Posting days: Sunday and Wednesday and, sometimes, maybe, extra ‘news flashes’!


Sunday April 2nd 2017


Not a progress report. More of a no progress report.

Two or three weeks ago I reported that, at last, I’d found a whistle which Isis could hear. Optimistically, I also announced that I  would attempt to train her to respond to the whistle.

I hoped to emulate the behaviourist Skinner’s famous ‘stimulus – response’ experiment in which he trained a dog to connect a sound with a quality reward.

The stimulus for Isis would be the whistle. The target response would be for Isis to come to me when I blow the whistle. Easy.


I plan that the training will progress through five stages. The first four stages will take place in the house.

Stage 1

I stand within a couple of metres of Isis and blow a short, sharp blast on the whistle.

I reward her immediately with a little piece of cheese, and, of course, lots of pats.

Stage 2

I stand about a couple of metres away from Isis and blow a short, sharp blast on the whistle.

When Isis moves towards me, I reward her.

Stage 3

The same scenario. When Isis comes right up to me, I signal her to sit and then reward her as before.

Stage 4

Gradually, I move further away from her before blowing the whistle, eventually moving as far away as I can within her hearing range.

Stage 5

We move out into the garden and try stage 6. If necessary, we move back through the stages until she performs as well in the garden as she does inside.

Stage 6

We follow the same procedure but now we do it in the park. Wow. Bingo! We achieve recall! How amazing is that?


Good idea, I think. Only problem is we are still at stage 1. Things are not quite going to plan.

This is what actually happens:

I blow hard on the whistle which emits a loud shriek. Poor Isis jumps, cowers momentarily and tucks her tail between her legs. She recovers quickly though, and stands still looking puzzled. I rush forward and stick a treat under her nose. She gobbles down the treat, and off we go again.

Sometimes she comes towards me, but not often.

It is obvious to me that Isis has not yet made the connection between the sound of the whistle and the appearance of the reward.

She always cowers and tries to escape if a nearby dog barks at her. She also often cowers  when a bird screeches loudly overhead. Other than this, I had seen no evidence of her responding to a sound before she reacted to the whistle.

If, I reason, she shows fear and tries to take evasive action when she hears a dog barking or a crow screeching, she should be able learn to respond to other sounds.

What are we doing wrong – or neglecting to do right?

I know I’ve not been as consistent as I need to be. I have repeated the exercise often but not every day. Consistency isn’t my strong point, but that’s no excuse.

Most dogs are trained at a very early age to respond to sounds. Obviously this has not happened with Isis as she appeared to have no useful hearing.

When someone who has been blind or deaf from birth has their sight or hearing restored, s/he is not automatically able to see or hear. Because these senses are not merely mechanical but perceptual, people have to learn to interpret the images or sounds with which they are suddenly bombarded. Generally, learning to ‘see’ or ‘hear’ is a long and difficult process.

Hairy One’s hearing has not been restored, or, as far as I know, has not improved, so the comparison isn’t a perfect one, but it might still be useful. It may seem a strange idea, but I think that Isis needs to learn how to hear.

I’d very much appreciate any comments, advice or suggestions you have.

The only approach I can think of is to:

  • do whistle training at least twice a day, every day
  • try to find a way of making her less startled by the sound of the whistle, and
  • be very, very, patient and stick with each stage as long as it takes to master it.





Hmmmm ………………………. bet Skinner’s dog wasn’t a podengo.


Isis came from the Aeza cat and dog rescue and adoption centre in Aljezur, Portugal. For information about adopting an animal from the centre, contact or

This entry was posted in teaching my deaf/blind dog, training and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to help!

  1. Jane McKears says:

    My gut reaction is that the sound is causing actual physical pain to Isis. If it was me I might try something else instead. Is there any bright light that she might be able to respond to? Is there an unusual smell you could use to alert her, which could be kept for these occasions? (I am wondering about something like aniseed balls or mothballs). It might be worth seeing a canine psychologist. Wishing you all the best in your efforts xx


    • Thank you Jane. Haven’t seen you in |Highbury for a while. Are you O.K.?
      I wondered if the whistle might actually be hurting Isis. On balance, I don’t think so. It definitely startles her, but not to the extent that she refuses the treat which she always does if she is upset.
      Strong light makes her quite distraught, hysterical, even, so that’s not an option, but aniseed balls or another alluring smell might work.
      I’d like to keep working with her gently with the help of others like you who have learned a lot about her.
      I really appreciate the suggestions which people have taken the trouble to make.


  2. Amber Lipari says:

    Hmmm, it does sound as though she is unable to distinguish between the sounds she hears – they all just scare her. Could you maybe do a whistle pattern? While training, maybe try three very brief, quick whistles in a row, just loud enough that she responds to them? Or maybe actually sit next to her and touch her a bit before blowing the whistle, then give her the treat immediately so she realizes the whistle is coming from you? Then repeat immediately while still close to her.


    • Thank you very much for your thoughtful observations. I will follow your advice. I am again expecting too much too soon. Bev. too, said that I need to sit by Isis and make a fuss of her before I blow the whistle, and immediately give her a treat so that, hopefully, she will come to recognise that the whistle means something good.
      It’s helpful to understand that hoping for a response from Isis is way premature.


  3. Amber Lipari says:

    I actually think that she has no sense of where a noise is coming from unless it is repeated several times. I know when I scream extremely loudly at Boo she can hear me, but then she just excitedly starts moving in all directions, most of them wrong. She heard something, but has no idea where it came from. If I keep screaming she’s able to find me eventually. You might have to just keep blowing short whistles so she can pinpoint the source of the noise.


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