Yes, deaf dogs can be trained! Contrary to popular belief, deaf dogs do not have diminished mental capabilities. Just because a dog cannot hear does not mean he cannot be trained just as well as a hearing dog. They are smart and process information, cues and signals, make associations and connect behaviours with consequences. They experience emotions like any other dog and form bonds and friendships. They have likes and dislikes, as all hearing dogs do.
The principles for training a deaf dog are the same as for a dog that can hear; it’s just the approach that differs and there are other behaviours and activities we focus on in more depth, i.e. getting and maintaining focus, fostering confidence and independence, reducing startle responses to sudden tactile stimulation or movements and effective recalls. To train deaf dogs, we use the principles of clicker training, but instead of using a clicker; we use a visual marker, which can either be in the form of a hand signal or the flash of a small hand sized torch.
The time to start training your deaf dog is now! Be it a puppy or shelter dog that you just acquired or your older dog that is losing his hearing.
In my experience whilst working with owners of deaf dogs is that they are so very committed to training, that their dogs always performed better than the hearing dogs in class, because the understanding is there that they just cannot verbally communicate to their dogs to come or to distract them from doing something. And yes, we had deaf dogs in group classes. They were also given the opportunity to experience the world like any hearing dog, with a few adjustments here and there to keep them safe. Before a deaf dog can join a group class, a few private sessions are done. If you prefer, we can continue with private training sessions.
Humans are a verbally orientated specie, dogs on the other hand are much more visually orientated, which is evident when interacting with them. Just the slightest change in a forward motion towards your dog, can elicit a dog to move backwards. Dogs rely a lot on body language to interpret a context. Whilst training a deaf dog, we focus a lot on our body posture, hand signals and facial expressions. I encourage people to still talk to and praise their dogs as if they are hearing dogs, this way the accompanying facial expression can be observed by your dog.