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Living with an Elderly Deaf Dog

Updated on August 6, 2007

My little dog wasn't born deaf; she's now almost 17 years old.

The progression of her hearing loss was slow. I noticed little things over the last couple of years. She slept heavier, she didn't immediately come when I called her if I was in another room. I knew then that she was going deaf.

I began to learn the small challenges that come with living with a deaf dog. I decided it was important to try to train her a bit of sign language at that time, before she lost her hearing altogether. The problem with that was I had never been able to teach her much of anything, even as a young dog, as she had been abused prior to coming to live with me and was a very timid little thing.

Over the last couple of years, however, I have learned a few things about living with a deaf dog.

  • Accept what you cannot change.

My dog's hearing loss was from a natural aging situation. There is no surgery available and nothing to do but allow her to age gracefully. Yelling doesn't help; she still can't hear me. I don't allow myself to get upset with her when she doesn't hear a command.

  • Learn to accommodate the disability.

I can no longer call her from another room. I have to go find her and indicate I want her to follow me. Similarly, when she goes outside in her small fenced area, I must go to her and have her come back inside. Gone are the days of opening the back door and calling her name. My dog doesn't come to me; I now go to her. She has followed me all of her life, and now it's my turn to follow her.

  • Be careful about startling.

As my dog ages, she sleeps more and heavier. I finally realized that she has lost that doggy built-in sense of awareness of activity around her. She no longer jumps up when the doorbell rings, or if someone walks in the room. If she is awakened suddenly, she jumps up and appears disoriented. I now quietly and gently touch the top of her head and as she wakes, I pet her or hold her head in both of my hands. I have found that seems to startle her the least.

  • Provide a safe, secure environment.

Regardless of age, deaf dogs need certain safety nets built in. While they may have a sense of vibration, they cannot hear dangers around them, such as cars or other dogs. My dog doesn't go outside anymore by herself for several reasons. She will often wander to the edge of her yard and stare, or bark at the outside gate, believing perhaps that it is the door to the house. Her eyesight is also fading and her mind simply isn't as sharp as it used to be, so I am mindful that she needs extra supervision to keep her safe.

  • Tell everyone of your dog's hearing status.

The vet should be the first to know. Request that they mark the chart in red so that anyone who may need to treat or interact with your dog is aware of the hearing loss. Remind guests in your home so they don't startle your dog and teach them how to interact with your dog.

  • Teach your dog some sign language.

I began teaching my dog a simple hand signal while saying, "Come," when she could still hear. Now, when I need her to follow me, I touch her head and signal. Due to her eyesight, I often have to make large, exaggerated hand signals, but it works.

  • Keep talking to them.

My dog can't hear me anymore, but I continue to talk to her. She senses the interaction and besides, I think it's good for me.

Living with a deaf dog isn't always easy. While I feel sadness in realizing the losses this elderly little dog has faced, I have come to accept that it is a fact of life. Her loyalty over the years deserves rewarding, and I do this by taking care of her in her twilight years. She doesn't accommodate me; I accommodate her.


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      3 years ago

      Just came upon this blog and found it so moving. "She has followed me all of her life, and now it's my turn to follow her." Well said. I wonder why they bark in the yard. I tend to think it is something other than senility. Maybe it's gratifying in a silent world just to shout for the sake of shouting. At any rate, what a sweet post.

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      4 years ago

      I adopted an 8year old very shy deaf dog need tips

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      Lady - 14 years old 

      5 years ago

      I have talked to my sweet Lady (Cocker Spaniel named for Lady in Lady and the Tramp) for 12 years since we rescued her from an abusive home! she is now totally deaf, and does seem to bark at nothing , and she has been the quietest dog in a long line of 11 very special dogs. I too am using sign language which she seem to be responding to, and go to her now to get her! I miss the little shadow that never left my side., but I also continue to talk to her as if she could hear. At 78 years of age she was always my excuse if my family caught me talking to myself when no one else was in range. I have told all those who are sure I'm getting senile that she reads lips! Thanks for your website. It has cheered me immensly!

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      7 years ago

      Thank you all for sharing your experiences with your beloved "babies" (so very helpful). We have a beautiful toy Poodle that will turn 14 years old this October. She's always been very responsive to sounds and loves to be "baby talked" to. Very eager to go find all her toys at command, just loving every challenge. Lately she has been sleeping more soundly and just like most comments I've read here, she sits absent-minded staring at nothing. Without realizing, I too, have taught her sign language through out the years and now it is turning out very handy. She was still able to hear somewhat up until last Friday, my husband got her a squeaky pumpkin and she heard the sound and went chasing after it. Now as of the last 3 days she cannot even hear my highest pitch voice sounds. She was able to perceive ONLY high pitch sounds for the last few weeks. It is sad to see those big beautiful brown eyes staring at me as if asking "why aren't you speaking to me?" When I open my arms wide, she comes running for a hug and when I point down to the floor she understands to sit still. These lovely creatures are a gift from heaven and every day they teach us something new. One thing she always responds to is the smell of a freshly cooked chicken. The moment she perceives the smell of chicken, she wakes up from a deep sleep and will even go find her favorite ball to play fetch. She "works" for food. Once she fetches the ball a couple of times, she sits like a nice sweet little lady and waits for her chicken treat.

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      Lilly's Mom 

      7 years ago

      I think I could cut and paste most of the above comments. It is so sad to think Lilly can no longer hear my foolish talk to her, the "whose the best girl in the world" and other words of affection. My vet insists it's harder for me than for her. I too try extra rubs and cuddles. The startling is very distressing for both of us. I have tried dog whistles, clickers, bells, coins in cans, and other things to get her attention to no avail. Has anyone tried a spray of a paticular calming oil to get their attention(not a spray on the body as a correction, but a scenting of the air to get her to look at me)? Another dog lover thought a collar with a gentle vibrate mode might work...has anyone tried this. All my best to you that are dealing with the aging of a loving companion.

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      7 years ago

      Thank you for this. My boston terrier is 12 years old and has been my constant companion and confidante in all those years. She is profoundly deaf now and I miss so much how she always seemed to understand our 'conversations'. it's a difficult transition but your piece has helped me find some peace. While our interactions are different she is still healthy, active and full of life. She needs me to adapt and so I shall. Thank you.

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      7 years ago

      What a beautiful piece - we hava an elderly Maltese - 12 yrs and she is losing her hearing - well probably has lost and these are great tips for her life as an elderly and beautiful dog and friend - she is only 2.6kgs!

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      8 years ago

      I adopted an older dog from the shelter. He has a hard time seeing and I believe he is almost deaf. I just got him today. But even though he has all these problems, I thank God for him. He is so sweet! And he loves to be cuddled. I realize I have to go the extra mile compared to a heathly dog but to me he is worth it. I believe that because of all the problems he has,he would have been put to sleep if I hadn't of taken him. Seems so many want a heathly pup not a older dog who can't see or hear. I am the one who got blessed when I got him!

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      Carol O 

      9 years ago

      My 13 yo maltese, Casper, is experiencing the beginnings of hearing loss and I really appreciated the remarks and the stories. He looks so much like the picture it's amazing. I can relate to the sense of mortality that this makes me aware of. Casper is still frisky and seems to have his eyesight. He still plays hard and has a wonderful quality of life. He has brought more unconditional love and joy into my life than words can express. He is the definition of "joy". He loves everyone and everything. He gets along beautifully in the company of children and dogs. I want his coming years to be filled with my unconditional love and care for him! God really knew what he was doing when he created these amazing creatures to love us...what a gift!

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      9 years ago

      Well here we all are in the same leaky little boat with our beloved babies! My guy Gus is a bearded collie mix I've had since he was 4 months old; he is now 13. For me, the hardest part of this is to try not to be selfish; I've NEVER had a bond like this with any of my other dogs, wonderful as they all were in their own way, and I miss the communication that was so special in this relationship. I've always called gus "my guy" and was constantly amazed by his understanding. His eyes are so "human" I really think he is far more intelligent than most dogs. So now I have to rely on that innate intelligence to keep our communication open without my voice in his ear, and im sure HE can do it, the question is, can I? Ah. The show is now on the other foot; after all these years of his extraordinary ability to understand humans, now I have to make the extra effort, because I know the intelligence is ther on his part to understand if I can just figure out how to do my part. Here goes...

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      mini mad maz 

      9 years ago

      Hi, my dog is 14 or 15 and is now profoundly deaf. i've found that sometimes the' barking at nothing' phenomena is just senility or old age. keep touching and petting your dog. i had unintentionally been using hand signals for years without noticing! turned out very handy now, my dog has signals for come, stop, bark, sit, lie, dinner, and 'this is funny', and 'you're cheeky' and also 'i am cross' [me not him!] he also knows kiss/ i love you.

      hoovers can frighten him, as can joggers or kids on bikes on the pavement, one thing to watch for as a dog gets more elderly, they know if their back legs arent good, and can get defensive, but i have noticed other young gods will both delivberately or unintentionally, knock him off his legs, to his great discomfort and distress. i find that a swift word or threat! lol to the owner solves this problem

      we manage fine like this. hope u get on ok too

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      Cindy C 

      10 years ago

      Thanks so much for sharing. Reading your story brought tears to my eyes as I believe that is happening to my beloved boxer, Bubba. He will be 11 next month, elderly for boxers. The last couple of months, I have noticed the same things you have experienced, with Bubba, even sleeping heavier. It breaks my heart to think of him in silence and I find that I am touching him more to let him know he isn't alone. I also noticed that he is barking more when he is in the backyard, what's up with that? Again, thanks ,,


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