Golden dog sitting next to owner

Communicating with a deaf dog has never been so easy.

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How can I communicate with my deaf dog?

By Karen Wild, CCAB Certificated Clinical Animal Behaviourist Animal Behaviourist

Updated on the

Communicating with your dog can be challenging sometimes, but how can we communicate with a deaf dog?

Deaf dogs still have all their other sense and still lead very exciting and fulfilled lives. Read on to find out how fascinating and rewarding communicating with a deaf dog can be.

Up to 30 breeds are susceptible to hearing loss

Veterinarian Dr. Andrew Jones has pointed out that up to 30 breeds of dog are known to be susceptible to hearing loss. These include Australian Shepherd Dogs, Boston Terriers, Dalmatians, Jack Russells, and Miniature Poodles. Dogs can be partially or completely deaf. Some are deaf from birth (congenital deafness), sometimes it can be gradual (degenerative due to disease or other illness), while for others it’s an unfortunate, but natural, part of the aging process for a senior dog.

Either way, while owning a deaf dog certainly requires a slightly different approach, they can still live a normal and rewarding existence. Let's look at some of the most effective methods of communicating with a deaf dog.

Are deaf dogs hard to train?

As with any dog, communication is key, even if the dog cannot hear. It’s how we train them, how we interact with them on a daily basis. It's a way of keeping them safe and maintaining a healthy and enjoyable relationship. Communicating with a deaf dog may seem like an uphill struggle, but don't forget, dogs are smart; they adapt quickly, and if there is something they want to earn or learn, they will use all their other instincts and faculties to help them.

Training a deaf dog is all about ensuring they can see and smell rather than simply relying on what they might otherwise hear. You can still speak to them, as the dog will look at the emotions on your face, but you must make sure you give clear hand and body signals. Stomping on the floor will cause a vibration that a deaf dog can feel (if they can’t see you of course), knocking your fist, clapping your hands, can all cause sound vibrations that the dog can alert to.

Instead of simply giving a verbal cue such as ‘sit’, you give a hand signal too, then use a marker such as a thumbs up gesture to say ‘good dog’. You then reinforce with a tasty treat or toy, petting or game, just as you would with any dog that has hearing.

How do you get the attention of a deaf dog?

As with all dog training, with a deaf or hearing dog, before you can do anything, you need to grab your dogs attention. Obviously calling their name is out of the question, but even some deaf dogs can still hear a high-pitched whistle. You can stamp or knock on the floor as a signal for them to pay attention in your direction, and there's a good chance your dog will pick up on the vibrations. Flashlights are another good tool. Turn them on and off until your dog looks at you, and then reward them with a treat.

If you start when the dog is young, they will learn to keep a close eye on you anyway, whether or not you have given a signal!

Ways to communicate with your deaf dog

Once you've got the dog’s undivided attention, you can use hand signals and facial expressions in place of traditional voice commands. Dogs are really good at reading body language. In fact, they’re much better at reading what you say with your body than what you say with words. This is why many owners train their dogs using hand signals as well as using voice commands. But don’t worry about what signs to use.

As the Deaf Dog Education Fund points out, there are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ signs. Patience and consistency are the important things. And don’t forget to stay positive - dog’s feed off this kind energy, and it’s probably one of the best ways to keep them engaged.

Approaching a deaf dog

It's always better to let any dog come to you, rather than approach it directly, so bear this in mind. Deaf dogs can be easily startled, since they can’t hear what is coming, so it's important we don’t just approach them without some kind of clear notice that we are around. This is especially important when they’re sleeping, and whenever we are behind them. If we get it wrong, they may be scared and startled, snarl or snap.

Try to allow them to learn that whenever they are touched, it always results in a positive outcome. Touch can mean a treat is coming! If they learn that they can see a touch coming, and then it’s followed with a tasty piece of food, with practice they will not mind if the touch comes more unexpectedly. You do need to build this trust gradually of course, and always give the dog time to adjust to sudden events so that they can calm down and learn that suddenness isn’t always a shock.

How to communicate with a blind and deaf, or old dog?

All dogs seek comfort, safety, food and usually, social contact. A blind, deaf and/or old dog is just the same, so if you want to communicate with them, use the instincts and skills that they have remaining. Sense of smell, such as holding a treat in your hand they are attracted to, can help you to lure them to follow your movement. An old dog will sleep very deeply and may not hear you, so never wake them suddenly. Allow them to sleep somewhere they can remain undisturbed, so they can awaken gently. A blind and deaf dog will still find their way around as long as you don’t move the furniture or keep placing new items around for them to bump into. With a little extra care they will still remain your closest and most contented doggy companion.

A deaf dog can still live a normal life

So as we can see, there are many effective ways of communicating with a hearing-impaired dog. Although, they are other factors we need to be mindful of (especially when taking them for walks), all it takes is a few minor adjustments and a little bit of patience. In other words, there's no reason whatsoever why a deaf dog can’t be a happy dog.

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