Deafness in dogs
September 24, 2009 9:24 AM   Subscribe

How can I tell if my dog is partially deaf?

I got my first dog this past Saturday, and so far, everything is going great (well, except for his food obsession, but we're working on that). I'm a bit concerned, though, because it's hard to get a response from him when we make noise.

I first noticed it when working on his food obsession. Basically, whenever his nose would get too close to the dinner table, I'd shout a loud "AH-AH" (a la Victoria Stilwell). When that got no response (not so much as an ear wiggle), I escalated to two sharp claps. I can clap really loudly, but again, no response. Then we tried a can of pennies, but again, there was no indication that he even heard it. I've never met a dog who didn't at least look your way when you shook a can of pennies. I would have written it all off as "he's too focused on the food to even care", but it's not only when food is around. If we call his name (or call anything, for that matter), we don't even get a flick of the ear to indicate that he's heard us.

On the flip side, it could very well be that he's not used to listening to humans, and that he's very new and doesn't understand that the things we're saying are directed at him? I find myself worrying more and more about this, and looking at each scenario to see if he could have reacted because of non-auditory cues. Did he hear the door open, or did he smell the whiff of outside air? Did he leave the food alone because I barked "MINE!", or because of my body posture? So far, I can't think of a single time that he's definitively "heard" something, but then again, I'm probably in overprotective new-mother mode. We're going to the vet this Saturday for a wellness check, and I intend to bring it up then.

So after all that long lead-up, here are my questions:
Are there definitive tests for hearing in dogs?
Is there anything I can test out at home, for my peace of mind?
What kind of things should I ask my vet about?
Is is possible that there are just certain frequencies that he's not hearing?
Have you ever encountered a hearing dog that has no Pryor's reflex?

Additional information:
3.5-year-old male retired racing greyhound. Neutered. Tested negative for worms and TBDs, fully vaccinated. Had been living in the track kennel until this week.

Possibly relevant:
He has barked, growled, and whined. He's very uncomfortable walking at night. He has shown absolutely no aggression toward anyone in the house, although we don't approach him while he's asleep. And just to head off arguments, I have no intention of returning him if he is deaf or partially deaf. I made a commitment to this dog, and I am more than willing to put in all the effort and patience he needs.

Thanks in advance for all answers/suggestions/advice.
posted by specialagentwebb to Pets & Animals (9 answers total)
Clap loudly twice every time you give him a treat. Do that for a week. Then, when his back is turned, clap loudly twice. If he reacts, he can hear. If he doesn't, he can't. I think a guy named Pavlov or something did this once.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:55 AM on September 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


I adopted one on thursday! It does sound like your dog might be deaf or partially deaf - everything you've tried suggests it. I've heard of flashlights (on off patterns) being used as visual commands (in addition or in place of body language.) Your vet might be able to provide a more definitive diagnosis, but your own tests seem fairly conclusive.
posted by canine epigram at 10:03 AM on September 24, 2009

After a little more googling, it looks like it might be called "Preyer's reflex", not "Pryor's".

Also, for what it's worth, he isn't white and has no white or white-and-something ancestors for at least three generations.
posted by specialagentwebb at 10:39 AM on September 24, 2009

I see Baer testing frequently offered at dog events.
posted by cairnish at 11:04 AM on September 24, 2009

posted by cairnish at 11:05 AM on September 24, 2009

For what it's worth, I live with a deaf dog (diagnosed by me because he doesn't respond to very loud noises when there are no visual cues.) We have learned to get by very well with visual commands. When off leash, he does not go out of sight and often looks at me while doing his sniffing about in case I am giving him a command to which he needs to respond. I do not let him outside at night without a leash. The only other difference between him and other dogs is that he sleeps through ANYTHING (so not a great watchdog.) To wake him up, I often will use a light rather than touching him so as not to startle him. Otherwise, he is the sweetest most loving pup in the world.
posted by eleslie at 12:03 PM on September 24, 2009

Definitely ask your vet during your upcoming appointment. Retired racers sometimes have a variety of personality quirks just by virtue of their previous life at the track, so it's hard to say if this is a hearing problem or a behavioral one - that is, your pooch is so used to "every dog for himself" communal living that he tunes out a lot of life's audio. When we adopted our grey, he had a similar food fetish and, for a while at least, no sort of noise would get so much as an ear twitch once he'd zeroed in on certain edibles. (Not his dog food, but other stuff, like the slices of turkey hot dogs the literature told us to use as training treats. I could've set his tail on fire and he wouldn't have taken his eyes off the piece of hot dog in my hand.) However, we never had any doubts about his hearing, although for the first few months we had him he seemed to only respond to my voice. I don't know if it was because I used to coo baby talk to him when we first adopted him or what, but during those early months when he needed to go out to perform his toilette, he'd give his special look and whimper and I'd ask "go outside?" and he'd dash to the back door, tail wagging, and wait for me to let him out. If Mr. Adams noticed the same potty look/whimper, he'd say "go outside?" and Trai would either just look at him in confusion, or (if I was home at the time) come seek me out and give me the signal. If I wasn't home, Mr. Adams would have to put Trai's leash on and lead him outside (Trai *always* responded to the leash). It took a while, but he eventually responded to both of our voices equally.

Congrats on your new family member, and I wish you the very best of luck with him! And, if he is deaf, remember there are ways to train him and help him adapt. It's worth the effort, and once he's settled in his new home you'll regularly be rewarded with a trademark greyhound smile and teeth-chatter as expressions of his contentedness.
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:19 PM on September 24, 2009

If he is deaf, you might think about getting another dog to be his helper.... seriously. Deaf and blind dogs often get a lot of confidence from having a helper dog.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 8:52 PM on September 24, 2009

First off, I want to say I commend you on the position to keep the dog regardless of the outcome. That shows a necessary level of dedication that all pet owners should expect to have. Good for you.

Secondly, I want to reassure you it's really not that hard at all to live with a deaf dog. We have 2 Italian Greyhounds and the first one turned out to be deaf. About 6 months old, we started to realize he really didn't react to much of anything audible in the apartment at all. Most of it could be written off as a puppy who's just not paying attention to anything other than the toys and treats they want, or focused in their playing with someone. But I have never known a dog that wouldn't turn an ear at least, when a pot was dropped in the kitchen, or a door was slammed shut. About a month or so of wondering, finally (for me) was ended when Hazen was sitting on my passenger seat of my car. With the windows cracked and his nose working overtime to take in the smells of the ride from the confines of his seat belt, he was completely at ease, even as a Fire Department ladder truck with full sirens blaring slowed to go through the intersection I was stopped at a light for, in the next lane to my left. Hazen continued looking out the passenger window, and never even reacted, because there was nothing to see, or smell.

Since then we've learned quite a few tricks to getting his attention. Vibrations are good, as your dog will be able to feel air move, the floor shake, and even low bass tones from speakers and such. Our biggest tool is hand signals. We've been vigilant in training him to always look up at our faces quite often. Now, we have no problem as he "checks in" every few moments when we're not in our own living room and he's completely familiar with routines and surroundings. We've worked out hand signals for sitting, staying, coming to us, going to a specific spot, a few fun tricks, and even "mom" and "dad". Now and then I still check just to see if he can hear something, but I can have a full on shouting match behind his head, and until he looks at me, he won't even know I'm in the room.

The biggest boost to his quality of life, and our sanity however, as IG's tend to be very clingy even when not deaf, was getting a second IG. Mike, 6 months the junior to Hazen, is able to hear, and taught Hazen quite a few things about being a normal dog, and has also chipped in by learning to "go get Hazen". This lets us get his attention when he's out of line of sight, or too far to make out hand signals. Also, what we tend to tell Mike to do, Hazen mimic's which is VERY helpful most of the time!

All of the work arounds and special attention we need to give Hazen when at home, or out and about, have NEVER put a damper on how amazing he's been as part of the family. We never considered any option other than keeping him and working through whatever we needed. He is almost completely white, with both ears completely white, and he will most likely have some other issues in the future (2.5 years old now, with a bad knee already), but he's our "special".

BAER testing can be expensive, but might settle alot of worry right up front for you. Also, if he happens to be partially deaf, it might identify what types of sounds he won't hear, and what types you can rely on and use to communicate with him. Hazen, from our own testing over a few months, is pretty much in his own silent world so we skipped it.

If you have any other specific concerns, or want some Greyhound/IG specific links that might help you out with this or other issues adopting a rescued grey, definitely let us know. You can get in touch with us through Hazen and Mike's site:
posted by mr.anthony337 at 11:24 AM on September 25, 2009

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