Training a deaf dog requires a major commitment and lots of patience.  

If you are going to live with a deaf dog, you will have to learn a new way to communicate with him/her. You will have to tune into the world of movement, vibration and light. You must use some type of sign language system, either American Sign Language or signs you invent yourself. It will seem strange at first, but both you and your dog will adapt quickly. All that’s required is a willingness to learn. Your deaf dog is going to surprise you! All that’s happening is that he/she is learning signs (and facial expressions) instead of words. The first word signs you should concentrate on are sit, down, stay, come, no and stop. When you dog understands these words, begin adding a new one occasionally…car, walk, etc. The first six are enough to begin with.

Not For The Lazy  

When supervising and correcting a deaf dog, you will not have the luxury of yelling commands across a yard or room. If your dog is digging in the trash, you will have to get up and walk to the dog to stop his/her behavior. Granted on some occasions you may be able to get his attention and sign a command. But there will be just as many times when you have no choice but to get up and go to him/her.

What to Use for Hand Signs  

First of all, there are no “wrong” hand signs, you can use whatever you feel most comfortable with, as long as you are consistent. There are a few basic obedience signs, but not enough to truly communicate with your dog. The advantage to using these is that most people who have trained a dog will be able to give their dog basic commands. Some people use American Sign Language (ASL), some people use modified ASL, so that they can hold a leash in one hand and talk to the dog with the other. Others make up all their signs. Most people end up using a combination (i.e. obedience signs, and then one handed ASL). Anything you choose is “right” for you and your dog.

Walking on a Lead  Keep your dog on a leash when walking. The leash and a fenced yard are necessities for the deaf dog. Buy a dog tag stating that he or she is deaf. Put a bell on your dog. Hunting dog bells are work well, but if you think too bulky then use one of those loud Christmas bells. This allows you to hear your dog when he is on the move.  

To get your dog’s attention, thump on the floor with your fist/foot or just wave. Some people use a flashlight or a laser light. If your dog is outside at night and you want to call him in, turn your porch light off and on.

Find a trainer that will take you in a basic obedience class. Use standard obedience signs and American Sign Language (a pocket-sized book version is inexpensive and invaluable). As you speak the commands (your dog will also watch your face and you will have more expression if you are speaking). This should get him/her to sit, lay, stay, and come. Give the sign and put your dog in the position you want him to be. Reward with food. Training sessions should last about 15 minutes. Train a deaf dog just like a hearing dog (except for signing instead of speaking).

From there you will be able to train and teach him as many signs as you want. Some deaf dogs that are 5 or 6 years old know up to 50 signs. The easiest seen by the dog, and the easiest to learn for you, for the word “good” is to clap your hands. In ASL, this means good job/success. Smile when you do it and do it often.

Food rewards are the best way we can reward the deaf puppy since they cannot hear the tone of our voice. You can taper off the food rewards, as your dog grows older and reward with lots of loving and enthusiasm. The sign for good job is clapping your hands. Some people use a thumbs up.

Desensitization Exercises to Reduce Startling  

These exercises are nothing more than training your dog how to handle and respond to various situations. They are no different than teaching a dog to sit. Your dog’s personality will determine how much time you need to spend on these exercises. Some dogs are easy-going and fairly unflappable. Others are more sensitive, and will require more work.

To desensitize a deaf dog to the startle effect of being touched unexpectedly, begin by walking up behind the dog when he isn’t looking, gently touch the dog and then immediately pop a treat in the dog’s mouth when he/she turns around. He/she will quickly associates good things (i.e., the treat) with being touched unexpectedly and learns to respond happily.

To condition your deaf dog to wake easily in response to a gentle touch, start by first placing your hand in front of the sleeping dog’s nose, allowing him/her to smell that you are near. Next lightly touch the dog on the shoulder or back, pretend you are trying to touch only one or two hairs with your fingertips, gently stroke the dog with two fingertips and then with your entire hand. Most deaf dogs will awaken during some part of this exercise. When they open their eyes, their owner’s smiling face and perhaps even a treat rewards them. In a matter of weeks, the dog becomes accustomed to waking up when the owner places a hand in front of his/her nose, or lightly touches his shoulder or back. Waking up becomes a gentle, positive experience.

As a deaf dog matures, he/she gains self-confidence and experience in a wide variety of situations. With many dogs, the likelihood of being startled generally decreases with age.

Getting The Deaf Dog’s Attention When He’s Not Looking At You  

If your dog is facing away from you, one of the simplest things to do is to wait until he turns around. Indoors, if you walk up behind your dog, he may feel the vibrations of your approach and turn around. If not, you can try blowing on the dog’s back or head. Or you can touch him lightly.

If the dog is across a room, try stomping your foot on the floor. He may feel the vibrations and turn around. You can also waive your arms and try to attract his attention, or turn a light switch on and off.

Outdoors during daytime, you can also try tossing a small stone or ball near your dog to get his/her attention. Outdoors at night you can attract your dog’s attention by flipping a porch or garage light on and off. Or you can use a flashlight or laser pointer.

Keeping The Deaf Dog Informed Of Your Whereabouts  

As you move around your house, or when you leave, be sure to let your deaf dog know what you are doing. If a deaf dog wakes up or turns around and finds you gone, they can become anxious. Many deaf dogs will search from room to room until they find their “missing” owner.

If a deaf dog is not looking in your direction as you leave a room, get the dog’s attention and allow him/her to watch you leave. He/she may or may not decide to join you, but at least he/she will know where you went.

If the dog has been sleeping while you work in a room, you can awaken him with a light touch, or by lightly brushing him with your foot as you leave the room.


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