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Living With A Deaf Dog: How To Provide The Best Life Possible

Living with a deaf dog had never crossed my mind until it happened. It was unexpected and sudden. No warning signs. One day, Lily just wouldn’t turn around as she was racing down the road on her next adventure. I yelled, I threw things.. I mean, I tried everything. And nothing grabbed her attention.

Perhaps there were signs before her hearing was just gone. But because Lily had always had selective hearing, I just assumed she was ignoring me. So who even knows when her hearing started to go.

Lily, a deaf dog, laying in the grass.

It was a sad reality for me that day. My girl is a senior now and I don’t even know when it happened. It took a bit for me to learn how to care for a deaf dog since it wasn’t something I had done before and honestly, we are still figuring it out. 

Living with a deaf dog comes with its own unique set of challenges, however, with a bit of knowledge and commitment, you can learn that caring for a deaf dog can be a loving and enjoyable journey.

Understanding Deaf Dogs

Lily likes to go on daily adventures, which in Human means she’s finding a weak spot in the fence that we’ve fixed 4,566 times and going to visit the neighbor down the road that gave her a hotdog three years ago.

She is always breaking out and we’ve tried everything except for an electric fence because, honestly, I can’t afford it. Before when she would bust out, I could call her, and about 75% of the time she would come trotting home right away. The other 25% of the time she would blatantly ignore me.. 

But now, she can’t hear me at all. So she thinks her little adventures are allowed. She has no idea how loud mom is getting and the angry words she is using. The problem is that not only can she not hear me anymore, but she can’t hear danger, period. She can’t hear cars coming or the other dogs alerting her to possible danger. She’s lost a vital sense and now I’m terrified for her. 

Signs and Causes of Deafness in Dogs

Sometimes it’s not as simple as just looking at your dog and determining whether it can hear you or not. There are little signs that they can give you here and there. If you notice any of these signs, it might be time for a veterinarian visit to discuss what is going on.

  • A change in obedience
  • Inability to follow verbal commands
  • Having difficulty waking up
  • Persistent barking
  • Startling easily
  • Head shaking or scratching at ears

Sometimes it’s not always a black-and-white matter when it comes to a deaf dog. Things like ear infections, mites, injuries, and even medication can cause your dog to have trouble hearing.

This is why it is always important to get your dog checked out by a veterinarian who can help rule these things out before concluding that your dog is deaf.

Unfortunately, deafness due to age or genetics is usually permanent, while deafness caused by medication, infections, or injury can sometimes be resolved.

It is pretty common for a senior dog to lose sight and/or hearing. A harsh reality for many pet owners to accept. A feeling of grief that many of us can relate to.

For Lily, it was her age that took her hearing from her. For Grandma Dog, too, I believe. Grandma Dog already couldn’t hear well when we found her, so we will never know the actual cause of her hearing loss.

Communication and Behavioral Changes in a Deaf Dog

In Lily’s case, the act of “ignoring mom” was nothing new. But if you’ve got a dog who was obedient and held the title of the World’s Best Boy, then suddenly starts ignoring you, that might be concerning to you. This is why it’s important to know your dog.

You might notice that if your dog is affected by hearing loss he is more anxious than usual and startles at things that never bothered him before. During the beginning phase of hearing loss, your dog can still hear certain things. It typically gets worse over time. Because of this, things like hunting might become very difficult for your dog to handle. Think about it this way- imagine not hearing anything at all and then suddenly hearing a loud gunshot. That would scare you, right?

Your dog doesn’t understand what is happening. All he knows is that suddenly, the world is silent and loud things are much louder. 

You won’t be able to just call him over anymore. You’ll have to find new means of communication. Like a gentle touch to let him know you are behind him, or an initial pat on the head to gain his attention before you gesture a command for him.

Dogs go through an adjustment period, just as humans do. He’s got to learn to live in this new silent world and it is scary for him. Consider that when you’re frustrated with him for not listening or for doing things he never did before, like a potty accident in the house or persistent barking. 

Training a Deaf Dog

Training a deaf dog isn’t all that different from properly training a dog who can hear. If you’ve ever taken training courses with your dog you’ll know that a lot of trainers use hand gestures to teach the dog commands. If you’ve done this and your dog knows these gestures, then you are a step ahead.

Those of us who haven’t done training with an official dog trainer (or who’s dog is stubborn as a bull and has an owner who’s a pushover…. not me of course), are in a different boat.

Visual Cues

Thank God I talk with my hands. Otherwise, poor Lily would be out of luck trying to figure out what I’m saying. We always seem to do the same hand signal every time we call the dogs inside. So Lily and Grandma Dog know that when we gesture “inside”, it means it’s time to run to the door. 

When it’s dinner time, lifting the bowls and showing them lets them know that they need to get to their designated eating area because the goods are coming.

Creating visual cues for your deaf dog is so important. Even if you don’t think you have any yet, you likely do and don’t even realize it. I had no idea that I was always gesturing the same thing when I would call the dogs inside. Or that I was lifting my fist above their heads when I commanded them to “sit”. 

Visual cues are easy to teach your dog, especially if they’re deaf. Deaf dogs must be taught visual signs for the things that we want them to do. Dogs are smart and repetitive routines and gestures will have them understanding you sooner than you think. Your dog may have lost his hearing, but he can still figure the world out around him.

For more on training a deaf dog, this article has a few pretty informative tips that may help you out.

Living With a Deaf Dog

As I mentioned earlier, Lily is an adventurer at heart and will not be contained inside the confines of a man-made enclosure. 

Meaning, Lily will do absolutely anything to get out. No matter what. This means that we have to take extra precautions with her to keep her safe. Since she can’t hear, she can’t hear danger and that is a big deal when it comes to cars coming down the road and things like that.

If your dog is like mine, keeping him on a leash when outdoors is the best thing you can do to keep your buddy safe. 

Providing a safe and comfortable environment for your deaf dog will help to ease the transition that your dog is going through.

We had to teach everyone in the household, and our visitors, how to approach Lily to avoid startling her and we had to learn new ways to do the things that we’ve done for years. 

Lily, a deaf dog, sleeping with her tongue hanging out.

Simple things that you can do to keep your dog safe:

  • Microchip your dog. This goes for any dog you own, honestly. In this study, microchipped dogs were returned to their owners 52.2% of the time, while dogs who were not microchipped were reunited only 21.9% of the time.
  • “I’m deaf” apparel. There are vests and harnesses that identify deaf dogs. Using this in public will help others to understand not to walk up behind the dog and startle him.
  • Write “I’m deaf” on your dog’s tag or collar. Just as the vest or harness, this helps to announce your dog’s disability.
  • Keep a leash on your dog when outside. A deaf dog is unaware of the dangers around him if the warning is sound. He can’t hear cars or bikes passing, leaving him at risk of getting hit. Keeping a leash on your dog keeps him in your control at all times.
  • Train your dog with hand gestures. 

Benefits of Living With a Deaf Dog

The number one benefit of having a deaf dog is that when you open a bag of chips they’ll never hear it.

I’m joking. Sort of. Maybe.

I know that your heart is crushed at the fact that your sweet dog can’t hear you anymore, but it’s not all that bad and you can make the most out of the situation at hand. Take this as an opportunity to get to know your dog more. You’ll understand your dog’s body language and he will better understand yours. Just when you thought you couldn’t get any closer to your dog, you’ll realize that there is an entire layer that you get to unwrap that you didn’t even know existed.

You’ll no longer have to worry about fireworks or thunderstorms causing anxiety for your dog. Lily became our official moto “track dog” because she can’t hear the engines of the dirt bikes. She loves to go and hang out at the track with everyone.

Deaf dog, Lily, enjoying Arenacross with her mom.

Training may even be easier for you since he can’t hear auditory distractions. 

No more barking at the vacuum cleaner because he can’t hear it. You heard that right. AND no more barking out the garbage truck.. unless he can see it, of course. Ya’ll.. It’s honestly a win. 

Toys and Enrichment Activities for Deaf Dogs

While the inability to hear doesn’t exactly stop your dog from doing typical “dog things”, there are ways to encourage him to use his other senses and keep them functioning in tip-top shape. Things like scent games can be beneficial to your dog by working his sense of smell, which is something he will heavily rely on now.

Of course, things like fetch and tug-of-war are good ways to keep your dog active. 

Since your dog’s other senses are going to be heightened due to the loss of his hearing, activities that provide physical touch and mental stimulation like puzzle games will be beneficial as well.

Grandma Dog "trancing" by rubbing her face slowly on a fake house plant.
Grandma Dog “Trancing”. Enjoying the feeling of the fake plant on her face.

Some good toys that do these things are:

Anywho, I love a good dog puzzle game. You can also provide toys that vibrate. Maybe your dog will like it. Lily is not that dog. She’ll destroy it in a millisecond. 

The Takeaway

Don’t be completely discouraged if your old friend starts to lose his hearing. There are ways to make living with a deaf dog manageable and even enjoyable. Hearing loss isn’t the end of the world for our old friends. With training and patience, you and your dog will develop a new type of bond that you didn’t even know was possible.

If you’re considering adopting a deaf dog, don’t let his impairment steer you away! Special needs animals have always been my favorite and for good reason. The bond you gain with an animal who has a disability is indescribable. Together, you and your deaf dog will learn to thrive.

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