Megan "checks in" by looking at her people frequently. This behavior is helpful since she is deaf and "checking in" allows her to respond to physical cues from a distance.However deaf dogs have special needs and there are some important considerations that need to be taken into account.
Deaf dogs have special requirements that fall into three basic categories:
- There are certain behaviors that are more important for deaf dogs to learn.
- Deaf dogs may require different cues, signals and markers during training.
- Deaf dogs do require more effort and management on you part.
For hearing dogs, probably the most important behavior they need to learn is the recall (coming when called). Because a deaf dog cannot respond unless they are looking at you, the most important behavior to build is for you deaf dog to “check in” with you frequently. To do this, reward any time that your deaf dog checks in with you. You can reward with a treat, toy, game or cuddling (choose the options that most motivate your dog). Treat checking in just like you would your recall – never do anything unpleasant when your dog checks in.
Once he learns that checking in a pleasurable and rewarding behavior, he will naturally start to check in more frequently. This gives you more opportunities to communicate with him by signaling without you having to go to him.
There are several things you can do to get your deaf dog’s attention while he is at a distance from you. In the house you can try flashing the lights of the room you are in or stomping your foot. Many dogs will respond to the vibrations of a foot stomp even though they can’t hear the noise. If you are outside at night, try flashing the porch light or a flashlight. You can use any of these behaviors as a cue for your dog to check in or recall.
Some people use a vibrating collar or a shock collar (set on vibrate or the lowest stimulation setting) and train their dog to recall or check in response to the collar. This works for some dogs but may be too aversive for sensitive dogs. I have heard that some dogs actually find the vibrating collars more offensive than a shock collar set on the lowest stimulation setting. Although I have worked with several deaf dogs, I have never used either type of collar and think the success of either type of collar would depend highly on the individual dog. Since I am not a fan of shock collar use in general, I would encourage anyone thinking about using a vibrating or shock collar as a recall cue to work directly with a skilled trainer to make sure you are not doing more harm than good.
These collars aren’t a quick fix – they just become a remote tap on the shoulder for your dog. You still need to train and proof the recall just like you would with a hearing pup. Also, remember that if your dog is out of sight, the collar does not provide any clue about your location to your dog so he may have a much harder time finding you than a hearing dog would. Don’t let the collar lure you into a false sense of security.
There is a good introduction on how to train a deaf dog to respond to a vibrating collar here: http://www.deafdogs.org/training/vibratrain.php
Deaf dogs are particularly prone to being startled especially when they are asleep, feeding or looking away from you. Practice desensitizing the dog to these situations and carefully manage to prevent accidents. Make it a point to stomp before approaching a sleeping or eating deaf dog to give them warning. Also, practice waking the sleeping dog up gently and offering him a treat so he learns to associate being woken up with good things happening.
Deaf dogs require different cues, signals and markers than hearing dogs do. The training process is the same but once you can initiate the behavior consistently (through luring, shaping or a combination of the two) you need to put a physical cue or hand signal on the behavior rather than a verbal cue. There are no right or wrong hand signals, it’s just important that you choose signals you are comfortable with and will use consistently. For basic obedience behaviors, you can use the same hand signals that would typically be used in an obedience class. However, you may need additional signals to communicate more fully with your dog. Some people use American Sign Language (ASL) or a modified one handed version. Honestly, I’ve never used ASL and couldn’t see myself doing it. Instead, I simply develop a hand signal that is a natural progression to the physical cue I used to lure the behavior during the training process.
During training, it is important to have a marker that indicates “good dog” and a “no reward/try again” marker. When training hearing dogs, we frequently say “yes”, “good dog” or click a clicker to mark desirable behavior. Make sure you condition your dog to a physical cue that indicates he’s doing the right thing or making progress in the right direction. Many people clap their hands to indicate “yes!” Some deaf dog trainers use a small pen light in place of a clicker – a quick flash of the light takes the place of the clicker for marking the correct behavior. If you are going to use a pen light, you would need to follow all the same rules you do for clicker training including ‘loading’ the light as you would a clicker. (We’ll talk more about clicker training in future note.)
It is also important to have a no reward marker. Most of us naturally say “ah ah”, “oops” or “try again” when our hearing dog makes a mistake or is headed in the wrong direction during a training exercise. You can use a head shake, closed fist (no cookie for you) or slight turning away of your head as your no reward marker for your deaf dog. The more consistent you are with your markers, the easier it will be for your deaf dog to understand what you are trying to communicate to him.
Finally, deaf dogs do require more effort on your part. You cannot rely on your voice to bring your deaf dog back to you, get him out of trouble, etc. There will be many cases when you simply have to go get your deaf dog. There will be many times when it will not be safe to let your deaf dog off-leash. For many deaf dogs in urban settings, they will need to always be on-leash outside of safely enclosed areas like baseball fields or dog parks. For deaf dogs in rural settings, only let your dog off leash if you are sure that the dog is familiar with his surrounding and will be safe if he looses sight of you or ignores your recall. Dogs that go deaf with age generally require more in the way of management and less training while pups that are born deaf require a great deal of both.
A great resource for living with and training deaf dogs is the Deaf Dog Education Action Fund. Check out their website here:
Especially their page on training:
There is also a Deaf Dogs List (Yahoo Group). This is a good place to get direct feedback from a group of people dealing with similar issues: