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Preparing Your Dog for Hearing Loss

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A Rhodesian Ridgeback dog sits on the grass.

Congenital deafness is an inherited form of hearing loss in dogs. There are many types of congenital deafness in dogs, affecting at least 100 different breeds. One such form of hearing loss is early-onset adult deafness (EOAD) in Rhodesian Ridgeback dogs. (In fact, Embark scientists discovered this variant, in partnership with the Rhodesian Ridgeback Club of the United States and others.)

Genetic factors that increase a dog’s risk for hearing loss include:

Signs of hearing loss in dogs

Some signs that your dog might have trouble hearing include:

  • Changes in obedience or attentiveness to verbal cues 
  • Not responding to their name when called
  • Not reacting to common noises, like the doorbell
  • Sleeping through attempts to wake them up

How to prepare your dog for hearing loss

A few small changes to your routine can help your dog adjust to hearing loss.

1. Train with visual cues

For dogs with hearing loss, visual cues are crucial. Add hand signals to your training routine instead of (or in addition to) verbal cues. If your dog can still partially hear, add hand signals to accompany your voice so your dog gets used to them. To teach new cues, train with just the hand signal alone. 

 Be sure to include common safety cues in your training, like “come” and “wait.”

2. Avoid surprising them with sudden movements

When you need to approach or touch your dog, try to do so when you’re in their field of vision. Walk with heavier footsteps when approaching, so they feel the vibrations in the floor before you arrive. You might start desensitizing them to touch as well. For example, a light touch on the shoulder is a gentle way to get your dog’s attention and let them know you’re communicating with them so they know to look for a hand signal.

3. Add an identifying tag

Consider adding an “I am deaf” tag to your dog’s collar or harness while on walks, so others know not to startle them. 

4. Keep them on leash

Remember that with hearing loss, your dog won’t hear approaching cars or other dangers around them. Always keep them on a leash or in a fenced area while outdoors.

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One of the most important things to remember is to practice patience. With time, training, and a few practical adjustments, you can make sure your dog stays safe while still enjoying a happy, enriched life.

Mimi Padmabandu Contributor

Mimi Padmabandu is a scientific writer and Senior Content Strategist at Embark Veterinary. Her career includes a decade of experience writing about science and genomics for leading biotechnology companies, including Illumina, Thermo Fisher Scientific, and more. She holds a bachelor's degree in Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology from UCLA and a master’s degree in Early Modern English Literature from King’s College London.

Read more about Mimi Padmabandu

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