Seven, a deaf border collie from Halifax, Nova Scotia, has won the title of Agility Trial Champion of Canada.
Seven was surrendered to the Nova Scotia SPCA as an “untrainable” puppy when she was only three months old. Her adoptive mother, Adina MacRae, became not only her trainer, but her number one fan. The two trained tirelessly for seven years, earning their way to the highest recognized title an agility dog can hold in this country. Seven won the title on the seventh anniversary of her first qualifying round.
“We needed to prove that deaf dogs can do it, because that’s why she was surrendered – she was ‘too deaf to train,'” said Adina.
Adina MacRae is an agility coach and dog trainer with Sublime Canine in Nova Scotia. When she met Seven, she immediately recognized their potential as a team. Adina rescued Seven in hopes of proving that deaf dogs are just as able-bodied and minded as hearing dogs. With Seven aging at nine years old, the team worked harder than ever this year to win their title.
“It was a huge sense of relief because we’d been trying so hard for so long…I felt the window was closing,” Adina remarked.
In a recent interview with Nova Dogsport in Harrietsfield, NS, Adina explained how she was able to train Seven without verbal communication, a question many of us were wondering the answer to. It turns out that Seven is highly food motivated!
Adina used a combination of hand signals, including the “thumbs up”, to communicate with Seven on her progress. Treats were added with the “thumbs up” sign to signify a job well done.
“I knew that she was starting to understand the thumbs up hand signal when she started licking her lips in anticipation of the treat,” Adina laughed.
Hand signals are, in fact, a much more effective way of communicating with dogs, as dogs are prone to understanding body language. Dogs in the wild use body language to communicate more than they would verbally. Adina MacRae believes that this is why Seven was able to pick up the signals more quickly than one would expect.
“Because she’s never had to conform to my human way of speaking, I’ve had to conform to her way of communicating and it’s been a fairly easy process,” said Adina. “Once I taught her the obstacles, like I would teach any dog the obstacles, using whatever motivates them, it’s just a matter of pointing her in the right direction and teaching her the different hand signals to guide her around the course.”
According to Adina, Seven is not only smart, but also incredibly friendly!
“That was another one of our challenges. She would often go visit the judge or visit the ring crew and of course, with a deaf dog you can’t call them back. You have to wait for them to turn around and make eye contact,” Adina chuckled.
Now that Seven has won the title of Agility Trial Champion of Canada, Adina hopes to retire her as a beloved family companion, continuing to demonstrate the many talents of deaf and rescued dogs.
“I find that a lot of people can be skeptical about getting a rescue dog to compete with. But give the rescues a chance. They can be great companions as well as great dog sport performance dogs,” she said. “…and if the opportunity comes along, give a deaf dog a chance. They have great personalities and they can be trained just as easily, if not more easily, than the hearing dogs because there’s fewer distractions for them. They can be great family pets.”
Seven will retire alongside her 10 brothers and sisters, including a papillon, a borzoi, a chihuahua, and other rescues.