Living with an Elderly Deaf Dog
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.