Deafness may be present from birth in dogs, or be acquired later in life as the result of a traumatic injury or disease, or related to aging changes of the senses. Surprisingly, dogs cope very well with loss hearing with certain changes to the way they are looked after.
Some inherited causes of deafness can be tested for in the parents or in young puppies and tend to be seen in certain breeds e.g. deafness in Dalmatians. When considering buying a purebred puppy speak to your vet about potentially inherited problems seen in certain breeds. If you suspect your dog is losing their hearing at any time in their life consult your vet, as some conditions causing such signs are treatable, for example ear infections can be treated.
How can I tell if my dog is deaf?
This can be difficult to assess as dogs use their other senses very well. Deaf dogs may not hear you approach, and may not move their ears, or turn to look at where a sound is coming from. Ask your vet to assess your dog’s hearing if you are concerned.
To make life easier for your deaf dog:
- If you have a deaf dog the most important consideration is his/her safety. Avoid circumstances in which a voice signal could be life-saving as they may not hear you and the consequences could be fatal- such as unleashed walks in high-traffic areas.
- Remember that deaf dogs won't hear the sounds that we take for granted. Take the growls, threats or approaches of other animals as an example. If they can't be heard there is increased potential for conflicts and fights, although with some planning and physical control these risks can be minimised.
- Make sure all the family know not to leave gates open to avoid your deaf dog wandering off.
- Remember that deaf animals will sleep deeply and be easily startled. Make sure the whole family know to approach the dog from a point he/she can see you coming.
Communicating with deaf dogs
In general, lead control is an effective way to get a dog's attention when needed, even inside the home. Voice commands should be replaced by hand signals, which can be anything distinct and easy to see - as long as they are consistent. Hand signals are also useful for dogs with good hearing, but who have lost their sensory abilities with age. Vibrations, such as a foot stomped on the ground, can also be useful.
Training deaf dogs
Training deaf dogs requires a unique approach so consult an experienced dog trainer for help. Once your dog learns that responsiveness is rewarded, obedience and control hand signals can be taught and reinforced exactly like voice commands for hearing dogs. When it comes to teaching deaf dogs to make eye contact, reward them quickly when they turn around in response to light lead taps or floor-stomping. Eye contact should be encouraged and periodically reinforced, even after it is well established, but avoid staring at your dog, as this can seem threatening to them.