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If your deaf dog can't hear you call him, how do you get his attention? How do you communicate? The thing about dogs is, they are not primarily verbal communicators, so your dog's deafness is more of a handicap for you than for him. Dogs do not use language to communicate like we do, and other senses such as smell and sight are usually more well-developed and relied upon by your dog to communicate. Dogs naturally communicate with other dogs using body language, so training a deaf dog with hand signals is quite natural for your dog. But, in order to communicate with hand signals, you need to have your dog look at you first. If he has his back turned to you or is in another area where he can’t see you, you need to get his attention first.
Getting your deaf dog to look at you is not necessarily difficult, it just means a little bit of creativity on your part to work around his hearing impairment. Whether you are teaching an older dog, who has become deaf, to look at you by replacing a previous command to attend, or teaching a young hearing-impaired puppy to attend you, using visual, tactile, and olfactory, (smell) senses to get your dog's attention are all effective in teaching your dog to look at you.
Dogs naturally seek attention and relationship from their owners, so working with your dog to get him to look at you, so that you can communicate with him is something, he is already motivated to do. Reinforcing this natural tendency so that your dog looks at you when signalled, or “checks in” with you habitually, is usually relatively easy to teach your dog with alternative signals, although it may be more difficult for you let go of your natural tendency to communicate audibly!
Using light to train deaf dogs to look at you is usually effective in darkened or indoor locations, so a flashlight or penlight is a useful tool. A vibrating collar, which is not a shock collar, but a collar that provides a gentle vibration in response to a remote signal and is available commercially, can be extremely useful to get your dog's attention. Treats, and especially smelly foods can be used to reinforce checking behavior with your deaf dog. The following methods can be used to get your deaf dog to look at you using these tools.
The Vibrating Collar Method
Provide your dog with a well fitting, vibrating collar.
Press the button on the collar's remote to activate the collars vibrate function.
Wait for dog to look at you
Continue to depress the button, repeatedly signaling your dog, until your dog looks at you.
Reinforce with treat
Stop the vibration and provide a treat, attention, and praise.
Reinforce with additional command
Repeat this procedure over a number of days, until your dog automatically looks at you when the collar vibrates, gradually substitute a treat for praise, and further commands or communication.
The Signal with Light Method
Prepare light source
If inside or in a dark outdoor environment, light can be used to get your dog's attention. Use a flashlight or penlight aimed at his feet, or an overhead ambient light, flicked on and off.
Signal with light
With the dog’s back turned to you, signal him with the light repeatedly until he turns to locate the source of the light and look at you. Do not flash a light directly in your dog’s eyes.
When the dog looks at you, reward him with a treat, attention, and praise.
Repeat and reinforce
Repeat this over a period of days to reinforce the behavior.
Replace treat with praise and direction
Eventually, move from providing a treat to praising your dog and providing him with another command so he comes to associate light with attention and a further communication.
The Check In Regularly Method
Introduce smelly treats
Have some tasty, preferably smelly, treats available. Let your dog get a good nose full of the smelly treat.
Direct to face
Hold the treat with your hand up to your face so your dog makes eye contact with you.
Associate hand signal
When your dog makes eye contact, give him a hand signal to reinforce his attention.
Provide the treat to reward your deaf dog for making eye contact.
Repeat this procedure multiple times over a period of days. Eventually, your dog should start checking with you and making eye contact, looking for the treat signal.
Reinforce with praise and direction
Reinforce with your, 'check with me for a treat' hand signal, reward him with treats, and gradually move to providing attention and praise. Begin to respond to his checking by providing another hand signal command to communicate with him and establish relationship.
By Laurie Haggart
Published: 11/05/2017, edited: 01/08/2021