How to communicate with a deaf dog

deaf dog care - How to communicate with a deaf dog

If you want to make sure your hard-of-hearing best friend has the best possible life and feels safe, being able to communicate effectively with them is one of the most important things you’ll need to learn to do.

No matter whether your dog was born with hearing problems or has started to go deaf with age, if you want to communicate with a deaf dog hand signals are going to be critical.

Deaf dog hand signals can be a combination of hand commands that you’d normally use in dog training, along with ones of your own you can make up using some of the signs from American Sign Language, and are motions that allow you to communicate with your deaf dog in a clear and concise manner. If you’re after some ideas for signals, the image below is from ResearchGate ☺


When you find out that you have a deaf dog, the best way to start the training process is by signing to your pooch throughout the entire day as well as talking to them still. Essentially, you will be using hand signals for everything in their daily routine. For example, when it is time to eat you will want to come up with a sign for the eating action. This sign could be a hand motion or a letter, you might want to use the letter “B” for bowl or “F” for food – the choice is yours.

The main thing to remember is that signing to your dog doesn’t require immense knowledge of sign language, you just need to create signs that you can remember easily and use to communicate with. As you go through your day, you will want to sign things repetitively, so you start to train these symbols and embed them into your dog’s routine and mind – just like most dogs will get excited when they see you pick up their leash because they know that means walk time.

Learning how to communicate with a deaf dog can be an exciting and funny experience for both you and your dog. Dogs communicate well, deaf or not, and they will often show you what signs work for them. Don’t be surprised if your dog starts to teach you what deaf dog hand signals that they want you to use! Some deaf dogs will teach you in the form of call and response. This means that they will respond to certain hand signals over others, this also shows how much they understand.

Another great and easy training signal is pointing. As you are moving and walking point in the direction you want your dog to pay attention too. This helps the dog learn direction signaling, and it can be extremely useful when calling them inside the house or showing them what direction they need to go in.

Getting a deaf dog’s attention

The first thing you’re going to need to do is learn how to get your dog’s attention. Getting a deaf dog’s attention isn’t as easy as yelling their name, since they can’t hear anything, so the first thing to do is come up with a way to get them to look at you. One of the most popular ways to do this is by touching your dog and then touching your nose, this creates a “watch me” sign. Using a sign such as “watch me” tells your dog that you have something to say and they need to pay attention. When the dog looks at you after you complete the “watch me” sign you will want to use an open hand motion acknowledging that they are paying attention. This is a visual marker that creates communication between you and your dog. Eventually you will be able to get your deaf dog’s attention by using these hand signals, and before long, it will become second nature for you and your dog.

Don’t forget that your deaf dog will still be watching your face for visual clues – in a 2018 study, scientists found that dogs are able to recognize and respond to human facial expressions. With their sense of hearing taken away, your deaf dog will be watching you even more keenly and like all dogs, will want to make their human happy. So if you’re pleased with what they’re doing, make sure you give them a smile and a pat to reinforce the behavior as well.

Every dog is unique, and they all have their own quirks – and deaf dogs are no different. With some practice, patience and perseverance, you and your dog will learn to communicate with each other and create an unbreakable lifelong bond that will bring both of you a lot of happiness.

Why is my deaf dog barking?

deaf dog care - why is my deaf dog barking

Fun fact : did you know that there’s a dog breed that actually can’t bark? The Basenji – also believed to be the oldest breed in the world – can’t actually bark, although they can make an interesting yodeling sound to communicate.

Apart from Basenjis, most dogs tend to communicate through barking – even if we humans sometimes tend to find it frustrating when they do. (Thanks Fido for yelling at us to let us know you’ve seen the mailman, the garbage truck, the UPS guy and next door’s cat!)

So here’s an interesting question: do deaf dogs bark?

The answer is ‘yes’ and in fact they may actually bark more than other dogs because they have a whole lot of challenges that a dog with perfect hearing just doesn’t have to worry about.

Here’s a few reasons why your deaf dog may bark … a lot.

Anxiety and frustration
Have you ever had a blocked ear due to a flight or a cold? It’s frustrating as anything, right? But at least we’re usually able to fix the problem pretty easily. Imagine how frustrating it is for your dog to have that sensation of not being able to hear properly and also not be able to make it go away. Your dog may be barking excessively because he or she is feeling anxious and is in need of extra reassurance and comforting – especially if they are an older dog gone deaf suddenly.

Visual overstimulation
Without being able to hear what’s going on, a deaf dog may be unable to relax and be more focused on seeing what’s going on around them. Rather than jumping at the slightest sound, they’ll perk up at the slightest movement – and bark at the littlest thing to show that they’re alert. If you find your deaf dog is barking at nothing all the time, try creating a visually ‘quiet’ space for them (for example, a room where they can’t see outside the house) to give them a place they can go to and get some peace to relax.

Your deaf dog brings you a ball, drops it at your feet and barks. You toss the ball, the dog chases it and is happy. Rinse and repeat a few times and suddenly we’ve created a habit for the dog to bark at you when it wants something. Breaking the habit can be as easy as waiting until the dog stops barking to toss the ball. It’ll take some patience, but eventually they’ll learn not to bark in order to get what they want.

Because it’s fun
When little kids are excited they’ll chatter non-stop regardless of whether you’re listening to them or not. Dogs can be the same – they get excited about something and they want you to know about it.

deaf dog care - why is my deaf dog barking
“Oooh, the postman is here – better tell my people.”

“Hey, human! There’s a trash panda on the porch!”

“Who’s a dog gotta bark at around here to get a little outside time?”

You’ve probably experienced your dog barking for at least one of those reasons – and they’re not going to go away just because your dog’s hearing has.

Training a deaf dog not to bark
Obviously, yelling at a deaf dog to get them to quit barking isn’t going to work. Training a deaf dog not to bark is not necessarily difficult, but it will require a collar, a leash, some treats and some patience and perseverance.

Pop the collar and leash on your dog and then put them in a situation where you know they’re going to bark (maybe sit by the front window and have someone walk past for example). When the dog barks, tug gently on the leash or collar until they stop and use a hand signal that you want them to associate with ‘quit barking!’. Offer praise and a treat once they’ve calmed down. Just like training a dog with hearing, you’ll need to repeat the process until they get the hang of what you want them to do.

Next, remove tugging on the leash from the equation and just use the hand signal. Again, you’ll need to do this several times for them to understand what you want, but they’ve already associated the hand signal with stopping barking and getting a treat, so it shouldn’t take too long.

Finally, stop giving them a treat every time they stop barking – you don’t want them to start barking just to get a treat if they stop! Don’t forget to show them how happy you are with them being obedient. Dogs are very visual and they love making their humans happy – and positive reinforcement is a great way to train a dog to do what you want them to quickly.

Last of all, remember: just because your dog lives in a quiet world, doesn’t mean they’re going to be quiet all the time. And nor should they have to be! Deaf dogs will still bark to communicate and making some simple changes will help to ensure that they know they’re being heard and help prevent them from barking all the time for no reason.