Dispelling the Myths: Living With a Deaf Dog - Part II
Dispelling more of the negative myths surrounding these special canines.
Many negative warnings and stories surrounding deaf dogs simply aren't true. They pass along from person-to-person with dutiful recital each time the subject of the deaf dog rises. Once again, we expose more myths using facts drawn from the actual experiences of those who share their lives with a deaf dog.
MYTH #4 - "The "Need A Hearing Dog" Myth
"Because a deaf dog does not hear everything happening around him, a hearing dog is essential. All deaf dogs would benefit from living with a hearing dog to function as their "ears."
This myth does the most damage when a deaf dog is looking for a new home. Rescues (and sometimes breeders) will often make it a requirement that a "hearing dog" is already living in the home before they release a deaf dog to a new owner. People who are thinking of adopting a deaf dog are put off by the idea of having to adopt two dogs, so instead of just adopting the one they were interested in, they just forget adopting a dog altogether. Sometimes veterinarians will even recommend to new owners to get a second hearing dog.
The truth here is that deaf dogs do not need a hearing companion as a guide. They are no different from any other dog in this regard. They do perfectly well as an only dog, as part of a larger family, or with only other deaf dogs. There is no valid reason that a deaf dog cannot live as the only dog in a home. The personality of the individual dog is what will determine whether or not a second dog is desirable, and there is no reason why their companion cannot be another deaf dog; it is certainly not a necessity.
Many deaf dog adoptions happen with a hearing dog already in the home. The deaf dog seems to follow the hearing dog, and appears to be depending on it. In actuality, the deaf dog is simply following the lead of the dog who already "knows the routine." In families where the deaf dog came first, they've noticed that the hearing dog follows the deaf one. In families with two or more deaf dogs (and no hearing ones), the new dog still follows the lead of the older one. Dogs are social animals, and will tend to hang out together when away from home. This does not mean that the hearing one is looking out for the deaf one. It's just one "family member” keeping track of the other (the deaf dog is as likely to "help out" the hearing one as the other way around).
Most dogs love having a playmate and someone to run and wrestle with them. Dogs do not discriminate on the basis of color, size, sex, length of tail, size of ears, height, weight, number of legs, color of eyes, or any other dog trait. Dogs really don't care if either or none of the other dogs can hear. Remember, a dog born deaf doesn't know it’s missing anything! It has no frame of reference to know what hearing is. A deaf dog may think its hearing playmate is more observant, but many times a deaf dog's vision and sense of smell will more than make up for what its ears miss.
If you are hoping to teach one dog to retrieve the other, you might want to know that many deaf dogs can train to go get their dogs, cats, or people on command. A deaf dog is just as likely as a hearing dog to notice their deaf playmate’s call. There is nothing wrong with using a hearing dog to find the deaf one when they are out of your sight, but that is no excuse for not training your deaf dog to keep in touch with you.
The bottom line: know yourself and your dog. Don't put limitations on what your dog can do by portraying it as "dependent" on another dog. If adding to the "family" is something that you would both enjoy, then do it. Otherwise, just enjoy each other and don't worry about it. Don't feel that you must have a hearing dog as a companion to your deaf dog in order for it to be happy. Having two (or more) dogs increases both the fun and the work, and it's not fair to the second dog to adopt it only to be your first dog's ears.
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MYTH #5 - "The Deaf Dog is a Time Bomb"
Even if your deaf dog currently shows no signs of aggressive behavior, he will suddenly become aggressive when he reaches 3 years of age. The deaf dog is an accident waiting to happen.
It's unclear how this myth evolved, but it certainly exists. It is ludicrous to believe that your loving family pet will suddenly become aggressive on its third birthday. A quick look at canine development also suggests that this theory is inaccurate. All dogs go through an "adolescent period," which can start as early as 5 months (in small breeds), and last as long as 3 years (in larger breeds). Canine adolescence is apparent by such behavior as refusing to perform previously learned commands, forgetting housebreaking, excessive chewing, and generally being a bit of a brat. Most dogs are through the worst of their adolescence by the time they have reached two years of age; however, some dogs may remain in this phase for an additional year. A dog that is 3+ years of age has generally outgrown most of the annoying habits of the adolescent period, and is usually a joy to live with.
MYTH #6 - "The "Incredible Challenge To Train"
The deaf dog is an incredible challenge to raise and train because they cannot respond to verbal commands. They can train to respond to hand signals, but the dog can only see the signals if it is looking at you; deaf dogs must be kept under strict control at all times.
Dogs are postural creatures, tuned into the world of body language. In training any dog, visual signals are more effective than voice commands. A voice command is an additional aid, not a mandatory requirement. People talk, dogs do not. Even though we all know this, we tend to forget the full implications of this statement. We place importance on our tone of voice and the words we use when speaking to our dogs. We seldom realize the additional messages communicated by our bodies, and the way those messages are interpreted by our dogs.
Dogs do not rely heavily on the spoken word. They use their bodies to communicate intent, dominance, submission, and a wide variety of other emotions. True, they may growl, bark or whine, but these are an additional, or secondary, means of communication. A dog may bark while playing, or while chasing a cat over the fence. Its body language and subsequent actions are crucial to interpreting the true meaning of its bark. Our dogs are always "reading" us, and place a higher value on our body language than the words we speak.
We often forget that dogs are not born with an innate understanding of the steady stream of babble we direct at them daily. Over time, a hearing dog learns to associate words with events and eventually these words become meaningful to the dog. A deaf dog is just as capable of making these associations, even though he will be learning based on visual cues.
Challenge is in the eye of the beholder. The trainer of a deaf dog will have to learn techniques designed for a visually oriented dog. This is not a difficult task, but if the trainer cannot make this adjustment, they will fail. Surely, this is not the fault of the deaf dog. Resources are plentiful to assist the deaf dog trainer in this process. All that is required to train a deaf dog is a willingness to learn and an extra measure of patience.
It's also wrong to assume that if a deaf dog isn't looking at its owner, the deaf dog is unreachable and out of control. Many dogs pick up movement and signals with their peripheral vision. Well trained deaf dogs make eye contact with their owners on a regular basis, keeping track of them, repeatedly checking in. As the deaf dog matures and its training progresses, getting its attention becomes less and less of an issue.
MYTH #7 - "Few Special Owners, Few Special Dogs"
A few special owners have deaf dogs that are functioning well, but they are an exception. For every anecdotal success story, there is another one of disaster and heartache. Depending on the source, this has been a 3:1 (heartache to success story) - or even 10:1 - ratio. These owners would not recommend the knowing adoption of a deaf dog to anyone.
The standing position of DDEAF (Deaf Dog Education Action Fund) is that "on any given day, we can produce a thousand unique success stories". Thanks to the wonders of the internet, it is clear that there are thousands of deaf dog owners all over the world - many of these families with more than one deaf dog in the family. The Deafdogs List has around 900 members (as of July, 2002) and an uncounted number of former members (but easily 4 to 5 times that number). There are also several hundred people listed on the Deaf Dogs Atlas, many of whom have never been on the Deafdogs list. Many people in both groups have more than one deaf dog.
Many different people find themselves with deaf dogs. Some of them adopt or buy a dog, and find out after the fact that their dog is deaf. Some people adopt deaf dogs, even if they haven't had one before, because they want that dog and are willing to learn what it takes to live with it. Others will deliberately look for a deaf dog, either because they have had one before, or because they want to give a home to a dog that needs it. If the only home that a deaf dog could be placed in was an "experienced" one, none of them would ever get homes. Experience isn't necessary, because everyone has to have their "first", but it is commitment to the dog that is most important.
Deaf dogs make wonderful pets and family members. They are no more difficult to raise or train than their hearing counterparts. DDEAF maintains an adoption page on their web site that actively encourages the responsible placement of deaf dogs into loving homes. Deaf dog owners regularly encourage other responsible pet owners to consider adopting a deaf dog when looking for a new member of the family. Few of these people would consider themselves "special" - they're just ordinary people who love their dogs and who are willing to communicate with their dogs using sign language and body language rather than words. DDEAF is available to offer any help or support that the owner of a deaf dog could possibly want.