He Can’t Hear You Say No More Milkbones.

September 13, 2012 · 6 comments

While babbling with a good friend about our dogs (because yes, we’re “those” folks), we ended up talking about being mama to a deaf pup.

I’m so accustom to Bailey’s lack of hearing that I forget it’s often new territory — and because we’ve fallen into such routine that people don’t pick up on it, I rarely get the chance to talk to folks contemplating adopting a deaf pet (or find themselves, like us, with a pet who can longer hear).

When she asked me specifics about how we manage our eldest moo, I thought to myself, “No one will be interested but you’ll write about it anyway What a good blog topic!” 😉

Many dogs end up deaf or hard of hearing. Unfortunately, they’re so good at using their other senses or following their regular routines that their owners rarely notice.

Deaf dogs are often brought to shelters for “being stupid” or have annoyed owners who blame the dog for no longer being obedient. Many get labeled as stubborn. We once babysat a dog whose owner warned us was “really stubborn.” Since we were new and she’d no routine to follow, I easily picked up she couldn’t hear. A quick vet trip confirmed she had very little hearing left, and her owners felt awful for not realizing – they also began training on hand signals and everyone was much happier as a result. So before you decide your dog is just getting more stubborn or lazy, check their hearing! 😉

We’re lucky enough that Bailey wasn’t always deaf; but like more than half of all Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, he experienced degeneration of nerves in his ear and had lost most of his hearing by two years old. Now seven, he hasn’t been able to hear for years (though he has an uncanny ability to know when the pantry door opens). Those years that we were able to build a bond and train while he had hearing were very beneficial, but because I’m half Italian and can’t do anything without hand motion 😉 – those hand signals ended up being more beneficial when he went completely deaf! As a side note, I always recommend combining any verbal command with a hand command, and make sure each is simple and different from regular hand gestures you might make, and held away from your body. This way the dog can always see it, even on sunny days when you’re just a giant silhouette.

But how else do we handle a deaf family member? Easily! Here are a few tips:

Make use of your hearing-able dog, if you’ve got one. Bailey is a natural follower (into the bathroom, into the kitchen, into any form of personal space…) and is heavily reliant on Emmie and Gizmo for direction. He is insanely observant of routines, patterns, and the movement of the other pups – so he easily follows their cues to know when it’s time to get in the car, come back inside, get on or off the bed, etc. It really works out for us that Emmie is naturally bossy and easily picked up that “Get Facey!” means to go fetch her brother (between her help with him and her work with Gizmo’s confidence, I owe her a lot of squeaky toys).

When calling him in from the backyard at night, we flicker the patio light on and off to get his attention. Once he looks toward the patio, he follows any commands because he can see us. If you own a deaf dog and want better recall – it can be a matter of life and death if they cannot hear an approaching danger – they even make vibrating collars to train your dog with. You press the remote and they learn to look at you when it shakes.

To get his attention indoors, we often stomp the floor to cause a vibration, or we make any kind of movement in his peripheral vision and he’s golden!

Off-leash with a deaf dog takes extra attention and keeping them close – and isn’t always possible if your dog is a grand explorer. When we’re in the confines of a dog park, I’m less concerned – but if we’re going out to get the mail, I make sure to keep him close, as I know I need to physically touch him to get his attention if he isn’t facing me. Remember – deaf dogs cannot hear you yell a warning, hear an approaching car, hear another dog’s growl (he CAN read body language, but be aware) – so you’ve really got to be their ears in these situations. When we go out at night (on or off-leash), he wears a light so we can always tell where he is and keep him close, in case he can’t hear us call him.

Approach deaf dogs slowly and gently if they’re not looking at you – you can easily startle a deaf dog because he didn’t realize you were about to touch him. So be gentle, and try to get in their line of sight before reaching out to make physical contact. We’ve given Bailey accidental heart attacks (not REALLY) when we catch him by surprise sometimes. A more nervous dog might accidentally snap.

On a similar note, waking up a deaf dog is a different process. He is an excellent sleeper, and as you can’t rouse him with noise, we have to very carefully touch him and then gently shake him to get him to wake without being startled (when startled, he wakes quickly, jumps up with concern, sees its you, then waggles all over – it slays me, but I always feel bad that he seems apologetic, so we do our best to have gentle wake ups).

Keep them in mind. Deaf dogs can easily feel left out, and you can occasionally battle separation anxiety because they can’t hear that you’ve only moved to the other room versus deserted them completely. 😉 We don’t think twice about making sure someone gets his attention when we’re moving to another room and want him to come with, or that we wake him before coming upstairs for the night so that he doesn’t wake up and think he was left behind (and you can tell he really does think this, as when he sees you again, he is so relieved you’re still there),

Deaf dogs, just like other dogs, enjoy praise. Since he was a pup, Sean has always given him a thumbs up when he does something good. Random? Yes – but it continues to be a sign Bailey links to praise – and he WIGGLES WIGGLES WIGGLES when he gets it. He also loves touch and we still verbally get excited for him – because he recognizes the facial expressions and body language. You don’t need to rely on food as praise for deaf dogs.

Mostly, it’s just important to remember that deaf dogs are great companions – they love, they observe, they still defend – and despite how wonderful they are, they are often overlooked in shelters and rescues. Living with a deaf dog is so easily handled and so second nature, that we routinely forget it.

And the very best part about my deaf dog? Unlike the other two moos, he doesn’t hear that leaf fall outside at 3am and thus feel compelled to fly across my face in a fit of barks to tell it what’s UP. 😉

(He also can’t hear you say, “That’s not how we sit on the furniture.” Sigh…)

Find more about living and training your deaf dog here:


{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Steven Andrew September 13, 2012 at 1:46 pm

What’s probably really lame on my part is I never thought about animals going deaf. I mean, obviously they can but I never realized there are actually deaf dogs. I loved reading this. It makes me want a dog specifically deaf so I can care for it and train it properly. I love the tips, they’re definitely helpful for those that struggle with a deaf dog!


Brittney September 13, 2012 at 2:05 pm

Thanks! I figured this was one of those “applies to NO ONE” posts, but I’m a dork and like to educate juuuuuuuuust in case – so thanks for the feedback! 🙂 They’re honestly really awesome. Outside of fosters, Bailey is the first deaf dog I’ve actually owned – but we had a dog in a wheelchair growing up! 🙂 Even blind dogs can be easily owned, you just have to be a little more savvy (many friends with blind dogs “scent” each room different – very subtly – but the dogs can recognize easily which spot in the house they’are in!)


Lu September 13, 2012 at 2:26 pm

Awww what a cue little pup. I’ve never thought about pets with disabilities either, but it would certainly never put me off an animal. I suspect my cat is starting to get sight issues as he is old now, but we are adapting and helping him out. We have a litter tray in the bathroom for when we are asleep, and he comes and gets us when he wants to go toilet outisde and it is getting too dark for him to see well. I would never give him up just because he had problems, after all I’m blind as a bat!


Brittney September 13, 2012 at 3:36 pm

SEE! Kudos to you for not only keeping him, but for adjusting to make life easier as he ages. It’s shocking how rare that is! Bailey has something similar – his eyesight is fairly diminished, so he has trouble maneuvering in the dark. So we have a table lamp near the back door that gets turned on at night, so if he wants to go out the pet door to potty, he can easily see where it is and find his way back up the stairs! It’s the little stuff, right? 🙂


Susan September 13, 2012 at 5:15 pm

I spent a year thinking that my Cav wasn’t listening to me before I finally wised up and got him BAER tested. I still don’t know if it was caused by ASD or PSOM, but we were also lucky in that we learned hand signs before he lost his hearing.


Nedhunuri June 7, 2015 at 1:21 pm

hey there! checked out your weistbe and am very interested in your assistance. We have a year old lab X greyhound (so we found out afterwards!) and all in all he is an amazing dog, we got him at 8 weeks and he has been around our daughter who had just turned 3 and is amazing with her she lays on him..pushes him is kind of in an agressive stage right now and we try really hard to stress to her NOT to be like that lol but anyways he has never growled, snapped, bit or snarled at her..or anyone for that matter.. he is a very loving and affectionate, licky/kissy dog.however, we have a baby on the way, and my husband was just called into the military and will be going away for quite a while. Bentley(dog) seems to listen to my husband more than me they are BFFS. And Bentley has and always has had an issue with jumping up, and pawing at people lol not aggressively but its still super frustrating, and we are concerned with the baby on the way and such and just want to get him under control while hes still young.Let me know what you think and We’d love to meet!


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