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Deaf Dog Training is Nothing to Be Afraid Of! How to Train a Deaf Dog
Kim Sauer 593

Deaf Dog Training is Nothing to Be Afraid Of! How to Train a Deaf Dog

There’s a dog who’s caught your eye. There’s just something about her. The way her eyes pierce right through to your soul. The way she smiles with her whole body.

There’s a dog who’s caught your eye. There’s just something about her. The way her eyes pierce right through to your soul. The way she smiles with her whole body.

 

There’s just one problem. She’s deaf.

 

Your heart is open to a deaf dog, but your mind starts whirring.

 

How do you train a deaf dog? Do deaf dogs have behavior problems? Will I have to adjust my whole life to accommodate my dog’s deafness? Should I pass on this dog even though she speaks to my heart?

 

I’ve been a dog trainer for over 20 years and I’m here to put your mind at ease. 

 
  • Deaf dogs make wonderful companions. 
  • You won’t have to turn your world upside down.
  • Deaf dogs are as easy to train as hearing dogs if you know the right information.
 

With a few training techniques and the patience and practice required for ALL dog training, you’ll feel confident bringing a deaf dog into your family!

 

Training a deaf dog is like training a hearing dog in many ways, but there are some distinct differences. 

 

With a little education, you’ll be on your way to creating a loving relationship with your new best friend. With the right resources, you’ll be able to train any pup – hearing or deaf – to become a well-mannered, valued member of your family.

 

Let’s explore some deaf dog training basics.

 

Training a Deaf Dog to Get Their Attention

One of the trickiest parts of training a deaf dog is that they are prone to startling.

 

Anyone who’s ever been startled knows it’s not a pleasant feeling, although the people on TikTok seem to get a huge kick out of startled people’s reactions!

 

But if your dog can’t hear you, how can you get their attention without startling them?

 

The truth is that being startled is unavoidable at first. Startling can be especially hard for dogs who lose their hearing later in life. Not being able to rely on auditory cues means they can startle easily. 

 

Get your pup used to being touched and handled so that they know being touched is a good thing. It’s important to train a deaf dog with positive reinforcement and lots of loving patience.

 

One way to ease the startle reaction is to reward your pup when they look at you. The discomfort of being startled soon fades when a yummy treat, a friendly pat, or a quick, playful gesture follows. This desensitizes your dog to being startled as they learn that something good is coming.

Keeping your dog on a loose leash, especially if the dog is new to you, is an excellent way to get their attention and keep them safe. Allow your dog to drag their leash around the house. You can avoid startling your dog by gently grabbing their collar or picking up the leash to help them get comfortable in their new surroundings and adjust to your presence.

Start desensitizing your dog when they are awake. Touch them when they can see you, always on a designated spot, and offer a high value reward. Gradually move out of their line of sight, touch the spot, and reward. 

 

Once they are comfortable with this routine, 

  • Initiate the touch-and-reward when they are asleep. Put your hand in front of their nose so that your scent awakens them, then giving the reward. 
  • Next, try a light and gentle touch on your sleeping pup. When they awaken…treat! 
  • Finally, build toward firmer awakening touches followed by a reward.

Reward Markers for Training Deaf Dogs

Because your deaf dog will rely on sight to interpret your cues, you’ll need a reward marker. Like the name suggests, it’s a clue that a reward is coming.  

 

Remember the Pavlov’s dogs experiment you learned in high school? A reward marker is a way of conditioning your dog to learn that they’ll be rewarded when they get the thumb’s up signal from you…literally!

 

Using reward markers correctly is important. You want the dog to know the exact behavior they are being rewarded for. Once you have an established reward marker, learning speeds up and it’s much easier to teach a dog new things!

 

Reward markers for hearing dogs are phrases like, “Yes!” or “Good!” or even a clicker sound followed by a reward they really care about.

 

For deaf dogs, I suggest the reward marker of the thumbs up sign. It's not something you'll forget or do accidentally (unless you’re The Fonz 👍) and it's a clear signal to the dog that they've done the right thing and a reward is on the way.

Training a Deaf Dog to Look At You

The most important skill you’ll need to train your deaf dog will be to learn to look at you when cued. 

 

Training your dog to look at you frequently is the key to effective communication and safety. This is an important skill for deaf and hearing dogs, alike. When your dog is trained to constantly check in with you, you’re able to direct them and keep them safe. 

 

A big bonus to training the “watch me” sign is that it deepens your connection on every level, not just while training! 

 

Train your dog to check in with you by:

  • Use physical touch. Just as in the desensitization training, gently touch the dog. When they look at you, give the reward marker and the treat.
  • Use vibration. Stomp on the ground and when the dog feels the vibrations, give the reward marker and reward.
  • Use a vibration collar.* Use the remote to vibrate the collar. When the dog looks at you, use the reward marker and reward. 
 

*Important Notes About Vibration Collars

 
  • A vibration collar is my favorite tool for deaf dogs because it teaches them to look at you and "check in," even at a distance. This is not the same as "come," but a cue to check in with you for further instruction.
  • Do NOT use a collar with a shock feature. It must be vibration only.
  • Some dogs may find the vibration aversive. If this is the case, work on getting your dog used to the collar or stop using it altogether. Choose another method to get their attention.
 

A Word About Laser Pointers and Flash Lights

Many people – and some trainers – will recommend using a laser pointer to get a deaf dog's attention. I DO NOT advise doing this. For some dogs, playing with or using lights in training can trigger an obsessive compulsive disorder which would greatly diminish the reliability and safety of what you’re trying to teach. 

Training Deaf Dogs with Hand Signals

 

The most important thing for deaf dog owners to know is that hand signals are their new best friends. 

 

Training a deaf dog means communicating through body language to tell your pup what you want. Training a deaf dog with hand signals is a must, but it’s also helpful to incorporate hand signals when training hearing dogs. 

 

Just like us, a dog’s hearing can become worse as they age. If they are used to hand signals from the get-go, your senior dog won’t skip a beat!

 

Teaching sit, down, and other cues to a deaf dog is almost the same as teaching a hearing dog. The only difference is you'll be using hand signals in place of verbal cues. 

Some people make up their own signs, some use American Sign Language, and others use traditional obedience cues. Whichever you choose, make sure everyone in the household is consistent and make each sign distinguishable from the others.

For example, with a hearing dog, you’d say, “Sit” and reward your dog when their tush hit the ground. 

To train a deaf dog to sit, put a piece of food in your hand between your middle finger and thumb, keeping your hand flat. 

Put the treat directly up to the dog's nose and move your hand above the dog's head slightly and backward slowly enough for your dog to follow you with their nose. As their nose goes up, their butt goes down. Once you see their rear hit the floor, give the thumbs up signal and deliver the reward! Repeat!

If at any point the dog stands, remove the treats and start over. 

You can train a deaf dog all other cues the same as you would any dog by: 

  • Luring: guiding or steering your dog into the proper position with a treat. 
  • Shaping: rewarding a behavior that occurs without prompting. If your dog sits on their own, show the hand signal for “sit,” give them a thumbs up, and treat them for a job well done!
  • Shaping: rewarding your dog for each baby step made toward the bigger goal. For example, when training your dog to get in their crate, reward them for approaching the crate, putting a nose in, a foot in, and so on until they’ve learned the cue and the behavior of getting in the crate when cued.

Your deaf dog will learn as quickly as a hearing dog if you’re consistent and practice, practice, practice!

Training a Deaf Dog Shouldn’t Scare You!

Training a deaf dog, like training a hearing dog, is an exercise in practice, consistency, love, and patience.

 

When you find the pup who captures your heart, you won’t feel disheartened if you learn they’re deaf.

 

You’ll make a few adjustments, practice your thumbs up sign, and prepare for a loving relationship with a well-mannered dog.


To get more instruction from experienced professionals that use strictly feel-good, positive training methods, visit the Sit n’ Stay Dog Training website. We offer group training, private training, and our signature program, Dog School, where our professionals provide the love, attention, and training they need while you’re busy.

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