DEAF DOGS By Helen Brown


When I picked up my first deaf dog, a beautiful Border Collie puppy, I had no idea what was ahead. "Gale" was the perfect collie puppy, black and white, an even mix of colour, not particularly white. She was bright and was selected as the most possible to work.


I had no hint that she was deaf, but looking back there were several clues.

As a puppy of only a few weeks, the breeder noticed that she would come out of the kennel first in the morning, before her mother or brothers and sisters. We now know this was because not being able to hear she watched her family looking towards the door when a person approached, and of course she had to go and look to see what was going on.



Also within hours of arriving home with us she ran into a set of metal fire tools in the fire place, but she did not bat an eyelid. But still I noticed nothing, or did not like to admit there was a problem.


As time went by I began basic training and came up against some problems - suddenly coming to the conclusion that she was deaf. A trip to our vet nearly confirmed what we thought.


This was followed by a visit to an expert in deaf dogs who after a half an hour test confirmed what I did not want to know.


Where to go from here? Although I already knew she was deaf, I now had it in black and white. So now my training ideas had to change - or did it?



The first problem was to work out a series of hand signals which would be clearly understood by the dog, simple to do and would allow me to have plenty of signals to do both obedience and agility - as Gale was bought to do agility, she would do it if I could work it out.


I had already taught her to sit more or less, but of course I had used my voice as well. So now I had to re-enforce my hand signal using the same hand signal (the flat hand) which most people usually use, but now I could pull my thumb in across my palm and place a treat behind it if I needed to get extra attention on the signal. If I needed to push her bottom down with my hand I had to be careful to put my hand around her side, rather than over her head so that I was not confusing her with an extra hand signal.


This again was already nearly taught, a slow dropping hand, so once again I added the treat hidden under my thumb. It did not really matter which way I used my hand, side ways or flat down.


Yes at times she was naughty! The one thing you must never do is to raise your hand to any dog, but NEVER NEVER to a deaf dog. The best method I have found is just to use one finger in a wagging motion, backed up with a stern face. The facial expression is very important as a slight grin can change the command to a fun signal.


To move Gale on whether it was forward for Heelwork or side ways, a simple flick forward or side ways, just to get her attention and direct her. Of course if she was on the lead there was of course the usual guidance of that.


I use a push forward of the flat hand. So if I wanted a "Sit, Wait" I would use the usual flat hand signal to "Sit" then the same signal again to ask her to "Wait". Then for a "Down", the usual "Down" signal followed by the flat hand signal to ask for the "Wait". This doesn't seem to confuse her because if I wanted her to go from a "Sit" to a "Down" (or a "Down" to a "Sit") I would have to put a flick of the hand up or down to get to to move into the position so that she wouldn't think that the "Down, Wait" hand signal meant to move into a sit without the hand flick.


This is two raised arms inviting her to come to me. Jumping up and down (although it can look as though you are mad!) can work to get the attention back on you. In the beginning - the first few months if not for ever - you must carry a reward in your pocket, and I would even reward her for coming back when I didn't even call her, this was so she always kept an eye on me. Interesting enough, now if I call the hearing dogs with no hand signals the deaf dogs usually come first. I feel the reason for this is that the hearing dogs look up and say "we'll go in a minute" so the deaf dogs come over to find out what is going on.


Several trainers of deaf dogs say that you should not let your dog off the lead until you are sure you can get it back. But I am sorry, who can say they can always get their hearing dog back whatever the situation? So having a deaf dog who has its back to you and it doesn't look at you - you have no chance.


I have found by throwing a lead tied into a knot aimed to one side or the other of the dog, or in front of her, usually worked. Of course if she was chasing a rabbit you just had to wait!


It is useful to have several other dogs who will bring her back if you call. But for people who only have one dog who is deaf I suggest several ideas.

  • Do one walk which is fairly safe - no main roads to cross, or other dangers. Do this walk from day one on a regular basis. This way if your dog is off the lead and gets lost hopefully it will find its way home.
  • It is also helpful to find another friendly dog handler who could walk with you. Get the dogs to know each other, then you can let them loose in a fairly safe area.
  • Again keep rewarding your dog for coming back even if you didn't "call" it.
  • Your dog should be microchipped with a tag on it, also a tag which says the dog is deaf. I now have a collar on the deaf dogs which is embroidered with the information as well, just in case the tags fall off.
  • It is also common sense to put your dog on the lead long before you reach any danger, before you normally put your other dogs on.
  • If you are nervous about letting your dog off the lad for the first time, find a local riding centre with an indoor riding school, which you could hire. In here your dog could chase toys, have a good run in a secure environment. You will relax as well when you can call your dog back to you. Do this a few times to build your confidence before you venture outside.


This is useful to find that lost ball and also if you with to teach your dog to retrieve. I would send the dog out with a flick of the finger in the direction that I wanted her to go. Then I used a spread hand facing downwards, in a slow sweeping motion.


I use lots of treats as rewards, as they get Gale to look at me. Also she notices little movements such as my hand going into my pocket. I also made sure in the beginning that I taught her to play with toys - tuggy ones are best (see Raggits and Grabbits). NOT a throwing toy in the beginning, as you don't want the dog to grab the toy and run off. Believe me I've done this, having Gale cross a fairly busy road, then lying down waiting for me to arrive from quarter of a mile behind!

Everything you do must make your dog interact with you, this is far more than I would normally do wile training a hearing agility dog. A ball can be introduced in a confined area - this is a useful tool for teaching various movements later on, also it is good exercise and fun. The dog may be deaf but it must enjoy life.


(For further information see web link http://www.deafdogs.org/training/signs.php)



I saw Rayne, who was at Battersea Dogs Home, on the Channel 4 TV program "Pet Rescue". She was not the normal type of dog I would have gone for (ie. a Lurcher) but there was something about her, apart from being deaf; My husband and I had thought about getting another dog for him to run, so I rang the number and waited. When the call came back I was very surprised we had received it as they always tried to rehome dogs within the local area. But we were the only people with experience in training a deaf dog.


As we were going towards London in a few weeks time in a agility final we thought we would visit.


Battersea is a huge building, full of many dogs with different stories. Rayne had been taken in at 4 months old after the family who owned her had problems with her training, then found out she was deaf.


The problems, I feel, then began. Although Battersea is a fantastic place it is full of vibrations and these would effect a deaf dog. We find low flying jets have effects on our deaf dogs. So Rayne began to react to this strange situation and began to get very snappy. She was moved on to the Behaviour Unit, where very experience people tried hard with her. But the problem was the situation, which was constant. This of course was impossible - the environment was making her snappy but they could not rehome her because she was snappy - Catch 22. So this TV program had been her last chance. We met her and she met some of our dogs, everyone seemed to get on so she came back home with us.


On the first day she bit me hard twice, but usually when I had changed what I was wearing - so changing what what I looked like. My husband managed to avoid this. Soon she began to accept us and everything around her, no more strange vibrations.


Battersea had taught her the basic hand signals, and we had become more experienced having made mistakes in the past and quickly made progress with her training.


We did for safety's sake, however, muzzle her when taking her to dog classes and dog shows. Then people could safely stroke her and gain her confidence without her panicking and causing any damage.


Muzzling her in these situations only lasted about one month and before long she was a happy pet dog. Yes she still sometimes panicked and possibly nipped two or three of our friends. Being true dog people they didn't seem to mind and ti was usually their fault in the first place.


The one thing we did soon find out was to leave a deaf dog asleep, because even the most placid dog can react if you poke it. If you do want to wake up a deaf dog it is a good idea to nudge its bed, or use something other than your hand to waken it.



We have found that just because they are deaf dogs they can still compete in any activity you want. Both deaf dogs got their Kennel Club Good Citizen Bronze and have both competed in agility and have won many rosettes and trophies.


The main difference with deaf dogs is that sometimes you will come up against a problem in your training which you can see no way to get over to your dog. Do not carry on at this point. Put your dog away and think carefully about where to go from here. If possible speak to a dog trainer or an experienced friend, because two heads are better than one. Also if you wish to go to other sports with your dog make sure you use your hand signals wisely.


Helen has also written an article for this web site about training a deaf dog to do agility

Dog Games also recommends Chrissy Gough of Cara Dog Training who has plenty of experience of training handlers of deaf dogs

Helen with her deaf dog Rayne

About the author of this article - Helen Brown


I was trained as a horse riding instructor and from college went straight into various jobs with horses - from instructing 4 year olds to traveling around the country with a three-day event team. I became assistant trainer at a National Hunt yard, but too many falls while show jumping and training young horses meant I took another direction - Agility!


In the beginning I didn't even know which side to put the dogs into the weaves, and what were "contacts"? Then I met my husband, Andy, got him a dog and he gave up his motor bikes, I gave up the horses, and we began competing together. I won out of Starters in April 1990.


We began with rescue dogs until we bought our first Border Collie. She was full of problems but we learnt a lot from her. We have had several terriers, a rescue Belgium Shepherd who thought in the beginning he had to bite everything - even me. Also two deaf dogs - the first a Border Collie, the second we saw on the Channel 4 TV program "Pet Rescue".


We have both qualified for many major finals over the years. The last two dogs we have acquired have been pedigrees, hoping that we may make it to the World Championships (which demand that the dogs be pedigree!). Another story....

But Andy's Belgium Shepherd (Sky) qualified to be in the Belgium Shepherd World Championships in 2005 so I have taken on the FCI training for the United Kingdom Team.

(NOTE: Andy and Sky were part of the winning UK team and they also won the Individual World Belgium Shepherd Dog Championship! Sky was the youngest dog in the whole competiton too!)


I also teach competitive agility handlers on a professional basis (both private lessons and small groups) at my own inside and outside venues and also at training days at other clubs.


For further information please contact me on maddoghouse@btinternet.com


This web site has been written by Sally Hopkins (unless the author of the web page is stated otherwise).


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