Tips to Living with a Deaf Dog
(There are) none so deaf as those who refuse to hear . . .
(Adapted) Matthew Henry, Commentaries, Jeremiah 20 (1708-1710)
Adopting a dog into your family can certainly be an adventure. Diet, training, housebreaking and time are only a few of the considerations. Add deafness to the equation and many run for cover. A cloud of myth too often seems to hover over a dog who is found to be deaf. Some claim that deaf dogs are dumb and unable to learn. Others maintain that they are difficult to train, moody and certain to be hit by cars. On the contrary, deaf dogs are lovable and intelligent animals who have the capacity to bring great joy and companionship into our lives. They are not in pain; nor do they need our pity. They are happy and can be socialized and trained; and like their hearing canine friends, they respond positively and with great affection when given regular and consistent doses of patience, understanding and praise.
To begin, deafness may be the result of different reasons. Some dogs are born deaf because of their genetic makeup. Other dogs acquire deafness as a result of infection, toxicosis or old age. A thorough medical examination by a qualified veterinarian is always recommended to determine the cause, the extent, and any possible treatment. Whether the deafness is treatable or not, the bottom line is that your dog is capable of leading a full and enjoyably normal life.
Deaf Dogs: Communication is the Key to Success
Anyone acquainted with a deaf pup, child, friend, or relative knows well that establishing a solid method of communication is essential. By purchasing a pocket-sized handbook on American Sign Language (ASL), you do not have to know any ASL prior to adopting your deaf pup. ASL is easy to use and convenient for several reasons. There are more people who know at least a few signs than you might imagine. That makes it possible for other folks to “talk” with your pup. Additionally, when you have to leave your dog with a sitter or the vet, all you have to do is either leave the handbook with marked signs or copies of the most important signs. Your dog will then never be left in a totally “silent” world. Someone will always be able to communicate with your dog without a great deal of instruction, which could prove to be invaluable in the event of any sudden or emergency situations!
Getting Started with Your Deaf Dog
Start the same way that you would start with a hearing dog – simple repetition, patience, reward and lots of praise. The only difference in training a deaf dog is that you use your hands instead of the spoken word. Dogs are physical by nature so it will not take long before he begins to watch your hands intently for cues. You should begin with something that is a real attention grabber. “Cookie” is always a puppy pleaser. (Cookie = shape your right hand into the letter “C” and rotate the tips of the fingers on the flat palm of your left hand as if you were cutting out a cookie.) With your dog facing you, make the sign for cookie and then give him a delectable treat. Wait a few seconds and repeat. Once your pup puts together “cookie” and the reward, you will be off and running! Keep it simple and always use a sign for what you want. Before you know it, your dog will watch your hands hoping they will communicate something yummy. You can follow this by teaching your dog “sit.” Remember always to reward and praise, praise, praise. Dogs have learned as many as 65 different signs such as cookie, sit, come, stay, lay down, potty, stop and drop it. They can even learn the signs for their individual names. “Potty” (use the sign for toilet which is simply the letter “T” formed by putting your right thumb between your index and middle fingers and shake slightly) is great for housebreaking and later asking your dog if he needs to go out. Sign it every time you take him out to go potty. Remember always to be gentle, patient and very positive. Reward, never punish. The more you reward, the more the pup will respond. Enrolling in a reputable, basic obedience class is also a great idea. Just use your hands!