By Debbie Bauer
I’m always amused when people find out my dogs are deaf. One of their first questions is, “Do they bark?” Oh yes, and boy, can they bark! Some deaf dogs have a very high-pitched bark. Some have a deeper bark.
You may hear that deaf dogs bark more than hearing dogs. Some people may even tell you this is because they can’t hear themselves so they don’t know they are barking.
The truth is that dogs bark! It is a trait specific to dogs. And deaf dogs are really just dogs that can’t hear. They still have all the behaviors, urges and needs that other dogs have. This includes their desire to communicate. Dogs communicate many things through barking – an alarm that someone or something is outside, to demand attention or other reinforcers, to invite play, out of boredom, from stress, and the list goes on. Deaf dogs are no different.
There is another truth involved here, and that is that you CAN teach a deaf (or blind/deaf) dog to be quiet when asked. And you don’t need a vibration/shock collar to do it! All you need is to set aside some time to actually teach your dog what you want. Here, let me tell you how I teach quiet.
The way I start to teach a dog to be quiet is by naming “quiet” when the dog is actually being quiet and then offer calm praise. I use one finger pressed to my lips as the quiet signal. With a blind-deaf dog, use a touch signal for quiet that is a finger placed gently on top of the dog’s muzzle.
When the dog is being quiet, give the quiet signal and then quickly give the good dog signal and a treat. I do this sequence several times while the dog is quiet. You are essentially naming for the dog what “quiet” is while they are already being quiet. This allows the dog to associate being quiet with the cue.
When the dog does bark (because it will happen), I am ready as soon as the dog stops barking (even if it’s only a quick pause) to give the quiet sign and then the good dog sign. I give a treat after the good dog sign. Chewing the treat helps to distract the dog from whatever it was barking at, which allows me to get more quiet signals practiced and reinforced in quick succession before the barking starts again. It also helps to more strongly reinforce the dog for being quiet.
Be sure not to give the quiet signal until the dog is quiet at this stage. You are teaching the dog what the quiet signal means, so you must be sure to only give it when your dog is quiet. Until your dog has really learned the quiet cue, practice naming and reinforcing it often whenever he is being quiet.
Be very sure when teaching quiet that you are not reinforcing the dog for barking. If your dog barks at you and you throw the toy, you are teaching him that barking gets him what he wants and he will be more likely to bark. If your dog barks at you and you give him part of your snack, or pet him, or open the door to let him outside, you are teaching him to bark more.
If you want a quiet dog household, focus on rewarding quiet dogs and not barking dogs. If you do, you will find less and less barking happening.
To begin using the quiet signal when your dog is barking, you will need to first get his attention if he’s not looking in your direction – waving your arm in the air in his line of sight may work, or a gentle tap to his body. When he looks at you, be ready to give the quiet signal quickly before he looks away.
If you’ve done your homework in using the quiet signal often and then giving a treat, your dog should at least pause and look at you expectantly. Reward quickly! If you wait, he may start to bark again because he’s excited about whatever he’s barking at. Continue to give the quiet signal and reward with several treats one at a time while he is quiet. And don’t forget the praise too!
What if your dog gets quiet with the initial quiet signal and eats his reward, and then turns back to barking again? Don’t let him continue to bark. Get back in there and interrupt the barking again by getting his attention back on you.
If he does not respond to your quiet signal at all, you will need to go back and review giving the signal and rewarding when he is already quiet. Your job is to make that quiet cue super important to your dog so he will pay attention to it.
As you continue to practice the quiet signal, you can gradually space out those treats to get longer periods of quiet between each one. Give the first treat right away when the dog gets quiet, and then pause for slightly longer periods of time before giving the next treat, etc. Do this step gradually. Only expect a few seconds of quiet between treats at first. If you try to move too quickly, your dog will start barking again in between treats.
You can build up the time as your dog is ready. Over time, you can give fewer treats, but rewarding the quiet now and then will help keep the behavior strong. Giving a quiet cue does not mean that your dog will never bark. Dogs bark. That’s something they do. A quiet signal will give you a way to communicate to your dog when you’d like him to stop barking.
And if you teach your dog to bark on signal, too, then when people ask you if deaf dogs bark, you can show them that yes, indeed, they do!
About the Author
Debbie Bauer, HTACP, operates Your Inner Dog in the Effingham, Illinois area and has over 25 years of teaching and consulting experience working with dogs and their people. She specializes in working with dogs that display shy, fearful and reactive behaviors and also has extensive experience working with dogs with special abilities, including deaf and blind/deaf dogs. Bauer has trained dogs in a variety of fields, including therapy work, flyball, herding, print ad and media work, obedience, rally, agility, musical freestyle, conformation, lure coursing, tricks and scent work. She has over 13 years of experience with custom-training assistance dogs, including medical alert dogs, to match the specific needs of each person. Her special interest lies in educating the public about dogs which are homozygous merle (often called double merle), and about how deaf, blind, and deaf/blind dogs can live happy fulfilled lives as part of a family.