View Full Version : Special Needs Dog Question

Shawn Pixley
03-31-2012, 1:39 PM
When I came home on Wednesday, LOML had brought home a stray puppy that had come into her class on Wednesday morning. It appears to be a German Short-hair Pointer mix. It is a very loving puppy but appears to be deaf. I have been reticent to get another dog after my last one passed on two years ago. A dog to me is like family, and I give it the same commitment. I really don't want to go through that loss again. The challenge is that if we don't adopt him, he will likely be euthanized.

Can anyone lend advice or experience on their experience with a deaf dog (or more properly puppy)? I am a pretty skilled dog trainer but I have always trained via voice commands so this would be new territory. Before we decide whether to keep him, I would like to know what I am getting myself into. On the plus side, being deaf, he might be a great shop dog.

Greg Peterson
03-31-2012, 2:26 PM
Shawn - I have no advice. Animals in general posses a level of intelligence we regularly fail to give them credit for. Dogs are scent oriented with sound and visual as secondary sensory inputs. My guess is in the absence of auditory senses, the pup will develop acute visual cues to his environment. He will come to rely on reading your body language and facial expressions.

FWIW, our dog is in declining health and I understand the pain you are trying to avoid all to well. I will be interested in how your situation is resolved.

I wish you (and the pup) the best of all possible outcomes.

Scott T Smith
03-31-2012, 2:56 PM
Shawn, my wife is a veterinarian who adopted a "special needs puppy named VAN" while in vet school, and he lived to be around 12 years old. Van was deaf, so she taught him to respond to hand signals. When she took him for a walk, she snapped a small bell onto his collar so that she could track where he was at.

In addition to Van, we have a deaf cat here on the farm.

What helped a lot with Van was that she had a second dog was trained to "go find Van", and he would go out and grab him by the collar briefly and then run back to either my wife or I. Van simply followed along.

They are more clever than you think. When Van did something that would cause him to be scolded (such as digging a hole in the back yard), if he knew that he was in trouble he wouldn't look at you (we scolded him by wagging a finger at him)! Instead, he would wander away, every now and then throwing a quick glance over his shoulder back at you to see if he was still in trouble. We couldn't help but laugh when he did this.

I dont think that training a deaf dog is much more work than training a dumb one. What spoils us is when we have a really smart dog that is highly trainable.

I'd say "go for it", you can save a life and perhaps add a great dimension to yours as well.


Lee Schierer
03-31-2012, 3:41 PM
We had an older dog when I was young that started going deaf and we taught him hand signals. It worked well when he looked at you. Maybe with the use of some of the new electronic collars that vibrate when activated, you could teach him to look at you by vibrating the collar and then use the hand signals. My dog is now trained to stop where he is and look at me when I beep his collar. If I beep it twice in quick succession he knows to do a 180 and come back toward me. I'm not sure how you would proceed with a puppy that is deaf to start. This assumes that it is in fact deaf and it isn't ignoring you.

Joe Pelonio
03-31-2012, 4:02 PM
We have trained our dogs to hand signals, and they seemed to learn just as well with rewards as with voice. The real problem is having a safe environment. A deaf dog is subject to accidental death by car if it escapes into the street, and you cannot get it to come back by calling it. You might talk to a vet, and see if there is another method to 'calling" back such as the collars used with the invisible fencing systems.

Steven Green
03-31-2012, 4:19 PM
Another vote for hand signals. I've had dogs around all my life and quite a few of them had hearing loss. The bell is a great idea and will pay big if he's out of sight. He won't be a problem and will give you lots of love.

Jim Matthews
03-31-2012, 4:31 PM
I'm about to sound callous, please don't take this as a personal attack.
You have already shown consideration, in that it's a 15 year commitment.

With so many animals wanting for homes, I for one don't understand the impulse to take on a pet with this kind of limitation.

The deafness is an indication of genetic errors caused by inbreeding.
If you intend to keep the dog, sterilization is appropriate.

Consider a Tri-Tronics (http://www.tritronics.com/product-list.html) training collar, which allows you to signal your dog when you can't be seen.

Every lucky man gets "the dog of a lifetime" once, and all others are measured against that.

I don't mean to be harsh, but deafness in a dog is a recipe for heartache.

Ken Fitzgerald
03-31-2012, 4:35 PM
Shawn....as someone who became deaf less than 2 years ago, I can fully understand what others have said about the dog becoming more visually oriented and adapting to it's evironment. I learned to read lips without any conscious effort. I functioned in my woodworking shop with a lot of caution and made up for the loss of hearing with vision.

I will admit to one event. Late one evening I was preparing to do some turning for a project. I hadn't turned in a while so I decided to sharpen all of my turning tools. I sharpened them and it was really late so I walked out the door after shutting off the lights. The next morning I found the grinder still running.

The only time I stayed out of my shop was after my cochlear implant surgery as inserting the electrodes into the cochlea resulted in my having some equilibrium problems. Gradually my equilibrium returned and I am back in the shop and on occasion, I have to remove my HA and CI sound processor to wear a face shield. Once again I am deaf.

A special needs dog might just result in a special friend.

Brian Kent
03-31-2012, 4:46 PM
I would be searching for a scent in a squirt spray bottle, one that is pleasant to your family and very attractive to the dog, as an attention getter. Then your hand signals could take over. Add to that ping pong balls or tennis balls for the same reason. I like the idea of the buzz collar and bell too.

My wife also recommends foot stomp vibrations if you have a wooden floor.

paul cottingham
03-31-2012, 6:05 PM
We had a dog on our farm that went blind at about 12. She was really smart, and did just fine until she died of old age at 18. i cant imagine deafness being any harder for a dog to live with.
To be sure, she had had a puppy that grew up to look out for her, but she looked after him more than he looked after her. He was somewhat -ahem- thick. great dog tho'

Shawn Pixley
03-31-2012, 6:13 PM
Thanks for the input. I appreciate all of the thoughts and suggestions. We have already started training using sign language. I learned this as a young adult when I bowled with a deaf friend.

We had the little puppy (still unnamed) checked out by a vet. Puppy is deaf, but in all other respects seems in fine shape. She gave us some advice and resources as well. She also suggested that a second (and hearing dog) can be an asset in the situation. Choice is torment.

Rick Potter
03-31-2012, 7:26 PM
+1 on the second dog. Molly, Black Lab, is 14 and has gone almost totally deaf over the last year or so. We had a little Jack Russel terror (sc) wander into our place a couple years ago. He was abandoned, and pretty gonzo. Molly calmed him down, and taught him to not go out of the gate. Now, Jack takes the lead, and Molly follows him around.

Good Luck, I think you have already decided.

Rick Potter

Jim O'Dell
04-01-2012, 1:02 AM
It is a tough situation. We've had personal dogs that would lose hearing as they got older, but we always train sit, stay, down and come with verbal and hand signals, so they always had that to rely on.
I will tell you of a rescue pup we got. We were told that she was clumsy and maybe a site problem. She was blind. Had no eyes at all. They never formed. We were torn...how do we place a blind dog? Is it fair to the dog? Who in their right mind would want this little girl? Should we just put her down now? We can't keep her, so what do we do??? Well, a little bit of time answered all the questions. Pirate was, IS, a great dog. When we open the back door for all the dogs to go out, they run barking at the top of their lungs to announce to all the squirrels that it is their yard and they were taking it back. Pirate was no exception. Full tilt out the door, down the 2 steps, past the Pecan tree in the middle of the patio and out in the yard with the rest of them. We even found her in the middle of the dining table trying to get to something we had on the bar about a foot away from the table.
A family from Missouri drove down to meet her and fell in love with her. Took her home. The wife developed a nerve issue that is debilitating. Pirate is training to be her service dog!!! She picks up things that are dropped, goes and gets things that are needed. It is unbelievable what this dog can do.
Deaf dog, piece of cake as long as it's not dumber than most of the rocks in the pile. If you like the dog, go for it. It will be a bond that will be more rewarding than you could ever imagine. Will it hurt when its time to lose them? YES. But that is the pain we must bear for the lifetime of love and devotion that these animals give to us. I know I'm better for each of the dogs I've loved and lost. 7 so far in our married life. And we just adopted our first rescue and got our new show dog in the past 2 months. Two pups in the house. Crazy, but oh so worth it! Jim.

Mike Cutler
04-01-2012, 9:51 AM

The deafness is not as much as a limitation as you may think.
All my hunting dogs are trained to hand signals. I can move them like a remote control dog without having to talk to them, and yes they do need a little voice, usually in the form of a clap to get their attention, but that's it. I have always found the folks that are constantly blowing a whistle or calling their dog while hunting annoying.

I really don't think you're going to have an issue. Besides, some of my dogs have been so good at acting deaf, I was a little worried.:D

Jim O'Dell
04-01-2012, 11:44 AM
In Irish Setters, we call that "Selective Deafness Syndrome" or SDS. Happens everytime you want them to do something, especially if it's bath or nail time. The test for this is to catch them asleep at one end of the house, and open a bag of chips at the other end. :D Jim.

Bill Edwards(2)
04-01-2012, 8:28 PM
The only thing I didn't read is another layer of tech training.

A light or laser pointer to get his attentiom (to see your hand signals)


Belinda Williamson
04-02-2012, 10:04 AM
I think you are already attached, Shawn. Ask your vet about a local rehab personal for animals, or a vet that specializes in rehabbing animals. We have several rehab people in our area that work primarily with wildlife, but the occasional abused animal as well. My vet is a rehab specialist. +1 on the collar bell.

Brian Vaughn
04-02-2012, 12:22 PM
We've always taught our dogs both hand signals and voice commands, and they all responded to whichever one you used. Just remember to be consistent, and keep it simple. A dog will understand a hand pointing at them means "sit", and at the ground means "lay down", or that your hand up in a "stop" motion means stay, but if you get much more complicated, the dogs can get confused. You may think you're doing it exactly the same, but they will pick up on the difference. An example - we had a family friend that trained his dog to heel, and then sit if the master stopped walking. If the master then started walking again right foot first, the dog would keep walking. If the master started left foot first, the dog wouldn't move.

Last thing is that the buzz (Not shock!) collars will do wonders. But make sure you teach it (And it shouldn't be hard) that when it feels the buzz, it immediately runs to you. Just a day or two of repeatedly doing it then reward when it does come should be plenty.

Of all the things to deal with in a dog, deafness is probably low on my list of real problems...unless you wanted a guard dog, in which case, you've got the wrong breed ;)

Rich Engelhardt
04-02-2012, 12:35 PM
Choice is torment.
What choice???

If it's curtains for the pup if you don't keep it, then what kind of choice is that?

My wife pulled the same stunt on me after our Great Dane died.
I wanted no part of another dog for the same reason. Saying good bye to a dog is right up there with losing any other close family member.
My wife insisted she needed another dog, so, I gave in when she said she was going to look at one at the animal shelter.

I came home from work to find her and a bouncing ball of part Huskey, part who knows what in the family room.
I said, "I see you brought home a dog".
"Sort of", she replied and pointed to the corner of the room.

In the corner of the room was a shaking, terrified trembling "little peanut" dog.

Then my wife says, "This is number 47 and that's number 48. They were both on death row. Which ever one you don't want goes back and.....".

I mean,,,come on,,,who is that heartless??

I'd love to tll you this all had a story book ending..

Truth is though, "The Husk" was an unholy terror. He chewed any and everything in sight, did thousands of dollars of damage to the house and we had to drop nearly $3000.00 in vet bills for dental work for him. He chewed up 5 doorknobs and broke a bunch of teeth in the process. He chewed a big sliding patio door frame up so bad, the whole door fell out of the wall and into the back yard. He chewed up the door frame of the door from the family room to the garage so bad, the door fell out of the rough opening and into the family room. He chewed all the drywall off two 5' by 5' sections of the garage trying to get into the house so bad, I had to put sheet metal 4' up on the wall.
He chewed up a big section of the aluminum siding on the outside of the house trying to get in.
The chewing and damage all stopped as soon as I put in one of those doggy doors so he could come and go as he pleased.

The "little Peanut", even after 7 years with us, is still extremely shy around me and won't come anywhere near me unless my wife or the Husky are beside me.
She has emotional problems that are every bit as serious and deep as any physical ones. Lord only knows what abuse she went through and for how long.
I really doubt she'll ever "trust" me. Every time I pet her, she has a confused look in her eye like she half expects me to smack her instead.

Anyhow - that's my story and our two "specail needs" goof balls.
No doubt the Husky was disposed of becuse of the chewing & the little peanut due to some low life getting tired of beating her.

W/special needs some special rewards...

opps - I forgot...
My wife and I were talking about deaf or blind dogs the other week.
My wife made the comment that the dog probably doesn't know or care that it's blind or deaf, so why should any one else?
That's probably true.
I never thought of it that way.

Larry Klaaren
04-02-2012, 6:07 PM
Yes that's right. I tell my clients their dog doesn't know it is abnormal to be blind or deaf. (I am a veterinarian.) Second thought, the only way to live life without being hurt is to live life without loving or being loved.

Shawn Pixley
04-06-2012, 9:14 PM
Thanks to all who have commented. I really appreciate the advice.

After doing a bit of research on deaf dogs I found a publication which links deafness to genetic characteristics. Piebald and Pie-eyed dogs have a statistically significant increase in Deafness.
"Congenital deafness has been reported for approximately 85 breeds, with the list growing at a regular rate (see list (http://www.lsu.edu/deafness/breeds.htm)); it can potentially appear in any breed but especially those with white pigmentation. Deafness may have been long-established in a breed but kept hidden from outsiders to protect reputations. The disorder is usually associated with pigmentation patterns, where the presence of white in the hair coat increases the likelihood of deafness. Two pigmentation genes in particular are often associated with deafness in dogs: the merle gene (seen in the collie, Shetland Sheepdog, Dappled Dachshund, Harlequin Great Dane, American Foxhound, Old English Sheepdog, and Norwegian Dunkerhound among others) and the piebald gene (Bull Terrier, Samoyed, Greyhound, Great Pyrenees, Sealyham Terrier, Beagle, Bulldog, Dalmatian, English Setter). However, not all breeds with these genes have been reported to be affected...

...In the English Setter, English Cocker Spaniel, Australian Cattle Dog, and Bull Terrier, where fewer numbers of dogs have been hearing tested, the incidence appears to be about one third to one half that of Dalmatians. Unilateral or bilateral deafness is found in 75% of all white Norwegian Dunkerhounds, but the incidence in normal-color dogs is unknown. Other breeds with a high incidence are the Catahoula and Australian Shepherd. The incidence of all types of deafness in the general dog population is low, reported to be 2.56 to 6.5 cases per 10,000 dogs seen at veterinary school teaching hospitals, but these data predate the availability of hearing testing devices and so are much lower that actual values. Recognition of affected cases is often difficult, because unilaterally deaf dogs appear to hear normally unless a special test (the brainstem auditory evoked response, BAER) is performed; facilities to perform the BAER are usually only available at veterinary schools (see list (http://www.lsu.edu/deafness/baersite.htm))."

Dr. George M. Strain
Louisiana State University
Comparative Biomedical Sciences
School of Veterinary Medicine

As you can see he is both Piebald and Pie-eyed. The vet checked him out and he seems to have no other issues than the deafness. In fact, he seems very bright and eager to please. He is fastenated by birds and if we lived in the right area, would probably be a good hunting dog (more Pointer than Retreiver).

In any case, the little guy is adorable, and is heavily imprinted on LOML, so I suspect that unless the owner comes forward (which I think unlikely), we'll end up keeping him. He (and we) are rapidly learning a shared sign language. Furthermore, he wants to be a shop dog!

Belinda Williamson
04-09-2012, 8:18 AM
Thanks for the update. A win-win all around.

Larry Klaaren
04-10-2012, 2:41 PM
I have never had a client take advantage of that BAER test unless they were a breeder, or the breeder wants to investigate if it is congenital. When the owners first figure out they deaf, they come in and have issues, but they have always gotten attached to the dog and kept it. BTW, several referral hospitals do that here in the Chicago area, it is not just at the Vet schools. I think the incidence reported in your article is way low, I have several clients with dogs deaf since birth, and I don't think I have 10,000 clients. That was the number seen at vet schools, but I think most never get worked up for deafness.

Shawn Pixley
04-10-2012, 11:21 PM
Good points about both the BAER tests and the incidence. In regards to the incidence, I believe you are sincere and your personal experience is not in question. The problem with personal experience is that it may not be a statistically valid sample. For instance deaf dogs may be euthanized before or rather than bringing them to your attention. Conversely, you may be known as one who is more sympathetic, and consequently, more people bring their deaf dog to you. In either case, it is clear that you are knowledgable and caring. Thank you.

What I found most interesting, was the corrolation (not causation) of white pigmentation and piebald charateristics to deafness. In another life, I would be very interested in exploring the reasons behind this. I wonder what biomarkers there might be to identify this before breeding. In any case, we are attached the little guy and he is trying very hard to be a member of our pack. Thanks for your perspective.

Jim O'Dell
04-11-2012, 7:49 PM
Yes, lack of pigment in dogs that have a basically white background coat do seem to be more prone to deafness. English setters and Dalmatians for instance. Show breeders try their best to breed away from that trait, but I don't think there has been a gene marker found for the cause. In Irish Setters, we have PRA...Progressive Retinal Atrophy. Usually by about 1 year old, the pup is either going or has gone blind. The IS Club of America, through it's health foundation, invested money into research and they were able to identify the marker, and develop a blood test for it. We can now determine if a dog is affected, a carrier, or genetically clear. It is a tremendous tool to make sure you don't produce blind puppies without having to do test breedings, or to limit the gene pool in your breeding program. We have bred 2 litters over the last 17 years. Both parents were genetically clear. Which means their offspring's get were also genetically clear. Anyway, just some information for thought, and what research can find out. Jim.

Shawn Pixley
04-11-2012, 10:55 PM
Thanks. That is interesting information. If there were only more time....

Roy Turbett
04-12-2012, 12:50 AM
My wife and I adopted a deaf 9 year old Australian Shepherd last year. We tried training "Dudley" with hand signals until we realized he is nearly blind too. But we were still able to train him to our invisible fence and he explores most of our 2 acre yard. He's the most gentle dog we've owned and hasn't even barked except for a few times in his sleep. He's been a great dog and does a "happy boy" dance every time my wife comes home. I admit I was reluctant to keep him at first but now I wouldn't trade him for any other dog.

Larry Klaaren
04-12-2012, 3:33 PM
Hand signals are great if they can see you. In the house you can teach them to come when you stomp your foot, but that does not work outdoors. Otherwise, you have to do what works for you. I suppose buzz collars are an option, but most vets are philosophically opposed to them

Blind dogs get along well. If you are a person who likes to move furniture, that can confuse them. It helps to place aromatherapy oil on the things they could run into. Do this a couple of days before you move the furniture, and then when you move it, they can sense that it is there. Use a different aroma on the doorposts, and another in the vicinity of where they get fed, all though they smell food well!

Enjoy your pet!

Jay Rasmussen
04-12-2012, 10:17 PM
When I came home on Wednesday, LOML had brought home a stray puppy that had come into her class on Wednesday morning. It appears to be a German Short-hair Pointer mix. It is a very loving puppy but appears to be deaf. I have been reticent to get another dog after my last one passed on two years ago. A dog to me is like family, and I give it the same commitment. I really don't want to go through that loss again. The challenge is that if we don't adopt him, he will likely be euthanized.

Can anyone lend advice or experience on their experience with a deaf dog (or more properly puppy)? I am a pretty skilled dog trainer but I have always trained via voice commands so this would be new territory. Before we decide whether to keep him, I would like to know what I am getting myself into. On the plus side, being deaf, he might be a great shop dog.

I think you have answered your own question, enjoy your new friend and family member!