Training A Deaf Dog


Keller gets a thumbs up when she is a good girl (and usually a little treat to follow). (Photo by Shelley Castle Photography)

The idea of owning a deaf dog is very frightening to some. The idea of training said dog can be even more terrifying to a new owner. The fact that your dog can't hear isn't a big deal to your dog. They've always been unable to hear so it's just life for them, it's normal. You are likely to make it into a bigger deal than you should and they will pick up on your uneasiness.

When training your deaf dog, don't ever have the mentality that because she is deaf she can't do something. A deaf dog is capable of doing anything that a hearing dog can, except for hear!

There are deaf service dogs, agility competitors, dock divers, really anything you can think of. Always keep this in your head and have a positive outlook.

The most important thing when it comes to training a deaf dog is consistency. You want to develop your signs and stick with them. Don't feel overwhelmed at the thought of learning American Sign Language. You can use whatever works for you. Some people will learn ASL so that their signs are actual signs and can be communicated with a deaf person. Just as many owners creates their own signs. Whatever path you choose, just establish it and stick with it.

When you give your dog a sign, you want it to be one handed so it's simple and easy to do on a walk or in public. If you involve two hands, it'll get tricky if you have a leash, keys, and lunch in your hands.

As with training any dog you want to be upbeat and positive. Keep your training sessions short and try to end on a good note. Don't expect your dog to grasp every trick or command on the first go around. Focus on the basics and get them down pat before trying more advanced things.

The first commands you should work are learning are "watch me", "sit", "stay", "come" and "potty".

  • I always recommend teaching a potty sign. With a hearing dog you usually take them outside and say something like "go potty" so you want to communicate the same thing with your deaf dog.
  • "Watch me" and "come" are crucial for a deaf dog. Even more so if you ever plan to have them off leash (which is totally doable with some training.) Don't think just because you have a deaf dog that you're destined to life on a leash.
  • Some people will teach and "no" and a "good boy/girl" sign. Both of these can also be useful during training. Anytime your dog accepts and understand a sign, give the "good boy/girl" sign and then treat. Eventually you'll be able to move away from the treats because they'll learn that the sign itself is a good thing.

Just remember to be patient as you should be with any dog. When training a deaf dog, be natural. Speak to them even though they can't hear you. If you don't speak, you're body language is unnatural and dog, especially those that can't hear, rely heavily on body language.

You and your dog can do anything you set your mind to!

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Positively Expert: Amanda Fuller

Amanda, with her dog Keller, are deaf dog advocates, doing everything they can to remove the stigma around owning special need pets. Do you know what a double merle is? Amanda can tell you.


3 thoughts on “Training A Deaf Dog

  1. Harriet Falchick

    I have a deaf foster dog. I don't need give him signal to go potty, he seems to be able to do that on his own. My biggest problem sometime is getting him to come down the steps to go out

  2. Torry Jean Hyatt

    I taught my Golden hand signals because the breed has a tendency to deafness... as an ironic twist of fate, he's not just going deaf, but blind as well. Molson is 15 now and disabled but a happy boy. We built him a ramp so he can get in and out of the house more easily. People tell us we should put him down but as long as he is happy and otherwise healthy there is no way... I'm disabled too and no one is offering to put ME down!... Dogs adapt extremely well to disabilities... with a little help and support from their peeps they can live a long and happy life. This is a picture of him when he was 3 1/2, and one taken within the last few months.

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