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Deaf Dogs: Living with Dogs Who Are Deaf

Deaf dogs can make some of the most wonderful companions, and many of our volunteers can attest to that. The following includes information from PAW volunteer Jackie Threatte and Dog Fancy and PetLife magazines. Additional resources appear at the end.

* Since deaf dogs cannot hear people or animals approach them, they can get startled more often, which can lead to a fear or aggressive response. However, understanding and training can reduce and eliminate problems.

* Deaf dogs won't hear your approach, but they are very tuned in to their other senses. Stomping on the floor will get their attention through vibration. Flashing or shining a light will catch their eye and they will look for the source.

* Avoid surprising any dog. To wake up a sleeping dog who is deaf, simply touch your dog lightly on the shoulder in the same spot every time you wake him or her. A gentle pat or pet away from the head will not be felt as threatening, your hands will be safe, and the dog will come to recognize the touch as coming from a friend.

* Training is always key. And training a dog who is deaf takes time and patience. There are two major differences in training a deaf dog. They have to look at your face and hands to get their instructions. They can't hear the tone of your voice so you have to work your face muscles.

* To train and teach the dog, use treats and physical praise, such as petting and smiling. When using treats, it helps to conduct training sessions before a meal when the dog is hungrier, and it helps to vary the treats to help keep the dog's interest.

* Teach your dog hand signals based on American Sign Language. You will be amazed as your hearing dogs pick up the signs as well. Fifteen or twenty signs will allow you to communicate easily with your deaf dog. Jackie has a dictionary created for use with dogs, which works with grandchildren as well. Online help is also available at http://dww.deafworldweb.org/asl

* To signal "Good dog," Jackie advises to use the simple "thumbs up" sign every time the dog does something correctly, along with a very animated oral expression of "What a great dog...way to go!" If you say it excitedly, your body language and facial expression will let the dog know he has pleased you. The "thumbs up" can be done immediately with any free hand, no matter where the hand is located, as long as the dog can see it. This serves much the same purpose as the clicker does in clicker training -- as an immediate reward, which can be followed by a treat.

* Teach the dog to focus on you as the owner. Deaf dogs are visually oriented, so use visual cues. One advantage is that deaf dogs are not distracted by noise and other sounds.

* Trust and bonding are the key to getting the dog to look toward you frequently. Unlike hearing dogs, your deaf dog will need you to use the sign for his name and make full eye contact when you talk to him. Watching your lips move while you talk towards the sink or your newspaper will not mean a thing.

* Make training part of every activity throughout the day. If the dog is laying quietly, watching you work, look at him occasionally and give him a smile and a thumbs-up to let him know that he is being good.

* Since children often engage in unpredictable behavior, raising a deaf dog in a household with children and/or many visiting youngsters can be a challenge. Children must be warned that a dog who cannot hear can startle more easily and might snap at someone.

Young children move rapidly in random directions, frequently waving their arms, yelling, crying, or making other faces. To the deaf dog, this body language can be misinterpreted as anger or an attack.

* Make several areas strictly off limits to the children and their playmates. For example, the dog's crate and the dog's bed, and the area immediately around them, should be a completely safe place for the dog to fall asleep without fear. Teaching the child to "sign" to the dog will help them slow down and concentrate on the communication.

* It helps to have a fenced yard in which to exercise. Remember, a deaf dog cannot hear hear outside dangers as such as cars or other dogs. So always walk a deaf dog on a leash. A deaf dog running away from you will not come when you call him ... no matter how loud you yell or how animated your "come" sign, so containment in a safe fenced area or being on a leash is the only way to go.

* Use a flashlight to call your deaf dog after dark. Simply shine the light up and down the yard or over the lower branches of the trees where the dog will see it. He will quickly come running. Flashing a porch light works, too, as long as it is strong enough to cover the entire yard and the dog can see it from everywhere.

* A hearing dog can be a great companion for your deaf dog. Deaf dogs often take "cues" from the hearing dogs around them. Since they rely on their eyes and their sense of touch to make up for their lack of hearing, they will look where the other dog looks, catch even the slightest movement in their environment, and frequently lay down touching their human or animal companions. When the one they are touching moves even slighty, they will wake up and quickly glance around to see what is happening.

* How do you know if your dog is deaf? One approach is to make noises out of the dog's eyesight. Jingle keys or clap your hands behind the dog and watch for a response. If the response is delayed or there is no response, contact your veterinarian for further testing. Do not test by making sounds that cause vibrations such as stomping your feet, since a deaf dog can feel vibrations.

Owning a deaf dog can bring much joy. "Chelsea, Harpo and Olivia and others have taught me a lot about compassion, empathy, and true communication," says Jackie.

Chelsea knew 40 ASL signs when she was adopted into a family of both hearing and deaf members in which everyone signs, and Jackie believes that Chelsea's vocabulary has increased in her time with them. "Harpo and Olivia are never far away," adds Jackie, "usually under my computer desk, with at least one of them touching a foot so they will know if I get up to move.

"Don't be afraid of the deaf ones, they can be the most loving."

More resources:

* www.deafdogs.org
* www.deafworldweb.org/pub/d/dogs.html
* www.smythe.nbcc.nb.ca/kindness/pets/deafdogs.html
* www.inch.com/~dogs/disableddogs.html
* http://www.deafdogsatlas.org/
* www.handspeak.com (Sign Language Dictionary)

For more Dog Tips and other information about pet care, adoption and the work PAW does, visit our website at:

Partnership for Animal Welfare, Inc.
P.O. Box 1074, Greenbelt, MD 20768

Last Updated: April 26, 2018 (LET) PawSupport