The Dalmatian dog breed is very distinctive looking and highly appealing to many dog lovers, not at all hindered by their image in popular culture due to films such as 101 Dalmatians, and their hugely entertaining and very outgoing personalities!
Their looks, temperaments and general appeal means that many people aspire to owning a Dalmatian, but they can be among the most challenging of breeds to own, as they are hugely energetic and many owners would say, not blessed with masses of common sense! Added to this, the breed also has a hereditary predisposition to deafness, with statistics compiled by the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare indicating that anything up to 30% of dogs of the breed are affected to either unilateral or bilateral deafness to some extent, and up to 8% of the breed as a whole virtually completely deaf in both ears.
Deafness in Dalmatians is usually progressive and quick, so pups may be born with normal hearing but have total or partial deafness in one or both ears by the time they reach a year old.
This propensity to deafness is connected to the dog’s coat colour and patterning, and if you are interested in learning more about this, you can read more information in our previous article.
While Dalmatians can and should have their hearing tested using the BAER hearing testing protocol (as recommended by both The Kennel Club and the British Dalmatian Club, there is currently no DNA test for this type of deafness, and hearing parents may produce a litter with deaf or partially deaf puppies in it. All of this combined means that a significant proportion of the Dalmatian dog population are deaf or hard of hearing, and naturally, training and managing a deaf dog is rather different to how you would proceed with a hearing dog!
Deafness and the lively, active and inquisitive nature of the Dalmatian breed can of course make training a challenge, particularly if you don’t know where to begin.
In this article, we will share some basic guidance and tips on how to go about training a deaf Dalmatian, and some considerations to bear in mind. Read on to learn more.
The first step when it comes to beginning a training protocol for a deaf dog is to find out exactly what they can and cannot hear, and the best way to do this is to have them BAER tested. This test can be performed from the time that a puppy reaches around five and a half weeks old. This means that pups may be tested by the breeder prior to sale, and you should of course ask about this.
If testing has not been performed and you have decided to take your chances and accept that your dog may be deaf, it is important to run through some simple exercises at home to see if your dog can hear you, and/or if they are suffering from deafness or partial deafness, and in which ear.
The key to training a deaf dog is of course to use visual cues rather than auditory ones, which will allow you to build up a type of sign language to use to communicate with your dog. These visual cues will involve eye contact and facial expressions, but should largely consist of hand and arm movements that are clear enough to be seen from a distance, and distinctive enough from each other that your dog is able to pick out one command from the next.
The challenge then of course is how to get your dog to look your way when you want to give them a command-get their attention from time to time simply to give them a treat, and this will condition them to look to you regularly, in case they might be offered something nice!
Touch and physical communication can be effective for deaf dogs in close quarters, such as walking on the lead. However, remember that a deaf dog may have no warning of your presence or approach until you are touching them, which can cause them to start with surprise, particularly if they were asleep.
It is wise to train your dog from a young age to accept a surprise touch without reacting badly, as otherwise they may be apt to snap if they are surprised when they get older.
As well as visual cues, there are various other ways that you can communicate with your dog and get their attention, such as by stamping your feet on the floor, causing a mild vibration that your dog will be able to pick up on. This can be effective if you want to wake your dog without surprising them, or if you want to get their attention within the home.
Some dogs that are hard of hearing but not completely deaf will be able to hear certain types of sounds, so it is worth trying out a silent dog whistle or other tones to see if your dog can pick them up and respond to them. This will give you a much wider range of options when it comes to getting your deaf Dalmatian’s attention, and communicating with them over longer distances.