Managing Deaf Dog Problems & Behavior Issues

You see the most enchanting pair of eyes gazing steadily at you from behind the kennel door at the local animal shelter. You bend down to talk to this adorable creature, and his tail wags happily. You're in love! But when you ask about him, the adoption counsellor tells you that the dog is deaf, and may display some common .

What to do? Some dogs are born without hearing, while others lose it due to medical reasons or injury/trauma. Challenges in living with a deaf dog can reasonably be expected, although deaf dogs still make loving and excellent pets for the informed and dedicated owner. Fortunately, there is plenty of help from local dog trainers, other pet owners, and even from veterinarians and counsellors at pet rescue organizations (there are even rescues devoted solely to finding homes for deaf dogs!).

Managing Behavior "Issues":

Many of these "behavior problems" aren't really problems, but instead they just require a new way of thinking and adjusting to living with a deaf dog. Likewise, several of these issues are very similar to those you would encounter with a hearing dog - with just slight adjustments for a deaf dog.

  • Since the dog cannot hear, they cannot respond to verbal commands. Hand signals, body posture, and visual cues are used to signal deaf dogs and indicate to them what you want them to do.

    Most dogs will look back at their owners, "checking in", in a sense. A well-trained deaf dog is no more likely to misbehave than a well-trained hearing dog. Because us humans are accustomed to using speech as our communication tool, owners of deaf dogs simply need to be "trained" themselves in how to communicate with their dogs. Dogs respond extremely well to body language and postures.

  • Be compassionate when approaching a deaf dog, and alert them of your presence. Just like a hearing dog can be surprised, so too can a deaf dog - perhaps more so because they don't have the benefit of sound. You can simply wait until the dog turns towards you; or flip a light switch on/off; put your hand near a sleeping dog to let him sense you while he awakes; lightly stomp the floor if you want to get his attention; or use other signals that work for your dog.

    That doesn't mean a deaf dog is more prone to acting aggressively by snapping or biting. Hearing dogs get startled too, and they usually do not respond by biting. Most dogs, deaf or hearing, will show normal startle reactions ranging from "jumping" if you really startle him, or simply turning and looking at you, as if to inquire what you want.

  • If you have children, you will need to teach your children how to approach a deaf dog as well as how to "call" him using the same visual cues you use. Just like with hearing dogs, it's important to teach kids to treat animals with respect and to supervise pets and children when they are together.

  • Supervise your deaf dog. Although this should go without saying, anytime you are in an area where there are cars or other dangers, keep your dog on leash - whether your dog is hearing or deaf. Even hearing dogs do not automatically know that cars represent danger (that's why so many are injured or killed every year). But with deaf dogs, it can be a bit more of a challenge since you can't yell a command if he gets loose. Good obedience training is a must for every dog.

The mere fact that a dog is deaf doesn't mean it's going to have ... but because it's a unique situation, knowledge is always helpful. Be prepared to deal with a few adjustments and you will be rewarded with a well-adjusted, loving and devoted companion. Talk to the adoption counsellor at the animal shelter, to the vet, to other people with deaf dogs (most will attest to the fact that their dogs are excellent pets)... the more you know, the better prepared you will be.

Deaf dogs can lead happy and normal lives - and enrich yours!