Sept. 20-26 is National Deaf Dog Awareness Week
Just like hearing dogs, deaf dogs want to please us and be our best friends. But if they can’t seem to catch on to what a person wants, or if they are startled frequently, deaf dogs can develop anxiety issues. That is completely understandable when you think about it! And dogs that are stressed out all the time can seem less friendly, or even fearful or aggressive.
The great news is, this doesn’t have to be the case. If you know your dog is deaf, you can work with him to communicate in other ways so he can be as happy and friendly as any dog.
Here’s what you need to know about dogs and deafness:
Some dogs are born deaf. Some breeds, including Australian Shepherds, Dalmatians, Great Danes, and Welsh Corgis, are prone to congenital deafness – that is, they inherit it genetically. Dogs can also lose their hearing, just like humans. This can be due to age, traumatic injury, or illnesses that cause permanent damage.
You may want to ask your veterinarian about deafness if:
- Your puppy doesn’t seem to know his name, or seems to be learning slowly.
- Your dog doesn’t greet you at the door when he’s sleeping.
- Your dog doesn’t respond when you put it to the test – try squeaking a toy, rattling keys, clapping your hands, ringing a bell, etc.
If it turns out your dog is deaf, don’t worry – there are just a few things to keep in mind.
- Keep your dog on a leash – he can’t hear the cars coming or horns honking, and he can’t hear you calling him back to you.
- Try to avoid sneaking up on him – take a few heavy steps to see if he can feel vibration in the floor, walk around to approach him through his field of vision, or turn the lights on and off to let him know you’re coming. This will reduce his anxiety and avoid startling him into biting.
- If you need to wake him, try stamping your foot near him, or very gently touch or pet him in the same spot, such as the shoulder, every time. Reward him with treats as he learns this so being awakened doesn’t become a source of anxiety.
- Teach these tips to children as well.
Your dog may develop his own ways of communicating. Barking is instinctive behavior, so he will still likely bark about things.
From your end, communicating with a deaf dog means using facial expressions, body language, hand gestures, and touch. Praise your dog by petting him enthusiastically while smiling, for example. Just remember that your dog needs to be looking at you for non-verbal communication to work.
Training a deaf dog is the same as training a dog who can hear – you just can’t use verbal commands, and must catch his attention in different ways. For example:
- You can still reward desired behaviors with treats, toys, and affection.
- If you want to use the principles of clicker training, you still can! Obviously your dog won’t hear a click, but you can replace the click with a hand signal, such as a thumbs up.
- Use hand signals in place of all verbal commands. Any dog can learn hand signals, and most dogs who compete in dog sports do so as a matter of routine so their trainers don’t have to shout across long distances. Some people choose to learn some American Sign Language, but you can use any hand signals you want as long as you’re consistent.
- Catch your dog’s attention by stamping your foot on the floor. If you are out in your yard, it is easiest to wait until he turns around. But you can also train him to do a visual check-in with you by tossing something small and light so that it lands in front of him (don’t hit him!).
- Teach your dog to come in from the yard at night by flicking the porch light off and on.
- Older dogs can learn new tricks, even if they’ve lost their hearing.
- Be patient – every dog is different and they all learn at their own pace – this is true of deaf dogs too.
Living with a deaf dog can be a unique and beautiful experience. Using sound with dogs who can hear is perfectly acceptable, but with a deaf dog, learning to communicate on so many levels can actually increase your bond and make you even better friends.