A Guide To Deaf Dogs

In the past, deaf dogs were often put down because their owners assumed that they could not be trained. However, as deaf education and understanding of deaf people has advanced, understanding of hearing-impaired animals has also improved. It has become clear a dog’s deafness need not prevent it from enjoying an active life. Hearing-impaired dogs benefit greatly from training and deaf education. Deaf dogs can easily learn to respond to hand commands, according to dog experts.

Dog owners don’t even have to learn the sign language used by the deaf community to train their deaf pets. Any sign, whether traditional or invented, can be effective as long as it’s frequently and consistently used. Owners may also employ other customs familiar to the deaf culture, such as using a gentle tap or sound vibrations to announce their approach.

At-Risk Breeds

Some breeds of dogs are especially prone to congenital deafness. Experts don’t understand why this is true. Almost a quarter of Dalmatians are born deaf in one ear and 8 percent are born deaf in both ears. English setters, Catahoula leopard dogs, Australian cattle dogs, English cocker spaniels, Jack Russell terriers and bull terriers also have a high incidence of congenital deafness. Some researchers have noted that dogs with merle coloring, such as the rough collie and Shetland sheepdog, are also at risk of congenital deafness.

Causes of Deafness in Dogs

Many of the things that cause hearing loss in deaf people can also cause hearing loss in dogs. Sporting breeds that are often exposed to loud noises, such as hunting guns, can go deaf because of it. Some breeds with narrow ear canals or lots of hair around their ears may suffer temporary hearing loss because of wax buildup. Frequent, untreated ear infections, certain drugs, or simple old age can cause dogs to lose their hearing, just as they sometimes do for deaf people. Birth defects affecting a dog’s ears or injuries to its ears may result in deafness, as well. An owner who suspects that their dog might be deaf can make a loud noise while standing behind the dog, or when the dog is asleep, to test its response.


Experts advise that owners of deaf dogs should keep them in fenced yards at home and on leashes when out for walks. This protects them from dangers that they cannot hear, such as passing cars. One important but often-overlooked part of deaf education is educating the neighbors. Owners should add the word “deaf” to the dog’s collar tag in the event it becomes lost, and to ask neighbors to call if the dog is seen roaming outside the yard. Some owners also put a bell on their dog’s collar so they can follow the dog if it escapes the yard.


Owners of deaf dogs can benefit from sign language and other methods of deaf education. Deaf dogs can learn signs and other visual commands. Some owners flip the porch light several times to signal that it’s time to come in; others use a flashlight to communicate over distance. Dogs can also learn hand signs, such as those long used by the deaf community. Deaf dogs are quick to learn signs such as “treat,” “stay” and “play.” Many such methods of deaf education can be used with hearing-impaired dogs.

Some have complained that deaf dogs may snap if they’re suddenly startled, especially if they’re wakened abruptly. Experts advise that this undesirable behavior can be prevented if owners wake dogs slowly and gently. A gentle tap on the shoulder, followed by a treat, trains a dog to wake calmly.

Adopting a Deaf Dog

Many owners of deaf dogs say that they make loyal, well-behaved pets that bond well with their owners, as long as the owners employ proper deaf education. Deaf dogs are often adopted by members of the deaf community, who’s knowledge of deaf culture makes them expert owners. However, expert knowledge of deaf culture isn’t necessary to be successful. With a little study and determination, anyone can successfully train a hearing-impaired dog.