The last week of September is National Deaf Dog Awareness Week. Caring for deaf dogs can be challenging, but with proper training and flexibility on your part, they can not only adapt, but thrive. At Anasazi Animal Clinic in Gilbert, we want you to understand that deaf dogs can live normal lives, but they require an extra measure of dedication—which can actually be quite rewarding.
Deafness in Dogs
Like humans, dogs can be born deaf or develop hearing loss in one or both ears. Causes of acquired hearing loss include traumatic injury, loud noises, infection, drug toxicity, tumors, and, of course, aging.
Breeds that are genetically susceptible to congenital (present at birth) deafness include:
- Cocker spaniels
- Australian cattle dogs
- English setters
- Boston terriers
- Bull terriers
- English setters
- Catahoula leopard dogs
- Jack Russell terriers
Believe it or not, pigmentation also factors into congenital deafness. Dogs with white coats as well as dogs with two different colored eyes are more prone to deafness.
Testing to See if Your Dog is Deaf
If you suspect your dog may be deaf, you can perform a few simple tests at home. If your dog does not respond to things like his name being called, food being dropped in his bowl, the doorbell ringing, the vacuum running, jangling the keys, or opening treats, this is an indication that he cannot hear.
For a formal diagnosis, a Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response (BAER) test will need to be performed. This test records the presence or absence of electrical activity of a dog’s brain in response to sound stimuli. This is a painless test and it can be completed in just a few minutes. You will need to find a BAER testing location near you, which is typically only available at vet schools or specialty animal hospitals, due to technical equipment that is required.
Caring for a Deaf Dog
It is important that you never let your deaf dog off leash. He cannot hear threats, such as traffic or predators. And his sense of sight and smell might not predict the threat until it is too late. If your dog gets off his leash and is in danger, you will not be able to use a verbal cue to call him back to you.
Another consideration is that when dogs cannot hear what’s going on around them, they tend to startle more easily. Deaf dogs should be approached slowly with calm, gentle touches.
Training a Deaf Dog
Deaf dogs are just as capable and intelligent as dogs that can hear; they simply need a little extra time and patience when it comes to training. Keeping a deaf dog safe is feasible with the following training techniques and safety measures:
- Use positive reinforcement techniques and ensure they are properly socialized around other animals and people.
- In addition to an ID tag and microchip, use a vest or jacket when in public that clearly states your dog is deaf. This will ensure people are aware and better equipped to handle your dog’s needs in case she becomes separated from you.
- Use hand signals. Deaf dogs can be trained using hand signals for basic commands like “sit”, “stay,” and “come.” Eventually you can begin to rely on hand signals alone. You can use American Sign Language to teach your dog a plethora of words and tricks, or come up with your own. Consistency is key, however. Be creative and have fun!
- A vibration collar (not a shock collar!) can be helpful. They send light vibrations to your pup to get her attention. While this can be a useful tool, it is not necessary.
- Work with a behavior specialist who is experienced with training deaf dogs.
Local Vet in Gilbert
If you are celebrating your own deaf dog this September, you already know how special these loyal companions are. And if you’re considering adopting one, there are many rescue organizations that are always in need of dedicated people looking to share their lives with a deaf dog who needs a loving home. Let our team at Anasazi Animal Clinic know if you have any questions or concerns about caring for your deaf dog.