In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn't merely train him to be semi-human. The point of it is to open oneself to the possibilty of becoming part dog.
These training tips are taken, with permission, from Susan Cope Becker's book Living With A Deaf Dog which is a must for new deaf dog owners. You can order a copy of the book through the link on our website.
We bought our Boston Terrier in December of 1995. She had our hearts immediately....and when we discovered she was deaf, there was no way we could destroy her. I searched and searched for a book on training deaf dogs, and when I didn't find one, I turned to the Internet and also found a local trainer who was willing to work with us. The results have been tremendous! Spanky is a regular dog who knows almost twenty signs. She lives a pretty normal life except for always being on a leash.
Special Considerations For Owners of Deaf Dogs
The rest of these tips are based on the original text by Leslie Judkins
Although the decision to adopt any dog is a serious, 10-15 year commitment, not everyone is up to the challenging of owing a deaf dog. This section discusses the special issues you should consider when making your decision.Return to index
Learning A New Language
If you are going to live with a deaf dog, you will have to learn a new way to communicate with that dog. You will have to tune into the world of movement, vibration and light. You must use some type of sign language system, either American Sign Language or signs you invent yourself. It will seem strange at first, but both you and your dog will adapt quickly. All that's required is a willingness to learn. (For more information on hand signs and training your deaf dog, see our Signs page.)Return to index
To Leash, Or Not To Leash
As a general rule of thumb, it is not a good idea to allow a deaf dog off leash in an unenclosed area. This includes such things as walks, playtime at the park, or having your dog accompany you anywhere outside your home. Some people have a difficult time accepting this limitation.
There are a small number of deaf dog owners who do allow their dogs off leash. Generally, these dogs live in rural areas, are past their adolescent phase, and are trained to the point that their owners feel confident that the dog will "check in," and come when called.
This doesn't mean that deaf dogs live their lives on the end of a leash. Obviously, they are free to roam in the house or enclosed yard. Many owners exercise their dogs at a park by using a 30-50 foot web leash, or a flexi-leash. This allows the dog to run and play, but still gives the owner control over the dog.Return to index
Desensitization Exercises to Reduce Startling
These exercises are nothing more than training your dog how to handle, and respond to, various situations. They are no different than teaching a dog to sit. Your dog's personality will determine how much time you need to spend on these exercises. Some dogs are easy-going and fairly unflappable. Others are more sensitive, and will require more work.
To desensitize a deaf dog to the startle effect of being touched unexpectedly, begin by walking up behind the dog when he isn't looking. Gently touch the dog, then immediately pop a treat in the dog's mouth when he turns around. The dog quickly associates good things (i.e., the treat) with being touched unexpectedly, and learns to respond happily.
To condition your deaf dog to wake easily in response to a gentle touch, start by first placing your hand in front of the sleeping dog's nose, allowing him to smell that you are near. Next lightly touch the dog on the shoulder or back, pretend you are trying to touch only one or two hairs with your fingertips. Then gently stroke the dog with two fingertips, then with your entire hand. Most deaf dogs will awaken during some part of this exercise. When they open their eyes, their owner's smiling face, and perhaps even a treat rewards them. In a matter of weeks, the dog becomes accustomed to waking up when the owner places a hand in front of his nose, or lightly touches his shoulder or back. Waking up becomes a gentle, positive experience.
As a deaf dog matures, he gains self-confidence and experience in a wide variety of situations. With many dogs, the likelihood of being startled generally decreases with age.Return to index
Getting The Deaf Dog's Attention When He's Not Looking At You
If your dog is facing away from you, one of the simplest things to do is to wait until he turns around. Indoors, if you walk up behind your dog, he may feel the vibrations of your approach and turn around. If not, you can try blowing on the dog's back or head. Or you can touch him lightly.
If the dog is across a room, try stomping your foot on the floor. He may feel the vibrations and turn around. You can also waive your arms and try to attract his attention, or turn a light switch on and off.
Outdoors during daytime, you can also try tossing a small stone or ball near your dog to get his attention. Be very careful not to hit your dog! Outdoors at night you can attract your dog's attention by flipping a porch or garage light on and off. Or use a flashlight or laser pointer.
As these examples show, there are numerous methods you can use to attract a deaf dog's attention. All that you need is a little creativity!Return to index
Keeping The Deaf Dog Informed Of Your Whereabouts
As you move around your house, or when you leave, be sure to let your deaf dog know what you are doing. If a deaf dog wakes up, or turns around and finds you gone, they can become anxious. Many deaf dogs will search from room to room until they find their "missing" owner.
If a deaf dog is not looking in your direction as you leave a room, get the dog's attention and allow him to watch you leave. He may or may not decide to join you, but at least he will know where you went.
If the dog has been sleeping while you work in a room, you can awaken him with a light touch, or by lightly brushing him with your foot as you leave the room.Return to index
Not For The Lazy
When supervising and correcting a deaf dog, you will not have the luxury of yelling commands across a yard or room. If your dog is digging in the trash, you will have to get up and walk to the dog to stop his behavior. Granted on some occasions you may be able to get his attention and sign a command. But there will be just as many times when you have no choice but to get up and go to the dog.Return to index
See our Signs page for more information on training.
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