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Deaf Dog Behavior Problems: Tackling the Unique Challenges

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

deaf dog behavior problems

Deaf dogs, like any other dogs, may experience behavior problems. While it’s common for pet owners to be concerned or even overwhelmed with these challenges, it’s essential to understand that these dogs can still lead happy and fulfilling lives. With the right approach, training techniques, and patience, it’s possible to manage and even resolve many of their behavior problems.

Much like their hearing counterparts, hearing-impaired dogs exhibit a range of behaviors that need to be addressed through training and socialization. However, certain issues may be more prevalent in these dogs due to their lack of hearing, which can affect their communication and understanding of their surroundings. To get into the topic, we consulted deaf dog expert, Susan Cope Becker, author of Living with Deaf Dogs. So let’s delve in.

Key Takeaways

  • Deaf dogs can experience behavior problems but can still lead happy lives with proper training.
  • Recognizing the signs and symptoms of behavior problems in unhearing dogs is crucial for addressing them effectively.
  • Patience, understanding, and the use of appropriate training techniques can help manage and resolve many behavior problems.

On this topic, Susan cope says that, “it is obvious that these dogs will present more of a challenge to raise and manage than dogs with no impairment. Doing so takes greater effort and dedication on the part of the owners than with dogs without impairment.”

Realizing that your dog may be hearing impaired may be a slow burn. It starts as noticing them “ignoring” when you call their name, not knowing when you come home, being calm amidst surprisingly loud noises, the little things. This is especially true if the rescue establishment or breeder doesn’t inform you about the condition. Our article on dog hearing tests can help you if you suspect your dog has this impairment. 

By understanding potential behavior problems in non-hearing dogs and taking proactive steps to address them, we can help our canines lead happy, well-adjusted lives.

Understanding Deaf Dog Behavior

A deaf Boston Terrier running in a street can't heat people calling him

Deaf dogs can be and are wonderful companions, but they often face unique challenges that require special attention and understanding from their owners. We’ll sift through many myths that run rampant in the dog community that stigmatize these beautiful creatures. Some myths include claims that deaf dogs are more aggressive, stubborn, irritable, and unpredictable. 

To start, let’s remember that a your dog’s inability to hear doesn’t mean they don’t communicate or experience the world in a meaningful way. In fact, the main study we’ll use for this article shows that hearing or vision-impaired dogs overall behave quite similarly to their normal hearing and vision counterparts. 

Straight off the bat, this article disproves the rumor that hearing-impaired dogs are aggressive by showing they showed: 

  • Less aggression; 
  • Less excitement; and 
  • Even less poop rolling than dogs that can hear.

However, they did show: 

  • Increased licking;
  • Chewing; and 
  • Barking behavior. 

This can mean that hearing impaired dogs may suffer more anxiety and frustration as they struggle to understand the world around them.

Still, there’s no significant difference in their training capacity, although specialized training methods are necessary due to their sensory limitations. 

As an owner of a deaf dog myself, I can confirm that their impairment does little to their temperament and training. Except for the mini heart attacks you get any time a car comes remotely close, whether they’re leashed or unleashed. 

In fact, Lulu is quite the cartoon character. Her disability didn’t take a piece of her joy; she’s just happy to be here. Well, 95% of the time. Training is a ton of work and mostly seems pointless at first, but it’s all worth it.

To summarize, here are a few key points to keep in mind when it comes to understanding their behavior:

  • Hearing impaired dogs have many similarities to hearing dogs in their behavior;
  • Utilize visual cues and training techniques to address issues like excessive barking;
  • Be patient and adjust your communication methods to suit their needs; and
  • Create a safe environment and use gentle touch or vibrations to alert them of your presence.

Armed with this knowledge, we’re well-equipped to support our unhearing canine companions and effectively address any behavioral challenges that may arise. 

Signs and Symptoms of Dog Deafness

deaf whiter American Bulldog close up

We’ve gathered some common signs and symptoms of canine deafness that you might encounter. It’s important to be aware of these behaviors in order to effectively address them and maintain a healthy relationship with your canine.

 Keep in mind these symptoms can also present in dogs that aren’t deaf, so it’s essential to consult with a veterinarian if you notice any of these behaviors in your dog.

  • Inattentiveness: This dog might seem detached or unresponsive to your cues, like verbal commands or noises in their environment. This could manifest as a lack of focus or even appearing to ignore you. Our article on is my dog deaf or just ignoring me notes that constant disregard for cues is a telling sign of auditory disorders. 
  • Persistent barking: These pups dogs often bark more than hearing dogs because they don’t have the auditory feedback to regulate their vocal volume and intensity. This can lead to excessive or seemingly nonstop barking.
  • Startling easily: They can be particularly jumpy when they’re caught off guard. They might be more easily startled by sudden movements or touch, which means approaching them gently is key.
  • Anxiety: Deafness can contribute to anxiety in dogs, making them more prone to clinginess or separation anxiety. They might always want to be by your side or become particularly stressed when you’re not around.
  • Difficulty Waking Up: Your dog may have difficulty waking up from sleep, especially if they are not disturbed by other sensory stimuli.
  • Sleeping Through Loud Noises: If your dog doesn’t wake up or respond when there are loud noises, it could be an indication of deafness. They will also not respond to telephone rings or doorbells. 
  • Disorientation: The dogs might become disoriented, especially in unfamiliar surroundings, as they lack auditory cues to navigate.

One key warning sign that your dog may have hearing problems is if they belong to breeds and certain colors that are prone to genetic deafness. These are typically breeds that have a lot of white in their coat color. This can include white, harlequin, piebald or merle coat patterns in any dog. Breeds most prone to deafness include:

  • Boston Terriers;
  • Great Danes;
  • Argentinian Dogos;
  • Bull Terriers;
  • Dalmatian;
  • Australian Shepherds;
  • English Setters; and
  • English Cocker Spaniels.

It’s important to remember that every dog is unique, so your dog might not exhibit all these behaviors and any breed or color may have hearing problems, including older or senior dogs that may lose their hearing. But by staying aware of these common signs and symptoms, you’ll be better equipped to help your dog navigate life with as few behavior problems as possible.

Common Behavior Problems

Anxious sad white Australian Shepherd struggling with separation anxiety related to deaf dog behavior problems

Understanding the difficulties your impaired pup may have is paramount in coming up with solutions. Here are a few of them:

1. Excessive and Unusual Barking

One common issue in deaf dogs is the development of excessive barking. Without the ability to hear their own bark, they may have difficulty regulating their vocalizations. To address this behavior, we can use visual cues in tandem with training techniques. For example, a hand signal for “quiet” can be very effective. 


This particular outburst is because I wouldn’t let him chase after a bird. I’m also fairly sure my neighbors think I hurt my dogs and it’s all King’s fault🙄 #dogscream #deafdogscream #pittyscream #animalsounds #barkingscream #doggietempertantrum #poutypitty #weirdanimals #deafdog #specialneedsdog #mybigwhitepotato #albinopitt

♬ original sound – Kimberly

2. Not Coming When Called

Without the ability to hear us calling their names, these dogs may have difficulty coming when called. We can teach our dogs a visual cue, such as a hand signal or a flash of light, to help with this issue.

3. Startling

These dogs are more prone to startling since they can’t hear what’s happening around them. When they don’t hear an approaching person or animal, they may become startled and possibly react negatively. 

To help with this, it’s important to create a safe environment, as well as to communicate through vibrations or touch. We can gently touch the dog or give a small stomp on the ground to alert them of our approach.

4. Separation Anxiety

Non-hearing dogs may be prone to separation anxiety because they rely heavily on our presence for security. These dogs are reported to be more clingy and dependent on their human caregivers, thus causing separation anxiety, according to an Illinois State University study.

Gradually building up the time we spend apart can help them adjust and feel more comfortable. Signs include excessive excitement upon your return, destructive chewing, and vocalization when you leave.

5. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Unfortunately, hearing-impaired dogs can develop obsessive-compulsive behaviors such as spinning, tail-chasing, or excessive grooming. This is because they lack auditory stimulation, which is a huge aspect of a canine’s enrichment.

The ScienceDirect study we cited earlier confirmed an increased incidence of chewing, barking, and eating feces in 183 dogs. Providing mental stimulation and exercise can help alleviate these symptoms.

6. Anxiety

These canines can struggle to understand the world around them, which can lead to increased anxiety. It’s essential for us to recognize the signs of anxiety and provide them with a safe and comfortable environment.

7. Socialization Problems

Hearing impaired may face socialization challenges primarily because they rely heavily on visual and tactile cues rather than auditory signals. They may not know when another dog is giving a warning growl or barking at them or when a human wants them to back off, which complicates socialization. 

8. Attention Seeking

Deaf dogs might engage in attention-seeking behaviors such as excessive barking, jumping, or pawing at us. Reinforcing positive behavior and providing mental stimulation can help curb these actions.

9. Aggression

Sometimes, a startle response can lead to aggression. However, note that the factors contributing to the aggression have nothing to do with the deafness. These factors are like socialization, anxiety, and improper training, which would occur even if the dog wasn’t deaf.

Training Techniques

In this section, we’ll discuss two useful techniques that can make a significant difference when training your non-hearing dog: Visual Signals and Vibration Cues. This article by IAABC Foundation Journal has a real-time illustration of training a non-hearing dog, Milka.

Visual Signals

One of the most effective ways to communicate with an unhearing dog is by using visual signals. Research shows that even hearing dogs respond better to some kind of visual gesture coupled with their verbal cues. Let’s go over a few examples of how to incorporate these signals into your training routine.

Throughout the training process, consider using a vibrating collar to grab your dog’s attention from a distance or flash a light on and off if the dog is within sight. Establishing a unique signal for your dog to pay attention can be crucial to building a strong discipline foundation.

  • Hand Signals: Teach your dog to associate specific hand gestures with certain commands. For instance, a raised open palm can mean “stop,” while pointing to the ground can mean “lie down.” Make sure these signals are clear and consistent. You can make up your unique signals as you go along; just keep them the same. Reward after each

This trainer couples hand signals with lip reading of the same command:

  • Body Language: Be aware of your own body language – your dog will look for cues in the way you move. Make sure to use deliberate movements and clear facial expressions to communicate your commands.
  • Light Signals: Using a flashlight or other light source can be helpful for getting your dog’s attention, especially in low-light environments. A quick flash can mean “come here,” while a sustained light could mean “stay.”
  • Use bold and italic text to emphasize important concepts.

TABLE: Common Visual Signals

CommandHand SignalAdditional Cues
SitPalm up, bend at elbowNone
StayOpen palm front, arm straightNone
ComeBoth arms open wide, then close to your chestSmile

Vibration Cues

Vibration cues can also be an effective way to communicate with your dog. Here are some examples of vibrating tools that can help:

  1. Vibrating Collars: These collars can be remotely activated to give your dog a gentle vibration as a form of communication. This can be used to gain their attention before performing a hand signal or to signal specific commands.
  2. DIY Vibration Tools: If a vibrating collar is not an option, you could get creative with other vibrating objects, such as a remote-controlled toy or even a cell phone, to get your dog’s attention.

You can also use touch signals to further enrich your dog’s training. This includes touching your dog a certain way for a command. 

Remember to be patient and consistent when training your dog, as these techniques may take some time for your dog to understand fully. By using visual signals and vibration cues, you can help your dog overcome their hearing disability and lead a happy, well-behaved life.

The No For Excessive Barking

Here’s a simple guide on teaching your dog the hand sign for “no” if they bark too much:

  1. Choose a hand sign: Decide on a hand sign that’s easy for both you and your dog to remember.
  2. Command and reward: When your dog starts barking, show them the hand sign followed by a treat once they stop barking.
  3. Consistency: Always use the same hand sign and reward system to prevent confusion.
  4. Reinforcement: Practice the hand sign regularly to reinforce the behavior.

How To Socialize a Deaf Dog

To start socializing your dog, let’s begin with some techniques we can apply at home. One of the most important things to do is establish a routine. These dogs thrive on consistency, so scheduling feeding times, potty breaks, and play sessions can greatly help them.

As you continue with obedience training through visual cues, encourage everyone in the family to interact with the dog, using the same hand signals and techniques.

Outdoor Socialization

Once we’ve mastered our in-home techniques, let’s move on to outdoor socialization. Our goal is to expose the dog to as many new situations and environments as possible.

  1. Begin with short outings: Start with short, positive outings to places like a quiet park or a friend’s house with a friendly dog.
  2. Gradually increase socialization: Slowly expose your dog to busier environments, like dog parks, and introduce them to various dog breeds and people of all ages.
  3. Enroll in a training class: Consider enrolling our dog in a training class specifically designed for hearing impaired dogs. This can help with their socialization and keep them safe.

Remember, patience and consistency are crucial while working with your dog. With love and dedication, we can create a wonderful bond and help them become a well-socialized member of our family.

Living with a Deaf Dog

Home Safety Tips

We recommend creating a safe environment for your dog. Install baby gates to restrict access to certain areas, and use non-slip mats to prevent slips and falls. It’s a good idea to:

  • Secure cabinets: Lock up cleaning supplies and medications.
  • Avoid sharp objects: Keep dangerous objects out of reach.
  • Clear the area: Remove any potential hazards from their play area.

Safety in Public

When out and about, always use a leash or harness to maintain control. Opt for reflective gear for better visibility and consider a bright-colored collar or harness with “DEAF” or “DISABLED” printed on it.

Building a Routine

Establishing a routine can help your dog cope better in daily life. Stick to a consistent feeding schedule, regular walks, and playtime. Maintain consistent body language and visual cues for commands like “sit,” “stay,” and “come.”

Waking A Dog Up

Be mindful when waking up your dog. Gently blow on their bums, lay your hand on their shoulder, or stomp your feet to create vibrations. Avoid surprising them, as this can lead to anxiety and fear.

Guidelines for Children and Visitors

Educate children and visitors on how to interact safely with your dog. Some tips include:

  1. Avoid approaching from behind.
  2. Use gentle touch and hand signals to communicate.
  3. Respect the dog’s personal space.
  4. Avoid loud, sudden movements.

Keeping your dog from getting lost (and finding them)

To prevent your dog from getting lost, consider these steps:

  • Microchip: Ensure your dog has a functioning microchip with up-to-date information.
  • ID tag: Use a custom collar tag labeled with “DEAF.”
  • GPS tracker: Attach a GPS tracker to their collar.

If your dog does get lost, notify local animal shelters, veterinary clinics, and social media groups dedicated to lost pets.

How Do I Discipline A Deaf Dog?

We’ve all encountered challenges when it comes to discipline and training our pets. When it comes to our dogs, though, we need to take a different approach. In this section, we’ll provide some tips and suggestions for effectively disciplining your dog.

Our primary goal when disciplining a deaf dog is to ensure communication and trust remain strong. This means we need to rely on positive reinforcement to guide our dogs’ behavior. So, focus on rewarding good behavior until it sticks, and avoid using physical punishment. Our article on how to discipline a dog applies to these differently-abled pups.

Additionally, use “time-outs” wisely. If your dog engages in undesirable behavior, like biting or jumping, calmly separate them from the situation for a brief period (e.g. 1-2 minutes). Just remember that it’s crucial not to scare or physically punish them, as this can damage the trust you’ve built. This is especially true in dogs that can’t hear the tone in your voice or your verbal commands, so have even less reason than other dogs to understand what inappropriate behavior is.

Patience and consistency are essential when disciplining your dog. It may take time for your dog to understand and respond to new commands, but it’s worth the effort. If you’re feeling stuck, don’t hesitate to seek professional help or join a support group for other unhearing dog owners to share tips and advice.

Just remember that all dogs, deaf or not, can thrive with the right discipline and training structure.

Professional Help and Resources

Dealing with deaf dog behavior problems can be challenging for us, but there’s no need to tackle it alone. We can always turn to professional help and useful resources to support our journey with our beloved pets. 

Certified Dog Trainers and Behaviorists are our go-to solution for managing problematic behavior problems. These experts have extensive knowledge and experience dealing with dogs with disabilities, making them the perfect source of help. 

We can find certified trainers and behaviorists through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) or the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC).

Online Forums and Websites are valuable sources for obtaining information, sharing experiences, and asking questions about living with these pups. Popular dog forums include Deaf Dogs Rock and Deaf Dog Atlas, where we can connect with other dog owners and exchange tips or advice.

Deaf Dog Training Classes are tailored specifically for our dogs with hearing impairments, offering a specialized environment for them to learn. If you can’t find trainers who specialize in training deaf dogs near you, their are plenty of helpful courses online.

These classes take into consideration the unique needs and challenges these dogs face. We can look for local pet centers or specialized dog trainers offering specialized dog training classes.

As we work through our dog’s behavior challenges, remember that plenty of resources and professionals are available to help us along the way. We don’t have to navigate this journey alone – a supportive community and a wealth of knowledge await us.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How can I train my deaf dog not to bark excessively?

First, we need to understand why your dog is barking. It could be due to boredom, fear, or even attention-seeking. To address excessive barking, we can use positive reinforcement, such as treats or toys, to reward quiet behavior. We can also use hand signals or vibration collars to let them know when they should be quiet.

What are some effective ways to communicate with my deaf dog?

Deaf dogs rely on visual cues, so using hand signals and body language is key when communicating with them. Consistency is important, so make sure the whole family uses the same signals. You can also use tools like vibration or light-up collars to get their attention when they’re not looking at you.

Are deaf dogs more prone to aggression or anxiety?

Deaf dogs are not inherently more aggressive or anxious, but they may react differently to certain situations due to their inability to hear. It’s crucial to socialize and expose your dog to different environments and situations early on to help them build confidence and reduce anxiety.

How can I teach my deaf dog to respond to commands?

Training a deaf dog to respond to commands involves using consistent hand signals and rewarding them with treats, praise, or playtime. Be patient and use positive reinforcement techniques. You can also use a vibration collar to help get their attention before giving a command.

What accessories can help improve life for a deaf dog?

There are several useful accessories designed for deaf dogs, such as vibration collars, light-up or flashing toys, and even specialized dog tags indicating that your dog is deaf. These accessories can help keep your dog safe, make communication easier, and enhance their playtime.

How can I prevent my deaf dog from feeling overly attached?

Creating a predictable routine and providing mental stimulation can help prevent an overly attached dog. Encourage independence by providing puzzle toys, treat-dispensing toys, and activities that don’t always require your involvement. It’s also important to make sure your dog is comfortable being alone and not reliant on your constant presence.

Final Thoughts

Deaf dogs, like any other dogs, can have their fair share of behavioral problems like difficulty training, straddling, chewing, and excessive barking. However, with some patience, understanding, and a focused training approach, we can tackle these challenges effectively. Here’s a brief summary of what we have discussed.


Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe


Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.