How To Train A Deaf Dog

Visual cues and positive reinforcement can help you solve the mystery of how to train a deaf dog.

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Start training a deaf dog by first getting him to notice visual cues like flashing lights or hand signals. Courtesy of Jennifer Mauger
Jennifer Mauger

It was the first day of a new puppy class. The most adorable white Bulldog puppy came tripping in the door with her butt wiggling so hard she couldn’t walk a straight line. Everyone was immediately drawn to this little cutie. Her dad, apologetically, informed us that he forgot to mention that she is deaf and would that be a problem? No! Of course not! She can learn everything the other puppies can with a little modification.

Training a deaf dog is not much different than training any other dog. It just requires some slight modifications. As society has come to accept that a deaf dog can have the same quality of life as any other dog, we are seeing more and more deaf dogs. Deafness is most often caused by genetics, infection or as an adverse reaction to medication.

First Things To Train
When working with a deaf dog we need to start by laying a foundation for training. This starts by teaching our puppy or dog to check in with us and pay attention to us. This is done in a couple of ways.

1. Touch: When your dog is looking in the opposite direction, gently tap him on the rear. As he turns around, immediately feed him a small soft treat. By conditioning your dog or puppy that being touched means good things, like treats are going to happen, it also prevents dogs from becoming startled or scared when touched unexpectedly. Repeat this often, as you want your dog excited and happy when he is touched, especially when not expecting it.

2. Foot Tap: This works especially well in homes with wood or laminate floors. When you give the floor a good tap, often dogs can feel the vibration. Tap your foot firmly. As soon as your dog turns around, immediately feed a treat and repeat until he happily looks for you when he feels the vibration.

3. Looking At You: When you are working or playing with your puppy or dog, treat him or toss the toy every time he looks at you.

4. Flashing Lights: At night especially, flicking a room light or porch light to get your dog’s attention is another good cue to teach. Flick the light on and off and treat until he comes happily to you whenever you flick the lights.

5. Arm Wave: This is great for outdoors in a fenced-in area or on a long line. Wave your arm or arms in an exaggerated manner. Just like the rest of the items above, as soon as your dog looks your way, reward immediately.

Communicating With Your Dog
The biggest concern people have with training a dog is how to let their dog know he is doing the right thing. Personally, when training hearing dogs, I use a clicker or verbal marker words to let a dog know when he gets something right. We can do the same for a deaf dog! Instead of a verbal marker we can use a hand signal or the flash of a penlight.

1. Thumbs Up! This is a great marker hand signal. When you have your dog or puppy’s attention, give a “thumbs up” sign and immediately give him a treat. This conditions your dog that he gets good things when he sees your thumb up. Now you are ready to use it as a marker.

2. Flash Of A Light: When you have your dog’s attention, using a small penlight or flashlight with a button on it, flash the light on and off and reward. As soon as your dog is happy to see the light flash, you are ready to use it as a marker. If it seems that your dog is not noticing the flash, you can modify your penlight by placing a Ping-Pong ball on the end of it. Using a small sharp knife just cut a small “x” into one end. Place the end of light into this cut. This diffuses the light and makes the whole ball glow. Also note, for safety reasons you never want to use a laser light for a marker.

Tips For Training Basic Commands
Now you are ready to teach the basics. After laying your groundwork your puppy or dog is now very in tune to you and already paying attention in anticipation of all the good things to come! From here on out, use hand signals for all of your cues.

1. Sit: Taking a small soft treat, bring it in front of your dog’s nose and slowly up over his head. As he tilts his head backward, he should automatically go into a sit. As soon as his rear is on the floor, offer a reward. This motion of your hand will become your hand signal.

2. Down: Take the treat in front of your dog’s nose and move it slowly straight down to the floor. Hold it there until your dog goes down to try and get it. As soon as he is down, give a reward. The downward motion of your hand will become your down signal.

3. Come: Using a sweeping arm signal like you are trying to get someone to come to you from a distance, give the signal and then treat your dog. Condition this signal just as you did the attention signals in the “First Things To Train” section. As soon as your dog is happy to see your signal, take a couple of steps away and give the signal. As soon as your dog starts toward you, offer a reward. As your dog gets better at coming, slowly increase your distance.

Think about this — even dogs who can hear spend more time responding to our body language than to our verbal cues. From time to time, I challenge my clients to have their dog sit, down or come without using any verbal cues. In most cases the dogs do not miss a beat. Why? They have actually learned to read the body language instead of the verbal cue. This will not be any different for your deaf dog. The more time you spend working with and rewarding him for everything he does right, he, too, will know what you want before you can even say it!


Article Categories:
Behavior and Training · Dogs