Deafness in dogs (and other forms of hearing impairments) are relatively common, and although they can have a pretty big impact on your furry friend, as a pet parent there’s a lot you can do to help your special dog enjoy a healthy and happy life. Here are some tips for caring for your hearing impaired fur-baby, plus some silly myths about deaf and hearing impaired dogs that you should toss out the window.
One of the biggest challenges of caring for a dog who cannot hear is to help her feel safe, confident and protected. As a pet parent, you communicate with your dog in many different ways, some of which you might not even be aware of. Although we often train dogs using whistles, verbal commands, and clickers, there are many other ways to “talk” to your dog. Here are a few suggestions for adjusting training with your deaf or hearing impaired fur-baby.
Use hand signals.
Even if you have a hearing dog, incorporating hand signals into your dog training is a good idea. When you ask your dog to sit, stay or lie down, choose a hand signal for each command. Since many dogs develop hearing impairments later in life, training your puppy using a combo of verbal and visual signals is a good idea because your dog will always be able to understand your directions, even if she loses her hearing in older age. Deafness or hearing impairment doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk to your dog, however! Your dog can see your facial expressions and body language, so giving her verbal praise is still beneficial, even if she cannot hear you. Dogs love seeing the smiles on our faces, so don’t be shy about hamming it up with your hearing impaired fur-friend.
Be mindful of your body language.
Although hearing is an important sense for dogs, their smell and sight are even more important. Dogs are very good at picking up human body language. Dogs can (and do) watch our eye movements and gestures very closely, so it’s important to be confident, calm and self-assured when spending time with your dog. If you are nervous or worried, your body language will project that emotional state and your dog will pick up on it and may become stressed out.
Avoid startling your dog.
Dogs with hearing difficulties can become startled when you walk up behind them or touch them when they’re least expecting it. If you approach your dog from behind, you can stomp your feet a little to alert him that you’re coming, flash a light, or give some other cue that you’re approaching. It’s especially important to talk with children and other family members about techniques to keep your dog from becoming alarmed or frightened. Gentle touch, giving your dog signals that you’re nearby, and using positive reinforcement when your dog “goes with the flow” are all good ways to help your dog adjust to life with a hearing impairment.
Teach your dog to react positively to unexpected events.
You can do controlled training to help your pup adjust to being touched or approached. For example, you can practice waking up your dog with gentle touch by placing your hand near your dog’s nose (so she can smell you) and then very lightly touching her and stroking her fur in a soothing manner. When your dog’s eyes open, reward her with a treat or a big smile. In time, this will teach her to expect good things when she is touched, even if she’s not anticipating it. When training your dog to adapt to the unexpected, it’s very important to evaluate her temperament; not all dogs will do well with desensitization techniques, and it’s a good idea to discuss your training plans with your vet so you can make good choices about how to proceed.
Tips for Pet Parents with Hearing Impaired Furry Family Members
Your dog experiences the world through her senses, and even though hearing is an important part of the picture, dogs have extremely keen senses of smell and sight. You can adjust your dog’s routine in little ways that will let her use these other senses and make her life more comfortable.
The best thing to remember is that dogs who are deaf or hard of hearing can be startled easily and need extra protection from frightening or dangerous situations. Here are a few top tips on caring for your hearing impaired pup!
Don’t let Rover go outside unsupervised.
If you let your dog out to potty or hang out in the yard, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on him if he has a hearing impairment. That way, if a dangerous situation crops up that your dog is not aware of, you can step in and intervene to keep your fur-baby safe.
Skip off-leash dog parks.
Dogs love to socialize, but pets with hearing difficulties may have a tough time interacting in chaotic environments like the dog park. Instead of heading out to public locations, invite a doggy friend over to play with your deaf or hearing impaired pet. Being in a familiar environment will increase your dog’s comfort and make it easier for exercise and playtime with friends to be safe and fun for everybody!
Move your dog’s bed against a wall or corner.
Deaf dogs may not hear you approach them from behind, which can lead to a spook for both of you! In order to prevent this, place your dog’s bed against a wall or in a corner so no one can accidentally “sneak up” on your canine companion from behind!
Develop a hand signal to greet Rover.
Choose a gesture to greet your deaf or hard of hearing dog, so he knows you’re coming over to say hello. This can be as simple as a hi-sign wave, just a little something your dog can see that tells him you want to come over for some doggy affection!
Signal when you come in the house or enter the room.
Dogs who cannot hear doorbells, footsteps or a knock on the door can become frightened if someone bursts into the room unannounced. To prevent startling your dog with unexpected guests, create a visual signal that you and guests can use to let your dog know someone’s coming inside. For example, you can flash a hall light or stomp on the floor. Whatever you choose, be consistent, because in time your dog will recognize that signal as a sign that someone new has come on the scene.
Remove food and water bowls from busy areas.
Dogs can be pretty reactive if they’re interrupted while eating or drinking, so it’s a good idea to place food and water bowls in spots where there isn’t a lot of traffic.
Create a safe space.
A dog with hearing impairments may need a safe spot to retreat to if things get really overwhelming in the common areas of the home. Setting up a comfy and secluded area for your dog that has a bed and toys is a good idea so he can tiptoe off to his special spot when things get a little too crazy in the living room.
Always use a leash and collar.
When walking or going out in public, make sure your hearing impaired pet is on-leash at all times. You also may want to add a note to your dog’s identification tag that he’s deaf or hard of hearing, just in case you’re ever separated.
Let the neighbors know.
Tell your neighbors that you have a hearing impaired dog, and let them know how to get in touch with you right away if they ever see your pet outside alone.
Myths About Hearing Impaired Dogs
Some people make untrue assumptions about deafness in dogs, and there’s some pretty bad information out there. Here are a three myths about hearing impaired dogs that you should disregard!
Hearing impaired dogs are aggressive.
Although it’s possible that a startled deaf dog may become frightened or react aggressively, it’s certainly not the norm and you should never assume your dog is dangerous simply because he’s got a hearing impairment. Use the tricks above to prevent startling your dog and remember to project calm, confident and loving energy to your canine companion. Also, talk with your vet about any concerns you have so you can nip dangerous behaviors in the bud.
Dogs with deafness are likely to be hit by cars.
Dogs with hearing issues may have a harder time hearing traffic and should always be leashed in public. However, your dog can often feel the vibrations of an approaching vehicle, and a dog’s senses of sight and smell can help her detect automobiles as well. For best results, always supervise and escort your hearing impaired dog, but remember she has plenty of ways to figure out what’s going on around her, even if her ears don’t work so well!
Deaf dogs cannot live normal lives.
Your hearing impaired dog will have some different experiences and needs than a hearing dog, sure, but many of the same training techniques and best practices apply, regardless of your dog’s ability to hear. Dogs with deafness can be as connected, loving, and affectionate with their people as hearing dogs, and they’re often just as happy-go-lucky and carefree!