So, you just brought home a new puppy that was born with partial or total hearing loss. You might also have an older dog, who you’ve discovered doesn’t respond to your voice commands anymore because it has age-related hearing loss. Either way, dogs are intelligent beings that use several other cues besides sound to figure out what you want from them.
If you feel anxious while learning how to train a deaf dog, there is nothing to fear. You’ll see that it’s not much different than training a canine with normal hearing, and you might even choose to use some of the techniques for your hearing dogs as well.
Prevent Startling Your Deaf Dog
Dogs that don’t hear can often be startled if you approach them from behind or touch them on the back when they haven’t seen you coming. Since your pup won’t hear you approach, it may jump, snap at you, or otherwise react, especially if you wake it from a sleep state.
Reduce the startle response by practicing. Gently touch your dog on the back, then immediately reward it with treats when it turns to look at you. Repeat several times throughout the day. This will train your pup to understand that a gentle touch or being taken by surprise is safe and usually means something good.
Getting the Attention of a Deaf Dog
Getting your pup’s attention requires different tactics when it can’t hear a whistle, the sound of its name, or the click of your tongue. Your dog might be able to feel a vibration coming from the ground, so if it’s close by, you can try stomping your foot to get its attention.
Use a Flashlight
Sometimes you need a method that works more reliably than a foot stomp or works over longer distances. A non-hearing dog can see the light of a flashlight and make a connection to you and your desired behaviors. Try turning the light on and off until your dog looks to find the source of the light.
Reward your pup as soon as it looks at the light so that it will make the connection that you are using the flashing to communicate and that the dog needs to give you its attention. Avoid using green or red laser lights for this purpose. These lights can trigger obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms, such as anxious barking and circling. The brightness of green lasers can damage your pet’s eyes if it looks at the laser light for too long.
Use a Vibrating Collar
You can use specialized tools, such as an electronic vibrating collar, to communicate with your non-hearing canine in a sensory way. Don’t worry; this isn’t the same as a shock collar used for reprimands, which can create a negative or fearful response in your dog.
A vibrating collar has no electric shock capability. It strictly provides gentle feedback to your dog when you press a remote-controlled button. The collar causes no pain and works in any conditions, day or night. Just press the button and let the collar vibrate until your dog looks at you. Once your dog makes eye contact with you, stop the vibration and reward it with a treat.
Try Hand Signals
You can train your pup to recognize simple hand signals and connect them to basic desired behaviors, such as sit, stay, come, go, heel, and more. Most dog trainers use a standardized set of hand signals, but you can also devise your own.
When training in hand signals, wait until you have your dog’s full attention, then show the hand signal and guide your pet to perform the desired behavior, just as you would for a hearing dog. Many trainers use hand signals for both hearing and deaf dogs.
Use American Sign Language
If you start using hand signals and find that they work well for your dog, you can try using American Sign Language to increase the number of commands and communications with your dog. Some dog owners learn words in sign language to communicate different things to their pet, such as “dinner time,” “let’s play,” and other events throughout the day. Although the standardized nature of American Sign Language gestures can come in handy, you can create any gestures you’d like to communicate with your furry friend because it only matters that you and your dog both understand the meaning.
Reward Good Behavior
Dogs don’t always know which behavior you desire, so rewarding them is a great indicator to demonstrate your approval of their actions. Since deaf pups can’t hear your praise, use non-verbal methods such as head scratches, pats, and belly rubs to reward good behavior.
You can also keep treats in several closed containers around the house so that you can reward your canine immediately when it performs suitable or desired behaviors. Beware, though – dogs have very sensitive noses, so keeping treats in an open bag anywhere is asking for trouble!
In the beginning, reward your dog often so that it makes a solid connection to desired behaviors. Reduce your pet’s regular food to compensate for the additional calories from all the daily treats. Over time, as your dog gets the training down, you can give treats only sporadically.
Keep Deaf Dogs Leashed
Even if you do a great job training a deaf dog, it could still walk out in the middle of the road and not hear a car coming. Keep your deaf pet leashed whenever it’s outside of your home or enclosed yard. It might also be tempting to let your dog run off-leash as many dog owners do, especially when you go out on a hiking trail or to a wide-open park area. However, you won’t be able to call your dog if it gets too far away, or if it encounters another dog or dangerous wildlife such as a snake or coyote. For your dog’s safety, always keep your deaf pet on a leash, and keep hold of the leash while anywhere outside your yard.
Use Your Body Language
When you give hand signal commands, get used to speaking the command aloud, even though your dog doesn’t hear you. When you speak the command simultaneously as your hand signal, your body language, facial expression, and physical motions also reflect the command. If you don’t speak, your canine will see unnatural or unemotional body language that won’t offer as many clues about the behavior you desire from your pet.
How do you discipline a deaf dog?
Deaf dogs need to rely more than hearing dogs on watching your body language, touch, and visual signals to understand any corrective behaviors upon. While learning how to train a deaf dog, never discipline your pup with a spray bottle, rolled-up newspaper, or yelling. Instead, you can use hand signals to discipline your dog by sending it into its crate or bed, or directing it outside, for example.
You can also use a leash and collar to discipline your deaf dog. This method works exceptionally well for potty training since you can easily lead your puppy outside if you see it starting to do its business in the house.
Dogs are eager to please their owners, and your canine can sense your emotional state. Just feeling your angry vibe can be enough discipline for some situations. After misbehaving, give your dog a chance to perform the correct behavior and reward it with praise and a treat. Some dog breeds have quite sensitive personalities. Be prepared to give your pet lots of patience, love, and training time so that it learns what you want and expect without it forming fear responses from too much focus on discipline.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Deaf dogs are easy to train as long as you offer consistent commands and clear direction about the desired behavior, along with rewards for reinforcement as your dog learns and performs the behaviors. The following questions come up often when first training a new, hearing-impaired dog.
1. Are deaf dogs hard to train?
No, dogs with hearing loss are just as easy to train as any other canine. The training techniques differ slightly, but dogs with hearing loss learn in the same ways as hearing dogs.
2. How do you get a deaf dog’s attention?
You can use a flashlight, turned on and off, to get your dog’s attention. If your dog is close by, you can also try stomping on the ground. Keep treats with you, and if you walk up behind your dog, touch it gently on the back and reward it immediately with a treat so that you don’t startle or upset your pet. When taking your deaf dog outside of your home or fenced-in yard, always keep a collar and leash on your pet since that’s the best way to get its attention and keep it out of harm’s way.
3. Can deaf dogs be happy?
Deaf dogs can be just as happy as any other dog, provided that they get treated with patience, love, and good care. A deaf dog can have the same quality of life and provide the same bonding and fun experiences with its owner as a dog with regular hearing.
4. What do I do if my dog is deaf?
If you discover that your dog is deaf, you will need to devise hand signals and other means to communicate with your pet. If your furry friend is already trained and develops age-related hearing loss, you might find that your dog learns hand signals quickly for the basic commands it already knows, such as sit, stay, heel, come, and wait.
If your dog is a puppy, you can learn several hand signals that dog trainers commonly use, and the combination of treats plus hand signals can make it easier for your dog to remember the commands.