Today we have special guest Rendy Schuchat, owner and founder of Anything is Pawzible in Chicago, Il, to talk with us about training deaf dogs! I’ve admitted it before, and I’ll say it again: my best friend is a dog. While she isn’t deaf (although occasionally she acts like it), we wanted to have a little resource for anyone that was considering adopting a deaf dog. Also, modeling for us today will be Doodle (my best friend), because we don’t have any photos of deaf dogs being trained.
Doodle, though not deaf, is ready to pose for our article!
Welcome, Rendy! Training deaf dogs seems like it might be more challenging than training a dog that can hear. Tell us, what is the most challenging part about training a deaf dog?
Actually, the most challenging part of training a deaf dog is teaching their owners how to shift gears from verbal to hand cues. Dogs follow body language better than verbal, so attaching meaning to hand cues is what we start with even when the dog can hear!
Yes, I like to blame things on people, too. Are there any tasks that deaf dogs are better at than dogs that can hear?
Once you have their attention, deaf dogs can actually be less distracted because disruptions that an otherwise hearing dog might get distracted by are not present with deaf dogs (buses, kids screaming other dogs barking, etc.)
Training dogs takes quick action to let them know they’ve done something right. How do you immediately tell a deaf dog that they’ve done well if you can’t use a clicker or say “good?”
Before you can teach any dog (hearing or deaf) it is best to attach a “positive marker” that means that was what I wanted! With hearing dogs we use the word “yes!” With deaf dogs, I have used the thumbs up hand cue. We show them the cue and then give them a treat and continue to repeat until the dog shows visible signs (ears alert, leaning forward, eyes brighten) that they are excited to see that thumbs up signal, which will eventually be tied to exercises we teach.
Perhaps you can walk us through a command. For instance, how do you train a deaf dog to come?
I would take a treat and jog slowly backwards drawing the dog towards me. As the dog began to follow, I would give the “thumbs up” sign and a treat would be given. I would repeat this and begin to shape hand [a] command by pulling the treat towards my chest shaping a hand cue that means “come,” making sure to stop and positively mark the behavior I was looking for. Eventually, we would fade the treat and ask for a sit to finish the exercise. Voila!
Doodle accepting a treat for “Down.”
Do you ever suggest that deaf dogs be allowed off-leash, either at a dog park or otherwise?
I am not a fan of off-leash unless the area is completely enclosed and safe, especially with a deaf dog. There are just too many distractions you would need to control for which takes individual practice with each of them. If a deaf dogs encounters something that they are uncertain or even frightened by and bolts or spooks, it would be very difficult to get their attention. Many people with deaf dogs will use a vibrating collar in place of their name. It isn’t meant to harm the dog, in fact, just the opposite. We teach the dog that the gentle buzz means “look at me” and something great will happen! These collars could be used in an off leash situation, but lots of rehearsal and practice is necessary before going off leash – and collars we may be relying on to get the dogs attention can fail.
Do you have to teach deaf dogs any special commands as part of their basic training that you wouldn’t otherwise need to teach a regular dog? What are the absolute musts you think a deaf dog must learn as part of basic obedience?
I honestly can’t think of anything a deaf dog must know that a hearing dog wouldn’t. Any command you can teach a hearing dog and deaf dog should learn and vice versa – no limitations!
Doodle flying through agility. Again, she’s not deaf, but she looks really cool.
One more question: Besides the buzzing collar, how can you get a hyperactive deaf dog to pay attention to you? He obviously has to be looking at you in order to see the hand cues. Is that ever a problem with dogs that are a little more active or having trouble sitting still?
Hyperactive dogs in general (hearing or not) have a harder time paying attention. Some of my clients have used a stomp on the floor in place of the collar. If the dog is engaging in a behavior that is undesirable, say jumping up on the counter, the stomp becomes the attention cue and when the dogs looks in your direction a “negative marker,” like a shaking a finger with a stern face, can convey the behavior needs to stop.
I use the stern face command a lot, myself. Thank you so much, Rendy, for helping us learn more about training deaf dogs!
If you live in the Chicago area and would like to contact Rendy about dog training, you can reach her at her website at http://anythingspawsible.com
Rendy Schuchat, M.A. – Owner/Founder and Head Dog Trainer at Anything Is PAWZible dog training in Chicago, Illinois. I bring my life-long love for animals together with proven positive dog training techniques that both you and your dog will enjoy. With over a decade of professional experience and a Masters Degree in Psychology as well as a Certification in Dog Obedience Instruction from Animal Behavior Training and Associates, I am committed to helping people build and strengthen their relationships with their dogs. I was voted one of the BEST/FAVORITE DOG TRAINERS in Chicago by Chicagoland Tails Reader’s Choice Awards multiple times.
**Edited by Alana Grelyak. No compensation was exchanged by any party for this post.**