Have you been relentlessly yelling your dog’s name with no answer? Does your dog seem to be ignoring you? Does the vacuum cleaner not phase him any more? If you answered yes to any of these questions then your dog may have hearing issues or be deaf. Lack of communication isn’t healthy for anyone, especially between you and your pet. To make sure you are being understood by your dog and are doing what you can to help him, we’ve outlined exactly how to communicate with your deaf dog.
What to do first
If you notice any of the signs we mentioned above, we recommend you take your dog to the veterinarian to get checked out. It’s possible that your dog’s hearing changes may just be age-related, but there may be other possible causes such as an ear infection or a foreign body or growth in the ear. Your vet will be able to rule out specific issues, and in some cases treat and reverse hearing loss. If your dog’s hearing loss cannot be reversed, you may need to learn how to communicate with him in a new way.
Communicating with your deaf dog
Giving your dog verbal feedback becomes difficult or impossible when hearing loss is present. For this reason, it makes more sense to begin to teach your dog a signal like a hand clap, or a thumbs up, to signify “well done,” or “good dog.” You’ll be able to teach and reinforce these new signals by giving your dog a treat or another enjoyable reward like being petted, playing tug, going outside, or throwing his favorite ball to be chased. It’s also important to have a visual signal to get your dog’s attention, which can be referred to as the “look at me” cue. This signal will draw your dog’s attention and get him to look at you so he can be instructed to follow another direction or see another visual cue. This is crucial for a hearing-impaired dog because he will need to focus on your body signals to pick up on cues for what he is being asked to do.
If you are walking your dog, a gentle, low pull or jingle on his leash can serve as a signal for him to refocus his attention on you to see the next command. Other visual stimuli like a hand wave, a gentle touch on the shoulder or back, or a flashlight can serve the same purpose if your dog is not on his leash. As with all signals, you must teach and reinforce what each signal means.
Change your cues
When teaching your dog to look at you in response to the signal, start the a visual stimulus, move a treat in front of his nose and then up toward your eye level. After your dog makes eye contact, give him your “good dog” signal, followed by a treat. Once your dog has started to give you eye contact in response to the signal, begin to phase out the treat. During this process, you can move your empty hand up to your eye level like you have a treat in it. Eventually, you can start to phase out the hand signal by only moving your hand partially to your face.
Your goal should be to get your dog to make eye contact in response to the first cue (the flashlight or other visual stimuli), without any extra direction from you. Continue to emphasize the desired behavior with your “good dog” signal and a reward, or immediately ask your dog to do another behavior, like sit, when he looks at you. Other commands your dog learned with a verbal cue will need to be retaught with a physical cue.
After your dog has learned to make eye contact with you, teaching him other hand signals for everyday activities will become easier. You can invent your own hand signals or use American Sign Language to teach your dogs words like dinner, car, walk, or outside. Simply use the appropriate signal directly followed by the designated activity. For example, use the ASL sign for walk, followed by taking your dog outside for a walk immediately. Make sure everyone in your family is using the same signals to keep it consistent.
Just because your dog is getting older and may experience hearing loss or deafness, does not mean he can’t communicate with you or your family. Much like aging humans, dogs can adjust their communication skills if need be. The more physical cues you teach your deaf dog, the easier it will become for him to stay in contact with you and understand your commands. Changing the way your dog communicates can make hearing loss easier on him and you. If you are looking for other ways to help your dog age gracefully, download our free eBook by clicking the image below.