Adopting a deaf dog was going to be a challenge- we knew that. But, one that we were (semi) prepared for, and definitely one that we were excited about. There’s only so much that reading blogs and books and watching videos teaches you however….but here’s some things that we wish we knew, and that helped us on our journey.
The first photo we ever saw of Holly, on the adoption website.
A day after we adopted her. Look at that smile!
Be patient and teach them basic hand signals
We looked online and found a variety of different hand signals… but the best ones were the ones that came most naturally to us.
Come = motioning ‘come’ with four fingers and an open palm
Sit = hand flat, palm up, and move towards to sky
Drop = closed fist, palm downwards to the ground, and a sweeping motion to the ground
Stay = hand straight, palm open and fingers to the sky
Use a flashlight to get her attention at night
Taking her outside to go to the toilet before bed (especially up here on the Sunshine Coast- cane toads!) was always a stress for me. I keep a small flashlight hanging on the back door handle so I can simply get her attention by switching it on and off a few times. She now knows that the flashing light means to ‘come’ and ‘look’ without the hand signal.
Clipping a small flashing LED light to her collar
This allows us to see her in our big backyard, and we also use it when walking at night. This is more of a comfort thing for me, as I know I’ll be able to see her from afar.
Having another dog whom she could ‘copy’ off
Having Hank (who was beautifully trained by Madame Leash who we adopted him from) has been such a blessing. He’s so well behaved and responds to voice commands so well that it was easy teaching Holly. It was simply a matter of adding a hand command to Hanks voice command. Holly would then copy Hank and associate the hand movement with the action. If you don’t have another dog though, don’t let that stop you. Ask a friend with a well trained dog and spend some time in the yard with a pocketful of treats.
Alerting other people to the fact she was deaf
Having a collar with the word ‘Deaf’ stitched into the collar isn’t always enough, so making sure that I let other people and dog owners know she’s deaf is really important. It allows them to have more of an understanding as to how I communicate with her, and why I can’t voice command her.
Attaching a small cat bell to her collar
Especially when she was small, this was brilliant to find out where she was (usually under the bed chewing something!). Self explanatory. We don’t use one anymore as she can’t fit into those small spaces (thank god!).
Realising that she doesn’t pick up on audio cues, therefore will play rougher than most puppies
This was a bit of a shock to me; she plays rough. She played rougher when she was younger- not being able to hear other dogs call ‘time-out’ (read: cry in pain) meant that I spent a lot of time running around after her, telling her off, and when that didn’t work, giving her a ‘throw down’ (holding her on the ground on her side until she relented) – which I’ve done just three times, and she doesn’t play as rough anymore! It’s all about being the alpha, and reminding her I am in charge of this pack.
Patting her everywhere while she sleeps as to get her used to being touched as not to startle her
Some deaf dogs get startled and can nip or bite when woken up. We started off by waking her up with a little treat just under her nose, and letting her smell it and wake up on her own time (usually a minute). Then, we picked one spot on her back to touch her gently, and give her a treat immediately upon waking. This way, she associated waking with a reward.
After she was weaned off the treats, it was a big scratch and a kiss on the head… and we’ve worked our way up to patting her and touching her head, ears and stomach, and scratching her back. She’s super relaxed now which is important; especially if she’s staying somewhere else.
Building up my confidence to disciplining her
This was trial and error. Yelling isn’t an option, I don’t like smacking her, and I’m not a fan of the old spray bottle trick (I want her to love showers!) so it was a a matter of trying a few different things. The ‘smack-down’ (which is really a bad name and isn’t like me actually throwing her!) has been the best thing in reminding her who’s boss.
I also find that she is scared of a smack on the bum… but not from my hand. From a ‘ball flinger’. While throwing balls one day at the park, she was being naughty, so I gave her a light tap on the rump with the ball flinger. Now, all I need to do is point it at her, and she knows to retreat.
Making sure that she can see me and knows where I am as to avoid anxiety
She has to know where I am, every second. Walking out of the room, she’ll open an eye and watch me, and then a few seconds later the little pitter patter of her feet will come down the hallway. We have to let her know we are leaving the house as well (once, we didn’t….she ignored us all day. She was NOT happy.)
Smiling at her widely and using my face to show my emotions
When she does the right thing, is coming to me, or is excited and wagging her tail, I react by smiling widely, and showing her how happy I am. Clapping (even though it literally falls on deaf ears) seems to go hand-in-hand with my excited actions, so I just go with it.
Relaxing and knowing that I’m doing my best
Dogs are a reflection of their owners. Anxious dog? Depressed dog? Lazy dog? Look at the owner. When I’m relaxed she is. I imagine a long string connecting us together, and I send white light and love down it to her (and Hank of course). It allows me to be in the now with them, and to let them know that I inherently trust them.
The long and short of it is, there is no right or wrong way to train a deaf dog. It’s all going to depend on your dedication, their age (it’s SO much easier training an older dog I think!) and breed, and of course, your relationship.
The more your dog trusts you, the easier it will be…and trust can often take some time.
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