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Resources for Deaf Dog Owners

There is a lot of misinformation floating around about deaf dogs; that they're hard to train, that they're brain-damaged, that they're aggressive, and so on. All the bad things you've heard are not true. Deaf dogs are normal dogs that simply don't hear!! If you have a deaf dog, or if you're thinking of adopting one, here are some resources for you:

The Deaf Dog Education Action Fund (DDEAF)

American Sign Language (ASL) Browser with embedded videos of each sign

The Deaf Dogs Atlas - find other deaf dog owners in your area

Sign Language Dictionary

Deaf Dogs Discussion Forum

Vibrating Collar from Innotek

To subscribe to the Deaf Dogs mailing list at, a community of deaf dog owners, click here.
(You have to register with yahoogroups before you can subscribe).

Coming Soon! More Tips and Tricks for Training a Deaf Dog

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Are deaf dogs aggressive?

A: Deaf dogs are no more likely to be aggressive than any other dog of the same breed.

Q: How do I get a deaf dog's attention?

A: Stamp on the floor, flash a light, even clap your hands or shout! Many deaf dogs are sensitive to vibrations in the air and variations of air pressure, and can feel the vibrations from clapping, shouting, doors opening/closing, etc.

Q: I've heard that deaf dogs are easily startled. Is this true?

A: Yes and no. Yes, if you allow it to happen by being very careful never to startle them! But you can train them not to be startled upon waking, when bumped, when approached from behind, etc. Contrary to often-given advice to wake a deaf dog gently by placing your hand in front of their noses and allowing your scent to waken them, I started waking my girls suddenly right from the very beginning by stroking their heads or bodies then giving them a treat when their eyes pop open. Same thing with bumping - I deliberately bumped into my girls at odd times, always ready with a smile, a treat, and a pet when they swung around to see what was going on. When approaching from behind, I always touch them gently on the tail (if it's raised) or on the rump as I come alongside them. As a result, they just don't startle.

Q: Do deaf dogs bark?

A: Yes. Their ears and their vocal chords are not connected. =)

Training Tips and Tricks

Before you can teach your dog any behaviors, you need to teach her to check in visually on a regular basis. The easiest way to do this is to give her a treat every time she looks at you. Get a bait pouch (I use a canvas carpenter's apron) and wear it so you'll always have treats handy. You don't need big treats, little ones will do. You can use any number of things - Cheerios or Chex, tiny bits of hot dog, even kibble will work. (You can use part of your dog's daily food ration as treats.) If you can stand the taste of hot dogs for a couple of days, tuck a few tiny pieces in your cheek; when your dog looks at you, spit a piece of hot dog at her. It won't be long before she'll be checking in on a regular basis.

You should also begin teaching Come right from the very beginning. Every time your dog comes when called they should be praised and treated, even if it took them forever to get there, or if they'd dashed out of the door and been running around the neighborhood for 20 minutes, or if they'd been in the trash - any time your dog makes the decision to come to you when called, she should be praised. Never call your dog to you for punishment, at bath time, for nail clipping, or for anything she perceives as bad; go get her instead. Coming to you should always be a pleasant experience for your dog. Call her at odd times - in the middle of play, from out in the yard, etc. - treat, praise, and let her go back to what she was doing. Five minutes later, do the same thing. This teaches her that coming to you doesn't always mean the end of her fun, or that she has to come inside.

Before I teach anything else, I teach Watch Me or Focus:

Hold a treat between your thumb and middle finger. Hold the treat in front of your dog's nose to get her attention, then raise your hand to your face and lay your index finger along the length of your nose with your fingertip between your eyebrows. This places the treat in front of your face, under one eye. As soon as the dog looks at your face, smile your happy "good girl!" smile and treat. See if you can hold her gaze for a count of 3, then treat. (If she can't hold the focus to 3, try 2 or even 1 - the important thing is to treat before she looks away.) If she looks away, you waited too long - get her attention back by putting the treat in front of her nose, raise your hand to your face again, and as soon as she looks at you give her the treat. Gradually build up the time she has to keep her eyes on your face before you give the treat. At first she'll only be looking at the treat, but she will be learning that when you hold your index finger on your nose you want her to keep her eyes on you. Eventually you'll be able to get a focus without using a treat, but it's always good to treat from time to time. (Random reinforcement.)

I always use Watch Me to start a training session. It's a good warm up, letting the dog know "OK, it's time to work". I also use it as a distraction exercise - if I need to distract my dogs' attention from something else, I'll ask them to Watch Me.

Teaching Sit:

This can be accomplished without physically forcing the dog's hindquarters down. Hold a treat between your thumb and first two fingers, and hold your hand palm up. Hold the treat right in front of the dog's nose, then slowly raise it up and back toward the dog's rump. As they follow the treat backward with their nose, their bottom almost automatically goes down. As soon as their butt touches the ground, treat and praise. If you have a dog that backs up, put her on a leash, let the leash fall straight down from her collar to the ground, and stand on the leash where it hits the ground. This will prevent the dog from moving backward. You can also place your other hand on the dog's rump and exert a little gentle pressure to get the downward movement started. I always tapped on their rump while leading their nose backward with the treat; as a result, my dogs will sit if I tap them on the backside. (Very handy if you need them to sit and you're behind them.) Once this is working for you, put the treat between your index and middle finger tips, still palm up, and continue to practice. This movement eventually becomes the sign for Sit - flat hand, palm up, raised a few inches.

Teaching Down:

Have your dog sit. Hold a treat between your thumb and index finger, palm down and the rest of your fingers extended. Hold it in front of your dog's nose, then move it straight down to the floor then out. This should be an "L" shape, with a 90-degree angle at the floor. Down then out. As your dog's nose follows the treat, she'll naturally down. You may have to guide her a little using your free hand across her back just below the shoulder blades. (If her bottom comes off the floor, you've probably "scooped" the treat out instead of going straight down then out.) Eventually, the movement becomes the sign for down - flat hand, palm down, moving downward.

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