Hearing loss is something that many oldies – human and canine alike! – have to deal with. Some level of deafness often affects dogs whom the Oldies Club helps, and it can take various forms.
A certain amount of hearing loss is common as part of the aging process. Dogs may, like humans, lose the ability to hear some high or low notes, and have problems localising sounds. At first, this can be difficult to detect, as dogs rely far more than people on smell and vibration in judging their environment.
In the long run, this ‘old-age’ hearing loss in unlikely to affect your dog’s quality of life too much, and any changes you make towards him need only be minor – pretty much the same care and consideration afforded an oldie anyway!
For example Ricky the Cairn Terrier, deaf in one ear and with an old gentleman’s eyesight, can no longer have the offlead rambles of his youth, as he may not hear or see his owner in an unknown area but – in a safely enclosed garden or on the lead – he can still romp with the best of them. ;-)
Sadly, some dogs suffer hearing loss as a result of neglect.
Mr. Magoo when he arrived in rescue, matted, emaciated and neglected.
Mr Magoo and Rupert both had appalling ear infections that, untreated, damaged the nerve cells of the cochlear and led to what is known as sensorineural deafness, often more acute than the losses put down to age.
Again, care has to be taken on and offlead, and around hazards such as cars that the dog may not hear. In the home, dogs can be startled by the most surprising noises – often things that we would assume they might hear, like the vacuum cleaner or washing machine.
Sudden movements – particularly those of very young children, cats, or even a flapping curtain – can be frightening to a dog with impaired hearing, because he cannot associate it with a sound, and this can lead to problems.
Nine year old Whippet cross Ben is partially deaf and suffers from nervous aggression. In cases like his calm, gentle handling is required – the dog needs time and space to build trust at his own pace, and at a rate he can handle.
Similarly, Oldies Club Sponsor Dog Billy has lost a lot of his hearing and – coupled with his peripheral vision problems and bad past – perceives threats in some everyday situations. It is also very difficult to wake him up for a meal! ;-)
Of course, deaf dogs do not equate to problem dogs. There is still a popular opinion among some breeders that puppies who are born white (a common, but not necessarily mandatory indicator of deafness) or prove deaf should be put down. This is based on the misconception that deaf dogs, because they cannot hear, cannot be trained, or are unpredictable.
This is, frankly, wrong.
Hudson is a young Staffordshire Bull Terrier x English Bull Terrier. Bull breeds, particularly white dogs, do have a certain possibility of congenital deafness, and in Hudson’s case it seems that he is totally deaf.
Congenital deafness becomes apparent in pups at approx. 3-4 weeks, when the development of the cochlear is complete. Damage to or incorrect formation of the cochlear means that pups “born??? with this problem can be unilaterally deaf (in one ear) or bilaterally deaf (both ears).
Unilateral deafness is – similarly to mild hearing loss through age – something many dogs adapt to. Their hearing might not be as accurate as a fully hearing dog, but as long as basic precautions are taken, it does not chronically affect quality of life.
Bilateral deafness, like Hudson’s, and like the substantial hearing loss poor old Billy has suffered, can be more problematic.
The three main problems associated with any kind of profound or substantial deafness in dogs are lack of discipline or response to training, inability to avoid hazards such as cars and – thirdly and perhaps slightly less commonly – excessive barking.
A deaf dog barks, but may not be able to judge how loud or how long he is doing it! Often, owners inadvertently reward the behaviour by bribing the dog with food treats, which can perpetuate the problem, so the best solution is brief periods of isolation when the dog begins to bark, then rewarding for quiet, calm behaviour. It might be noisy, but the message gets through! ;-)
If training and discipline are problematic with your deaf dog, whatever his age, it is worth teaching him a few basic signs – come, sit, down etc. It could save his life.
Many organisations exist dedicated to supporting and educating owners of deaf dogs and one of the largest – Deaf Dog Education Action Fund – has plenty of information detailing the two main approaches to training and re-training of deaf dogs; using signs to communicate with your dog and vibrating collars as a tool for communication. There is also a great selection of tips on crate and house training deaf dogs.