Fall 2012 Magazine

Deaf Pets

By Amber Shelton

Deaf Pet Awareness Week, September 23-28, is designed to not only celebrate deaf pets around the world, but to educate people about deaf pets and to correct the misconceptions people have about deaf pets. People develop preconceived notions of a deaf pet's temperament due to the myths surrounding deaf pets. For example, it is commonly said that deaf dogs are not good pets for families with children. People think that if a child approaches a deaf pet without the pet's knowledge, the animal will startle and bite the child. With simple training, as you would do with any pet in the home, deaf dogs can be just as socialized to children, and be as safe to have in the home as hearing dogs.

Joe Anderson, the owner of two deaf dogs, says that sometimes it is almost a benefit to have a deaf dog as opposed to a hearing dog. Take the 4th of July. Joe knew his deaf Great Dane, Walter, and his deaf Pit Bull, Cow, would be un-phased by the fireworks. His hearing dogs were another story. When the fireworks started, his two hearing dogs went crazy. They were stressed out enough that Joe actually had to give them sedatives. Having Cow and Walter there was very helpful because it created a calming presence for the two hearing dogs. "If I'd had four hearing dogs running around freaking out about fireworks, I probably would've lost my mind!" Joe said.

Unfortunately many people feel there are only challenges in owning a deaf pet, when actually there are many benefits. Deaf pets tend to stick closer to their owners and are also less likely to get distracted in a crowd of people since they can't hear all the other noises. Deaf pet owners can communicate with their deaf pet using a variety of hand signals. They don't have to say anything and don't have to yell over loud noises. Owners of deaf dogs don't have to worry about their dog barking at the doorbell, being afraid of thunder or fireworks, or rushing to the kitchen as soon as a favorite bag of snacks is opened. In fact, deaf pets provide pet owners with lessons in patience, acceptance and unconditional love.

Dogs or cats can become deaf from a number of different reasons, including chronic ear infections, trauma, noise, injuries, drug toxicity and old age. The early warning signs of a deaf dog can include a puppy playing more aggressively than the others, a puppy who may not wake up at feeding times unless physically touched, and a dog or puppy who is non-responsive to being called. If you think your dog is deaf, there are simple steps you can perform to make certain. You can jingle your keys or a jar of coins behind your back, hold a toy behind your back and squeak it, call your dog or cat in a normal voice without yelling and have someone ring the doorbell. If your dog or cat is not responsive to any of these noises, the next step is to take him to your veterinarian for a Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response test. This will allow you to find out the extent of the hearing loss.

Once you have determined the severity of your pet's hearing loss you need to start taking the necessary steps to train him and keep him safe. Purchasing a dog or cat tag stating, "' (Name)' is deaf", along with your name and phone number is your first step. Second, you need to purchase an American Sign Language book to learn signs instead of words for training. Focus on teaching your pet the most common commands: sit, down, stay, come, no, and stop. Use food rewards to train your deaf pet because they cannot hear positive verbal reinforcement. If treats are not always an option, try a 'happy hands' signal or a simple pat on the back.

Sharing your home with a deaf pet can be just as rewarding, or even more so, than sharing your home with a hearing pet. Consider all the benefits, not just the inconveniences, when evaluating the merit of a deaf pet.

For more information on deaf animals go to: www.deafdogs.org & http://deafcats.blogspot.com.

Amber Shelton is the proud owner of two Yorkshire Terriers, Lola and Willy. Amber and her dogs enjoy outdoor activities and she also helps other pet owners learn about pet insurance at Trupanion, a pet insurance company headquartered in Seattle.

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