Jump to section
Dogs as a species are generally known for their excellent senses. Some dogs have keen sight, most have a great sense of smell, and it’s hard to get away with grabbing a leash without your dog hearing it and bounding up to you as a result. Despite this reputation, not all dog breeds are without a few genetic hiccups. One of the more well-known breed distinctions when it comes to the effects on the senses is the Dalmatian, designated as one of a few breeds that is genetically predisposed to being deaf.
Owners of deaf Dalmatians are often forced to consider alternative training methods, as using things like voice commands or verbal cues do not work as they would in a dog who is capable of hearing. While these dogs are fully capable of living a full and healthy life, it can take some adjusting to determine the best way to teach things like basic obedience. This can be made doubly difficult by the fact that Dalmatians, as a breed, are likely to be challenging to train by default. They are curious, active, and tend to have their focus pulled away very easily. Dalmatians are not for a beginner dog owner and a deaf Dalmatian puppy presents an entirely different set of hurdles to overcome.
Despite the inherent difficulty, there are several ways for a deaf Dalmatian puppy to learn the basics of obedience and beyond. For a deaf dog, visual cues are everything, and relying on things like hand signals can make training much easier. Other things like touch, smell, or sounds that are beyond our own range of hearing but may still trigger a response in a deaf or hard of hearing dog are all alternative methods to training a puppy without using verbal commands. Using a combination of these tactics can also be helpful, but determining the right one for you and your deaf puppy is crucial.
Puppies can start training once they pass the eight-week mark, though be sure to not take them outside until they’ve received their vaccinations to prevent any illness from spreading. Training that is started earlier can result in an easier adjustment, but even older puppies can be taught using these non-verbal methods, so long as you have enough patience. Be prepared, however, for a long training regimen. For a deaf Dalmatian puppy, obedience isn’t learned overnight, and it can take several months before he fully understands the commands you are teaching him.
As with all dogs, be sure to get a full health evaluation of your puppy. Some Dalmatian puppies can be fully deaf, while others may simply be hard of hearing. Get your dog’s hearing assessed properly to determine just what sort of methods will be most effective with him.
Relying on the other senses with deaf dogs is important, so treats that are especially smelly and tasty can be very effective as a reward or a lure to perform certain behaviors. Gather up enough of these to make training interesting. If you’re going to be training outside, a good leash is necessary to ensure that your puppy doesn’t wander off. A deaf dog may not hear the dangers of the outdoors such as traffic or other animals. Be prepared to maintain a safe environment at all times.
The Visual Cue Method
Develop your hand signals
Before expecting your dog to learn hand signals, you should know what signals go with which commands. ‘Sit’ may be showing your open hand with the palm facing downwards, while ‘down’ could be lowering that hand down toward the ground. These hand signals should be unique and be able to be seen from a distance.
As with any puppy, teach your deaf Dalmatian simple obedience commands first. Do not expect for him to perform overly complex behaviors until he masters the basics.
Because Dalmatian puppies have a tendency to lose focus, be sure that your rewards are worth the effort that he expends paying attention to you. Reward often and enthusiastically when he is first learning. This will teach him to look to you for good things.
Never change up your predetermined hand signals in the middle of training. If you’ve chosen a specific signal for a command, keep using that signal for that command. Changing it to something different may result in confusion for your puppy.
Teach commands in succession
Once your puppy has gotten a grasp of the basics, start asking for him to perform them one after the other. Be sure to differentiate your signals with a pause in between them to prevent confusion. Reward for successful completion of multiple commands.
Progress over time
Once your puppy has gotten a grasp of the basics, then you can move onto more complex commands. Be sure to take breaks often for playtime or trips to the bathroom. Puppies have shorter attention spans than adult dogs.
The Tone Method
Find the range of hearing
For a puppy that may not be entirely deaf or may simply be hard of hearing, things like high pitched whistles may be audible to her even if your voice is not. This is where hearing assessment is important.
Try different tones and pitches
Silent dog whistles or electronic tones that are inaudible to us may still be audible to your puppy. Try different things to determine whether or not your puppy will respond to them.
Get your puppy’s attention
Once you determine the sound that your puppy will respond to, use this as a way to pull her focus to you when you want to teach or show her a command.
Reward for response
Associate the sound with good things for your puppy. You may even choose to use the sound as a recall. When she comes to you or responds, offer a reward. She will begin to enjoy the sound and come to you when she hears it.
Combine with hand signals
While the sound is good for grabbing attention, it’s not so good at showing your puppy what you want her to do. Combine the sound with another method such as hand signals to allow for obedience training to become more accessible to her.
The Physical Method
Use touch to grab attention
This method relies on your puppy’s sense of touch and feeling to get her focus. You may choose to use a tool that can cause a vibration such as a low note on an instrument, or you can use your feet to make vibrations against the floor. Another option for long distances can be a vibration collar. Note that these are not the same as shock or e-collars.
Adjust to the touch
Teach your puppy that the touch or vibration is a good thing. Reward generously at first whenever your puppy responds to it.
Use touch as a mark
Similar to using a clicker as a mark for good behavior, you may choose to use the touch or vibration in the same way. When your puppy performs a good behavior, mark it with the touch and offer a reward like a treat or toy.
Repetition is key
Practice often with the touch when training your puppy. The more you use the touch as a good sign and as a marker for good behavior, the more likely it is that he will respond positively to it.
Combine with other methods
Similar to the tone method, touch alone is not usually enough to teach your puppy what commands you want him to learn. Combine touch with hand signals to teach obedience effectively and be ready to utilize both throughout his adult life.
By TJ Trevino
Published: 01/29/2018, edited: 01/08/2021