Whether a dog has been born deaf or becomes deaf because of an illness or injury, a lack of hearing does not mean you can’t train him. In fact, because a deaf dog is less aware of his environment, it’s even more important to train him to follow basic commands so you can keep him safe. While it may seem difficult, it’s actually easier than you think, and can be very important in a dog's senior years.
Before you start training, you’ll need a few basic tools. The first two, vibrating collars and flashlights, will help you get your dog’s attention.
Vibrating collars are a great tool for training deaf dogs as it’s an easy way to get their attention no matter where they are. Be sure not to confuse these with shock collars that will hurt your dog when you press a button.
Another way to get your deaf dog’s attention is with a flashlight. Keep in mind that this may not work in bright lighting and can become more of a distraction if your dog wants to chase the beam. A key-chain LED flashlight may work best for dog training to prevent these problems.
No matter what you’re using to get your dog’s attention, you’ll want to have healthy treats on hand to reward them during training sessions. If you’re worried about your dog gaining too much weight, you may want to use some of their regular food during sessions and then feed less at mealtimes.
Next let’s go over some quick training tips that can work for every dog, but are especially important when working with dogs that are deaf or hard-of-hearing.
Whether you choose to use American Sign Language (ASL) or specific hand signals designed for training dogs, be consistent. When the same sign has different meanings or you have multiple signs for one action, your dog may become confused and frustrated.
Having a partner that knows your dog well can help them learn faster. They can help guide the dog’s body into the right position while you use both hands to sign and give rewards.
It is important to be patient with your dog. This is even truer if you’re adopting an adult dog who hasn’t been trained previously as he may not understand what’s expected of him. Don’t get angry with him and allow him to learn at his own pace.
Dogs naturally have short attention spans, particularly when young. For that reason, you’ll want to keep each training session as short as possible. Most sessions should be less than 20 minutes at a time, and you may even keep them to five minutes or less at the beginning.
Now that you have the tools and tips, let’s get into the three steps you need to train a deaf dog.
The first thing you need to do is let your dog know how they’ll be rewarded. Here are a few ways you can do that:
- Vibrate their collar
- Blink on the flashlight
- Give a special sign - such as a thumb’s up
To start, give the signal and offer a treat. Soon, your dog will associate the signal with getting a treat. From there, you’ll start to get your dog to work for a signal and subsequent a treat.
Start with a simple command such as “sit.” Give the sign you determined and wait for your dog to respond. Your partner can help gently guide your dog’s hindquarters to the floor if needed. Repeat the sign frequently when first teaching since they need repetition to learn.
During your first few sessions, you’ll only want to work on one command at a time. As your dog learns more, you can cover more commands in each session to keep them occupied for longer.
As soon as your dog moves towards doing what you asked, signal that they’ve done the correct thing and follow it with a treat. Every bit of progress should be rewarded initially.
Then, as your dog starts to learn the commands, increase the amount of time between the signal, the treat and the number of times you expect them to perform a command correctly before giving them a treat.
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