LIVING WITH A DEAF DOG
If you are thinking of adopting a deaf Dalmatian but feel a little anxious about it, the following will hopefully answer any questions you may have.
Dalmatians have a genetic predisposition to deafness, with around 30% of the breed being affected by deafness or hearing impairment to some extent.
Deafness is often associated with coat colour, and it is now known that the genes that provide a piebald (spotted colour on white) or albino coat can also cause deafness, due to a lack of mature melanocytes (melanin producing cells) within the inner ear. This issue can affect either one ear or both ears, and will not necessarily present itself in all dogs with a piebald or albino coat.
Reputable breeders should have puppies hearing tested at around 6 weeks old. The test is called a BAER test- Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response and measures how the brain processes sound.
This is not a quick process as with training any dog, deaf or hearing but if done correctly you will have a most loving faithful dog. Living with a deaf dog can be extremely rewarding and they are often quicker at picking things up than a hearing dog. Maybe because there are no noise distractions. They are very loving, responsive and manageable but you must always remember they can’t hear and you need to communicate exactly what you need with your actions and expressions
DAS currently has 10 deaf dalmatians living here, all happy much loved critters ...... they are no different to other dogs, they just can't hear you !!
This has been written by the owner of 2 deaf Dalmatians and will hopefully help allay any questions or fears you may have about adopting a deaf Dally
Life with a Deaf Dog
Deaf dogs make great pets, unfortunately though they are often overlooked due to a variety of myths that surround them.
I am the owner of two deaf dalmatians, an eleven year old called Logan and an eight month old called Sherlock, I also run a page where I can offer advice to owners of deaf dogs up and down the country. I knew both of my dogs were deaf before I brought them home, both of them were struggling to find homes because people were reluctant to take on a dog that couldn’t hear: even when it was a cute little puppy!
When we first brought Logan home we had no experience of deaf dogs at all, the breeder provided us with a booklet with some basic training information in but apart from that we had no idea! I remember googling some training information to find out more and hit resource after resource giving me information on how hard it is to train and work with a deaf dog. With some breeders and organisations even recommending euthansia the instant a dog fails it’s hearing test.
Luckily now there are less people out there recommending this (Although it still happens!) and I now know that everything I read on those sites were incredibly common myths!
Life with a deaf dog, and I’ve had eleven years of it, is not any more difficult than life with a hearing one. Personally, I’d even go so far to say there are benefits to it – fireworks, thunderstorms and desensitising your dog to noises is not something you have to worry about! Of course, you have to adapt slightly in some ways, but both of my dogs are trainable, food motivated (a dalmatian thing!) and have great recall.
Common Deaf Dog myths!
- They aren’t trainable!
This is simply not the case at all, speaking from experience, deaf dogs are so observant to our body language and can differentiate hand signals really well. Mine will even come over when I start talking to them. Research actually suggests that dogs respond really well to gestures, hand signals and body language so them not being able to hear doesn’t make them any less capable.
Both Logan and Sherlock know a variety of cues and tricks: empty the washing machine, speak, roll over, open the door, take my socks off, leg weaves, middle and play dead: just to name a few! All of these behaviours have different hand signals so you can appreciate how many they are able to recognise.
- They become aggressive!
This myth stems from deaf dogs being startled or woken suddenly whilst they are sleeping. I don’t know many dogs that would appreciate you suddenly jumping on them or prodding them to wake them up. You can train a specific ‘wake up’ cue to avoid them being startled when you want to wake them up. In our case this is two taps on their shoulder. Because we have practiced this in a positive way, my dog wakes up, unstartled and quite happy.
- They are never able to go offlead!
This is probably the most common thing I am told or asked when I’m out with my dogs. Both of them get to go off lead in sensible locations, they both have a good recall and have been taught to check in with me. This simply means they have been taught to look back at me every certain number of seconds so I am able to either then recall them, or tell them that they can carry on going.
Their recall cue is a massive arms stretched sign, so that they can see it from a distance.
- They have no quality of life!
People assume, wrongly, that because deaf dogs can’t hear, that they therefore can’t take part in ‘normal’ dog activities. I know people who take their deaf dogs to agility or flyball, that do obedience or tracking with them, canicross, trick training etc so there’s definitely ways for them to get involved!
Both my dogs have ‘normal’ walks with offlead time, Sherlock comes with me to teach training classes, he gets to play with other dogs, he’s going to be doing agility with me and hopefully do some demo work for a deaf dog charity – which is possibly a lot more experiences than some hearing pet dogs get to have.
Deaf Dog Training Tips!
Introduce a reward marker to your dog!
This is a sign that you give to your deaf dog when they have done something that you like. I like to use a thumbs up!
To teach this is really simple, you just give the sign to your dog, and follow it up with a food reward. A couple of repetitions over a couple of days and your dog will soon catch on that the thumbs up sign means something good is coming.
Touch your dog on the same part of the body if you need to wake them up and follow this with a treat, this will help them from becoming startled.
Even if you currently have a hearing dog, introduce a few hand signals to them for basic behaviours like sit, down, stay and come. It is common for dogs to become a little bit hard of hearing when they get older and this often means the un-doing of training that you’ve already done. If they have some of them hand signals already, then you can still communicate with them when they get older.
One of the most important things you can teach a deaf dog is to check in with you. When you’re out on a walk, start rewarding your dog every set number of seconds, eventually they will start to look up at you expectedly waiting for their next treat! This is the foundation of ‘checking in’. Once they’ve got the hang of this you start introducing it into more distracting environments.
As well as hand signals you can also teach your deaf dog to respond to other cues too! Logan for example will lie down if I stomp my foot (ideal if your hands are full) or if I touch the top of his shoulder.
You can use whatever hand signals you like: be creative! Some people use British or American sign language, but you really can use whatever is easiest, there is no set code.
If anyone would like any help specific to their deaf dogs then they can get in touch at:
Many thanks to Jayde Davey, Logan and Sherlock for putting this together for us.
Logan and Sherlock loving life