Aural Rehabilitation for Dogs…..|Robert M. Traynor, Ed.D.|

Robert Traynor
April 24, 2012

In keeping with the animal/bird theme of late at Hearing International,  most of the world values “Man’s Best Friend” as a devoted companion.  No matter the country, dogs are pets that become part of the family, constantly watching out for children, invaders, while offering unquestioned devotion and companionship to their owners.

Although most dogs are simple homebodies, barking in various situations that cause them concern,  there are also working dogs that provide great assistance to hearing and/or vision impaired humans in ensuring that they have the mobility and sound awareness necessary to navigate in a very complex world.

Dogs typically hear extremely well. They are usually aware of sound much sooner than most humans and they hear at much higher frequencies. Most of us have heard of dog whistles that call the dogs but humans cannot even hear them. Some of these are used to deter dogs from approaching runners and others. Ross (2010) states that it can be quite upsetting when you start noticing the first signs of deafness in your dog. Although most canines are affected by congenital deafness, some become deaf through old age, an accident or certain types of medication, namely antibiotics. As upsetting as this may be, there are hearing aids for dogs that work, just the same as hearing aids for humans.


Since dogs are vigilant and there for their owners, it is easy to forget that, like any animal, some are deaf or hard of hearing.  J Long (2012) writes that about 100 breeds of dogs are recognized to be prone to congenital deafness.  Dalmatians, bull terriers, and Australian cattle dogs seem to be over represented among those breeds that are born deaf. Some breeds are known for their deafness and others are known for being hard of hearing, but what is done about this?

Probably no dog owners are more eccentric than Americas, but eccentrism over animals is not limited to the US; it is worldwide.   So, if you had a dog that was hearing impaired, where would you start in the aural rehabilitative process?  I suspect that you’d begin the same as with humans, by getting a good audiological evaluation.  In the early 1980s, we used to do hearing evaluations at Colorado State University in the audiology clinic for the Veterinary Medicine program. As I recall, these evaluations were a lot like doing VRA on a small child. Once we had the dog ‘s attention and they were sitting quietly, we would divert its attention through sound field warble tones and observe their behavior.

These days, of course, the best way to assess a dog (and other animals) is with BAERBrainstem Auditory Evoked Response is much easier than the old Doggie VRA technique and certainly more accurate.  Dogs have their own set of normal latencies, as seen in the BAER shown here from Lousiana State University – Baton Rouge.  Thresholds can be calculated from the BAER results just as with humans to facilitate aural rehabilitative treatment.  Of course, as with humans, the impairment can be monaural or binaural and may be congenital or acquired. So, assuming that the owners have been counseled on the variables of the hearing impairment, Step 2 in the Doggie Aural Rehabilitation process would be amplification,  for which there are special doggie hearing instruments.  Ross (2010) further offers that purchasing a canine hearing aid is a risky expense, since not all dogs react well to the sensation of having an object close to their ears. Some will refuse to wear it. It has been reported that smaller dogs do fairly well with these devices, while larger breeds do not tolerate them as well.

As audiologists know, dog hearing aids (like those for humans) have become quite sophisticated, not to mention expensive but there are pet insurance policies that do cover such costs, assuming that you already have your dog insured. (So, what does that say about Medicare, dogs have better insurance?).

Believe it or not, Ross also states that cochlear implants are available for dogs using the same procedures used to implant humans.   These devices were tested on deaf Dalmatians. For humans, cochlear implants cost between $20,000 to $25,000, plus  the cost of the surgery and post-surgical training.  Even though cochlear prostheses for dogs are feasible, heir high cost of this procedure makes them practical (even if you are a rich dog).

Scheifele (2012) is developing a special canine hearing instrument for dogs with aquired hearing loss at the University of Cincinnati, Bioacoustics and Canine Audiology Clinic.  Scheifele’s device will be ready later in 2012.

So, what if your dog will not use amplification or you cannot afford a cochlear implant?  Then consider sign language.  There are teaching methods that have been established for sign language with dogs, just as ASL is taught to some children.  Additionally, the Deaf Dog Education Fund suggests that a vibrating collar could be of benefit to these animals.  Used for training, a vibrating collar allows a person to press a button on a remote control device, which then sends a signal to the collar, causing it to vibrate. The effective distance varies depending on model. With conditioning and training, the dog will respond to the vibration.

In summary, dogs and other animals can be assessed for hearing rather easily, and many can be fit with hearing instruments if they will use them. Others can be taught sign language or be behaviorally managed with alternative senses.

Oh yes, these last two animals are Genny  (above) and Bernie (right)  Traynor…..and, although they do not mind all the time,  they are just spoiled, not hearing impaired.


Long, C. (2012).  Dogs can be trainied to respond to hand signals.  Fort Collins Coloradoan, April 17, 2012.

  1. Bob,
    I enjoyed this article on aural rehab and dogs. We do see dogs becoming very useful in serving as “Hearing Dogs”. Quite interesting. Nice piece.

Leave a Reply