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Ask the Vet: Use Hand Signals to Train Deaf Dog

Dr. Lee Pickett on

Q: We're enchanted by Eva, a sweet, young Dalmatian available for adoption through the nearby Dalmatian rescue. Our only concern is that she is deaf. If we adopt her, how will we train her?

A: Deafness is inherited in some breeds, including Dalmatians, especially those that are mostly white and have blue eyes. Fortunately, with kind, consistent training, deaf dogs can learn hand signals and become wonderful family pets.

Dogs communicate with one another primarily through body language, so many trainers feel it's actually easier for them to learn hand signals than spoken words. I've found hand signals help me silently communicate with my own hearing dogs while I'm talking with someone in the room or on the phone. So, I recommend all dogs learn hand signals.

To teach Eva, take her to a group obedience training class taught by someone experienced with deaf dogs. You'll learn the standard hand signals for come, sit, stay, lie down and other actions.

I think you'll be happiest if you join a small group where you'll receive individual attention when you need it. Be sure, however, that there are several other dogs and people in the group so Eva learns to ignore distractions and focus on you.

Supplement Eva's standard dog training with American Sign Language, or ASL, which consists of hand motions, facial expressions and body movements. Be sure everyone in the family uses the same signs so Eva can master "walk," "go potty," "car," "meal time" and other common concepts.


Positive reinforcement using praise, food treats and other rewards will be your most effective training tool. Praise Eva by smiling and either clapping or using the ASL sign for "good."

To gain Eva's attention indoors, tap your foot on the floor and give her a hand signal. When she's sleeping, awaken her gently by holding a treat in front of her nose and lightly petting her.

When she's outdoors, she should be leashed or within a fenced yard. Her identification tag should say, "Eva is DEAF" and provide your phone number and address.

To call her when she's outside, use a flashlight or laser pointer, or turn the porch light off and on. A vibrating collar is also a good way to get her attention.


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