Features October 2010 Issue

Has Your Senior Dog Started to Lose His Hearing?

Five things to do when your dog starts losing his hearing.

If we’re fortunate enough to have them live to old age, at some point, most of our canine companions begin to lose their hearing and may eventually be, for all intents and purposes, deaf. It’s painful to watch a beloved dog become less and less responsive to his environment because he’s unaware of what’s going on around him, and even more so when it limits your ability to communicate with him. The thought of a hearing-impaired dog wandering off and not being able to hear your calls is frightening. Here are five things you can do if your dog’s hearing isn’t what it used to be:

Give your senior dog the benefit of the doubt when you give a cue; she may not hear (or see) the signal. Make your cues louder and larger, and be patient!

1) Purchase a disaster whistle and condition it as a recall cue, by pairing its sound with high-value treats. The Storm Whistle, reported to be twice as loud as any other mouth-blown whistle in the world, is available in stores, catalogues, and from stormwhistles.com (314-436-3332). We used a Storm Whistle as our recall signal when our aging Kelpie, Katie, lost her hearing; it worked like a dream. Instead of having to walk the fenced backyard looking for her, we could just blow the whistle, and she’d come trundling out from behind the garage. Blow the whistle, and give your dog a high-value treat until your dog gets the whistle-equals-food association. Then you should be good to go.
By the way, you might want to first try the whistle outside, and cover your ears or use earplugs. It’s really loud.

2) Use hand signals. Every time our dogs reach the old-age-can’t-hear stage I appreciate having taught them basic hand signals as well as verbal cues. Since dogs communicate primarily through body language, hand signals are easy to teach, especially if you do it when your dog can still hear well. (See “What’s Your Sign?” in the February 2009 issue of WDJ.) As your dog ages, it’s a great opportunity to expand your visual cue vocabulary. Some owners use American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate with their hearing-impaired dogs.

3) Run interference at home. This is all about management. If you have a multi-dog household, one or more of your other dogs make take offense when your geriatric pal doesn’t respond quickly enough to their signals – because he doesn’t hear them, and therefore doesn’t look and notice their body language. Manage your household to prevent encounters that cause tension due to his lack of hearing and subsequent lack of response. This often includes keeping potential problem dogs separated when you are not home. (See “Peace in the Pack,” July 2002.)

4) Run interference in the real world. There are many situations outside your home where your increasingly hearing-impaired dog may run into trouble. If you’ve been casual about letting her be off-leash near traffic, tighten up the reins. She may no longer be able to hear oncoming cars, and a misstep could be deadly. Same thing if you hike on bike paths and sidewalks; you may not be aware of the extent to which she has relied on her hearing to move out of the way of approaching bikes, skateboards, and joggers. She may also need help around other non-family dogs, since she can’t hear them coming either. You could try scheduling supervised play dates with a small circle of appropriate canine friends instead of trips to the dog park, where you have little to no control over her dog encounters.

5) Make reasonable accommodations and give her the benefit of the doubt. Keep in mind that she’s not ignoring you; she can’t hear you! It’s easy to get cross when your dog doesn’t respond to your cues. Condition her to an unexpected touch from behind (touch makes chicken happen!) so you can let her know you’re there and need her to move – or go around her. And if you feel yourself becoming annoyed with your dog, take a deep breath and remember that she probably didn’t hear you. Heck, if it’s age-related hearing loss she could be losing her vision too, so she may not even see as well as you think. Don’t be annoyed if she doesn’t move out of your path as quickly as she once did, or she fails to come flying to your call. She’s doing the best she can; be patient with her.

Pat Miller, CPDT-KA, CDBC, is WDJ’s Training Editor. Miller lives in Fairplay, Maryland, site of her Peaceable Paws training center. Pat is also author of several books on positive training. See page 24 for more information.

Comments (19)

I have a 13 yr old Maly Mute and she has lost her hearing. It was very upsetting at first because I felt it was my fault. I use hand signals and I read about the bell. That would probably work ok unless it gets on my nerves. ha ha I found the Yucca Intensive on line for my little dog she is rescue beagle/pitt and has allergies so bad the Vet gave her Temaril-P which has a steroid in it. She gained a lot of weight from it but it works. I just don't want to give her a steroid. The Yucca is suppose to be the closest holocostic medicine to steroid for itching. I am not sure it helps for that but it is also good for their arthritis and joints. The article compaired it to gluclosimine and Girley is 13 and no walking or leg, joint problems. I give it to both dogs with their food daily and seems to be working to keep them loosened up. I have tried everything for the allergies as they are weather related. Spring, Summer, Fall is the worst. I bathe her in Oatmeal soap, give her benadryl etc. The Steroid is the only thing that seems to work. Does anyone have any suggestions on allergies. It is not food related it is grass, pollen, etc. related.

Posted by: Mally 13 | March 6, 2014 2:42 PM    Report this comment

I have a 13 yr old Maly Mute and she has lost her hearing. It was very upsetting at first because I felt it was my fault. I use hand signals and I read about the bell. That would probably work ok unless it gets on my nerves. ha ha I found the Yucca Intensive on line for my little dog she is rescue beagle/pitt and has allergies so bad the Vet gave her Temaril-P which has a steroid in it. She gained a lot of weight from it but it works. I just don't want to give her a steroid. The Yucca is suppose to be the closest holocostic medicine to steroid for itching. I am not sure it helps for that but it is also good for their arthritis and joints. The article compaired it to gluclosimine and Girley is 13 and no walking or leg, joint problems. I give it to both dogs with their food daily and seems to be working to keep them loosened up. I have tried everything for the allergies as they are weather related. Spring, Summer, Fall is the worst. I bathe her in Oatmeal soap, give her benadryl etc. The Steroid is the only thing that seems to work. Does anyone have any suggestions on allergies. It is not food related it is grass, pollen, etc. related.

Posted by: Mally 13 | March 6, 2014 2:42 PM    Report this comment

@crazy4tzus: It's very important that you don't start moving furniture around, relocating food & water dishes, etc. Your dog may completely lose his or her vision, but will still be able to maneuver through the house without too much trouble since she pretty much knows where obstacles are already. There will be some bumping into things, but she'll learn to find her way around. That said, keep her safe by being aware of sharp edges of tables if they're on her body level & anything that she could knock over & break, potentially causing cuts. Also, corners of rooms seem to cause confusion in some dogs who have lost both hearing & vision: they can get "stuck" there & need guidance out. Your dog may become more aware of vibrations in the floor, so use this! She just might re-learn her signals/cues, at least on a basic level (have a rhythm specific to you-perhaps two foot stomps-so she knows where you are...) Of course, this is a very difficult & stressful time for you. Your dog will rely on you for guidance, especially outside. Clarence G. is right: patience, patience, extended to your dog & to yourself. Also, talk to your vet! Tap him or her for information & resources in your area. You don't have to be alone, blindly (sorry) trying to find your way. FYI: a good friend of mine has a great dog who has been completely deaf & blind for a number of his senior years & he's living a happy, albeit less active life. Much peace to you & your canine companion.

Posted by: jennifersculpts | January 1, 2014 6:21 PM    Report this comment

Our Lab is having trouble with his hearing as well. When he goes out at night time he often disappears to the far reaches of our yard where we can't see him. Calling him has no effect so we've begun to use a flashlight to draw him back into the house. Works great. We can see where he is and he follows the light towards the house.

Posted by: NattyB | December 20, 2013 9:15 PM    Report this comment

Our 12 year old Pomeranian, Teddy, was deaf at the age of 7. We didn't notice it until the day the smoke detector went off and our other Pomeranian, Cappi, freaked out. Teddy slept soundly throughout the ordeal. (My step-dad was burning dinner, so no one was really in danger, except the ruined pan. lol) Cappi, who is 14 now, can barely see, but hears very well. Together, they handle (meaning run!) the house as they always have. :) They aren't moving as well due to arthritis, but they're hanging in there together. We recently adopted a senior Maltese, Smoosh, who is also deaf, and has other medical problems, including heart, stomach, and dental to name a few. Cappi and Smoosh will snuggle and play together, no problem. It is super cute when she follows him around like... a little puppy! (HA HA) Teddy and Smoosh are another story, even though he is the happiest, go lucky dog who gets along with every other dog he's ever met. After reading this, I wonder if it is because they can't hear each other? Makes sense. No matter, they are my OSB (Old Stinky Bunch) and I absolutely love them!

Posted by: Randa Slater | March 31, 2013 2:12 PM    Report this comment

I have a Labrador Shepard mix that will be 18 this October. This fourth of July she recently became unable to walk over night. She was crying horribly and I thought it was time to let her go, but it didn't make sense that she was eating and drinking... So I jumped on the Internet and discovered Yucca Intensive drops and L-Phenylalanine capsules and in three to four days she was up and walking... And walking... She is still walking non-stop! It is driving me happily nuts! Soooo, don't give up on your elder babies!!! And find these herbals for a great price on Amazon by Azmira!!!

Posted by: Marie H P | July 31, 2012 3:43 PM    Report this comment

Louise Sutherland says she has a 22 yr. old lab/collie mix. I don't mean this comment in a negative way but that must be a typo, right? Has any dog ever lived that long? I wish my 13 yr. old aussie could achieve such age but it's clear that time is catching up with him.

Posted by: Barbara W | June 12, 2012 10:22 AM    Report this comment

I haane an 11 year old sweetie with cushings disease. She has had such a wonderful disposistion throughout this ordeal. Any suggestions?

Posted by: Unknown | June 11, 2012 6:58 PM    Report this comment

I have a 14 year old golden retriever who has lost a lot of his ability to hear. He can still hear a sharp hand-clap, though. I use that to get his attention, then give a hand signal. I have also put a bell on him (the kind some people put on hunting dogs so they know where they are) when he is off leash so even if he steps behind a bush and I lose track of where he is, I'll hear him as soon as he takes a step.

Posted by: Margaret T | June 7, 2012 11:14 AM    Report this comment

Yes I can relate, I have a 22 yr old Lab\collie mix who is now totally deaf. Thanks to hands signals at an early age this has come in very handy! When we go walking in the back field I put on another collard with a large christmas bell so I can hear her, and we keep eye contact. But she is on a long and short leash otherwise near traffic, sorry babygirl no more freeroaming!

Posted by: Louise Sutherland | June 7, 2012 8:24 AM    Report this comment

Just remember humans, you will get old someday - do you want your kids to put you down just because you're old and a little cranky??? Every senior animal deserves love and understanding. Let them decide when it is time to go.

Posted by: Linda M | May 15, 2012 10:26 AM    Report this comment

My 13 yr. old Bichon is becoming very agitated and growling and snapping at us unpredictably. We can see she has cataracts in both eyes, and possibly is losing her hearing, but her irritability is becoming a problem. She can be sweet one minute and snap the next, growling fiercely and really scaring us. Any suggestions? My husband thinks we should put her down, but I'm hoping someone has a suggestion.

Posted by: Unknown | April 19, 2012 10:44 AM    Report this comment

I have started to notice a lot of "sniffing" when she should be "on heel" and it takes a few leash signals to get her to comply. Part excitement for the walk and part not hearing my command. Normally tethering to the wheelchair is enough, but I admit that something is not working when I have to "touch or sit"her more than once. It's either site or sound that is interfering .

Posted by: Val | April 5, 2012 9:09 AM    Report this comment

@crazy4tzus: I know this isn't much help but patience is the only advice I have for you.

Posted by: Clarence G | August 8, 2011 11:44 AM    Report this comment

I have two whippets that will be 13 at the end of this month. Their sight and hearing are diminishing. It's difficult because I also have 2 year old whippet so I sometimes scare her trying to get the older dogs attention. The sight isn't terrible with either one but I've noticed that they have more difficulty finding treats if they've dropped them. I needed to read this to remind me that they aren't the pups they once were. It's so tough to watch the decline.

Posted by: Clarence G | August 8, 2011 11:42 AM    Report this comment

I have two whippets that will be 13 at the end of this month. Their sight and hearing are diminishing. It's difficult because I also have 2 year old whippet so I sometimes scare her trying to get the older dogs attention. The sight isn't terrible with either one but I've noticed that they have more difficulty finding treats if they've dropped them. I needed to read this to remind me that they aren't the pups they once were. It's so tough to watch the decline.

Posted by: Clarence G | August 8, 2011 11:42 AM    Report this comment

Does anyone have advice for a dog that hearing and sight are deminishing at the same time?

Posted by: crazy4tzus | February 14, 2011 9:14 PM    Report this comment

Can anyone tell me what kind of dog is pictured in this article. She looks very much like my dog and I am curious about the breed....

Posted by: lattedawg | October 21, 2010 11:55 PM    Report this comment

Thank you for this article, the timing is perfect for my beloved Lab whose hearing is noticably diminshing.

Posted by: DIANE B | October 4, 2010 11:55 AM    Report this comment

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