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Owning a Deaf Dog.

When I was on the Mary Harboe program on REM.fm the other week, she also interviewed Dr Bruce Fogal, a very well know Vet who has been on many radio and television shows, having written many books about dogs. He is currently promoting the need for more resources for listening dogs for deaf people.

He mentioned that shortly there would only be a three months restriction for dogs travelling to the United Kingdom, instead of the current six months; which is very good news. Because of this, he is hoping that, as there is a shortage of young dogs to take on this type of training, it will then be possible to use dogs from Spain, to fill the current void.

Whilst many people are now aware of the important work of such dogs and how they can help people suffering from deafness, yet there appears little interest in those, who they are themselves suffering from the same problem. Whilst in our lifetime, we meet the occasional owner, who has an older dog becoming deaf because of old age, like the rest of us humans, we seem unaware of those that are deaf all of their lives.

You might feel that reading so far and not having a dog that has hearing problems, this article is of no real interest and yet it shows how they adapt.

Personally, I do not treat deaf dogs differently to any other. I find that being deaf, the other senses take over some of the work of their hearing and so they do learn to compensate.

The first thing to check is how deaf is it. Whilst there is the BAER test available, the problem is to find centres where you can do this, they are few and far between, as well as being expensive. One major problem though is the test only covers the normal human hearing range, whilst a dog’s is far greater.

Whilst some are deaf from birth, possibly because of a genetic defect, or damage from a loud noise, others become deaf with age. This brings us to the next problem, can the owners cope with a deaf dog.

Having a young deaf puppy means the owners are going to need to take a little more time in training. They are going to need to learn to communicate with better understanding than they would normally. However, for the owners of dogs that gradually become deaf, they will find that if it knows its area, it will learn to live with the changes that increasing deafness will bring.

You might think that they are more likely prone to injury because it cannot hear the car horn as it crosses the street, but in fact, it then relies more on its other senses and learns to look left and right.

This means that in both cases, the real thing that is missing is getting their attention when you need it in order to give a command.

If you have one that is or is becoming deaf then it is possible to test this. We can clap our hands or try various types of whistles. We can try clickers, to see if it can at least hear them, even if it cannot hear our voice. Stamping our feet on the ground or tapping with a stick might also make your dog turn its head towards you. The next question is what the range of its hearing is. This we can do when the dog is at a distance and making a noise, we then watch to see if the dog turns towards us.

For those that can at least hear something, then the owner can train it just like any other, but without the verbal commands. As I so often write, verbal commands are not very important to a dog as they are looking for our body language to tell them what it is we want them to do. How often the unfolding of your arms will bring your dog back to you before you have even called its name. This does not mean you stop talking to it, because what you say reflects in your facial expression and body language, which a deaf dog can eventually understand.

If you have a very deaf dog then it is necessary to find someway of making it look at you even at a distance. I say even at a distance, because many people who have deaf dogs keep them on a lead all of their lives. They treat them like an invalid and yet it is possible for them to play with others so that it would take a clever person to pick out which one was deaf.

We can use remote controlled vibrating collars so, even at a distance, it is possible for the owner to press the button on the fob and page their dog to look at them. Even if it has gone out of sight, it can learn that when the collar vibrates it will move back to a point where it can see its owner and react to a command. The only problem with these is that they are quite heavy, but in time with modern miniaturisation, they will weight less in the coming years.

It is important that a deaf dog does know its area by scent recognition. This means the owner must walk it all round their property so if for any reason it becomes lost, it can find its way back home again. In saying this, I always advise everyone to do this for any dog, especially when having moved into a new home.

For those who might feel unsure of such ability, it is possible to have a satellite navigation collar. By dialling a number on your mobile phone, you will receive a text message giving you the exact coordinates of your dog’s current location.

Many people see a dog becoming deaf as just a simple problem of life and adapt their ways so that its life will change very little. Other people may well see such a disability as a major problem, thinking they can no longer communicate with it and as a result, cannot train it.

There is also a fear that such dogs become more aggressive because they are so often startled and so show aggression. With the correct training, we can actually desensitise them for this.

Some may think that even gaining the dogs attention, they are going to have to learn hundreds of hand signals, like those that we need for humans. Actually, it is not that many. Most of them are the same ones we use for those that do not have hearing problems. As a rule, they react better to them than voice commands; a deaf dog is no exception.

There is no need to fear deafness to the point that you might consider putting it to sleep. Dogs are very adaptable to disabilities and we owe it to them that we should adapt too, so letting them lead a normal happy life.

For those of you who would like more in-depth information about deafness in dogs, there is an excellent website at www.deafdogs.org.

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