A dog’s sense of hearing is four times greater than us humans. With quite a superpower, it’s hard to imagine how your pup would go about their daily life without it. However, many dogs do just that; they experience near deaf or complete deafness. Will you ever see such hearing-impaired dogs cower away from a normal life? Heck no! Being able to hear is a great advantage, yes, but it will never be able to define your loving furbaby or hold them back from enjoying a fulfilled life. Living with a deaf dog is all about providing them with the tools and resources to thrive.
In this article, we will educate you on some of the key facts regarding deaf and near-deaf pups. With this knowledge, you will feel empowered to become the best pet parent you can be! Whether your dog was born deaf, recently experienced deafness, or is struggling through hearing-loss in old age; you should feel relaxed knowing that their happiness will never, ever change. Plus, with a couple of must-have products for deaf dogs that we’ve come to love, you will conquer this hurdle in no time. Through a touching interview with a real deaf dog pet owner, our team gained valuable insight into the thriving and loved-filled life of Shaggy. The information and stories are absolutely invaluable.
Table of Contents
First the Facts: Information on Deaf Dogs
Why do Dogs go Deaf?
Deafness in dogs can be categorized into two scenarios. First, a pup can experience congenital deafness; which simply means they are born with a hearing impairment. Like many other illnesses, being born deaf is more prevalent in some dog breeds. These include the Bull Terrier, English Setter, Australian Cattle Dog, Catahoula Leopard Dog, and Jack Russell Terrier. At the top of the list is the Dalmation. Unfortunately, this specific breed of dog is number one when it comes to hearing-impairment. For some reason, pups who are white or mostly white tend to have inner-ear troubles. Veterinarians believe this is due to a lack of pigment cells around the ear.
Second, your dog can go deaf later in life. This may be due to chronic ear infections, an injury, or growing into old age. However, according to Pets.webmd, most deaf dogs will still have some range of hearing.
How Do I Know if my Dog is Deaf?
Being able to identify if your pup is deaf will be the important first step if you have any doubts. Paying attention to two main signs is key. The first: is your dog suddenly ignoring you? Sometimes our pets get in a funk, get mad at us, or are distracted; therefore, they may deliberately ignore our calls. Although this is frustrating at times, there is no reason to jump the gun and assume they are deaf. However, there is a red flag for concern when our happy, bouncing pups suddenly start to ignore on a regular basis. Second: does your dog come to eat when food is being poured into their dinner bowl? Most dogs are conditioned to come running as they hear the clanking sound of kibble dropping into a bowl or spoons scrapping around in a wet food can. In fact, food is an instinctual motivator rooted deep within their heritage. It is concerning when a pup does not come trotting along for dinner.
After you take notice to these signs, you can perform a simply trial-test right in your own home. To do so, wait until your furbaby is snoozing away, then make a noise behind them. Be careful not to produce any vibrations, like stomping on the floor or creating wind on their fur. This can be done multiple times throughout the day to see how your furbaby reacts. If they consistently remain sound asleep, that’s the red flag!
The final step you will want to make is a phone call to your local vet. Veterinarians have a conclusive test to perform: called the Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response Procedure (or BAER for short). To describe the procedure, Pets.webmd explains “During this test, electrodes are placed under the dog’s scalp to read the brain’s response to a series of clicks directed into each ear.” By testing each ear individually and with a variety of noise volumes, the vet will be able to determine their level of hearing-impairment Fido is experiencing. It is only through this conclusive test that you will know a definitive answer.
The Key to Training a Deaf Dog
First and foremost, no drastic or special adjustments need to be made to your daily routine. By treating a deaf pup like normal, you can give them a great foundation for a happy life. Training a deaf dog to understand commands is actually easier than you may think. However, we should warn you that it may be a bit more difficult for pups going deaf later in life. This is because they are already conditioned to auditory commands.
Instead of using verbal commands for their daily activities, dogs can actually respond very well to visual commands. This includes very distinctive hand signs and gestures. In fact, as you and your pup have grown together, they are already watching for visual ques. For training, you will simply substitute verbal commands for body language and signals. As in any other training, be ready with small treats for positive rewards.
In order for visual commands to work properly, you must lay out a clear hand signal for each action you want performed. We suggest starting with these four:
- “Come”: Using a flat, open palm, pat your hip two times.
- “Stay”: Place a flat palm in front of your dog’s face in a “stop” signal.
- “Sit” or “Lay down”: Using index finger, point definitively to the ground.
- “Eat”: Bring fingers to the mouth like you are holding a piece of food. This is the same signal as “eat” is American Sign Language.
Busting the Deaf Dog Myth
Look anywhere on the internet and you will find an aggravating myth about deaf dogs. Some people tend to think that deaf dogs are more aggressive. Wrong! In fact, any dog that is startled is more likely to lash out because it is an automatic defensive response. Heck, you would do the same thing! Did you ever have a little sibling that wanted to scare your around every corner? I bet you yelled at them quite a bit.
With hearing-impaired dogs, you can help trained them to become more relaxed and less startled. Whether you have a new deaf puppy or your senior Fido is losing their hearing, begin by waking them from their sleep in a soothing and gentle manner. Keep a treat on hand to reward them with. In the end, your pup will become conditioned to wake with a positive, non-confrontational attitude.
Dog Products for Deaf Dogs
Dexil Deaf Dog Bandanna
Warns others of dog’s condition
The Dexil Dog Bandanna is the perfect, causal solution for any deaf dog on-the-go. The company uses their famous colored-coded system to enable owners to keep their handicapped pet safe and sound. The deaf dog bandanna is a classic and clean white with dark black embroidered letting stating “deaf.” It is highly visible to anyone passing by and will let others know your pup is hard of hearing. This will help in public situations to both protect your dog and bystanders.
One Size: 12-18” neck
Dexil Deaf Dog Collar
warns other of dog’s condition
For a more sturdy, long-time wear deaf dog accessory, look no further than the Dexil Deaf Dog Collar. Like the bandanna mentioned above, the company uses an easy color-coded system. The collar is all white with bold, black embroidered letters saying “deaf.” Furthermore, the lettering wraps around the collar in a way that is visible to the public at any angle. The material itself is sturdy nylon and is completely adjustable for the neck size of your pup. Not only does it have a durable plastic buckle closer, but the collar also has a D-ring for leash attachment.
Small-Medium: 10-17” length x 1” wide
Large-XL: 15-25” length x 1.5” wide
Dexil's Color Coded System
Hearing with Shaggy: An Interview with the Owner of a Deaf Senior Dog
Back in the Fall of 2018, we met with a close family member to talk about what it is like living with a deaf dog. Out in the countryside, surrounded by farms and the sound of frogs on hot nights, Shaggy lives with his owner and a younger dog brother. Their house is humble but offers a backyard that seems to stretch for days. A cooling pool and colorful garden greet you when you step outside and breathe in the fresh air. This is what Shaggy lives with every, single day. It’s a warm, loving household that has everything a little dog could possibly want.
At 13 ½ years of age, Shaggy the black and white Shih Tzu has lived a long life. He originally came to the family as a puppy in the arms of an elderly gentleman needing a companion in life after his wife passed away. Shaggy was passed down to the younger generation when his owner passed away himself; a true family dog. The little rascal had long hair and soon grew a big belly to match. Now in his older years, Shaggy sleeps long hours in any sunbeam he can find. Slowly but surely, his hearing has diminished to deafness.
Describe how you adopted Shaggy?
“He was my grandfather’s dog. That seems to be what I do, I inherit living things. That’s also how I inherited my youngest puppy.”
And who is your youngest puppy?
“JJ, short for jumping Johnny. My grandmother named him that. He just turned three [as Shaggy snores loudly in the background].”
Describe the story of your life with Shaggy and JJ?
“Never a dull moment [laughs]. Shaggy came into my life about 6 years ago. City boy turned country boy and figured out he loves sitting in the sun. Shaggy’s been through 5 houses in the last 7 years with me, two cats, 3 dogs; and he seems to just really not care as long as he has my lap to sit in. JJ came three years ago when my aunt passed.
16-week-old puppy introduced to a 10-year-old dog [laughs]. Surprisingly Shaggy, again, could care less. Shaggy is the honey badger of the dog world. However, shaggy found an extra spark in his life. He will play with JJ, go outside with JJ, sit in the sun together, and even sleep in the same spot.”
How do you believe Shaggy went deaf?
“It probably started happening about a year ago to a year and a half ago. He actually scared me; was sleeping, [but] wasn’t moving when I called his name. [It] really came clear when I dropped a pan on slate floor, and he didn’t budge. Now I look like an idiot waving my hands to get my dog’s attention. I say, ‘earth to shaggy a lot’ [laughs].”
So, he wasn’t born with it?
“No, he could hear a leaf hit a blade of grass in his younger life. and he would let everyone know [laughs].”
Is he fully or partially deaf now?
“O, he’s fully. The vet confirmed it on our last visit. She did the snapping and clapping test and he’s just like ‘dur-di-dur,’ aka space cadet.”
What sort of habits did you change, as an owner, to accommodate for his deafness?
“I know if he’s sleeping, I have to be careful not to scare him when waking him up. I have to make sure I’m in his line of sight to unofficially sign him to come do stuff. JJ also knows when I say ‘go get your brother’ he goes to get Shaggy. That’s cute to watch. I also make it a point, because he can’t hear me say ‘good boy’, I give him a little extra love. I know that for them, hearing the voice of their human is very important, and now it’s just by touch.”
How does his deafness affect your daily routine?
“Only than making sure I give an extra couple minutes to get him to do things, nothing really changes. His routine is my routine. He’s one of those old dogs that if I miss dinner by 20min, he refuses to eat. And then decides to eat at 10 at night [laughs].” “I also have to remember to check the room before I leave, since he doesn’t know I’m leaving, I don’t want to leave him in the room.”
How does his deafness affect his daily routine?
“O, yes. Shaggy’s always been a very ‘if I can have it, I want it now’ type dog. With his deafness, he’s much more vocal than he used to be. I have to figure out what his barks mean. The biggest thing is he can’t hear the ‘all done’ or ‘wait a minute.’ We can’t communicate like that anymore. It is more frustrating. He’s very impatient now that he can’t hear. That’s been a big change, just from his personality.”
Does his deafness affect your love for him?
“I think it just adds to it. And then it just makes you think about, he’s deaf, he’s 13, when it is gonna be his time? However, until then he’s gonna be the happiest cat-pig and get whatever he wants for the rest of his life. Makes you think that the world doesn’t revolve around humans, it revolves around the dogs.”
Being able to speak with a real owner living with a deaf dog was truly inspiring. Every word, every laugh, and every heart-breaking moment was filled with utter love for her dogs. You could hear the pride dripping for her voice when she spoke about Shaggy. At his age now, Shaggy will no longer be with us shortly. But, like his owner said, until then he’s going to be the happiest dog on earth. As a dog owner, you understand those final years are the toughest. His deafness has been hard at times, especially since he was not born with it. However, it never affects his daily life beyond needing a little attitude adjustment. Even as we leave their country-side home, Shaggy is sound asleep in a sunbeam. Surrounded by toys, family, and love.