Is Your Dog Going Deaf or Blind? Teaching New Command Cues Can Help The Transition

Hand signals for deaf dog

The world changes dramatically for a dog who suddenly loses one of his senses. Our family’s Golden Retriever, Shakira, recently became blind from a devastating disorder that rapidly wiped out her sight. We had mere days to teach her verbal commands to replace visual cues. Reteaching these familiar commands helped us to communicate with Shakira as her sight failed and gave her a set of safe “go-to” behaviors when she was feeling stressed or unsure in her changing world. Reinforcing basic behaviors that your dog already understands can help him adjust to a loss of hearing or vision.

Replace the Cue

Before your dog becomes entirely deaf or blind, take advantage of the fact that he still has his vision or hearing and teach him new commands and cues.

  • Start by using a new cue a couple of seconds before you present the old cue. For instance, for a dog that is going deaf, add in a new visual cue — such as a hand signal — for “sit” before you give the verbal command “sit.”
  • Repeat the sequence of the new signal: the hand movement, a two-second pause and then the word “sit.”
  • Practice the new signal over and over; soon, most dogs will start to respond to the new cue because they remember that the old cue always follows.
  • Use treats during training sessions to keep your dog motivated.
  • If your dog doesn’t respond with the two-second time delay between the new cue and the old cue, extend the wait period to five seconds. This makes it more likely that your dog will respond appropriately to the first cue.

Once your pet starts to respond to the new cue, eliminate the old cue all together.


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