A Year with Winter
By: Kimberly Morrow
Meet my Australian Shepherd, Winter!
A year ago today we rescued Winter from being put down because she was deaf and partially blind. Since coming into our home we have learned more about unconditional love and effective communication than I thought possible. Winter is the most gentle and loving dog I have ever met. She is eager to kiss any face within her reach and will plop down on any lap that's open.
Raising a deaf dog comes with its challenges and rewards. When we adopted Winter she was 14 weeks of age. She had little to no training and wasn't sure how to communicate and we weren't sure how to communicate to her. The biggest challenge was potty training. She wouldn't sit by the door or bark to let us know when she needed to go outside. She wouldn't even find a favorite spot to go potty so that we could watch if she was headed in that direction. She would simply go potty as she played and ran around the house. Eventually we noticed that she would knock over a particular pot in the living room which indicated she needed to go outside. To this day she still does the same thing.
Over time, Winter has learned over 15 different hand signals. She was able to take an obedience level 1 and 2 class with all hearing dogs...and pass! She even was able to pass the Canine Good Citizen test! Winter knows American Sign Language signs for: bed, hungry, water, come, sit, stay, car, cookie, off, no, good, gentle, walk, home, and several others. She is eager to please and so, so smart. Her lack of hearing and eye sight has not limited her ability to learn and achieve.
Winter knows that two taps on her shoulder means to pay attention and look at me. The same applies for two stomps on the ground. Winter's most famous trick is how she closes her eyes as I'm scolding "no" to her. I think it's her way of saying, "I can't hear you!"
Raising a deaf dog also means putting means in place to protect her. We re-enforced our backyard fence to ensure she can't get out, we play in parks that are completely enclosed, she wears a blinking NiteIze collar when we walk at dust so people can see her, and we have a separate tag on her collar that notifies people that she is deaf in case she is ever lost.
Winter has another companion, Koda, at home who also helps her out. When Winter was younger and learning the signs, Koda would fetch her by her collar and coax her back in my direction. He also is very quick to let me know when Winter's nose has led her into trouble.
Raising a deaf dog has taught me that communicating is more than words. It's how we touch, what our facial expressions are, and what our overall body language is like. Winter knows I love her and that she's a good girl without hearing a word out of my mouth. I think we can all learn some valuable lessons from deaf animals. They truly are amazing.