If it seems as if your dog has stopped listening to you, it could be that he’s losing his hearing. Petplan behaviour specialist Inga MacKellar explains the signs to look out for and top tips for how to help.
Every year during the last week of September, owners and dog lovers support Deaf Dog Awareness Week. Some dogs are born deaf and others lose their hearing from injury, illness or old age. This special week is dedicated to raising awareness and knowledge to improve the lives of dogs living with hearing difficulties.
How do I know if my dog is going deaf?
As dogs age, their faculties can start to fade and it’s not unusual for them to experience some level of hearing loss or to go deaf in their older years. Here are some signs to look out for that your canine friend may be struggling to hear properly. If your dog’s hearing is fine, it’s good to be aware of these behaviours for the future.
If your dog has always appeared at the rattle of a full food bowl or barked on hearing a knock at the door and no longer responds to these triggers, it could be a sign that he has hearing loss. Some owners report ‘selective hearing’ in their pets, but this is usually caused by a dog being engaged in an activity that he deems more exciting than his owner.
If your dog has always greeted you when you get home but then you start finding him asleep when you get in, it may be because he can no longer hear your car pulling into the driveway or your key in the lock.
Upon hearing a noise, most animals will look up or around to find the source of the sound. You can test your dog’s hearing yourself by quietly entering the room so that he doesn’t notice you and then clapping your hands from a distance away to see if he reacts. This should be used as a test only, as approaching a deaf dog without warning can sometimes be startling.
Your dog may appear surprised when touched while sleeping and can even snap out of sleep due to the shock of being stroked.
If he’s no longer responding to being called, he may still be responsive to higher-pitched sounds, so you can try a dog whistle to see if he can still hear the upper range.
Ways to help a dog with hearing loss
Discovering that your dog may have such difficulties can be worrying, but there’s no reason why a dog with hearing loss can’t live a full and happy life.
Get him vet-checked – If you’re concerned that your dog might not be able to hear you properly, it’s important you take him to your vet for a check-up as it could be that a temporary condition, like a bad ear infection, is causing deafness.
Keep them safe – The most important consideration when you have a dog with hearing loss is his safety. If he is deaf, he would be at risk of not being able to hear dangers, such as passing cars. It might be best to keep your dog on a lead during walks and to try and keep them interesting by taking different routes so he’s still getting lots of stimulation.
Teach hand signals – This is the first thing to do as dogs can learn hand signals very quickly. These gestures can let him know when to sit, stay, lie down and follow. As your dog approaches you, start giving your chosen hand signal and then give him a treat when he reaches you. He will soon come to associate the hand signal with the treat and will return to you each time expecting it.
Give notice – You can get collars that say ‘I am deaf’ on them, which is a really good way to make other people aware that your dog can’t hear – especially if you do decide to let him off the lead.
A little freedom – If you have an obedient dog who has always previously come back to you when called, there’s no reason why you can’t allow him some off-lead time once he has mastered hand signals. It’s a good idea, however, to keep to open spaces where you can see him easily and he can see you.
Location services – Fitting a bell to your dog’s collar is also a good idea so that you can locate him easily, not just on off-lead walks but around the home and garden too, as he can’t hear you calling.
Good vibrations – Your dog has to be looking at you to be able to see your hand signals, so another thing you could try is a vibrating collar, which you can activate from a distance. This has to be introduced very gradually and made a positive experience from the start.
At first, play with your dog and just have the collar in your hand when it vibrates, then gradually move it to vibrate against your dog’s leg or shoulder before eventually working up to the neck. Every time you vibrate the collar, give your dog a treat and he’ll soon make the association and come back to you when you activate it.
Try not to startle – It’s important that you approach your dog from the front, especially when he is resting, as he won’t hear you coming up from behind. If your dog is laying on the floor, he may feel the vibrations if you stamp your feet to announce your arrival. You could also switch the lights on and off a couple of times on entering a room so that he knows you’re coming.
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