Deaf dog adoption

My first experience with a deaf dog occurred when I was about 16 years old and my family decided to adopt a dog from a local Humane Society. We fell in love with “Shorty” because, well, she looked weird and she seemed so sweet. We took her home and after a couple of hours we realized that something was wrong. We could clap our hands directly above her head and she didn’t flinch a bit. We called the Humane Society and asked if they knew the dog was deaf and they said no. They said we could return the dog on Monday when the shelter reopened, but we knew there was no way for this to happen. How could we give back a dog that we had bonded with just because he was deaf? We could never have lived with ourselves if the shelter had euthanized her.

Shorty turned out to be the best dog we’ve ever had. I trained her to sit, roll over, sit, lie down, and shake hands. He had no formal dog training experience and was still in high school. Apparently, he was a very intelligent dog. He learned the boundaries of our property and after a few years he never left our yard. We never thought that she had a “disability”, she was just our dog who was a little different.

The first dog I adopted after leaving home was a “hearing” dog and it actually took me a while to get used to it. I had gotten used to a dog not being able to hear the doorbell, the bag of chips being opened, and the movement in the house. It seemed strange to have a dog that could hear everything. Many years later, I ran into Chance, a seven-month-old deaf Catahoula leopard dog. His sad story included a breeder who wanted to euthanize him because he was deaf and a lady who rescued him from the breeder but did not have time to work with him. The Catahoula breed is notoriously intelligent, independent, energetic, and headstrong … in other words, it is not easy to train even on a good day.

Chance came to live with us two years ago and has learned to sit, lie down, shake hands, and walk properly on a leash. There were days when I suspected he was acting like a human teenager and just ignored me instead of being deaf. He knows, at all times, what happens in our house. He seems to know, by some kind of instinct, when I walk into the kitchen. His sense of smell is amazing.

Last year, I took Chance to a puppy class offered by a local veterinary office. Chance was incredibly well behaved (in public), which confirmed my belief that he distinguished right from wrong, he simply chose to pretend otherwise. The other participants in the class were simply amazed that a deaf dog could be trained quite easily. In fact, Chance was doing the same things that hearing dogs did in the same amount of training time. One participant told me that she had told her mother how brave I was to take on that responsibility. It never seemed to be a big problem.

I recently corresponded with someone who was considering adopting a deaf dog and realized that many people don’t realize how little of a problem that is. Dogs are dogs. If you are considering adopting a dog, hearing or non-hearing, you should be familiar with the dog’s behavior. Second, a race is a race. There are certain breed specific behaviors that will be present regardless of the ability to listen. Again, this is a consideration when adopting any dog. Which breed will work best for your family and home environment? Third, there are some special considerations for deaf dogs. If you already have dogs in your household, will they accept another dog into the “pack”? Remember, deaf dogs will not be able to hear that low throat growl used to warn newer dogs to “back off.” Whether this is a problem or not depends on your current situation. Deaf dogs will also not be able to hear young children approaching from behind or when they are asleep. Dogs that do not hear can be easily startled and may react with a click. Children should be taught how to approach the new dog and not scare it. Deaf dogs should also not be allowed off leash unless they are in a fenced area, as you will not be able to use verbal cues to remind your dog.

Training a deaf dog shouldn’t be difficult if you have experience training other hearing dogs. There are some dog trainers who are experienced in this area to help you with the use of hand signals. Some deaf dog owners use hand signals similar to American Sign Language, but what really matters is the level of communication between you and your dog.

If you are considering bringing a dog into your family, consider adopting a rescue organization. Also consider adopting a deaf dog that will bring years of love to your family with minimal additional investment in training time for you and your family.


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