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Training Deaf Dogs

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Hear Hear - A guide to training a deaf dog
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Should I have a Deaf Dog?

Sure. Why not? Providing you know what you are taking on and have the right approach to training, there’s no reason why a deaf dog should not have a normal, happy life. However, there may be some questions you should ask yourself before you take on such a responsibility;

  • Is taking on a deaf dog a family decision?
  • Are you and your family committed to the task of training it properly and for the length of time it’s likely to take?
  • Do you have the perseverance, patience and imagination the job requires?
  • Does your lifestyle allow you to give the time the dog will require?
  • Have you had a dog before? (A deaf dog is not ideal as a first dog).
  • If there are children in the family, are they old enough to understand the dog cannot hear?

The decision to take on a deaf dog is one that should be made where the head rules the heart.


In my book, Hear, Hear!, I describe how to train a deaf dog using a hands-off approach. For example, you cannot teach a deaf dog a hand signal to ‘sit’ if you are too busy pushing him into position. All the exercises are based on positive reinforcement using rewards of food treats or toys. There is no need for choke chains and certainly no need for electric shock collars. A positive method of training ensures a happy, confident dog which will obey your signals because he wants to rather than because he has to.

Training should start as early as possible. Daily training sessions should be frequent but short; just a few minutes at a time. Just because the dog is deaf it doesn’t mean it should not go to a good dog training class. Members of the Association Of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) use kind, effective methods of training. You can find a list of all the APDT trainers in your area by visiting the website.

deaf dog paying attention
Getting your dog to pay
attention to you is essential
deaf dog sitting
Teaching the 'sit' signal
deaf dog down
Teaching the 'down' signal
deaf dog recall
Early stages of
teaching the 'recall'

One of the first things you must do is find something to get and keep your dog’s attention. This may be a favourite toy or food treat. You must teach your dog to look to you for guidance and instruction; this will be essential if your dog is off-lead. If you have another dog in the family, the bond between you and your deaf dog must be stronger than the bond between the deaf dog and the other dog so the deaf dog does what you want it to do rather than copying the hearing dog.


Hand signals are going to be your primary form of communicating with your deaf dog but facial expressions and body language will also play a large part. When your dog has done something you have ‘asked’ of him, smile. No matter how silly you might feel, talk to your dog. If you say "Good dog" and mean it, your face will light up and you’ll smile. You can even practise pulling faces in the mirror to get the right expression!

Praise / Reprimand

You must teach your deaf dog hand signals to show him when he’s been good, perhaps a thumbs-up sign and a smile, and when he’s been bad, perhaps a wagging finger and a scowl. Never physically reprimand your dog. Your hands are something your dog should trust, not be afraid of. It’s important however, the dog associates a hand signal with the appropriate praise or reprimand.

Barry Eaton
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