Training a Deaf Dog
Deaf dogs are fairly common, but easily misunderstood. A large portion of them end up in shelters and rescues because people simply don’t know how to train and work with them while taking into account their special needs.
Deafness is often congenital in dogs. But genetics can be difficult for some people to understand.
I will try and break it down in layman’s terms for a brief understanding.
The disorder is usually associated with pigmentation patterns, where the presence of white in the hair increases the likelihood of deafness. Two known genes are the “merle” gene as seen in Collies, Dachshunds, Australian Shepherds and others and the “piebald” gene as seen in Bull Terriers, Bull Dogs, Great Danes and Dalmatians.
Deafness associated with the merle gene, which produces a patchwork of lighter and darker coat coloring the gene (M) is dominant so that affected dogs (Mm) show the merle or dapple coloring. However when two heterozygous dogs with merle are bred 25% will end up with (MM) and these dogs usually have a complete lack of color, a total white coat and blue iris. These white dogs are often blind and/or deaf and sterile.
Interestingly (for those of you like me, who like this genetic type of stuff), deafness is neither dominant nor recessive but is linked to a dominant gene that
disrupts pigmentation only secondarily producing deaf dogs.
Most good breeders know not to breed these dog ( merle to merle). However sometimes people who don’t research breeds end up breeding deaf dogs.
Owning and training a deaf dog takes extra patience and his learning will probably be a bit more delayed. However, if trained with lots of patience and consistency deaf dogs can be just as rewarding if not more so than the average dog!
Things to Consider with a Deaf Dog
A leash and a fenced yard are requirements.
Because a deaf dog cannot hear commands it is expected that these guys need to be kept on a leash and in a safe fenced environment.
Make sure to buy your dog a tag with your name # and address and also a note saying the dog is deaf.
Training a deaf dog requires some study. Although it doesn’t matter what hand signals you use (as long as you are consistent) the more signals you learn the happier your dog will be and the more he will know. I recommend my clients with deaf dogs learn some human sign language to help their dogs learn.
An article on teaching your dog hand signals will be posted soon! Please keep your eyes open!
Your dog is not going to learn voice commands or be able to understand tone of voice or verbal praise, although he will be quite adept at reading your facial signals and body language.
You must reconsider all of your training protocols with a deaf dog.
Your dog will learn through hand signals, touch, vibration and the use of primary reinforcement like food treats.
You can also utilize a vibrating collar. Not a shock collar, although most vibrating collars have a “shock” function; you will not be using this option. The vibration of the collar is like a paging system for the deaf dog letting him know when you want him to come to you. You can even make your own vibration collar.
The most important thing is to pair the tiny vibration of the collar on its lowest level to a pleasant stimulus; a primary reinforcer like food. You cannot simply throw the collar on your dog, vibrate it and expect him to think it is something good.
As a matter of fact if you do this incorrectly you will be teaching your dog to associate the vibration with something negative or scary.
SLOWLY acclimate your dog to the stimulus adding food, visual praise (your smile) and petting and affection. Soon this vibration will be like using your dog’s name to call him. Never use this collar to punish or your dog will be leery of coming to you! Do not use its shock function if you decide to buy a collar and not make one.
Other tricks of the trade or to understand that vibration of any kind is what you are going to need to get your dog’s attention; stomping on the floor and thumping on the wall can help your dog know when you want his attention.
Again pair the thumping with treats, smiles, and affection once he understands that this means you want his attention he will come running to you as if you used his name!
As with hearing dogs, if your deaf dog ignores your page with the collar or the thumping on the floor, go to him and get him but do not continue to give a “command” that will eventually become meaningless!
It is critical to be consistent with deaf dogs!
Once you have gotten his attention you can use hand signals to teach him the basics of “sit” “down” “stay” “come” and “heel”. Even though he cannot hear you, you can still use verbal commands, he will get use to your facial expressions and movements and the look of pleasure on your face!
Be consistent, patient and use the same signal each time. You will find that most dogs learn quicker with hand signals than they do even with verbal commands!
Once you have conquered the basics, you can add fun commands by using sign language and games to help him learn and explore in his environment!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.