Deaf dogs have the same desire for mental stimulation, fun, and social interaction as any other dog. While they may not hear, deaf dogs use their nose as their primary sense and can learn to compensate for their disability in other ways through active enrichment.
Congenital deafness can be found in any breed but the most commonly affected breeds are Dalmatians, Bull Terriers, Australian Cattle Dogs, English Setters, English Cocker Spaniels, Boston Terriers, and Parson Russell Terriers.
Enrichment activities for a deaf dog include; teaching sign language, scent work games, social activities, obedience and dog sport training. A deaf dog can lead a full and active life with the proper care and attention.
Below you’ll find a guide to some easy enrichment ideas that you can use to entertain and teach your deaf dog. These activities are designed to address each level of your dog’s enrichment, from mental stimulation and social interaction to employment and games. Keep reading to learn much more about how to keep your deaf dog happy and mentally healthy.
Teach Your Deaf Dog Sign Language
Probably the best enrichment activity you can undertake with your deaf dog is teaching them hand signals and sign language. Aside from making it much easier for you to communicate with your dog, there are also several other benefits of teaching a dog communication based on sign language.
Here are some of the reasons why sign language is an enriching activity for dogs:
- It allows you to housebreak them more easily. With a deaf puppy, it might be harder for you to get your point across when you’re trying to teach them about housebreaking and when they should let you know they need to go out. By associating the act of going out with a hand signal and positive reinforcement, it’s easier to teach the dog to do it.
- It opens up a world of obedience training. Many dogs that can hear are still taught with verbal and hand signals in combination because it helps dogs learn obedience behaviors faster to have a hand signal associated with verbal cues. Deaf dogs can learn to read both hand signals and your lips in unison to understand what you want them to do.
Your deaf dog lives in a silent world, which means that visual cues are that much more important for them to communicate with humans. Teaching them visual commands gives them a basic language to work in so that you and other people can tell your deaf dog what to do.
Play Physical Games with Your Deaf Dog
Just because your dog can’t hear doesn’t mean it can’t play the same games that other dogs play. Most of the games that dogs enjoy most are simple and don’t require a bunch of training to master. Here are a few physical games you can play with your deaf dog to entertain them:
- Hide-and-seek: Teaching a dog how to play hide-and-seek involves teaching them to find the hidden toys and treats. Use a hand signal to indicate ‘find it’. You can use the instructions here to teach this game.
- Tug-of-war: Tug-of-war is a great activity to play with any dog, but it’s an especially good game for high-energy dogs that need tiring out. Tug-of-war is also a good game to play with deaf dogs since it is easily initiated by dragging a toy in front of a dog’s nose or shaking it around playfully in front of them. Here’s a guide to playing tug-of-war without inducing aggression.
- Fetch: Fetch is a game that many dogs are drawn to naturally, so it’s one your deaf dog is likely to enjoy. Teaching a deaf dog to play fetch is only slightly more difficult than teaching a hearing dog since you’ll have to get your dog’s attention visually before you throw the object.
Teaching deaf dogs to play the same games as other dogs may require added patience since it might take them a little longer to catch on to the rules of the game. However, once a deaf dog understands the game, they’re usually capable of playing just as well as dogs that can hear.
Do Scent Work with Your Deaf Dog
Scent work is recommended as an enrichment activity for all dogs, but it’s an especially good choice for deaf dogs. Deaf dogs have to rely even harder on their senses of sight, smell, touch and taste to get around in the world, and as a result these other senses become very heightened.
Scentwork activity is designed to mimic how detection dogs are trained to find drugs, bombs, or other contraband hidden in packages or luggage. It’s also how rescue dogs are trained to find cadavers and survivors in natural disasters and other emergency situations.
Nose work is taught to dogs through the following process:
- Teaching the dog to identify the desired scent
- Teaching the dog to seek the desired scent out
The tools used to teach a dog scent work are simple. All you need is a new, gentle, scent that isn’t usually in your house and some small containers with holes. The recent course I did used marzipan as the training scent. You can read about the steps we took in training nosework from scratch in this article.
Provide Social Enrichment for Your Deaf Dog
Since deaf dogs can’t hear, it’s even more important that they’re exposed to plenty of social interaction with other dogs and with people. Not being able to hear can cause some dogs to become fearful if they aren’t taught confidence early on. A good way to make a deaf dog more confident is to teach them how to greet the world in a friendly and easygoing way.
Here are a few ways you can provide social enrichment to your deaf dog (Source: Whole Dog Journal):
- Get your deaf dog around other dogs. If you don’t have any other dogs in your household, this can be accomplished by taking your dog to a dog park, enrolling them in classes with other dogs, or having play dates between your dogs and their canine friends. Exposure to other dogs can help keep deaf dogs from being afraid of them.
- Get your dog around other people. Getting multiple people to interact with your dog, direct them with hand signals, and reward them with treats makes it easier for anyone you trust to handle your dog whether you’re around or not. Since dogs enjoy meeting new people, this is fun for your dog and a good training exercise.
- Get your dog a companion. If you have to spend long hours away from home during the day, consider adopting another dog to keep your dog company. Two dogs aren’t much more difficult to care for than one, and your dog will get more social interaction during the day.
With any dog, providing social enrichment is crucial when it comes to making sure your dog can interact peacefully with other dogs and people. Socialising deaf dogs is easier to do when they’re puppies so they can learn to be socially confident at a young age. Otherwise, their disability may make them shy towards other dogs as they get older.
Give Your Deaf Dog Toys and Puzzles
Like dogs that can hear, deaf dogs need mental stimulation as part of their daily enrichment. Toys and treat puzzles both provide stimulation in the following ways:
- Mental activity: Puzzles encourage a dog to think and solve problems. This can help keep them occupied and keep their minds alert.
- Physical touch: Tactile sensation for a deaf dog is heightened since they have to overcompensate for their lack of hearing. Toys with different textures for them to mouth and paw at provides an outlet for their primal drive to manipulate captured prey.
The good thing about providing toys and puzzles for your dog as enrichment activities is that they can engage in these activities even if you aren’t home to do it with them. This can help prevent your deaf dog from becoming bored or anxious in your absence whenever you’re away from home without them. Try my ideas for a Destruction Box or the Muffin Tin Game which are easy DIY activities you can do at home. And here are 100 DIY toys you can make and play with together.
Give Your Deaf Dog a Varied Diet
Enriching a deaf dog involves engaging the dog’s other senses more strongly. One of those senses that is often neglected is their sense of taste.
While many people feed their dog the same food day in and day out, many veterinarians also recommend rotation feeding. This is the practice of letting dogs eat a varied diet by regularly swapping out their food for a different kind. (Source: PetMD)
For some people, this means occasionally changing up the main protein in their dog’s food from chicken to turkey or fish. For others, it can involve making homemade dog food.
Here are some benefits of varying a dog’s diet to increase its enrichment value:
- Treats to deal with temperature: If the weather is hot, offering chilled or frozen treats can provide some relief from the heat, while offering warm beef broth in cold weather can help bolster dogs against wind and snow.
- Prevents pickiness: Feeding a dog one specific type of food constantly can cause them to refuse other types of food. This makes it more difficult to feed your dog if for some reason you can’t access the food they normally eat. In this way, switching up a dog’s diet can act as desensitisation to new flavours and textures.
Varying your deaf dog’s diet is a way to engage their senses with new experiences that don’t depend on their sense of hearing for them to enjoy. It’s also a good way for you to identify new favourite foods that you can use as high value treats during obedience and other training.
Change Your Deaf Dog’s Environment
Along with engaging your deaf dog’s sense of taste and touch, you’ll want to make a point to have them interact with new environments and situations. New places provide sensory stimuli in all of the senses (other than hearing for deaf dogs, of course) and can also give dogs something new to think about, providing mental stimulation.
If you think about it, it makes sense that dogs would be highly engaged by the activity of exploring in a new environment or engaging with familiar territory in a ritualistic way. Dogs have evolved over hundreds of years to patrol territory – first on their own in packs as wolves, and then later with humans as hunting partners.
Here are a few ways you can change up your deaf dog’s environment to provide enrichment that they’ll enjoy:
- Take your deaf dog on regular walks. This is good for training and bonding with your dog. There are very few dogs that don’t enjoy going on a good long walk. Walking a regular route through the neighborhood can provide security to the dog and also allow them to simulate patrolling their home territory.
- Take your deaf dog hiking. Hiking gives your dog lots of new things to smell, taste, touch, and see. It’s also a good source of exercise for dog and owner alike. Make sure that the hiking trail you’ve chosen is dog friendly and secure your dog on a leash before taking them hiking with you. Here’s some great hiking tips and spots in the UK.
- Take your dog to the store. There are many more stores now that allow leashed, well-mannered dogs to accompany their owners. For your dog, these stores are very good practice for learning how to behave well in public, but they’re also a good chance to see and experience new things. Most pet shops will allow you to go in with your dog.
It’s helpful to make sure your dog has learned some basic obedience before you try taking them out into public so that you can keep them calm. You should also always keep your deaf dog on a leash since if they get loose and run off, they won’t hear you calling them.
Give Your Deaf Dog a Job
For deaf breeds that are high-energy and trained to be working dogs the combination of deafness and the desire to work can be frustrating.
The best way to prevent working breeds and other high-energy deaf dogs from acting out is to give them a job. While it seems counter-intuitive to give your dog a job for their enjoyment, dogs get a great deal of satisfaction from accomplishing tasks in tandem with people.
Here are a few ways you can give your dog a job:
- Get them a backpack. Giving your dog a backpack for them to carry their own water or snacks on a walk or hiking trail can make your dog feel like they’re contributing to the group. It can also help them burn off excess energy. Teaching your deaf dog the hand signal for “Stand” can be useful in teaching them to stay still while you strap them down.
- Make them a therapy dog. For deaf dogs that have a calm or gentle disposition, therapy can be a great way for both dog and owner to give back to their community. A deaf dog can provide lots of comfort at hospitals, hospices, nursing homes, and schools for the deaf as a deaf advocate.
- Certify them in search and rescue. While it might be a bit more difficult for a deaf dog to get their certification in search and rescue, it is a task that deaf dogs could potentially excel at since they have to rely much more strongly on their sense of smell. (Source: Search and Rescue Dogs of the United States)
- Put them in a sport. There are tons of dog sports available such as flyball or agility that a deaf dog can participate in as easily as a dog with hearing as long as they’re trained through the use of visual cues. After a dog has been trained using visual cues, the dog will look to their owner to provide more commands or information in competition.
- Teach them tricks. Tricks might seem silly and useless, but the more tricks and commands a dog learns, the easier it is for the dog to communicate with its owner (and vice versa). This extra layer of attention and communication is crucial with deaf dogs since they aren’t able to hear their owners give verbal commands. Here’s my 100 ideas for tricks to choose from.
Without interactions from the outside world, deaf dogs run the risk of becoming insular and introverted in their personality. While a little shyness isn’t a problem, high-strung deaf dogs can become fearful or anxious if you don’t go out of your way to encourage them.
Extracurricular activities like sports, tricks, and volunteer work can do wonders to boost their confidence.
Since they’re deprived of their hearing, deaf dogs need to have their other senses engaged even more strongly to help develop them as they grow and so that they can be properly socialised. Spending the time to work with your deaf dog and provide varied enrichment can make a huge difference in their overall behavior and happiness.