Training a Deaf Dog: Do I Have Your Attention?
The basics for training a deaf dog are no different than training a hearing dog: you want to reward desired behavior and ignore unwanted behavior. If you decide to train a deaf dog, you will face some special issues pretty quickly. Most positive dog training practices rely on communicating through sound. Since your dog can't hear, you'll have to come up with some alternatives for commands and for getting and keeping your dog's attention. You'll also need to discover substitutes for verbal praise and feedback.
Of course, you can use your dog's vision to communicate. Most dogs--hearing or deaf--will actually learn hand signals more quickly than verbal commands, so this isn't such a big deal. The only problem you'll may face is keeping your hand signals consistent from time to time and among family members.
Any hand signals you choose to use for training a deaf dog should be bold and clear, distinct from signs or gestures you commonly use, and visible from a distance. And don't forget that your deaf dog will be watching your facial expressions and body language.
Many pet owners who have taken on training a deaf dog use standardized American Sign Language (ASL). This has a few advantages, including standardization with other deaf dog owners and a new opening to the human deaf community for you and your dog. Even so, some ASL signals may need to be adapted for use in training a deaf dog. Alternatively, you can start with standard non-verbal obedience signals used to train hearing dogs, then transition to ASL commands later.
When you are training a deaf dog, you'll quickly find that one of the most challenging things is getting and keeping their attention focused on you. This will improve over time, but at the beginning you may find the use of food rewards useful. Keep in mind that watching you is just another desired behavior, and you can apply positive dog training methods to reinforce your dog's attentiveness. Training a deaf dog to stay focused on you and attentive to your commands will make training a deaf dog in the use of other commands that much easier.
A key concept to remember when training a deaf dog, is that your dog will be visually oriented. Eliminate as many distractions as you can when you begin training a deaf dog. After you've made some progress, you can start introducing distractions slowly. Learning to ignore visual distractions will probably take longer than learning your commands, so be patient and persistent.
The real trick when training a deaf dog, or any dog for that matter, is helping your dog identify the desired behavior. You need to be able to tell your dog when he's doing what you want him to do. Coming up with a visual signal for "good!" or "yes!" is crucial to success when training a deaf dog. Link your chosen hand signal to a food reward, or anything your dog really enjoys--a fun toy, a game or favorite activity, or petting. Saying "yes!" along with your hand signal will help you link the appropriate facial expression with your hand signal.
"Come" is one of the most important and difficult commands to teach when training a deaf dog. You'll need to be creative in getting your deaf dog's attention, and then you'll need to have a reward ready that's worth trading in the remarkably interesting outdoor world to get. Many experts recommend a vibrating collar for training a deaf dog to come. The collar vibrates like a pager (it doesn't shock), letting your deaf dog know that you want him to come to you. Another attention-getting tool helpful for training a deaf dog is a flashlight. Almost anything that works in the realms of vibration, movement or light will aid in training a deaf dog..
Training a deaf dog requires some extra commitment and patience, but you will be rewarded by overcoming a difficult barrier in inter-species communication, and by helping your deaf dog learn to live confidently and obediently in a hearing world.
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