All Things Dog

Hand Signals for Hard-of-Hearing Dogs

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Training a dog with hearing problems poses challenges, but they can be overcome with persistent and clear communications. The reward is a well-trained, loving companion that responds to your commands. Once you and your dog become fluent in the use of hand signals, you both may forget that he’s hard of hearing.

Hearing problems and training

Hearing problems are not an uncommon problem in dogs, but they are usually only discovered when people start to train them. Often dogs with hearing problems are accused of being "slow," because they can't hear their owner's commands. However, these dogs are usually very intelligent—and, because of their handicap, they develop an acute ability to read the body language of their owners. Through a combination of body language, signing, and patience, a hard-of-hearing dog can become a well-trained companion.

Hand signals will play an important role in training your hard-of-hearing dog. However, always remember to combine your hand signals with verbal commands and appropriate facial expressions. Why use verbal commands for a hard-of-hearing dog? The reason is because these dogs are adept at learning the meaning of their owner's lip movements and facial expressions.

Choosing hand signals

Many people who train hard-of-hearing dogs choose ASL (American Sign Language) signs. However, you can invent your own hand signals, ones that have meaning for you and your dog. The important thing to remember, though, is that once you designate a meaning for a hand signal and introduce it to your dog, stick with it, and don't change the signal. For the hand signal to acquire true meaning for your dog—and for you—it must be used consistently and exclusively for the desired command.

As you begin training your dog with hand signals, you will want to start with a few important “words” and increase the size of the “vocabulary” gradually. And remember to use positive reinforcement—a treat and plenty of praise—when your dog responds with the appropriate behavior.

Here are few easy-to-remember and natural hand-signal commands that you can begin to teach your dog:

"Come." Tap your chest, making a movement that implies your dog should come closer to you.
"Sit." Show him your palm and flex your hand downward, so that it is parallel to the floor.
"Good dog!" Thumbs up, accompanied by a big smile.
"No!" Shake your head and close your eyes.
"Stop!" Similar to "No," but with a more serious facial expression of disapproval.

Remember, keep training sessions short—you don’t want your dog to become impatient or bored. Usually 5- to 10-minute sessions are adequate, but you should schedule several rounds of training a day.

If you are having difficulty training your hard-of-hearing dog, don’t show your frustration to your pet: it may simply be time to call in a professional trainer to work with you and your dog. With an expert’s guidance, and patience on your part, training sessions can become positive and rewarding experiences that will lead to many years of meaningful communication with your hard-of-hearing dog.

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