Deaf Dog Awareness
The last week of September is National Deaf Dog Awareness Week. This initiative was started by Pet Finder to promote education and to encourage dog lovers to consider bringing a deaf dog into their home. Unfortunately many people assume that a deaf dog would be too difficult to care for which leads to much lower adoption rates. But with the right techniques and training they can lead normal, happy lives and enrich yours in the process!
Causes of deafness in dogs are varied. Many cases are genetic and dogs with white fur or solid white heads are more likely to have hearing problems (this is because un-pigmented skin on the inner ear can cause the nerve endings to die). Deafness can also be caused by ear infections, loud noises, injuries to the ear or even certain medications.
As far as breeds are concerned, Dalmatians have the highest percentage of deafness at about 30%. Other breeds at higher risk include English Setters, Australian Cattle Dogs, Catahoula Leopard Dogs, Whippets and Parson Russel Terriers.
If you suspect that your dog might have hearing problems, there are various tests that can be performed at home which involve getting out of your dog's line of sight (or waiting until they are asleep) and making a loud noise. Things to try include squeezing a squeak toy, clapping your hands, whistling, jangling your keys or ringing your doorbell. For an official diagnosis, a specialist veterinarian can administer the BAER test (Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response). This procedure uses a computer to measure brain activity when a sound is made.
Caring for and training a deaf dog isn't necessarily harder but certain things must be approached differently. For communication, sign language is usually used with great success (either official sign language or hand gestures you develop yourself). A flashlight may be switched on to signal to the dog that you want attention. If the dog is asleep, holding food under their nose can be a good way to arouse them without scaring them. When approaching a deaf dog, it is important to let them see you as they can be easily startled when coming up on them from behind. Also it is good to make sure they see when you are leaving the room so that they won’t become anxious and have to come looking for you later.
Interested in learning more about deaf dogs or possibly adopting one of your own? A good resource for starters is Christina Lee's excellent Deaf Dogs Rock website where you will find lots of great info as well as a listing of dogs available for adoption!
Written by Michael Walker