By Leslie Ingraham
Published: 09/17/2021, edited: 09/17/2021
Does it ever seem like your pooch is ignoring you? Do sirens go by without so much as a look? While you dog may be relaxed or too tired to react, they could be experiencing hearing loss or deafness. In dogs, hearing loss can be genetic, or it can be acquired through illness, trauma, or age. Whatever the cause, our fur babies don’t show signs of devastation as a human might: instead, they take it in stride.
It’s mostly the Pet Parent who notices that Rex isn’t responding to commands and other stimuli, either from birth or later. And it’s up to the humans in Rex’s life to accommodate the hearing loss, meaning we adapt to it rather than mourning something lost. In fact, because our doggos take their cues from their humans, it’s important that we act positively and enthusiastically.
Are there challenges in caring for a deaf dog? Absolutely! But when Pet Parents understand the cause and are willing to work with their dog to help them live their best life, taking care of a deaf dog isn't as hard as you may think. Let's take a look at what can cause your dog to become deaf, and how to help them overcome it.
Some dogs are born deaf. These genetic factors are found mostly in dogs whose body and coat are predominantly white. Examples include Australian Shepherds, white or Harlequin Great Danes, and Jack Russell Terriers. Breeders typically have pups of these breeds tested shortly after birth, and if a puppy is found to be deaf, they can be released as special needs pets. Because they haven’t learned any verbal cues, they rely on visual or touch cues right from the start, and can easily learn them as they grow.
Acquired deafness occurs later in a dog’s life, and can be more challenging to deal with. While visual and touch cues are still important, you'll likely need to spend more time teaching them to your older dog who may also be struggling with confidence and anxiety issues due to their hearing loss. Causes of acquired deafness include:
If your pupster doesn't seem to hear you or the doorbell, they may be experiencing some hearing loss. Other signs include inattentiveness or changes in their obedience skills, head shaking or tilting, or distressed pacing when left alone. Sometimes a change of personality accompanies the hearing loss.
If you suspect your pupster is experiencing hearing loss, consider taking them to the vet for an exam to rule out reversible causes, and to possibly undergo a BAER hearing test to determine if and how much hearing loss has occurred. The BAER test is painless.
Whether you and Rex are learning basic ways of communicating without sound, or replacing verbal and sound signals with visual or touch stimuli, the challenge is to find ways to help your pup to interact with you and follow your commands. Important to remember is that dogs don’t miss hearing the way you would. They adjust to it, but they do rely on you to be their best partner for the challenge.
An effective way to get your deaf fur baby to pay attention to you is by using hand signals. The first goal is to teach the cues that cause them to look at you and wait for further instructions. If it’s nighttime, turning lights on and off, or shining a flashlight are “pawrfect” ways to grab their attention.
The next part requires only that you consistently associate movements or hand signals with what you want Rex to do. Some people use American Sign Language (ASL), while others simply make up their own signals. The key to success is consistency, which means also teaching friends and relatives how to use your sign language to communicate with your dog.
Touch cues use gentle touches on areas of the dog's body to alert them to nearby people or situations when they may not be looking, and can help prevent scaring your pup needlessly.
Dogs with hearing loss or deafness should never be allowed to roam off-leash. This is because they won’t hear signs of danger such as another dog snarling or barking at them, a car horn or engine noise, or your clapping or whistling to get their attention. Yards or parks that are fully enclosed are the safest areas, but a leash is a good idea anytime they leave the safety of their home.
Be sure to notify everyone who may come into contact with your dog that deafness is an issue. Put a sign on your door that will warn anyone visiting so they can take care opening the door to ensure the pupster stays in the house and doesn’t bolt for the street. Remind them not to startle the pup by touching them on their heads while they're sleeping. Some dogs will nip if startled in this way, so a soft touch on the shoulder or rump can be safer and gentler. Likewise, attach a small sign on your dog's harness when taking walks or visiting places away from home to alert strangers of your pooch's condition, and prevent anyone from scaring them.
So, is it hard to care for a deaf dog? The responsibility that comes with caring for one of these special pups can certainly be daunting at first, but not impossible, and can even be fun! A deaf dog is just like a hearing pup in all other ways, and alternative methods of communication will begin to seem natural with practice, and will become part of your daily routine. With patience and compassion, and a few extra considerations, caring for a deaf dog can be easy, and absolutely woofderful!
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