What is it what is it GIVE IT HERE GIVE IT -- oh God it's gone now hope it wasn't chocolate
March 29, 2008 9:34 AM   Subscribe

How can I train a deaf dachshund to Drop It -- without hand signals?

I have a deaf dachshund, and she is my pride and joy. She is deaf by birth, and is three years old now.

Like all dachshunds, she loves to eat. Unfortunately, the vet considers her to have a sensitive stomach by nature, and has put her on a strict I/D diet. I'm sure he's right. I took her in a year ago because she had been vomiting clear liquid every day, and the vet said that she just can't handle anything but bland food. So she spends her life trying to get anything else.

I live in a city, and twice now I have had to take her to the vet because she was scary sick from something she ate on one of our walks. It's often too late, especially in the early morning or evening, for me to realize that a light-colored object on the ground isn't a dead leaf but instead a piece of torn bread or half a muffin, before Short Round can inhale it. People around here throw a lot of crap from the nearby Dunkin' Donuts on the ground. These things just make her throw up, which doesn't require a vet visit. What's worse is that she likes things that make her really ill, like woody objects -- nutshells, pine cones -- and, just recently, sidewalk salt. Those symptoms were fun to wake up to at 3 am, boy howdy.

Clearly, she has to learn to Drop It. But how can I get through to her?

-- Hand signals? They worked briefly when she was a puppy, in a specialized class situation until she learned that she didn't have to look at me. She's too short to be forced to look. By the time I manage to grab her attention, often physically, she's eaten whatever it was. When we walk, her attention is strictly on the many smells of life.

-- A laser pointer or flashlight? She's agitated by strange lights. Car headlights or garish Christmas displays give her barking fits. I don't know that I should associate this reaction with something I do (should I?) Besides, a laser pointer could damage her eyes.

-- The water bottle? She associates this with being a Bad Dog, and it is almost never used, because she runs and hides and is quiet when she sees me pick it up. I feel terrible about this -- I've squirted her maybe once. Is it healthy to associate this with our walks?

-- A vibrating collar? Are these healthy for 12-pound dogs? I'd hate to think the solution costs $250, but if it's safe, it may be the best option. Still, I don't know anyone that's used one on a pet.

-- The "Here, have a treat instead" method? She'd have to finish eating the thing she's already got before even considering the proposition. Nevertheless, this may be worth a try if I can find some hypoallergenic treats for her.

I'd appreciate your ideas. (And by the way, don't be discouraged from the idea of having a deaf dog. She loves everyone, she's smart as a whip, and she was very easy to housetrain.)
posted by Countess Elena to Pets & Animals (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I have to believe that hand signals are still your best bet. Every other solution you suggest (and every other one I can think of) requires you have some specific object at hand (flashlight, water bottle, collar control). Chances are, this object won't be in reach when you really need it.
posted by SPrintF at 9:41 AM on March 29, 2008

if the squirting works, i'd do that. i have a cat, not a dog, but i presume the system is the same. if you do it immediately and consistently, and also when she's in the house, she won't associate it with walks, she'll associate it with picking up something she wants to eat. you might help train her by leaving bits of forbidden food around the house within reach and squirting her if she tries to pick it up, but rewarding her with whatever snuggles she enjoys when she eats the right food.

don't worry about feeling mean--you're not hurting her, you're helping her.
posted by thinkingwoman at 9:43 AM on March 29, 2008

Would clapping work? Not from the hearing it perspective, but maybe from the vibrations? Just a thought.
posted by Stewriffic at 10:08 AM on March 29, 2008

A common way to approach this problem is to train the dog to walk with something in it's mouth. Take a chew toy or a ball or something and make your dog highly attached to it. Slather it in peanut butter or something that wouldn't hurt her stomach while you condition her to fall in love with it. The idea is that she'll walk around with that thing in her mouth and will be very hesitant to drop it for anything else.
posted by AaRdVarK at 10:16 AM on March 29, 2008

AaRdVarK's suggestion is a good one. At our local Humane Society, one trick the animal behaviorists use to reduce the frequency of unwanted behaviors is to train the dog to perform the behavior on command, then withhold the command. In this case, you might train your dog to pick something up in response to a particular signal, then not perform the signal.

It's kind of a long shot; dachshund's are hunters and naturally like to get into things. But it might be worth discussing with a trainer at your local Humane Society.
posted by SPrintF at 10:32 AM on March 29, 2008

I hesitated to suggest this, because there may be problems with this approach that I don't know about (IANADW - not a dog walker), but maybe we'll all learn something: would muzzling her work?
posted by amtho at 10:33 AM on March 29, 2008

A cage muzzle is the ultimate insurance policy. If you're uncomfortable with it as a permanent solution, it would be a great way to train -- the dog can't get at the dangerous food item, but you can reward her immediately for "leave it" when she gives up.
posted by nev at 10:34 AM on March 29, 2008

Response by poster: I like AaRdVarK's idea about a special walk toy. I could get her one that she can only have when she walks.

It never occurred to me to try a muzzle -- I only thought of them as bite prevention. She is an attention hound, and loves giving kisses and getting scritches from passersby, so it would be too sad to do it permanently. But using it as a training tool, and walking her with one temporarily, definitely sounds like a plan.
posted by Countess Elena at 10:45 AM on March 29, 2008

I don't have any specialised knowledge about dogs, but just a thought... how about foot signals? Train her to drop what's in her mouth when you stick your foot under her nose or something like that? It seems foot signals would get more attention than hand signals, since your feet are about eye level with her while your hands are way up there. ;)
posted by Xianny at 11:01 AM on March 29, 2008

Put out a piece of large, chewy (not immediately swallowable) food. When she takes it, stomp one of your feet, hard. Super-yummy treat and cuddles if the pup drops it, wrestle the food away if she doesn't, possibily holding her near the food in a position she can't touch it with her mouth. Repeat.
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 11:09 AM on March 29, 2008

so i am a dog trainer.
daschunds are great little dogs, but they tend to be VERY stubborn and are characteristically difficult to train, they also will try to eat ANYTHING that fits in their mouths, food, trash, sticks, rocks, really everything! the water gun method is probibly the best deterent, keep in mind the more you try to take [non-food] away from them the more they will want, no NEED to have it. so choose your battles wisely. once you start DO NOT give in or you'll be teaching her that she can win.
posted by swbarrett at 12:04 PM on March 29, 2008

If you could somehow train her to leave food and still need a signal to get her attention, what about a tactile signal? When I was a kid I taught my dog that three pats on the side meant that I was done petting her and that she should go lay down. Maybe you could teach your dog that three taps on the back means "drop it."

I have no idea how you'd teach her to drop it, though.
posted by christinetheslp at 12:47 PM on March 29, 2008

I think the spray bottle is the best solution. Perhaps get a teeny little water gun you can keep in the palm of your hand so your cute little pup doesn't see it? Also, Hills makes hypoallergenic treats, if you didn't know.
posted by Rock Steady at 1:16 PM on March 29, 2008

This comes under "so crazy, it just might work." Can you signal with smell? It would be a pain to carry around, but perhaps a mister with some distinctive and unusual smelling-liquid inside could be used as the signal to drop it. Training her to respond is its own difficulty, but at least it's something she could detect, provided you're within a few feet of her.
posted by lore at 3:40 PM on March 29, 2008

We taught a deaf 12-year old dog the American Sign Language for "No". He was partially deaf and getting deafer over time, but he seemed to connect the old verbal order he responded to when his hearing was better with the new hand gesture.

We would do it right in his face to start - it's hard to ignore because you are snapping fingers together in front of the dog's eyes.
posted by jb at 8:24 PM on March 29, 2008

(The dog in question was a spaniel -- maybe not as small as yours, but fairly short.)
posted by jb at 8:27 PM on March 29, 2008

I'm with Aardvark. My dog walks with a bottle of water in his mouth. I do this because when he was younger, he jumped up on someone to say hello and scratched the toddler they were carrying. The people called Animal Control (my dog is a Pit Bull related breed)... however, Animal Control sided with me because at the time, my dog had a ball in his mouth. Since then, he's always got something in his mouth while walking. I've noticed a side effect of this is that he doesn't try to eat stuff whereas pre-bottle, he did.
posted by dobbs at 10:17 PM on March 29, 2008

Response by poster: I have been training her with a squirt gun (despite the heartbreaking look she gives me), and she has caught on quickly. Still, she's too fast for me outside when it comes to tiny ground-colored objects, so I'm ordering her a muzzle to use temporarily.

Thanks, guys!
posted by Countess Elena at 1:53 PM on March 30, 2008

posted by jenfullmoon at 6:29 PM on March 30, 2008

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