“Give Deaf Dalmatians A Chance At Life" was the title of a petition I read this morning and is in fact partly to blame for me writing this article. I live with a five year old Dalmatian who was diagnosed with complete deafness when he was just a few weeks old. Now, deafness in Dalmatians is a particular problem, with between 15- 30% of them having some kind of hearing problem and 5% of them being completely deaf. It is still not completely understood what goes on genetically that causes the deafness, two hearing dogs can produce deaf offspring in the same way that two deaf dogs would. To summarise, deafness in dogs is considered to be pigment related and effects dogs whose unpigmented pink skin produces white hairs (such as Dalmatians). If a dog has unpigmented skin in the inner ear the nerve endings die off which results in deafness (DDEAF, 2015). It is not just Dalmatians that are affected and other breeds include Bull Terriers, Australian Cattle Dogs, White Boxers and English Setters to name a few.
When a litter of puppies born, a responsible breeder will have the litter tested using something called a BAER Test or a Brain Auditory Evoked Response test; in other words a hearing test. What shocked me when reading the petition was the option that is kept open to the breeder of the litter. At five weeks old if a puppy fails this test it can be put to sleep. Now this is not the case for every litter, some breeders will still ensure that the deaf puppies go to a good home but many will actively request for the puppies to be put to sleep. In fact, upon doing some research I found that The Dalmatian Club of America actively promotes the killing of deaf puppies, stating on their website that 'deaf pups should always be humanely destroyed by a Veterinarian' and that if 'a deaf pup is inadvertently placed, it should be replaced with a hearing pup'. The Club even goes on to say that both owners of deaf dogs and rescue shelters holding deaf dogs should in fact have them put to sleep and instead concentrate on hearing dogs (The Dalmatian Club of America, 2011).
Reading this of course made me want to see if this opinion was shared by others across the internet and after a quick Google search the term ‘deaf dogs’ was quite often paired with the word ‘euthanasia’ on both webpages and in books. What was even more worrying was the reasons that were given behind it being ‘the kindest thing to do’; that deaf dogs have a poor quality of life, they are unable to be left off the lead, are extremely hard to train, they are aggressive, snappy and are difficult to control. All of which are statements that are completely untrue and particularly damaging to the organisations that try and help home these animals.
(Logan, my deaf dalmatian)
Logan has been deaf since he was a puppy and he too failed his BAER test. The thought that the breeder could have had him put to sleep is upsetting, particularly because there have never been any issues with him including the ones that are given above. Anyone that has seen the videos that I share and post on my blog can see for themselves that he has not been difficult to train, he knows a number of tricks and has passed several trick titles. He has also never acted aggressively or snapped at anyone and has been let off lead without ever running away. All of which disprove the reasons for euthanasia. However, I did not want to write an article purely based on my own experience, after all that is only one dog. Who is to say that I do not have the one and only exception to the rule? So I took to help from the Deaf Dog Network Site.
The Deaf Dog Network was setup by the founding members Karen Lawe and Jaq Bunn with the intention of educating, dispelling deaf dog myths and even helping to train and rehome deaf dogs. There are regular events and displays carried out by DDN to help promote and raise the profiles of deaf dogs, especially as many deaf pets are overlooked because of the myths surrounding them. They have an amazing Facebook page setup full of useful information and people willing to answer any questions. I took to posting on the site asking for peoples experiences with deaf dogs and got lots of brilliant replies (all of which can be found at the bottom of the page). What stood out to me the most was the range of activities that the dogs took part in;
“I took on a deaf dog as my first dog, and wouldn't have changed him for the world. There is little he hasn't tried - HTM, obedience, agility, herding, trick training, scentwork, rally - and has been very easy to train. He knows far more hand signals than most hearing dogs have verbal commands, over 60. He is incredibly affectionate and we are always "talking" because he rarely takes his eyes off me. He is an absolute delight to live with, and I would have to seriously consider taking on a hearing dog having had a deaf one - they seem far too much trouble to me!!” Rosie Gibbs.
“Indi was deaf from birth but that doesn't stop her from loving her daily off lead walks, chasing her ball and has just started agility!” Kellie Lewton.
“Our boy was born deaf but never once did we think we should have him put to sleep, he is a delightful companion and so willing to do anything we ask of him. Recently he has managed his first clear round at agility and passed his silver kennel club good citizens test, he has done some Rally training, in fact anything you want to do he is willing to try and will succeed at as he is focussed on what he is doing.” Judith Trickett.
I believe there is several positives to having a dog that is deaf, the first being how much more focused they are on you. With them being unable to hear they are more in tune with their other senses like touch and smell for example. In fact Logan is able to identify when someone has pulled into the driveway at the back of the house and will often rush to the gate to meet them. This benefits training a great deal, a dog that pays you more attention is going to learn faster than one that does not. And many people on the site commented on this too, some even went as far as to say that they found training their deaf dog so much more easier than training their hearing one;
“I have 6 dogs and my deaf girl has been the easiest to train she is the most loving dog I have known and I would adopt a deaf dog again in a heartbeat.” Joanne Whitehead.
“Speckles, my deaf bully breed foster, was smart as a whip -- she learned in 3 days all of the commands it took me a week to teach my other extremely smart herding breed foster 3 weeks. She was my easiest foster to train, had excellent recall (even in the distractions of heavy play at the dog park), and made many people at the dog park think I was a professional dog trainer.” David J Wortham.
The principles of training a deaf dog are the same as the principles of training a hearing one. In fact for those that train their dogs using hand signals and vocal commands the teaching would be the same. I get comments off people that watch my videos that they had no clue that my dog was deaf, this was because I talk to Logan in the videos, same as I would any other dog even though I know he can’t hear me. Dogs are very in tune to our body language, all it takes is for someone to look at him and to start talking and he will wag his tail and come over for a fuss. It may take some people a while to adapt, for example you can’t just shout them from the down the stairs or call them in from outside but that doesn’t take long to adjust to. Like already mentioned there are benefits to having a deaf dog; for example they aren’t going to wake up if somebody shouts or drops something, they won’t bark if someone knocks on the door, they don’t get distracted by noises when they are training and Thunder and Fireworks are not an issue to them at all!
"As a Professional trainer, having a deaf dog has shifted the direction of my career. Dogs are keenly perceptive of body language and facial expressions, son once the people get the gist of it, training with deaf pups is easy!" Terrie Hayward, author of a Deaf Dog Joins the Family.
So in conclusion, and reverting back to the title the Problem with Deaf Dogs is not the dogs themsleves but the misconception that many people have of them and I want this to change. The people that have provided their experiences with their dogs for me to write this have a variety of different breeds and range from first time owners to experienced dog trainers, all of which reinforces my idea that deaf dogs are the same as any other dog, they just cannot hear. This should not be seen as a disadvantage or a disabilty, these dogs can participate in any activity a hearing dog can, make great family pets and people should not worry about taking these animals into their homes. I hope the one thing you take away from this article is not to discount a deaf dog in the future and to give them the same chance at life that a normal hearing dog is entitled too
Please can you take just a few seconds to sign this petition; https://www.change.org/p/the-british-dalmatian-club-give-deaf-dalmatians-a-chance-at-life
Testimonials of Deaf Dogs
I’ve included the quotes from the people that replied to me from the Deaf Dog Network as I feel like they speak for themselves
Sara Ashton "Stanley has become such a huge part of mine and my fiancees lives, I doubt either of us could imagine life without him. I find myself giving a thumbs up (good boy sign) to all animals now!"
Kay Beavis "We adopted a deaf dog that had been abandoned at a refuge, he was 8 months old.He has learnt how to come,sit, stay and down,all done with hand signals.Once you the human learns how to do this it is easy. We wouldn't hesitate in getting another deaf dog. The refuge called him disabled how wrong were they."
Anne Seahippo "I adopted my deaf collie, Inca, last year. She picks new tricks up faster than any of our other dogs, including other collies."
Judith Trickett "Our boy was born deaf but never once did we think we should have him put to sleep, he is a delightful companion and so willing to do anything we ask of him. Recently he has managed his first clear round at agility and passed his silver kennel club good citizens test, he has done some Rally training, in fact anything you want to do he is willing to try and will succeed at as he is focussed on what he is doing."
Tammy Travis "Back in April 2015, I went to purchase a white boxer. I was shown the whole litter and this one little bit, kept making himself known. After spending a hour with this littler and their mother.It was hard for me to choice between two of them. I asked the mother dog, "which one." Unbeknown to me, she understood. The owner and i were in amazement when she picked up her deaf baby. It came down to the interaction I was having with him. He learned to "sit" over that time."
Mona Servillious "Daisy is without doubt the best dog we've ever had. Her being deaf simply hasn't been an issue. Toilet training took less than 12 hours, learning basic commands using sign language no problems at all. In fact, I feel closer to her than any other dog we had, as we had to create our own unique language. It's our special bond. I love that girl so much!"
Jim Ammon "I adopted my deaf dog that was locked in a crate for the first year of this life because they didn't know how to handle him. This is the best dog I have ever had is is so smart and responds to hand signals faster than my hearing dog, DEAF DoGS ROCK !!!!!!!"
Martin Halford "Our white KC was born deaf,she had our other dog Ben as a companion up untill a year ago.She is 7 now and enjoys walks off the lead,swimming,retreiving(when in the mood).Learn to communicate as you would with a deaf child,they can teach you some lessons and enrich your life ,as all dogs do."
Karen Arnold "I was talking to my next door neighbour this morning who has lived there for 5 years, I just mentioned Lili s deafness and she hadn't realised, she said Lili was the best trained dog she knew and couldn't believe she didn't know. We stop and chat most days lol. Lili is 4!"
Suzi Williams "Jasper learns using body language and knows lots of commands using signs or gestures. He has been quick to pick up new things using positive reinforcement (and cheese!). Being deaf doesnt stop him from being an amazing dog!"
Grub Terrier "Grub is a fabulous dog, being deaf is just part of her and it has made me rethink about how I view and communicate with all dogs. There is something special about the bond with a deaf dog due to their level of attention and focus, if there is one thing I had to change about Grub it would be to give her back her full tail rather than her deafness."
Angela Mccall "holly means the world to me, and we definatly have a bond, she communicates with me like no other dog has, through her body , and voice xx"
Claire MacIntosh "I adopted my deaf pittie a year ago. He had been used for fighting and had been abused his whole life. I gave him a second chance to have a happy life and named him Chance. He gets along with all my other dogs, knows countless commands, wins at dog shows and is one of the best dogs I have ever had."
Bernadette McNamara Cook "Unexpectedly we took on a 5 year old deaf dog who had been badly treated. It was months before we realised that he was deaf (since diagnosed as being profoundly deaf). He wasn't housetrained but quickly learned, he is also learning agility and works sheep on a line. I would echo what others have said about the special bond with a deaf dog. The rewards are enormous and I wish we had been able to have him as a pup. Love him to bits."
Gillian Rippon "We have a deaf great dane pup called amber she is the second deafie we have had boss was also a dane he was 12 years old when we lost him. We personally dont find it any different from having a hearing dog. We have a profoundly deaf daughter and i didnt think of having her put to sleep so why a dog ."
Steve Cutler "Finn and Jake are both deaf Border Collies who were helped by Lily's Border Collie Lifeline. They both go off lead anywhere that I would let a hearing dog off, and they both do Canicross (running with dogs attached) while Finn also does Bikejor (running whilst attached to Mountain Bike) - deafness does not prevent either of them from living full lives."
Elizabeth Elmore-Elkin "We took on our Australian Cattle Dog knowing she was deaf. I wanted an ACD to run with so knowing she would always be on a lead wasn't a problem. They are active dogs who need a job to do, her job is to run with me. She is just 11 months and now starting to join me for a few miles. If I were to summarise her "Kora has better recall than most hearing dogs."
Audraceline King "rescued matilda at 7 weeks knowing she was deaf she is the sweetest lovely soft girl she is an asset to our family and could show my hearing dogs a thing or two !! xxx"
Joanne Whitehead "I have 6 dogs and my deaf girl has been the easiest to train she is the most loving dog I have known and I would adopt a deaf dog again in a heartbeat."
Carol Louise Bell "As someone who hasnt got a deaf dog but has been to Joanne Whitehead above and seen her with summer and seen a few other owners with theirs My observation was that summer paid more attention to her owner because she doesnt have that sense of hearing grin emoticon. I certainly wouldnt rule out owning a deaf dog in the future if the situation presented itself x"
David J Wortham "Speckles, my deaf bully breed foster, was smart as a whip -- she learned in 3 days all of the commands it took me a week to teach my other extremely smart herding breed foster 3 weeks. She was my easiest foster to train, had excellent recall (even in the distractions of heavy play at the dog park), and made many people at the dog park think I was a professional dog trainer."
Jeannie Ninis "Vilma is our dear deaf Vizsla....she was a rescue and is the most adorable, loving dog ever. She has been the easiest dog to train...i think she trained us....she is loving and loyal and I can not imagine life without her. Would never hesitate to have a deaf dog again......only issue....boy! is she a loud snorer smile emoticon xxxxx"
David J Wortham "My adopted dog is a deaf and nearly blind Australian Shepherd and consistently confuses people who meet him. He walks excellently on leash, is incredibly mobile and confident at the fenced+off-leash dog park, and many people don't realize his ears and eyes don't work until I tell them. He knows a few touch commands and will naturally heel with people that walk the perimeter of the dog parks we frequent."
Jessica Jennings "My seven-year-old Quincy has his quirks just like each of my hearing dogs, but from the moment I brought him home at 13 weeks he has been the most attentive, sensitive and, consequently, trainable dog I have ever owned."
Rachael Dupon "My year old Echo has SO MUCH personality! She's sensitive and loving and SMART. She's is always getting complimented from people who don't know that she's deaf that she "listens so well". I would definitely get another deafie!"
Helen Chambers "We realised Brynn was deaf after just an hour in his company (we took him in at 10 weeks old). Initial worries as to how he would cope, and how we and our other dogs would deal with his lack of hearing proved totally unfounded. He is a huge character in our 'pack', and soon learnt sign language (although he is very good at not looking at you if he doesn't want to do something, lol). Brynn is the most intelligent of our dogs, doesn't realise he is 'different', loves to 'sing' to us, and despite some of his other issues (due to irresponsible breeding) we wouldn't be without him, nor would his doggy friends. He is a HUGE part of our family and gets as much out of life as a hearing dog would."
Kathryn Askham "Don't know how to put a photo but Arthur has made such an impact on our lives. He is such a special boy, cannot even think about what would be his fate if we hadn't taken him."
Dana Campo "My beloved Sunny Boy is not only deaf but also blind. He communicates with his heart. The love I get is like no other. I don't think he even knows he's "different".
Beth Hooper "Our deaf dalmatian Juno has been a joy. Smart, funny, loyal and affectionate - easy to train, and a pleasure to be with. Our lives have become so much richer for having her."
Shareen Bradbrook "I talk to my dogs with facial expressions and signs ... Just like horses they read body language.. My deaf dog is smarter than the other two who are not ... They have a high since of touch smell and sight ... Wldnt b a complete family without him"
Kenny Wilson "Cotton is the happiest girl in the world... She has grown so much since joining our family and having a big sister (Sydney)2 years ago after being a puppy mill dump! Presumably for not being just like all the other dogs! Well she is just perfect to us and we wouldn't trade her for.anything!"
Davies Axon Lesley "I would contact these two ladies that have just adopted a little deaf staffy and see how much he has learned in a loving home! this little g had been abused by two different home that had him.................................https://www.facebook.com/messages/jass.miller.52"
Rox Ann "My deaf and blind Nanuk, and partially deaf and blind Obi Wan Kenobi changed my life profoundly. I have learned to convey my love without words or sight with just one touch. And in that moment that we connect, all is understood."
Wendy Line "Our beautiful girl dottie has been with us since she was 8 weeks old. She's clever & has changed our lives for the better, to think people would consider putting her to sleep just because she's deaf is unforgivable , we love her with all our heart 💕xx"
Sonja Coombes "I can not like this enough! As a deaf specific rescue we are right there with you trying to show just how amazing these dogs are!
I don't know if I can limit myself to just a few sentences lol"
Karen McDonald "Our pippa is deaf and we just treat her like a hearing dog, we had to do other sign for her but she does her own thing x"
Tia Schenewerk "Thumper is deaf, but out of all my dogs, the other three can hear, he is the best! We're working on training now, but he is a quick learner. People comment all the time that they don't even believe he is deaf, that's how little of a difference deafness makes."
Julie Gardner "We have had Mopsy for 8 years and she's been amazing and in many ways easier than our two hearing dogs.our life is better for haveing her in it x"
Richelle Maser "I got my deaf and blind Great Dane only one month before our "healthy" Great Dane "sister"-pup arrived, so I have had the opportunity to compare the raising and training of a deaf and blind dog versus a normally-sighted/hearing puppy. I can tell you that far and away, training the blind and deaf giant breed dog was 100x easier than his counterpart. Our deaf and blind dog is incredibly sensitive to smell and feel and uses his super-senses and finely tuned intelligence to function at such a high level that it is almost impossible for strangers to tell he has sensory deficits. Because he cannot see or hear distractions, he is far less likely to bark, startle, run towards strangers etc. He exhibits a higher level of emotional intelligence and is extremely loyal. In fact, training a deaf/blind dog was so surprisingly easy, we added a second one with deafness and blindness almost a year later. Our lives are continually enriched by the miracle that these two sensory bereft dogs represent. I would not change our decision to adopt deaf and blind dogs, and would likely choose one over a "normal" dog any day!!"
Yvonne Anderson "Daisy came to me at 3 months old and has been deaf since birth she is now 6 and because she is so calm my foster dogs learn from her including understanding some of her sign. She has now been a doggie foster mum to over 30 hearing dogs here in France."
Rosie Gibbs "I took on a deaf dog as my first dog, and wouldn't have changed him for the world. There is little he hasn't tried - HTM, obedience, agility, herding, trick training, scentwork, rally - and has been very easy to train. He knows far more hand signals than most hearing dogs have verbal commands, over 60. He is incredibly affectionate and we are always "talking" because he rarely takes his eyes off me. He is an absolute delight to live with, and I would have to seriously consider taking on a hearing dog having had a deaf one - they seem far too much trouble to me!!"
Lindsay Fraser-Bage "I have a one year old deaf Dalmatian, I also have a seven year old deaf daughter Melody, would they put a deaf child to sleep, I rest my case xx"
Pam Knight "I discovered Brees was deaf the day I got her, and never once thought about taking her back. She is every bit as intelligent as any hearing dog Ive shared my life with, and I love her more than any words could ever describe. You can still communicate just as easily with a deaf dog as with a hearing dog, replacing hand commands with voice commands. I sincerely believe, because they are deaf, they are less likely to get distracted, and training is faster and more efficient with deaf dogs."
Erin Casey Roper "When we realized Gus was deaf, we were a little nervous. Turns out, it has made no difference at all! His training has been different but no harder than our hearing dog, Molly. And, there are distinct advantages to him being deaf. Thunder and fireworks are no problem at all. He's just a normal, fantastic dog and I would not hesitate to get another deaf dog in the future!"
Sally Pickworth" I have 2 deaf dogs of my own and train others who attend club or our social walks. They are taught exactly as any other dog and respond as any other dog. We don't notice any difference"
Laurie Eaton "I knew Ted was deaf when I got him, He is NOT any different than a hearing dog. In some ways he is smarter because he picks up things quicker than my hearing dog. I would not change him and I would certainly get another!! Deaf dogs are AWSOME!!!"
Kellie Lewton "Indi was deaf from birth but that doesn't stop her from loving her daily off lead walks, chasing her ball and has just started agility!"
Lottie Lizzie Ann Bennett "Nobody can ever tell that Bubble is deaf until I tell them, her deafness barely affects her at all and doesn't affect her quality of life or our relationship in the slightest. It's also very refreshing to have a dog who sleeps through fireworks, sirens or knocking on the door!!"
Marin Schillings-vd Walt "I am horrified to hear that a dog should be pts because they can't hear. I adopted a 5 week old dapple daxie girl because she was suspected to be deaf and blind and breeder wanted to Pts. Raised her in my other daxie pack and she is as normal as all the other can be. She is deaf and very light sensitive but such a sweetie. If you don't know she is deaf you will never know. Amber-jade is such a delightful little girl. She turns 2 in Oct. When she looks at me with those blue eyes my heart just melts."
DDEAF (2015) Frequently asked Questions. Available from
http://www.deafdogs.org/faq/ (accessed 13/06/2015).
The Dalmatian Club of America (2011) Position on Dalmatian Deafness. Available from http://www.thedca.org/deaf1.html (accessed 13/06/2015).
The Deaf Dog Network (2011) About us. Available from http://thedeafdognetwork.webs.com/deafpupsneedinghomes.htm (accessed 13/06/2015).
And thanks to everyone that made a comment on the Facebook Group available here https://www.facebook.com/groups/thedeafdognetwork/959039994140892/?notif_t=group_comment