How to Interact With a Hearing-Impaired Dog
Dogs with hearing impairments can cope remarkably well despite their disability, often making up for loss of hearing by using their other senses, such as sight, smell and touch. However, while most hearing-impaired dogs live full and vibrant lives, these canines do face some unique challenges in their daily interactions. Even though a dog with a hearing impairment may be just as well socialized as any other dog, he can be easily startled and may react aggressively when scared.
How to Help Your Hearing-Impaired Dog
It’s crucial that you protect your hearing-impaired dog from frightening situations by carefully managing his environment. Diminished hearing makes it more difficult for a hearing-impaired dog to respond to a handler's verbal cues or to sense impending danger. A hearing-impaired dog should be leashed for walks since he won’t be able to hear voice commands or hazards like oncoming traffic. By the same token, a dog with a hearing impairment is less able to perceive dangers around the home, such as a car coming up the driveway, so he should always be either actively supervised, kept on leash, or contained in a fenced area. Your dog should also have a special note about his hearing impairment on his ID tags or collar, in the event that he is lost.
More important, though, a hearing-impaired dog cannot readily perceive people or dogs approaching him; this can cause him to be easily startled and to react defensively or aggressively. You will need to be constantly aware of your dog's surroundings so that you can warn him by directing his gaze toward approaching people or dogs. You will also need to warn other people about your dog's disability; one strategy is to have a bandanna made for your pet that says, “I’m deaf — approach with caution,” or “I’m deaf — please ask before you pet me.” This visual warning will hopefully deter friendly people from scaring your pet with an unanticipated greeting.
Let Your Dog Take the Lead in Social Situations
A hearing impairment doesn't mean your dog can't — or won't — enjoy interacting with people and dogs, but don't expect him to just jump in and start playing. Introductions should be done slowly and should be organized in such a way that your dog can easily see anyone approaching him. It's important as well to give your hearing-impaired dog the choice to make the final approach to a new person or dog himself, rather than letting him be approached. Even a dog with perfect hearing can be frightened by being petted without his consent; when your dog has a hearing impairment, it is even more crucial that you ensure that contact is willingly initiated by your dog.
One of the best ways to teach a hearing-impaired dog to interact with others is by using hand targeting. Teach your dog to approach people within his range of view in response to a visual cue, such as an open palm extended toward the dog. This allows the dog to approach the person and touch the extended hand with his nose. The dog can linger there if he wants to be petted, but it is important that he also be allowed to retreat if he chooses. Do not force any dog, hearing impaired or otherwise, to interact with people if he does not want to.
Make Home a Safe Space for Your Dog
Even at home, it is important to be cautious when approaching your dog, in order to avoid startling him. If he is awake, be sure to approach him in such a way that he can see you coming by walking toward him either from front or the side (but not from behind). You can also do eye-catching hand movements, such as hand waves, to ensure that he sees you. If your dog is sleeping or is focused on an activity such as chewing on a toy, alert him by stomping your feet or gently touching the blankets or sleeping area around him. You can also wake him by gently touching his side and offering him a treat. Practice this approach first while your dog is awake; gently touch his side and follow up with a treat. Practice until your pet begins to associate a touch on his side with a treat.
A crate can be beneficial for a dog with a hearing impairment; it can serve as a safe resting area away from the busy commotion of the home and can allow your dog to remove himself from situations where he may be overwhelmed or easily startled. Feed your dog occasional meals in his crate and drop in treats throughout the day to create a positive association with the crate. Never let small children disturb your dog while he is in his crate. If you need to rouse your dog while he is in his crate, tap gently on the outside to get his attention.
Keep Track of Your Dog — and Help Him Keep Track of You
If your hearing-impaired dog is extremely attached to you, he may become distressed if he falls asleep or looks away and suddenly you are gone. Keep your highly bonded dog from becoming distressed at your departure by alerting him with visual movements when you leave the room, or by waking him up before you go. Knowing that you are moving to another part of the house gives your dog the choice to follow you or stay where he is — without any worries that you have left him behind.
You may also want to consider putting a bell on your canine’s collar to alert you to his whereabouts in your house. The bell's sound can help you locate your dog even when he cannot hear your calls. Hearing-impaired dogs can also benefit from the use of vibration collars as a way to communicate with owners, even when they aren’t directly looking at them.
A few simple changes in the way you interact with your hearing-impaired pooch can help ensure his safety and help boost his confidence, both at home and out in the world.