Living with a Hearing Impaired Dog
Age-related hearing loss
Partial or total hearing loss is common in geriatric dogs. This is due to degenerative changes in the inner ear and the stiffening of the eardrum.
Most dogs lose their hearing gradually, making it difficult to detect. Hearing loss can occur in one ear (unilateral deafness) or in both ears (bilateral deafness). It's unlikely that you'll notice any hearing loss in your dog unless it is bilateral.
Has hearing loss occurred?
A simple noise test can help you determine if your dog is experiencing hearing loss. Try this. Approach your dog from behind. Make a noise by clapping your hands or shaking your keys. If your dog does not spin around to investigate, he may be experiencing hearing loss.
The noise test should be done a few feet away from your dog; many deaf dogs are sensitive to vibrations in the air and variations of air pressure, and can feel the vibrations and wind from clapping, shouting, doors opening and closing, and more.
If hearing loss is suspected, your dog should be examined by a veterinarian to determine if this is a treatable problem, such as an ear infection. The only way to truly know if your dog is deaf is with a Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response (BAER-pronounced "bear") test.
This test uses computers to record the electrical activity of the brain in response to sound stimulation and usually involves a referral to a veterinary neurologist.
Living with a deaf dog
Deaf dogs can make wonderful companions and be every bit as loving as hearing dogs. With a bit of patience you can train your deaf dog to do almost everything a hearing dog can.
Training a deaf dog is just like training a hearing dog except that you use signs as well as spoken commands. Dogs learn and adapt well to hand signals.
To train your deaf dog:
- Get your dog's attention by thumping on the floor with your foot. The vibrations will alert him.
- Then speak the command with the addition of a hand gesture.
- Be very expressional. Your dog will watch for hand signals as well as facial expressions.
- Use standard obedience signals.
- Reward your dog with food and lots of praise.
- Keep training sessions short, no longer than ten minutes.
- Always follow training sessions with an activity your dog enjoys.
Even if your dog isn't experiencing hearing loss, it's a good idea to train your dog early to recognize and obey hand signals.
What about hearing aids?
Hearing aids are available, but they're expensive. If you have dog insurance, check to see if they cover hearing aids. If you do buy a hearing aid, remember that they can fall out easily and may get lost.
Generally speaking, hearing aids are not well tolerated in dogs.
Deaf dogs can't hear traffic or other dangers, so a fenced in yard and use of a leash are a must for you dog's safety. Also your dog's ID tag should indicate that he is deaf.
Any dog, especially an older dog, may snap when startled or suddenly awoken. Advise all visitors, especially children, that your dog is deaf, so they can avoid startling him.
Special needs make special bonds
The most important thing to remember is that it will take a bit of time for you and your dog to adjust to his loss of hearing. Hearing loss does present extra challenges, but most dogs are ready to meet them, if you are.
Sure, extra patience and lots of encouragement are required. Still, it's a small price to pay for the special bond you'll create with your deaf dog.