Chinche is a 6 month old Bulldog puppy. She is extremely intelligent, playful and as cuddly as any other puppy. Chinche is also deaf.
When Chinche meets new people I always let them know that she cannot hear them and I nearly always get the same response- "Oh, how sad!". I've come to realize that it isn't too sad at all, as a matter of fact. Chinche has never heard anything a day in her life so she really doesn't even know what she is missing.
I've never raised and trained a deaf dog before so when I realized that she was indeed deaf, I hit the books (or rather the internet) to find out as much as I could about training Chinche and helping her to adapt to life within my pack and within this big, crazy, noisy world in which she will have to maneuver around in a world of silence. I also need to ensure to establish a line of communication between her and I.
By 4 months of age, Chinche had already learned to reliably respond to several hand signals including "Follow me", "Come", "Sit", "Down", and "Naughty".
What I have realized is that training a deaf dog is not much different than training a dog with normal hearing. For example, I ALWAYS begin training ANY dog in the absence of verbal cues, using hand signals until the dog reliably understands and is following the hand signal.
One of the most common and potentially damaging issues I encounter with nearly every human I work with as a trainer is trying to communicate with their dog verbally, long before the dog could have any idea what the heck all of this chatter could mean!
Dogs do not speak English (or French, Spanish, Pig Latin Etc.) And frankly, human beings probably speak too much.
Dogs are not verbal creatures by nature and living amongst humans subjects them to often nonstop chatter. This quickly teaches them to tune out all the noise and ignore what we say much of the time. This can be frustrating and owners often complain that their dog "doesn't listen". Well, how are they supposed to know WHEN we are talking to them?
You may believe your dog to be the smartest dog in the world because he knows the word "cookie" and you have to spell out "W-A-L-K" so he doesn't go berserk. This may lead you to have expectations that your dog understands English but the fact of the matter is that over the course of time he has learned to make a connection with certain words and the reward that follows by way of many, many repetitions. In my book, the ability to do this renders any dog genius!
As a trainer, I realized when I began working with Chinche the potential for building my skills even further in non-verbal communication; a skill that is crucial in training ALL dogs.
As I mentioned before, training a deaf dog is not unlike training a dog with normal hearing. It takes patience and a bit of creativity but a deaf dog can and will live a normal and happy life if you take the time to commit to training them.
In some ways I am finding out that there are advantages to training a deaf dog. She is not distracted by barking dogs or loud noises. She is not afraid of thunder or fireworks. She does not know the sound of the treat pouch or of feeding time either. Further, being tempted to holler at her when she misbehaves would do me not an ounce of good so I am forced to overcome any desire to be lazy and must go to her and actively discourage unwanted behavior. I then redirect her to what I do want from her. Thus she learns simultaneously both what she is not allowed to do AND more importantly, what I do expect from her.
At this point I have no way of knowing how many articles will go into this case study. I will continue to chronicle the progress (and setbacks) during the process of training Chinche. I hope to not only further develop my skills as a trainer but also provide support and helpful information to owners who may be training a deaf dog for the first time.
Important Safety Concerns
Probably the most important issue to consider is the safety issue around a deaf dog.
Supervision is a must!!
Many mundane, ordinary situations can pose grave danger to a deaf dog. There is no way to verbally call your deaf dog out of harms way if a car is coming or if another dog or wild animal means harm. If the gate is left open or you walk your dog without a leash they will be unable to hear your call or whistle if they are out of sight.
Interactions with other dogs (especially for a deaf puppy) can become dangerous if the puppy is given a warning growl and remains unaware.
A deaf dog should always be leashed in unfenced areas. With Chinche, I also decided to attach a bell to her collar to assist me in always being able to pinpoint her location.
Part 2: Getting ready to train