Communicating With Your Deaf JRT

Although Jack Russells are, by and large, a healthy, robust breed, one congenital defect that the breed is prone to is deafness. In fact, according to one study, around ten percent of Jack Russell terriers are born deaf in both ears.

For this reason, some might advise that if you have your heart set on a Jack Russell, make sure you don't choose a deaf one. But if you close your heart to that possibility, you're closing the door to not only a great dog, but also to a great experience.

A deaf pup can lead a long, healthy, happy life — and a more “normal” life than you might expect. All it takes is tweaking your communication style. And it's not that hard.

Deaf Dog Sign Language (DDSL) can help you and your deaf dog to communicate. What's more, if your hearing dog becomes deaf through infection, medication side effects, injury, aging, or another cause, learning a second way of communicating can help to keep you and your best friend close.

Dog Sign Language?

Yes!

Well, kind of.

No doubt you’ve heard of, and perhaps even seen American Sign Language (ASL) in action. ASL is a complex, living, growing language, with its own grammar, vocabulary, native speakers, dialects, and culture.

Deaf Dog Sign Language (DDSL), on the other hand, is a series of hand gestures.

And that’s a very different thing.


Human languages need to express complex ideas and emotions. For example, theoretical and imaginary things, as well as sequences of events in time.

On top of this, human languages all have a grammar, that is, a structure with rules. These rules may include word order, rules about how words are formed from other words, and more. And without these rules, communication breaks down.

By contrast, DDSL  is a series of one-word commands. It’s not really a language at all — just like the words “sit,” “stay,” “down,” and “come” aren’t in and of themselves a language.

But these signs can help you to communicate with your deaf pup.

Can You Train a Deaf Dog?

Of course!

Deaf dogs are just as intelligent, sociable, and eager to interact with you as hearing dogs are. They just need to do it in a different way. And that way is through hand signals.

In fact, just as you use single words in English (or another language) to tell your hearing dog what you want them to do, you can use specific signs from ASL to give your deaf dog commands.

Check out how this dog trainer uses ASL commands with her deaf dogs.

You can also make up your own signs.

The important thing is to be consistent — just like when you’re training a hearing dog. Make sure to practice every day, and give lots of love and praise.

How Can You Use DDSL?

Issuing commands is the same in any language. However, remember that your deaf dog can’t hear you. So you’re going to need to do a few things differently.

First, make sure your dog is looking at you when you sign. That may sound really basic, but it’s easy to forget.

Also, don’t just sign when you want your dog to do something. Signing often will get your friend used to looking to your hands for cues. Deaf Dogs Rock recommends signing when you feed your dog, when you change the water dish, when it’s time to go outside or for a walk, and so on.

To train your dog to respond to a hand command is very similar to training a hearing dog to respond to a voice command. First, you issue the command, and then you reward your dog with a treat when he or she obeys.

You can also use a vibration collar. This is a good way of training a dog that is both blind and deaf. Please note, a vibration collar IS NOT a shock collar! It’s a gentle, painless way of communicating — not a punishment!

For more examples and training tips, check out the training videos at Deaf Dogs Rock.

Deaf Jacks are Awesome!

Just like a hearing Jack, your deaf Jack can be a challenge. But he or she can also be a joy.

On top of that, having a deaf dog can make you smarter. After all, you’ll have to learn a few new tricks yourself!

Featured Image CC0 by Ella87, via Pixabay