Deaf Pet Awareness: Inspired by Nitro
We are excited to share a Guest Blog written By Chris Lee with Photos By Christina Lee from Deaf Dogs Rock for Deaf Pet Awareness week 2012.
Life takes wonderful and amazing turns. Just a year and half ago my wife Christina and I were like a majority of the population in that we really didn’t think about deaf dogs. It was not a positive or negative thing, just a simple lack of awareness. Then EVERYTHING changed when we adopted an 8 week old deaf boxer pup named Nitro from our local animal shelter.
Fast forward to the present and you’ll now find Christina & I spending hours each day working on our site DeafDogsRock – the website for the non-profit corporation we formed with the sole purpose of sharing our love and passion for the care of deaf dogs. We’ve learned a tremendous amount about deaf dogs and training in general in the last year and a half, and we’re honored to write a bit about it for Found Animals as they help celebrate Deaf Pet Awareness Week.
The two most common ways for a deaf dog to become a part of a family are either a dog you’ve homed as a young pup is discovered to be deaf, or you’re visiting adoptable dogs at a shelter and run across one that is deaf. In either case you’ll surely be wondering “Is a deaf dog right for me?” The short answer is a resounding YES. But to get to that yes you need to become aware of, and comfortable with, the ways in which deaf dogs are different from those that can hear. If you have some anxiety about the decision, do not worry! All deaf dog owners have been there at one point, and it is overcome by education and awareness.
By far the most common question we get on our site is “are deaf dogs harder to train?” They are not. Deaf dogs are just a bit different to train. We strongly recommend a structured program of positive reinforcement training with the main difference being that hand signs are used instead of voice commands. Yes, your dog needs to be looking at you to see a sign, but that is easily accomplished by spending the first few weeks treating your pup for simply looking at you.
What you will find is that dogs (deaf or hearing) respond much more readily to visual cues than auditory cues. Your intonation doesn’t matter, your hand signs will be consistent, and you cannot slip in to lazy mode and simply yell at your dog. You can also give your dog commands like sit, stay, and recall from a great distance. On our site DeafDogsRock.com you can find some great training videos and articles that describe and demonstrate the standard ASL (American Sign Language) commands used for deaf dogs. Additionally, you can find tips on how we use a “finger-flash” to replace a clicker in standard training.
The bond you will have with your deaf dog is amazing, and frequently much stronger than that common between a human and a hearing dog. Recently we shared a question from a supporter on our Facebook page who was wondering if the incredibly strong bond she had with her deaf dog was unique, or even odd. Immediately dozens others replied that they had the same experience – noting that the bonds they had with the deaf dogs were very different from what they had with hearing dogs. It is a true partnership. As deaf dogs can only hear with their hearts, they count on you to be their ears. This bond is addictive – a good example is Mac and Donna Adams that now have four deaf dogs in their family, known affectionately as the Mac-and-Donna-4-Pack.
Many owners of deaf dogs refer to them as “Velcro-dogs”, they are most comfortable stuck to your side. With this increased bond does come one caveat though, we’ve found that deaf dogs are not nearly as happy when left home alone. When you are out of sight and smell, in their mind you have completely disappeared. We are not fans of placing deaf dogs in homes where they will be left alone in crates for extended periods of time. In those cases another companion dog easily does the trick. Similarly, a fenced yard is in our opinion strongly encouraged for owners of deaf dogs. A loose deaf dog is a deaf dog in danger. You cannot call them from a distance if they are not looking at you, and they cannot hear warning signs of traffic, etc… But, this slight warning is not unique to deaf dogs; loose dogs in general can easily get in trouble.
There are so many positive and fun aspects to owning a deaf dog; a few more are worth highlighting. Deaf dogs sleep great! A loud TV, the UPS truck, or other dogs barking will go completely un-noticed. Deaf dogs are not scared of thunder or fireworks. With a deaf dog, you will have a shadow – do not be surprised as they always follow you room to room, lying down to nap with their chin on your foot. When you adopt a deaf dog from a shelter you can change its name to anything you’d like, they will never know.
In a very short amount of time we’ve gone from a family that had no experience with deaf dogs to a one that will only have deaf dogs in the future. We cannot even count the number of deaf dog owners that have shared with us their similar story of transformation. When we first adopted Nitro we were struck by the minimal resources we could find to help answer questions about deaf dogs. We hope we have helped fill this void with our site DeafDogsRock.com, and our Facebook page at Facebook.com/deafdogsrock. Please visit, you’ll find heartwarming stories of successful adoptions, recognition of deaf dogs earning the Canine Good Citizen Certification, and bios of deaf therapy dogs. We have a very active community of over 6000 followers that love to jump in and answer questions about the love and care of deaf dogs. Additionally, 300+ deaf dogs from across the nation that are looking for homes are listed on the site.
Thinking of adopting a deaf dog? Go ahead and take the plunge – education will take you past any reservations you may have. Our lives have been made much better by the addition of Nitro to our herd, yours could be the same.
Chris Lee with Deaf Dogs Rock, a registered non-profit organization.