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Saturday, September 4, 2010

Deafness in Dogs

Chan recently posted about Nick, an older dog who was starting to lose his hearing. It brought up an important issue. How do we help our aging pets who are starting to lose hearing, sight or mobility? What do we do when we fall in love with a puppy, only to learn that he has special needs.

There are lots of questions to ask. Are some breeds more prone to certain physical problems than others? How do we live with and train a dog or cat with special needs? Are we capable of providing the care needed by pets with disabilities or aging pets?

I've asked Laurie to post about her experiences fostering deaf dogs. She writes about her daily adventures on her blog Dog Foster Mom and I've enjoyed reading about Ziggy. I can almost feel Laurie's frustrations in trying to find the right home for him.

Below is what Laurie has to share about her experiences. Be sure to drop by her blog and read about her dogs.

This is Tulsa. She was the first deaf dog that I ever fostered. Tulsa didn't know she was deaf. She was a six-month old puppy, and to her, the world never included any kind of sound. You can't miss what you don't know, and being deaf didn't make a difference to Tulsa at all. She was a normal purebred Australian Cattle Dog, who loved to herd and always needed a job to do in order to be happy. She took to herding Remi, my Great Dane, around the backyard - nipping at his heels to guide him where she wanted him to go. I was relatively new to fostering, and had been a dog owner for less than a year. I had wanted to work with deaf dogs, and had jumped at the chance to foster Tulsa. However, my first foster was a total failure. Tulsa was more than I could handle. I forgot one basic rule - a dog is a dog first, their breed second, and their disability last. And as an inexperienced dog owner that worked full time and lived in the suburbs, I was nowhere ready for a young, intelligent, tireless working dog. Fortunately for Tulsa, for Remi and for me, another, more experienced foster home (without any Great Danes) was found for Tulsa. I learned a valuable lesson - don't ever save a dog just because he or she has a disability that draws you in.

Several months and many foster dogs later, I learned of another deaf dog that needed a foster home. Noelle was a four month old puppy, also deaf from birth. She immediately captured my heart. Nothing made Noelle happier than being with her people. She loved to cuddle, and would often lay on top of my feet. I learned this was a common occurrence with deaf dogs. Since they can't hear you get up or leave the room, they sleep touching you or across a doorway to be sure to know if you are about to leave them. Noelle kept a close eye on me at all times since she wouldn't be able to hear if I were to do something interesting, like open a bag of dog treats. We went through obedience training together, and Noelle taught me that training a deaf dog isn't harder than training a hearing dog, and in some cases it is actually easier. Deaf dogs aren't distracted by the sounds of other dogs or people or traffic. Dogs respond to signs and body language better than verbal cues, so teaching Noelle was easier than I expected. Some deaf dogs know over fifty signs! Noelle is not one of them.

It was several months after giving in and adopting my foster dog Noelle that I received another request for help with a deaf dog. Chenille was a senior Pomeranian that was deaf. She came from a shelter several hundred miles away. A rescue group had pulled her to adopt out, and then found out she was deaf. They knew that deaf dogs are harder to find homes for, so in spite of being a beautiful purebred Pomeranian, they felt that she wouldn't have much of a chance finding a home in their rural area. While both Tulsa and Noelle had been deaf from birth, it's likely that Chenille had lost her hearing as she had aged. I thought it might be harder for a dog who used to be able to hear to get used to a world where all communication was done with signs or body language or facial expressions. But Chenille picked up quickly on the same signs I used with Noelle, and in no time she had fit right in.

By this time word had started to spread of my interest in working with deaf dogs, and I received an e-mail about Bella. Bella was a Boxer puppy who was turned in once her owners found out she was deaf. This adorable, smart, sweet puppy was unwanted simply because she couldn't hear. I see it over and over at adoption events when I am fostering a deaf dog. People are sometimes interested in the dog, and then they hear me say the dog is deaf, and suddenly they begin backing away and looking elsewhere. Some people think a deaf dog would be too much work, while others simply think deaf dogs are "defective". In truth, deaf dogs are just like hearing dogs. Some are more work than others - some are better behaved than others, and some are more well trained than others. It always amazes me how people can so quickly lose interest in a dog just because the dog is deaf. Bella taught me how much misinformation is out there about deaf dogs, and how great the bias is against deaf dogs.

Around this time, a volunteer at a local shelter contacted me about Farley. Farley was a deaf Dalmatian mix that had been waiting at the shelter for quite awhile. Farley was everything good about dogs. He was gentle, well behaved, smart, fun, an all-around great dog. He had already learned some basic obedience commands at the shelter, and I had him less than two weeks before Farley was adopted!

And then there is Ziggy, my current deaf foster dog. Ziggy is unlike any dog I have fostered before. he is very intelligent, very rambunctious, and very challenging. His deafness hasn't made him harder to communicate with, but it has added a bit of extra physical work on my end. Dogs who are still puppies or not well trained need a lot of supervision. The extra work comes in with deaf dogs who can't be stopped from whatever they're doing with a simple "hey!" or "no!" from across the room. When Ziggy is counter surfing in the kitchen, I have to physically get off the couch and get his attention before I can sign "drop the bananas, mister!". Of course, the fact that he doesn't immediately drop the bananas has only to do with my lack of training follow-through, not with his lack of hearing or understanding. So if you're considering adopting a deaf dog, and the dog is very young or still needs a lot of work on house manners, make sure you're up for the challenge of getting off the couch or out of the recliner to go get your dog when he does something you don't want him to do.

I've learned a lot from my deaf dogs. I'd like to say they're better, or sweeter, or more appreciative than hearing dogs. But the truth is, they're just like hearing dogs. Some of them bark a lot, and some of them seldom bark. Some of them are cuddly lap dogs and some of them are busy, independent dogs. They can learn to come to a porch light being flashed on and off instead of a verbal "come"command at night. Or during the day, they'll quickly spot a raised arm and come running, if they've been trained. Otherwise they'll be just like every other dog at the dog park, and ignore all requests to come when called! One advantage to living with deaf dogs is they are typically sound sleepers. If you want to come home from the store and get all your groceries away before greeting the dog, a deaf dog is a nice advantage. If you don't let them sleep in bed with you, you can even get up in the morning and get ready for work before they ever wake up. You don't have to worry about your dog being afraid of thunderstorms or fireworks or the vaccum cleaner. And your dog won't go crazy with trying to extract the squeaker from a toy, or refuse to play with a toy that doesn't squeak. All in all, deaf dogs make great companions. You can find out more about deaf dogs at

There appears to be a genetic link between color and deafness. You can learn more about this and find a list of breeds most affected at the Orthopedic Foundation For Animals.


  1. Stopping by on the blog hop... this is a really great post. It's awesome that Laurie has worked so much with deaf dogs... and sad that people would turn in dogs just because they are deaf.

  2. What a wonderful post! Thanks for all the information, Laurie, and for raising the banner for deaf dogs everywhere.

  3. When I first took our Dakota, an all-white blue eyed siberian to the vet, the first question the vet asked me was "can she hear?". I had not known about the genetic link, but fortunately Dakota had no trouble hearing, listening was a totally different story:) Years ago I had a cockapoo who had no sight after he had to have both eyes removed over the course of a year due to severe and unmanageable glaucoma. He did very well as long as we left his environment unchanged. However after a few years, we moved cross country and hard as we tired to make him comfortable he was very frazzled by his new home. Despite my efforts to help him, he chose to retreat to his crate except for his time outside. It was very sad.

    I enjoyed your post very much.

  4. Thank you for having Laurie post about her experience with deaf dogs.
    Thank you for sharing about your challenges and successes of working with deaf dogs. I think it is totally awesome! It is too bad that other people turn away from such an amazing experience. Though my dogs are not deaf and this isn't the same, I use hand signals and body language all of the time to communicate with them. More that my voice.

    Thank you taking the time to share your story and thank you for the work you do. I think animals are simply amazing in that they don't "adapt" to what is natural, it is us humans have to adapt to what we think is unnatural. Thank you for not being one of those people.

  5. Hi! I am visiting and following you from The Saturday Pet Blogger Hop. You have a delightful blog! This is some great information regarding deaf dogs. Thanks!

    Looking forward to reading more from you. I invite you to come visit my blog and follow me if you’d like at

    Have a great weekend! :-)

    ~ Tina


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