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By Bernard Lima-Chavez

The very idea of living with and training a deaf dog can feel overwhelming. Here are some practical tips to help get you started.

I’m a bit obsessed with deaf dogs. It started four years ago when we agreed to foster a deaf, ten-week old puppy for the weekend. Fast forward a few years and that puppy, now named Edison, weighs ninety-two pounds and is still sleeping in our bed. Actually, he sleeps anywhere he chooses.

Since that weekend, we have adopted a second deaf dog and have learned many things from our experiences. Whether the subject is communication, training, or safety, there is one guiding principle: living with a deaf dog is different, not harder.

If you’ve discovered that your recently adopted dog can’t hear, this lowdown on living with a deaf dog is for you.

Communicating With Deaf Dogs

It’s important to remember that while we depend on our voice, dogs use their bodies to communicate. Once we flip a switch in our brain and begin to talk with our bodies—you know, like a dog—communication becomes simple.

Training Deaf Dogs

When training a deaf dog, having a plan and using positive reinforcement techniques are key. The first step is to make a list of the commands that are most important to you; however, basic obedience and “watch me” should definitely be on your list.

The next step is to pick your hand signs. You can use a formal signed language, such as American Sign Language, obedience commands, or you can make up your own. Choose signs that are easy for you to remember but keep in mind that one-handed signs are the most practical, especially when holding a leash.

How to Avoid Startling Deaf Dogs

Because some deaf dogs may startle when touched from behind or while sleeping, it is important to condition your dog to being touched unexpectedly. Start by gently waking him up while he’s sleeping. Lightly touch him on his shoulder and immediately offer a treat when he wakes up. Your deaf dog will quickly learn that being touched unexpectedly isn’t something to fear.

Outdoor Safety for Deaf Dogs

It may not be sexy, but deaf dog safety is critically important. A loose deaf dog on the run is a disaster waiting to happen, but being proactive and alert can go a long way toward preventing a tragedy.

First, never let your deaf dog off leash in an unfenced area. You should also regularly check the fencing around your home to make sure that there are no escape hatches. And it’s also a good idea to keep your front and back doors closed and locked at all times—I learned this the hard way!

Since dogs can pull out of their collars, use a harness when walking your dog. When out in public, be aware of changes in your environment so you can let your deaf dog know that a car is coming or when another dog is running up to say hi!


For more information about adoptable deaf dogs, please visit Dog & His Boy or Deaf Dogs Rock.

Image provided by Bernard Lima-Chavez

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