Living With a Deaf Dog

Dogs have more heightened senses than humans, and that includes the sense of hearing. But when a dog is born deaf or loses his hearing later in life, it can be quite a hindrance, and potentially dangerous. But it doesn’t mean your dog can’t still live a happy life. You will both need to make some adjustments, that’s all. Assuming he can still see and smell, you’ll be able to communicate just fine.

If your dog exhibits such behavior as inattentiveness, confusion in following commands, difficulty waking up, prolonged barking, or repetitive head-shaking or tilting, he could be suffering from a hearing problem, and should be checked out by your vet. Certainly, if his ears seem sensitive, smell bad, or appear infected in any way, go to your vet immediately. The issue could be temporary, or a sign of something permanent.

Your first priority with a deaf dog is safety. A deaf dog should not go off leash outside a fenced yard, where he won’t be able to hear cars or other dangers. It’s also a good idea to change your dog’s ID tag to highlight that he’s deaf, in case he does get loose, to alert anyone who finds him of his condition.

Hand signals are often used with voice commands when training any dog, so your dog may very well associate words like “sit,” “stay,” “dinner,” “walk,” and “down” with specific gestures. Once you’ve established the hand signal you’re going to use for a command, stick with it, and have everyone in your home use it too. As with any communication, it’s important to be consistent. And as with any training, treats are excellent tools for positive reinforcement and word association. (You can also use a flashlight to communicate with your dog – for example, if he’s out in the yard at night, and you want to bring him in.)

Because a deaf dog can’t respond as naturally, you’ll need to make sure you don’t startle him. You can wake a sleeping dog by placing food near his nose, or touching him gently – just not on the face. If you have children in the house, help them understand that your dog needs more gentleness than they’d be inclined to demonstrate. Be sure to alert any visitors, of any age, about your dog’s special needs. If he becomes nervous or agitated, he may snap or bite, and you don’t want that.

Sometimes our footsteps can make enough vibration for your dog to feel, so he’ll be able to track your movements. When you leave the house, make sure your dog sees you go. If he suddenly discovers he’s been “left behind,” that will only heighten any separation anxiety.

Remember: a deaf dog isn’t defective. He’s just as capable of being a wonderful friend as any other dog, provided you just give him the chance.

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