Sign Language

Tips for Beginning with Deaf Dogs

Hogan and Georgia 1997

Hogan and Georgia 1997

In response to the request for help, I am re-blogging my beginning letter that I send folks seeking advice. Living with a deaf animal is actually quite easy if you have an open heart and mind. It doesn’t take the volumes of information that some fear that it might take. I am not saying that living with a deaf dog doesn’t need special adaptations, but making adjustments like we would with a deaf person is straightforward and intuitive.

I have been blessed to have been working with deaf dogs since 1993. Hogan was our first with Georgia joining our family shortly after his adoption. Judea is our wonderful girl who currently graces our lives with her wonderful love and presence.

Enjoy your deaf dog! Living successfully with our deaf dogs is very possible!

Beginning Letter

 Responding to folks who inquire, “How do I get started?”


I am so very glad to hear from you.  There is so much to say about loving and living with a deaf pup that I can only begin here.  What I know for absolute certainty is that I would not trade my life with my deaf pups for anything in the world!

        The best advice I can give anyone with a deaf pup, child, friend, or relative is to establish a solid method of communication.  Communication is the key to success.  I didn’t know American Sign Language (ASL) prior to adopting my Hogan so my husband purchased a pocket-sized book for me to use.  I decided to use ASL because I know many folks who know at least a bit of sign.  I didn’t have to “reinvent the wheel” so to speak.  Additionally, when I had to leave my pups with a sitter or the vet, I merely had to give them the handbook or copies of the most important signs that I use.  This made it possible for many other people to “talk” with my pups without a great deal of instruction which could be vital in sudden situations!  Most importantly, my pups were never left in a totally "silent" environment; someone could always talk to them. 

I also adopted a deaf female Dalmatian named Georgia; and both Hogan, Georgia, and my hearing black lab, India, understood many signs and short sentences. They understood over 70 signs, and I used many more with them.  It was wonderful.  They loved my signing to them, and folks could actually see them watching my hands and face for messages.  They became very intent.

I started through simple repetition. "Sit" is great to start along with "cookie."  Once your pup puts together cookie and the reward, you will be off and running!  Keep it simple and always use a sign for what you want.

Deaf pups are smart and they are very capable of learning.  Because dogs are physical in nature, they naturally watch for signals and body language.

I even taught them the sign for "car" since they loved to ride in the car.  When I told them that we were embarking on a road trip,  they ran for the door.  "Kiss" was fun and going for a "walk" met with joy-filled approval.  "Potty" (I used the sign for toilet which is simply the letter "T") is great.  I signed it every time I took them out to go potty, and they knew I meant business, especially if it was late and I wanted to go to "bed."

Repetition was how I trained my pups to understand any of the signs.  Instead of using the spoken word, I simply used the sign for the word and followed it with having them do what I wanted or needed them to do.       

Always be gentle, patient, and very positive.        

Reward, never punish.  The more you reward, the more the pup will respond.  I did all my training with positive reward and reinforcement.         

Socialization is also extremely important and must never stop.  It must be continuous.   Let others give treats which will make meeting other people a wonderful experience for your pup.       

Desensitization to scary situations, such as being startled or awakened suddenly, is also critical and needs to be done slowly, carefully, and patiently.        

Praise is crucial; touch is essential; and massage works wonders.        

AND . . . remember that a tired dog is a good dog!

Our deaf animals can be wonderful and loving members of our families if we remember they have some special needs.



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