Helpful Tips for Living With a Pet Who Is Deaf or Hearing-Impaired

Tailor Your Cues

Your dog or cat might not be able to hear, but his other senses usually still work just fine. For example, pets who are hearing-impaired often have heightened visual abilities. They tend to watch people carefully, which means you can use your hands for visual cues.

Wave your hand to get your pet’s attention; point two fingers at your eyes to signal him to look at you. If you aren’t right in front of your dog or cat and need to catch his attention, you can keep a little flashlight nearby, so you can flash it in his direction (but not in his eyes, of course). Your pet can learn that when he sees the flash of light, he should look for you.

Your expression is important, too. Pets are experts at reading our faces. Smile when you’re happy and frown to signal displeasure. Your pet will get the message, loud and clear.

You can also get your pet’s attention with other touch cues that indicate “look at me.” These include a gentle tug on the leash or a soft touch on the shoulder or back.

And keep in mind that there’s more to the sense of touch than just feeling a poke or pat: Your pet's skin is highly sensitive to vibrations. He produces corresponding oscillations in the nerves that carry information from touch receptors to the brain. To alert your dog or cat to your approach, stomp your foot. He’ll feel the vibration and know where you’re coming from. If your cat is sleeping on a table, you can tap the surface to get his attention.

To teach these cues, perform the action — touching his shoulder, for instance — then engage his interest by moving a treat from his nose up toward your eyes so that his gaze is drawn to you. When he makes eye contact, give your good-job signal and reward him with the treat. Once your pet starts to learn what the signal means, you can gradually phase out the treat.

Make sure everyone in your family uses the same signals, so your dog doesn’t become confused. If necessary, schedule a couple of sessions with a trainer. He or she can help you teach your dog new nonverbal cues and hand signals.

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