You may have wondered how you should train a deaf dog or maybe you know one and are interested in the training process.
It’s known that dogs learn new tricks and behaviors through vocal sounds.
They learn best by teaching them monosyllabic words like “stay”, “come” or “sit”.
So how do you train a deaf dog without using sounds and words?
Actually, it’s not that different from training any other dog if you use clear visual gestures.
Getting His Attention
Many trainers recommend simply tapping your dog to get his attention but I wouldn’t recommend that due to its impracticality in everyday situations or if a recall is necessary.
Complications could occur where your dog might repeatedly get frightened by sudden touch.
You can imagine it like walking through the city hearing loud music through headphones and suddenly someone is tapping on your shoulder.
This fear can cause him to accidentally snap at someone.
Deaf dogs can still see and they are very sensitive to feeling vibrations.
So a better idea would be to walk or move your hands in front of him to get his attention.
Another way would be by tapping on the ground because dogs have the ability to feel vibrations and can react to where they were coming from.
When it’s dark, a flashlight could be used as a recall signal.
Praising and Rewarding
Verbal praise like “good boy” won’t work for a hearing impaired dog.
But you can always use treats to reward desired behavior.
It is very important that you are using low calorie treats like these, because you will be feeding them constantly throughout the day.
Treats shouldn’t make up more than 10% of your dog’s diet.
You could also try some fruit or vegetables that your dog likes or you could make some DIY watermelon and yogurt treats.
If treats are not his thing, try out toys that he likes to play with and use them as a reward.
Petting as praise is especially efficient with deaf dogs because their senses, like smell and touch, are even more developed.
If you decide on petting as a reward, we want to slowly introduce the concept that pet equals treat.
Start by gently petting your dog when he is sleepy and just when he responds to it, give him a treat.
You can also use a hand signal for the good work he did. It’s pretty similar to clicker training.
“Click” means a treat is coming, so you can choose something like a thumbs up so your dog will know that this behavior was right.
In short, your possibilities to reward are:
- Hand signals
For safety reasons, you should always keep your deaf dog on a leash. I know that it sounds hard but there are too many owners letting their dogs off-leash without a strong recall anyway.
As soon as your dog is out of sight due to being startled or chasing something, it’s hard to call him back.
While you could really hone a dog’s recall, you can never call back your deaf dog. If your dog is already meters away, no vibration and obviously no signs will work.
Not only for the safety of other people and pets but for the health of your own dog, you should keep him on a leash.
If you want to provide him with more freedom you can always attach a long leash and if you have a fenced area maybe in your backyard where you can see every corner, then your dog can spend a little time off-leash.
Using Hand Signals
Without being able to vocally communicate with your deaf dog, you will have to rely on the ability for him to understand sign language.
Like you would choose a word for a dog with regular hearing ability, you now have to choose a gesture for each command.
Always try to be as clear as possible when choosing a sign for your dog as you do not want him to get confused.
It often helps to pair the visual command with speaking.
Although your dog cannot hear the words, it will be more natural for both of you.
“Sit” could mean a finger moving upwards or “come” could mean a hand wave towards yourself.
Most owners use American Sign Language to teach their dogs new words but you can always choose your own.
Here are a few examples of signs that you could use for your dog:
Make sure that you have the full attention of your dog so he can clearly remember your movements.
As a reward, you can choose one of the things that we talked about above. Remember to always use the same praise marker like the thumbs up before giving him a treat.
If you have a very young dog, you should keep each training session short and spread them throughout the day.
For example, you could integrate a 5-minute session in the morning, in the afternoon and in the evening.
Avoid training sessions right after a meal and right after a walk because he might not be as hungry but even more tired.
If you recognize that he gets bored or tired you should only make one last command and give him lots of praise after it.
The next time you will have to keep the session shorter because we want to make it a positive experience.
Always show patience and understanding, some dogs need longer than others to learn something and that’s okay.
If you want to get some help you can always consult a professional dog trainer.
After you have taught him a few commands, it’ll become a habit and it won’t feel any different compared to training any other dog.
Vibrating Collars for Deaf Dogs
A vibrating collar would be the only
They don’t give electric shocks and should not be confused with e-collars.
It is only gently vibrating when you press a button. You can use this as a recall or a “look at me” command.
I can really recommend this collar as it can help create a more easy and effective training process.
Teaching “Look at Me”
You have probably heard the saying that if you have the dog’s eyes, you have the dog’s full attention.
It is very important for canines to make eye contact, they are actually the only animals besides primates that make real emotional eye contact that they are aware of.
Teaching your dog the command “look at me” is just as important as for any other dog and you can really build up communication with your deaf dog using this command.
- Sit in front of your dog and get his attention by using one of the methods above. Grab your dog’s favorite treat and hold it under his nose to show it to him.
- Now you place the treat between your fingers and move it upwards your face between your eyes. This will naturally point his eyes at you.
- Every time he makes eye contact, show him the reward cue and give him a treat.
- You can do this a few times before every training session to establish focus.
What you could also do instead, is using the vibrating collar until your dog looks at you which you could form into general conditioning.
If you train him that way, the vibration would also mean that he has to come back to you and look you in the eyes which would be great as a recall command.
When he makes eye contact with you throughout the day, reward him for that every time as we want to encourage this behavior through positive reinforcement.
In case your dog gets distracted while training, get his attention back by tapping on his shoulder or moving a treat under his nose.
Recommended Reading: 9 Easy Dog Tricks for Beginners
The Right Communication
As I pointed out before, the right communication is extremely important, especially with a deaf dog.
We often assume that we are showing very clearly what we want and what we expect from our dog but is that really always the case?
Did your dog really get the concept or did he just remember a certain movement? I have added a great example of this for better understanding:
Imagine for a moment that you are training your dog to place a red toy on top of a blue one.
Continue to pretend that after your dog has (seemingly) mastered the behavior, she performs that behavior correctly 100% of the time for two weeks straight.
Then, one day, your dog places the blue toy on top of the red one.
The issue is not stubbornness, nor defiance, but rather a problem of communication. Your dog may have thought all along that the correct behavior was to stack up the two toys.Clickertraining
Always be as clear as possible and don’t overwhelm yourself or your dog.
Take baby steps and don’t expect your deaf dog to know everything from day one.
Additional Information on Deafness in Dogs
Not all dogs are born deaf. Deafness can also be caused by chronic ear infections.
If they are not treated correctly, your dog might experience deafness later in his life.
There are a few breeds like the Dalmatiner that are prone to deafness. Actually, 30% of Dalmatiner puppies are born deaf which puts them at a much higher risk than any other breed.
But it also affects Parson Russel Terrier, Bullterrier, Australian Cattle Dog, and English Setters.
Scientists assume that the lack of pigment cells in white dogs causes impaired hearing. Albinos are also very prone to eye and ear disabilities.
If your dog suddenly stops reacting to certain sounds that he has reacted to before, you will want to check with your vet if his hearing is still okay.
There is also a medical test called the Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response procedure in which the hearing abilities can be tested.
What is your experience with working with a deaf dog? Let me know in the comments.