How to Train A Deaf Dog: Important Advice & Techniques

Dog with a microphone for the deaf to hear better
John Walton
Written by John Walton

Training a deaf dog can be difficult, but it is not impossible. Over the years there have been many techniques, devices and literature developed in order to let dogs with hearing impairments live normal lives with their owners. Prior to this wealth of knowledge it was common for dogs to be put down as the thinking was that a deaf dog could never live a full and safe life with this lack of one of the core senses, but if people can do it, so can dogs!

Really there are not too many differences between a deaf dog and any other dog. They still like to run and play, they will still chew up your shoes if left unattended and they will still give you as much love and companionship as you can stand. The biggest difference is simply that they cannot hear your voice. With a deaf dog you need to give more positive reinforcement through petting and treats than you may with any other dog.

Deaf dog collar

It is never recommended that you hit your dog, regardless of if he is deaf or not, but it is especially important to treat your deaf dog with love and patience. It’s not his fault he didn’t stop barking when you told him to cut it out – he didn’t know you said anything! Really, it is a matter of finding a way to effectively communicate with your deaf dog, once you have that down your dog can lead a happy and full life.

Start training A.S.A.P.

One of the best things you can do in order to help your deaf dog live a full life is to start training as early as possible. If you get your dog as a puppy and discover that he is deaf, then this is really the best case scenario. You can start off with our article on developing a puppy training schedule. This gives you and the dog a chance to learn and adjust in the earliest stages of the dog’s life, leading to less issues in training later on.

Deaf dog

While training a deaf dog can be difficult, with diligence and patience your dog will be just as well trained as any dog that can hear – and maybe even better! If your dog is already fully grown when you bring them home and find out they are deaf, or become deaf due to outside circumstances, it is still possible to train them though it make take more time for them to adjust.

Take obedience classes

The best course of action to take when you are trying to train a deaf dog is to take obedience classes. Ask around local pet stores, veterinarian office and training facilities to see if there is any trainers in the area who specialize in deaf dogs. If there is, great, you are well on your way to having a happy and obedient dog, regardless of his being deaf. If there isn’t, well then you may have to learn ways to adjust regular obedience training to fit your dog’s needs.

Taking your dog to obedience classes is great because not only is it a great bonding experience for you and your dog, but it also helps your dog know what is expected of him. He will learn the basics, come, sit, stay, no, etc. He may even learn more advanced tricks like rolling over, how to behave on a leash in public and how to react to new people and animals.

However, you can skip the cost of classes and teach your dog at home. Start off with the great tips and tricks in our article about basic obedience training for your dog.

Using signs instead of words

The major difference in training a dog with a hearing impairment versus training a “normal” dog is the fact that they will not be able to hear your commands. One of the best ways to combat this is to teach your dog to react to signs. American Sign Language is one of the easiest languages to learn and will greatly benefit you and your dog. It will give you a language that both you and your dog can learn in order to communicate properly.

Deaf dog awareness

Some people prefer their own signs to using ASL, though for beginners it is recommended that they use ASL as it will be easier to remain consistent in which signs are for which commands. One of the biggest downfalls to signs is that your dog needs to be looking at you in order to see and react to the sign. This may seem like quite the challenge but there are many ways to go about this.

No matter what technique you use to get your deaf dog’s attention, the idea is the same – teach him as many signs as you can in order to effectively communicate what you want them to do, whether it be to sit, stay or roll over.

Just as dogs can learn many different words and phrases they will be able to learn many different signs and combinations of signs. This means that your deaf dog will have just as much means of communication with you as any other dog would!

Always use positive reinforcement techniques

One of the biggest worries about training a deaf dog is the fear of surprising him when approaching or waking. Since your dog will not hear you coming, it is recommended that you go through a training process to get your dog used to being woken up. One of the best techniques for this is to wake him up with a gentle touch on the head or shoulders and immediately giving him a treat when he wakes up. This will give your dog the chance to associate being woken up with something pleasant.

The same concept is used in a lot of training though it is especially important with a deaf dog. Consider replacing treats with bits of your dog’s kibble in order to avoid over-feeding. Once your dog has clearly associated waking or anything of that nature with a positive experience through feeding you should slowly wean your dog off of the treats so they do not come to expect them every time they do what you are looking for.

Vibration collars — a great tool

One of the newest techniques in training deaf dogs is the use of a vibration collar. These collars are used as a more humane alternative to shock collars for most dogs, but they are one of the best training tools you can have as the owner of a deaf dog. Many people have trained their deaf dog to either look to them or come to them when the collar vibrates. This can completely eliminate the need for another recall technique for your deaf dog since he cannot hear his name.

This will make playtime at a dog park or the backyard a breeze when you are ready to go. Rather than having to chase your dog down and get his attention, simply buzz his collar and he will look right to you.

Vibrating dog collar

This is one of the times when treat training is extremely effective. You should slowly introduce your dog to the vibrating collar and do not expect them to understand it right away. When you make the collar vibrate and they acknowledge it, give them a treat. Do this several times a day in short sessions.

After a few days to a couple weeks your dog will have successfully associated this vibration with something positive (the treat). Slowly wean your dog off the treats until finally the collar vibrating gets your dog to pay attention to you. Once you have your dog’s attention you can use a sign (as mentioned above, usually from ASL) to communicate what you now expect of your dog.

If you are considering buying a vibration collar for your deaf dog or for any other dog training purposes, then this PetSafe VT-1 Vibration Trainer Dog Collar is a very reliable option. It has adjustable vibration lengths and a range of half a mile. This means even at a large dog park your dog will feel the vibration of his collar and divert his attention to finding you!

When you decide to bring a puppy into your home it is a long term decision. Finding out that your dog is deaf can be difficult but that does not mean it has to bring your relationship with your dog to an end. There are many more techniques on how to train your deaf dog so that he can lead a full life. It is recommended that you keep your dog on a leash most of the time when outside the house, yard or dog park. This is more for the dogs own safety than any other reason – after all, they will not be able to hear that car coming down the road when they go chasing after a squirrel they smelled.

Living with a deaf dog does mean a little more work for you and the dog, but in the end it will be one of the most rewarding feelings in the world. Many people who own deaf dogs will tell you that they have a stronger bond with their deaf dog than they have with any other dog before.

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.