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Is My Dog Deaf or Stubborn? How to Tell and What to Do


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Do you find that your fur-baby isn't listening as well as they once did? You might think your woofer is growing stubborn with age, but hearing loss could also be to blame. Hearing loss can happen at any time — pups can be born deaf or develop hearing loss during adulthood due to infections, trauma, aging, or blockages.

So, is your dog actually losing their hearing, or are they just being stubborn and ignoring you? Read on to learn how to tell, plus what you can do to resolve both situations.

Is my dog deaf or just not listening?

Many pet parents assume their dog is just being stubborn when they stop responding to simple commands, even though their dog is looking right at them. However, often this isn't a behavioral problem, but a hearing problem.

If you're not sure whether your dog is going deaf or simply ignoring you, try these methods to test your dog's hearing at home:

  • Put some distance between you and your dog, then clap or make a loud noise. Try not to let them see you enter the room — this will help ensure they're responding to the sound and not sights or smells.

  • Snap one of your fingers close to one of their ears. Then, do the same again with the other ear. This is a good way to test for partial hearing loss, as well as hearing loss that only affects one ear.

  • Try an online, at-home hearing test for dogs. Some companies offer advanced tests that measure your dog's response to sounds at various frequencies. These tests may provide a more accurate assessment of whether your dog has full or partial hearing loss.

person covering the ears of a brown and white dog with their hands

Signs your dog is losing their hearing

As doting pet parents, we like to think that we notice every little change in our fur-babies. Unfortunately, hearing loss isn't always easy to spot — below are some signs that point to hearing loss in canines.

No longer responding to their name or other buzzwords

Usually, the first sign of hearing loss is that dogs aren't as responsive to basic commands, sounds, or conversational language.

Your dog that once dashed to the door at the mere mention of a walk may just stare off in space when you mention going outside. They may also lose interest in certain activities, like playing with squeaky toys, because they can no longer hear the enticing noises.

If you notice your woofer rarely responding to their name or other buzzwords — like treat, walk, toy, or fetch — it may be time to get their ears checked. These aren't things dogs (even stubborn ones) typically ignore.

Unusually reactive or aggressive when startled

When dogs start to lose their hearing, they may become jumpy, reactive, or display aggressive behaviors like growling or showing teeth when startled. Know these are just fear responses and not actual aggression, so be kind and patient with your fur-baby.  

Wandering off or walking out in front of moving people or cars

One of the scariest things about having a hard-of-hearing pet is their lack of inhibition in dangerous situations. A dog may wander into a busy road, not realizing what they're doing because they can't hear the traffic. 

Shaking their head

Pet parents may notice their dogs shaking their heads when they start to lose their hearing. Some vets think this is an attempt to "clear their ears" and regain their hearing. Likewise, this can be a sign of ear infections or blockages, both of which can cause hearing loss if left untreated.

Tilting their head

Just as ear muffs suppress sound in humans, so can ear flaps in dogs. As a dog's hearing loss progresses, you may catch them titling their head in an attempt to move their ears and hear better.  

Sleeping more than usual or more deeply  

Do deaf dogs sleep more? Yes, deaf dogs tend to have more restful sleep than hearing dogs. Being unable to perceive environmental noise tends to improve the quality and length of sleep since there's nothing to disturb them! Instead of the postman interrupting their afternoon siesta, they're more likely to sleep straight through and wake up naturally. 

Difficult rousing from a deep sleep  

Speaking of sleep, pet parents of deaf dogs often find it difficult to wake them from a deep sleep. You may find yourself having to nudge or shake your woofer to get them to rouse. 

Barking more than normal (or never barking at all)

Lastly, dogs with acquired deafness (that is, they weren't born that way) may become more "talkative" as their hearing goes. Experts seem to think excessive barking is an outlet to voice their frustrations and soothe themselves.

However, dogs who usually bark when confronted with certain sounds (someone knocking, sirens, or another dog barking) may stop responding to these triggers altogether as their hearing wanes. Contrary to common belief, dogs born deaf still bark, although their bark may sound atypical.

person cleaning a golden dog's ears with a cotton swab

What to do if you think your dog is going deaf

So you've done an at-home hearing test, and you've found that your woofer's hearing just isn't what it used to be. What do you do next? There are 2 important steps you should take if you think your dog is losing their hearing:

  • Take them to the vet. Seeking veterinary care is the first thing you should do if you suspect your dog is deaf. A vet can make a definitive diagnosis, treat underlying conditions, and may even able to reverse the hearing loss.

  • Start teaching them hand signals as soon as possible. Hand and touch signals are a great way to communicate with your dog and get them to behave — think of it like doggy sign language!

Check out our guide to caring for a deaf dog for more tips on keeping your fur-baby safe and happy after a deafness diagnosis.

What to do if you think your dog may be stubborn or ignoring you

Has your dog passed their at-home hearing test with flying colors, but they're still ignoring your commands? We know this can be frustrating, but don't lose hope yet. There are a few things you can do to get your stubborn dog to listen to you (and improve your bond at the same time!).

  • Take your dog to the vet. Sudden changes in behavior may indicate disease. Schedule a check-up to rule out underlying health issues.

  • Brush up on your canine training knowledge. Using positive reinforcement, as well as implementing LIMA dog training principles, can improve your dog's ability to understand and respond to commands.

  • Hire a professional dog trainer. If you've tried every trick in the training manual to get your dog to listen, consider calling in the pros. A certified dog trainer can help you resolve severe behavior issues.

Need expert advice on your dog's health or behavior? Chat with a veterinary professional now!

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