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How To Train A Deaf Dog

The Secret? Tap Into Their Other Senses

By Meredith Alling. May 04, 2014 | See Comments

Brown dog and blond woman

Training a dog can be quite the task it itself, let alone trying to train one that can't hear. Deaf dogs can be trained just as well as dogs who aren't deaf, but with some differences. Here are some tips on how to get started.

Finding out that your dog is deaf can be disheartening, but the truth is that deaf dogs are just as capable of living happy and fulfilling lives as hearing dogs. There are some special considerations, however, that pet parents of deaf dogs need to be aware of when training. Here we will look at how to train a deaf dog and keep them safe and comfortable in the process.

Signs Not Sounds

Owners of hearing dogs often use a combination of spoken and signed (hand-signaled) commands, and many dogs actually respond better to signed commands, especially if they are clear and consistent. If you are training a deaf dog, you will simply need to exclude spoken commands and use only signs. You can come up with the signs on your own or buy a sign language book if you are having trouble developing a vocabulary.

Just like you would with a hearing dog, you will give your dog a command (say, a closed fist for “sit”) and then offer a reward (a treat or head scratch) when your pal performs. Many owners of deaf dogs also come up with a sign for “good job!” -- something like a thumbs-up.

Practice, practice, practice -- and be patient! Before you know it you and your dog will be communicating in ways you never thought possible.

How to Wake and Approach a Deaf Dog

Many deaf dogs are easily startled, especially when someone approaches from behind or they are woken out of sleep. Desensitize your dog to startling by practicing approaching your dog from behind, touching them, and then immediately offering a treat. To wake a sleeping deaf dog, start by putting your hand in front of their nose so they can smell you. Then, gently touch and stroke the shoulder or back. When your pal opens their eyes, offer a treat. Soon your pup will wake easily by the smell or touch of your hand.

How to Get Your Deaf Dog’s Attention

You can get the attention of most hearing dogs just by speaking or shouting, but this isn’t possible with a deaf dog. If your dog is across the room and looking away, you may need to walk over and wait for them to turn around. You can also try stomping on the ground (your dog may feel the vibrations), blowing gently on the back of their head, or touching them softly on the shoulder. Just be sure not to startle your dog, as discussed above.

Let Your Deaf Dog Know Where You Are

Most dogs can hear our footsteps when we move from room to room or the jingle our keys when we are getting ready to leave the house. Deaf dogs can’t, and can become fearful or anxious if they wake up or turn around to find that their owner is suddenly gone. Get your dog’s attention whenever you are leaving a room or the house. If your dog is sleeping when you are leaving, wake them for a moment so that they can see you walking away.

Keep Your Deaf Dog on a Leash

Sad as it may seem, deaf dogs will miss out on the ability to be out in the world without a leash. In unenclosed areas such as streets, yards, or parks, there are dangers and surprises that deaf dogs can’t hear coming, like cars and other animals. You should keep your deaf dog on a leash at all times when there aren’t boundaries to protect them. You can get a longer leash -- 30 to 50 feet -- to allow your dog to run and exercise in parks while still staying safe.

Don’t Coddle Your Deaf Dog

You may feel sorry for your deaf dog at times, but it’s important not to show it. Deaf dogs need strong leadership just like any other dog, and if you coddle or baby your pal, they may start to disobey you or develop confidence issues. Offer your dog plenty of affection, of course, but make sure that it is balanced with discipline and training.

More on Dog Training

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Train A Deaf Dog at a glance

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  • 1To train a deaf dog, use hand signals instead of spoken commands
  • 2Desensitize your deaf dog to startling by offering treats when you come up behind them or wake them from sleep
  • 3Keep your deaf dog on a leash whenever they are in unenclosed areas.
  • 4Don’t coddle your deaf dog! They need strong leadership just like hearing dogs.