Senior Dog Solutions: How to Communicate With a Deaf Pet

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One of the greatest challenges for an aging dog — and his humans — is hearing loss. Just because your pet may be losing his hearing, however, doesn’t mean he can’t continue to be a fully functioning member of your household. It simply takes a little creativity and training to bridge the communication gap. 

Where to Start

If you notice hearing loss in your pet, the first place to go is to your veterinarian. Your dog’s change in hearing may simply be age-related, but there are a number of possible causes, including ear infections or a foreign body or growth in the ear, which need to be addressed by a veterinarian. Your veterinarian can rule out specific issues, and in some cases can treat, and even reverse, the loss. 

However, your dog’s hearing loss may be permanent, and this will call for a change in the way you communicate with your four-legged companion.

Communicating With Your Pet

Giving your dog audible feedback becomes more difficult when your pet has hearing loss, since he won’t be easily able to hear a clicker or your voice. Instead, you will need to teach your dog a signal, like a hand clap or a thumbs up that means “good dog” or “job well done.” Teach your pet to recognize the “good dog” signal by immediately following it with a reward such as a treat, for example, or another enjoyable activity like being petted, chasing a ball, playing tug or going outside.  

A hearing-impaired dog needs to be taught to focus on his handler’s body to see visual commands for various behaviors, including sit and down. It is essential that you have a signal, or a “look at me” cue, to get your dog’s attention. This cue tells your dog to look at you; he can then be led by a visual command to do a desired behavior.

When you are walking your dog, a gentle, low pull, or a jingle on his leash can be a signal for him to reorient his body to face you. When off leash, a hand wave, a gentle touch on the shoulder or back, or a flashlight or other visual stimulus serves the same purpose. As with any signal, you must teach your pet what the signal means. 

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