We have a deaf dog. Even though we have not had her tested, she will not respond to anything quieter than a mega-ton explosion. However, she barks, plays and does all the standard “Doggy” things her counter-parts do, and is just as loving and devoted as any other dog we have ever had. “Why” do I tell you this? To let you know, that deaf dogs are just as great as hearing pets.
Deaf dogs really do make amazing pets. Anything you may have heard to the contrary is most likely shrouded in myth or misunderstanding. The only genuine limitation is that a deaf dog should not roam freely unless there is an enclosed, secured, safe area available for them to do so. A deaf dog cannot hear a danger approaching, like a car. Otherwise, a deaf dog trains as easily as a dog that hears. The only difference is to use non-verbal signals, rather than verbal commands.
Like any training, you must first get the attention of whom you are trying to teach. Deaf dogs will not respond to you calling their name. They simply cannot hear you calling. However, they will react with other types of stimuli. Stomping your foot on the ground, causes vibration that they can feel. Waving a flashlight, or clicking it on and off, will usually garner attention, especially when the dog responds and the reward is a tasty treat. In addition, you can use a vibrating collar, which differs substantially from “Shock” collars. These collars only vibrate and are not distressful to the animal.
When teaching basic commands to any dog, the use of hand signals is common practice. Therefore training a deaf dog with the use of them is perfectly natural. As always when training, after getting the animal’s attention, a command (signal) is given to the animal to accomplish a specific act, after which a reward is provided. Some people create their own set of hand signs for particular words like sit, stay, down, walk etc., while others learn a few basic words in American Sign Language. Whatever you choose to do, remember the signal must remain consistent so the animal associates the “word” and the action. Lastly, never strike a deaf dog with your hands! Your hands are the way you communicate with the animal and should always be a positive, reassuring tool.
A common myth is that deaf dogs are more aggressive. The reason behind the myth is if you startle a deaf dog, they will bite. Any dog, whether deaf or not, when startled may snap or snarl out of fear. Therefore, it is important to work with the dog so the animal is comfortable having someone come from behind and touch him or her. A few times a day, wake your dog by very gently touching its shoulder or back, then reward immediately with a treat. Soon the dog will associate wakening, with something good. If you do not want to startle the dog, stomp your foot or bump the bed they are sleeping on. Chances are the vibration will awaken them. Again, always provide a reward.
Deaf dogs have a tendency to bond strongly with their guardians. In the community of those who have deaf dogs, these animals are affectionately known as “Velcro” dogs, since they are most comfortable when they are near their person. Like hearing dogs, some may develop separation anxiety. However, the training methods to condition them to be unafraid of being alone, is the same as it is for any other dog. Always remember, deaf dogs can do agility, therapy, etc., almost anything a hearing dog can do. There is nothing wrong with them. They are simply dogs that cannot hear.
If you are thinking of adding a deaf canine companion to your life, the Deaf Dog Education Action Fund’ s website, http://www.deafdogs.org/training/, is a good location to find additional helpful information and resources.
Deaf dogs may not be able to hear, but they can be as wonderful and as affectionate as a hearing canine. Take it from one who knows.