Deaf Dogs: Living with Dogs Who Are Deaf

Content courtesy of Dog Central, Deaf Dogs and Deaf Dogs Rock

Lynne Chapman borrowed sign language tips and began tutoring Snowy, her hard-of-hearing Staffordshire Mix rescue, to give her a proper doggie life.

Deaf dogs can make some of the most wonderful companions, and they are trainable—many of dog trainers and volunteers can attest to that. Look at Zippy, the deaf Boston terrier (below), who, thanks to his owner (who came up with her own form of sign language), has now received the Kennel Club’s highest award for obedience.

Here are some helpful information from PAW volunteer, Jackie Threatte and Dog Fancy and PetLife magazines regarding deaf dogs:

Avoid surprising any dog. Since deaf dogs cannot hear people or animals approach them, they can get startled more often, which can lead to a fear or aggressive response. However, understanding and training can reduce and eliminate problems. Deaf dogs won’t hear your approach, but they are very tuned in to their other senses:

  • Stomping on the floor will get their attention through vibration
  • Flashing or shining a light will catch their eye and they will look for the source
  • To wake up a sleeping dog who is deaf, simply touch your dog lightly on the shoulder in the same spot every time you wake him or her. A gentle pat or pet away from the head will not be felt as threatening, your hands will be safe, and the dog will come to recognize the touch as coming from a friend.

Training is key. And training a dog who is deaf takes time and patience.

Zippy, the deaf Boston terrier, who, thanks to his owner (who came up with her own form of sign language), has now received the Kennel Club’s highest award for obedience.


There are two major differences in training a deaf dog. They have to look at your face and hands to get their instructions. They can’t hear the tone of your voice so you have to work your face muscles.

  • To train and teach the dog, use treats and physical praise, such as petting and smiling. When using treats, it helps to conduct training sessions before a meal when the dog is hungrier, and it helps to vary the treats to help keep the dog’s interest.
  • Teach your dog hand signals based on American Sign Language (ASL). You will be amazed as your hearing dogs pick up the signs as well. Fifteen or twenty signs will allow you to communicate easily with your deaf dog. Jackie has a dictionary created for use with dogs, which works with grandchildren as well.
  • To signal “Good dog,” use the simple “thumbs up” sign every time the dog does something correctly, along with a very animated oral expression of “What a great dog…way to go!” If you say it excitedly, your body language and facial expression will let the dog know he has pleased you. The “thumbs up” can be done immediately with any free hand, no matter where the hand is located, as long as the dog can see it. This serves much the same purpose as the clicker does in clicker training—as an immediate reward, which can be followed by a treat.

Trust is everything to a deaf dog. Trust and bonding are the key to getting the dog to look toward you frequently. When your deaf dog is truly bonded with you he will always come to you if he is worried or frightened.

  • Teach the dog to focus on you as the owner. Deaf dogs are visually oriented, so use visual cues. One advantage is that deaf dogs are not distracted by noise and other sounds. Unlike hearing dogs, your deaf dog will need you to use the sign for his name and make full eye contact when you talk to him. Watching your lips move while you talk towards the sink or your newspaper will not mean a thing.
  • Make training part of every activity throughout the day. If the dog is laying quietly, watching you work, look at him occasionally and give him a smile and a thumbs-up to let him know that he is being good.

Deaf dogs can be great with children but there are rules. Children often engage in unpredictable behavior, so raising a deaf dog in a household with children and/or many visiting youngsters can be a challenge. Children must be warned that a dog who cannot hear can startle more easily and might snap at someone.

  • Young children move rapidly in random directions, frequently waving their arms, yelling, crying, or making other faces. To the deaf dog, this body language can be misinterpreted as anger or an attack.
  • Make several areas strictly off limits to the children and their playmates. For example, the dog’s crate and the dog’s bed, and the area immediately around them, should be a completely safe place for the dog to fall asleep without fear.
  • Teaching the child to “sign” to the dog will help them slow down and concentrate on the communication.

Give a deaf dog his own personal and safe space. Be sure to have an area where the deaf dog can have his very own space.

  • You can use a big crate covered up so it is like a den inside. This is a place he can go to and get his time to relax and take a nap. You have to crate train him and all of his meals are served in his crate so his crate so his crate is a positive experience.
  • If you are getting a deaf puppy or a rambunctious older deaf dog, think about putting up doggie gates in your living-family room. By having dog gates up, you can monitor your dog from “shoe surfing” and getting into things he is not supposed to get in to.
  • It helps to have a fenced yard in which to exercise. Remember, a deaf dog cannot hear hear outside dangers as such as cars or other dogs.
  • Always walk a deaf dog on a leash. A deaf dog running away from you will not come when you call him… no matter how loud you yell or how animated your “come” sign, so containment in a safe fenced area or being on a leash is the only way to go.
  • Use a flashlight to call your deaf dog after dark. Simply shine the light up and down the yard or over the lower branches of the trees where the dog will see it. He will quickly come running. Flashing a porch light works, too, as long as it is strong enough to cover the entire yard and the dog can see it from everywhere.

Hearing dogs can be your deaf dog’s “partner.” A hearing dog can be a great companion for your deaf dog. Deaf dogs often take “cues” from the hearing dogs around them. Since they rely on their eyes and their sense of touch to make up for their lack of hearing, they will look where the other dog looks, catch even the slightest movement in their environment, and frequently lay down touching their human or animal companions. When the one they are touching moves even slightly, they will wake up and quickly glance around to see what is happening.

Owning a deaf dog can bring much joy. And “don’t be afraid of the deaf ones, they can be the most loving.” adds Jackie. Yes, Deaf Dogs Rock.

More tips on training deaf dogs: