If you’re looking into adopting a deaf dog, you’re probably wondering: What’s it like to live with a deaf dog? How do I train a deaf dog? Am I up to the challenge?! With the help of Deaf Dogs of Oregon, we’ll help you get a feel for the ins and outs, as well as the rewards and challenges, that come with adopting a deaf dog.
How to train a deaf dog
If you talk to someone who owns a deaf dog, chances are they’ll tell you that owning and training a deaf dog is just like training any other dog — with just a few caveats:
- Getting a deaf dog’s attention is visual rather than verbal. Because a deaf dog can’t hear you, they have to be looking at you, and likely making eye contact with you, in order to prove they are ‘listening’ to you. That means you can’t call them from the other room and expect them to respond. If you can’t find where your deaf dog is, yelling their name won’t help.
- Deaf dogs learn hand cues rather than verbal cues. Once you get your deaf pup’s attention with good old-fashioned eye contact, you can use hand signals rather than words to teach commands. In fact, many dogs that are able to hear are taught a hand cue to go along with every verbal cue.
Training a deaf dog is very similar to training a hearing dog: both require patience, consistency, and practice.
- Correcting a deaf dog’s behavior must be done with either visual cues or physically rather than verbally. As far as training goes, this means deaf dogs and hearing dogs are pretty much on the same page: dogs that know commands, whether visual or verbal, are likely to be responsive to their adopters while dogs that know no commands will simply not understand what you want.
Where this does matter are in certain situations where your dog might be doing something they shouldn’t be, like if you hear your dog in a trashcan in another room, you’ll have to go physically correct them if they are deaf. Another instance could be at a dog park where you can’t get your dog to return to you because the dog isn’t looking at you.
What it is Like to Live with a Deaf Dog
So now that you know that training a deaf dog is pretty similar to training any other dog, you might be wondering what else there is to know about owning a deaf dog. Here are some necessities, challenges, and tips for living with a deaf canine companion:
- You’ll need a fenced yard for your deaf dog. If your deaf dog escaped your property, they won’t be able to hear you, anyone, or anything else!
- You’ll need patience and commitment. If the dog is a high energy breed, you’ll also need a strict exercise regimen. Like all dogs, deaf dogs require a degree of patience and commitment. Since those of us who can hear are used to other animals being able to hear us, it does require that extra degree of patience to have and communicate well with a deaf companion of any species. Deaf Dogs of Oregon also recommends that adopters lead active lifestyles since “so many deaf dogs are high energy breeds [which require] plenty of exercise and stimulation.”
- Few deaf dogs can be off leash in an unfenced area. While some deaf dogs can make it to the stage where they can be trusted off leash in an unfenced area, it can be difficult to get there since there is no verbal recall if your dog wanders off farther than they can see you or your hand signals. A good deal of training and trust between you and your dog are necessary to be off leash in an unfenced area — whether deaf or not.
- Deaf dogs may have heightened senses. Because one sense is completely gone, deaf dogs’ other senses are often heightened, which can make them sensitive to other stimuli. On the flip side, deaf dogs don’t panic on the 4th of July or during thunderstorms unless the instance is near enough to shake the ground. Deaf dogs also don’t hear when someone knocks on your door and thus won’t bark each time that happens, which can be more pleasant for incoming guests.
- Make a wake-up routine with your deaf dog. Since deaf dogs have heightened senses, creating a consistent wake-up routine with a treat is important to starting off each day right. Two great ways to try are by either touching your dog lightly on the back and rewarding your dog instantly upon waking with a treat, or by putting your hand in front of your dog’s sleeping nose until the dog wakes up to your scent, which can also be rewarded with a treat or hand signal right afterwards.
- Train your deaf dog to look at you, as if you called their name. The main technique Deaf Dogs of Oregon encourages is to, “touch as contact, and then welcoming lots of eye contact.” They emphasize that getting your deaf dog to check in with you through eye contact regularly is key to successful training. “[By] tapping them on the back or hips and rewarding them the very second they turn to make eye contact with you,” you’re teaching them the equivalent of calling their name, if they could hear. Aside from rewarding your deaf dog with food, you can also use a “good dog” signal, such as the one Deaf Dogs of Oregon practices at their shelter, which looks like excited, “ ‘spirit fingers’ wiggling in the face.”
Two deaf dog case studies: Stryder and Mojo
Deaf Dogs of Oregon was kind enough to share two deaf dog stories with us: one of an over-energetic deaf dog originally at a kill shelter who was completely transformed, and one of a deaf puppy that grew up to learn sixteen different hand signals (yes, sixteen!) and helps train other deaf dogs today.
Stryder was in a kill shelter in Oklahoma before being rescued by Deaf Dogs of Oregon. The extremely sweet, one-year old Australian Shepherd was adopted into a family that seemed like a great fit, only to be returned four short days later to the shelter. Stryder was too energetic for the family and was barking too much when left alone. But there was still hope for Stryder.
Stryder was soon adopted by Rachelle of Deaf Dogs of Oregon, who knew he was considered a ‘project dog’. After six months of rough times, Rachelle remembers thinking, “What did I get myself into?” But she remembered that she committed to this dog, who had been a stray, passed around at shelters, and returned after adoption. “His whole life had been chaos up to this point,” Rachelle explained, “No wonder he was so wild!”
After slow and steady training, along with structure —such as a crate, a wake up time, a bed time, and an appropriate amount of exercise — Stryder is a totally different dog today. “Instead of pulling on the leash, he walks nicely with a loose lead around his neck. Instead of lunging at cars on his leash while walking, he slowly looks to me when temptation arises–a reminder he is making good decisions.” Rachelle reminds us that Stryder was, “always a wonderful, sweet dog. He just needed a patient owner to help guide him.” Of course, not all deaf dogs are as challenging as Stryder was.
For Spencer, a fostering volunteer who works with deaf dogs for Deaf Dogs of Oregon, Mojo was a special foster dog. “He was not the only dog I fostered, but he is the only one I couldn’t let go,” Spencer shared. The six month old deaf Catahoula Leopard dog was an, “awkward, lanky, jowly puppy that chewed on shoes and barked at his own reflection.” Smitten with Mojo, Spencer began training him and noticed his natural gift for learning hand signals and agility training. They bonded quickly, and Spencer adopted Mojo for life.
Two years later, Mojo knows over sixteen different hand signals, from the classic “sit” and “down” to the more complex “play dead” and “stand on your hind legs and walk backwards.” Together, Spencer and Mojo demonstrate Mojo’s skills at pet fairs and festivals along with other members of Deaf Dogs of Oregon, helping the public to understand the, “genetic deafness in dogs and the importance of proper breeding practices.” Mojo also helps Spencer train new deaf foster dogs by demonstrating good behavior.
Spencer told us, “To me, Mojo is a good dog — but he’s a great friend.”
Deaf Dog FAQs
Here are some commonly asked questions about deaf dogs and the answers to go with them:
- Do deaf dogs bark? Yes, they do bark! It might be louder than they need to since they can’t hear themselves, but they are also less likely to bark than your average hearing dog since they don’t hear subtle sounds, like rustling in the bushes nearby.
- Are deaf dogs albino? No, deaf dogs are not inherently albino! If you see a deaf dog that looks albino, it’s likely they have a ‘double merle gene’ rather than the ‘albino gene’. If two dogs with the dominant merle genes bred together, there’s a 25% chance that the pups will have a double merle gene, which creates an extreme lightening of the coat and often deafness and eye defects. Responsible breeding practices usually include avoiding genetic instances such as the double merle gene since the pups often have these deficiencies.
- I own another dog–can I still adopt a deaf dog? Just like with any other dog, it depends on the dog and is on a case-by-case basis. Deaf Dogs of Oregon says that “some dogs flourish in a home with another dog while some may require being the only dog.”
- How do I tell if it’s a good fit? Deaf dogs are dogs first, their breed second, and deaf third. That means being a decent energy and demeanor match for your lifestyle and preference takes precedent over their deafness. However, as discussed above, extra patience and a fenced yard are required for all deaf dogs.
There are many highly-adoptable deaf dogs out there in shelters waiting to be adopted. Use Core Paws to find adoptable deaf dogs near you.
If you find yourself eyeing a certain dog online, Deaf Dogs of Oregon recommends that you contact the shelter to learn about the history and temperament of the dog to see if it’s potentially a good fit. The level of physical activity the dog needs, whether it gets along well with other dogs, has aggressive behavior or not, and the dog’s overall demeanor and training are all important factors to consider when adopting a friend for life.
Remember, deaf dogs are dogs first, their breed second, and deaf third.
Check out adoptable deaf dogs near you today, because life’s too short to wait for your new best friend.
Written by Hillary Patin