Chicane's story - Things I learned from having a deaf dog
Updated: Oct 16, 2018
My deaf dog is now six years old, it doesn’t seem that odd to me that I have a deaf dog who is obedience trained. I don’t recall it being that difficult but obviously, I had to change some things in the way I communicated, and I had to be far more considered and consistent.
One thing that has surprised me about having a deaf dog is the questions, they are mostly the same. Firstly; is collar says he is deaf, so the first question is usually:
• Is he really deaf… yes he is, the collar doesn’t lie
• Are you sure… yes I am
• He doesn’t ‘look’ deaf… what does deaf look like?
• But he heard me when I approached … no, he either saw you in his peripheral vision or noticed something else around him changed (like my reaction when I saw you)
• But his ears move, he must be able to hear … that’s all part of his facial expression
• Is he ‘okay’ … in respect to what?
I got my first deaf dog when he was six months old, I had been looking for a dog for a few months and he matched the criteria so I met him at the shelter and had a chat to their behaviourist about the challenges with deaf dogs and went away to sleep on it. Within an hour I phoned the shelter and said I wanted that dog and would collect him the following day.
That started a huge learning curve for me, I have had dogs since I was 13 but never a deaf one. All my dogs were obedience trained so this dog was certainly going to be also regardless of his deafness. My six month old puppy arrived just before x-mas with some anxiety issues so over the break we worked on these and basic training and started classes at my local obedience club when they resumed in February.
The most important thing about having a deaf dog is you communicate with your hands – so your hands can never be used to scare or punish the dog. As with any dog, positive reinforcement training is the best.
Deaf dogs need to be safe, this means they need to be confined – they should never be off-lead unless in a controlled environment. They can startle easily as they don’t have any hearing cues that someone, for example, might be approaching them. They tend to be ‘velcro’ dogs and never want to leave your side. Deaf dogs can also be hypersensitive to light, touch and vibrations.
Training needs to be tweaked to use hand signals for everything. When you start training over exaggerate everything; the signals, your steps and footwork, your expressions. Facial expressions are very important, sunglasses don’t help so avoid them if you can.
There are some great things about having a deaf dog too – fireworks and oddly enough storms are not an issue. They are rarely woken up unless something touches them. They cannot hear the fridge or pantry door open, barking dogs, screaming kids, sirens ... no response at all.
And yes I still forget sometimes, and I do talk to him, he knows I am talking to him he just cannot hear me. There have been plenty of lessons learned along the way, hand signals do not work in the dark, suddenly wearing gloves can distract from the hand signals. Thankfully I had plenty of support from my obedience club, online communities and some amazing people and rescues I have met along the way.
But then again I got the most placid dog ever. I have had three deaf foster dogs of varying age in the last eight months and my deaf boy was so much more settled.
Chicane and William the foster dog.