Living With Dog Deafness – Part 2

Tessa, our 12 year old toy poodle, started going deaf when she was about 9. We did quite a bit of trial and error to find a way to communicate with her.

Sign Language

Our family begins teaching hand signals to all our dogs as soon as they arrive. One dog, Friday, was quite adept at signals and started training us by looking at the object he wanted, then to our eyes, then back to the object, and then to our eyes until we looked at the item andave it to him. With Tessa, these lessons proved invaluable for both her humans and her, as they allowed us to "speak" to each other, even though she could not hear us.

To get her to follow us, we used a hand held open to the ceiling, and folded our fingers over our palms repetitively. Telling her it was time for bed simply mean we point to her, then to her bed. To communicate that it was time to go lay down (and quit begging), we used an arm, with hand held palm down to the ground, then showed her a "shooing" motion where the forearm and hand were moved as one from the person's side until it was perpendicular to the floor. For asking her to follow us, we crooked our index finger at her (a common "come here" motion used between parents and kids). Of course, there were others, but the hard part was getting her attention.

Getting Their Attention

Getting your pets' attention can be difficult if your dog is deaf. There are a few tricks you can use to get him or her to look your direction to see your hand signals.

The first thing most people try is using vibration, through stomping. A good stomp from the direction you want your dog to look in will have them looking about to see what the potential danger is. After they understand that the stomp means you want to communicate with them, he or she will be more likely to respond by looking for you sooner the next time. Stomping around, however, is not always possible nor is it a preferred method of communication.

There are several other options to get your deaf or hard-of-hearing dogs' attention include the tickle method. Purchase a cat toy with a feather the end of about a yard long stick. It does not look that hard to make, if you are a Do-It-Yourself sort of person. Personally, I used a wooden dowel, cut a notch into it in, put a string into the notch, then added a pheasant feather I found on the road during a walk to the dangling part of the string. After you have this tool, use it to touch the feather to the back of your dog's ear. He or she will turn around to try and catch the thing tickling them, see you, giving you the opportunity to hand signal communicate again. This is a simple option, but I found it difficult to keep the cat toy around close enough to use every time I needed my dogs attention.

Another method to get their attention, one I do not condone, that I call the spray method. This method involves a spray bottle of water, set to stream, but you carry around on your belt. When you need your pet to look at you for communication, spray the water so it hits your dog. Where this method works very well to get them looking around, it puts them directly in flight or fight mode, much as stomping does, floor vibration is part of normal life. Getting water sprayed at them is not normal and I worry about the impact this starting option has on their heart.

The best way to get your deaf or hard-of-hearing dog to look your direction is still with a loving stroke along their ear, back, tail, foot, or anything else in reach, which we refer to as the soft touch. Normally, this action does not produce the fight or flight reaction in your dog that the other methods cause. It's always up to you and your dog to choose the right solution for your pack. We chose the soft touch method to use as our primary method of getting Tessa's attention and it worked beautifully, clear up to the point where we had to help her cross over.