Ok, so deafness is labeled as a “disability” but that does not mean deaf dogs can’t be amazing, loving pets!
Sadly, many breeders and rescue organizations don’t want the “hassle”, or it de-values the pup concerned, or it’s too hard to find someone willing to adopt such a “disadvantaged” dog. Consequently, putting them to sleep seems the easiest option.
The truth is that, apart from the obvious problem of being deaf, you can expect these furry friends to act in a similar way to any other hearing dog.
The biggest misconceptions about deaf dogs is that they are(1) more likely to be aggressive than a hearing dog because they’re easily startled and (2) they are “hard to train”. However, they are, in reality, 20% less likely to be aggressive and they are a dream to train because they are not distracted by other dogs or noises and therefore more focused on their trainer.
Having said that, adopting a deaf dog is not for everyone. However much a person loves dogs, it takes a huge personal daily commitment to train, socialize and gain the trust of your deaf canine companion. On top of that, extra safety measures are required to keep them safe, both in and outside the home.
There are clearly a few challenges that you will need to overcome, which we will discuss in this article…but suffice to say it’s well worth wthe effort.
Level of Deafness
If your furry friend has a hearing problem then it does not mean that they are totally deaf. Just like us humans, hearing can deteriorate with age. Or, it could be that they are only ableto hear specific frequencies.
Not all dog deafness is permanent and untreatable. It may be possible to resolve the problem to a certain extent or the problem could be a temporary one. The first step will be to identify an underlying cause for the deafness, then the possibility of treatment is considered.
A pooch can suffer from a number of different temporary hearing problems. A lot of dogs get infections in their ears which cause temporary loss or degradation of hearing. Others can suffer from mechanical blockages due to wax in the ear canal.
On a more serious note, a dog experiencing extreme constant noise levels can sometimes suffer from permanent hearing loss. In cases like this there is permanent damage to the middle and inner ear nerve impulses.
Several breeds of dog can suffer from congenital defects which cause hearing loss. When this happens there is nothing that you can do to prevent it. However, if a dog is born deaf then they can’t miss what they’ve never had, so training is often easier than with an older dog that has to change their training method.
Simple Ways to Detect Dog Deafness
If you suspect that your furry friend may be experiencing a hearing loss problem (e.g. they don’t react to the doorbell or dash into the kitchen when they hear food being put in their bowl) then there are some simple things that you can do as an initial test.
With all of these techniques you must be certain that your pooch is unable to see what you are doing so that there are no visual clues. Just sound is what you want to achieve.
Be careful to monitor your pooch for the slightest change in ear position or facial expression to signify that they have heard you.
Keep your Veterinarian in the Loop
If you suspect a hearing loss problem then please take your dog to the veterinarian as soon as possible for an assessment. They will probably run a BAER (brainstem auditory evoked response) test to confirm everything. A BAER test monitors electrical activity in the brain auditory pathways and the inner ear. Getting it checked out early could prevent a more serious ear infection and un-reversable hearing loss.
How to Teach an old/deaf Pooch New Tricks
If your dog is deaf then there is no reason why they will not be (or continue to be) a wonderful and loving companion for you. But you will need to accept that modifying behavior and training are going to be quite a challenge as auditory cues normally play a large part in this.
You now need to shift away from auditory commands and focus on visual commands. Instead of saying “good boy” or “good girl” when your pooch behaves as you want them to you can give them a “thumbs up” instead. If your furry friend does something that you don’t like then shake your head rather than saying “no”.
Use a heavy stomp of the foot on the floor when you need to get your dog’s attention – they can often feel the vibration in the floor.
To avoid startling your dog, gently tap or pet him to announce your entrance or exit from the room.
This will take time and you need to be consistent. If you are going to use a “thumbs up” to confirm good behavior then always use this. The same goes for all of the other signals that you use instead of saying “no”, “down”, “come” and so on.
Protecting Your Deaf Dog
It would be devastating if your furry best friend was knocked down by a vehicle, simply because they couldn’t hear the engine or warning horn, so keep an eye on them and do not let them roam unsupervised. Keep them within the confines of a fenced off area and only let them go outside of this boundary if they are on a leash.
If your pooch is able to hear some frequencies then a dog whistle could work well. You can try using a shrill whistle and then rewarding them if they respond to it. Get a microchip implant for your dog and add a tag that clearly identifies them as being deaf on ALL their collars.
You could also consider adding a bell to their collar so you can quickly establish where they are in the house, especially if you need to leave in an emergency, or if they manage to escape.
It’s clear that deaf dogs require a lot of patience, support, love and understanding and as this is ‘Deaf Dog Awareness Week’, we just wanted to recognize all the dedicated deaf-dog owners, who by-the-way seem to agree that their effort is repaid 10-fold by the devotion they receive from their canine companions.
For more deaf dog training ideas, check out the top tips provided by experienced deaf dog owners at https://deafdogsrock.com/category/training-tips
Helen Broadley & The FidoActive Team