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How to Tell if Your Dog is Deaf | Maddie’s Story

by Emily Boardman BSc. (Hons)

September 20th marks the start of deaf dog awareness week. While some dogs are born deaf, and some go deaf from illness or injury, there are dogs whose hearing gets significantly worse the older they get. Nutritionist Emily experienced age-related deafness with her dog, Maddie. This is her story:

Maddie and Emily

My senior dog, Maddie, has recently gone deaf, so I thought I’d share with you my first-hand experience with senior dog hearing loss. We initially thought Maddie, who has always been very docile, had suddenly become reactive to the doorbell or people coming in the front door. It was only once we saw a few more signs that we realised she couldn’t hear people walking up the driveway anymore, so when people suddenly appeared at the door, it scared her.

How to Tell If Your Dog is Going Deaf:

You may not notice straight away that your dog is losing their hearing. As a species, they are very good at using all of their other senses, so it can be a while before you notice them having any trouble. Here are the most common signs:

1. A change in attentiveness and obedience
2. No response to their name or common trigger words
3. They get startled easily and they might bark more
4. They sleep more and they’re difficult to wake up
5. They might shake or tilt their head

You may also notice that your dog is a bit more jumpy when people approach them. They may also start to check in more, by looking back for you on a walk, for example. They may also sleep more deeply, and you might also start to think that your usually responsive dog is becoming defiant and not coming when called.

What To Do If You Suspect Your Dog Is Deaf

If you’ve noticed your dog is showing signs of going deaf, it’s important that you take them to a vet to rule out anything more complicated than the normal hearing loss that comes with old age. It may seem daunting and upsetting to have a beloved companion no longer able to hear you, but there are plenty of things you can do to keep them safe, maintain your relationship, and make things as stress-free as possible for both of you.

1. Invest in a whistle

You might find your dog still responds to higher pitched sounds, so you could invest in a whistle to get their attention, even if it’s just used around the house.

2. Teach them hand signals

You can also teach them hand signals for common commands such as sit or stay. You would do this in the same way as a verbal cue, but by using the hand signal instead. If they have only partially lost their hearing, this is a great time to integrate the hand signals alongside the verbal cue they already know, to save having to teach them from scratch.

3. Limit time off the lead

It’s important to keep your deaf dog safe now they cannot hear for themselves, which may involve limiting their time off the lead only to secure open spaces where they cannot get in harm’s way; such as in front of roads or bicycles, and where you can always see each other easily.

4. Make on lead time better

You can still make the on-lead time enjoyable and stimulating by taking them to new or different places with lots of opportunities for sniffing!

5. Use a longer lead

You could even use a long line so that they can wander a bit further or have a run about. A longer lead will give them the freedom to wander a bit, but it will also give you the peace of mind in knowing that you can pull them back if they stray too far.

How to Behave Around Your Deaf Dog

As mentioned above, dogs who have lost their hearing may startle more easily, so you’ll want to take care when approaching them, especially if they’re asleep. Always try to approach your dog from the front, and with heavy footsteps if possible. This would mean that if they’re on the floor, they’d be able to feel the vibrations of you approaching. If you know they’re awake, you can also switch the lights on and off a couple of times when you enter a room.

Your Relationship with Your Deaf Dog

You may be worried about your relationship now that they can’t hear you; we’ve always spoken to Maddie as though she was another human member of the family, and if this is the case for you, just do what we do. Give them lots more strokes, and keep using comforting body language to let them know you’re still talking to them, just in a different way.

Is your dog becoming a senior citizen? Find out more about feeding your senior pet the correct diet by pawing over to our nutrition for seniors blog. 


by Emily Boardman BSc. (Hons)

I studied Applied Medical Sciences at Swansea University and have a keen interest in veterinary science and hope to be able to do more research in the future. No two days are the same at Burns and not only does this job allow me to continuously learn about animal nutrition but also means I get to talk about dogs all day!