Oh My Dog! has been hacked!
No, not by Anonymous, but by a deaf dog named Edison! He has his own blog, The Graffiti Dog. My name is Bernard Lima-Chavez and I’m the boy in that equation. I know my place; the dog is the star and I’m “his people”.
So why have Edison and I taken over Oh My Dog! today, you ask? Why have we locked Maggie in her office with stacks of word nerd articles about participles, possessive plurals and exciting grammatical trends to drool over?
We aren’t here today to maliciously gather information about you. No, we are here to educate you about deafness in senior dogs. This hack is a PSA, I promise.
We targeted Oh My Dog! because Maggie and I have become fast friends–and friends express love by hacking each other’s website, right?
(Okay, maybe she agreed to let us write a guest post for her, but I prefer the hacker narrative because it gives me some much needed street cred.)
I think that Maggie consented to this article because we have lots in common. Maggie and I are both bloggers who write about our pets. We both adore animals, and helping ones in need is hardwired into both our DNA. More importantly, between the two of us, Maggie and I have three dogs whose ears don’t work, at least not in any conventional sense of that word.
You see, I share my life with two deaf dogs, Edison and Foster, both of whom were born deaf to due to genetic misfires. I also have two hearing dogs, Darwin and Galileo.
Maggie has Emmett, a sweet, senior dog who just turned thirteen and, over the last year or two, has begun experiencing hearing loss due to advanced age, and then there’s Cooper, Emmett’s former thorn who has become Emmett’s Hearing Ear Dog.
Though our journeys to living with a deaf dog were very different, Maggie and I now travel very similar paths: using non-verbal ways to communicate with our beloved dogs, tending to the unique safety needs that deaf dogs have and sharing our experiences in hopes of helping you and your dog transition from a loud, noisy world to a silent one that offers lots of opportunities for some really deep, uninterrupted naps.
How I Got Here
When I adopted Edison, a ten-week old, twenty pound pit bull mix, I knew he was deaf, I knew he would grow to be a big boy and I also knew that I knew nothing about deaf dogs. Zilch zero nada.
There were many sound, logical arguments against bringing Edison home:
- My husband and I already had two large dogs and five cats.
- I had never, to my knowledge, met a deaf dog so I had no practical knowledge or experience to draw upon.
- I didn’t know any sign language let alone how to begin teaching signs to a deaf puppy.
- How do you yell, No!!! Don’t eat my shoes!, with your hands?
- My husband had already threatened me with divorce if I brought home another dog.
(Speaking of my husband and to provide some context, I should note that in addition to “honoring and obeying”, my wedding vows included a promise not to bring home any more critters. That particular vow went unbroken for precisely 7 months. Yes, I honor my husband, even if I’m not so good at the obeying thing, and I’m no longer to be trusted with fostering anymore.)
In the end, none of these arguments came close to deterring me. You see, when I locked eyes with Edison in that crate on the front counter at our local humane society where I was working as veterinary technician, something magical and inexplicable happened: Edison and I both knew we belonged together. So I scooped him, strapped on a leash and collar and then plunged into a brand new world: sharing my life with a deaf dog…hopefully not as a single parent and divorcee!
What You Should Know About Hearing Loss and Senior Dogs
Dogs and humans have much more in common than most people think. Much like humans, as dogs age, they experience many of the same physiological changes as humans, including hearing loss, vision impairment, osteoarthritis and others.
Also like humans, when dogs begin to go deaf because of old age, it is usually a gradual process. This allows the dog to slowly adapt to incremental changes, reducing the likelihood that his hearing deficit is a traumatic or stressful experience. The honest truth? It is usually much harder for the pet parent than the dog!
I hear from pet parents all the time who feel guilty that they didn’t realize their dog was losing his hearing until the hearing loss was significant. They are struggling because they feel they failed their dog. They feel anxious because they have to learn a new way to communicate with their dog and they don’t know where to begin. Often times, these loving pet parents have been caught off-guard because they never even knew that dogs can be deaf.
These are all understandable and natural reactions. The good news is that living with a deaf dog isn’t harder, it’s different. By making a few simple changes to our lives and our routines, deaf dogs–and their pet parents–can live full, rich happy lives.
Start Preparing Now
I always encourage pet parents of hearing dogs to begin teaching hand signs sooner than later. Though this may feel like a daunting task, it it really isn’t!
Most dog trainers will teach dogs and their pet parents hand signs to go along with basic obedience verbal commands. Once the dog knows the verbal cue, most pet parents stop using the hand sign. However, if you keep using these signs, you will have an established communication system in place if your beloved pooch ever begins to experience hearing loss. If you have consistently used the hand signs your trainer taught you, your hearing dog already knows some sign language that you can use to communicate with your deaf or hard of hearing dog.
If your dog doesn’t know any sign language, it is much easier to begin teaching hand signs while your dog can hear than if you wait until hearing loss occurs. If you start now, you have the benefit of being able to use a verbal cue your dog already knows while also giving a hand sign. This approach helps your dog assign meaning to the hand sign much faster.
Choose a few basic hand signs that are important to you, such as obedience commands, food, water, no, yes or potty. Every time you speak the words, also give the hand sign. Your dog will quickly learn the meaning of those hand signs and respond appropriately.
Some Tips on Living With A Deaf Dog
As I said before, living with a deaf dog isn’t harder, it’s different. Beyond communication, the differences really come to light in the context of safety. Because deaf dogs are often unaware of potential danger in their environment, deaf dog pet parents need to spend a little more time thinking about safety issues.
A few deaf dog safety tips to consider include:
- Add the phrase “I’m Deaf” or “Deaf Dog” to your dog’s name tag. This makes it very clear to anyone that encounters him that he is deaf.
- I live in Miami where both English and Spanish are commonly spoken. This is also an area where many people are not bilingual and only speak English or Spanish. My deaf dogs have a separate bilingual tag that says, “I’m Deaf/ Soy Sordo” that way most anyone who meets him will know immediately that he can’t hear. If you live in an area where many non-English speakers live, translate the phrase “I’m Deaf” into their native language.
- Never let your deaf or hard of hearing dog off leash in an unfenced area. There are too many dangerous situations in this world for a loose dog, let alone a free-roaming dog who cannot hear.
- Deaf dogs can’t hear a truck rumbling down the street, a stray dog running up fast or a neighbor’s child walking up from behind. Remember, a deaf dog hears with his eyes, and if he can’t see it, he doesn’t know it’s there. Stay aware of changes in the environment and communicate those to your deaf dog.
- Frequently check fencing around your home to make sure that there are no escape routes.
- Connect with other deaf dog pet parents! The community of deaf dog pet parents are warm, giving, helpful and supportive. They can answer your questions, offer tips and advice that worked of them and provide an insider’s perspective that is priceless.
If your dog is beginning to lose his hearing, I hope this quick introduction to deaf dogs is helpful! You can find lots more information on deaf dogs at Dog & His Boy. If you have any questions, please know I’m here to help and you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, Bernard, for sharing this wonderful post. I’m so grateful for all that you do for deaf dogs and for the pet-loving community. I’m even more grateful for the time you took to put together this post and allowing me to share it!