It's not uncommon to see or hear about dogs these days that overcome deafness, blindness, or other severe disabilities. In fact, they seem to live equally happy lives as other dogs! Nonetheless, veterinarian researchers have identified 89 dog breeds with incidences of congenital deafness (born deaf), some much higher than others. Dalmatians seem to be the most at risk, he says, with nearly 30% of puppies born deaf in one or both ears. Our southeast Michigan dog owners have asked us about special training tips and strategies to cope with deafness specifically, so we're going to provide some!
Training a Deaf Dog
This is pretty much like training any other dog: positive reward-based training is essential. What can be difficult is getting their attention. We recommend waving at them, thumping the floor with your fist or foot to cause a vibration, or touching them gently always in the same spot. Deaf dogs tend to become so bonded with their owners that they look to them constantly, so this generally isn't as tough as it might sound! Consider using a flashlight or flashing a porch light at night to get the dog to come back inside. Collars that produce a low-level vibration (NOT shock collars) can be useful in place of a clicker.
Many trainers begin by teaching dogs that something they did is good by signaling a thumbs up and providing a treat. You can train your dog to understand this, and in time you can begin to add in further signals. You can use American Sign Language to teach your dog all kinds of words and tricks!
Keeping your dog on a leash or in a fenced yard is pretty important, as a deaf dog can't hear a car or other danger coming. To keep track of your dog, put a bell on their collar and a tag that says "deaf," along with contact information.
Work on desensitization to reduce them being startled or scared when touched by something that they didn't see approach. Like all training, start with baby steps and gradually work your way up. Start by being in sight of your dog, touching them in the same spot, and offer them a treat, and then move on to being out of sight. You can also wake a sleeping dog gently by putting your hand in front of their nose to let them smell you, and then gently pet them and wake them. Also, dogs love waking up to treats!
With the proper knowledge, positive training and patience, owning a deaf dog can be very rewarding. There are many resources available as well as deaf dog support groups in southeast Michigan that can offer many helpful services and tips. With the right training, your deaf dog can do anything a dog with hearing can do. There are many deaf dogs in performance events including obedience, agility, flyball and scent work, or in service work including emotional support, therapy, or guiding!