It is common for older dogs to have diminished hearing. Whether the loss of hearing is partial or total, it is important to be aware of how this can affect a dog's behavior, and therefore, what they need from their human companions. Hearing loss due to old age cannot be cured but there are lots of ways to keep an older dog that can't hear happy and safe.
If a dog doesn't respond to sounds, appears confused by verbal commands or looks the wrong way when you call her, she could be losing her hearing. To test for this, stand quietly behind the dog and clap once to see if she reacts. If hearing loss is suspected, it is important to get the dog checked by a veterinarian as the problem may not be due to old age but a condition that can be treated such as excess ear wax or an ear infection.
Watching out for the physical safety of a senior dog with impaired hearing is vital. Outdoors, in unenclosed areas, it is safer to keep a dog with hearing loss on a lead. They are unable to hear dangers, like a cyclist, coming up behind them and even a well trained dog can get distracted and cannot respond to a visual signal if he is not looking at his owner. A retractable leash or long line is fine for use at the dog park and he can be off leash in a secure yard. In case they get lost, an ID tag with the owner's contact details and stating the dog is deaf should be on the collar. A bell could also be attached to help locate the missing dog.
It can be difficult to get a deaf dog's attention from a distance. Indoors they may be able to feel the vibrations if the owner stamps his feet. A flashlight or laser pen can be useful, and at night in the yard, switching an outside light on and off may work.
An older dog's vision is also likely to be impaired and they can be startled if they don't see or hear someone come up to them. Even friendly dogs can be reactive in this situation. By always approaching a senior dog calmly, and if they are asleep, gently resting a hand on their shoulder and keeping it there as they wake up, such problems can be avoided. It's important children are also taught how to act around an older dog. A senior dog will appreciate his bed placed where he won't be startled by people but can view what's happening in the house.
If a deaf dog is not looking, or is asleep when a person leaves the room they can become anxious and start searching the house trying to find them. A gentle touch on the dog's shoulder to get his attention before leaving the room will let him know what is happening and give him the chance to follow if he wants to.
Hand signals are a way to communicate with a dog with impaired hearing. Dogs naturally communicate with body language and older dogs can learn new things. Start with basic commands like sit, stay and come, and then use others for car, bed and so on. As long as they are clear from a distance, any signs can be used including obedience signs, made up signs and American sign language. This can be adapted to use with one hand for signing when holding a leash. The important thing is for all family members to be consistent with the signals.
By Norma Roche
About the Author
Norma Roche has worked as a complementary therapist with people and animals for more than 10 years. A teacher, she creates courses in therapies and related subjects for beginners to professional therapists. Roche received a B.A. in historical studies from Portsmouth University and holds various qualifications in therapies.