Do you have a deaf dog or are you thinking about adopting one? If you’re worried about training them, there is good news! In many ways, training a deaf dog isn’t so different than training a dog that can hear.
Luckily for us, dogs are able not just to learn using multiple senses, but they are actually quite visual in the way that they learn.
If you’ve ever watched dogs play at the dog park, you may have noticed that they give each other a lot of visual cues—turning toward another dog, looking away, ears up, ears back, hackles up, etc.
By harnessing the power of the visual (cue dramatic music), you can master how to teach a deaf dog.
One of the first things you need to establish is how to tell them they are a good dog. With a dog that can hear, you might tell them “good boy!” or “yes!” in a happy tone.
With a deaf dog, you want a visual signal for this.
Some people like to use a thumbs up, but you can use any hand signal that you want (make sure you also make an excited face!). When you do the hand signal, you want them to know that this is a good signal; so here is where you reward them: do the hand signal and then give them a treat or pet them.
This makes the association that when the hand signal happens, something positive will happen.
Teaching a deaf dog a command with a treat is often very similar to or the same as teaching a dog that can hear. If your dog is food-motivated, you use a treat to get them into the position that you want. Here’s how this works:
With your dog’s attention on you, show them the treat in your hand. Show them the hand signal you want to use for sit (I like to bring my hand up and toward me and curl it into a fist).
Then slowly raise the treat above their head (not too high, or they might jump to try and get it). This takes some practice, but eventually, your dog will plop their bottom down. When they do this, show them the “good dog” hand signal and give them the treat.
After they are starting to get it, intermittently give them treats, then progress to just “rewarding” them with a hand signal.
With your dog’s attention on you, show them the treat in your hand. Show them the hand signal you want to use for down (I like to lower my hand, palm down, in front of me). With the treat in your hand, slowly bring it down in front of their nose (but not too close—about a foot away).
Your dog will lower themselves to get the treat. When they get it right, show them the “good dog” hand signal and give them the treat.
As with sit, when they are starting to get it, intermittently give them treats, then progress to just “rewarding” them with a hand signal.
How Do You Get Your Deaf Dog’s Attention When They aren’t Looking at You?
Depending on the situation, such as when you are letting your dog out to pee, you can use light—such as a flashlight or flicking your porch light—to get their attention. Another option is to throw something near your dog to get their attention, or, if they are close to you on a hard floor, you can stomp your feet.
One of the easiest ways to get your deaf dog’s attention? Getting them a vibrating collar. With the collar, you have a remote control that allows you to vibrate their collar. You can teach them that vibrate means “look at me” by having them near you, vibrating the collar, then rewarding them when they look at you.
In general, to teach your deaf dog a command, whether it be “hey, we’re going to bed now” or “beg,” the principal is the same—show your dog the appropriate hand signal, have them do what you want them to do (either by luring them with treats, putting them in the position you want, or leading them to a location), then reward them with treats, pets, and their positive hand signal.
To learn new signals for everyday things that you want to teach your dog (such as ‘bed’), get an American Sign Language book. Your dog will learn as you learn!
This is a great way to bond with your dog and also a great place to figure out a hand signal for their name!
I’m pawsitive you can be a great teacher for your dog!
Bonus: What to know why so many white dogs are deaf?