Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Sound of Connecting: Training Your Deaf Dog

Whether your dog is going deaf gradually in their old age, or this malady has come about more suddenly due to exposure to loud noises or ear infections, it never hurts to be prepared.

Dogs are quite resilient creatures and will compensate pretty effectively for gradual hearing loss by bringing in their other senses more an more when making decisions about their environment. For example, the sound of an opened refrigerator is easily replaced by sensing the scents that escape.

Dogs that have partial hearing loss might find it easier if you clap (not in their face, mind you) to get their attention instead of calling to them. The vibrations in the air caused when you clap provide a distinct sound over calling a dog who may not get the connection if they have the volume turned down.

Hand gestures are another way to supplement traditional voice commands. While to is no hand gesture to command a dog that has it's back to you, continued training throughout the life of the dog is a great way to continue strengthening their mental acuity, as well as reinforce the connection between dog and human family members.

Today, my senior dog hears perfectly well, but I've subconsciously been mixing in hand signals. I noticed how effective they were when one early morning he was getting a bit anxious around the food bowl and I was able to calm him down without touching him. (Full disclosure: he got a hug shortly thereafter for listening.) Note that all of these commands have been initially trained in coordination with voice commands. You can also train a completely deaf dog by reinforcing the command and gesture in other ways. Some of the commands that I mix in include:

  • Stop/Hold: Palm facing the dog
  • Sit: Show the dog your palm with four fingers up, and rotate your fingers up a few times.
  • Down: Get the dog to sit, then rotate your palm down and push it (your hand... not the dog) in a downward motion.

These are just a few gestures that work for me. Whatever you work out with your dog over the long term should get you just as much mileage if you're consistent in reinforcing the behavior.

What other tips do you have for those with dogs that are deaf or hard of hearing?


Related articles:
Deafness in dogs
Deaf Dog US Populations