Need to Know: Adopting a Deaf Dog

Just because a dog is deaf doesn’t mean he won’t be a fantastic pet. You’ll just need lots of empathy, patience, and some good training skills. RSPCA NSW spoke to renowned animal trainer Kerrie Haynes-Lovell, owner and trainer of two deaf French Bulldogs about living with and training deaf dogs. Read on to find out more.

Our seven-point guide will help you understand and train your deaf dog. A big thank you to Kerrie Haynes-Lovell for all her advice. Just remember that routine and consistency are key.


1. Making your dog feel secure

Deaf dogs need to feel secure in their environment, and they have to be able to trust their owners not to put them in a position that would worry them. For this reason, you should always keep your dog informed of your whereabouts. It’s also important not to come up behind them quickly, as this could startle them.

2. Remembering your body language

Trainer Kerrie says she talks to a deaf dog just as she would a hearing dog. This is because dogs are great at reading body language and body posture changes with your voice.


3. Getting your dog’s attention

Your dog needs to be looking at you to be able to respond to any cue you give him, so you’ll need to get his attention. To do this, begin by touching him when he can see you, and when he looks, give him the thumbs up bridge (this works as a marker that shows your dog he has given the correct response and that a reward is coming) and a reward (such as a tasty treat or simply a pat). Once your dog realises he’ll get a reward when you touch him, he’ll respond well. If you have a wooden floor, you could also try tapping your foot so he feels the vibration. Once he looks at you, give him the thumbs up bridge and reward him.

It’s also possible to get your dog’s attention – and train him – by using a torch. Use the light to get his attention, and you can give him cues or signals once he looks at you.


4. Training your deaf dog

Some important things to know when training a deaf dog are…

Clear hand signals are essential. You must use a conditioned reinforcer i.e., a visual bridge, to let them know what they are doing is correct. For example, you could use the thumbs up sign.

Positioning is really important. Your dog must be looking at you, so ensure you are positioned in his line of sight.

To teach ‘sit’ for example, use a lure or target, just as you would for a hearing dog.

5. Walking your deaf dog


When walking your deaf dog, it’s essential that you never let him off his lead, even in an off-leash area. It’s also important to ensure that your dog is comfortable at loose-lead walking and can come close on cue before you venture out together. You can practice this at home, and on short trips down your street and back.

6. Barking

You may notice that your deaf dog has a high-pitched bark, as he isn’t able to hear himself.

7. Vibrating collars for deaf dogs


A vibrating collar comes in two parts – a handheld part, and a collar that the dog wears. It works a little like a pager, so when you press a button the collar vibrates. They’re intended to get the dog’s attention, not to be used as a way to train your dog. They are not the same as shock collars, which are illegal in New South Wales. However, misusing a vibrating collar can be anxiety inducing for any animal, even when there is no shock.

It’s therefore still unclear whether vibrating collars are beneficial for dogs. Trainer Kerrie says, “My opinion is still not convinced they are okay. Like all equipment, if you are not proficient at training, then I would not use it.”

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