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: Lindsay Patten lindsaypatten@yahoo.com
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Introduction to Training a Deaf Dog

There is no one universal best way to train a dog. The best training method to use depends on both the dog and the trainer. You will have to choose a training method with which you are comfortable, and which is matched to your dog's traits and personality. With that in mind, we will consider several issues which you should consider while designing a training program for your deaf dog..

Issues In Training Of Deaf Dogs

There are a number of special issues that should be considered when designing a training program for a deaf dog. The fact that your dog can't hear you has a number of implications: it means that you have to use hand signals rather than verbal commands; it means you need an alternative method for getting and keeping your dog's attention; and it means you'll need to find a substitute for the verbal praise and feedback which are components of most canine training programs.

Most dogs will learn hand signals as quick or quicker than verbal commands so using hand signals is not a major issue. The particular signal you use for a command is not terribly important to the success of your training effort, but there are a few considerations to keep in mind: be consistent, make sure that you and all the other members of your household, use the same signal; signals which are bold, distinct, and visible from a distance will work best.

Many people favor using standard American Sign Language (ASL); this has the advantage of opening a doorway to the human deaf community, and also providing some standardization with other deaf dog owners. If you do use ASL you will likely have to adapt some of the signals to ensure that they are easy for your dog to see and distinguish, and so that you can perform them while you're holding a leash or are otherwise encumbered.

An alternative or complementary approach is to use the standard obedience signals that are used in training hearing dogs before moving on to purely verbal commands. These have the advantage of having been designed specifically for dogs, and if you wish, you can start with these signals and then transition to ASL once your dog has the command down pat.

Attention is one of the most important and difficult aspects of training a deaf dog. There are numerous training exercises which will help keep your dog's attention focused on you; but they all take time to be effective, especially in the face of distractions. When starting out you will need a way to keep your dog's attention and interest during training sessions, and food can be very useful in this regard. Although some trainers disparage the use of food as a reward, it can be of particular value when working with a deaf dog.

A second facet of attention is distractions; because deaf dogs tend to be visually oriented, and because you can't regain their attention verbally, introducing distractions into your training program should be done very slowly and under controlled conditions. When starting out your training program, try to eliminate as many distractions as possible. As your training progresses, and response to commands becomes automatic, you can slowly increase the number of distractions. It will take some time before you can expect your dog to consistently obey commands in the face of distractions such as other dogs. Be patient, although your dog may learn new commands quickly it will take much longer to become "distraction proof" and moving too quickly will only result in frustration.

Verbal praise and feedback are important components of most canine training programs and they need to be augmented* with alternative methods when adapting a program for use with a deaf dog. The largest challenge in teaching a new command is communicating to your dog what you want it to do. To do so you need a way to tell your dog when it is doing the right thing and when it is straying from the desired behavior. With hearing dogs, verbal praise and warnings are the most common means of giving feedback; if you simply drop these from a training method it will be hard for your dog to know what you want, frustrating for you when your dog doesn't do what you want, and in the end a negative experience for both of you. Developing a hand signal for Good! can help out tremendously.

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* Augmented rather than replaced because it is still a good idea to talk to and praise your dog verbally. Talking in a bright cheery voice will result in a bright cheery facial expression and posture that you dog will recognize. [Credit: Warrick Wilson] back


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