The last full week of September is Deaf Dog Awareness Week. This year the dates are September 21st-27th. I thought that this would be a good time to write about the benefits of owning a deaf dog, and some things to be aware of if you think your dog may be having hearing issues.
First of all, deaf dogs make great pets! Don’t be fooled by all of the hype…they are not necessarily more aggressive than any other dog. They may startle more easily because they don’t hear you coming. There are techniques you can use to prevent startle biting, which I will address later in this blog. A great website I found while doing research for this article is: www.deafdogsrock.com. This is a website that has a lot of information posted by a family that owns multiple deaf dogs, and plans to only own deaf dogs from now on, because they are such wonderful companions.
Benefits of Loving a Deaf Dog:
- pay more attention to their people/stay by your side
- can follow visual commands from great distances without yelling
- stronger bond/partnership with their person
- sleep really well and don’t bark at every little noise
Causes, Warning Signs and Prevention
There can be many possible causes of deafness in your dog. Your dog may be hearing well until something causes him to become deaf. Your dog could get an ear infection, have an ear injury, have loud noise exposure, or take certain medications that may cause him to go deaf. There could even be temporary deafness caused by wax build-up in the ear, or by other foreign bodies making their way inside the ear canal. Your dog may also simply grow deaf with old age, as people do.
Many times a dog can be born with a genetic defect that can cause her to be born deaf or become deaf very early in life. The most common cause is pigment related. Everyone has heard about white dogs with blue eyes being prone to deafness. The real story is that if a dog has unpigmented skin (which is pink and produces white hair) in the inner ear, then the nerve endings can atrophy and die off in the first few weeks of life. You would not be able to see the color of the hair in your dog’s inner ear by looking inside with a light, but that same dog will probably have unpigmented skin on its body in other places.
Some warning signs to keep a look out for, to help you determine if your dog may be starting to have hearing problems are:
- change in obedience or personality
- prolonged barking
- painful, smelly ears, or discharge from the ears (signs of an infection)
- not responding to commands, phrases or noises as normal (doorbells, sound of the leash)
- sleeping through feedings
A puppy who is born deaf, or becomes deaf soon after birth may play too hard with his litter mates because he cannot hear their pain yelps which would normally cause a puppy to stop biting and try something different.
Not all causes of deafness can be prevented, of course, but there are some things you can do:
- be aware of your dog shaking his head or scratching at his ears, as this can be a sign of infection
- clean your dog’s ears if he is prone to wax build-up
- avoid exposure to repeated loud noises
- research the side effects of medications that you give your dog, and only use medications if all other options have been exhausted
Tips for Caring for Your Deaf Dog
Caring for a deaf dog is not scary or as intimidating as people think! There may be a period of adjustment if a dog goes deaf later in life, because I’m sure this has to be as strange and scary for a dog as it is for humans! Also, a deaf dog with unpigmented skin may need sunscreen, especially on his nose. Choose a gentle brand for babies or people with sensitive skin, without dyes or scents.
Deaf dogs are not more aggressive than hearing dogs, especially if given proper training. They just need to learn a different way to communicate with and understand their human. Some things that can be very helpful when working with a deaf dog are:
- train with hand signals instead of verbal commands
- use of vibration to get your dog’s attention (stomping near them to wake them up instead of touching them, which may startle them)
- opening a yummy, smelly bag of treats can also wake your dog easily
- fenced in yard or leashed walking is a must, since your deaf dog won’t be able to hear traffic
- attach a bell to his collar, so you can find him when he does not hear you calling his name
- add a tag to her collar that says your dog is deaf, so if your dog is lost the person who finds her knows this information
Having a hearing buddy for your deaf dog can be a really big help with training and teaching proper behavior! A deaf dog can look to a hearing dog for social cues. A hearing dog can also be a great companion for your deaf dog when you have to leave the house, as deaf dogs can be more prone to separation anxiety. Another way to help with separation anxiety is to let your dog know when you are leaving the house-don’t leave while she is sleeping or she may be confused when she wakes up and you aren’t home. You can also train your hearing dog to wake your deaf dog for you!
Deaf dogs may sometimes get a bad reputation, but all they need is time, training, attention and love just like any other dog. They can be wonderful, loving companions and just want to run, play and nap with their person nearby. They are also more difficult to adopt out due to people’s prejudices, or may be euthanized by a breeder or vet who does not understand deafness. Consider adopting a deaf dog, and make sure you find a veterinarian that supports your decision and understands that being deaf is only a small obstacle that is easily overcome in your dog’s life!