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October 22, 2013

Pet Talk: A dog's friendship requires no sound

(Continued)

Nelson said this approach works with his own deaf dog.

“We hike in the national forests with him off leash and he actually is easier to manage than the other dog who can hear just fine,” he said. “We always have the safety net of the vibrating collar but rarely use it, and he has learned to check back visually and will come to a hand sign without delay.”

Deaf dogs can be startled when touched unexpectedly, so establishing a “communication spot” that you touch when you need to wake them up is a good idea. “We have trained him that the top back of his head is the communication spot, and when we touch it and he is sleeping he immediately begins wagging his tail because he knows it is one of us,” said Nelson.

Certain breeds of dogs, such as Dalmatians, carry a gene that causes deafness. If the deafness isn’t genetic, it is still common for a dog to lose hearing from an ear injury or simply from old age, just like people. If you believe Spot may be deaf, there are various tests you can perform. Simple at home tests work just fine, like clapping your hands together or ringing a bell, but the most reliable way to test for deafness is called BAER testing (Brainstorm Auditory Evoked Response). This test can be costly, but it is extremely accurate and will let you know if your dog is partially or wholly deaf.

“If you came and interacted with our two dogs, you would not be aware that one is deaf, as we talk to him just like the other dog and the hand signs are subtle,” said Nelson. “He has been totally deaf since birth and is a wonderful boy that loves people, animals, and children.”

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University.

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