A white Great Dane

Dr. Meredith Stepita is a veterinarian specializing in pet behavior at East Bay Veterinary Specialists in Walnut Creek, CA. Her mission is to help dedicated owners work through behavioral problems with their pets and potentially save pets from being relinquished to shelters. Read through our Q&A with Dr. Stepita to learn the truth about some of the common myths surrounding deaf pets.

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Debunking the myths around deaf pets

Q: How are deaf pets different than hearing pets? How are they the same?

A: One advantage of having a deaf pet is that it is unlikely that they will develop a noise phobia, although they will be able to feel vibrations made by noises. Deaf pets may be startled more easily since they do not have the benefit of hearing a person or another pet coming, but this can be prevented by adequate socialization at an early age or treated with appropriate behavior modification techniques. To find a Veterinary Behaviorist near you to help with a behavior problem in your hearing or hearing-impaired pet visit www.dacvb.org. Otherwise deaf pets are very similar to hearing pets.

Q: How easy is it to train a deaf pet? 

A: Deaf pets are just as smart and able to learn as hearing pets. Dogs actually learn best when taught with hand signals regardless of their hearing status. A vibration collar (be careful to purchase one without the shock function) can be substituted for a clicker to teach new behaviors by marking the desirable behavior the moment the pet performs the behavior. For more info on clicker training visit: www.clickertraining.com. A flashlight can also be used like a clicker with many types of deaf pets, but be cautious in breeds predisposed to light chasing such as Border Collies and Australian Shepherds. Another useful tool for training a deaf dog is using a head collar as you will be able to use it to guide their head and gain their attention more easily.

Q: Do I need to worry about a deaf pet around my children?

A: Children should ALWAYS be directly supervised by an adult around any pet, regardless of their hearing status. Deaf pets may be startled more easily, but a deaf pet well-socialized with children will likely enjoy the company of well-behaved children just as their hearing counterparts. The primary socialization period in the dog, which ends at approximately 14-16 weeks of age, is very important to prevent behavior problems in all dogs.

Q: Is there any reason why I shouldn’t consider a deaf pet for my family? 

A: Each deaf pet is unique, just like hearing pets, and the particular family circumstances should be considered along with the traits particular to the individual dog when considering a new addition to the family.

Deafness in young dogs and cats is most likely to be a congenital problem and is often linked to hair coat color, eye color, or pigmentation. Therefore it is not recommended to breed these pets. The brainstem auditory evoked response (BAER) test can be used to definitively test hearing. To find a BAER testing site near you visit www.lsu.edu/deafness/baersite.htm

Meredith Sepita