Special Needs – Raising a Deaf Dog

Owning a Deaf Dog

    Woody was a black and white dalmatian, we got him at 12 weeks old, he was the first dog we owned.  In those days we didn’t know anything about rescue and we went to a breeder.
    We  lived in Northern Ireland at the time and although a pedigree dog, it turned out the place we bought him from was not the best!   No health checks had been carried out on the puppies and  despite what I now know, that deafness is a common problem in Dalmations, he had not even seen a vet for a hearing test.   I now know that he was lucky, because standard practice amongst many breeders would be to euthanise any deaf puppies.   Apparently being deaf is an embarrassment to the breed!   So if he had been tested he wouldn’t have lived for me to tell the tale.   When we realised he was deaf, a girl at work told me, ‘oh you will have to have him put to sleep, my friend had a deaf one, she did!’ I went home and cried in disbelief.
    Woody was deaf from birth and as such he has never known anything different. Being deaf did not impact on Woody’s life at all, or ours, he was a very much loved member of the family until he finally went to bridge in february this year, a month short of his 11th birthday. He lived happily alongside Leia another dalmation who we got from a rescue when woody was 2, Leia was 6 at the time.
    Woody taught me a lot about owing a deaf dog, but he was perfectly trainable just as hearing dogs are.   It is vital that anyone taking on a deaf dog learn about hand signals, because those are what you will use to communicate with your dog. We taught Woody around six basic signals:
    • Sit
    • Down
    • Come/Stand at side
    • Get Toy
    • Come
    • and possibly most important for most dogs, NO!
    In addition to these, he could read our face and sense your mood just as a hearing dog.
    The biggest consideration in walking a deaf dog, is whether to let it off the lead as if Woody became distracted he couldn’t hear if we called him. We never let Woody off lead near a road or in a forest or woods where there were interesting distractions.
    We also had to teach him that it was ok to be approached from behind with a gentle touch, this helped because if a deaf dog is asleep or laying or standing away from you, you don’t wish to startle them when approached. A hearing dog might hear you coming the deaf dog won’t, and if not used to being approached in this way may snap when startled. This is especially vital if you have or are planning to have children who may not think before hugging their best friend!
    Although the initial discovery of Woody’s disability was upsetting, I would most definately take on another deaf dog and do not hesitate to recommend it to someone who meets a deaf dog in rescue.
    A lot of people used to say poor thing but he didn’t know he was deaf!! He lived a completely happy normal life and was loved dearly!
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