Hearing loss in dogs can range from partial impairment to full deafness and can be the result of a variety of different causes, including age, genetics, illness, disease, or injury.
The good news is, with the proper knowledge, hearing impaired dogs thrive in a loving home, and have the same quality of life as dogs without impairment. In fact, many owners report the bond is even stronger because of it!
What Causes Hearing Loss and Deafness in Dogs?
The number one cause of hearing loss in dogs is ARHL, or Age-Related Hearing Loss. Just as with people, as dogs age, it is very common to experience varying levels of hearing impairment that can develops slowly at first, but may worsen over time, and potentially lead to total deafness.
Some dogs are born deaf, and certain breeds, including Dalmatians, Australian Shepherds, Cocker Spaniels, and Jack Russel Terriers appear to be more prone to congenital deafness. Although any dog can be born deaf, dogs with white pigmentation (skin and coat) are more predisposed to a genetic defect that causes deafness.
Symptoms of infection include head shaking, reacting in pain if you touch their ears, hearing loss, lack of appetite, mood changes, and lethargy.
Sadly, something as simple to treat as an ear infection can quickly lead to a life-threatening situation and even death, making it imperative not to ignore even the smallest of signs or behaviors.
If your dog is exhibiting any of these symptoms, please consult your veterinarian right away.
Something as minor as excessive earwax buildup can cause temporary hearing issues. Additional causes include illness, disease, and injury, including tumors, nerve degeneration, a ruptured eardrum, chronic ear infections, toxic poisoning and many more.
Signs Your Dog is Deaf or Losing Their Hearing
- Failing to respond to their name being called, or other familiar verbal commands.
- Not responding to sounds that would typically evoke a reaction, such as the doorbell, thunder, or other loud noises.
- Any sign of pain when touching their ears.
- Personality and behavioral changes.
- Excessive barking.
- Difficult to wake up.
- Shaking their head or tilting it to one side.
- Low energy or signs of depressed mood.
How Can I Help My Deaf Dog?
1) Teach Hand Signals ASAP
If you adopt a deaf dog, it is imperative that you begin signing/hand signal training right away. It does not matter if you use American Sign Language, or make up your own hand signals, what matters is that you always remain consistent with the signs.
Teaching your dog to learn non-verbal commands is done just as it is with hearing dogs, using the positive reward method. And since getting a hearing-impaired dog’s attention may sometimes be a little more challenging, you can try methods like creating vibrations by stomping on the floor or using a flashlight or laser pointer.
For dogs that develop ARHL, (as many will) transitioning from full hearing to partial or complete deafness can be difficult and disorienting for them. Even if your puppy or adult dog has perfect hearing, the sooner you teach them the coordinating hand signals for verbal commands the better! Not only will this help them adjust, should they develop hearing loss, but it will also strengthen the bond between you both.
2) Add a Tag
Attach an “I am Deaf” tag to your dog’s collar so that in case they ever become lost, people will know they cannot hear.
3) Keep Them Safe
Although keeping dogs safe by leashing them and providing fenced in yards is important for all dogs, it goes without saying that these safety measures are extra important for deaf dogs.
Sadly, many dogs are euthanized simply because they are born deaf. But the reality is, hearing impaired dogs are incredibly capable of adapting and finding ways to compensate for their disability to live full, happy, and active lives.
Raising a Deaf Dog:
Q&A With the Owner of a Deaf Dalmatian
Q: How did you first hear about Dante?
A: I first heard about Dante from a woman I worked with. She asked if I thought you could train a deaf dog. I thought about it for a minute, then remembering I knew sign language, I said, yes. She told me about a litter of Dalmatians, where one of the puppies had been born deaf, and the owner was planning to euthanize him. She was trying to find him a home asap.
Q: Did you have any reservations about adopting a deaf dog?
A: None whatsoever. In fact, several years after adopting Dante, we adopted another deaf Dalmatian.
Q: How was training Dante different from training a hearing dog?
A: Since I knew ASL, I taught him all the basic command signs like come, sit, down, stay, no, stop, good dog, want to eat? Want to go out? But Dante also knew many more signs and I could do them at a distance.
Potty training a deaf dog is no different than it is with all puppies. It’s all about positive reinforcement and rewarding them with a treat or generous praise, in Dante’s case, using the sign for “Good boy!” And of course, puppies need to out more frequently than adult dogs, so I always took him out first thing in the morning, after he ate, after a play session or a walk, after a nap, and before bed. He never had an accident.
Dante was super smart, and despite being the only deaf dog, he graduated at the top of his obedience class.
Q: How did Dante compensate for his lack of hearing?
A: From the moment I brought him home, he always followed me with his eyes. By using his other senses, he was very aware of what was going on around him.
Q: Did being deaf hold Dante back in any way?
A: Not at all. He loved boating, swimming, playing, and any type of interaction. He was very affectionate, and the most easygoing dog I’ve ever owned. He was also fearless, perfectly comfortable around all other dogs, as well as people and kids.
Q: What advice would you give to someone who is considering adopting a deaf dog?
A: First and foremost, keep your dog safe! Begin signing immediately and keep the signs simple and direct. As with a hearing dog, always reward them when they respond to your sign, reinforcing positive behavior.
Q: Tell us a special memory you have of Dante?
A: He would sleep on his bed in front of the fire and every now and then would wake up and look over his shoulder to see me and make sure I was still there. Then he would snuggle down into his bed and go back to sleep. He lived to be an old man, just shy of 15. He was my best boy and I will always miss him.