Visual cues are key to training a deaf dog


How sad you feel when you realise that your pooch doesn’t respond to your commands, ignores the doorbell…not because he doesn’t want to obey but because his hearing is impaired! Here’s how to communicate with your lil one.
Why hearing loss occurs?
Hearing loss in dogs is relatively common and can have variety of causes, including old age, infectious disease or reactions to medications. Some dogs are born deaf, having inherited a gene that predisposes them to the condition. This gene is often found in white dogs or those with a mottled coat. Dalmatians and white Great Danes are among such breeds.
Making life meaningful with communication

  • First and foremost, remember that he’s a dog and even though he can’t hear, he will have the same instincts as any other dog.
  • It’s important to treat the dog as normally as possible.
  • Don’t baby him, or shy away from all the regular things you would do with a normal dog.
  • Most deaf dogs compensate for their loss of hearing by making heightened use of their other senses, including sight, smell and touch.
  • They can be more responsive than average to non auditory cues, an important factor that helps make the training process easier.
  • And some older dogs will respond to a very loud hand clap or stomping on the floor as they may pick the vibrations in the floor.
  • Learn the fact that you and your dog have to rely on visual cues and commands as the vocal commands like “come”, “stay” or “sit” don’t apply.
  • Socialization is critical. You might think that because your dog can’t hear, he needs to be kept close by your side at all times. On the contrary, a deaf dog can easily learn to interact positively with other people and dogs.
  • Be vigilant when your dog is around other canines. They can always see when a dog is snarling at them.
  • When people are greeting your dog, tell them to smile and avoid direct eye contact and offer him a palm to sniff.
  • In a market place, there is a device called pager collar which gives vibrating signals to your dog.
  • If you are taking them to a new place, be careful and never keep your dog off leash.
  • Make sure that you don’t startle your deaf dog by “sneaking up on him”, especially while he’s asleep.
  • To wake a deaf dog, place your hand near his nose so he’ll smell you, or scratch the floor or pillow near him so he’ll feel that. Since he may be startled, you can make waking up or sudden touch more pleasantly by immediately offering him a treat.
  • You can actually condition your dog to find being startled to be pleasant — just associate something he likes (such as a food treat) with a startle.
  • Watch strangers (especially children) and don’t let them touch him unless he’s recognied that they’re there.
  • Never get angry, jerk, hit or push your pet for unwanted behaviour. Instead, ignore it and focus on rewarding the behaviour you do want.

Tips for training a deaf dog

  • Dogs who can’t hear have to rely on vision to keep tabs on what’s going around them and more likely to be influenced by visual distractions.
  • Use clicker training using a flashlight. For this, you will need an instant on-off light with a button rather than a sliding switch. Do not use a laser light though.
  • When using sign language, it’s important to keep the signs consistent, so that the dog learns to recognise specific gestures as commands.
  • Train with you back to a wall or even in a corner so that your dog is able to focus more exclusively on you.
  • Be in his line of sight and never approach him from behind.
  • Smile, so that he can see your expression and will come to regard the training as a happy experience.
  • Last but not the least, reward the dog for good behaviour.

Teaching various commands Teaching ‘Come’

  • Flash a light or wait until your pet notices you.
  • Show a treat when the dog looks at you and give the hand signal for come by extending your hand straight up and then reward your dog when he comes to you.
  • Keep on practising with the treat and then slowly cut down on treats concentrating on commands.
  • Make sure you use the correct facial expressions.

Teaching ‘Yes’ or ‘Good Dog’

  • To teach the sign ‘Yes’ or ‘Good Gog’ is to use thumbs up. Repeat it several times. Teaching ‘No’
  • The best way to use the command ‘No’ or ‘Stop’ is to flash your palm in a very firm way.

Teaching ‘Sit’

  • Start making you own signs. For example, to teach a dog to sit, put a treat over his nose and then move it slowly backwards until he sits. Then, add a sign to it.

Training a dog with hearing loss involves some extra challenges but it can be a rewarding experience. You are learning along with your dog. Common sense and ability to think outside the box! Don’t be limited by a lack of imagination. Find a way to make it work.
(Niharika Virmani is a graduate in Animal Behaviour and Pet Grooming from Nash Academy of Animal Arts, Kentucky, USA in the year 2007. She has her own day care and mobile grooming called Happy Tails in Mumbai.)