Vocal commands are the center of most dog training programs. Unfortunately, some dogs are born deaf so vocal commands become out of the question. They also can’t hear your praise, discipline, patience, frustration, and anything else that might reinforce their training. To make matters worse, it’s much harder to get your dog’s attention in the first place. How can you train your dog if you can’t get them to look at you, let alone follow your orders? You might as well give up and accept that you can’t take this dog out in public.
Training a dog presents a unique set of challenges. However, that doesn’t mean you should abandon crate training, obedience training, and other regimens that you practice with your dogs. With a little patience, you can teach a deaf dog to do just about anything. Sit, stand up, heel, play fetch, be quiet— your dog can master all these tasks and more so you can both enjoy a high standard of living. Once you’ve covered the basics, you can move on to advanced training just like you would with a hearing dog.
If you’re up to the challenge, you can train even the most rambunctious dog to be calm, quiet, and well-behaved. Here’s what you need to know about training deaf dogs.
How Do You Get the Dog’s Attention?
Grabbing your dog’s attention is the first step of any training program. Of course, you can’t just call your dog’s name to get their attention when your dog is deaf. Instead, you’ll have to use a physical stimulus that activates one of their other senses.
Shine a Flashlight
Shining a flashlight is a safe, harmless way to grab a deaf dog’s attention. Flick the light on and off in front of your dog. They might not react right away, but when they look at you to see what you’re doing, give them the treat to reward them for looking up. Eventually, they’ll learn that they need to look at you whenever you shine the flashlight.
Use a Vibrating Collar
A vibrating collar offers another safe way to get your dog’s attention. Unlike a shock collar, a vibrating collar simply vibrates when you press the button. Activate the collar until your dog looks at you, then give them the treat to reinforce the behavior. This teaches your dog to look up every time their collar vibrates.
Stomp on the Floor
Your dog won’t hear you stomping on the floor, but they could pick up on the vibrations. Tap or stomp on the floor until your dog looks up, then give them a treat for reacting properly. You might not want to rely on this method because you won’t be able to stamp on the floor in every situation. However, it’s a good way to teach your dog that you’ll reward them when they look up at you.
Touch Your Dog
Most dogs react instantly when you touch them. Touch your dog on the shoulder, then give them a treat when they look up. This shows your dog that you’ll reward them when they respond to your attempts to get their attention. Your dog might react with fear at first, so keep at it until you’ve desensitized them to the stimulus.
Whichever method you choose, start with treats and gradually taper off as your dog learns to recognize the behaviors. Intersperse the treats with praise and affection. Ultimately, you want your dog to respond because they’ve learned to obey your commands, not just because they expect a treat.
Can You Teach a Deaf Dog to Recall?
Teaching a deaf dog to recall is particularly difficult because you can’t call them from a distance. You’ll need a physical stimulus that gets their attention from several feet away. Most owners use one of the previous methods: stomping their feet, shining a flashlight, or using a vibrating collar. Choose a stimulus, then trigger the stimulus and give your dog a treat when they look up. As you move further away, you can train your dog to walk up to you in the hopes of getting a treat. Eventually, shining the flashlight or stomping the ground is all you’ll need to do to recall your dog.
You can teach your dog to recall, but it’s important to note that these methods won’t work in every situation. For example, you can’t recall your dog with a flashlight if they run off far into the distance. For this reason, it’s best to keep your dog on a leash whenever you go for a walk. It’s much harder to recall a deaf dog when they get loose— and if there’s an emergency, you might not be able to recall your dog in time.
How Do You Communicate with a Deaf Dog?
People use American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate with people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. You might be surprised to learn that you can apply the same concept to your training regimen. To start, choose a hand signal that conveys your approval to your dog. You can’t exactly say “Good job!” to let them know that you’re proud of them, but you could flash a thumbs-up when you give them a treat. Over time, the dog starts associating the thumbs-up (or another chosen signal) with your approval. They’ll see the signal and know they did a great job even when you don’t give them a treat.
Hand symbols can replace the vocal cues that you usually adapt when you train your dog. For example, you can’t tell a deaf dog “Sit!” and expect results. However, you could grab their attention, then flash the hand symbol that means “sit.” If your dog is well trained, they’ll sit down and get their reward. Use this symbol throughout the training process so your dog knows what it means. Eventually, they’ll associate every command with a specific hand signal.
You can use existing ASL symbols or create your own symbols for your dog. Either way, make sure you use the symbols consistently so your dog doesn’t get confused.
Should You Talk to your Deaf Dog?
Talking to your deaf dog might seem pointless, but some owners underestimate how much their dogs pick up on body language. Your dog can still see your physical movements, gestures, and facial expressions. If you just look at your dog silently, they might not know how to react. Your dog associates each facial expression and eye contact with a different emotion, which reinforces their training. Talk to your dog like you would normally while you get their attention and show your approval or disapproval through body language.
How Do You Reward Your Dog?
Treats are a great way to reward your dog. Flash them the approval symbol when you give them a treat so they know why you’re rewarding them. You could also give them physical affection like a head pat or a scratch behind the ears. Scale back the use of treats as your dog advances in their training— if you give them treats every time, they won’t obey you when you don’t have a treat in your hand.
Should You Start Training Before Your Dog Loses Their Hearing?
Any dog could lose their hearing when they get older— or worse, in a freak accident. You can’t predict exactly when it might happen, but you could prepare yourself by incorporating hand gestures into your dog’s training regimen. If your dog never goes deaf, you’re still giving them extra reinforcement with nonverbal cues. And if they do start to lose their hearing, you’ll be glad that you planned ahead. Your dog will be able to rely on the nonverbal cues so you won’t have to redo their training courses.
What Should You Do if You Get Frustrated?
Training your dog isn’t a steady line to ascension. You’re going to have missteps, setbacks, and times when you feel like giving up. Training deaf dogs is particularly challenging— and if your dog doesn’t seem to catch on, you might think about giving up altogether. Here’s what you should do when you get frustrated:
- Take a break, and remind yourself that you’re dealing with multiple communication barriers. You’re not a bad guardian if your dog doesn’t master everything right away.
- Refresh some earlier skills if your dog has trouble with more advanced tasks. They might just need to sharpen the skills that they’ve already learned.
- Remind yourself that your dog (probably) isn’t deliberately disobeying you. You might just need to approach your training differently.
- Break the current task down into smaller steps. If you moved too quickly, your dog might have trouble bridging the gap.
- Relax and have some fun with your dog. Don’t force yourself to stick to an impossible deadline— you’ll just stress yourself out even more.
Can You Train a Deaf Dog to Do Anything?
You can train your deaf dog to do just about anything: stay in a crate, lie down, stay on command, and much more. You’ll just need to rely on your dog’s sense of sight and touch to convey important information. Recalling is one of the few exceptions— you can teach your dog to recall to an extent, but you can’t recall a deaf dog that’s several yards out of range. You might want to limit your dog’s free-range play and keep them on a leash whenever you leave the house.
Training a deaf dog isn’t a lost cause. Instead of verbal cues, you’ll just have to use sight and tactile cues that grab your dog’s attention and tell them when to act. Learn American Sign Language or come up with your own symbols to give your dog commands. You’ll have to show a little more patience, but once you’ve bridged the gap between sight and command, you can train your dog to just about anything. Don’t give up on your dog if they have trouble catching on— instead, take a step back and ask yourself if you can approach it differently. A little love and encouragement might be all they need to master the task at hand.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are deaf dogs hard to train?
Deaf dogs can be challenging to train, but it’s not impossible. They just need a different set of cues to grab their attention. Once you’ve gotten into the habit, you might find that training a deaf dog is no more difficult than training a dog that can hear.
How do you get a deaf dog’s attention?
To get a deaf dog’s attention, you’ll need to stimulate their other senses. Some owners use a flashlight to grab their dog’s attention and reward them when they look at the light. Others use vibrating collars or hand signals to convey messages to their dogs. In a sense, you could use American Sign Language to interact with your dog.
How do you train a deaf dog to obey?
Use a physical stimulus like a flashlight or vibrating collar to get your dog to look at you, then use hand signals to communicate with your dog. You might have to use desensitization training to keep your dog from being startled. Instead of a clicker, use a hand signal like a thumbs-up to show your approval.