Deaf Dogs

This will be the first in a continuing series of blog posts about deaf dogs. Dispelling the myths, offering advice, and discussing the joys and challenges of life with
Dagny, our deaf rescue spokes-dog!

Whenever we discuss deaf dogs, the conversation is always dominated by our Willy’s Happy Endings Spokesdog, Dagny the Incredibull . Dagny is a deaf pibble who was found on the streets of NYC as a puppy, her skull crushed after being apparently used as a bait dog. The kind people at Sean Casey Animal Rescue took her in and made sure she received the multiple surgeries she needed to survive. She was left with a slightly “odd” looking facial structure, and once recovered, it became apparent that she was also born completely deaf. So she sat alone in a kennel, loved by only her friend Sofie of NYC Teens For Animals who began hanging out with her and sharing her pictures on her facebook page. WHE spotted her photos and were looking for a spokes-dog for our rescue to advocate for abandoned special needs and bully breeds. Dagny made the long journey to TN and the rest is history!

Myth #1:  Deaf dogs shouldn’t be placed in homes with young children.
Truth is:  Well… I’ll just let the photos do the talking.

It is important to note that NO DOG, special needs or otherwise, should be placed in a home with small children without a thorough temperament test and meeting the children in the prospective family beforehand. Children can be tough for any dogs to handle. They are erratic, rough, and make a lot of really weird noises. Not all dogs are cut out to be companions for a child, and that’s okay.
Be sure to take the time to find the right dog for YOUR family!

Myth #2:  The only way to train a deaf dog is to use shock collars.
Truth is:   There is a MUCH more humane and effective method which   involves simply building an unbreakable bond with your deafie!

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard this one, and it breaks my heart every time. Many, and one could argue most, trainers and handlers will tell you that the only way to train a deaf dog is by using a shock or “electronic” collar. Here’s the thing, the method actually works with most dogs. My problem with it is WHY it works. A dog will look at you, come to you, and do what you tell him or her to do. However, they do this not for respect, love, or a desire to please you, but out of FEAR. You have essentially broken your dog’s spirit and developed the negative association of pain with you, the handler. This often makes for an obedient dog, but one without personality or any real drive. I want my dogs to work for me because they want to please me, and because they enjoy their tasks, not because they fear me.

The question is then, How else are you supposed to get their attention when they can’t hear you?

I’m about to tell you exactly how, and it is really very simple…

Watch the video below to see what Dagny had accomplished at the end of her VERY FIRST training session. WITHOUT any negative reinforcement whatsoever.

Note how responsive and attentive Dagny is to her handler. She repeatedly looks up at me, making eye contact and responding appropriately to hand signals. Even automatically sitting at a stop at the very end of the video.Want to know the secret?


This will work faster if you start immediately upon adoption of your deafie, but it can be just as effective on a dog you have had for weeks, months, or years. Essentially, the only way she eats is from your hand. Fill a fanny pack or treat bag with her kibble. Every time she makes eye contact with you, smile, give her a pat or ear scratch, and a small handful of kibble. Not to worry, she will get more than enough to eat. If anything, you will have to start giving single kibbles because she looks at you SO much.

This teaches your dog to associate you, her handler or guardian, with positives! “I get my sustenance by interacting with this human.”  She will almost immediately begin following you around and making eye contact to get more yummies from your pawesome hands!

During true training sessions, use a high value treat to begin to teach hand signals and establish a difference between when she is ‘working’ and when she is ‘at ease’. As with any training method, eventually, you can begin to taper off the treats and kibbles until you give a food reward just often enough to reinforce the behavior. Perhaps a treat a few times a day, etc. The dog will begin to value your interaction as much or more than the food rewards. So a simply pat or scratch and a smile will be enough.

Dagny has been so successful with this method, that she can even be off leash on our property running in the woods, creek, and pastures and wants nothing more than to be by my side. Below is a GoPro video from Dagny’s perspective. You will see that I remove the leash and begin to run, she follows. Then, towards the end of the video I veer off and hide behind the trees. Rather than going on her merry way, Dagny searches for and finds me before we continue our run. This is the kind of bond and relationship you can expect from treating your dog with kindness rather than causing them discomfort.

That’s all for now folks! Dagny and I are exhausted!Remember to check back often for more Dog Blogs from W.H.E.

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Love, Rafi