Tricks and treats

March 5, 2013

By Lillian O'Rorke

Taryn the dog bowls for joy at Marianwood

By Lillian O’Rorke Joey Iversen, a Sammamish animal trainer, receives a high-five from Taryn, a deaf miniature Australian shepherd dog, during a program of tricks and petting therapy Feb. 28 for residents at Providence Marianwood nursing home.

By Lillian O’Rorke
Joey Iversen, a Sammamish animal trainer, receives a high-five from Taryn, a deaf miniature Australian shepherd dog, during a program of tricks and petting therapy Feb. 28 for residents at Providence Marianwood nursing home.

With a thrust of her black shiny nose, Taryn rolls a six on a large, soft die and wins the game of 21 she’s been playing against the residents of Providence Marianwood.

Taryn is a miniature Australian shepherd. She visits Marianwood once every week or two to show off her many tricks and play games with her two-legged friends there. Her repertoire extends beyond rolling dice. She can bowl, pull a wagon, crawl G.I. Jane-style under a bench, turn a light switch on and off, and skateboard. One thing she can’t do is hear.

Taryn was born deaf. She’s a double-merle mini Aussie, which means the genes that are responsible for her snowy white coat are also likely to blame for her deafness. Annie Hudson, a dietician at Marianwood, admits she was apprehensive at first about adopting a dog that could not hear.

At the time, Taryn was 7 years old. After being given up by her owner, she was in the care of the Mini Aussie Rescue and Support organization. The group, in Kent, eased Hudson’s worries, she said, by putting her in touch with other people who had deaf dogs.

“Most of them said, ‘I would adopt another deaf dog without reservations,’ and now that I have one, I totally agree,” Hudson said. “Things sometimes take a little bit longer, because you don’t have the other added sense of voice and hearing, but once she catches on to things, she takes it and runs.”

The mini Aussie breed is popular for agility courses, but when Hudson went looking for a dog trainer, all she had in mind was helping her new, timid friend be more confident and happy. That’s when she and Taryn met Sammamish trainer Joey Iversen, whose 15 years in the business have included working with several deaf dogs.

Iversen explained that training dogs like Taryn just means making a few adjustments. Iversen’s method always includes using a marker — something that immediately tells a dog that it has done something right. For canines that can hear, the marker is usually a clicker; Taryn’s is a flash light.

“I think it’s one of those things where it is possible to continue to give our pets greater and greater quality of life regardless of their limitations, whether its blindness, deafness, other types of physical limitations,” Iversen said. “They are such fantastic learners. We just need to look at it from a different way and adjust methodologies.”

Iversen and Hudson started out teaching Taryn to do simple tasks, like touch her nose to a scent and climb up onto a kitchen stool. When Hudson started bringing Taryn with her to work at Marianwood, she decided to develop a few tricks to entertain people there. Taryn learned to roll over, sit pretty, bow and give a high five. Taryn came out of her timid shell and really started taking to the training. Seeing the dog’s potential, Iversen and Hudson started to think of games she could play with people.

“We just thought of ways that she could have confident behaviors and be able to interact and provide enjoyment to everyone,” Iversen said. “Tricks are fun for the humans as well as for the dogs. When we are teaching a trick, we tend to laugh a lot … if you make the dogs really confident about it, then that just builds their enjoyment of being with people and interacting with them.”

Now, with nearly a year and a half of training under her belt, Taryn has a whole bag of tricks — literally. And while her training has helped Taryn become less fearful, it also helps the residents at Marianwood.

“I think that you can see the joy on their faces,” said Arlene Carter, who works at Marianwood. “They’re interested. They are involved. And also, because they live here and a lot of them can’t get out, it is really critical that people come in, too, so that they have a better sense of community.”

It’s great, she added, that the facility’s regular visitors includes those of the furry persuasion, like Taryn.

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