Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, former veterinary assistant, and author of the online dog training course "Brain Training for Dogs."
How to Train a Deaf Dog
To train a deaf dog recall (to come when called), you first need to get the dog's attention, which may be challenging at times with a hearing-impaired dog; however, it doesn't have to be this way.
Deaf dogs have proven to us that spoken words and the ability to hear aren't necessary when it comes to communication. As keen observers, dogs can learn to observe our body language so as to observe what we are saying. After all, dogs don't talk to each other in the same way that humans do and instead rely on each other's body language in order to "speak" among themselves.
Just as dogs readily understand when we are getting ready to leave the home by watching us put on our jackets or know when we are about to walk them by grabbing the leash from the closet, dogs can learn to associate our bodily cues with certain actions and quickly become attuned to them so that we can train them.
Not to mention that, nowadays, with the advancements of technology, there are several great gadgets that can be used to get a dog's attention and train deaf dogs distance cues (commands).
Following are several effective methods and strategies to train a deaf dog to recall along with important management solutions to protect your deaf dog from any lurking dangers.
3 Foundational Exercises for Recall-Training Deaf Dogs
These are foundational exercises—the "building blocks"—to training your dog to pay attention to you and become observant of your body language.
1. Voluntary Check-Ins
One exercise that is great for deaf dogs (but also regular dogs who hear well) is rewarding the dog for voluntary check-ins. This is quite easy to train if you have a fenced yard to practice in. Simply arm yourself with high-value treats carried in a pocket or treat bag and walk around the yard with your dog.
Your dog will likely spend the first minutes sniffing around the yard, exploring with his nose. Then, as the novelty of being out in the yard wears off and everything has been checked, your dog may come near you to "check-in"; when this happens, praise and reward that.
After some time of doing this, you will notice an increase in your dog "checking-in" with you, which is great considering that this means that you are becoming quite salient to your dog compared to other stimuli in the yard.
Of course, your dog will still be attracted to the sights and smells of the yard, but the simple fact that you have now become part of the "stimulus package" offers a great advantage as you have your dog's attention, and this also works well for bonding purposes (which ultimately plays a fundamental role in recall-training).
On top of this, the training of voluntary check-ins can be kicked up a notch by teaching the dog to check-in in response to certain environmental stimuli. For example, a deaf dog can be trained to check-in with the owner the moment he sees a person approach the gate.
On top of voluntary check-ins, there are several other great training exercises for deaf dogs. For instance, training a deaf dog to target the owner's hand when the arm is stretched out (with a visible movement) in front, can become a cue for the dog to come and target the owner's hand, even from a distance.
3. Making Eye Contact
Training a dog to make eye contact by lifting your hand towards your eyes can also come in handy with a deaf dog. This "watch me" cue opens the lines of communication allowing your dog to look at you for directions.
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Training a Deaf Dog Recall or to Come When Called
The main difference in training recall in a deaf dog and a dog with normal hearing is the fact that the deaf dog cannot rely on hearing its name. Deprived of the ability to hear important verbal cues such as "Harley, come!" the deaf cannot come when called as it is traditionally trained. Instead, deaf dogs require specialized training with the use of special tools or strategies to replace the dog's name.
There are several ways owners of deaf dogs can train their dogs to come when called. In the home, some dog owners have had success stomping their feet on the ground. Deaf dogs will not hear the noise, but they will feel the vibrations produced.
Outside, things may get challenging with deaf dogs as they may be distracted and busy attending to a variety of outdoor sights and smells. Flashlights work great for deaf dogs but can be difficult to use during the day. At night, turning on an outdoor light may be used as a signal for the dog to come. During the day, owners of deaf dogs may rely on the use of hand signals or a vibration collar.
Regardless of what tool you use or method, one thing is fundamental: your dog will need to be trained to respond to it. This is done by creating positive associations initially at close distances and in areas with little distractions. A great and fast way to create positive associations is through the use of food.
For instance, upon stomping the feet and the dog turning his head in your direction, you would toss your dog a treat to reward the head-turning. After repeating this several times, the dog soon learns that the vibrations produced by stomping the feet lead to treats, so he'll become more and more responsive to this to the point of where you can train your dog to come to you from across the room so that you hand-feed him a treat.
The same goes for hand signals. In a room with little distractions, when your dog is nearby, make your hand movement to signal your dog to come. You may need to wave your arms so that motion catches your dog's peripheral vision (some dog owners use bandanas tied to their wrists to capture their attention). Once your dog reaches you, feed them two to three small treats in a row.
How to Train a Deaf Dog Recall With a Vibration Collar
A deaf dog training collar, better known as a vibration collar, as the name implies, is a collar that delivers vibration similar to the vibration emitted by a cell phone in vibration mode.
Vibration collars are often confused with shock collars, but nowadays, there are vibration collars that do not have a shock component. Look for collars with the vibrate function only. An example is the PG-300 Pager Only Dog Communicator.
How Do Vibration Collars Work?
Vibration collars, unlike shock collars, are not to be used as correction collars, but just as a replacement for getting a dog's attention.
The vibration can, therefore, be introduced used through a conditioning process. Ideally, you would introduce the vibration collar after doing the foundational exercises so that the vibration collar enhances your communication.
In the initial stages, you would, therefore, provide the vibration and feed a treat at the same time right in front of the dog. After some time, then start providing the vibration and give the treat right after rather than at the same time.
If your dog seems to ignore the vibration initially, don't worry, it doesn't mean he isn't feeling it, it just means he hasn't had the opportunity to understand what it means exactly.
A good way to test whether the conditioning process has "stuck" to the dog's mind is by delivering the vibration and watching for any indication of the dog searching for the treat after the vibration or looking in your direction.
Once you get a good solid set of responses with your dog looking at you at close distances, then you can start moving gradually to farther distances and more distractions.
Caution: Avoid repeatedly tapping on the vibration button if your dog doesn't pay attention to you. Doing so will cause the vibration to become irrelevant and lose its potency that you have worked so hard on.
Rather, go get your dog if you have to and evaluate why your dog didn't pay attention so that you can remedy that and prevent it from happening again. Often, it's a matter of exposure to strong distractions. Your dog may not be ready for this level of training yet, so take a step back and work on lower-level distractions first until you get a fluent response.
- Longer-coated dogs with heavy coating on their neck areas may not be able to detect well the vibration.
- Make sure the collar is properly working by trying it on yourself.
- If your dog startles or acts afraid following the vibration, the use of a vibration collar may not be suitable for your dog or you may have to quickly condition it to be associated with good things or use a lower setting.
- Make sure the batteries of the remote are not dead.
- Some dogs during the conditioning process may appear to not focus much. It may help in these cases to touch the dog's side as you press the vibration button and then gradually wean off the touch once the dog responds to the vibration alone.
- Some vibration collars also have a tone function which comes in handy if you ever need to locate your dog.
The Importance of Management
Having a deaf dog get away from you can be one of the scariest experiences of your life as you have no means of communicating with him. Preventing this from happening is fundamental. While training a deaf dog recall is important, it's also important to realize that no training is ever 100% percent effective.
If you wish to grant your deaf dog some freedom, avoid unleashing him in areas where he can take off. Instead, take him to safely fenced areas where he can explore safely to his heart's content or invest in a long line (a long type of leash varying from a couple of feet to several often sold in horse tack stores).
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Adrienne Farricelli
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on November 01, 2019:
I did not know that vibration collars existed. We have never had a deaf dog, but the advice you have given should help many people who have such a dog. Thanks for writing all of these dog-related articles.
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on June 07, 2019:
I love the advice that you've shared. One of my dogs became deaf during her life. I used some of the techniques that you've described, but I wish I had known or thought about the others. I've never seen a vibration collar, but it sounds like a wonderful device.
Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on June 06, 2019:
It's difficult enough to train for recall when they can hear! One of our dogs does do the check-in and I have been rewarding her. The other one, forget it. And as he gets older, he ignores even more. It's caused us to question if his hearing is going. But the sound of a treat bag opening seems to still work. :)
Good insight, as usual!