Q: We fell in love with a deaf English setter puppy available for adoption through a rescue group. If we adopt her, will we be able to train her?
A: Yes. Deafness is inherited in many breeds, and with consistent training, these dogs mature into wonderful family pets.
You’ll teach your pup using hand signals. Dogs communicate with each other through body language, so hand signals are actually easier for them to understand than spoken words.
Supplement the standard hand signals used in dog obedience training with American Sign Language (ASL), so your dog will know the signs for “go potty,” “car” and other common words.
Use only positive reinforcement, including treats, your sign for “good” (thumbs up or the ASL sign), smiles and pats on the shoulder. Punishment and other aversive methods are less effective and lead to aggression in some dogs.
To get your pup’s attention indoors, stomp your feet on the floor and then give her a hand signal. To call her outside, use a flashlight or laser pointer, or turn the porch light off and on.
Join a group training class where the instructor can give you individual attention. Group training will help your dog learn to pay attention to you and ignore the distractions of other dogs and people in the area.
Her identification tag should say DEAF and give your phone number and address. When she’s outdoors, she should be on a leash or inside a fenced yard.
Lee Pickett, V.M.D. practices companion animal medicine in Pennsylvania. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.