Gold Souls, Gray Faces: 8 Ways To Help Senior Dogs Who Are Going Deaf

A middle aged Caucasian man sitting in the grass petting/rubbing the ears his senior Golden Retriever as the dog give him a paw at sunset. This setting could be his back yard or at a public park.

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Gold Souls, Gray Faces is a series that focuses on tips and advice for care of our beloved senior dogs. One of the issues that many senior dogs face is hearing loss. Deafness can be age-related or it can be caused by a medical condition. It often happens gradually, and because of that, the symptoms of hearing loss are sometimes hard to spot until the condition is advanced.

Some signs that your senior dog might be experiencing a loss of hearing include failing to respond to commands or calls, not noticing when someone comes home or enters a room, getting startled more easily, not waking up until they are physically touched, and not reacting to sudden noises. If you see these signs, don’t worry. There are plenty of ways you can still give your senior dog a great quality of life, even if they can’t hear anymore. Here are eight ways to help a senior dog who is going deaf.

1. Don’t Panic

There are many dog owners who assume that when their senior dog starts to lose one of their senses, they won’t be able to have a good life and would be better off if they were put down. That is far from true. Dogs mostly rely on their sense of smell to map out the world, and the loss of one sense often improves their other senses. They are more than capable of going on without being able to hear. In fact, senior dogs that suffer from noise anxiety may actually have improved symptoms if their auditory senses fade. I had a senior dog who had anxiety from fireworks and beeping noises, and when his hearing started to go, he no longer suffered from anxiety attacks. So don’t panic. Your dog will be fine with your help, and in some cases, your senior may lead a more relaxed, peaceful life.

2. Get To The Vet First

Senior vet examining dog in clinic

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Before you try anything else, make an appointment with your veterinarian. Deafness can be caused by several factors other than aging, which include chronic ear infections, head injuries, exposure to toxic substances, nerve damage, ruptured ear drums, tumors, and other medical conditions. Many of these are treatable, and your veterinarian may be able to prevent your dog’s hearing from getting worse. Hearing loss can occur naturally with aging, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that this is the case with your senior, so get to the vet.

3. Focus On Visual Training And Commands

If you’ve been using verbal commands with your dog, it’s time to start switching over to more visual cues. Hand signals are a great way to make sure your dog can still follow your commands, which will help keep your bond strong and give your dog a sense of accomplishment when they are still able to please you and earn rewards. Some dogs can even learn a good amount of sign language, if that is something you’re interested in.

You may have to stop using clicker training if that is what you have relied on in the past. Reward your dog with treats, toys, or physical contact instead of verbal praise to let them know that they are doing a good job. If you are worried about the “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” cliche, fear not. That’s totally a myth. Seniors may need more patience, and they may need more breaks while training, but they are certainly capable of learning new things. Click here if you want to read a helpful article about training deaf dogs.

4. Work On No-Surprise Approaches

Cute brown dog, the dachshund, with narrowed eyes, sleeps comfortably under the blanket on the blurred background.

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Older dogs tend to get set in their ways, and they appreciate consistency, so surprises can particularly cause them unnecessary anxiety. If your senior is going deaf, it may become difficult to approach them without startling them. The best thing you can do is make your presence known. Flick a light switch on and off when you enter the room. Try to approach them from their line of sight as much as possible. If you want to wake them up, give them soft, gentle pets until they stir. If you leave the room, make sure they can see you and know where you are. Step loudly, cause vibrations, and appeal to their other senses. Even wearing perfume or cologne can help your dog use their sense of smell to determine where you are.

5. Be Aware And Direct Your Dog On Walks

It can be hard to tell how much your dog has relied on their sense of hearing when they are out and about until that sense is gone. You’ll need to be their ears now more than ever, so you need to stay alert and aware. Your dog will probably not be able to hear cars, pedestrians, bikers, kids playing, other dogs, or any number of things that could startle them or, at worst, present a threat. Keep your senior on-leash at all times so you can direct them and prevent any accidents. Make sure they are not allowed to wander away from you.

6. Secure Your Yard

Happy Dog

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If you haven’t already made sure your yard is secure, it is important that you make it so your dog cannot wander. Without their sense of hearing, they may not be able to hear danger approaching, so it is important that you keep their environment safe and predictable. If you can’t fence in your yard, your dog should stay on-leash whenever they are in the yard.

7. Include A Notification On Your Dog’s ID

If something should happen and your senior gets lost, make sure that whoever finds your pup knows that they are dealing with a dog who is hard of hearing. Include an “I am deaf,” notification on your dog’s ID tag so everyone knows that your dog will not respond to auditory commands or calls. This will help them provide proper care to your pooch until they are returned to you.

8. Check Out Possible Helpful Devices

Dog Holding Flashlight At Home

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There are various devices on the market that some people have found helpful when handling their senior dogs as they lose their hearing. Some people recommend using storm whistles, which are incredibly loud and can often be heard even by dogs that are hard of hearing. They are typically meant to call your dog back to you in an emergency, but you will have to train your dog to respond to the noise, and your neighbors might not appreciate that. Still, it is an option.

Some deaf dogs can be better trained to respond to lights. You can use a small flashlight or LED as a training device the way a clicker is used in clicker training. Rather than associating a reward with the sound of a click, you can shine the light. Other people have found vibrating collars to be helpful, though they might make a senior dog nervous. You can train your dog to come to you when their collar vibrates, but pay attention to reviews and tutorials before you decide if it is right for your old dog.

What other ways can you help a senior dog when they lose their hearing? Let us know in the comments below!

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