Can Deaf Dogs Understand Sign Language? My Dog Does…

Can Deaf Dogs Understand Sign Language? My Dog Does…

I am the proud owner of a deaf Dalmatian called Logan. A dog considered by many to be untrainable because of the fact he cannot hear. The truth; I’d have a deaf dog over a hearing one any day! 

When I was researching deaf dogs both when Logan was a puppy and when writing a previous article I was amazed at the negativity towards owning a deaf dog, with many people, sites, books and breeding clubs suggesting euthanasia as the only option for a dog that cannot hear. After all they have no quality of life, become aggressive, are untrainable and can never, ever be let off a lead. This however is completely untrue.

Can Deaf Dogs Understand Sign Language? My Dog Does…

(Logan, as a puppy, the day that we got him)

Logan has been deaf since he was born and the idea that anyone would want to put him to sleep purely because he cannot hear is very upsetting. He knows many a trick, and has passed two trick titles and is currently submitting his third, he has been off lead several times and never once has he acted aggressively.

My opinion was backed up by dozens of people on the Deaf Dog Network when I asked them for their experiences with deaf dogs, comments ranged from all the different sporting activities their dogs were taking part in to how frequently their dogs were let off lead but more importantly many would take on another deaf dog without giving it a second thought. (This can all be read in a previous article that can be found on my blogsite including all the comments people left, however I want to explain the training side of owning a dog that cannot hear.)

When training a dog there are many different methods you could use, for example shaping a behaviour using a clicker, capturing a behaviour as and when it occurs or by luring a dog using a reward such as a treat. I have trained both hearing and deaf dogs and the process is the same for each.

Take for example teaching your dog to sit, you start with a treat in your hand and raise it upwards above the dogs head. The dog, wanting to see the treat then leans backwards and plants his bum onto the floor and at this point you give the treat. When teaching a trick, you never add the vocal command until the dog is getting the hang of what you are asking because otherwise you are going to confuse them. This whole process is the same regardless of what dog you’re teaching, whether it be a puppy or an older dog, a border collie or a miniature poodle, a hearing or a deaf dog. The only difference being that you don’t add the vocal command at the end for a dog that can’t hear.

I still give Logan a vocal cue even though I know he can’t hear (but this is more for my benefit and for those watching), same as I always give a hearing dog a hand signal when saying a vocal command. I think it is great practice to teach a hearing dog hand signals, it might for example come in very handy as your dog gets older and becomes hard of hearing. The hand signal for most tricks I have taught Logan is the luring action I used to teach it, for example the hand signal for a sit is me raising my arm up, the hand signal for the down is me moving my hand to the floor, the spin signal is me moving my arm around in a circle.

Can Deaf Dogs Understand Sign Language? My Dog Does…

(Some of the tricks we know; cover your eyes, paws on and take my socks off)

What deaf dogs lack in hearing they make up for in other senses, they are very observant and I have found Logan will readily come over if somebody smiles at or starts talking to him. I actually find them slightly easier to train as you don’t have the distraction of any noises such as barking and fireworks and thunder are no longer a problem!

In conclusion I would like the negativity towards deaf dogs to stop, and for people to start seeing them for what they are; great pets!

Jayde Davey M.ISAP CTDI

Jayde Davey M.ISAP CTDI – I am an aspiring dog trainer, supporting positive reinforcement methods. I currently am studying an Advanced Diploma in Canine Behaviour Management and have just passed my test to become a Certified Trick Dog Instructor. I have my own blogsite with connected social media and I also run a Facebook Dog Trick group where I help people to teach their dog lots of fun tricks. I am a member of ISAP or the International Society for Animal Professionals and also have a diploma in small animal care. I own a deaf Dalmatian called Logan who I do most of my training with; he knows lots of tricks like take my socks off, fetch my a tissue and wipe your feet but I also regularly work with a miniature poodle, a cocker spaniel, a jack Russell and a border collie. I one day hope to become a professional dog trainer.

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