Pets become such an integral and important part of our families that we often experience great emotional discomfort whenever they encounter injury or illness. Obviously, some illnesses and injuries are harder to cope with than others, especially when the illness or injury results in a condition that greatly alters your pet’s normal life routines, such as deafness.
It is undeniably difficult and heartbreaking to discover that your beloved canine companion is deaf. Whether they were born deaf or became deaf as a result of illness, injury or old age, a deaf dog has different training needs than dogs with healthy hearing. However, it is not impossible to live happily with a deaf dog or to provide a deaf dog with what they will need in order to have a fulfilling and healthy life. One simply needs to understand the basics of living with and caring for a deaf dog.
Coping With a Deaf Dog
A dog that is born deaf quite simply doesn’t know any differently, and so may tend to adapt quite readily to the training offered by his owner. Dogs that go deaf for some reason during their lifetime, especially later in life, do sometimes have more difficulty adapting, but they can still do so with help. It can sometimes take longer for owners to adapt to their dog’s deafness than for the dogs themselves to adapt to this new condition, especially if the owner mistakenly or deliberately fails to recognize and acknowledge their dog’s deafness. Unfortunately, refusing to acknowledge that your dog is deaf may lead to difficulties in your relationship, whereas learning to cope with his deafness can be quite simple.
You may suspect your dog is experiencing hearing problems when they suddenly begin to ignore you on a regular basis. However, dogs may also deliberately ignore their owners at times, when it suits their personal needs or desires. In order to conclusively determine whether a dog is deaf, Holly Newstead, co-founder of the Deaf Dog Education Action Fund, says that you should wait until your dog is sleeping or not looking at you and so cannot see movement or feel vibrations. Then make a loud noise behind them, such as clapping, banging a drum or whistling, and see if they react by turning their head to face the source of the noise. If they don’t react much or at all, you may want to have them checked for deafness by your veterinarian.
Some people believe that deaf dogs are naturally more aggressive, perhaps because they feel defensive due to their missing sense. This is actually not true. What is true is that any dog, deaf or not, can bite out of fear if they are startled. Obviously those dogs with healthy hearing abilities are able to hear people coming and talking to them. Deaf dogs need to be approached by people they can see, and who are behaving in a friendly manner, i.e. slow movements, head down and no direct eye contact. One dog trainer who has successfully worked with over a hundred deaf dogs encourages owners to wake their deaf puppies repeatedly, immediately offering them a tasty treat when they wake. In this way, deaf dogs can learn that being awoken or startled is actually a good thing, and they will respond positively rather than aggressively.
Deaf dogs can be successfully trained using hand signals, rather than verbal commands. The trick is to have one very clear hand signal for each specific action you want your dog to carry out. It actually does not matter what these hand signals are, as long as they are clear and you are consistent in how you give them. A deaf dog will quickly learn to keep his eyes on his owner to watch for movements and hand signals that “tell” him what is going on or what is expected of him. Because of this, owners of well-trained deaf dogs can actually find that their dog is far more attentive and responsive than they expected him to be, even more than dogs with normal hearing are.
While many basics of caring for a healthy dog and deaf dog don’t vary widely, one area they do vary widely is in the area of safety. Deaf dogs cannot hear cars or other dangers, and therefore should never be allowed to run loose. In the case of accidental escapes, your dog’s collar should have a tag that says “DEAF” along with one that lists all of your contact information so that anyone who attempts to help your dog understands their condition.
There is no reason to worry unnecessarily about the difficulty of owning or caring for a deaf dog. While they may need more visual direction they are still capable of a enjoying a wonderfully healthy and happy life, and of contributing to your own happiness.