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I have an 11 year old German Shepherd mix that I rescued probably 3 months ago now. At first I thought she was just sorta dumb, she came from a bad environment previously and didn't really know how to behave properly. Now, she does more "real dog" things than what I am used to but in working with her more I am 99% sure she is completely deaf, not just hard of hearing but deaf. The shelter was apparently unaware of this.

I have had some success in potty training her as of late, and I have taught her to come with hand signals instead of giving her the verbal "come" command.

I was wondering if anyone had any useful resources in training a deaf dog, or just non-verbal hands only training.
 

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Thanks for rescuing!

Never assume a GSD is dumb. LOL. I don't have any resources for you (although I'm sure there's a bunch out there), but I know an accomplished agility handler who runs a deaf dog. They don't Q often, but it's inspiring to watch them. Hand signals are great. I know some people use a vibrating thing on the collar, but this is very different than a shock collar!
 

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I have seen a few well trained deaf dogs, and dogs learn hand signals remarkably well.. but you have to plan ahead to plan hand signals for all the commands you want to teach that are easily distinguishable at whatever range you want them to be obeyed from.

Most I have seen use either a shock collar on a very low setting, or a vibrating collar, and teach the dog to respond to it the same way a hearing dog would respond to it's name, by coming to you, or focusing attention on you whenever the dog feels the stim/vibration, so you can then give the hand signals. Basically to get their attention at distance.

It's pretty amazing to me how well dogs can pick up on even the slightest physical signals.
 

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Hi Ohnobugzilla,

I've trained a few deaf dogs myself, and the biggest challenge is not in teaching them the hand signals, but rather getting them to look at you when you need to give them a hand signal. Until you've lived with a deaf dog, you don't realize how much we take for granted with our dogs that can hear. This is where devices such as remote collars (low-level e-stim or vibration) are IMO a huge life saver if you plan to have your dog listen from a distance. Even within 10-15 feet it can be very frustrating trying to get your dog to look at you when there's something else catching his gaze. You can train without them, but having a tactile cue at your disposal (like a tap on the shoulder) goes a very long way in speeding up the process.

As already mentioned, lay out a clear game plan as you what you want your hand signals to be before you embark on teaching them. Have considerations for every type communication you may need to send your dog. Something people will sometimes forget about are simple things like how to reward your deaf dog. You can't say "atta-boy". Personally I use a thumbs-up and link that as often as I can with something valuable to the dog.

Teaching hand-signals is really now different than teaching a verbal command. The first step is to have your dog performing some sort of action. Let's say it's a down command you want to teach. You can get a dog to down by using any combination of physical guidance, barriers or food lures. Once the dog is in the position the reward is released to the dog. Even with a dog that can hear, my personal approach is to do this without talking.

There are two reasons I don't talk:

1. I want the word to be associated with the final position, not the slow act of me luring or guiding my dog into a down.
2. They don't know the word or position yet anyway. It will be meaningless.

Once I can quickly lure them into the position without confusion or conflict, then I start to label it. If the dog can hear, I will lure them at the same time I say the word a few times. With a deaf dog, this may be tougher to do depending on your hand signal. For a down hand signal I usually use a downward palm sweep. This ties into a food lure fairly easily as I can keep the food in the same hand I signal with.

After a few reps like this, I'll start using the command as a cue with no other body language. For a down command, this means standing straight up and offering the hand signal. After a half second, I will repeat the hand signal and use the lure (help) again. It's a slow process of phasing out the help, but most deaf dogs will actually end up learning faster than hearing dogs as we are much more aware of our boy language and in turn the dogs receive clearer messages.

Any other command is essentially taught in the same way. Linking the cue (hand signal) with the action and ultimately a reward.

If you do decide down the road to try using a remote controlled collar it's a good idea to find help from someone who has used one on a deaf dog before. Also make sure they understand how to cue your dog with it, rather than using correction based approach. A little help with a basic introduction goes a long way. You can of course try it yourself just realize that even a vibration can startle a dog and create undesired reactions. An experienced trainer will be able to quickly overcome this and minimize any anxiety.

I've personally trained several deaf dogs quite successfully (including one American Bulldog that I fostered for about 6 months and as able to have him off leash on out 2 acre lot). So feel free to pick my brain about any specifics you have questions on.

All the best,
Ashton
 

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I would add that I teach my dogs hand signals right along with vocal cues for most anything I teach them. If they ever do go deaf in old age all I have to do is be able to get their attention. I find some dogs if not most pick up the hand signals a lot quicker and easier than vocal cues, many times people's dogs pick up physical cues for commands without the trainer even realizing it. Just picking up little unconscious movements the person usually does when they give a certain command. As little as an eye blink or eyebrow raised is enough for a dog to cue on if it's consistent.
 

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To echo TxRider - after you get the hang of training your dog, you may be able to associate some voice commands with the hand signals !!! If you get the dog to look at you, he may learn to lip read. My dog is not deaf, but he can lipread Sit, Down, Come, and Off. :)
 
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