Did you know you can train a deaf dog to understand sign language? She’s unlikely to sign back at you (not using human signals, anyway) but it’s just one tool of many when you’re training a deaf dog.
A non-hearing dog requires a bit more care and attention than other dogs. But it is easy to train them if you care enough to learn a few new tricks yourself!
Training a deaf dog with rewards
Communication is a whole new game when training a non-hearing dog. That’s why positive reward-based training is more important than usual. Dominance and punishment may work for other types of dogs, but you need to develop a special kind of trust with your deaf dog. In fact, some call deaf dogs “Velcro dogs” since their vulnerability leads them to form a very strong attachment to someone who looks after them with love and care. Your deaf dog should want to look at you, and feel safe when you touch her or activate her vibration collar for attention.
Likewise, a thump on the floor can send vibrations to alert your deaf dog to a command. She should learn to recognize that this thump means to look at you, not fear you, when you send that signal. “Good girl” doesn’t work with deaf dogs – although you’ll probably catch yourself saying it anyway! She won’t learn to lip read, so make sure you pair your compliments with a consistent visual signal, such as a thumbs-up. Other dog owners will think you’re really groovy.
Training your non-hearing dog to be obedient
Some dog-trainers like to train their hearing dogs with hand signals. You can, of course, adopt these for your deaf dog, too. But because you will be relying on these signals alone, you will probably want to add a few extra hand commands to your routine. And yes, these can come from British Sign Language. That means you can pick up some BSL while you train your deaf dog! Or you can invent some of your own, or use some generally accepted dog hand signals.
Training your deaf dog on a lead
Unfortunately, it can be more risky to let a deaf dog off the lead than it is for hearing dogs. It’s not impossible, but you will need to train her very carefully on a long lead first. You need her to understand and respond to your hand signals from a distance. You can use a vibration (not shock) collar to get her attention, but make sure she’s fully trained before letting her go.
Warning: not all deaf dogs pay attention to their vibrating collar! A well-trained deaf dog is better at looking to you for instructions, or staying by your side, than a hearing dog. But don’t feel guilty if you decide to keep her on a lead even when she’s a bit older. Many hearing dogs also need to stay on a lead, and a long line still leaves plenty of freedom to exercise and explore.
Training your deaf dog to trust other people
Finally, you’ve trained your dog to trust your touch. It’s also important to make sure she’s okay with other people, since she may not hear them approaching before they pet her. Practice touching her softly from behind, and give her treats to let her know it’s okay. Soon your deaf puppy will be obedient and friendly and ready to greet the world!