Does Your Dog Have Selective Hearing?

I occasionally find myself checking my dog’s ears for carrots. Something must be making them deaf, I think to myself, because I know they know what “here” means. I have trained it carefully. For years. And proofed it in all kinds of situations. So what is the problem?

Usually the problem is just too much. Too much of something.  Most often it is too much visual stimulus.  Maybe there is crowd and a lot of motion. Or worse, a lot of motion and a lot of noise, for instance if we come upon a group of children on the playground at recess.  That scenario is sure to set off a bout of Selective Hearing Syndrome.

Appeal to A Different Sense

Often when your dog has temporarily gone deaf it is possible to appeal to a different sense. For instance, his acute sense of smell.  For a time, one of the most difficult scenarios for me was to arrive at a busy park for a walk and fling open the hatchback. When you have to lift a dog out of the back of a car, as I do, it is almost impossible to open it enough to pick the dog up but have it closed enough that they can’t make a shrewdly timed leap to the  ground. It was dangerous as well as annoying. With all this visual and auditory stimulus pushing him over-threshold and into the “no hear” zone, I decided to appeal to his acute sense of smell with a bit of chopped and sauteed liver.

Get The Behavior Started

I could of course ask for a sit/stay but frequently by the time I got the hatchback up, he was over threshold already. So I devised a little game or strategy if you will. I opened the back just a tiny bit and tossed in the liver treat, which he immediately went for, as the closed hatchback was essentially controlling the level of stimulus. Then I closed it again. Next time I opened it a bit more, tossed the treat in, and closed it again.  I repeated this again and again, increasing the amount that I opened the door,  until I could open the hatchback completely. Eventually I was able to cut out the tiny steps in between.  Because of my dog’s expectations of a smelly bit of liver treat, he became eager to give me his attention.  I was then able to ask for a sit/stay successfully. 

With the help of the fragrant liver, I was able to develop my dog’s ability to listen, even though the stimulus of the playground activity and noise was significant.

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3 Responses to “Does Your Dog Have Selective Hearing?”

  1. Ken Perry 24. Feb, 2011 at 9:17 am #

    What will I tell my friends when they ask why I smell like liver?

  2. Elizabeth Deitz 24. Feb, 2011 at 9:33 am #

    I would love to know how this turns out for you. Let me know.

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