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A Deaf Dog....

 So what is hearing loss in dogs? Deafness in dogs can either be a temporary partial or total loss of hearing—due to a wax build-up in the ear canals—or permanent hearing loss due to many reasons, including untreated ear infections, congenital defects, old age and injuries. One or both ears may be affected. A veterinarian can determine if wax accumulation, infections, inflammation, injury or foreign objects are present and if the deafness is treatable, but sometimes deafness comes on unexpectedly, or with old age.  Whether deafness may be a result of heredity, birth defects, trauma, blocked ear canals or old age there are certain things you can do to make the deaf dog and your life easier.  It can get pretty frustrating when you are yelling at the dog for the dog to come in, and they are totally oblivious to you.  We've been there and want to share some things that made our lives easier.  We've had 3 deaf dogs - two that became deaf in old age, and one due to epilepsy damaging his hearing.

Certain breeds of dogs such as and white or merle-coated animals are predisposed to congenital deafness. Congenital and geriatric deafness or deafness due to trauma is often permanent and not treatable so always protect your dog's hearing from loud noise and injury.. Acquired deafness (due to infection or blocked ear canal) is usually treatable. Symptoms include:

  • No response to toy noises or talking/clapping
  • No response to doorbells, loud noises
  • No response when called by name
  • Doesn't notice when you enter the room
  • Ignores other dogs barking
  • Difficult to wake up
  • Startling upon waking
  • Excessive barking or 'talking'

Deaf dogs can live a full, productive lives without hearing.  Dogs really don't depend on hearing all that much.  They depend much more on their noses to get by anyway, so with a little accommodation from you...a hearing impaired dog should be no more difficult to train than a dog with hearing.

Essentially you'll need to:

  • Communicate with your dog in a way that works for you both. We use a lot of hand signals and let our other dogs help convey what we want such as coming back in the house.
  • Do not feel sorry for him, and in doing so, allow him to get away with things.  Dogs adapt to hearing and sight disabilities quite well and appreciate knowing the rules. Sometimes deaf dogs have the advantage - they can't hear scary thunderstorms!
  • Approach so that vibration or sight will warn him so he doesn't startle.
  • Be gentle and patient, he may not understand what you want the first time.
  • Think to use hand signals of some sort, every time you communicate - it's easy to forget they are deaf.
  • Use praise, positive reinforcement and LOTS of touch and gestures.
  • Like any dog, allow him to approach strangers first - don't let kids descend on him without a warm up period.
  • Always use a leash and tethering can help him learn the rules and feel safe in his home.
  • Touch is even more meaningful to a deaf dog - it can be just as soothing and comforting as the words "good boy".
  • A fenced yard is essential for any dog, but especially a dog that can't hear dangers.
  • A deaf dog needs just as much attention, love and training as a hearing dog.

The key to success is a positive attitude, unconditional love, understanding that your dog really wants to please you, and tons of praise and rewarding good behavior. 

There are several breeds that are more prone to congenital deafness, yet, any dog can become deaf in old age or from recurring ear infections. Most cases with young dogs are associated with white-pigmented dogs and is a genetic defect.  

Microchips are important if your dog is deaf because collars can come off.  You can't just cruise the neighborhood and yell for him out the window - he'll never hear you.  It's very important that his tags say DEAF DOG on them.  Also you may want to put DEAF in the microchip registration because if someone calls about the dog, the microchip agency rarely will volunteer that information.  If it's in the name you put on the application, they will offer it as part of the name.  One way you can do this is to put Jazzy I'm Deaf as the name on the application.  This way their deafness will be very clear and very likely to be communicated if someone were to ever track the microchip. 

Tags that can be engraved on both sides are the best.  I put our entire address as well as phone number on the tag, on the opposite side I'll put any health concerns and that the dog is microchipped.  It's not necessary to put the dog's name, actually it's recommended you don't...but you can put in large lettering "I'm Deaf".  If you are in an area that has a prominent second language, it can be helpful to also put the "I'm deaf" in the 2nd language. Bilingual is important if you are in a strong demographic area for another language...

Better than a collar, have your deaf dog wear a vest that clearly states he is deaf on it.  Something lightweight is perfect. Many can be monogrammed to say whatever you like. Some have pockets  and can carry your keys or wallet. Wearing a vest keeps your dog and admirerers safe - people take notice because they are used to seeing service dogs wear vests, so they are going to be more careful approaching your pet and this will prevent a startle response.  Startled dogs can bite, so you want to avoid putting your dog in a risky situation any way you can.   A vest is also helpful if you are in a park and allow your dog some distance to fetch balls or sniff the flowers.  It warns people who may be nearer to your dog than you are that he is deaf and may not hear his commands.

A harness is better because a dog can slip a collar, whereas with a harness you have more control if the dog startles.  You can add reflective gear to the harness or buy one that incorporates it for extra safety.  Many companies can personalize leashes and collars with "I'm Deaf" for minimal cost. 

If your dog is just elderly, aggressive or shy, or handicapped but still mobile enough to go for walks, you may be interested in the Yellow Dog project.  The Yellow Dog Project is a nonprofit organization that is a global effort to help raise awareness and education around dogs that require a little extra distance upon approaching.  There are numerous reasons why a dog may have a yellow ribbon tied on it's leash such as it may mean the dog is new with the handler, is under medical care, or in foster care for instance - or in this case deaf. The purpose of this project is to assist with the proper way to approach a dog. Children will often to run up and pet a dog. Not all dogs understand this and can become fearful, deaf dogs may startle.  

While many dogs are friendly, there are others that need space either all the time or at least as they are warming up to new people or dogs. The yellow ribbon can signify many things. This project has been expanded to include other reasons for wearing a yellow ribbon, and other color leashes/ribbons.  White is the color for blind/deaf dogs.

  • A dog is in training and doesn’t want to be disturbed.
  • A dog has health issues.
  • A dog is frightened outdoors.
  • A dog may not like other dogs or unfamiliar people.

Also, if your dog has regular human friends, make sure to teach them the hand signals you use.  That way your dog can be included.  Many people use basic ASL hand signals but it's Ok to use your own personal signals between you and your dog.   Hand signals can help you with control, it can help a veterinarian staff member or petsitter to communicate better with your deaf dog. Because while any dog needs training, but a deaf dog needs special focus on 'attention'.  He needs to be aware that he needs to look at you when faced with an unexpected danger or situation. Some dogs just figure this out on their own, others need to be taught. You will need to do refresher training throughout your dog’s life to keep him sharp.  It not only makes your life together more enjoyable, it ensures that he or she is watching you for communication and will follow through on a signed command without fail.

Make sure your gate is locked for extra safety.  If by some chance your deaf dog gets out of the yard, it will be much more difficult to call him back because he'll be interested in the new smells and could easily wander off and get lost. 

In public with your deaf dog, be aware of your surroundings and changes in your environment. Odds are pretty good a deaf dog will be more aware of a situation than you are thanks to his magnificent nose, but just in case he isn't, be ready to help him anticipate.  One thing you should never do with any dog is allow tension to go through the leash.  If you are tense, worrying about what will happen, you convey this as a threat to your dog and he will be on guard, and potentally aggressive.  Always try and remain relaxed, and let that relaxation go through the leash to your deaf dog.  You can point out things in your environment that your deaf dog isn’t aware off- remember, if he can’t see it, he just can’t hear it- you are helping him respond more appropriately and avoid any startle responses.

Deaf pets are just as intelligent as hearing pets and work hard to understand you. They also can get along well with other animals in the home-- a deaf dog does not need a hearing companion to function successfully. Deaf canines bark, meow, whinny, and make all the regular sounds hearing canines make. Teaching them sign language commands is a great way to train them! The only danger with a deaf canine is that it should never be allowed to roam freely outdoors unless it is in a securely fenced enclosure - but of course you should do that with ANY pet!

 

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