Friday, June 12, 2015

Myths About Deaf Dogs

As proud guardians of three deaf dogs, my wife and I have become accidental advocates for informing others about the wonders of adopting or rescuing a deaf dog. This wasn't a deliberate or conscious choice of ours by any means. If you had told me 10 years ago that I would share my home with three deaf dogs and become an ambassador for helping to spread the word about how awesome they are, I would have laughed at the ridiculousness of such a statement.

But being de facto ambassadors for deaf dogs has become a unique and fun role for both my wife and I, as we gently and kindly explain (to often disbelieving people) that our dogs happen to be unable to hear. Many people are initially incredulous and say things like "Really?!?!", and "Are you sure?", and then "Really?" again. After their initial surprise there usually follows some questions about what deaf dogs are like, and unfortunately these questions often involve some repetition of some of dis-proven myths about deaf dogs.
There are some great websites out there that go into greater detail about the incorrect and harmful myths about deaf dogs - among them DDEAF and D2Care stand out, and are both terrific and informative websites that help to dispel the myths of deaf dogs. But today, with personal testimony and video evidence, I will personally dispel a few of the most common deaf dog myths.

Myth #1: Deaf dogs are harder to train/not as smart as hearing dogs.

Can you imagine if this were an accepted belief about people? Just because someone couldn't hear, they were automatically deemed to be somehow stupider than everyone else? That would be a ridiculous idea. Your average deaf dog is just as smart and able to be trained as an average hearing dog, you just have to replace vocal/spoken commands with hand commands or gestures. That's it.
Watch (video here and here) Shadowfax perform the sit, lay down, and roll over commands and then the sit and dance! commands. In these clips, I"m not saying anything. Turn the volume up, all you'll hear is the laughing of my impressed onlooker, marveling at how well Shadowfax performs her commands.

These are just a few of the dozen or so tricks that she knows and can perform without us making a sound, only issuing hand signals. She's a smart dog and is easily trainable, all we've had to do is substitute hand commands for saying "sit" or "dance!". There are many deaf dogs owners who have taught their deaf dogs dozens of hand commands and they compete in agility trials and other competitions. Their deafness is never an impediment to learning.

Myth #2: Deaf dogs are easily startled and will bite or act aggressive when you wake them.

This is sort of true. I've got some video evidence (video here and here) of what happens when Shaak Ti and Shadowfax are awakened from a deep sleep. Disclaimer - please don't watch this if you don't have a strong stomach/disposition, it's a bit rough and difficult to watch. Be warned.

As you can see I was just joking, they both don't startle at all. In fact all they do is lay there calmly and get petted, often times not even bothering to fully open their eyes.
Now Tito is a slightly different story. When we wake him up either accidentally or deliberately and even when he wakes up on his own, he usually does immediately jump up, run away and bark, but that's his personality. He's jumpy, nervous, twitchy, and angry at the world. This would be true if he could hear, if he had three legs, or if he could fly, he'd still be an angry jumpy dog.

Some folks with deaf and hearing dogs have to train them to wake gently. All you do is simply gently "bump" them when sleeping, or pet them to wake them up and immediately pop a tasty treat in their mouth. Repeat this randomly over time and very quickly they become conditioned to relate being suddenly awoken with getting a delicious treat or nice pets.

Myth #3: Deaf dogs are more likely to get hit by a car since they can't hear it coming.

There is no video evidence to dispute this, all you need is a small helping of logic to dispel this myth. Besides, what kind of dog owner lets their dog run around freely where there's traffic and the possibility of getting hit by a car? Bad or lazy dog owners, that's who.

Regardless of whether your dog is deaf, hearing, has 3 legs, or is purple, they should never be off leash in a situation where they can get hit by a car. Period. Letting your dogs scamper around off leash near a road and relying on the dog's hearing to keep them from getting hit by a car is one of the stupidest things I've heard.

I love all my dogs very much, and am a bit over-protective, so they're never going to be off leash unless it's in a totally enclosed area, like a fenced dog park. All three dogs are good about recall. If they're out in the backyard, I just need to give them the "come here" command and they come scampering over. Our backyard is fully fenced and the dogs will never be outside that fenced area unless they are on a leash. Ever.

I hope this has been fun and instructive for you, and maybe you even learned a little more about deaf dogs. They make wonderful pets and unfortunately, many of them are killed in shelters every year because they are deemed "unadoptable" simply because they are deaf. Let's change that.

For more information and pictures of deaf dogs, please visit Deaf Dogs and Benevolent Gnomes.

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