Tips for owning a deaf or blind dog
Living with a deaf or blind dog can be very rewarding. Find out how to care for and train them so you build a bond.
Whether they have been that way since birth, or have lost their hearing or sight through age, illness or accident, dogs are amazing at adapting. Living with and training a blind or deaf dog can be a hugely rewarding experience.
The level of your dog’s disability might vary. They might be completely deaf or blind, or just have reduced ability. Either way, considerate communication will help your dog to understand the world around them. This, in turn, will help them to live happily alongside you.
As with any dog, it’s important to be consistent with any rules and routines you have put in place for them. This is especially important with deaf and blind dogs. They are likely to be more easily startled, so it’s helpful for them to be able to predict what is going to happen.
Make sure you can recognise signs of fear or anxiety in your dog. Being able to recognise how your dog is feeling will help you to respond appropriately. Our body language page describes signs to look out for.
Five tips for living with your deaf dog
Here's how to make life better for you and your pooch.
1) Be considerate
Like all dogs, deaf dogs will be startled if touched when they are not expecting it, so avoid disturbing them when they’re asleep. But deaf dogs will require similar consideration even when awake. You need to gently get their attention without scaring them. Gaining a deaf dog’s attention when they aren’t looking at you can be a challenge!
Where possible, move your position so that you are in their line of vision. You could also try using light as a way to get their attention. But be careful not to shine the light directly into their eyes.
2) Let them know where you are
Deaf dogs might worry about where you are if you leave the room without them seeing. It might be helpful to move past them on your way out so they can watch where you go. Or you could use a signal like opening and closing the door. Deaf dogs can feel vibrations and can over time learn what these mean within the environment. They might learn to link the vibration of a door opening with you coming into a room.
3) Make touch positive
Dogs communicate through touch, and deaf dogs even more so, so it needs to be a positive experience. Try not to interact with your dog when you are feeling frustrated or angry. They are likely to sense this feeling from you and become worried or confused as they can’t understand why you’re feeling this way.
4) Let others know what your dog needs
Don’t allow people to come straight over and pet your dog. Always allow your dog to see the person first and approach the person in their own time if they choose to.
5) Keep your dog on a lead in public
This will minimise the risk of them getting into difficulty, lost or confused.
Training your deaf dog
As with any dog, you will need plenty of patience and time for training, but you will need to tweak your method for your deaf dog — it is crucial that your dog can see you when you give instructions.
As deaf dogs can’t hear us, we need to use hand signals and facial expressions to communicate with them. Thankfully, these are easy to incorporate into our training. It may feel strange but speaking to a deaf dog and using positive facial expressions, such as smiling, can help them understand.
Take a look at our guide to introducing a marker to your dog for more advice. A marker is a clear signal that tells your dog that they’ve got it right and can be really helpful when training them to do something new. An obvious hand signal such as a ‘thumbs up’ can be a useful marker for a deaf dog.
Teaching deaf dogs to respond to clear visual signals will help to make their lives easier. Whatever you are teaching your dog to do, make sure you always use the same arm or hand movements. Make sure everyone involved in teaching your dog knows to give the same signals, so that communication is consistent.
How to teach a deaf dog to sit
Show your dog a tasty treat.
Slowly lift the treat over their head so that they tilt their head backwards to follow it. Their bottom should naturally go down at the same time.
As soon as their bottom touches the floor, use the ‘thumbs up’ marker and reward them by giving them the treat.
You now have a hand signal that tells your dog you would like them to sit, and that this will be rewarded.
Six tips for living with your blind dog
Expert advice from arranging your home environment to going outside.
1) Make your environment accessible
At home, try to keep your furniture in the same place so that your dog can get used to where everything is. Help your dog stay safe by padding sharp corners, such as on coffee tables.
You can also place mats next to entrances and exits or under water and food bowls to help your dog learn to feel for these places with their feet. You can warn your blind dog about obstacles in the environment by using a special word, such as “careful”, when they look like they might knock into something.
With repetition, they will learn to slow down and feel around with their feet when they hear you say “careful”.
2) Be considerate
Like all dogs, blind dogs will be startled if touched when they are not expecting it, so avoid disturbing them when they’re asleep. When they’re awake, call your dog’s name first so they know you are there and wanting to interact.
3) Let them know where you are
Blind dogs may become anxious if you leave the room without them noticing, so tell your dog that you’re leaving. You can use a special word or phrase such as “back soon”.
4) Make touch positive
Dogs communicate through touch, and blind dogs even more so, so it needs to be a positive experience. Try not to interact with your dog when you are feeling frustrated or angry. They are likely to sense this feeling from you and become worried or confused as they can’t understand why you’re feeling this way.
5) Let others know what your dog needs
Don’t allow people to come straight over and pet your dog. Always allow your dog to approach a person in their own time and only if they choose to. It is a good idea to let other people know that your dog is blind, so they can avoid making them jump.
6) Keep your dog on a lead in new places
This will reduce the risk of them getting hurt, lost or confused. Blind dogs will get used to their usual environment but might struggle in new and unfamiliar places. Keep them on a lead and go slowly so they can get a feel for where they are.
Training your blind dog
As with any dog, you will need plenty of patience and time for training, but you will need to tweak your method for your blind dog – you need to give constant verbal reassurance.
You’ll also need to use your imagination in how to use sound and scent. Dogs have incredibly sensitive hearing and smell; these senses are important for all dogs, but especially for blind dogs.
Take a look at our guide to introducing a marker to your dog for more advice. A marker is a clear signal that tells your dog they’ve got it right and can be really helpful when training them to do something new.
This can be a particular word or even a sound, but it needs to be one that your dog is unlikely to hear at other times, so they don’t get confused.
Clear verbal instructions (or cues) are so important when training blind dogs. It is essential that everyone involved in training your dog uses the same words consistently for each instruction.
How to teach a blind dog to sit
Say the word 'sit'. This is your verbal cue.
Hold a treat near your dog’s nose so that they can smell it, then slowly lift it over their head. Their bottom should naturally go down as they follow the treat with their nose.
As soon as their bottom touches the floor, use your verbal marker (for example, “nice”) and reward them by giving them the treat.
Always speak to your blind dog and tell them what you’re doing so they can feel safe and connected to you. Remember to keep training sessions short and fun.