Q: My dog Rufus has been diagnosed as deaf by our veterinarian. He is a 6-month-old Cocker Spaniel and is in need of basic obedience training. I have used the “Clicker Method” in the past with my dogs; I was wondering if there was something comparable that I could use to train Rufus.
A: Rufus is very lucky to have you! Being deaf is not a problem in Rufus’ mind, and it’s great you are committed to helping him learn how to communicate. It’s easy to do. He can be a reminder to all who meet him on how to live life fully—to not let anything get in the way of experiencing joy. You and he must brighten many people’s days!
It’s actually easy to coach a deaf dog, and it’s not too different than teaching a hearing dog. If you are used to the Clicker method, that is great. Just substitute a hand signal for the clicker sound. Besides using our voices to get our dogs to come to us, everything else is pretty much the same. It boils down to getting Rufus to love coming to you when he’s called, and teaching him the behavior “Watch Me” for the times that he’s near you but not looking at you. Once he’s looking at you or is close to you, use hand signals.
The issue is, of course, how do you call a deaf dog when he’s away from you? Thankfully, there are vibrating collars designed for deaf dogs. You teach him that whenever he feels the vibration he must find you, as you have something super yummy or fun for him. Put the collar on him, vibrate, and give him a treat. Take a few steps back, vibrate the collar, and when he comes to you, give him a treat.
Each time he comes looking for you when the collar vibrates, invite him to a fun game of Tug-of-War, feed him meals, take him for a walk, offer treats, etc. The key is for Rufus to associate feeling the vibration with nothing but fun, joy, and pleasure. You can eventually teach him a hand signal for “Come,” which can be combined with the behavior “Watch Me.”
Deaf dogs often develop a very keen sense of smell, and there are great scent classes you can take to strengthen your bond. As a bonus, rather than looking at him as a handicapped dog, you and the world will see him as a gifted scent dog—locating anything from his toys and treats to your keys and shoes. He would also make a great therapy dog, as an “inspiration licker” for people who feel that life dealt them a bad hand of cards.
ABOUT the Trainer
Known as Oprah’s favorite dog trainer and the dog guru to the stars, Tamar Geller has far more to offer than star power to her many followers. She provides genuine insight and passion for the well-intentioned guardian at wit’s end trying to understand a lovable dog’s unlovable behavior. Her signature method, The Loved Dog, aims to transform the dog and person both by building rapport between them. Seeing her mission as far more than training dogs to be obedient, Geller prefers being called a life coach for people and dogs.