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Deaf dogs - overlooked, underrated, misunderstood

An Australian Shepherd
An Australian Shepherd

I recently was crossposting for Aussie rescue and came upon an article about living with and training deaf dogs. Because so little is written about them, I wanted to share that article with you here. I also interviewed a few people with experience with deaf dogs. If you are interested in adopting one, you should know that they are breed specific. That is, a deaf boxer will need as much exercise as a hearing boxer; a deaf chi as much exercise as a hearing chi. So don't think for a second that just because the dog is hearing impaired that it will be a couch potato. To the contrary! It will hang on your every expression and signal, just wanting to please you.

When I first began transporting animals, I drove a small deaf aussie puppy to it's new home. It was fascinated by it's reflection in the sideview mirror and barked incessantly at it. Not knowing what else to do, I just tried to keep it's cage turned the other way so it wasn't able to see it's reflection. But that yip yip yip didn't cease for most of the trip....

When I asked a trainer, what's the easiest thing about having a deaf dog, they told me, "well, they're not afraid of thunder"! When I asked them how they get them to come in from another room, they said they stamp on the floor and the dog can sense the vibrations. It's also not always necessary to have a hearing dog living with the deaf dog to give it a helping paw, but it doesn't hurt.

I am planning on interviewing a woman who teaches American Sign Language, and has a deaf dog. As a result, her dog is probably more obedient and well trained than many hearing dogs! Think about it; you probably already use hand signals for down, shake, sit, come, lay down. A deaf dog just knows many many more of these!

In any event, here's the article, and my thanks to the Board of Directors from ARPH, Aussie Rescue and Placement Helpline ( ) who have graciously given me permission to post it here. Aussies are beautiful animals, and if you're looking to adopt, I encourage you to check out their web page!

It is written by Elisabeth Catalano, MA, CPDT, CDBC. If you'd like to read the entire article, and I encourage you to do so, you can find it here:

When I tell people that the sweet little white dog they have been playing with is deaf, I get the same response, a sad, troubled look and an “Oh, that’s too bad”. I always reply with a big grin, “It’s ok, he doesn’t know it”! And, he DOESN’T. Never having heard anything, as far as I know, he doesn’t know what he’s missing. His world is perfectly normal to him. Announcement of his deafness is often followed by astonishment, usually because he is so friendly and well behaved. “Is it hard to train him?” My answer is always an unqualified, “No!”

With some limitations, it is very possible to train a deaf dog. Trainers often fail to see the potential in these dogs – not to mention the benefit of their own skill development. The deaf dog can increase awareness of our own non-verbal communication. Deaf dogs can and should be encouraged to attend regular obedience classes, which use positive training/lure reward methods, because the hand signals are largely the same. They can and do compete in the sports of obedience, rally and agility (with the exception of AKC events) and many are therapy dogs.

Studies on the prevalence of deafness in dogs are limited, but it is estimated that thousands of dogs are born deaf each year. Eighty different breeds are affected by deafness and that number is increasing.
Additionally, dogs can and do lose their hearing as a result of illness, infection, trauma or old age. Unfortunately, many deaf dogs are euthanized due to irrational myths and a lack of understanding. The Dalmatian Club of America has an official position calling for the euthanasia of deaf puppies. Dogs that lose their hearing later on in their lives may have an adjustment period, but adapt well. All deaf dogs can lead normal, happy and full lives that differ little from their hearing counterparts. They only require a little patience and a creative trainer, willing to think outside the box.

Claims that deaf dogs are more likely to be aggressive are unsupported. The chief concern expressed by those who claim a higher incidence of aggression is that the deaf dog will startle easily and bite. Realistically, any startled dog can bite. While it may be easier to startle a deaf dog, good preventative training can minimize problems. Wake the deaf dog gently by blowing a gentle puff of air across his fur or lightly touching him. When he wakes, smile and call him to do something fun. Using high-value food will also make the transition to waking more pleasant.

Many ordinary scenarios can pose a risk to the deaf dog. Enter my backyard on any given day when the dogs are out and I promise, they will know you are there long before you reach the gate. The deaf dog however, may be unaware of a visitor’s arrival and be overlooked. Gates may be left open simply because no one knew the dog was even there. Signs advising visitors that “a deaf dog is in residence” and to “close all gates”, are a must. Spring-closed gates, should also be used if possible.

The need for early socialization cannot be overemphasized, especially for the deaf puppy. Initial interactions with other dogs must be supervised because growls, yelps and other auditory warnings cannot be heard. Well-socialized and patient adult dogs can teach puppies to recognize the subtle visual cues (lip lift, hard stare, freezing) that occur prior to a correction. This experience will lay a good foundation for canine relationships later on.

Rule of thumb for most experts is deaf dogs should never be allowed off-leash. I believe that depends on the individual dog and the quality of training. There are many hearing dogs that never make it to off-leash status simply because they are unreliable. Again, deaf dogs are no different.

Working with a deaf dog will stretch your skills as a trainer and test your flexibility and creativity. There is a unique bond to be enjoyed with these gentle creatures that wait to share their quiet world. Don’t be afraid to move beyond the familiar, you will all be better because of it.

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