How would you cope without your sight?
It is sobering to think what life would be like without a sense we take for granted. For example, without our sight we can’t easily check our social media, read text messages, or write letters… and those are just minor problems!
So this National Deaf Dog Awareness week spare a thought for deaf dogs. A dog’s hearing is much more sensitive hearing than ours and they rely on it much more. Thus, deprived of their hearing the dog loses a valuable link to the world around him, in a similar way to us losing our vision.
Deaf dogs also face hidden problems, in that their pet parent may mistake deafness for disobedience (because they don’t hear commands) and may be chastised as a result.
Also, the lack of hearing makes deaf dogs less adaptable is strange situations, as he struggles to make sense of what’s going on. For example, our tone of voice gives many clues as to our thoughts, and how we say “Sit”, can make the difference between “Sit – what a clever boy” and “Sit because you’re about to run into the road.” Deprived of both the command and a sense of urgency, the dog is more vulnerable to accidents and injury.
Signs of Deafness in Dogs
To help deaf dogs first you have to recognize your fur-friend has a problem. Giveaway signs include:
· The loss of a previously solid recall
· General down-turn in obedience
· Confusion in the park and regularly losing you
· No longer being afraid of fireworks or the hoover
· Startling easily.
OK, so you think you have a deaf dog; the good news is he can be trained – it just requires a little patience, planning, and know-how.
Training a Deaf Dog
Start by thinking what signals and commands you already use. If you use reward-based training methods, the chances are you subconsciously make hand gestures but don’t realize it. A good start is identifying those hand movements your dog is already familiar with and building on them. To do this simply:
· Make sure the gestures are clear and consistent
· Have the dog look at you before giving commands
· Let the dog see your facial expressions
Bigger is Better…sometimes
Those actions done at a distance, such as recall, obviously need to be bigger and bolder – such as flinging your arms wide, whilst done at close quarters such as “Sit”, can be a more subtle flick of the wrist.
OK, that’s all very well but how do you get a deaf dog’s attention so he looks at you to see the command? Simple. Use vibrations or light. Indoors, you can stamp on the floor to create vibrations, whilst outside, especially at night, signal with a flashlight. A great hint for getting his attention when in the yard in the dark is to flip the porch light on and off.
Oh, and on the subject of darkness, fit a small LED light to your dog’s collar so you know where he is if he doesn’t respond.
Do you regularly praise your dog?
How sad that he can’t hear you.
Remember, words of encouragement literally fall on deaf ears with training a deaf dog. Whilst getting him used to relying on hand gestures, use tasty titbits to let him know he did well. (You can drop off the treats once he gets the hang of things.)
Build the Basics
Trying to teach too much at once could overwhelm and confuse your dog. Instead, decide on a few essential commands and get these rock solid before becoming more adventurous. Just as with a puppy, core commands like “Sit”, “Down,”, “Stay,” “Come,” “Leave it”, and “Stop” put you in control of many difficult situations.
Waking from Sleep
Deaf dogs are more easily startled and this could result in you accidentally being bitten. Get into the habit of waking your dog gently, perhaps with a soft touch to the shoulder and a small food reward. It’s best if guests are instructed to let sleeping dogs lie, as a total stranger waking him from slumber might be too disorientating for the dog to cope with.
Long Line or Off Leash?
And finally, should you let your deaf dog off the leash?
This has obvious safety implications if your deaf dog as he runs towards a busy highway.
Put safety first and use a longline, unless you are absolutely certain the dog with respond.
Oh, and longlines are better than flexi-leads, as the latter teaches a dog to pull on the leash and encourage bad habits (whereas most dogs forget they are wearing a longline.)
Do you have experience with deaf dogs? Please share any hints or tips with your fellow dog lovers by leaving a comment below.