We often think of deaf dogs as having a limitation. But there is very little that a deaf dog can’t dog if you are creative. All dogs do what works and deaf dogs are no different. They offer the same behaviors as hearing dogs. But communicating to them that some of their behaviors are more desirable than others is the trick.
All dogs are experts at reading body language. But they also get information from our facial expressions. This may be even more important for deaf dogs. If you are working with your deaf dog, it is fine to continue using your voice as well, even though they won’t hear you, as your facial expression will change when you speak. Although you might not be aware of it, your dog may pick up on your smiles, frowns, or neutral expressions so don’t stop speaking to Fido because he cannot hear.
Start by thinking of a way to “say” to your dog “way to go!” I usually use a thumbs up gesture, but any clear hand signal that you are comfortable with will work. I have seen several trainers use a “flash” signal. This is a rapid opening of your fist, with fingers extended, and then closing of your fist. One of the advantages of this over the thumbs up signal is that it is a bigger, and thus less readily mistaken, cue. An especially good job can be marked by two of the flashes, one immediately after the other.
American Sign Language can be used effectively but I prefer for owners to develop their own signals as they seem to be employed more easily than learning new signals. This site provides video clips of gestures that you may find useful.
After you have decided on a signal that says “good job,” you will need to associate a reward with it. Begin with your dog hungry and engaged. Flash your signal and follow it rapidly with a treat. Do this ten times in a row and stop. Repeat this process several times the first day. It is essential that you choose your time wisely, as offering a treat right after a meal will not be as much appreciated , and therefore will be a reward of less value, as a treat when your dog is hungry. Think of it this way. If you had a huge meal and someone immediately offered you steak, you would probably decline the offer. If your dog is full, a food treat will be of little value.
Getting Your Dog’s Attention While Close By
Getting a deaf dog’s attention when they are close by is easy. To train this, have lots of treats handy and a hungry dog. Tap your dog on the shoulder and treat. Now move to your dog’s side and repeat this, remembering to to signal “good job” when he looks in your direction. Now move behind your dog and tap his shoulder or rump. As he turns to look at you, use your “way to go” hand signal followed by a treat. Make sure to do this in a happy upbeat manner and remember to use your word as well, as the facial expression associated with the word will help your dog to understand. I use the word “hey” in a happy voice. Repeat 8 – 10 times in quick succession. When your dog spontaneously offers his attention, mark and treat that is well. Anytime they offer their attention is another opportunity for you to emphasize that checking in with you is a good idea. And just as with any other dog, a reward can also be be petting, affection or a quick toss of the ball or other game. Try to carefully evaluate what your deaf dog finds rewarding and use those high value rewards for more difficult training. Freely use jackpots (multiple, quickly dispensed treats) for break-through moments when they have done something exceptional or done it exceptionally well.
Hide and Seek
A great game to play with ANY dog, but especially deaf dogs, is hide and seek. While your dog is engaged with you, toss a treat behind them so that they have to turn their backs on you in order to get it. Repeat this a few times to be certain that your dog is “in the game.” Now when they turn their backs, quickly slip behind a wall, tree, or other barrier. They will come looking for you. When they find you, reward heavily the first time. This could be a game of chase (where they chase you), treats, or a toss of the ball. It can be anything your dog finds rewarding.
Our aim here is to continue to develop this pattern of finding you and checking in with you. We have turned it into a game.
Getting Your Dog’s Attention At A Distance
This is a bit trickier. If you live in a house with a wooden floor, you can begin with your dog nearby, stomping once quickly, and rewarding. In the beginning, start with them close by. After a few repetitions, try it when they are not looking at you. If they attend to it, signal them “way to go” and reward. Gradually extend the distance. This approach isn’t going to work if you are far away from them, are on another floor, or have a house on a concrete slab. Flashing the room light can be used in a similar manner.
A vibrating collar or a laser pointer can also be used. Vibrating collars are not “shock” collars. They give a gentle shake or vibration and you can train this to signal “come.” My favorite model, though pricey, is made by Unleashed Technology. It has a range of 1/2 mile and is a “vibrate only” collar.
I really favor vibrating collars over a laser pointer. Most dogs learn to respond to the vibration quickly, whereas using a laser seems more difficult for some dogs. If you chose to use a laser, be careful not to shine it in your dog’s eyes as it can cause damage.
Both of these devices need to be associated with a reward before they become useful. Once again, it is a matter of associating the stimulus (a vibration or a flash) with a treat. Start with your dog close by. Flash the laser on the ground, or vibrate the collar, and associate it with a treat. Gradually increase the distance incrementally.
Deaf Dog Education Action Fund
For more information about training, as well as resource lists, poke around this Deaf Dog site.
Do you have a deaf dog? Why not share what you have learned here? We are always looking for ideas!