Welcome to National Deaf Dog Awareness Week! Each year, during the 3rd full week of September, the animal loving community comes together to celebrate deaf dogs and all that they can accomplish. We all know that PetSafe is among the biggest animal lovers and advocates out there, which is why they asked me to write an article for Deaf Dog Awareness Week.
To begin, I’d like to say emphatically that living with and training a deaf dog isn't harder than with a hearing dog, it's just different- primarily for us. For deaf dogs, especially for those born deaf, it's just life as usual.
Sharing your life with any dog involves many responsibilities and safety should always be a priority, but with deaf dogs, keeping them safe is critically important and should follow right behind high-quality food, fresh water & humane shelter. This responsibility means taking extra steps, being vigilant about their surroundings, and communicating with them all the time.
Deaf dogs do require extra effort on our part to keep them safe. Today, I am sharing a few safety tips and suggestions for you. None of these are hard but all of them are important. I don’t think it is necessary to do everything on this list. I think that if you choose at least three or four (or, if you’re overprotective like me, then all of them), you will have made great strides towards keeping your deaf dog safe.
1. Microchip That Dog!
Though this is excellent advice for any pet parent, I think it’s especially important if your dog is deaf. Most microchip companies allow you to note any medical or special needs in his or her profile. That said, having worked in shelter medicine for several years, I know that this information isn’t automatically communicated unless the caller asks for it. Every time I called to track a microchip, I had to ask if there are any medical or special needs notes that I needed to be aware of. Not once was this information offered to me unprompted. I’d like to point out that this phenomenon is not unique to any one particular microchip company; I’ve experienced this with all of them.
Because of this, I include “I’m Deaf” in both Edison and Foster’s name: “Edison I’m Deaf” and “Foster I’m Deaf”. This way I know that their deafness will be very clear and very likely to be communicated if someone were to ever track their microchip.
2. Name Tags and “I’m Deaf” Tags.
Both Edison and Foster have name tags that state, for example, “Edison I’m Deaf”. I only use name tags that can be engraved on both sides. PetSmart has some excellent tags!
I also have a second tag that is engraved with “I’m Deaf” in English and Spanish (“Soy Sordo/ Soy Sorda”) on both sides. Bilingual tags are important for me based on the demographics of Miami. The demographics where you live may be different and you may want to consider other language options, if any at all.
3. Doodie Packs or Vests.
Each of my deaf dogs has a vest that indicates that he is deaf. There are many options out there and I think most will satisfy your needs. However, I’m partial to the Doodie Pack and always select the Deaf Dogs Rock pack. These packs are extremely well-made, have pockets on both sides and can have personalized monogramming added to fit your taste, style and preference. For every DDR Doodie Pack that is sold, a donation is made to Deaf Dogs Rock by Doodie Pack. Safety, utility and philanthropy; is it any wonder why I choose this vest?
The safety element of a vest is this: by telling the world that my dog is deaf and asking for permission to pet, I am helping prevent a startle response. A scared dog can bite, and we all know that the dog will pay the price, even if human error caused it.
4. Harnesses, Leashes and Collars.
I think every dog, but especially a deaf dog, should be wearing a collar and a harness when outdoors. Tags ALWAYS go on the collar, never a harness. I recommend a harness because dogs can, and will, pull out of a collar. Though a proper fitting harness is definitely more secure, it is also more comfortable for your dog. It displaces pressure away from the neck and trachea and onto the body. I personally use the Easy Walk Harness from PetSafe, and I'm partial to the reflective harness for extra-safety.
There are many companies out there that will personalize a leash and collar. By adding “I’m Deaf” to your dog’s leash and collar, you are making it even more clear to the world that your dog can’t hear and may need extra help.
5. Teach Other People the Hand Signs You Use.
Because my deaf dogs frequently go to work with me, I have taught some basic hand signs to my co-workers. Most of them know the signs for “watch me”, “no”, “sit”, “stay”, “go there” and “drop it”. I have also taught the staff at their veterinarian’s office these same basic hand signs. Our pet sitter is deaf, so teaching him hand signs was unnecessary. However, if we had a hearing pet sitter who didn’t know ASL, I would teach these same basic signs to her or him as well.
I chose to teach simple control signs that allow the staff to gain or maintain control of Edison and Foster in the event that they need to move them to safety or keep them from a dangerous situation.
6. Training, Training, Training!
Consistent reinforcement training throughout your dog’s life not only makes your life together more enjoyable, it ensures that he or she is watching you for communication and will follow through on a signed command without fail. When faced with an unexpected danger or situation, there is no better feeling than knowing that he will stay, drop the Bufo toad or come back to you immediately.
7. Never Teach a STAY RELEASE.
I never teach my deaf dogs a stay release sign. Ever. When I put them in a stay, I want them to stay until I use directional signs to move them to where I want or need them to go. I’m sure some of my dog trainer friends will roll their eyes at this one and I’m okay with that. I would rather their eye-rolling than Edison or Foster breaking a stay at the absolute worst time.
8. Lock Your Door.
Ok, so I’m a bit of a freak. I’m overprotective, and proudly so, but this bit of advice is a lesson I learned the hard way.
One day, after a walk, I closed the screen door but not the solid wood door. It’s Miami after all, and I need a cross breeze. After unleashing the dogs and going into the kitchen, I heard whining, then barking and then the screen door slam shut. I freaked when I realized the screen door hadn’t closed completely and one of my dogs had run out into the front yard.
Darwin, simply curious about and wanting to meet the dog he saw walking down the street towards the dog park, pushed open the almost-closed, unlocked door and greeted the other dog like any good Pibble (pitbull): directly, in his face, and rudely (at least for for non-Pibble breeds).
The dog he greeted was not dog-friendly, but thanks to a smart owner who was thinking quick on his feet, and Darwin coming back to me when I called, a disaster was averted.
By ensuring your door is closed and locking it for extra-safety, your deaf dog will never wander out to smell the flowers or into the street with no one to warn him of oncoming cars, dogs or other dangers.
9. Look Around and Communicate.
When out in public with your deaf dog, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings and changes in your environment. If someone walks out from behind a parked truck, or a car is rumbling down the road, or a small child is approaching him from behind while shopping at PetSmart, it’s important to be aware of these changes and to communicate them to your dog.
By pointing out things in your environment that your deaf dog isn’t aware off- remember, if he can’t see it, he can’t hear it- you are helping him respond more appropriately and avoid any startle responses.
10. Resources & Support.
There are a few excellent resources available for deaf dog pet parents. Of course, my blog, Dog & His Boy, is one that I always recommend. Not only are there humorous stories, but I also write about some of our early experiences with a deaf dog.
There is also a Deaf Dog Resources page, "Edison's Top 10" articles as well as training, safety tips and holistic health advice throughout. Stay tuned for the upcoming media room and the "Edison Approved" page, which will feature some of our favorite toys, treats, training and scary devices as well as holistic food choices. Also, check out Deaf Dogs Rock, a national not-for-profit that works tirelessly on behalf of deaf dogs everywhere.
Do you have a deaf dog? What other safety tips would you recommend? Did you even know that there are a handful of bloggers educating the public about deaf dogs? Share your thoughts and suggestions in a comment below. I would love to hear them!