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Living with a deaf dog: An update on Alan


alan corrected.jpgI wrote previously about my experience adopting my dog Alan, a 2-year-old deaf flat-coated retriever mix who’d spent the past year in rescue. Here’s an update, in honor of Deaf Dog Awareness Week.

Alan has been part of the family for about six weeks now and we’re settling into a nice routine. He has calmed down significantly and clearly is starting to feel at home. Recently he has begun barking when strangers pull into the driveway, which I think is a sure sign he now views this home as his territory.

His housetraining has come along well — as long as I’m vigilant about keeping a schedule and listening to him when he asks to go out. Unfortunately, 5 a.m. seems to be a potty time no matter when we go to bed. On the positive side, I’ve been enjoying the early autumnal sunrises.

His deafness does present some interesting challenges for training. The biggest obstacle, I find, is the inability to firmly establish an ongoing “No” and “Good” dialog. With previous dogs I’ve relied heavily on this, but with Alan it’s difficult.

We have signs for these things, but I’m never completely sure if he
understands them, and of course he needs to be looking at me to see
them. I do have plenty of chances to tell him “No,” as he is an avid
counter surfer and enjoys shopping in the trash cans. When I take his
hard-earned prizes away, he looks completely surprised and dismayed.

I’ve found it’s important to talk and interact with Alan as if he can
hear. I treat him exactly like my other dog. At first this seemed kind
of silly, but it really is essential to bonding, and he does pick up on
the body language and non-verbal pieces of the communication. It has
become natural for me and I encourage visitors to do the same.

that he has acclimated to his new home, we’ll begin training in earnest. I’ll be ordering a vibration collar and getting down
to work. He has already learned to sit, lie down, stay and come, but
he views these as highly optional and only worth the effort with the
proper incentive. Distance recall is my top priority. I’m also going
to start socializing him, as he can be a little skittish and seems to be
becoming too exclusively bonded to me.

For anyone contemplating
adopting a deaf dog, I would recommend it without hesitation. You need
to be willing to put a little more effort into training, but otherwise
they are fine pets and companions. Too many of these dogs are looking
for good homes and are too often overlooked.

For more information about living with and training deaf pets, visit the Deaf Dog Education Action Fund at

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