Training Tips for Deaf Dogs

Woman showing warning finger to her dog
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Deaf dogs may seem like a challenge to train, but even though they aren't able to hear commands, they can be trained. Here are some tips to help you to train a deaf dog or a dog that is hard-of-hearing:

Getting the Attention of a Deaf Dog

Before you can ask a dog to do anything, you must first have his attention. For most dogs, this is as simple as calling out their names. For deaf dogs, it can be a bit more of a challenge. There are a few things you can do to get a deaf dog to look at you:

  • Stamp a foot on the floor. Sometimes the vibrations coming through the floor are enough to turn your dog's attention in your direction.
  • Use a flashlight. Some owners of deaf dogs use a flashlight to signal to their dog. You can train a dog to look at you by turning a flashlight on and off. Continue to do so until your dog turns to see where the light is coming from. As soon as he looks at you, give them a treat to let them know they did what you wanted. The dog will soon learn that a flash of light means that he needs to look at his owner.
  • Use a vibrating electronic collar. These electronic collars are different from those that give shocks to aid in training. These simply vibrate when you press a button on the remote. You can train a dog to look at you by pressing the button to make the collar vibrate, and continue doing so until your dog looks at you. As soon as he turns his attention to you, stop the vibrations and give a treat. One of the benefits of using the vibrating electronic collar is that you can use it in pretty much any situation.

    Hand Signals

    Many people train dogs basic obedience commands by using hand signals. There is a standard hand signal most dog trainers use to teach each command, but you can also create your own hand signals. Instead of giving a spoken command, you start off by making sure your dog's attention is on you, and then give the hand signal. You then train the dog to perform the command just as you would any other dog.

    Use Sign Language

    Most people communicate with their dogs for more than the basic commands, learning from the repeated connection between the words and the actions. You can communicate in a similar way with a deaf dog, but rather than using spoken words, you can use sign language. Many owners of deaf dogs find it useful to learn a few simple words in American Sign Language and use them when doing everyday tasks with their dogs. You can also create your own signs for different words.

    Use Treats to Reward Good Behavior

    While many dogs find it rewarding to get praise from you, this obviously won't work for deaf dogs. Keep some small treats on hand to give your deaf dog positive reinforcement when he does something you like, such as when he sits after you give him the hand signal. Once your dog has a good understanding of each command, you can use treats less frequently. Be sure in the early days of training when you're using the most treats that you cut back on your dog's meals accordingly.

    Keep Your Dog on Leash

    Some people love taking off-leash walks with their dogs. It's debatable whether or not this is a good idea in any situation, but it's probably never a good idea to allow your deaf dog off the leash in unfenced areas. Even the most well-trained dog can get distracted, and you can't simply use a come command or an emergency recall to keep a deaf dog from a dangerous situation. For the dog's safety, keep him on a leash.

    Get Your Deaf Dog Comfortable with Being Touched

    It's important to slowly work on having your dog remain comfortable with having someone come up behind him and touch him. Initially, deaf dogs may find this startling, especially if they are touched while sleeping. Startling a dog can lead to him snarling or snapping out of fear, much in the same way a person might yell out if someone sneaks up and startles them.

    Practice touching your dog very gently on his shoulder and back. Give him treats immediately following the touch. Try to do this often throughout the day, and soon your dog will learn that having someone touch them from behind means good things are about to happen for him.