Training Deaf Dogs

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.

Body Language

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.

Way To Go!

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.

Next Step

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!

Related Posts:

Teach Your Dog To Play The Slots

How To Get Your Dog’s Attention and Keep It

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6 Responses to “Training Deaf Dogs”

  1. Michelle Stark 02. Aug, 2011 at 2:34 pm #

    As Tank has gotten older, the toll of his inumerable ear infections has shown up in the form of deafness. He can hear certain tones and volumes (low and loud), and definitely responds to hand claps, which I think is more a sensing of air vibrational change on his fur, versus his ears (if that makes sense?). But for the most part, he is deaf. I don’t rely on him being able to hear me to follow commands.

    My biggest tool with trying to teach and work with him is patience; and that’s atience on MY part. I have learned not to get frustrated as easily – he’s very trainable, but he has to understand my intentions, which I’m not always good at conveying.

    Fortunately, he is a wonderful, sweet boy and I’m so very blessed to have him – hearing or not.

  2. ASL Deafined 02. Aug, 2011 at 5:43 pm #

    Dogs are amazing at learning sign language. I used to work with people who were deaf and blind. Their leader dog learned about 150 signs. Crazy! Thanks for sharing. Dogs are wonderful!

  3. Amy@GoPetFriendly 04. Aug, 2011 at 12:53 am #

    The next time I’m frustrated with the progress we’re making with the dogs’ training I’m going to remember this post. It could be so much more difficult – I’m grateful that we don’t have an additional challenge to overcome.

  4. Joe 23. Aug, 2011 at 7:29 pm #

    I just rescued a year old female ,who is deaf.She is very sweet and eager to please me. She is also very smart in just the few things I have taught her in the past 2 weeks. I would appreciate any hints you can give me. I have a 10 year old shepherd . a 2 year male shepherd mix and 2 cats they are all going through the process quite well. the old dog also a female loves her and the male wants to play and they are both twice her size . She get afraid easily and coms to me for safety.
    So I do hope to hear from you Joe Silverwolf

  5. Elizabeth Deitz 24. Aug, 2011 at 7:24 am #

    Hi Joe- Sounds like a full house! You mentioned that this girl is small. Do you have any idea what mix she is? I find that sometimes with deaf dogs who are very tiny there is the additional problem of them feeling overwhelmed just because of their size. Because she is surrounded by larger dogs, I would really work at building her confidence. If she is very tiny, you could put her on a chair or table while you are training. Sometimes it helps for them to be a bit higher. I would definitely work at having a reliable recall, as this is really a safety factor. A vibrating collar is really a very good investment. There are even directions online for making one using a model airplane motor and a remote control. I hope this is some help. Stay in touch and send some photos if you can. Thanks!

  6. Joe 02. Sep, 2011 at 11:08 pm #

    Hi there,
    We figured out Lilly is a auuzzi cattle dog. She is 32 pounds . I also found out that all white cattle dogs are many times deaf.
    She is smart and had bonded with my male shepherd mix Buddy ,he is twice her size and she holds here own . They play and he,s teaching her to respond to me . So all is well . The 10 year old shepherd love everyone and every thing ( like me she is a old hippie ) LOL.. I will try to send you a photo Joe

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