A few years ago at Hearing International we had a post about the aural rehabilitation of deaf dogs, We discussed some of the breeds that are prone to deafness. Additionally, we presented how dogs were tested for deafness and a bit about how to care for them. This was 6 years ago and the evaluation of dogs and other animals by audiologists specially trained in animal assessment and becoming more common adjuncts to veterinary care. Some audiologists even work with a few vets in the evaluation of animals, specifically dogs and cats. This week’s guest author, Adam Conrad is a specialist in dog care and presents some tips for living with deaf dogs. Many thanks to Adam and his insights into how to care for deaf dogs! RMT
Many people feel overwhelmed at the news that their dog is deaf. Just like humans, dogs may be born deaf due to a congenital defect or lose their hearing as a result of illness, injury, or old age. The news is understandably concerning, but the fact is that dogs rely on their senses of smell and sight far more than their ability to hear. While you will need to make some specific accommodations for your dog’s welfare, taking care of a deaf dog can be just as fun and rewarding as caring for a dog that is not deaf.
While it may be tempting to look into hearing aids as a way to avoid the problem altogether, most dogs won’t tolerate objects in their ears. And if the nerves needed for hearing are damaged beyond repair then hearing aids will not help anyway. Instead, here are five tips that can help you prepare for life with a deaf dog.
1. Physical Security
Even dogs with great hearing are at risk of getting hit by cars or lost if they escape from their leash. For deaf dogs, these dangers are an even greater threat. No matter how smart or attentive your deaf dog may be, it is much harder for them to avoid dangers that they simply cannot hear. If they are distracted by a fascinating scent, they may follow it too far and too fast to notice when they are in unfamiliar territory – and they will not be able to follow their owner’s voice home. You can decrease this risk by using a secondary connection to keep your dog from running off in case you drop the leash or have it pulled from your hand.
Fenced-in yards or a long line with a stake provide safe places to exercise and play. It’s also a good idea to make sure your dog has a tag stating that they are deaf, along with a bell so that it is easier to know where they are at all times. To keep your dog safe while indoors when out of your sight, use baby gates to control where they can go – and to limit the mischief they can get into.
2. Sleep Safety
All animals can be aggressive when awoken suddenly. It’s a natural reflex, since sleep is a very vulnerable activity. Deaf dogs have no warning that someone is approaching when they sleep, and may snap automatically if they are startled awake.
Try to wake up a deaf dog using the scent of their food or a treat (and don’t hold the snack too close to their face in case they wake up more quickly than you expect and dive straight for the food). If you must touch your dog to wake them up, be sure to gently touch a part of their body far from their face.
Since even dogs born with hearing may develop hearing loss as they get older, it’s a good idea to train any dog to associate a sudden awakening with something positive, like receiving a treat. Starting as early as possible, practice waking your puppy or dog up by touching them gently, and then giving them a treat as soon as they are awake. This will make it less likely that they will snap at someone (such as a small child) who accidentally startles them while they are sleeping.
3. Emotional Security
Dogs are just as adaptive as humans, so you might be more distressed at your dog’s loss of hearing than your dog actually is. But there is a risk of your dog feeling isolated, anxious, or stressed by a lack of hearing. If your dog was born able to hear but becomes partially or fully deaf as an adult, they may feel emotionally insecure – especially if you primarily relied on voice commands and vocal cues to communicate with them.
Dogs feel stressed or anxious if they are confused by their owner’s attempts to communicate. Luckily, body language is the primary form of communication dogs use with each other, so even if your dog can hear, it’s a good idea to develop signals using your body and not your voice. Not only will this help your dog get in the habit of checking in with you visually, but it will also help them to feel connected if they lose their ability to hear.
Resist the temptation to play tricks such as sneaking out of the house while your dog is sleeping. This can cause stress and even cause separation anxiety.
4. All Signal, No Noise
Speaking of communication, hand signals are some of the easiest ways to communicate with your dog – whether they are deaf or not. As mentioned earlier, body language is something all dogs are attuned to, although deaf dogs are even more attentive. So, be extra mindful of what signals you may be unintentionally sending.
Using hand signals to train your dog may sound difficult, but the key is simply consistency. Pick hand signals that are easy for you to remember and distinct from each other so your dog doesn’t confuse one signal for another. Many people use American Sign Language, but any gesture can work as long as you are careful to use the same signal for the same command every time. Many people find that a “thumbs up” is a great signal that your dog did something well or is about to get a treat.
5. Long Distance Calls
Perhaps the greatest challenge is getting your dog’s attention when they are not close enough for you to touch or wave a hand in front of them. Some people recommend using a flashlight, but certain breeds of dog may become obsessed with tracking lights. If you are nearby, knocking on a wall or stomping on the ground can cause a vibration strong enough to alert your dog. But in many situations a flashlight and stomping will simply not work. That’s where a vibration collar can make a world of difference.
Not to be confused with shock collars, a vibration collar simply buzzes as a way to get your dog’s attention. It cannot be used by itself to give a command, but can alert your dog to look at you and follow a command from a hand signal or body gesture.
The Dogs are All Right
Being deaf does not mean your dog is prone to any other unusual health conditions. Although it is tempting to feel sorry for a deaf dog, they do not need to be pitied, because they can still have a life full of love, adventure, and fun. With a few accommodations and some lifestyle adjustments, a deaf dog will be just as happy, healthy, and obedient as a dog who can hear.
It’s understandable that these adjustments can be intimidating for owners who have never lived with a deaf dog, and finding an obedience trainer who specializes in working with deaf dogs can be a radically useful resource. Don’t give up on a canine companion just because their needs may require extra effort on your part; their loyalty and friendship are well worth it.
Adam Conrad is a dad of 5 Shih Tzu pups. His passion for helping people in all aspects of dog care flows through in the coverage he provides about dog health issues like CDV (Canine Distemper Virus), pet containment systems, dog grooming, and best food for dogs. In his spare time he is an avid scuba diver. Adam is founder of www.ShihTzuExpertpert.com and available at Adam@ShihTzuExpert.com.
Strain, G. (2018). Dog Breeds With Reported Congenital Deafness. Louisiana State University. Retrieved August 1, 2018.
Traynor, R. (2012). Aural Rehabilitation of Dogs. Hearing Health and Technology Matters, LLC Retrieved August 1, 2018.