How Do Deaf Dogs Learn Sign Language?

Posted by Cierra Voelkl on
How Do Deaf Dogs Learn Sign Language?

About 5-10% of dogs are born deaf in America every year. Many dogs can also become deaf later on in life from old age and other diseases. When dogs are born deaf, they never actually know that they're deaf! Yet these dogs have proven to be so intelligent and have an urge to learn. Deaf dogs are often taught hand signals, like sign language, in order to do things like sit, down, stay, come and much more! But HOW exactly do they learn this? Well, it's much like how hearing dogs are taught to respond to voice commands. 

Photo Credit: Best Friends Animal Society

Creating an effective way to communicate with deaf pets is imperative. Dogs are also fantastic at reading facial expressions which can be used when training. Before beginning training, a clear set of hand signals should be decided upon. A professional trainer may also be beneficial if you have never trained a deaf dog before. A dog owner may choose either ASL (American Sign Language) for their signals or come up with a unique set such as palm open and face down for "lay down".

Photo Credit: AKC

Positive reinforcement is essential to training a deaf dog, especially since it may be harder to get and keep their attention when they can't hear you. When getting their attention, stomping on the ground to create a vibration or waving a hand in front of them also works. A vibration collar is also effective! Before an actual command is taught, a dog should learn a signal for a good job that can be used when learning all future commands. An example of this signal is giving a thumbs up.

For learning commands, use the same luring techniques as teaching a hearing dog such as holding a treat above them and push back until they sit while using the hand signal until you are using just the hand signal! It's that easy! If you have doubts about adopting a deaf dog, just know that they still make fantastic pets and family members that are eager to please and be loved! 

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