rescued by DCH Animal Adoptions & was in foster care with Liz & Joe Grewal. From the moment she arrived I knew I had found the ideal dog for us & whilst she was deaf & does have sight problems also from the merle gene, she has been nothing other than a pleasure to own & train & surprisingly easy to live with for our first deaf dog.
Keira progressed through 'Trick' training with ease, using hand signals & obviously the Koolie intelligence & ability to learn. She has blown us away with her talent & the fact that she is deaf has proven to be of an advantage as a public performing dog as she is not distracted by crowds & noises.
We trained Keira with hand signals that were simple & created enthusiasm in her to watch for signals with food & play rewards. She had to learn that it was important to look for commands & when away from us know that the signal to come wasn't negotiable for her own safety, but otherwise her training was hassle free & very basic, like obedience training without sound.
Keira will work poultry, calves & sheep in the yards based on her simple task to block & bring stock towards us. She would have no hassles working out in the paddock if her sight was better.
We now give home to 3 deaf Koolies, with the addition of Ollie & Patches. Their training is the same in the use of simple one handed signals, learnt on a leash & using play, toys or food as incentive to watch for signals & respond. It is important for a deaf dog to want to be around you & when seeing you want to come immediately to you for reward.
I have found in comparison to hearing koolies, deafies are not a great deal different in trainability as just like a hearing dog their success in being trainable comes down to will to please. I have found the eye problems (dropped & malformed pupils) also associated with the Merle gene to be more of a hindrance as dogs need their eyes more than their ears to fulfill any purpose.
Since owning our deafies, we constantly hear people's misconceptions about them, with manypeople literally shocked that Keira is indeed deaf as they would not have picked
it without being told & have thought that a deaf dog would show obvious deformities in its behavior which isn't the case in general.
The most crucial things to teach a deaf dog are; to come when signaled to do so, that looking at you for signals is highly rewarded, to be conditioned to wake from a sleep without fright & when walking to walk behind your side with constant view of you & your hand ie. If you stop they see it & stop rather than continue ahead unaware. Most things with owning a deaf dog relate to simple responsible dog ownership, to keep them on a leash in an urban environment & to recognize threats to their safety such as moving vehicles & things that can harm them that if they don't see they can't hear it's there.
Deaf dogs will frequently pick up on vibrations in the house a to who in the household is where, & they have a heightened sense of smell therefore this replaces their hearing to some extent ie. smelling the presence of someone or something & being able to smell their way home if they get lost.
To help those owning a Deaf Dog (koolie or other breed), Liz Grewal & I with input from other deaf dog owners have started an Australian based website aimed at providing a friendly, supportive site run by people willing to help with tips & advice for those with a deaf dog or contemplating giving a home to a deaf dog to visit or contact for support. This site can be visited at http://www.deafdogsupport.com we would welcome anyone owning a deaf Koolie or other breed to contact us.