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You have a dog that you’ve cared for and loved for most of his life, and unfortunately, a disease, old age, or an injury has taken away his hearing. That doesn’t change how you feel about your beloved canine friend though, and you want to ensure he still has the best quality of life possible.
That means he still gets exercise every day and to go about all his usual day-to-day activities. When you are walking your deaf dog though, you don’t want him constantly pulling you in every direction. It’s annoying at best and dangerous at worst. You don’t want him leaping across a road because he has seen another dog, especially if he can’t hear oncoming traffic.
Getting your deaf dog to heel and walk calmly by your side will prevent precisely this sort of danger, not to mention make your walks a much more relaxing and enjoyable experience.
What does the ‘heel’ command actually mean? The idea is that when you give this command, he walks calmly by your side, not pulling on the leash. However, if your dog is deaf, then this verbal command isn’t going to have much of an impact. Fortunately, there are a number of other ways you can still train him to heel.
Instead of verbal commands, you focus on his other senses. The nose, for example, is particularly effective. Using the smell of treats, plus visual and physical cues, you can still get your deaf dog to heel when you need him to.
This can be trained into both young and old deaf dogs, but it may take longer in older dogs who are stuck in their ways. So be prepared to dedicate several weeks to this training regime. It will, of course, be slightly harder to drill into your dog because he is deaf, but it is absolutely still possible!
Before you embark on your training campaign, ensure you have plenty of your dog's favorite treats or food. You will also need a quiet outdoor space, free from distractions.
Also, invest in a secure leash and if he is large or strong, you may also want to use a harness to prevent putting pressure on his neck and to increase your control. Because he is deaf you are also going to need a little more patience than usual, plus a positive, proactive attitude.
Once you’ve got all of these things together, it’s time to get training!
The Watch Me & Heel Method
Before you start on 'heel', you need to ensure he is always looking at you for instructions and paying attention to your commands. So take a treat, hold it in front of his nose and then slowly move it in front of your face. When he looks at you in the eyes, flash him a thumbs up and reward him.
Repeat this training for a few minutes everyday. Before you know it, he will always be looking at you, waiting for cues. Plus he won’t be so easily distracted by things around him.
Time to heel
Now he is paying attention to you, put him on a leash and go out for a walk. Whenever he gets to the end of the leash, stand still, wait for him to look at you and then walk back to you. When he gets back to your side, reward him with a treat.
It is going to take a while for him to realize that if he walks ahead, you’ll stop walking and his walk won’t happen either. But slowly, if you persevere he will get the message. Plus, encouraging him to walk back with treats will speed up the learning process.
Ditch the leash
Once he walks alongside you and heels naturally, ditch the leash and practice the same procedure. Because of your visual cue practice, he should regularly check where you are and stay heeling even without the leash. Once he has the hang of it, slowly reduce the number of treats you give him.
The Turn Method
Secure him to his leash
Because he can’t respond to verbal cues, you will train him to heel with a physical cue. Once he is on the leash, open the door and head out onto the street.
Wait for him to use up the leash. Hold firmly on the leash and be ready to react as soon as he pulls.
Turn around and start walking in the other direction. As soon as you feel the pull, pull him in the opposite direction. This will quickly show him that you are in control of the walk.
Even if it means you never walk anywhere for the first couple of weeks because every 3 steps you have to turn around again and again, he will eventually learn that if he wants to get that puddle over there, he needs to walk calmly next to you.
Reward him when he does heel naturally. When he does start to heel of his own accord, be sure to reward him with a treat and praise. Positive reinforcement will speed up the learning process.
The Waist Height Treat Method
Head out as normal
Put your deaf dog on his leash and head out for your normal walk. Also make sure you have brought a bag full of his favorite treats.
Hold out a treat
Hold a treat in your left hand at waist height. Keep your hand closed, you don’t want him to get to the treat, you just want to catch and keep his attention by holding it close to his face.
Take several steps and if he stays by your side, reward him. It is important you show him his behavior of staying right by your side is correct, so shower him with praise and give him the treat as soon as you’ve walked a few steps.
Increase the number of steps
Once he stays with you for a few steps regularly, slowly increase the number of steps you walk before giving him the treat and praise. Be patient with him, he is relying solely on visual and scent cues, so it may take several weeks before he gets the hang of it.
Now he has got the hang of heeling, take him to busier streets where there are other dogs and people, then continue with the same training. It is important he can heel even with lots of temptation around him. As he gets better at heeling, slowly reduce the frequency of treats until he heels without any food incentive.
By James Barra
Published: 11/13/2017, edited: 01/08/2021