Some puppies are born deaf and other dogs can go deaf from a variety of causes, from chronic ear infections or injuries to drug toxicity and, just like us, old age. Often people think that a deaf dog will have behavioural problems or will be too hard to train whilst, sadly, a lot of puppies that are born deaf are euthanised.
However, a deaf dog is as trainable as a hearing dog and can have a wonderful life. It’s also worth remembering that the most dominant sense for a dog is smell and, whilst hearing is close second, dogs excel at reading our body language and visual cues.
So you absolutely can train a deaf dog as well as a hearing dog, the only difference is that you use hand signals instead of verbal commands. According to Judy Small who appears on this week’s episode with her dog chance, “when doing training sessions, dogs should be looking at you and focused on the task at hand, so it can often be easier to train a deaf dog as they tend to be more focused on their owner/handler in general instead of being distracted by sounds and noises around them.”
Top Tips for communicating with and training a deaf dog
- You need to have clear hand signal for each action you want the dog to learn. It doesn’t matter what they are as long as you’re consistent.
- Pay extra attention to your gestures and your stance, avoid waving your arms around too much or you may confuse your dog as they are now your only form of communication.
- Instead of using a clicker or ‘yes’ to mark a desired behaviour you can use thumbs up to mark and reward.
- When training use one hand for signals, while using the other hand for treats. Remember treats are only given when the dog gets the training correct.
- Deaf dogs can be startled easily so it’s important to work on desensitising them to sudden touch. Ideally this will be done from when it is a puppy. A good way to do this is by putting a treat under their nose when they are sleeping and touching them gently so that when they wake they have an immediate positive association with being touched.
- When they aren’t looking at you, you can use vibration or touch to get their attention, whilst some owners use a flashlight or penlight at night to catch their deaf dogs attention.
- Establishing good eye contact is important. Use a treat and place it under the dog’s nose and then up to your eyes. When he gives you good eye contact then he gets the treat.
- Never feed your dog before training so they are motivated for the treat reward and keep the treats small, squishy and smelly.
- Keep training sessions short. When they get it right make a big fuss.
- Talking to your dog visually is a must. Happy face = good dog, sad face = not that happy with that response.
- We can also ‘capture’ a trick or behaviour that we want a dog to do to help train them to do this on cue. For example with Chance, every morning he wakes up and stretches, so Judy started giving him a ‘thumbs up’, so now the thumbs up signal means she wants him to ‘bow’.
According to Judy, there is no set signal for specific actions, whatever works for you and the dog. As long as it is the same consistent signal.
She also advises that deaf dogs should always be kept on a leash when outside of an enclosed area for their own safety. In general, she says deaf dogs will keep a closer eye on their owners so that they can be off leash in an off-leash park area if you have a sign and worked on training them with this for good recall.
Just don’t let them get too far away, so that you can capture their attention with a wave of your arms or stomping of your feet if they do get distracted.
About the Author: Lara Shannon is co-Host of Pooches at Play and has completed a Certificate III in Dog Behaviour & Training with the National Dog Trainers Federation. Lara also runs her own dog walking, dog minding and dog training business in Melbourne’s Bayside area.