Training method: Treat
Sit is a vital command in any dog’s repertoire. It is often used as a precursor to another command, like sit and stay, or sit and high-five, and it is important for your pup to know this one so she can greet people politely. Teaching your deaf dog to sit is super easy and can often be taught in just a few minutes! My little helper in these photos is my current deaf foster puppy, Nani.
Step 1: Start by holding a treat between your thumb and index finger, and holding your hand away from your body with your palm up.
Step 2: Once your dog smells the treat, slowly raise your palm up. Your hand should be close to your dog’s head and slightly above it so that she is not tempted to walk forward for the treat.
Step 3: Lure your dog into the sitting position. It may take a minute for her to figure it out, so be patient.
Step 4: As soon as her bum touches the ground, flash the “good dog” sign and give her the reward! Eventually you will be able to phase out the treat, but the palm-up raising hand will remain the sign for sit.
Training method: Repeat
Since your deaf dog will no doubt be going to the bathroom regularly as soon as you get her, you can start using the sign for “potty” as soon as you want to. It is the ASL letter “t” for toilet, and all you do is make the sign and then shake your hand back and forth. Do the sign as your dog is going to the bathroom, and when they make eye contact with you make sure you look happy so they know they are doing the right thing. You can also add the “good dog” sign to reinforce that they are going in the right place. After enough repetitions, you will eventually be able to give the sign and have them go potty on command. The “potty” sign is also commonly used by people who teach their babies sign language before they can talk!
Training method: Treat
The next sign to teach your deaf dog is called “look at me” or “watch me”. It is a good one for deaf pups to know as it will help you get your dog’s attention. It will also teach them to regularly check in with you, which is always a good thing. You always want to encourage eye contact with a deaf dog, because it is the base of your communications with him. If he’s not looking at you, he can’t see the signs you’re giving! Usually the “look at me” sign will be followed by another sign (look at me, then sit, for example).
Start by holding a treat between your thumb and fingers, and pass it in front of your dog’s nose. When he smells it, slowly bring the treat up to your eyes. When the dog makes eye contact with you, flash the “good dog” sign and give him the treat. Eventually you will phase out the treat, but the motion going from your dog’s nose to your eyes will remain the sign for “look at me”.
I made the attached video for my foster puppy’s new family, so they could see the signs I had been using with Abe. There are many signs covered here, but “look at me” is near the 2:30 mark if you want to see a demo!
Training method: Treat
The first sign to teach a deaf pup, and I think the most important one, is the sign for “good dog”. There are a number of signs to choose from for this one– some people use a thumbs up, and some people use the ASL sign for yes, but I like to use the “okay” sign. As a favorite among both Lady Gaga and The Buddha, how can you go wrong? I like it for the simple reason that you can hold a treat between your thumb and index finger, so the dog gets an immediate reward. I think it’s the best choice for both convenience and speed.
The way to teach this sign will be just like clicker training with a hearing dog. You will begin by “loading” the clicker, which teaches the dog that anytime they see this sign, good things will happen and treats are on the way. Grab several tiny treats (pea-sized and easy to chew—turkey hot dogs are always a favorite) and just begin by flashing the sign and giving a treat. Repeat several times. Give the sign anytime the dog is doing something good that you want to encourage, whether you have a treat or not, and make sure to smile! Nodding helps, too. Understanding this sign will be the foundation of all your other training, so do it often!
It is also a good idea to begin any training session with this “good dog” exercise. Training sessions should be quick and fun– only five to ten minutes long. If you sense that your dog is losing interest, end the session on a good note so they will associate training with only positive experiences and fun times! You can do a few short training sessions per day. Some dogs are really into training, and some dogs can only tolerate one session per day, so just do whatever works for your pup, and be patient. You will see results!
There are two basic methods that are used to teach hand signs to a deaf dog, and they are exactly the same for hearing dogs—treat and repeat. The “treat” method is used for more action-oriented signs, which may require luring the dog into position with a treat, like sit. The “repeat” method is used more for objects and people, like teaching the signs for “ball” or “mom”. Many signs will require a combination of both methods.
There are many misconceptions about deaf dogs, one of them being that they are more difficult to train than hearing dogs. I certainly have not found this to be the case, although there are bound to be training challenges with any dog, hearing or not. In some ways a deaf dog’s lack of hearing can be an advantage in training situations. My deaf dog, Alfie, is always very focused on me when we are at “doggy school”, and is not at all distracted by barking or other noises in the classroom. I think he picks up on things more quickly due to the lack of distractions.
I also believe that deaf dogs should not be treated any differently simply because they can’t hear. Of course you will have to take different safety precautions with deaf dogs, but they are one hundred percent capable of learning everything that a hearing dog can learn. Many deaf dogs participate in rally and agility events, many have received their Canine Good Citizen certifications, and many have become certified therapy dogs. The sky’s the limit!
Let’s get started!