If you are considering getting a dog which is deaf or if you already own a deaf dog, this article will give you a little bit of insight into deafness in dogs, how deaf dogs cope with the world around them, and a few tips on making their lives easier. Read on to find out more.
Dogs and their senses
Deafness in dogs is not actually as much of a disability and as hard to get used to and live with as it can be for people, because of the vital differences between the senses of the dog and those we utilise ourselves. While humans tend to use sight and hearing the most strongly out of our five senses, for dogs, smelling is their most active sense, followed by seeing and hearing in that order. So the way a dog reads and navigates around its world is significantly different to the way a person does, and losing the use of their third sense, hearing, can be accounted for and accommodated with relative ease by dogs.
How dogs cope with deafness
A dog which is born deaf is not aware that other people and dogs can hear, and so to him, the silent world is normal and his other senses make up for his lack of hearing. Through scent, sight and the dog's unique ability to read the energy and moods of other dogs and people, deaf dogs are able to navigate the world around them with relative ease. Most dog owners will have noticed that if they are feeling sad or unwell, their dog picks up on this and will stay close and comfort them- this is one of the unique ways in which dogs utilise their ability to sense emotion, something which we humans are much further back with on the evolutionary path. In reading their environment and the things going on around them, a deaf dog works primarily with the millions of scent glands in their nose, as well as their sight and their ability to pick up the moods and feelings of those around them, and by becoming attuned to vibrations in the air and ground which indicate an impending approach or a loud noise occurring- which is often why it is not readily apparent that a dog is deaf, as they sometimes seem to react to sounds and loud noises, when in fact they are reacting to the vibration and changes in the atmosphere around them.While a deaf dog may become easily startled by a sudden approach which they cannot hear, or being touched unexpectedly when they did not realise that a person was nearby, there are many ways in which you as the owner of a deaf dog can make allowances for their lack of hearing and communicate with your dog effectively to make their day to day lives a little easier.
Tips for communicating with and training a deaf dog
- A deaf dog may not be able to hear you approaching them, but they will pick up on the vibrations through the ground caused by your approach. Stamping or stepping heavily as you come closer to them will alert the dog of your presence, as will flashing a torch in their line of vision to cause them to look towards the source.
- Try to avoid creeping up on or startling a deaf dog- if your dog is sleeping and you need to wake him, a light touch on the shoulder while staying a couple of feet away so the dog does not wake up suddenly to find someone in his space is a good idea. Try to touch your dog in roughly the same spot each time you need to get his attention, and he will come to associate that touch with you, and safety.
- In order to train a deaf dog, he will need to rely on his sight to read your cues. Clear hand signals and facial expressions can soon become as obvious to your deaf dog as verbal cues and your tone of voice are for a hearing dog. Even if you have a hearing dog as well as a deaf dog, the hearing dog will quickly adapt or be able to be trained to read your hand signals and expressions as well, particularly if mimicking the behaviour of the deaf dog.
- Carry a flashlight with you when out of the house and on walks, particularly in the twilight hours. If your dog is running loose some distance away and is unable to see your face and hands, you should soon be able to train the dog that flashing the light means 'come back.'
- Teach your dog to seek direction from you in unfamiliar situations, and while running off the lead or in crowds. You will not be able to recall your dog verbally or get him to respond to the sound of your voice, so encourage him through training to look back to you every few minutes or so to see if you are offering direction or praise- maybe accompanied by a tasty treat.
- Be careful of how your dog reacts to children, either your own or other peoples. While lots of deaf dogs, like hearing dogs, love children and love to play, for a deaf dog, seeing a child running about erratically, waving their arms and stomping about can appear to be signs of distress or aggression without the aural cues that accompany play. Teach any children which will come into contact with your dog that the dog is deaf, and how to communicate with him and make him more comfortable. Within a few minutes, a deaf dog is likely to be perfectly happily involved in an energetic game with willing youngsters as soon as he comes to understand that play is in the offing, and not a potential threat.
- Consider having a tag made for your dog's collar that indicates that he is deaf (as well as your contact information) as this can make things much easier for helpful strangers and less stressful for your dog if he ever gets lost outside of the home. You might also think about having a nylon collar printed up with 'I am deaf' on it, a much clearer cue for the people who your dog comes into contact in passing and when out on walks.
For more tips and advice on living with a deaf dog and how to manage, check out the Deaf Dog Education and Action Fund to get in touch with other owners and experts.