Friday, February 03, 2006
Thumbs UpSmall dogs usually don't get trainers at our facilities, and at 25 pounds, Stella came in just under the wire. It's not that small dogs don't need training, but a small dog who pulls on leash or jumps up on people is still more likely to be adopted, and less likely to be returned, than a big dog with the same behaviors. Besides, small dogs are usually adopted so quickly, they aren't around long enough to learn much of anything.
But Stella was assigned to me, not because she needed a trainer, but because I needed a dog. I was the newest trainer at our Tri-Valley facility, and new trainers are assigned "easy" dogs: small dogs, older dogs, dogs who already have some training.
During Stella's temperament evaluation, we discovered that she is stone deaf. We weren't too concerned, because most deaf dogs get along just fine. They can learn anything a hearing dog can learn, and training a deaf dog isn't all the different from training a hearing dog. There are a few differences, though.
Deaf dogs can't hear praise or a clicker, so in order to tell a deaf dog that she's done something right, we use the "thumbs up" sign. At first I felt silly giving a thumbs up to a dog, but as she learned to sit and stay and come when called (well, when waved at), the "thumbs up" started to feel more natural. It's the perfect way to say "Good job, Stella!"
I find myself using the "thumbs up" more and more. When a dog is sitting nicely in his kennel, not barking or jumping up, I'll give him a thumbs up. At home, when I'm talking on the phone and my dogs are being calm and quiet, I acknowledge them with a thumbs up.
I even gave a thumbs up to a store clerk the other day, and I didn't feel silly at all! (What she thought of it is another matter...)
Stella is attentive and motivated and smart, and always eager to learn something new. She walks nicely on leash, keeping a close eye on me in case I change pace or direction. She goes into her crate on command, and will stay there quietly when the door is closed. She loves to play with people and other dogs, but also knows how to entertain herself with a toy.
I don't quite understand why Stella is still here.
The rest of the staff warned me that deaf dogs stay in the shelter a long time, but I can't imagine someone turning Stella down just because she's deaf. "Disabled" is the last word I would use to describe this dog. She has gone out twice on our "Paws to Consider" program, but both times she came back. The first family just wasn't ready for a dog, and the second family wasn't ready for a dog with Stella's energy.
Perhaps that's part of the problem: although Stella is small, she is not a lap dog or a couch potato. She's an active girl who will get into trouble if she doesn't get the exercise and attention she needs.
So, Stella still waits for her forever family. You can often see her sitting by the door of her habitat, her ears pricked, her face serious, just waiting.
Waiting for a "thumbs up" from someone who sees something special.
(posted for Sarah)