Our Training Philosophy
Deaf dogs are just as trainable as hearing dogs, often more so since they are not as easily distracted by dogs barking, people cleaning kennels, or, once adopted, by the enticement of a refrigerator door opening in the kitchen down the hall.
Our positive-reinforcement based training method, which you are probably already using with hearing dogs, relies on the premise “behavior that gets rewarded gets repeated.” Since deaf dogs obviously appreciate being rewarded with treats or approving gestures just as much as their hearing friends, our task is simply to communicate clearly the behaviors we want from them and to reward them consistently so they make the kinds of choices we define as good behavior.
Here’s what you’ll need to get started:
Treat bag or apron with easy-access pockets
Lots of small, soft, smelly “high-value” treats that the dog can’t resist
A room where you can be alone with the dog and where he is comfortable and relaxed
You may also need:
Vibration collar (Note: Vibration is taught as a technique for getting the deaf dog’s attention, especially at a distance. Though vibration-only collars are available, most collars come with both vibration and shock settings. Shock should NEVER be used.)
We will rely heavily on the following basic techniques:
Luring: Using small amounts of high value food to move the dog into a desired position without force
Targeting: Teaching the dog to touch his nose to the hand and then moving the hand to a desired position
Capturing: Rewarding the dog for a desired behavior she does on her own
Training should be fun. We recommend having staff or trained volunteers work with the dog for about 5-15 minutes several times a day or as long as she remains interested. Once the dog loses interest in the activity, there’s no point in continuing. Always try to finish on a positive note. Most of all, don’t get discouraged. You will have good days and not so good days. And never let the dog feel that you’re disappointed in her. Your love for her and her trust in you are the most important tools you have.
While training dogs with food lures is often the fastest and easiest way to elicit a desired behavior, it is important to “fade” the food lures as quickly as possible so the dog doesn’t come to expect that there will always be a treat in the picture when he is asked to do a signed behavior. To wean the dog off food lures:
Lure the dog into position with food. When the dog has accomplished the behavior, give the Good Job sign and a treat from the other hand. After several repetitions, lure using an empty cue hand (no food) and continue to reward with the other hand. Do this until the dog reaches an 80% success rate of performing the behavior without the lure. After that, make the food rewards intermittent.