About Deaf Dogs

Contributed by Katrina McGinnis and Jennifer Weir

... a deaf dog is a dog first, a breed second, a personality third, and deaf last

Perhaps you have recently acquired a dog or puppy that you suspect (or have been told) is deaf, have an older dog that seems to have hearing loss, or a dog that has suffered some recent trauma that has led to temporary or permanent deafness. Or perhaps you are a shelter or rescue, and have recently discovered that one of your dogs is deaf. But because you have fallen in love with this canine bundle of fur, or because you believe that the dog is adoptable (despite the deafness), you are interested in finding out how to live with him or her.

Congratulations! You are part of an increasing number of people that find that deafness in dogs is not a barrier to living with and training them. However, one cannot talk about deafness in dogs without talking about dog ages, breeds, and personalities.

Developmental Stages

Dogs go through developmental stages similar to humans: puppyhood, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and seniorhood. And, as with humans, each of these stages presents their own challenges. Puppies are going to explore, and much like human toddlers, everything they find goes in their mouths. Unlike humans, puppies have very sharp teeth! This is part of puppyhood. As the human, you had best be prepared for these challenges and learn ways to divert the puppy from destructive behavior. A bored puppy is going to be more destructive than a mentally (train your dog!) and physically (and then go out and play!) tired puppy.

As the puppy reaches one to two years old (and in some breeds, maybe a bit longer than that), the dog goes through adolescence. Adolescence (whether human or canine) can be an interesting time for the human "parents." The human needs to be prepared to handle a dog that suddenly wants to question the way things always have been (or seems to forget completely). Doggy adolescents don't really start to settle down into adulthood until two or three years old, depending on the breed. And then, there's seniorhood. Many of the challenges in this stage are medical challenges (including hearing loss), as the dog's body starts to wear out. So despite your puppy's ability to hear or not hear, he or she is still a puppy, adolescent, adult, or senior, and will go through the same stages as any other dog.

Consideration of Breed Characteristics

We've mentioned "breed" a couple of times now. And that brings up the next "factor" to influence your dog's life. Humans have bred dogs for centuries to perform certain jobs. Some dogs are still performing these jobs, but many are living in homes where they don't have the opportunity to exercise their genetic heritage. This does not change the fact that an Australian Shepherd was bred to protect the home and work stock, or a Boxer was bred to guard, or a Jack Russell Terrier to hunt and kill vermin. A Mix breed dog will show traits from all of his ancestors. These traits have been genetically bred into these breeds. Deafness is not going to change these traits in any way.

If you have adopted an Australian Shepherd puppy, you will find that your puppy is going to try to herd you, or your children, or other dogs and cats in the house. Training or exercise is going to be focused on how to live with these instincts. A great many high-energy dogs need jobs, and a great many people find that acceptable jobs are dogsports such as Agility or Rally, or real work, such as being a part of a Therapy or Search and Rescue team. Deafness might necessitate some training adjustments, but does not necessarily interfere in the ability to perform these jobs.

Individual Personality

Just like children, your dog has a personality. Sometimes this personality is influenced by the immediate environment, and sometimes, a dog's personality develops despite that environment. If you have adopted a mature dog from a rescue or shelter, that dog has already experienced life and life's challenges and "who he is" is already established. A puppy is more of a "blank slate" but, as in children, one can frequently get hints of the pup's personality at a very young age. Again, deafness has very little to do with a dog's personality and expression.


Deafness really does not affect the manner in which your dog interacts with you, nor should it affect the way you interact with the dog. The biggest difference will be in how you communicate.

And finally we come to deafness. Deafness really does not affect the manner in which your dog interacts with you, nor should it affect the way you interact with the dog. The biggest difference will be in how you communicate. Learning to "talk" with your deaf dog means that you use hand signals for cues, adding in exaggerated facial expressions (at least for awhile) for extra emphasis. The major difference between human communication and dog communication is that humans communicate verbally, with body language for emphasis. Dogs communicate with body language, and use verbals for emphasis.

Yes, dogs bark (even deaf ones), and there may be information in that bark. But the dog is not saying to his neighbor dog "stay out of my territory" by JUST his bark. He is also expressing this information in his body language, in the way he holds his ears or his tail. His legs may be rigid. He is "staring" at the invading dog. The invading dog may show signs of submission by putting his head on the ground or lying down and rolling over to show his belly. All of this body language means more to the dog than human words. A deaf dog "talking" to another dog is similar to a human talking on the phone. You might miss some of the nuances of the conversation, but the message is intact. None of this body language requires hearing.

As mentioned earlier, humans also use body language when talking, more than most people are aware, so be sure to talk to your dog while you sign. Your deaf dog will soon learn your body expression and language. The important point in communicating with your dog (hearing or deaf), is consistency. Once you have decided on a signal for a command, use it all the time. Teach the other members of your family that signal, so they use it too. Many of us with deaf dogs find that once we start training hand signals to the deaf dog, any hearing dogs in the home quickly pick up on them too.

So, now that this furbundle is sharing your home and heart, or is waiting patiently for a home and heart to share, be sure to treat him or her just like any other dog that may have shared your life. Train him, play with him, and most importantly, remember that a deaf dog is a dog first, a breed second, a personality third, and deaf last.