Please welcome Lara Joseph who is a trainer, deaf dog guardian of Levi, and owner of The Animal Behavior Center, LLC in Ohio. Lara is going to show all of us how she trained her deaf dog Levi to match objects. I love this kind of thinking outside of the proverbial training box!

Happy training! ~ Christina

Training ‘Matching Object’ To A Deaf Dog

by Lara Joseph

If our animals can sense we are in the room in one form or another, we are training that animal. The key questions is “What are we training?” Training using positive reinforcement (the addition of a valued reinforcer after a behavior that causes the future rate of that behavior to maintain or increase) is the most effective form of communication I have found with any animal, including Levi, our education deaf bulldog.

In this recording I have chosen to begin training Levi to match an object. When I present an object to him, I want to teach him to touch a matching object that I have sitting in front of him. My long-term goal is to be able to place three different objects in front of him and then point to or pull an object from behind the training table, present it to him,and have him touch the corresponding object sitting on the training table in front of him. These are behaviors I have to teach him so not only do I need to introduce each object individually, I also need to teach the behavior of him touching each object individually. I also need to set him up for success in how I introduce each object.

Why would I want to train this behavior? There are several reasons and one is to keep him learning something new. When we continually teach or train our dogs new behaviors, especially ones with positive outcomes, the dog will look forward to learning new behaviors and more readily learn them. Secondly, I am looking for things to interact with Levi that will boost his confidence levels, also known as empowering him. When I keep dogs learning new things through positive reinforcement, they are constantly looking at me for direction and telling them what to do that will bring them desired consequences. Finally, training anything using positive reinforcement, especially a behavior as focused as this, not only builds my trusting relationship with him, but it also keeps him focused on me in other times where I need his attention.

In this recording you will see I have created an environment where I can readily keep Levi’s attention. I am also working with a highly valued reinforcer. If I wasn’t, I would not be able to keep Levi’s attention. You will also see that I am training the behavior of him touching a tennis ball when I present him with a tennis ball. I don’t want him touching the tennis ball I have in my hand. I want him touching the tennis ball I have on the table. When I present the tennis ball in the air, I want him to turn and touch the matching object sitting in front of him. I make this extremely easy for him to do. You will even see me point to it or move it so close in front of his nose it is hard for him not to touch it. This makes it easy for me to reinforce the desired behavior.

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When Levi touches the matching tennis ball, you will see me bridge or mark the behavior of him touching the tennis ball in front of him with a ‘thumbs-up’ hand signal. A bridge or marker is a sound or signal that tells the animal it is that particular behavior that has earned them the reinforcer that is now on its way. I raise the ball, he touches the other ball, I bridge, then reinforce.

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Sometimes you will see me point to the ball. The pointing is called a prompt. A prompt is a temporary tool used that helps the animal learn the behavior with the intention of the prompt being faded out. A prompt is a temporary training aid.

There are also a few times that you see Levi touch the ball but I do not bridge nor reinforce. I didn’t bridge nor reinforce because I didn’t show him the ball in my hand. I need that contingency of when I show him the ball, he touches the other ball. If I do not have this contingency and I reinforce him touching the ball without me showing the other ball, I could easily confuse Levi causing frustration and having him give up and walk away from the training session.

A few other training tips I want to be sure to follow is to keep the training sessions short. It’s not the length of the training session that is more effective. It is more effective to make the training sessions frequent. I can easily keep the training sessions to three minutes and under. If I am keeping the training sessions this short, it is also just as easy for me to have five or more of these training sessions a day. The shorter and more frequent the sessions, the quicker the animal will learn. The last thing I want to pay attention to is making sure I end the training session on a positive note. I don’t want to make the training session too long and redundant for the dog. I also do not want to push the dog in asking too much that the dog stands up and walks away. So while I am in a successful training session, I may end it so that it keeps the dog looking forward to the next training session.

Training Levi to touch the matching object presented (the tennis ball in this example) needs more training sessions before moving on to the next object. I want Levi touching the other tennis ball 100% of the time before I move on to another object. I will work on more recordings of training, including my mistakes in upcoming blog posts to show how I trained, presented, and modified my training as our sessions continue.



Lara is the owner of The Animal Behavior Center, LLC in Ohio. She presents workshops, travels, lectures, gives regular webinars, and consults focusing on positive reinforcement interactions and modifying behavior through applications in behavior analysis. She is also the Director of Training for a wildlife rehabilitation center where she focuses on taking stress out of animal environments. Lara is a professional member of The Animal Behavior Management Alliance and The International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators. She is also a member of and writes for The American Federation of Aviculture, The Pet Professional Guild and more. Lara has presented for a wide variety of animal care organizations such as The Philadelphia Zoo, The Ohio State Exotic Veterinary Club, The Association of Avian Veterinarians, and The Wheaton College division of Applied Behavior Analysis. For more information visit her website at