Deaf Dog Awareness Week, recognized annually during the last week of September, is a national observance that was established to celebrate and place a spotlight on the unique qualities, remarkable bonds, and adaptability of these special and loyal companions. It provides an opportunity to share valuable information about care, training, and support systems that can help deaf dogs thrive in loving homes. Additionally, it serves as an opportunity to raise awareness about the joys and challenges of caring for deaf dogs, shatter misconceptions, and promote their adoption!
If you’re contemplating the idea of adopting a deaf dog, already own one as your furry best friend, or have concerns about your dog's hearing, keep reading to explore the world of deafness in dogs and uncover valuable care insights!
What Causes Deafness in Dogs?
According to statistics from the American Kennel Club, it is estimated that anywhere between 5 to 10 percent of our beloved canine friends in the United States suffer from deafness. Deafness in dogs refers to the partial or complete loss of hearing ability in one or both of their ears—temporary or permanent. It can either be congenital (present at birth) or acquired later in life. Congenital deafness is often the result of genetic factors and may have a hereditary component.
In some cases, a dog’s coat pigmentation can be linked to congenital deafness. Yes, you heard that right— coat color! For instance, dogs with specific coat patterns, such as predominantly white, merle (mottled or speckled appearance with irregular patches of lighter or darker colors), or piebald (mostly white base coat with patches or spots) are considered to be more susceptible to experiencing hearing loss from birth.
Certain dog breeds are also known to be predisposed to congenital deafness due to specific gene mutations at birth and hereditary factors. As a result, they have a higher rate of experiencing deafness—an astonishing 40% or higher!— than other dogs, which is typically permanent and incurable. Some of the most common breeds that are prone to developing hearing loss include:
Other various factors that can cause deafness in dogs include:
Detecting Hearing Loss in Your Pet: Signs & Tests
Above all else, the utmost aspiration for every pet parent is to ensure the health and happiness of their fur baby. It is a commitment that propels owners to provide unwavering love, attention, and care to their canine companions in a way that ensures their safety and overall well-being. However, there are specific health issues that can be challenging for pet owners to detect, and one such condition is deafness in their furry pals.
Despite sincere efforts made to observe even the slightest changes in our pets behavior, deafness isn’t always easy to spot. In fact, distinguishing whether your dog is experiencing hearing loss or merely displaying stubborn behavior by ignoring your calls can be a perplexing task.
Detecting the early stages of deafness and familiarizing yourself with the signs can ensure that you take the necessary steps to provide your dog with the proper care and support they need. Furthermore, it allows you to help them adapt to a lifestyle without the sense of hearing.
Below are some warning signs that may signal a loss of hearing or deafness in your precious pet, especially in older dogs.
Additionally, if you notice your dog tilting their head in unusual ways, almost as if they are straining to hear, be sure to contact your vet for a checkup!
More so, take a look at how they interact with their toys for any changes in play behavior. Dogs experiencing hearing loss or deafness may lose interest in certain auditory games or toys that used to excite them, such as squeaky toys.
This can be accompanied by a change in their behavior. Your pup might become more anxious, aggressive, jumpy, and overall more reactive in certain situations.
To determine if your furry friend is deaf or has hearing difficulties, you can also perform some simple at-home tests and observations to try and assess their hearing. Ensuring a controlled environment is crucial in order for you to obtain accurate results, therefore it is important that your beloved pup cannot visually locate the source of sound during these tests. If you receive no response, there is a good likelihood that they might be experiencing hearing issues or even deafness.
That being said, here are some at-home tests you can try:
- Clap Your Hands: Position yourself behind your dog, out of their line of sight and not too close, and clap your hands. Observe their reaction.
- Rattle Test: Take a set of your keys or fill an empty can with some coins and jingle it near your dog when they are not looking.
- Whistle Test: You can either whistle on your own or use a dog whistle, which are able to emit high-pitched sounds that are typically more audible to dogs than to humans.
While at-home tests and observations can provide some indications of potential hearing problems in your furry companion, it is imperative to remember that they are not a substitute for actual professional evaluation by a licensed veterinarian or veterinary specialist.
If you are concerned about your dog’s hearing, it is important to consult with a veterinarian and schedule a complete veterinary exam. They will carefully examine your dog’s ear canal for any abnormalities and conduct their own hearing tests. This includes checking for earwax or debris buildup, as well as assessing for any indications of infection, inflammation, or injury.
For a more reliable method, some veterinarians will perform a Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response Test (BAER)—a non-invasive, specialized hearing assessment that is frequently used to determine and diagnose hearing loss. This test involves checking your dog’s brain activity in response to sound stimulation.
How to Care For Deaf or Hearing Impaired Dogs
Pet parents of deaf or hearing impaired dogs bear a special responsibility to care for them and ensure their safety. Not only can they get startled easily, but they are unable to respond to your calls or react to certain dangers from their surroundings like traffic, cars, or other animals. Caring for these dogs requires a lot of thought, consideration, dedication, and—most importantly—patience! However, it is a rewarding experience. With the appropriate support and training, deaf dogs can enjoy a happy and enriching life, just like any other pet.
Here are some essential tips for caring for these special and loveable dogs!
A common misconception is that deaf dogs are not able to be trained. However, this notion is far from true! As much as training is crucial for all dogs, it is particularly important for our deaf canine companions. Though they may require different techniques and approaches to communication, they are still highly trainable and can learn a wide variety of commands and behaviors. Patience, consistency, repetition, and positive reinforcement will play a great role in successfully training your hearing impaired dog, as well as in helping you to effectively communicate and teach them new skills and tasks. Professional trainers will be able to guide you and offer assistance.
One of the initial steps in training a deaf dog is to establish their focus on you. This type of training involves teaching your dog how to pay attention to you in order for effective communication to take place. As they cannot hear your voice, there will be a heavy reliance on visual signals and cues. You are essentially teaching them a gesture that is equivalent to the verbal cue “Watch me”.
You can capture your dog’s attention by: 1) gently tapping their shoulder, 2) turning a flashlight on and off—they will understand that a flash of light means they need to look at you, or 3) using vibrations—such as tapping or stomping your feet.
Each time they respond to your cues and make eye contact, reward them with a treat or praise!
Startle training helps to reduce the chances of your dog getting startled when being touched, approached, or woken up. Ensure that you create a safe and comfortable environment for your pet to retreat to when they become startled. With this type of training, it is important to desensitize your dog to situations or stimuli that might surprise or scare them. Pairing it with positive experiences—such as treats, enrichment toys, or playtime—will help to create positive associations.
For instance, you can reduce the chances of you startling them by gently touching them when awake, followed by giving them a treat. Have them get familiar with your scent. Repeat this action a few times until they are relaxed. Then, progressively start moving out of their sight and repeating the same actions. Once met with desired reactions, you can try the exercise when they are asleep.
Hand Signals for Obedience Training
Teaching your deaf canine companion hand signals and gestures is a valuable and effective way to communicate with them the behavior you want them to do. Be sure to select simple gestures that are distinct and will be easy for your dog to differentiate between—you can either make up your own or use ASL. Always use the same signal for the same behavior and avoid using complex gestures to prevent confusion.
You can start with basic obedience commands like “sit”, “down”, “stay”, and “come” and pair each command with a different hand signal. For instance, if you want your dog to stay, you can hold your arm out with your palm towards them. To let your dog know they did something right, you can use a thumbs-up gesture—equivalent to saying “Good dog”—along with treats to reinforce desired behaviors.
2. Keep Your Dog Tagged
Tagging your deaf dog is not only beneficial for their safety and proper identification, but it helps to ensure their swift return to you if they are ever lost or separated from you. Make sure the ID tag is securely attached and includes updated information such as your name and phone number, your dog’s name, and any essential medical information. It would be valuable to add a note on the tag or engraving “DEAF” to inform people that your furry friend cannot hear.
3. Be Aware of Your Surroundings
Stay vigilant when out with your deaf dog and always be aware of your surroundings! As your dog cannot listen for danger cues, it is up to you to keep them safe from potential harm such as other aggressive pets, joggers, cyclists, or cars. During walks, be sure to keep them on a leash.
Keep your home environment safe as well! Remove any potential hazards and secure gates/fences to prevent your dog from wandering off and potentially getting into dangerous situations.
4. Visit the Vet!
Stay on top of their health and wellness by scheduling routine veterinary appointments to monitor their overall condition—especially their ears. This can help to ensure their comfort and safety. If you have any questions or concerns regarding your dog’s health and behavior, always ask your veterinarian. They will be able to offer guidance on effectively managing your deaf dog’s specific needs, along with providing you with any resources that you may require.
Work on socializing your deaf dog with other people and pets in order for them to build confidence and help them adapt to various situations. Educate and inform your family and friends about your dog’s hearing challenges, along with how to effectively interact and communicate with them.
The Pawsitive and Challenging Aspects of Having a Deaf Dog
Deaf dogs can make great companions! However, it is still pivotal for pet owners or prospective ones to be aware of the potential drawbacks and challenges that come with their unique needs.
Let’s take a brief look at some of the benefits and obstacles of owning a deaf dog, below!
Despite the challenges that deaf dogs may encounter, with the right care, support, understanding, and affection, they will be able to live a long and fulfilling life! All it takes is a doting pet owner and unconditional dedication to ensure their well-being and happiness in a loving home.