Offering any dog a home is a big commitment; they need daily walks, play, feeding and training, and thrive on company and attention. But taking on a deaf dog is an even bigger responsibility, one which needs to be considered carefully to be sure you can offer the dog the home it needs.
If like me, it was not your intention to acquire a deaf dog but find yourself in this position, you will still need to decide whether you are the best person to provide the dog a permanent home.
Life with a deaf dog is a bit different to live with a hearing dog; you have to think of some adjustments that need to be made. The following needs to be considered before you commit to a deaf dog:
Talk to the Dog
Although the dog will not hear you when you talk you give other signals through your body language, which are lost if you are silent. Your dog will learn to interpret these messages quite quickly so do talk to the dog as you would a hearing dog.
Deaf dogs don’t hear things falling from above so you have to ensure items in high cupboards or on shelves can’t fall. As another precaution, I fitted an outdoor letterbox, so that my dog wouldn’t find a package landing on his head when the mailman visited should he be asleep by the door.
A recall is a real concern – I wondered if off-leash walking would ever be an option and having a Dalmatian I couldn’t imagine not being able to let him have some freedom to expend his plentiful energy. However, with a little support from some fellow deaf dog owners, we’ve conquered this and he doesn’t roam far from me.
On the advice of a friend, when we were in a safe area I let my dog loose to play. When he wasn’t paying attention I ‘hid’ from him on a few occasions, taking myself out of his sight by walking around a corner or behind some trees. Not knowing where I was (although I ALWAYS had sight of him) panicked him a little and he soon learned that he needed to keep me in his sight to feel safe and secure.
Nowadays my dog will run off ahead, maybe around a sandbank and out of sight, but he always looks back and if I don’t come into sight within a few moments he’ll come back to check I’m still following. He takes full responsibility for knowing where I am and stays a close distance to me. He is, of course, always on the leash when we are near roads or in other risky situations.
All dogs should be micro-chipped and wear a tag with the owner’s details. It is useful to state on the tag of the deaf dog “I am Deaf” so that anyone who finds him should he be lost will realize the dog is not ignoring them or being aloof.
Training methods have to be adapted and an observable signal is given to the deaf dog – usually the hand, but foot and leg signals can be incorporated. So instead of a voice command, you teach a hand signal. Apart from this, a deaf dog is trained in the same way as a hearing dog – with positive reinforcement, that is, rewards for the correct response. There is plenty of information available on this method of training, such as the ‘RSPCA Complete Dog Training Manual.’
A useful thing to remember is to always have treats with you in the early stages of training so that you can reward and therefore reinforce desirable behavior.
Physically Stopping Unwanted Behavior
You need to physically stop the deaf dog doing things such as chewing, rather than shouting ‘No’ across the room. Of course, you can teach a signal for ‘No’ (such as finger-wagging), but the dog needs to be looking at you to be able to respond.
Teaching a signal for ‘Good Dog’ is important – it’s surprising how often we say ‘Good Boy’ or ‘Good Girl’ to reassure our dogs they are on the right track and in our good books. You can achieve this by simply giving a ‘thumbs up’ while giving the dog a treat. By repeating this several times throughout the day for a few weeks the dog comes to associate the signal with something good (a food treat). This indicates to him that all is well and good and that you are happy with him.
Patience and Consistency
Although necessary in the training of any dog, with deaf dogs patience and consistency are particularly important.
Waking the Dog
Waking the dog needs to be done sensitively. Touching a sleeping dog on the head is likely to startle him but stroking him lightly on the shoulder wakes him gently.
Leaving When the Dog is Asleep
Some deaf dogs get confused or panic should they awake to find their owner gone. To avoid this it is advisable to wake the dog so that he sees you leaving the room, or in particular, the house.
Meetings With Other Dogs
When the dog is deaf you need to ensure that meeting other dogs is controlled. Deaf dogs cannot hear the warning signals that less friendly dogs give (growls). They will learn the body language (such as the crinkling of the snout) in time but to avoid unpleasant experiences with less friendly dogs, meetings should be controlled and with dogs on the leash.
Avoid Reinforcing Barking
Deaf dogs do bark – mine is very vocal and he quickly picked up that barking got my attention so was a good thing (for him anyway). Whilst this is great if the dog is barking to go outside to do his business, barking just for your attention needs to be curbed to prevent escalation. Unnecessary barking needs to be completely ignored; even looking at the dog is giving him attention and can reinforce his barking so no eye contact is advised.
My deaf dog has a doggy companion – my other dog, a Beagle. This is something I would strongly recommend. Although a hearing dog cannot literally be the ‘ears’ for the deaf dog, they provide valuable information through body language and can communicate many messages to the deaf dog in this way. For example, even if my Beagle doesn’t run to the door when someone knocks, his erect body language and facing in the direction of the door tells my deaf dog that someone is at the door and it is he who then often goes to investigate the caller.
I decided to keep my dog despite his deafness; I had chosen him and although I didn’t know a thing about having a deaf dog, I knew I had the commitment to research training and his needs. I knew I would do my absolute best to provide the best home he could have. This is most important – be honest about whether you want the extra responsibility that comes with a deaf dog and have the commitment to do the best possible for the dog. If you do, then you will likely get by fine and reap the rewards of an extra-special bond with an extra-special companion.
If you are thinking of providing a lifelong home for a deaf dog, do consider all of the above factors. Deaf dogs are no different in the love, affection, loyalty, and fun they offer us. My deaf Dalmatian is charming, sweet and adorable and we have a very strong bond. With patience and creativity, deaf dogs make superb companions.