Dealing Proactively with Hearing Loss in Your Dog

dog hearing lossMy brother Tony and his partner Kenny have three miniature Dachshunds. The eldest of the wiener-dog trio is Toby who will turn 16 in November. Next oldest is Webster, a dapple mini Dachshund who is nearly 14. Ernie, a Dachshund and Jack Russell Mix, and a rescue, is estimated to be 11 or 12.

Tony and Kenny’s home doubles as a recording studio six days a week so it’s not unusual to hear singing throughout the day and sometimes into the evening. Upon his arrival to his new home Ernie, who was rescued in 2013, made it a habit to gleefully sing along with the artists who were there for a recording session. Eventually Ernie had to be relocated to a different wing of the home so his singing wouldn’t interfere with the human vocalists.

But about a year ago, maybe longer, Ernie stopped singing along. My brother didn’t think too much about it until he started having trouble rousing Ernie and Toby from a sound sleep simply by calling their names.

“Toby, who we’ve had since he was a baby, has always been very responsive to words,” Tony said. “All of a sudden he didn’t seem to respond to our voices unless he was looking directly at us.

“And then we started noticing that Webster was the only one who would wake up when we called him,” he said. “But Toby and Ernie wouldn’t wake up unless we touched them as we were saying their names.”

Both pups were suffering from hearing loss, which likely happened so gradually that Tony and Kenny didn’t notice the early signs.

Aging dogs suffer from hearing loss just like their aging human pet parents. Often times, owners attribute their dog’s hearing loss, in its early stages, as a behavioral malady. But Age-Related Hearing Loss (ARHL) – the most common form of canine hearing loss — will plague most dogs sometime during their “third trimester of life,” according to Pet Health Network.

After a visit to their vet, Toby and Ernie were diagnosed with ARHL.

“ARHL begins by impairing perception of middle to high frequency sounds, but encompasses the entire range of sound frequencies as it progresses,” writes Pet Health Network author Dr. Nancy Kay, DVM, DACVIM.

Once hearing loss starts to occur there are things you can do to minimize the effects for both you and your pooch, writes Dr. Kay.

Eight Tips To Help You Make a Positive Difference:

1.    Check in with your veterinarian 

Verify that the only cause of your dog’s hearing loss is ARHL. 

2.    Train your dog with hand signals 

When your dog experiences significant hearing loss, your ability to communicate with him via hand signals will create greater safety for your dog and more support for the emotional bond you share. Dogs quite naturally communicate via body language, so they tend to quickly learn the meaning of hand gestures. Begin the training process as soon as possible. Most senior dogs are very capable of learning these new cues.

3.    Use nontraditional signals 

In addition to hand signals, find other ways to get your dog’s attention. Examples include actions that create vibrations (clapping hands, stomping on the floor, knocking cans together), use of a flashlight, release of an appealing scent (appealing to the dog, that is), and use of a storm or disaster whistle. Figure out what works best with your dog. Provide a positive reward (favorite snack, belly rub, game of tug of war) when you begin training your best buddy to respond to these new cues. 

4.    Avoid startling your dog

Approach and/or touch your dog when you are within his field of vision. If you need to wake him from sleep, touch him gently in the same place (the shoulder area is ideal). You can also put your hand in front of his nose as your smell may rouse him, particularly if it resembles the odor of a favorite treat. Remind visitors to avoid touching your best buddy when he is sleeping. All of these tactics tend to prevent startle reactions.

5.    Increase your vigilance 

This applies to the home front as well as out in the world. A fenced in yard becomes a must. Be sure your dog is on a leash or confined when cars pull in and out at your home. 

6.    Enrich your dog’s “smelling life” 

Dogs rely heavily on their sense of smell. By providing a richer smelling life for your dog, you may help fill in some of his sensory gaps caused by the hearing loss.

7. Attach an, “I am deaf” tag to your dog’s collar

This way, if your dog becomes lost and then found, the good Samaritan involved will understand why your dog is not normally responsive.

8. Give yourself a pep talk

Patience is a virtue when interacting with your aging dog. Remind yourself that, with your loving care, your hearing-impaired dog remains very capable of enjoying an excellent quality of life. Dr. Kay recommends scheduling and keeping regular veterinarian visits so your dog is getting every medical advantage available. And amazingly, doggy hearing aids actually exist and may be something to consider for your pooch! Learn more by checking out this link:

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