Special Considerations For Owners of Deaf Dogs

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Although the decision to adopt any dog is a serious commitment, not everyone is up to the challenge of owning a deaf dog. Here are some things to consider.

These tips are based on the original text by Leslie Judkins

Although the decision to adopt any dog is a serious, 10-15 year commitment, not everyone is up to the challenge of owning a deaf dog. This article discusses the special issues you should consider when making your decision.

Learning A New Language

If you plan to live with a deaf dog, you will have to learn a new way to communicate with that dog. You will have to tune in to the world of movement, vibration, and light. You must use some sign language system, either American Sign Language or signs you invent yourself. It will seem strange at first, but both you and your dog will adapt quickly. All that’s required is a willingness to learn.

To Leash, Or Not To Leash

As a general rule of thumb, it is not a good idea to allow a deaf dog off-leash in an unenclosed area. This includes such things as walks, playtime at the park, or having your dog accompany you anywhere outside your home. Some people have a difficult time accepting this limitation.

There are a small number of deaf dog owners who do allow their dogs off-leash. Generally, these dogs live in rural areas, are past their adolescent phase, and are trained to the point that their owners feel confident that the dog will “check-in” and come when called.

This doesn’t mean that deaf dogs live their lives on the end of a leash. Obviously, they are free to roam in the house or enclosed yard. Many owners exercise their dogs at a park using a 30-50 foot web leash or a Flexi-leash. This allows the dog to run and play but still gives the owner control over the dog.

Desensitization Exercises to Reduce Startling

These exercises are nothing more than training your dog how to handle and respond to various situations. They are no different than teaching a dog to sit. Your dog’s personality will determine how much time you need to spend on these exercises. Some dogs are easy-going and fairly unflappable. Others are more sensitive and will require more work.

To desensitize a deaf dog to the startle effect of being touched unexpectedly, begin by walking up behind the dog when he isn’t looking. Gently touch the dog, then immediately pop a treat in the dog’s mouth when he turns around. The dog quickly associates good things (i.e., the treat) with being touched unexpectedly and learns to respond happily.

To condition your deaf dog to wake easily in response to a gentle touch, start by first placing your hand in front of the sleeping dog’s nose, allowing him to smell that you are near. Next, lightly touch the dog on the shoulder or back. Pretend you are trying to touch only one or two hairs with your fingertips. Then gently stroke the dog with two fingertips, then with your entire hand. Most deaf dogs will awaken during some part of this exercise. When they open their eyes, their owner’s smiling face, and perhaps even a treat, rewards them. In a matter of weeks, the dog becomes accustomed to waking up when the owner places a hand in front of his nose or lightly touches his shoulder or back. Waking up becomes a gentle, positive experience.

As a deaf dog matures, he gains self-confidence and experience in a wide variety of situations. With many dogs, the likelihood of being startled generally decreases with age.

Getting The Deaf Dog’s Attention When He’s Not Looking At You

If your dog is facing away from you, one of the simplest things to do is wait until he turns around. Indoors, if you walk up behind your dog, he may feel the vibrations of your approach and turn around. If not, you can try blowing on the dog’s back or head. Or you can touch him lightly.

If the dog is across a room, try stomping your foot on the floor. He may feel the vibrations and turn around. You can also wave your arms and try to attract his attention or turn a light switch on and off.

Outdoors during the daytime, you can also try tossing a small stone or ball near your dog to get his attention. Be very careful not to hit your dog! Outdoors at night, you can attract your dog’s attention by flipping a porch or garage light on and off. Or use a flashlight or laser pointer.

There are numerous methods you can use to attract a deaf dog’s attention. You can also use a vibrating collar to get your dog’s attention. There are several vibrating collars currently being made (and hopefully more to come). All that you need is a little creativity!

Keeping The Deaf Dog Informed Of Your Whereabouts

As you move around your house or when you leave, be sure to let your deaf dog know what you are doing. If a deaf dog wakes up or turns around and finds you gone, they can become anxious. Many deaf dogs will search from room to room until they find their “missing” owner.

If a deaf dog is not looking in your direction as you leave a room, get the dog’s attention and allow him to watch you leave. He may or may not decide to join you, but at least he will know where you went.

If the dog has been sleeping while you work in a room, you can awaken him with a light touch or by lightly brushing him with your foot as you leave the room.

Not For The Lazy

When supervising and correcting a deaf dog, you will not have the luxury of yelling commands across a yard or room. If your dog is digging in the trash, you will have to get up and walk to the dog to stop his behavior. Granted, on some occasions, you may be able to get his attention and sign a command. But there will be just as many times when you have no choice but to get up and go to the dog.

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