Not every dog becomes hard of hearing or deaf with age, but it is quite common for hearing to become markedly impaired in later years. Hearing can also sometimes appear variable, leaving us in doubt: if my dog does not respond to my calling, is he defying me, or doesn’t he hear me?

Both might be the case 😉

It may be that “multitasking” doesn’t go as well as it used to. What do I mean by that? Say your dog is absorbed in a particular scent, for example, or has his attention intensely on something else, there is no more attention left to go to the ears – or us. Think about it this way: if you are intensely preoccupied with something and someone says something to you, it may well be that it doesn’t register at all. It can be the same for our dog. But if nothing is distracting him, your dog hears you just fine. So, that can give the confusing picture of alternating deafness.

Deafness (whether in the early stages or already more evident) does require adaptation on our part. We must keep a closer eye on our dog because calling him and being heard is no longer a given. Also, the dog may no longer be able to determine where a sound is coming from properly. This can have the effect of him running headlong away from you when you call instead of coming towards you. He thinks he is running toward you, which could create dangerous situations.

Therefore, a dog whose hearing is not so sharp anymore may benefit from being on a leash more often – the leash is a safety line. A long line or flexi line can be very helpful here. I have also seen on numerous occasions that even a dog used to being walked off lead did not mind being leashed at all: he always has the certainty that his person is on the other side of that leash and that he will, therefore, not lose you. There are two sides to the leash 😊

Visual cues

Something else you may run into is that your verbal cues are no longer being heard (correctly), and that can be quite inconvenient in everyday life. Fortunately, dogs are very good at reading body language, and we can make good use of that.

If you trained with your dog when he was younger, you may remember that teaching him a particular word cue could take a lot of effort. We humans love to use words, and our dogs are very good at learning the meaning of our talking, but it’s more of a process for them. Now, we can make good use of the ease with which dogs read body language.

It is wise to intentionally teach your dog body language cues when he can still hear you well, in addition to your word cues. If your dog does not become deaf later in life, that’s still not a wasted effort: it is fun to do, and it can sometimes be handy to be able to give a “sit” cue at a distance, for example.

A word of caution: a dog that is losing his hearing or is completely deaf can be startled by unexpected movements, for example, an approach from behind where they don’t notice. Therefore, it is vital to consider this, especially if there is contact with small children – some dogs may lash out or even bite due to the sudden scare.

Unfortunately, there are no hearing tests for dogs like those for humans (dogs can be tested, but this involves sedation), and there are no hearing aids for dogs (yet). So, for now, it is up to us to make sure our hearing-impaired dog is safe and to be clever and creative in finding other ways to keep our communication going.