Deaf Pets Make Wonderful Pets Too!
It’s Deaf Dog Awareness Week! A great time to tell you why deaf dogs are not that much different than hearing dogs and why they make wonderful pets!
Why are some dogs deaf?
Partial or complete deafness in dogs can be caused by a variety of factors including inherited genetic defects or develop after birth from infections, traumas, loud noises, and old age. Some dogs breeds, including Dalmatians, Boston Terriers, Boxers, English Setters, English Cocker Spaniels, and Australian Cattle Dogs are genetically susceptible to deafness. Deafness that occurs at birth is usually related to pigmentation patterns; dogs that have white or merle fur coats and blue or two different colored eyes are more prone to the disorder.
Our pets are stoic and adapt easily. Deafness that has developed over time or has resulted from a particular illness or trauma may be hard to pick up on. You may notice that your dog doesn’t respond to being called (or other noises), when sleeping, too far away, or not looking at you; they don’t run to their bowl when you pour food and do not wake unless physically touched.
The only conclusive way to find out if a pet is deaf is with a BAER Test. BAER stands for “Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response” and uses computers to record the electrical activity of the brain in response to sound stimulation. At home, you can perform “cursory” tests such as jangling keys, opening the treat jar, running the vacuum, etc.
If you are concerned that your pet might be losing it’s hearing or is deaf, please schedule an appointment at our practice. Our doctors can perform similar cursory tests (However, you will probably have more success with these experiments at home with the pet in their comfortable environment.) and perform a thorough exam to be sure there is no chronic infection or a mass causing the hearing loss. We can also refer you to a veterinary neurologist for the BAER testing.
Deaf dogs make wonderful pets
Some people are fearful of adopting a deaf dog because they assume it will be too hard to train the dog or, because they startle easily, might be more aggressive. Training all dogs takes practice and patience, and deaf pets are just as smart and capable of training as hearing pets.
Living with and training a deaf dog requires a different form of communication and requires the utilization of the pet’s other, more heightened senses of sight, smell, and feel. Using clear and unique hand signals to teach your dog basic commands like “sit,” “stay,” “down,” and “good dog” is not only a good learning tool for deaf dogs but a great form of silent communication and set of visual cues for hearing dogs too! Pet insurance provider Trupanion provides this great video that shows these hand signals in action.
According to Elisabeth Catalano in Breaking the Sound Barrier: Living with and Training the Deaf Dog, (an article referred by our behavioral consultant, Dr. Leslie Sinn) there are no studies quantifying the prevalence of aggression in deaf dogs. As Catalano states in her article, any startled dog has the potential to bite. Because deaf dogs are more prone to being startled, it is important to work on preventative training techniques such as gently touching the pet in the same way every day, and informing strangers and children how to appropriately act around the pet.
Keeping Deaf Pets Safe
Keeping a deaf dog safe requires a little extra effort on their person’s part but is necessary for the pet’s health and happiness, especially in public settings. Here are a few rules to live by:
- Have your pet wear an ID tag, collar, or vest that reads “I’m Deaf.” Deaf pets should always have their ID tag, collar, and be leashed/harnessed when out in public.
- Get them microchipped. We strongly encourage all of our pet patients to be microchipped, but this is especially important for deaf pets. In the event that a deaf pet goes missing, a microchip can accurately ID the pet and get them back to their owner as soon as possible. In this article, the author describes the merits of including “I’m Deaf” as part of the pet’s name in the microchip paperwork, to clearly and quickly let potential handlers know that the pet is deaf, if the pet’s chip is scanned.
- Participate in basic obedience class training and use consistent positive reinforcement techniques at home.
- Always be aware of your surroundings in public and communicate to your dog appropriately. Remember, if your dog can’t see something, they don’t know it exists. They rely on you for guidance, especially in the constant changing conditions of the outside world.
To learn more about deafness in pets or if you are interested in adopting a deaf pet, check out the following resources:
Gracie is an 8-year old Boxer that was rescued by her owners when she was a puppy. Gracie’s owner talks about her experience with a deaf dog:
The difference between owning a deaf dog and a fully-abled pet is that our Gracie girl just seems more lovable. She feels vibration so she is never more than two feet away from us at any given time. When she was a puppy, we worked on special training techniques to keep her safe in public. For example. I tethered her leash to my waist so she knew she could never go to far ahead of me without looking back at me for direction. I also taught her to recognize “Stop” in sign language.
Gracie is truly a protector. Because she cannot hear, I believe her sense of feeling is heightened. Besides it’s wonderful to have a dog that cannot hear either the Fourth of July fireworks or two crazy kids running around the house!