Being the owner of a deaf puppy or dog, whether by choice or by chance, can be overwhelming for owners who have never been confronted with deafness in dogs before. No need to despair, however, as it’s not that different than owning a hearing dog; you just need to make a few modifications in the way you train and interact with your dog.
As you get to know and interact with your deaf dog, you learn, either by trial and error, or by reading or discussing with others who have deaf dogs, tips and tricks to make your daily routine smoother and strengthen your relationship with your deaf dog.
In this article, I’d like to offer a few tips and tricks that may be of use to you.
1. Train, train, train! Yes, you’ll have to modify HOW you do this but don’t think that just because your dog is deaf you can’t train him or that it will be difficult. It’s not! We have a tendency to think that deafness is a huge handicap for dogs, but that’s because we’re thinking like humans, not canines. We are an oral species so not hearing is a great disadvantage for us. But when you think about it, dogs don’t really speak to each other orally. They speak to each other mainly by body movement: a slight upward lift of the lip, a certain wag of the tail, a specific curve to their body. Things we have come to know as canine signals or calming signals or other similar names. But what’s the common word? Signals! And therefore, not hearing isn’t a really big deal for them when it comes to communicating. A dog’s main way of communicating, whether they can hear or not, is visual not oral. So we just have to keep that in mind and train using signals, or hand signs, which if you think about it is how we begin training ALL dogs. It just happens that we’re so oral that we quickly add a word after the sign in order to be able to use only the word; easier for us. The sky is the limit regarding what you can train and what signs you use to train. You can decide to use human sign language as a starting point, if that’s easier for you, or you can create your own. Do what works for you; what you will remember and can easily teach to those around you so that, they too, can “speak” to your deaf dog.
2. Safety first. Many people ask me if a deaf dog can run off leash in order to have a “normal” life, like hearing dogs. I am often perplexed by this question, as I’m not sure why, just because the answer is no, a deaf dog’s life would be less fulfilling or normal. Being on leash isn’t a punishment, it’s a way to keep your dog safe (whether he hears or not I might add!). There are many dangers in our big, wide world and it’s our responsibility as our dog’s guardian to make sure he never encounters any. A deaf dog won’t hear you screaming when he starts to run into a road to chase a squirrel or off into the woods hot on the trail of a deer. In order to avoid a tragedy, keep your deaf dog safe by keeping him on leash. If you want him to have some space to stretch his legs, there’s an easy solution: a long line. But you must always remember that he must be able to see you in order for you to communicate with him and when he’s running off across a field after wildlife, the last thing on his mind at that particular moment will be checking in with you. There are plenty of large, fenced in areas where you can let him run full out, chase a Frisbee or a ball, or just play with other dogs. No need to put his life at risk by allowing him free access to the great, unfenced outdoors. Be his guardian, be his ears, keep him safe.
3. Cuddle time. Deaf dogs LOVE cuddling…a lot! And this is coming from someone who owns Aussies, notoriously known for being sticky like glue! If it were up to Lucas, we would cuddle for 8 hours straight. This is something that is very important to deaf dogs, the physical contact, your touch, being able to feel you near them. By allotting sufficient cuddle time, you can avoid the anxiety of you leaving a room or even the house. I have found that when I’m busy and don’t spend time hugging, petting or just touching Lucas, he gets more agitated when I leave the room without him. When I spend the time to get down on his level and give him some good, quality time just petting him or even just touching him, his “cuddle meter” gets filled and he is just fine with me moving about from room to room without him following or even leaving the house. So in a way, even though it seems that the opposite would hold true, the more you cuddle the less chance you’ll have of separation anxiety. Of course, if you go overboard and NEVER leave a room without your deaf dog, or feel the need to have him accompany you constantly, then you are probably setting yourself up for some serious separation anxiety. So just spend time with your deaf dog and find out what he needs in order to fill his personal “cuddle meter”. They are individuals, so every deaf dog will have a different level of need, but I think you’ll be hard pressed to find a deaf dog that isn’t a super cuddle bug.
4. Let’s settle. There will be moments when your deaf dog may be wound up and have a hard time settling, especially at bedtime. If its evening and you are trying to put your pup to bed, but he’s complaining (this happens from time to time with Lucas once he is put in his crate), there is a helpful little “trick” which has worked wonders for us. I found this gem on the Deaf Dogs Rock website, and it has been so useful to calm a whiny, baby Lucas down at nighttime. What is this helpful little trick? It’s simply “signing” a lullaby to him! Wait, but how can you sing to a deaf dog? With a hand movement! In order to calm Lucas at night, I simply move my hand up and down in a slow wave hand motion. The slower the better I find. And within minutes, there is no more complaining and I have a puppy with heavy eyes that drifts off to sleep. I have to admit when I first read this tip I didn’t really think it would work, but trust me, it does! So if you have a cranky little guy that just doesn’t want to settle down or is whining, try this out and see for yourself how quickly it works. Allowing your deaf dog to sleep in the same room as you, or at least have access to that room, is very important. Dogs tend to wake a few times at night, and deaf dogs will want to check-in and make sure that their parents are nearby. The ability to sniff you and know that you’re still there is very comforting for them. As Lucas is still a puppy, he sleeps in a crate, but his crate is right near our bed. When I hear him moving around, I just place my hand on the side of the crate. He sniffs it, sighs, and goes right back to sleep. Giving them blankets or items of clothing that smell like you so they can snuggle up to or crawl under is another calming tip that works with many deaf dogs.
These are tips that have been helpful and worked for us and for Lucas, but of course each dog is different so adapt them to your dog and your lifestyle. With time and patience, your relationship will deepen and your bond will become stronger. You will reach a point in your relationship where your communication will be almost intuitive and everything will fall into place naturally. So long as you always focus on patience, love and kindness, you’ll always be on the right track!