How to Teach a Deaf Dog Commands

December 2, 2013

By Linda Cole

Training a dog with perfect hearing can be challenging for some, but trying to communicate with one that’s deaf is even more difficult. It’s not impossible to teach a dog with a hearing loss, though. Even a deaf dog can learn, as long as you’re willing to think outside the box to develop creative ways to get your pet’s attention. One of my dogs, Mickey, was blind and deaf, and was able to live a quality life despite his disabilities.

Hearing loss can be the result of aging, untreated ear mites, infection of the middle or internal ear, a ruptured ear drum, wax and dirt buildup in the ear canal, canine distemper, or other medical conditions. Some breeds are predisposed to congenital deafness which means a dog has a higher chance of being born deaf.

The first step you should take if you notice your dog isn’t paying attention when you talk to him is to take him to your vet for a checkup. Depending on the cause of his hearing loss, some medical issues can be dealt with and his hearing impairment can be reversed. If it turns out to be permanent, he can still understand and follow commands by learning sign language.

Mickey lost his hearing when he was about 13. After finding out from my vet that it was a permanent loss, the next step was to teach him how to understand hand signals. The easiest way to get your dog’s attention is to go to him since he won’t be able to hear you call. When I wanted to get Mickey’s attention, my cue was to touch him on the top of his head. He knew I wanted him to watch me to see what I wanted. You can use a laser light pointed on the floor or wall, but be careful not to shine it in your dog’s eyes. A flashlight can also work, as long as you teach him what the light means. If you have other dogs, a deaf dog can also learn to take his cues from them.

The first command to teach is “watch me.” It’s not difficult to teach. All dogs should know how to focus on you. Get a handful of his favorite CANIDAE dog treats and hold one in front of his nose. When he sees it, slowly move your hand to your face. As he raises his head to watch the treat, hold it close to your face until he makes eye contact, then give him the treat immediately and praise. Since he can’t hear you, give him a thumbs up to let him know he’s a good dog and did what you asked. Praise can also include scratching his ears, playing fetch or tug of war. Practice until he makes eye contact each time you raise the treat to your face. Your hand signal is the motion you make with your hand with or without a treat in it. Eventually, you want to phase out the treat.

The “come” command can be accomplished by sitting on the floor. When your dog looks at you, wave your hand towards you and wait for him to come. If you have trouble getting him to come, put a long leash on him, wave your hand, and pull the leash towards you so he understands what your signal means. Reward with an immediate treat and praise. Practice daily. Whether your dog has perfect hearing or is deaf, never call him to you and then punish him. That’s the best way to teach a dog not to come.

To teach “sit,” hold a treat with your fingers and thumb, with the palm side facing you. Move your hand just above your dog’s head until he’s forced back in a sit. Treat immediately and praise. Holding your fingers and thumb as if you’re holding a treat, with the palm side facing you, is your hand signal.

To teach “stay,” hold your hand out in front of you with your fingers pointed straight up, palm side facing your dog. Keep hand signals simple and distinctive for each command. If you take the time, your deaf dog can learn any command, including tricks.

It’s important to pick one hand signal for each command. It’s also crucial that everyone in the family use the same signal/command combination. Be patient and practice daily. Even if your dog has perfect hearing, it’s a good idea to use hand signals when teaching him basic commands. This way, if he should lose his hearing later on, he’s already familiar with hand signals.

If your dog is hearing impaired, make sure to keep him on leash when you aren’t in a secured area. A dog that can’t hear is more likely to get lost or injured. Communication is a key part of any relationship, and taking the time to train your dog with hand signals will help him deal with his disability and understand what you want.

Read more articles by Linda Cole

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