Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Truth About Deaf Dogs

Okay, I'm going to be honest with you. As much as I love my deaf dog Noelle, and my deaf foster dog Ziggy, they really aren't any better than hearing dogs. Sometimes I say deaf dogs are better, but really they are just the same. There. I've admitted it. I've fostered six deaf dogs in the past two years, and they've ranged from "the perfect dog" (not Noelle), to "the biggest challenge ever" (Ziggy). It has more to do with their age, breed, and temperament than their hearing - or lack of it.

Deaf dogs are really no more challenging to train or live with than hearing dogs. Oh sure, they can pretend they don't notice you calling them when you wave your arms and they refuse to look at you. But even if they're really independent and don't naturally check in often, you can use a vibrating collar as a paging system to get their attention. The biggest issue with a deaf dog is making sure you never let them off leash outside of a fenced area because of the danger from traffic which they can't hear coming. Beyond that, they actually are often easier to train because they don't get distracted by noises around them. Plus dogs respond better to sign language or body language than they do to verbal commands, so with a deaf dog you can just take the easy route and train with only hand motions instead of actual words. I actually get lazy sometimes and use just hand signs with my hearing dog Remi instead of words. He quickly learned all of Noelle's sign language commands and responds equally to signs or words now.

Just like pit bulls, deaf dogs often get a bad rap. People will be very interested in one of my deaf fosters, and then I say "he's deaf" and they sometimes get this funny look on their face and start backing away. Like he's suddenly become a different dog than the one they were just petting and admiring. Silly people. I love to show how my deaf dogs respond to hand signs for something as simple as a "sit" command, because people are so amazed that the dog knows how to sit. Although when a hearing dog sits on command, people are sometimes still amazed, so it could just be that people aren't used to dogs knowing how to sit when asked. Noelle has a whole repertoire of tricks, but I am seriously lacking on training Ziggy. He can sit faster than any dog I know, but we have been focusing on commands like "no" and "come" and "stop chewing my shoelaces" and "stop chewing my socks" and "stop chewing my feet" and "stop drinking that beer", and haven't made it much beyond that.

Deaf dogs aren't for everyone, because they are a bit of extra work, since you can't use your voice to get their attention. But they have some secret advantages. First, they don't hear the neighbors' dogs barking when you go for a walk around the block. Second, they sleep soundly and you can travel with them to strange places without them barking at every noise they hear. This is especially nice if you like to take your dog camping! Third, they aren't bothered by fireworks or thunderstorms. So next time you're thinking about adopting a dog, please don't rule out a dog just because he or she is deaf. If he or she has a problem with alcohol though, that's a different story.


Pibble said...

I love how you peppered Ziggy's drinking problem into this post. It's true: both his deafness AND his fondness for an ice cold Rolling Rock can be worked with. :)

We had a deaf Pit Bull at our shelter a few years back who I absolutely fell in love with. A wonderful young couple adopted him - they saw him on our website, and when I met with them I knew they were the ones when she said "I've been reading a lot about training and living with a deaf dog..." Because he was the cutest puppy in the world, and everyone wanted him, deaf or not.

Anyway, I guess my point is that willing people are out there, they're just not as common as we'd like.

Major woofs to you for spreading the word about deaf dogs, and helping to break the stereotype!

Frankie Furter said...

My mom and dad had a dachshund who as he got older began to live in a very quiet world. When mom noticed it she started to train him with hand signals. He learned them quickly and they served him well for over 5 totally silent years. He was 16 when he went to the bridge.
This was an excellent post. Glad that you put it up.

Anonymous said...

This was Most Interesting and Informative! Thank you, thank you! I wouldn't care if a doggie could hear or not as long as they would join me for a beer or two.

Wiggles & Wags,

Kari in WeHo said...

Ah thanks for the honesty :) I am always told how much better deaf dogs are!

Remington said...

Informative post! Thank you!

meowmeowmans said...

What a helpful and informative post. Thanks!

hero said...

We all learn something, ain't we... thanks for such great information... deaf and alcoholic, wow, that Ziggy is one hell of a cool dude.

Licks, hero

JackDaddy said...

What a very good post! I don't think I've run across any deaf dogs before, even at the shelters!

Calsidyrose said...

We have the same problem as you describe about the potential adopters who lose interest when they learn the dog is deaf.

Keep up the good work!

SwSmartie said...

I really enjoyed this post. My favorite so far. =D

Ziggy is the man.

havetailwillwag said...

i've only met one deaf dog before, a cocker spaniel and she is the most well-behaved, smarty-pants, disciplined, calm, sweet dog i have EVER met.

by the way, lumi's got cool ears.. is the wind blowing them or something? and that photo of ziggy is just too adorable. look at that face!! i still don't get how anyone can resist his goofy charms.