Deaf Cocker Spaniel Aria Rocks Her Rally and Agility Trials

I can’t tell you how excited we are here at Deaf Dogs Rock when we receive stories of how a deaf dog is rockin performance trials in the world of K-9 competition sports events. We are just thrilled to add Aria to our Deaf Dogs Rock Wall of Fame and share her story with all of you so you can see for your self with a commitment to consistent positive reinforcement training anything is possible when training your deaf dogs.

Rock on Aria, Bill and Diane, rock on!  Thanks for sharing Aria with our Deaf Dogs Rock community! ~ Christina Lee – Deaf Dogs Rock

Deaf Cocker Spaniel Aria rocking her Agility course!

Aria Rocks Her Rally and Agility Trials submitted by Bill and Diane Young

Aria  was born on 11-11-11 in a litter of 6 English Cocker Spaniels (5 girls and 1 boy). Aria’s breeder is a well known and well respected breeder of English Cocker Spaniels for almost 30 years. Aria comes from a long line of conformation champions, performance dogs, and most importantly well bred dogs who make wonderful pets.

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We knew that we were getting a puppy from this litter. We had become acquainted with her breeder over the previous years at different training classes we attended. I had fallen in love with one of her dogs, filled out her puppy paperwork months before the litter was born and was vetted by the breeder as a suitable home for one of her dogs. Since that time, we have become very good friends.

When the litter was born, it was apparent at 2-3 weeks old that Aria was totally deaf. None of the others were affected. Other than that, Aria was a normal, healthy puppy.

At 7 weeks old, we attended the Puppy Aptitude Testing of the litter. She tested as a very bold, fearless, independent puppy. I had decided long before this that I wanted this puppy. We had done a lot of reading on training a deaf dog, bought an American Sign Language dictionary, and had several conversations with the breeder.  We never listened to any of the negative opinions that deaf dogs couldn’t be trained, were unsafe around children, and should be culled from the litter. So, at 10 weeks old, Aria and her brother Trevor came home with us.

We basically treated her like any other puppy. We worried that she might be too dependent on her litter mate, but that was never the case. She has always been her own dog.

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House training was fairly easy. She quickly learned the sign for outside. We taught her to ring a sleigh bell hanging on the door, but she quickly learned to ring the bell and run to one of us and stare. She slept in her own crate at night and always had her own one on one time with us, just like any other puppy we had ever had. We practiced waking her by gently touching her shoulder. Not once, did that puppy wake with a snarl, growl, or try to bite, no matter who was waking her. If something or someone does startle her, she comes to me or seeks out her crate. She loves her crate!

Some of our research led us to try a Vibration ONLY collar for getting her attention when she was not looking at us. We used this for a little while in puppy class. It did work, but I really didn’t like the bulkiness of it, so we phased that out. She finished her puppy classes and then we started doing the Canine Good Citizenship Class. Since I talk to her as well as use my hand, no one even knew that she was deaf unless I said something. She passed her CGC test in Feb. 2013 on her first try.

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Since I had done Rally Obedience and Conventional Obedience with our other two older dogs and hubby was doing agility with one of the older dogs, I decided to keep going with her and started working her in some obedience classes and a little agility. If she hadn’t liked any of it, we would just go back to more unstructured fun classes and leave it at that. However, she loved working with me and was very good at what she was learning. She can be a demanding and sometimes needy dog who is happiest when she is busy,whether chasing a ball or playing tug. We just kept talking to her as well as using conventional and made up hand signals. I really think that the talking and the expression on my face along with the hand signals help her understand what I am asking.

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Our first foray in to WCRL (World Cynosport Rally) was in Oct. 2014. We were unsure whether we were really ready for a trial atmosphere. We were not. She was overwhelmed and I was nervous wreck. She did some things very well, just not enough of them that weekend. When the judge spoke to me, explaining why I had not qualified, I told her it was our first try and that she was deaf, I was very proud of her and we would be back. They were surprised and impressed that she had done as much as she did for a first time in a trial situation.

Back to work we went and in April 2015, she breezed through WCRL L1 with very high scores (206/210. 206/210, 207/210), earning her RL-1 title and an Award of Excellence (AOE) because of her consistent high scores.

By this time, hubby was doing some agility with her brother, so we joined in the classes. We haven’t done a lot of agility, but she does have her CPE (Canine Performance Events) Level 1 title, is almost through her Level 2, and is working in some Level 3 classes.

At this time, we decided to try some more conventional obedience. We found CDSP (Companion Dog Sports Program). She qualified in 3 straight trials and earned her CD-C title (Companion Dog-CDSP) with rising scores each time (179.5/200, 183.5/200, 192/200). This was a very good sign, because a lot of the exercises in this venue are done off lead. We needed to have and maintain a connection through the routine.
These organizations, CPE, CDSP, WCRL/USDAA and others I am sure, all welcome deaf dogs as well as other “handicapped” dogs. During all of this time, we had been waiting for the AKC (American Kennel Club) to wake up and allow deaf dogs to compete in performance events. There had been rumors that it was being discussed again and again, but nothing ever seemed to come of it, primarily due to one parent club who seemed to have too much power.

Finally, the word came that AKC had finally entered the 21st century and the date of October 1, 2015 was set as the date that deaf dogs cold compete in Rally Obedience, Agility and Tracking. They still haven’t approved Conventional Obedience for deaf dogs.

We scrambled to get Aria entered in Novice Rally.She got her RN (Rally Novice) title on 10/9/2015 and her RA (Rally Advanced) title on 4/16/16. Her scores ranged from 84-95/100 and she qualified in 3 straight trials each time. She also has 1 leg towards her RE (Rally Excellent) title. She will hopefully complete her Rally Excellent in May 2016.

We then decided to try AKC Agility. We didn’t qualify in our first AKC trial. It was a little overwhelming for both of us. Aria decided that there were too many things to check out in the big arena. She would always come back to me and the parts of the courses that she did, she did very well. Plus, my handling needed and still needs improvement. The best part that she was happy and running fast.

We just continued to go to our classes, play a lot and expose her to as much as possible. I have to say that not one of the trainers that I have used with my other dogs or any of the newer trainers I have used ever said that they would not work me and a deaf dog.

In Feb 2016, USDAA held a trail with one day just for Intro. You were allowed to compete to qualify or enter as FEO (For Exhibition Only). FEO allows you to being a toy in the ring and train in the ring. It was a real trial situation with ring crew, judge, etc. We entered  as FEO, We ran 4 classes. If we had run for Q’s, we would have qualified in 3 of the 4 classes. I was thrilled! Aria was working with me, watching me, and running with me.

So, in April 2016, we entered another AKC Agility trial. On Saturday, we went 2/2 and got a Novice Standard and a Novice Jumpers leg. I could not have been more proud of her! My handling had improved and I was much less nervous. On Sunday, we had some bobbles (my fault), but we finished the courses strong.

Right now Aria is Ashbrook Unchained Melody, RA,CGC, CL-1, RL-1 CD-C.  As long as we are both having fun, who knows how far we can go?

Here is a video of Aria at her Intro to USDAA Agility Gambers class.

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