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Dog's deafness not an obstacle

August 04, 2005|by ADAM BEHSUDI

HAGERSTOWN

adamb@herald-mail.com

Training her dog to negotiate an array of obstacles isn't the only challenge Tracey Luggiero faces when preparing for a competition.

Sassy, Luggiero's 4-year-old Jack Russell Terrier, is deaf.

"It can be frustrating at times," said Luggiero, who uses hand signals rather than voice commands.

She said most dog owners have to use a lot of signaling and body language during agility competitions. She said she has even encountered people at competitions who are working with deaf dogs.

This weekend, Luggiero and Sassy will head to York, Pa., to compete in the All Star Obedience, Agility and Rally Championships organized by the All Star Performance Dog Association.

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Sherry Brosnahan, spokesperson for the event, said the 300 dogs competing in the event have earned titles with remarkably high scores, setting them apart from other dogs who compete in similar events.

"There's a lot of dogs out there getting their titles, but they don't have (high) scores," she said. "They're not putting on dazzling shows."

Luggiero qualified for the competition because of her dog's exceptional, title-earning performances at other events throughout the year. It is easy to see why.

In her front yard, Luggiero set up a number of homemade obstacles. Because obstacles can be expensive, she said she made her own out of materials from a hardware store.

After she got Sassy's attention, Luggiero signaled with simple hand motions as she ran alongside her dog through the makeshift course. Sassy ran through a long tunnel, leaped over a hurdle and weaved through a series of upright poles. The reward for her work in the hot afternoon sun: a treat from Luggiero's hand.

Training Sassy has been by trial and error for Luggiero, who has learned which methods work with her deaf canine. She said she has even used one of her other three Jack Russell Terriers to guide Sassy through some of the obstacles.

"Most people have no advice for me for a deaf dog," she said.

Luggierro said Sassy has learned to watch her a lot more carefully as the training has progressed, especially during a part of the agility trials where the owner is not allowed to directly guide the dog by running next to it.

As the professional athletes of the dog world, canines that compete in elite events like this weekend's undergo the star treatment. Luggiero stretches her dog before any competition. She also takes Sassy and her other dogs that compete to a dog chiropractor and acupuncturist in Virginia, and has a pool in which they do aquatic exercises.

Her other dogs have competed in agility and obedience competitions. Luggiero also trains some of her dogs in an event called "flyball," a sort of dog relay race with obstacles.

Luggiero said training Sassy has been a welcome challenge and has been different than working with her other dogs.

"You've got to be able to change your mind-set when you're running with different dogs," she said.

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