Maryanne is training her dog, Emma. So far, Emma has learned to sit, stay, heel, and leave it on command. 

By the way, Emma is deaf. So, how is Maryanne training her if she can’t hear commands? The quick answer: almost the same way you train hearing dogs!

While there are a few extra things to consider, deaf dog training means switching your commands from verbal to visual. When you think about it, a hearing dog has no idea what the word “sit” means. To them, it’s a specific sound for which they have learned to sit. 

You could use the phrase “pork chop,” and your dog would still sit! It’s not the word’s meaning that matters — it’s the sound. Your dog can just as easily learn visual cues!

You can use a deaf dog’s remaining senses to lead them. Your deaf puppy can play, bond with you, and enjoy a good walk just as much as any hearing dog! 

What Causes Deafness in Dogs?

Some puppies are born deaf. They may have been exposed to some toxin or infection before birth, or it may be congenital deafness. It appears more often in dogs with white fur and skin, and it can be associated with inadequate blood supply to the cochlea while the ears are still closed. 

In the United States, the Dalmatian has the highest rate of deafness (8% in both ears, 22% in one ear). Other deafness-prone breeds include Australian Cattle Dogs, English Setters, Bull Terriers, and Whippets. 

For any breed, deafness can suddenly or gradually appear later in life due to illness, injury, or the complications of aging. However, these dogs tend to adjust to thIS new condition quickly! 

Dog with hearing impaired

How Can You Tell if Your Dog Is Deaf?

Responses to Noise

The call of their name, the crinkling of the treat pouch, the squeal of a toy, the ring of a doorbell — we all know what has our dogs headed our way or starting a barking frenzy. When your dog does not respond to these stimuli, they may be deaf or losing their hearing.

Use a simple test for this possibility. When your dog is looking away from you or unaware you’re there, make a soft noise. Gradually increase the noise level or try other types of noise.

BAER — Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response — is a formal test vets use, complete with headphones and electrodes. This test records the brain’s reactions to sounds. 

Things To Work On Before Teaching Obedience Commands

Attention Signals

Although we can hear sound from any direction, we can only see what is in front of our eyes. The same holds true for dogs. Your dog has to learn to focus on you. 

Establish a visual signal (or signals) that will get your dog’s attention, such as:

  • Gentle touch: Always touch in the same spot. 
  • Light signals: A flashlight works best at night.
  • Laser pointer: It will show in daylight, but avoid flashing it in your dog’s eyes. 
  • Vibrating collar: It emits a gentle vibration.

When the dog makes eye contact with you, immediately give them a treat. Also, encourage “check-in” behavior, where you and the dog occasionally make eye contact so you can let them know that everything is okay or that there is something you want them to do.

Startle Training

If your dog can’t hear you approaching them, you may startle or frighten them when you touch them. You can desensitize them by repeatedly pairing a gentle touch with a treat.

Dog training process

Techniques for Training a Deaf Dog

Obedience training is the same as that for a hearing dog, except you use visual commands.

Hand Signals

You can use any hand signals you’d like for training for each command as long as the dog can see it, and no two signals are too much alike. 

For example, some people use American Sign Language. To the dog, though, it doesn’t matter any more than a hearing dog cares what the formal definition of the word “sit” is. It must mean to the dog, “If I sit when I see this signal, I’ll get a treat!” 

Training with hand signals is the same as training a hearing dog in the sound of words. It helps to use hand signals that require one hand so your other hand is free to hold the leash. Repeat often, be consistent, and reward when they get it right.

It doesn’t hurt to also say the corresponding words. The dog can’t hear them, but speaking them affects your body language, which the dog can sense. It will reinforce what you’re trying to teach them.

Teach family members and friends these signals so they can communicate with your dog, too.

Leash and Collar

Using a leash and a collar helps direct your dog’s attention and can be helpful when recalling your dog back to you. A vibrating collar is not a shock collar! The latter will frighten and hurt your dog. 

Instead, a gentle vibration will work like a tap on the shoulder and tell the dog you want them to focus on and return to you. 


Use lots of rewards in your training sessions. Whatever motivates your dog — tasty treats, a favorite squeaky toy, or something else — use it repeatedly when they do something right. Dogs are smart. They will catch on quickly! 


Many deaf dogs can do most things other hearing dogs can do. But some things need your extra attention. First, keep your dog on a leash outside if the area is not a fenced yard. Deaf dogs cannot hear oncoming traffic, another dog headed their way, or other warning sounds. As a result, they need help determining whether people or other dogs are friendly

When you can, let others know your dog is deaf, and teach them how to approach them without startling or frightening them. 

Training a dog who lost hearing

Unsure How To Handle Deaf Dogs? K9 Basics Is Here To Help!

Training any dog can be overwhelming for some dog owners. Not everyone knows where to start or what exactly to do. It’s okay if you need some help, so call on K9 Basics! Our professional trainers are well-versed in teaching deaf dogs using visual commands. We will help you understand what your dog needs and how to establish a set of commands you can consistently use!

A deaf dog can have a wonderful life. With a few extra steps and solid leadership from you, your deaf dog can learn to feel safe and loved in your home and socialize comfortably outside. 

Contact us for an appointment. We’re here for you! Give us a call at (866) 592-2742 or, if you’re from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, or New York, visit us at 131 Kenilworth Road, Marlton, New Jersey 08053, to learn more about our dog training services. Also, browse our blog and social media for various topics about dogs and their lives with us!