Did you know that over 85 dog breeds are affected by genetic deafness? Maybe you have a deaf or hard-of-hearing dog in your life—in which case, you know they’re super-loving companions. Deaf dogs can live life to the fullest with just a little more TLC and training than the average pup. Here’s everything you need to know about deaf dogs, including training tips.
How do dogs become deaf?
30% of all Dalmatian puppies born deaf in one or both ears.
Genetics are the most common culprit, with certain breeds more prone to deafness. For instance, 30% of all Dalmatian puppies born deaf in one or both ears. The leading cause of deafness in dogs is tied to recessive mutations that are responsible for merle and piebald coloring (more about dog color genetics here) Dogs can also lose their hearing in much the same way humans do, from injuries, chronic ear infections, or just growing older.
How do you know if your dog is deaf?
Signs of deafness in a dog, whether in one or both ears, include:
- Puppies that bite too hard (they can’t hear the yelp of their litter mates)
- Puppies that don’t wake up at feeding time unless physically bumped
- Dogs that don’t respond to being called, or to your voice when they’re not looking at you
You can do some simple at-home tests to check for deafness in your dog, such as making obvious sounds when your dog is not looking at you. These can include yelling, squeaking a toy, rattling keys, whistling, clapping, or turning on the vacuum.
If you suspect deafness in your dog, it’s a good idea to get a BAER test administered. BAER stands for brain stem auditory evoked response. The test measures electrical activity in the brain, and is the only definitive way to know if your dog is deaf. Veterinary neurologists often give these tests. You can find detailed info on them here.
How to communicate with a deaf dog
Most deaf dogs and their people rely on American sign language for the bulk of their communication. Other tools can come in handy, like a flashlight or laser pointer to grab a dog’s attention, or a vibrating collar attachment that can let your dog know it’s time to come find you.
Teaching a deaf dog is much the same as teaching a hearing dog, but the trainer reinforces hand signals instead of a spoken command. The video below shows how a deaf dog parent (of three!) trains her dogs. The order of learning commands will be familiar, and you’ll see how they build on each other.
ASL for dog training
Alisha McGraw has a lot of experience training deaf dogs. Prepare to be impressed at the range and depth of sign language she uses daily with her dogs. Without even realizing it, we teach hearing dogs the meaning of far more words than we imagine. Deaf dogs are no different, but they may pick up on a gesture you frequently make rather than a word or phrase.
Deaf dogs do get startled
Yes, deaf dogs can be startled, especially when they’re fast asleep. Teaching your dog a touch signal and rewarding with a high-level treat every time you wake up your dog can help allay her fears. It’s also important, if your deaf dog gets anxious when she can’t find you, to wake her and let her know when you leave the house.
Deaf dogs can ignore you
Just like hearing dogs, deaf dogs can choose to look away from you or flat-out ignore your hand signals. This is where a flashing flashlight, vibrating collar attachment, or just plain stomping the ground can come in handy to regain your dog’s attention.
Caution: Training deaf dogs is addictive
Thoughts to self: don’t turtle..don’t turtle…yes! ?? When mom taught me how to roll over ?. At first she thought it might not work, but she would manually roll me over ? until I did it myself, then she added in the sign & I got it. + only took me 30 mins to learn ???? #dogtricks #deafdogtricks #rollover #training #proudmama #perservere #cleverdog #dogsofinstagram #bullbreedsofinsta
If you add a deaf dog to your family, watch out—you just might get addicted to training these smart and attentive animals. Once you get the basics down, you might to keep working towards your canine good citizen test or start picking up some agility skills. The possibilities are endless!
Seven, the deaf agility champ of Canada
Featured image: Warning Leash