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5 things to know before you adopt a deaf dog

5 things to know before you adopt a deaf dog

Imagine this: You haven’t seen your best friend in three weeks because life has just become too busy. You have a lovely dinner together, catching up on all the latest gossip while your dog enjoyed the company as well. You hug your friend goodbye in the foyer and they proceed to open the front door to leave. Suddenly, your dog takes the opportunity to slide by and run out the front door. Your first instinct is to call your dog’s name and ask them to come. But what if that was a lost cause? What if your dog was deaf? This is a very real and common situation that can occur when you live with a deaf dog!

I am a certified professional dog trainer and I share my house with four dogs and two kids. One of our dogs is deaf. Quint is a 4-year-old Dalmatian that we rescued when he was 4 months old. Quint was acquired by an animal protective league near our hometown at 4 months old from a puppy mill that was going to put him down because he was deaf. The protective league quickly scooped him up, gave him a vet visit and vaccines, and had him on the floor to be adopted.

This animal protective league is a first-come-first-served location. When my husband and I saw Quint on their Facebook page, we immediately knew we had to show up early for him. Being a Dalmatian-experienced home, we knew he did not need to end up in a novice home. A lot of people will tell you that owning a deaf dog is not any different than a hearing dog, and while that may be the case for some things, there are notable differences that are important to know beforehand. Here are 5 things to know before you adopt a deaf dog:

  1. You cannot call a deaf dog when they escape! This may be obvious, but think about all of the situations where you use your voice to get your dog’s attention. Now, what would you do if you couldn’t do that? We use a few different ways to get Quint’s attention in our house. If we are on a floor that he can feel vibrations on, we may stomp our feet or clap our hands. He is very sensitive to vibration in the air and the surface he is on.

    We also wave our hands away from our bodies. If we are within his peripheral vision, we can use a visual cue to get his attention. We work a lot on checking in and being rewarded for looking our way when we wave our hands. We may also utilize light. At night, we have worked on Quint learning that the backyard light flashing on and off quickly is a sign to look for us. We use this to get him into the house in the evening after his potty break.
  2. Deaf dogs can bark! And sometimes it might seem like they are barkier than a hearing dog. This varies depending on the dog, as some dogs are just naturally barkier than others. But with Quint, he is a very alert, nosy dog. He is also very in tune with the other dogs in the house. If he thinks they are alerting to something, or he feels the vibrations from their barking, he must quickly join in, and THEN find out what they’re doing. Quint lives by the “bark now, ask questions later” motto.

    We have worked a lot on positive interrupters with Quint. Quint knows when we tap his shoulder or rump lightly with a finger, he checks in with us and will usually get a treat, a pet, or his next cue. I find it important to not let him continue practicing the barking repeatedly and to help him break his focus on things before he begins to obsess about something. I always tell my client practice makes perfect. If I let him sit there and repeatedly practice barking at things, it is going to be his go-to behavior.
  3. Deaf dogs can startle easily. This should be worked on from an early age with the dog, and there should be education for those living in the house. As a household with children, I know they can be unpredictable. While I always try to educate my children on the correct way of doing things, they are children and will forget sometimes.

    From day one, I worked on waking Quint by shaking his bed or stomping my foot and then treating him when he woke up. I did not want him to develop a negative startle response, like a snap. I also worked with the children, teaching them how to gently shake the bed or stomp their foot on the ground to wake him up, rather than grabbing or touching him.
  4. A deaf dog may be a bit clingier than a hearing dog. This one will vary greatly depending on your breed. Dalmatians are known to be Velcro dogs, but sometimes Quint takes it to another level. If I am busy working in the house, he is constantly following me around. If I stop moving and work in a stationary position, a lot of times he will lay down and position himself in front of the doorway or he will physically lay on my foot. This is so he can know when I am leaving the room. If wakes up to check in with me and I’ve left the room, he frantically searches the house until he finds me, and repeat. We often find ourselves having to ask him to move when working in a small room like the kitchen.
  5. You can still talk to your deaf dog. People apologize all the time for talking to Quint, but I tell them I talk to him too! Did you know dogs pay more attention to our body language and expressions rather than what comes out of our mouth? If you continue talking to your deaf dog, they can still read your facial expressions when you’re talking. If you’re happy with your dog, smile and soften your eyes, and I bet you they will understand exactly what you’re saying.

These are just a few ways that owning a deaf dog can be a little different than owning a hearing dog. If all of these seem like things you can live with or conform to, then a deaf dog may be a great partner for you! It may take some getting used to, but soon you’ll be tapping your hearing dogs and giving them hand signals only your deaf dog knows. Deaf dogs can certainly fit seamlessly into your household after a small period of adjustment. The key is learning to effectively communicate so your deaf dog can trust you and learn with you in a safe environment.

Written by Monica Callahan