My little old guy, Skip learned American sign language long before he became deaf. When I got Skip as a puppy, I was married to a deaf man and we had foster children who were deaf. American Sign Language was the main language used in the household, and Skip picked it up very quickly without being taught at all. Suddenly we realized that he was responding to the signs for, hungry, eat, car, and other important topics for dogs. We began to teach him American Sign Language, and soon he knew, good, bad, yes, no, come, sit, stay, speak, and balloon! Skip loved a game that we played with him wherein we would blow up a balloon and let it go. Skip would chase it around until he caught it, then we would chase him around, take the balloon away from him and start all over again. Any time we signed balloon, Skip leapt in the air barking! Aside from the signs he formally knew, Skip watched conversations carefully and made it clear that he always knew what was going on!
When Skip got old, he made good use of his understanding of ASL – at least until he lost his sight. I was glad that Skip had learned sign as a pup and was able to respond and know what was going on even though he had become quite deaf. There are a lot of reasons why a dog might go deaf. Age is one. Chronic ear infection or injury is another. Of course, some dogs are born deaf. Many people think that it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to train a deaf dog, but that is really far from true. Dogs respond well to hand signs and body language. There is no reason why a deaf dog can’t continue to be a happy, healthy, contributing member of your family.
Here is a story about Skip that you may enjoy!
Old Dogs and New Tricks
Having a deaf dog is an opportunity to learn a new language. A dog can pick up sign language amazingly fast. You can teach all the standard signs in the same order you would teach the standard commands. Start with “come”. Teach it the same way you would teach it to a hearing dog. Just add the sign. With your dog on leash and looking at you, beckon to her with the standard natural sign for “come” just as you would beckon to a friend. Be sure to be at eye level with your dog. Holding a treat is always a helpful motivation. Do whatever you think will entice your pet to come. Once your dog has complied give lots of hugs and pets and of course, the treat. Be patient. Even hearing dogs have trouble learning to come when called. It may take your deaf doggy a bit longer to learn or she may pick it up the first time. Whether it takes minutes or days, keep trying in the same way using the same signs until the task is mastered.
Use these tricks that deaf people use. To get your dog’s attention when she is sleeping or is not looking at you, walk into her range of vision and tap gently or try tapping your foot on the floor to make vibrations to alert your pet you want her attention. Don’t surprise your dog by sneaking up on her. Even a hearing dog will bite a loved one if she is surprised. Always make sure your dog knows you are around and that you want her attention.
Use flashing lights to signal your pet. You can flash the light in a room to let your pet know you have entered. If you have a fenced yard that you let your dog into to relieve herself at night, you can flash the porch light to let her know when it is time to come in. To teach this, you will want to let the dog out on leash or tether. When you want her to come in, simultaneously flash the porch light and pull the leash. Praise heartily when your dog comes. Practice this a few times and your dog should understand that she is supposed to come when the light flashes. Of course, never let your deaf dog loose in an unfenced yard at night or during the day. If she were to slip away, it would be impossible to find her, and she would be extremely vulnerable out on her own.
Make the most use of your dog’s other senses. For example, your dog’s sense of smell may be very useful in training. Smelly treats can go a long way toward persuading any dog to learn something new!
Don’t forget to try clapping. Some very deaf dogs can hear a sharp clap, and even if your dog can’t hear it, she can see it. Start out by clapping quietly and gradually increase the sound until you get a reaction. Even if you don’t get a reaction to the sound, remember that clapping is a perfectly good sign to use for come, praise, or just to get a little excitement going.
Check to see if there are some sounds your dog can hear. She may be able to hear some whistles, bells or other sounds. They may not necessarily be loud ones. Do some testing to find out what your dog’s hearing range may be. Start with quiet sounds to see if your dog can hear in a low range and to prevent startling her. Make the sound a bit louder in increments to see if you can get a reaction. If so, you will have one more tool to use in training and communicating with your deaf dog.
Get a companion. Your deaf dog may benefit from watching a hearing dog. Remember to teach your hearing dog sign language, too. Then your deaf dog can learn what various daily signals mean and how to respond to sign language by watching how the hearing dog responds. Your deaf dog can also learn basic behaviors like how to behave around strangers and company by watching a well-behaved companion. She can also be in-the-know about household routine, and she can react appropriately to strangers at the door, cats, the postman and other everyday doggy interests.
Use common sense when dealing with your deaf dog. Never sneak up on her, intentionally or unintentionally. Do everything you can to build trust. Trust is the basis for a good relationship and good communication. If you are going out, be sure to let your deaf dog know you are leaving. If you go, and she is unaware of it, she may be distressed when she finds himself alone. When you return, stomp on the floor, and flash lights to let her know you are back. That way she won’t be startled or surprised.
Always be patient and consistent. Your deaf dog may have a little trouble catching on to what you expect. Understand that she is not being obstinate. She wants to please you, but it may be difficult for her to understand how. Just keep teaching the same things in exactly the same way, using the same signs until the light dawns. It will often happen just like the scene from The Miracle Worker. One sign will suddenly make sense, and then all the others will fall into place. Imagine how proud you will feel when that happens!
YOU TUBE VIDEOS:
How to Train a Deaf Dog
Dog Training: How to Teach a Deaf Dog Basic Commands
Mimic Mutt: Sign Language for Dogs