Woof Wednesday: Dealing With Deaf Dogs

Last week’s Woof Wednesday covered hearing sense and ear problems. I’ve slowly worked through various ear conditions in a new series on the puppies.about.com site, and the latest deals with deaf puppies.

Yes, some puppies can be born deaf, or develop hearing impairment from infections or injury. More dogs, though, simply lose their hearing as they age. In either case, a deaf puppy or dog has more challenges as far as communication, but with care, can still become wonderful companions.

Have you ever met a deaf dog, or had a beloved older canine lose his hearing? How did you manage? The article on deaf puppies has a number of tips for managing the issue. But have you ever thought about a hearing aid?

Here’s an excerpt from Complete Care for Your Aging Dog that describes how to create a hearing aid for a dog and train the pet to accept it. Would you consider doing this? How would your dog react to a hearing aid?


When Carol Kjellsen of Cumming, Georgia, adopted Tazzy, the Shetland Sheepdog/Yorkshire Terrier mix pup was five weeks old and weighed less than 12 ounces. “She looked like a Tasmanian devil!” says Carol. The orphan had no fur, couldn’t stand on her own, and wasn’t able to nurse properly because her Yorkie mom had died shortly after giving birth.

In the beginning, she was so tiny, nobody was sure the pup would survive. For their first month together, Tazzy lived in a little fleece sack Carol carried around in her pocket. Today, Tazzy is fourteen years old, 17 inches tall and weighs 17 pounds. After more than a decade together, the dog and her surrogate “mom” remain closer than ever.

That’s why two years ago, Carol immediately noticed something wasn’t quite right. Tazzy wasn’t barking as much as usual. “Shelties bark a lot, and she always barked at every noise,” says Carol. But Tazzy started sleeping through the doorbell. Then even the sound of the garage door wouldn’t rouse her. Touching the dog to wake her up made Tazzy nearly jump out of her skin. Carol knew the hearing loss was impacting her dog’s quality of life.

“We travel with our three dogs a lot, and that was fine when she could hear me,” says Carol. If the dogs saw and chased something, they were trained to come when called. “When Tazzy’s hearing went, that became a problem.” Cataract surgery had saved the eyesight of her cousin’s dog, and Carol wondered if hearing aids were also possible. “Everybody thought I was crazy,” she says, but she asked her veterinarian anyway.

“Ms. Kjellsen is a very special client,” says Dr. Mike McLaughlin of Animal Medical Center in Cumming. “Somebody who considers putting a hearing aid in a dog is up there at the top of the list!” Dr. McLaughlin remembered that while he was in school at Auburn, Dr. Arvle Marshall conducted a research study putting hearing aids in dogs. He called and asked if a hearing aid might help Tazzy.

The first step was to determine if she was deaf or hard of hearing. A test called the brain stem auditory evoked response (BAER test) conducted at Auburn would cost about $500. Another option worked just as well in this situation, though, and cost nothing. Dr. McLaughlin told Carol to wait until Tazzy was awake, make sure the dog couldn’t see her, and then whistle. “If you whistle and the ears twitch, the dog can hear to some capacity and is a candidate for a hearing aid,” says Dr. McLaughlin. The ear-twitch reflex does not work if the dog is deaf.

Tazzy’s ear twitched. She was hard of hearing, and therefore a candidate for an aid. The next step was training her to accept wearing the foam earplug, says Carol. She was told this training typically took a couple of weeks, and that some dogs never accepted the sensation. But because of their special relationship, Carol never had any doubt that Tazzy would trust her and accept the earplug. “I showed her the earplug, held her really close, and put it in,” says Carol.

Tazzy wore it for two minutes the first time. When shook her head, Carol gave her a break and took it out. The next time, Tazzy wore it for 15 minutes before asking for a break. “The third time she left it in for two hours. And the fourth time, Tazzy left it in for six hours. So I called Mike and said wearing the aid wouldn’t be a problem.”

The final step was putting together the hearing aid system for Tazzy. The original Auburn research project was long finished, and no canine hearing aids were left. Recycling a human hearing aid was the best and least expensive option. Carol’s father-in-law donated one of his old hearing aids to the project.

The hearing aid was attached to Tazzy’s collar with Velcro. Then a small piece of IV tubing connected the hearing aid to the foam earplug, and the foam plug was inserted into Tazzy’s ear. “Then I put the batteries in, and Tazzy immediately reacted!” says Carol. “It was very obvious she was hearing. She’d go outside and her little head would go up. The barking started again and I thought, ‘oh gee, I forgot that!’”

Suddenly, Tazzy could hear crickets and birds–and other dogs again. Patti the Pekingese rattles the walls with her snores, says Carol, and it used to disturb Tazzy so much she’d bark to be rescued. “One of the first things I noticed was Tazzy looking at Patti snoring as if to say, ‘Why am I hearing this again?!’”

There are times when the dog prefers not to hear everything. She’s learned to tell Carol when the batteries go dead, or if the hearing aid whistles with feedback–Tazzy simply paws out the aid. “Her ears get sore if she wears it every single day, so we just put it in when we need to, such as when we travel,” says Carol. The hearing aid has re-awakened the close connection the pair share, and opened the world back up for Tazzy.

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, listen to the weekly radio show, check out weekly FREE PUPPY CARE newsletter, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter with excerpts from the forthcoming THRILLER, LOST & FOUND, and pet book give-aways!


Woof Wednesday: Dealing With Deaf Dogs — 13 Comments

  1. What a great story about Tazzy! I never knew hearing aids were available for dogs. I remember when my dog, Jake, began losing his hearing. I stopped seeing his face at the window when I drove into the garage, and when I entered the house he no longer stood at the door. I learned to walk softly and gently wake him so he wouldn’t be startled.

    • Hi Chris, I don’t know that many dogs would be candidates. Some won’t tolerate something in the ear but it’s nice to know about the possibilities. 🙂

    • I loved this story, too. One of the most rewarding part of writing this book (and the Aging Cat book, too) was hearing these wonderful Golden Moments stories of success. Heartwarming!

  2. This is SO AWESOME! I found your site after reading the article in Discover Mag from 1994. I figured by now they had figured something out and were hopefully selling a hearing aid for dogs….. I guess you did the same thing and were clever enough to make your own. I really want to do that for my dog (cost willing). She is a super candidate as well. IF there is any way I could connect with you to find out specifics (did you cut a hole in the earplug, did you try just one ear, how good of a hearing aid did you use etc. Today, I was in the basement and I heard my dog Tammy walking on the wood floors upstairs. I went up, and we missed eachother. I called her but she kept walking in the other direction. Then she stood at the the top of the stairs looking down for me, I was 4 feet behind her calling ”Tammy” ”Tammy” “Tammy” (not yelling).. Well , she heard something, she went DOWN the stairs and didn’t even look back at me. I went to the stairwell after she got to the bottom.. THEN, I called much louder and she looked up and came back up all happy after she saw me. That was the absolute confirmation she hears, but it must be very muffled. This has progressed mostly over the last year. She recently had a bout with “vestibular” disease that only lasted a few hours each.. I wonder if it is connected. She is 13, and has been with me almost every day of her life since she was 4 months. She is still swimming and walks every day! Just a little creeeeky like me!

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