Puppies are born with their eyes and ears closed – they do not develop the ability to hear until around three weeks of age. Once their hearing develops, dogs can hear sounds at four times the distance of the human ear, and they can detect a much broader range of frequencies. But some dogs never develop hearing, and there are congenital conditions, infections, and injuries which can impair a healthy dog’s hearing. If your dog is hearing-impaired, you may need to make some adjustments at home to keep him safe. Read on for more information and safety tips for hearing-impaired dogs.
What causes hearing loss in dogs?
As is true for humans, hearing loss in dogs occurs at different levels. A partial loss of hearing is most likely to be caused by wax build-up in the ear canal – it could also be progressive, a consequence of ageing. Total hearing loss, known as deafness, is more commonly the result of severe untreated ear infections, congenital defects, or trauma to the ear. While any dog can develop hearing loss, certain breeds and dogs with merle or white colouring have a higher risk of congenital deafness. Acquired deafness due to infection or blockage may be temporary and treatable, but congenital deafness and deafness caused by trauma is usually permanent.
How can you tell if a dog is hearing impaired?
When puppies are very young, it can be difficult to ascertain hearing loss. As the puppy matures, however, the signs of hearing loss will become more evident. Some common indications of hearing impairment in dogs include the following:
- Failure to respond to its name
- No response to squeaking toys
- Difficult to wake from sleep
- Startling when being woken up
- No response to loud noises
- Failure to react to other dogs barking
If you suspect that your dog may be suffering from hearing loss, try snapping your fingers behind his head when he isn’t paying attention. If your dog can hear the noise, he will turn his head – if he can’t hear it, he just won’t respond. This, coupled with some of the other symptoms listed above, can indicate a level of hearing loss that should be addressed with your veterinarian.
Training tips for deaf dogs
Obedience training is important for all dogs, but training a hearing-impaired dog is different because you can’t use simple voice commands. When training your deaf or hearing-impaired dog, you’ll need to teach him hand signals in correlation with the desired actions. Be sure to choose signals for each command that are easy to make and clearly distinguishable. As long as you are consistent in using the same hand signals each time, training your hearing-impaired dog won’t be significantly more difficult than training a dog with normal hearing. You should also get your dog used to being startled with unexpected contact by waking him with a treat when he is asleep and by socializing him around new people and other dogs.
Safety tips for hearing-impaired dogs
Deaf and hearing-impaired dogs require an extra degree of effort to keep them safe, both inside and outside the home. One thing you should definitely consider is having your dog microchipped – you may also want to include the fact that your dog is hearing-impaired in the information connected to his chip number. It is a good idea to include this information on your dog’s ID tag as well, just in case he gets lost. In addition to engraving your dog’s tag with his name and your contact information, think about including the words “I’m deaf” so anyone who finds him will be informed of his condition.
When taking your dog outside of the home, it is important to keep him on the leash so that you can keep him out of harm’s way. A harness is a good idea as well because it displaces some of the pressure from around your dog’s neck across his back, reducing the risk of neck injury. You may even want to invest in a custom harness that is embroidered with phrases like “I’m deaf” and “Please ask to pet me.” You may also want to train your dog to respond to a flashlight so that you can get his attention easily when walking at night.
Caring for a hearing-impaired dog can be a challenge at times, but it is not without reward. Dogs with hearing impairment tend to bond more closely with their owners because they rely on them to be their ears. Love your hearing-impaired dog for being your faithful companion and take any steps necessary to ensure his safety and well-being, both in and out of the house.
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