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Living with a deaf dog

Published: 
Sunday, February 18, 2018

The very idea of living with a deaf dog can be overwhelming.

Negative rumours abound which make people recoil at the idea of owning a deaf dog such as: deaf dogs are aggressive, deaf dogs are impossible to train, and a deaf dog is a disabled dog. The sickening reality is that many breeders will kill a puppy who is born deaf, and many owners will dump a dog who they discover is deaf. The truth is that life with a deaf dog is not harder, it is just different. Some puppies are born deaf, which is known as congenital deafness. This genetic problem is often associated with white coat colouring and occurs more in breeds such as Dalmatians and Bull Terriers. Other dogs can go deaf from a variety of causes, ranging from chronic ear infections or injuries to drug toxicity and old age.

Communicating with your deaf dog is possible even though your dog is not able to hear you. If you observe your dog closely enough, you will find that his eyes are often on you, reading your bodylanguage. Don’t  depend on your voice, start talking to your deaf dog with your body and you will learn how simple communicating with him really is.

It is as easy to train a deaf dog as to train a hearing dog. Deaf animals learn the same way hearing animals do—when a behaviour is rewarded, the animal learns to do it more often. The only difference is that you use hand signals instead of verbal commands. You can also use a vibration collar as a cue or to get the dog’s attention, DO NOT USE a shock collar.

Even if you have a hearingdog, train him using both verbal commands and hand signals so if he loses his hearing later in life, he can still understand you through the signals. The key is having a clear hand signal for each action you want the dog to learn.
It does not matter what signal you use as long as the signals are consistent for the action, distinct for each action, and you reward the desired behaviour every time./

It is also a myth that deaf dogs are more aggressive than hearing dogs. ANY dog, if startled, can bite especially if the dog is touched when asleep. You should desensitise your deaf dog (and hearing dog!) to sudden touches.

Start by lightly touching some part of his body when he is awake and then immediately giving him a small treat. Repeat to teach: sudden touch equals tasty treat.'

Touch the same body part every time.

Next, progress to repeatedly waking the dog with a touch in the same place and giving a treat. He will associate being awakened, even startled, with something positive.

You can also nudge the bed that the dog is sleeping on or stomp your foot on the ground near him so the vibration wakes him.

Safety is important for deaf dogs.

If you do not have a fenced yard, keep him indoors at all times. If you have a yard, supervise your dog while he is using it. Keeping a small bell on his collar will help you keep track of him.

Remember that he will not be able to hear a vehicle approaching, or even starting if he is sleeping under it, so ensure that you secure him if you are moving the car.

When out in public, never take your deaf dog off leash. Identify your dog using a tag labelled “Deaf Dog” and including your contact details. Use a harness for walking as dogs can more easily slip through a neck collar.

Remember that deaf dogs can do almost anything hearing dogs can do. There is nothing wrong with them; they’re just dogs that cannot hear but they also deserve a chance at a wonderful life.

Copyright © Kristel-Marie Ramnath 2018

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