CPT Training a Deaf Dog

CPT Training a Deaf Dog

Training a deaf dog requires an expertise not possessed by all trainers or training companies.  This articles will tell the story of T-Bone.

T-Bone is a 3-year old American Bulldog Mix or Pit Bull (his origin is uncertain) that was recently rescued by a client.  However, to her dismay our client found that T-Bone jumped on her frequently during greeting, pulled on-leash, mouthed her hands, didn’t know obedience commands, and obsessively mounted dog playmates.

T-Bone is friendly to man and animal.  Nevertheless, his high energy level and his lack of impulse control reduced the pleasure our client received from his company.  In addition, some dogs took umbrage to his mounting behavior.

To compound the difficulty in designing his lesson plan, T-Bone is a deaf dog.  Therefore, due to a busy work schedule and the complexity of training, our client opted for CPT’s board train program.

Relationship Building and Focused Attention:

To compensate for T-Bone’s hearing impairment it is essential we start the board train process with relationship building.  Before we commence intense training, we need T-Bone to trust the trainer, feel secure amidst the trainer, and receive indisputable enjoyment from playtime and sustenance activities with the trainer.

Then, once a bond develops, we concentrate on focused attention training.  The attention process is different with a deaf dog than for a sensory-able dog.  With a normal hearing dog we likely would use a clicker to teach focused attention.  However, the auditory stimulus of the clicker is imperceptible to T-Bone.  Consequently, we may initially use the olfactory stimulus of food, tactile stimulation (touch), or a visual stimulus (e.g., hand signal) to attract his attention.  Subsequently, whenever T-Bone responds with focused attention, either post the onset of the cue stimulus or spontaneously, we reward him with praise and a treat.  Even though he can’t hear the praise, he can see the human smile that accompanies the praise.  Moreover, when praising, the trainer is more likely to naturally smile when delivering the treat.

Obedience Training for a Deaf Dog via Hand Signals:

CPT Training a Deaf Dog
T-Bone performing a Sit-Stay while board trained with CPT Trainer Megan Sinteff Jefferson

Next, once T-Bone establishes a mutually productive rapport with the trainer and spontaneously remains highly attentive without a large amount of extrinsic aid, we progress to teaching him obedience commands.  With most board train dogs we emphasize verbal commands.  However, with a deaf dog, we exclusively use hand signals.


Initially, we introduce the hand signal in close proximity and in conjunction with a physical prompt that facilitates the correct behavior.  For instance, with Sit we place a treat from his nose to behind his head so that he naturally sits when following the food with his eyes.  We then praise and treat him once he completes the desired behavior.

Once he is proficient with the trainer proximal, we hide the treat and use it as a reward, as opposed to a lure.  We also move progressively more distant from T-Bone.  Concurrently, we highlight the hand signal movement as the germane stimulus.  The Sit hand signal is usually the right hand moving in a sweeping motion.  The hand starts downward, swings upward, and ends in a right angle with the palm facing the dog, the forearm vertical, and the upper arm horizontal.  Optimally, we hope T-Bone sits reliably and responsively when seeing the signal from a distance as great as 50 feet.


With Down, we first use a pointing left hand signal with a treat in the left hand.  We may also move the treat underneath T-Bone’s chest, which facilitates a lowering of the head, a relaxation of verterbral musculature, contraction of the elbow, and rotation of the hip.  The describe progression cooperatively produces a reclined position.  Once T-Bone is fully down, with his elbows touching the ground, we praise and deliver the treat.  Even though a deaf dog can not hear praise, he can emotionally recognize praise.

Next, we add a conjoined signal with the right hand that immediately precedes the left hand signal, where the right hand and arm point outward and toward T-Bone in a slightly raised European salute.  Once T-Bone appears to recognize the right hand/arm signal we wean the left hand signal.  We replace the downward pointing signal with the upward signal, since the upward signal is easier to see at a distance.  Then, when T-Bone is proficient up close with the right hand signal, we gradually add distance until T-Bone is competent from a distance of 50 feet.  Moreover, a deaf dog is more apt to employ eyesight to compensate for his auditory sensory limitation.


With Come we use a right hand signal where the the right arm starts extended horizontal to the ground.  Then, the palm moves inward to touch the handler’s chest.  In the final position the entire forearm is parallel to the ground and across the handler’s body.  We start with the leash in the left hand and a treat in the right hand.  While showing the treat and delivering the signal we happily running backward.  We then praise and treat when T-Bone follows us.  If T-Bone is confused, we may use light pressure on the leash to educate him regarding the proper movement.

Once T-Bone is proficient with us starting next to him, we add distance and wean the treat as a lure. However, we still use food as a reward for exemplary performance.  Concurrently, we wean running backward as a physical lure.  As we add distance, we may also add a long line to help T-bone succeed during the more difficult stages.  Once T-Bone is reliable and responsive from a distance of 50-feet, we then start close again, albeit in a distracting environment.  During the last step we add distance amidst the distracting environment.

Nevertheless, when apart from a safe, fenced environment, we recommend keeping a deaf dog proximal to the handler whenever possible.  The dog is less likely to remain attentive to the handler when distant.  And even if the deaf dog comes reliably when attentive, while at a distance the probability of adherence is reduced, which may raise safety issues.


With Walk, we use a hand signal where the left hand moves from a downward position, alongside the body of the handler, to a 90 degree position aimed forward.  In essence, the Walk hand signal points the deaf dog forward.  We may start with a treat in the hand to encourage T-Bone to follow.  Initially, we keep the treat in view (about hip high) to encourage proper heel position.  Heel position entails T-Bone’s right∫¨ shoulder remaining even with the handler’s left leg.  T-Bone receives a treat reward whenever he remains in position and delivers upward attention.  Alternatively, we implement minor response blocking corrections with the leash/collar whenever T-Bone moves outside of heel position.  Once T-Bone is proficient, we move the treat from a lure to a reward.  We also require he provide attention for a progressively longer duration before receiving a food reward.

Sit-Stay and Down-Stay:

We introduce Sit-Stay once T-Bone is competent in the Sit behavior.  Likewise, we introduce Down-Stay once T-Bone is competent in the Down behavior.  However, if T-Bone exhibits significant inhibitory control issues we may start his Stay training earlier.  Nevertheless, he must first be proficient with each command while proximal to the handler.  the preceding is true both with a “normal” dog and a deaf dog.

The Stay hand signal is the left hand, palm down, parallel to the ground, sweeping toward the dog’s face about 1 to 2 feet above the dog’s eyes.  We start Stay training on leash.  Using the leash, we employ prompt leash response blocking to communicate error.  We start close, for a short duration, in a low distraction environment.

We usually start at 5 seconds and then gradually progress to a 3 – 5 minute maximum time.  Yet, the progression includes randomized trials.  Thus, even when we include 5-minute trials we intersperse 5-second trials.  This way the dog remains alert, without boredom or guessing.  Once we reach the target duration for a trial we communicate a Release signal.

The Release signal is usually both arms flapping upward, with or without the trainer touching the dog.  We then play with the dog.  We may also give treats before releasing for play or immediately after the signal, but before play.  Once T-Bone stays reliably for several minutes with the trainer close, we commence the same progression in a distracting environment.  Subsequently, when T-Bone is proficient up close for several minutes amidst distractions, we add distance.  First we add distance in a low distraction environment.  We then expand distance within progressively more difficult environments.  For safety reasons, especially with a deaf dog, we also add a long line when training distance stays.

CPT Training a Deaf Dog
T-Bone board training with CPT Trainer Megan Sinteff Jefferson. Gotta love those eyes!

Reinforcement Schedules and Long-Term Goals:

With all exercises, we progress from a constant reinforcement schedule (CRF) to a diminishing frequency random reinforcement schedule attached to standards.  Diminishing frequency means fewer treats as a percentage of overall repetitions and as a percentage of successful repetitions.  Standards means the dog must meet increasingly more stringent standards to earn a treat reward.  Random means that not only will the treat rewards be consistently attached to standards requiring superlative behavior, but as the dog improves he will need to be successful for a longer period before receiving a treat reward.  We also deliver the treat in a non-predictable random pattern that diminishes in frequency.

The goal is to produce a dog that understands all the behaviors, that is intrinsically motivated to perform the behaviors, and that will cooperatively, reliably, and responsively perform all the behaviors in practical circumstances where the handler may not possess food.  Ultimately, we wish the dog remain sufficiently motivated by the activity itself, the opportunity to work cooperatively with the handler, and by praise.  The preceding is true regardless of whether we are working with a dog possessing normal hearing ability or a deaf dog.

Nevertheless, to accomplish the listed long-term goals takes time.  The time period required to achieve goals depends upon the number of behaviors within a client’s lesson plan, the complexity of the behaviors, the temperament of the dog, and the aptitude of the dog.  Yet, so far T-Bone has been highly cooperative and participative.  Therefore, we are optimistic.


If you have a deaf dog, we hope you found the above information beneficial.  In addition, if you would like professional consultation when training your dog, you may wish to consider CPT’s private, in-home private, or remote private programs.  If you have progressed satisfactorily in a pristine or private setting, then you may wish to proof your deaf dog while professionally supervised within a CPT group class.

Please note, we do not recommend commencing the training of a deaf dog within a group environment.  Because of the requirement for high-level attention, we strongly recommend starting the dog’s training program in a non-distraction setting.  And if you would rather assign all of your dog’s training to professionals, especially during the more complex incipient training stages, you may wish to consider CPT’s board train program, as did T-Bone’s owner.

T-Bone is presently in board training with CPT Trainer Megan Sinteff Jefferson in Flowery Branch, GA.

For more information about CPT’s programs, please contact the CPT office by email or by phone (404-236-2150).

(Flowery Branch, GA)

(Sandy Springs, GA)

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