If you’ve ever met a deaf dog, you probably didn’t know he or she was deaf until its owner told you. Such was the case with our boy, Otto. We didn’t even know he was deaf until he was eight weeks old and unresponsive to sound. When he was diagnosed, we were at a loss. How do you train a deaf dog? How do you call them? So many questions, and we found so little answers. Apparently the well-renowned site, deafdogs.org
, wasn’t popular enough on Google to show up under any searches.
Otto was very smart and a quick learner. I rewarded him with strong-smelling treats for looking at me. I learned the popular training hand signals and modified them in an easy-to-remember sequence to teach Otto. He mastered “sit.” We learned a pattern of movements to get his attention when he wasn’t looking directly at us. He was very easy to train because he wasn’t easily distracted by noises. We attached a bell to his collar so we could hear where he was. He gave us a scare one day when he crawled under the couch to take a nap. I called and called his name, knowing full well he couldn’t hear me, trying to find him. In tears, I called my husband, asking how far could a little puppy go on his own, because I assumed he had slipped by me when I went outside. About the time I was getting ready to call in the cavalry, an oblivious and yawning Otto peeked his head out from under the couch. He had no clue why I was so happy to see him, but he wagged his tail and licked my face all the same.
One thing I’ll tell you about deaf dogs is that they typically have no volume control. Otto was loud. When I say loud, I mean loud! He couldn’t hear his bark or whines, so why would he care? He also had a peculiar set of quirks. He hated moving tires, he liked clean sheets, and he had no depth perception. When we rode in the car, he would try to duck and chase the oncoming traffic. He was buckled in, of course, but that didn’t stop him from trying. Everything was like a 3-D movie to him. You could throw a ball five feet away from him, and he’d think it was going to hit him square on the head.
Having Otto taught me a lot of things about dogs, including the fact that dogs don’t feel sorry for themselves. If Otto knew that he was different and had limitations, he never showed it. He was fearless – no thunderstorm ever sent him diving under the bed. People never believed me when I told them Otto was deaf. They’d clap their hands, whistle, and dance around, then exclaim, “He’s not deaf! He just looked at me!!” Otto and I would just smile and keep on our merry way. Besides his lack of hearing, Otto was just like any other dog – sweet, lovable, and sometimes stubborn.
If you ever find yourself in possession of a deaf dog, here are a few tips to remember:
- Never let them off leash. You can’t exactly call a deaf dog back to you, now can you?
- Use strong-smelling treats as rewards. Since they can’t hear, their other senses become sharper to compensate.
- Never startle a deaf dog. Awaken them gently by making vibrations near them or blowing air toward them. We would awaken Otto by stomping nearby or breathing near his face. Approach awake deaf dogs like you would a horse – wide around back, into their field of vision.
- Teach your deaf dog manners and obedience, just like you would a hearing dog.
- When using visual cue, use simple, crisp movements. Remember that your dog is reading all of your body language. Use facial expressions to your advantage!
- Last, but certainly not least, never ever give up! If you’re having difficulty training your deaf dog to do something, don’t give up. Seek the advice of other deaf dog owners and/or trainers.
Remember, not every dog is born deaf. Accidents happen, and so does aging. I advise training dogs with visual cues, as well as verbal ones, so that, if your aging dog ever does go deaf, he or she will still be able to follow commands.