Q: I think my 13-year-old Maltese is losing his hearing. He doesn’t know when I’m calling him, or respond unless I’m very loud and/or near him. I’m afraid that his safety may be compromised when I bring him out or when there are any hazards nearby that he cannot hear. Can he be trained to understand other cues?     

A: Many owners are stumped when their ageing dogs start to lose their hearing. They wonder how they are going to continue training the way they used to, but don’t realise that the primary mode of communication for dogs is actually body language. Verbal cues make our lives easier, but to a dog, they are secondary. So don’t worry about not being able to “talk” to Fido, and try this instead:

AUTOMATIC CHECK-IN (ATTENTION)

• Touch signal
Practice this in the house first (no distractions), and for a start, you may need the assistance of a target stick or something which you can use to tap your dog gently in place of your verbal cues. A tap (touch signal) means “I want your attention”, and when your dog turns to look at you, reward him with a treat. Do this frequently with a tap every five to eight seconds. When he responds each time you tap him, it is time to wait it out. Instead of tapping him, wait for him to check in with you on his own. When he accomplishes this, it’s time to move the training outdoors. That increases the distraction level slightly. There are many variations of “touch signals”, from a single tap to double taps and so on. This means you can train different behaviours to pair with the different gestures.

• Flashing light
You can also use lights to replace the taps in time to come. Whenever you flash the light, it means “look at me”. The idea is for your furkid to respond to the flash, and not the spot of light. However, the drawback to this is that the flash will not be as prominent on sunny days and at a distance.

• Vibrating collar
My last suggestion is a vibrating collar (not to be mistaken as a shock collar). Just like the flashlight solution, this hasdrawbacks as well. Timing is important when it comes to training and there is usually a lag between the time you push the button and when the dog feels it. The reason for training this behaviour is that the automatic check-in encourages your dog to check in with you regularly, even when you are not asking for it. Should you have difficulty training the above, you should contact a professional dog trainer to assist you.