There is nothing like getting a new puppy. The hope and excitement of raising a companion through the seasons of life is an exhilarating time. Until the signs appear that maybe this puppy cannot hear? Now what? A talk with the veterinarian may or may not give a true answer. It is difficult sometimes to get a fact, and even more difficult to get a solution to communicating.
Clanging pots, dropping books and squeaking toys are not the best clinical diagnostic tools. The BAER testing system cannot be performed by most veterinarians. Usually a specialist will be needed. This tests the auditory brain stem response and is painless for the pet, but still it is only a fact.
Besides teaching dogs and humans professionally, I personally own a deaf American Pit Bull Terrier. He is almost 8 years old now and a safe, balanced specimen of what a properly raised dog should be, but it was not always that way! Owning a deaf dog has been a difficult blessing. When Trump was a few months old, his vet thought he could hear and recommended a behavioral specialist. Trump and I ended up in extremely capable hands and started us on a new journey. Finding the right person with the right method was critical- not all trainers are created equal! We do not have to use a leash and collar or a command in our daily life because of the environment and lifestyle in which I have raised him.
A few common misconceptions:
Keep talking to your dog! A deaf dog is only slightly different than any other dog, so keep talking because your energies and body language when you speak are more expressive. Since the deaf dog cannot hear you, the dog will read off your energies and pheromones, as all dogs do, so act out or express your NO or your positive energies.
Be a balanced disciplinarian! Using unbalanced forms of discipline is a pet owner’s biggest fault: repeating themselves, shock collars, pinch chains, hitting, swatting, yelling, rolled up paper, spray bottles, ect. are all unbalanced forms of discipline. These techniques advocate intimidation and weakness rather than leadership that grows trust and respect. A leash and collar are tools. A quick jerk-release, then jiggle on the collar is a balanced way to correct unwanted behavior. This will also express a more positive energy and alleviate the stress of any correction. Ask, correct, praise- dogs do not need treats, people do! A deaf dog will feel your positive energy if you put it out there! No touching (emotion), but positive energy or spirit! Aggression is commonly seen amongst deaf dogs because of the lack of understanding of how to communicate and use a balanced form of discipline. Aggression is always a pecking order issue when the dog has become highly stressed.
How will I teach and communicate with my deaf dog? My dog was first trained to leash-collar sensitization, meaning that a very slight motion of the leash tells him anything I could say verbally. Also, I train deaf dogs to hand signals and body sensitization, meaning that a hand movement or a slight body movement will tell the dog anything you could say verbally. This is only a starting point! Most people think that if the dog knows an obedience command that is it- I want an obedient attitude, and for that the pecking order of my household/pack must be solid. Most relationships have too much love and emotion, and not enough guidance and discipline. My deaf dog has to respect me first and love me second.
Can a deaf dog ever be off-leash without a fence? Absolutely! The basic idea and goal of my natural order training method is no leash/collar and no commands! An overall obedient attitude based on trust and respect must be developed to make your dog the absolute happiest it can be, but with a deaf dog it’s crucial to a harmonious life together. If a deaf dog runs off, good luck calling it back. The relationship and focus between owner and deaf dog must be highly connected. Using the leash to develop focus between the human and dog is more of a process and the leash is used longer. The auditory system provides precision that is absent in a deaf dog making off leash work much more challenging, especially across a field or park, but it can absolutely be done by following a few simple concepts.
There are many concerns pet owners face in discovering their new family member is deaf. Knowing how to properly communicate with a dog is difficult enough without adding a handicap. Understanding simple canine behavior and pecking order is crutial with any dog, but extremely necessary with a deaf dog. My puppy was almost 2 years old before I knew he was deaf. The natural order training method provided me a way to understand and communicate regardless. We were already on a great path well before I was aware of his conditon. I can ask him to take a seat and he will because he picks up on other ques. Deaf dogs make up for their handicap in many other ways and are very intelligent!
Written by: Lauren HoodCanine Behavior Specialist
Lauren Hood’s World of Dogs, L.L.C