how to train a deaf dog

How to Train a Deaf Dog

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Dogs can learn new tricks and behaviors through visual gestures and vocal sounds.

They best learn by teaching them monosyllabic words like “stay”, “come” or “sit”.

So how do you train a deaf dog without using sounds and words? It is actually not that different from training any other dog.

Getting Attention

Many trainers recommend to simply tap your dog to get his attention but I wouldn’t recommend to always do that.

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 your own 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. They shouldn’t make more than 10% out of its calories for the day.

You could also try some vegetables that your dog likes, for example, baby carrots or you could make some DIY watermelon and yogurt treats.

If treats are not his thing, try out toys that he likes to play give and use them as a reward.

You can also use a hand signal for the good work he did and lots of pets are always an option. Petting as praise is especially efficient with deaf dogs because their senses, like smell and touch, are even more developed.

Like you would train a dog with a clicker. “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.

If you are deciding on petting for reward, we want to slowly introduce this concept that pet means treat. Start by gently petting your dog when he is sleepy and just when he responds to it give him a treat. After a few times you can wait for your dog to be asleep and repeating the process without startling or scaring the dog.

Walking Outside

For safety reasons, you should always keep your deaf dog on a leash. I know that it sounds hard and so many owners take their dogs off leash which is debatable.

Even the most well-trained dogs will want to chase a rabbit or get scared by a loud sound.

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 communicate with your deaf dog you will have to only rely on the ability for him to understand sign language.

Like you would choose a word for a non-hearing impaired dog, you know 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:

Source: unknown

Make sure that you first have the full attention from your dog so he can clearly remember your movements. As reward, you can choose one of the things that we have 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 a training session right after a meal and right after a walk because he will be tired and not hungry.

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 trained him a few commands you will get in a habit and it won’t feel any different from training any other dog. You can also train him the same commands just in sign language.

Vibrating Collars

A vibrating collar would be the only way to get back a running deaf dog.

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 dogs eyes you have the dog’s full attention. It is very important for canines to make eye contact, they are actual 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 a communication with your deaf dog using the command.

  1. Sit or knee in front of your dog and get his attention by using one of the methods from above. Grab his favorite treat and hold it under your dog’s nose to show it to him.
  2. 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.
  3. Every time he makes eye contact, show him the reward cue and give him a treat.
  4. 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.

If 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. If he gets distracted while training, get his attention back by tapping on his shoulder or moving a treat under his nose.

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 and this should be reflected in successfully teaching a command.

But we think about it after you have thaught a command, 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.


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 makes their risk so much higher than any other breed. But it also affects Parson Russel Terrie, 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.

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