Hello. My name is Magda and for 6 years I have ben working with my deaf bull terrier bitch - Alka. Some may recognise us from the Biała Głucha - Straszna Czarna fanpage where I talk about life with a deaf dog and an adopted amstaff-type mix.
We were afraid before adopting Alka. We’ve been looking for other owners of deaf dogs to be as prepared as possible. Unfortunately, there’s very little information about deaf dogs in Poland, so we had to rely on our own experience and the breeder’s support to a large extent. We had to learn how to work, what to avoid, what dangers the deafness carries not only in everyday life, but also to the health of our dog. After some time of living together, it turned out that we can’t tell the difference between the functioning of our dogs. When Alka grew up a bit, we started training with a specialist. It’s been weeks of hard work. I’ve kept coming back from training with bleeding fingers, because Alka, unfortunately, had had little control over her grasp of the mouth (also teething occurred, with primaries like small needles). Slowly we began learning how to communicate with our dog. Now we’ve got a set of gestures (which is constantly expanding) instead of voice commands. In my opinion, the most important thing is “heel” and not only when a dog is deaf. The second must-have is “spit” or “drop it”. It’s to be used specifically when a dog catches something it shouldn’t (be it in rubbish when outside or in a child’s toy when at home).
To satisfy the curious - each command is a different gesture. “Sit” is a hand pointing fingers up; “down” is a hand with the fingers down; “drop it” is a light finger tapping above the nose and opening a hand (as when playing sock puppets talking). When Alka has to stand by leg, I mark a small circle with my hand at hip level. “Stay” is a pointing finger pointed up.
(Defect? What defect? You can live defected and how! As seen in the picture - she never stops smiling!)
Living with a deaf dog is basically the same as with a hearing dog. And I mean it! Alka, just like other dogs, frolics, barks, exercises and asks for caresses. The lack of hearing is not a problem for her. She doesn’t know otherwise for she was born that way. I let her loose (on a 10 m leash just in case), she runs after the ball, tugs with the jerk and returns for hugging. The only difference we’ve noticed so far is that we have to lift our behinds off the couch when Alka is trying to eat cat food or garbage. After all, I’m not able to show or tell her that not to do it when she stands with her back to me.
As I’ve mentioned above - we communicate with Alka through gestures. It can be seen best when I work with both my bitches (the Straszna Czarna from my page title is called Dafi). When I want to command “sit”, I can say it to Dafi and show it to Alka. I walk away and call Dafi to myself, and Alka stays there, because I didn’t wave her hand! During the training, I also didn’t notice her working differently than a hearing dog. Maybe Alka has the advantage that she’s not distracted by, for example, screaming children or barking dogs. So that’s a plus for her! However, the communication when distanced can be hard to maintain, because I’ve never put pressure on her to follow ex. “sit” when she’s whole 100 yards from me. The only thing we require as obligatory is the recall. And while there’s no problem with recalling Alka when she looks at us, so there is when she’s standing with her back to us, then I simply can’t do it. In such a case, Dafi becomes instrumental, as she herself has assimilated the “bring Alka” command. Of course, this poses a real threat, so Alka, despite the fact that she’s running freely, always has a rope attached.
(Dafi helping to recall Alka)
I used to read a lot about hearing aids for dogs, and wait for it - such hearing aids exist in the US. In Poland, no one has done it and I don’t really feel such a need. You work the same way with the dog hearing or deaf, no real difference, only the form of communication changes. For some time we tried to use a vibrating collar, but in our case it didn’t pass the exam. Alka was distracted, she was scratching herself and refused to get up. After unfastening the collar she worked wonderfully. However, I want to emphasize that this is our experience. I always advise owners of deaf dogs to try a collar, because what doesn’t work for us can help someone else!
I wish to tell you that Alka loves other dogs, to brag about rainbow, unicorns and candies and such… but alas, Alka doesn’t really go well with other dogs. Of course, she has her canine buddies whom she allows pretty much everything, but we failed to find any pattern guiding her likes in this regard. For example, there’s a beagle, who’s allowed to sniff her under the tail, a Shiba, who ignores her and even shows his teeth, there’s a golden retriever that barks on her… and they’re only a few of her friends. I don’t force my dog to interact with other dogs. The world would be more beautiful if people understood that dogs don’t need to like each other.
I could write a lot about my dog’s senses here. The key thing is that Alka doesn’t hear, but doesn’t make up for it with any other sense (at least I didn’t notice it). The sense of smell is rather average - we tried to do nosework, but it wasn’t Alka’s “wheelhouse”. When we hide the treats at home, Alka can’t find them, unless she steps on one. The fact is, however, that when I open the refrigerator and Alka is asleep, she wakes up immediately! Maybe I slam the door too loudly, or may it be the intense scents spreading out. We can’t really rely on her sight either. With lights out I have the impression that Alka sees as much as a hen in the night - that is, not really much. We always take both bitches for evening walks, because Alka is clearly more nervous without Dafi, so we spare her the stress. It seems to me that it’s also because of the shape of her head. Many bull terrier owners complain about their dogs’ eyesight.
We’ve noticed quite quickly, however, that Alka could feel the air motions. When we clap our hands in the room, Alka jumps up. Obviously, the fewer objects in the room, the faster the reaction is. In the training room, when Alka “blue-screens” after she feels clapping or shaking the chair, her eyes immediately fall on me.
(Alka, despite running freely, is always leashed.)
And yes - I’m 100% positive Alka can’t hear. We’ve tested different pitches, but Alka doesn't respond to any of them. Be it a flute, a piano, a tin spoon hitting a metal bowl, a both regular and a dog whistle. If the air vibrations or the airblast aren’t significant - Alka won’t even turn around.
I would like to add that deaf dogs are barking! What’s more - they modulate barking depending on the situation. So Alka barks one way when she wants something, differently when she’s upset, and differently to express joy. You can work it out pretty quickly by watching your dog. So if someone tells you that deaf dogs don’t bark, don’t believe them. They can bark even more than their hearing companions.
And that pretty much sums it up. Should any of the readers adopt a deaf dog, remember, you can always contact us. We’ll try to help and suggest with what we already know!
And as a starter for future owners of deaf dogs - a couple of “commandments”:
- Do not pity your dog. He’s perfectly normal.
- Work with him.
- Never say it won’t work!
- Watch your dog, he can communicate as well as any other.
- Be patient.