Sensory systems help animals to monitor their environment and ensure their self-protection. When it comes to dogs, their ears and sense of smell are so well-developed that it not only helps them with basic survival, but also helps them to understand their environment, communicate and so much more.
In fact, dogs depend a lot on their sense of hearing to keep themselves safe. Unfortunately, if this sense is lost, it makes life highly challenging for dogs and for their care-givers as well. Loss of taste may not affect domestic animals as severely as loss of vision or hearing. In some cases, it even causes the animals to get injured and eventually their death.
From a caregiver’s perspective, living with a deaf dog is a challenging and a truly life-changing experience. Here is everything you need to know about living with deaf dogs including tips to bond with them and keep them safe.
How Do Dogs Become Deaf?
Before going into the challenges and living with a deaf dog, it is important to understand how dogs become deaf in the first place.
A few decades ago, deafness in dogs was just a passing conversation, and little was known about it. No importance whatsoever was given to deaf dogs, and most of the times, they either ended up in shelters or on the roads. Eventually, they had a painful death.
The good news is we have made a lot of strides in understanding dog’s deafness including its pathology and genetics. This understanding has greatly helped us to better understand and handle the challenges that comes with a deaf dog.
Generally speaking, deafness can be:
- Congential or comes with birth. In other words, the dog was born deaf or became deaf within just a few months after birth.
- Hereditary or acquired from an ancestor. This deafness can be congenital or can be developed much later in the dog’s life.
- Sensorineural or conductive which means the sound stops reaching the inner ears where it is processed and sent to the brain. Sensorineural is caused due to problems in nerve cells and this is a permanent damage. Conductive, on the other hand, happens due to some injury or accident and there are chances to restore hearing.
- Age related – Like humans dogs’ hearing levels also go down as they become older. They may even end up being deaf after a certain age.
Congenital or hereditary problems are often seen in dogs with white pigmentation and this deafness tends to be present within three to four weeks after birth. The deafness can affect in one or both the ears, but the affected ear is totally impaired.
Dogs that are constantly exposed to loud noises such as military and hunting dogs tend to lose their hearing faster than dogs that stay at home. In addition, some medications used for treating other conditions and those that contain ototoxic are known to cause balance and hearing issues with prolonged use.
Regardless of the causes of deafness, you have to care for a deaf dog with the same love and affection. In fact, it requires more love and help from you as it depends on you completely for its protection and sometimes, even its very survival.
How to Live with a Deaf Dog?
Let’s now see how to live with a deaf dog and what you should and shouldn’t do as a pet owner.
In general, dogs that lose their hearing after a few years are easier to manage because they are older and their body would have gradually adapted to the hearing drop and eventually deafness. By the time they become completely deaf; the dog would have adapted and even found its own way of coping with its problem.
Puppies that are deaf on both the years are euthanized at the request of the breeder because life for them is way too hard. Also, their chances of survival are slim, so in most cases, the breeder requests for this option.
However, dogs that cannot hear in one ear should not be euthanized because they make great pets and can live a fairly normal and comfortable life. They may not be able to hear on one ear, but their sense will be highly developed in the other ear, so this should pose no problems at all.
As a pet owner, your biggest challenge comes when you have to raise a bilaterally deaf puppy that was not euthanized or if your dog loses hearing in both the ears after a few years, most likely due to an accident or genetics.
Understand Your Responsibility
The first step to raising a deaf dog is to understand your responsibility as a pet owner. First off, it requires an enormous amount of dedication from you because it is hard to train a dog that cannot hear. They cannot follow a behavior cue because they cannot hear, so potty training could be very difficult.
Secondly, deaf dogs tend to be more sensitive than dogs that can hear and their first reflex is to bite. So, the chances of a deaf dog biting are much higher than a normal dog. From a legal perspective, the owner of a deaf dog is responsible for a dog’s bite because it is often argued that the owner is raising a “dangerous” animal.
So, understand these responsibilities before you raise a deaf dog, as this will prepare you to handle the challenges that come with it. Above everything, be ready to provide a ton of time and effort to work with your dog, especially during the initial few months.
Communication Is the Key
One of the best ways to train a deaf dog is to communicate with it in whatever way you can. Since it cannot hear your words, create a set of signs that are used to denote basic commands. For the first few months, make sure you are consistent with your use of signs as this will help the dog’s brain to make the connection.
During the initial months of training, reward your dog with treats for responding correctly to your signs. Another option is to have a normal hearing dog and train this dog to “teach” the deaf one.
The choice depends on you, but communication is the key here. All dogs that are deaf tend to be aggressive because they feel helpless and are unable to understand what’s going on around them. But, when you establish a channel of communication, they will start feeling comfortable and will not find the need to be aggressive.
The best part is deaf dogs are more adaptive than normal dogs because the loss of one sense is more than made up in the others. Most times, they have a sharp brain that can understand what is being said.
So, you have an extremely intelligent dog on your hands, you just have to know to make the best of its intelligence!
Take a Matter-of-fact Approach
If you have a deaf dog, the one thing that you should never do is pity them. They are not brain dead dogs; they only can’t hear you and the sounds around them.
If you start pitying your dog, you’ll end up having an out of control dog on your hand that will eventually end up in a shelter. Instead, take a matter of fact approach to dealing with a deaf dog.
When you try to see your dog as a normal one, the dog will also shrug off its disability and will accept it more easily. Remember, dogs are sensitive and can sense your feelings. So, the last thing you want is a dog feeling bad that it has upset you in some way.
Be Ready for Extra Care
Undoubtedly, a dog with the disability needs extra care than a normal dog. You will have to be more protective and watchful of your dog’s needs. In return though, you’ll get more than enough dose of gratitude and companionship, much more than what you can imagine. And this reward is the sweetest you can get as a dog owner.
But this requires some extra effort from your end. In general, it is not a good idea to leave your dog alone for extended periods of time because it can panic. As it cannot hear anything, even the smallest of movements can alarm the dog and it may end up reacting violently. So, until your dog gets used to the environment, never leave the dog alone for long periods of time. Work your schedules to ensure that at least one person is home all the time to comfort your dog.
It will also take more time, effort and patience to potty train your dog, so be ready for it as well!
Overall, living and caring for a deaf dog requires more effort and commitment from your end. If this is not something you can give, stay away from adopting a deaf dog. But if you do, you’ll be greatly rewarded for this experience!