Deaf Dog Connections, Advocacy, Resources & Education, Inc. (D2Care) is a membership-based organization, dedicated to promoting the health, welfare, and quality of life for deaf dogs through outreach, advocacy, education and support.
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D2Care is an organization dedicated to spreading the joy we feel for having deaf dogs in our lives. We applied for, and received non-profit status (501(C)3) in 2006 and have been working hard ever since. We invite you to read about us and our Board to learn about the organization in more detail. Be sure to see the news area for the latest updates.
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Training Your Deaf Dog
Contributed by T. E. Houston
The training of your deaf dog will not be much different from training a hearing one. If he is a younger dog, you will have all the attention span issues, i.e.; nanoseconds, and all the distractions, except sound. Learning comes from consistency and repetition. A dog does not have to "hear" to learn cues or actions. A person does not have to be yelling cues at the dog. Consider the number of working dogs or competitive obedience dogs trained to respond to hand motion/body action. Training in the upper levels of obedience titles is by use of hand signals for the exercises. Just decide on what signals will be used and stick with them. Many people use the AKC/UKC obedience signals. You can use ASL signs. The "language" you use is not important; what is important is consistent usage.
Covered here are some of the basic cues: sit, stay, down, come, and heel. Included is the "watch me," an exercise that should be the building block for all else and used throughout your training. These are just tips to get you started. Everyone has differing techniques and methods, but you want all training to be a positive and fun experience for both you and your deafie. Find a local training class and trainer to work with so your deafie has all the proper socialization with other dogs and you can continue to expand your dog's repertoire.
"Watch": The watch cue usually starts right away in conjunction with the sit. With lots of treats in hand, stand or sit in front of your dog. She can be standing or you may have her in a sit. Using your index finger, point to your eye (you can say "watch"). When your dog looks at you, she immediately receives a treat. Repeat about a dozen times, initially with treats in rapid succession. Gradually lengthen the time between asking for a watch and receiving the treat. As the training continues, move around in front of your dog and have her keep watching you. You want her to watch until you give her the release sign.
"Sit": Sit is one of the most useful cues. Teaching your dog to sit for food, treats, at the door, or putting on the lead all contribute to proper manners. Start with your arm at your side. Raise your hand, palm open and up from the elbow till perpendicular to your torso. You can bring your hand over the dog's head, with a treat in it, so that she will be encouraged to follow with her head up and will automatically go into a sit. When she has completed the action, give your dog the "thumbs-up" or "okay" sign to let her know she did well and give her a treat. In the beginning stages you may have to have the treat in your hand. Position yourself so when you raise your arm, it ends up over the dog's head, and she will be watching the treat and will, in most cases, automatically sit. Immediately praise her with "thumbs up."
"Stay": Now that your little deafie has figured out the sit and is learning better the "watch-me," we add the stay cue. As with your hearing dog, the cue is the same. With your deafie in a sit at your side, lower your left hand, palm open, and bring it in front of the dog's nose. Initially have her stay at your side and do a watch. Eventually step away to stand in front of her, leading off with your right leg. Hold the leash up with slight tension above her head as a restraint so she gets the idea to not move forward. Step back into the heel position, give her the "good dog" sign and treat. Gradually lengthen the distance and duration of the sit and stay. You want her to stay at the end of the lead and remain in position while you step around and behind her to get back into heel.
"Sit/Stay/Watch" are a good initial combination for training your deafie. Gradually lengthen the duration of time for the exercises. Keep things short, repetitious but not overly so as you do not want her to become totally bored with it all. Try the exercises in different places and distractions, intermixed with plenty of playtime with what she likes; balls, tug toys, cuddling.
"Down": For the down, my arm is out in front, hand out with palm faced down. I then bring my arm down towards the ground. The initial lessons however, come in small increments. With your dog in a sit, place a small treat between the fingers of your hand. With your hand flat and in front of the dog's face, move your hand down towards the ground and then out. The movement is a large "L" shape. Your dog should follow the treat and move into a down. Immediately give him the treat. Initially, he will probably pop right back up to a sit. Proceed with the exercise and after he is "down" give the stay cue. Release with the "okay" and treat. Eventually you will be able to give the down cue by just swinging your arm to the ground. As with the sit, increase the time and duration of the exercise. Your patience will be rewarded when all the steps start falling into place and your deafie realizes what you want.
"Come": Initially you can work with your dog on the regular lead-line to teach him the basics of "come." With your dog in a sit, step in front of him to the end of the lead. Swing your arm out and bring it back to your torso, elbow bent, with your hand open, palm towards you. At the same time, take a step back to encourage the dog to come. When he comes to the front of you, he may automatically go into a sit. Praise your dog and treat for a job well done. If he does not sit automatically, as he approaches, ask for a sit.
"Heel": You want your deafie walking nicely and quietly at your side, with a loose lead line. She should be aware of where you are at all times. A tap of your hand on the side of your leg signals your dog to come to your side. When you move forward off your left leg, your dog should move with you. You can encourage her with treats initially. If she moves ahead of you or lunges forward, stop. She will look back at you to see what is going on. Tap the side of your leg to encourage her to get back in heel, then move forward.
Remember, as in all training, it is the consistency of your actions that is important. Keep the lessons short and randomly interspersed with fun and games that she likes. The preceding is not a rigid handbook of how to train, but merely to give you an idea of the possibilities. Everyone has a differing approach. What is important is what works best for you and your dog. Training a deafie is fun and rewarding. I have learned a tremendous amount from my dogs and I hope that I have learned to be a better trainer for it.