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Caring For A Deaf Dog

© N. Glenn Perrett

As with people, many dogs suffer some degree of hearing loss. It is important for the guardians of canines to be able to detect signs which may indicate a hearing loss problem. When such a situation has been identified, it is important for the animal’s guardians to ensure that their four-legged family member receives veterinary care. It is also important for people who live with deaf or hearing impaired dogs to learn how to communicate with, and care for, their companions so that they can continue leading normal and comfortable lives.

Types of Deafness
There are two types of deafness - acquired and congenital. Congenital deafness occurs due to a defective gene which results in a malformation or nonfunctional ear. In Susan Cope Becker’s book, Living With A Deaf Dog, 64 dog breeds with reported congenital deafness are listed. Some of these breeds are more susceptible to deafness than others. Congenital deafness in dogs is permanent.

Acquired deafness occurs for any number of reasons. Some of the causes of hearing loss include: excessive amounts of wax, dirt, hair or other material plugging the ear canal; inflammation or swelling of the ear canal; infections of the middle or internal ear; a torn or ruptured ear drum; loud noise; head trauma; ear mites; certain drugs; old age.

Signs To Look For
Some of the signs to look for which may indicate that your dog is deaf, suffering some hearing loss or is experiencing some ear problems which may lead to hearing loss include: inattentiveness or a change in obedience; confusion when given familiar vocal sounds; excessive barking; unresponsiveness to sounds; being difficult to wake up; head shaking; head tilts toward the side of the affected ear; itchy and/or painful ears; change in personality; a smelly discharge from the ear.

Testing For Deafness
If you suspect that your dog may be deaf or suffering some degree of hearing loss there are some simple tests that you can do. One test involves sneaking up behind your dog and clapping your hands or snapping your fingers and observing any reactions. Do this from a distance so your dog doesn’t detect your actions or scent or feel any vibrations. If you suspect that your dog is suffering some degree of hearing loss, have this confirmed by your veterinarian. Some causes of hearing loss are treatable. As well, there are other veterinary specialists (i.e. neurologists) who are able to confirm deafness.

One test that evaluates deafness through the use of computers is the BAER (brainstem auditory evoked response) procedure. By using electrodes placed under the skin of a dog’s scalp and which are connected to a computer the brainstem auditory response can be measured. There are five BAER testing sites in Canada listed in Susan Cope Becker’s book, Living With A Deaf Dog.

Keeping Your Deaf Dog Safe
There are many things that you can do to keep your deaf or hearing impaired dog safe. Deaf dogs should be kept on a leash or in a fenced-in yard while outdoors. Children should also be taught how to interact with, and behave around, deaf dogs.

Learning how to communicate with, and train, your dog using hand signals is important. Whether you use your own signals, standard obedience signs, American Sign Language or a combination of these, it is important that you, and others who communicate with your dog, are consistent with the signs you use. As well, it is a good idea to use signs which only use one hand and which are easily detected by your dog from a distance.

In her book, Living With A Deaf Dog, Susan Cope Becker has included two informative chapters (“How To Communicate With Your Deaf Dog” and “Deaf Dog Traits, Training and Safety Tips”) which will help guardians of deaf dogs train, communicate with, and help keep their hearing impaired canines safe. There is also considerable information available on the Internet.

Dogs commonly experience a gradual hearing loss as they age. During the last couple of years Winston, our old Terrier cross, has lost most of his hearing. He occasionally hears very loud, and sometimes high-pitched, noises. A couple of years before he lost his hearing Winston lost his eye sight. Dogs who lose one of their senses rely more heavily on their other senses which become more acute. Winston’s sense of smell these days is very good! He sniffs out any food carelessly left on the kitchen counter and, standing on his hind legs, reaches up and snatches it!

Whenever we enter the room where Winston is we let him know of our presence by gently touching him on the back or shoulder. Even though he is blind and deaf Winston leads a normal, productive and happy life. He finds his way by knowing where all the furniture and appliances are in the house and all the trees, bushes, holes and other “landmarks” in the fenced-in yard. Winston also moves about efficiently by being near his canine siblings and using them for guidance and, when necessary, relying on his human family members to show him the way. When Winston is being walked outside the fenced-in yard he is always on a leash.

Helpful Books Available
For those of you fortunate to be (or are considering) sharing your life with a deaf dog there is an informative book that you can get to help you raise your hearing impaired canine. Living With A Deaf Dog: A book of advice, facts and experiences about canine deafness by Susan Cope Becker provides valuable information on canine deafness, including how to test for it, how to communicate with, and train, a deaf dog as well as other important information pertaining to raising a deaf dog. Cope Becker helps dispel some of the myths associated with deaf dogs and successfully portrays these canines as loyal, intelligent and loving animals who deserve the right to a full and happy life.

Caesar: On Deaf Ears is a beautiful children’s book which educates people about deaf dogs, some of the challenges they endure and the special animals that they are. Written by Loren Spiotta-DiMare and illustrated by Kara Lee, Caesar: On Deaf Ears is the true story about a deaf puppy who, after having a rough start to life, ends up being part of a caring and loving family. With the love, understanding, encouragement and patience of his new human guardian and her other canine and feline family members, Caesar becomes a well-behaved and cherished family member.

Caesar: On Deaf Ears is also available on audio cassette. The story is effectively narrated by, and includes the music of, popular entertainer and musician Tom Chapin. A plush animal depicting Caesar can also be included in this educational package aimed at children 5-10 years of age.

A Final Word
Raising a dog is a wonderful experience. Canines who are deaf may be a little more difficult to train and, initially, communicate with, but they enjoy living as much as dogs who can hear - and they are certainly as deserving of living a long and happy life. With patience, perseverance, understanding and love you will be rewarded with a wonderful and loving companion.

Recommended Reading:
Living With A Deaf Dog: A book of advice, facts and experiences about canine deafness
Caesar: On Deaf Ears


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