Let me bring you up to speed on this amazing dog named Merlin. He wasn’t always Merlin, he started life as Buster and was given up to the Humane Society when he was just five months old. Merlin is a very special puppy; he is deaf and had his right eye removed due to a birth defect. Despite his physical handicaps, he is fearless, curious and unfailingly cheerful, full of love and sass.

I first saw this wonderful dog and had the chance to work with him while volunteering for the Humane Society’s training and behavior department. I had the pleasure of taking him out on a couple of walks. While on the walks, we worked on him checking in with me constantly as we walked. From this first meeting, Merlin was working his magic and worming his way into my life. It took him only three days to work his way into my heart and I just knew that he must be part of my family.

Now all he had to do was win over my wife. Again, Merlin worked his magic and won her over in just one meeting. It was like the Fates were conspiring to bring us together!

Once we decided to bring him in to our home, we had to answer some questions in the family. How was Merlin going to fit into our lives? How were we going to communicate with this dog? All was a great unknown. I didn’t know what I was going to do with this guy, but he was coming home, so I had to come up with answers fast.

With Merlin being deaf and having limited vision, I had a challenge ahead of me to figure out how to communicate with him. The standard tools – clicker, verbal markers – were not going to work with him. Instead, a visual cue needed to be used. I settled on a thumbs up to mark the behaviors that I wanted from him. Merlin learned this very quickly, so now anytime that he sees a thumbs up, he looks for his treat to come. With this great tool instilled in Merlin, he learned to hand target, sit, and down really easily. Stay and drop it weren’t far behind.

We are currently working on teaching him to shake and fist bump. Follow my blog to get all of the latest stories about Merlin. What challenges have you faced with your canine companion? How successful are you at getting your (hearing or deaf) dog to respond to verbal or physical cues? In the comments, share your training experiences with us. Happy Training!