Adopting A Deaf Dog When
You Have No Idea What You’re Doing
Adopting a deaf dog when you have no idea what you’re doing is something crazy people do, right? Logical or nor, adopting a deaf dog was the best decision we ever made. If you’re thinking about adopting a deaf dog but are hesitating because you have no idea how to live with and train a deaf dog, I hope this post will give you the encouragement you need. Here is the story of what led us to adopting a deaf dog- and how we learned to live with and train him.
Our Concerns About Adopting a Deaf Dog
When we first met our deaf dog Edison, my husband and I were most definitely not looking for another dog- and a ten-week old, deaf pit bull puppy was even further down on our “to-do” list. Way down. Somewhere between a root canal and inviting my mother to come for a visit.
We were quite sure (well, my husband was ) that our home was full and our family complete.
At the time, we were sharing our lives with two large dogs, five cats and a small yet demanding lovebird. My husband also has a pig; my name is Bernard. I am prone to leaving things precisely where I finish using them. Underwear on the stove? Socks stuffed in the couch? Check and check.
I only mention this to emphasize my greater point: ten critters from four different species living harmoniously under one roof takes work; doing so without violating municipal health codes when one partner lives like a frat boy requires time, and a lot of it. To add a puppy to the mix, but especially a deaf puppy, would take up even more time, and frankly we weren’t sure we had it to spare.
Our lives were (and still are) ruled by wicked work schedules.
Both of our careers are demanding with a lot of bleed-over into our personal lives. In theory, we understand the concept of a home-work life balance but we just don’t have a whole lot of experience with it.
He travels approximately three weeks out of the month for work. And though I now work from home, when we adopted Edison, I was managing two different programs for our local animal shelter, which meant I was always working in some capacity: at lunch, in the shower, during Sunday suppers at my mother-in-law’s house.
We had lots of rational reasons not to adopt Edison, but rational and right aren’t always the same thing.
We weren’t sure that our small pool of available time would be enough to meet his needs.
We had already lost our bed and couch to our first two dogs- Darwin, sixty pounds, and Galileo, seventy pounds.
Though not tiny, our house could never be described as expansive.
Galileo had just gotten to an age where his puppy brain would yield to his big-boy adult brain and he no longer ate the couch. We were living halcyon days, with no fear of discovering that the remote control was firmly lodged in his gastrointestinal tract.
Our Reasons for Adopting a Deaf Dog
Bringing home a puppy now would mean we were going to start all over- just when things were getting back to normal again. We could have spent days coming up with reasons not to adopt Edison, but the fact remained that he spoke to us.
We were drawn to him and, in our gut, we instinctively knew that he was our dog. His presence immediately added something to the house that we never knew was missing. His energy felt familiar, familial even. He belonged with us, and we with him.
As I said, it wasn’t very rational but incredibly powerful nonetheless. Life changing, in fact, and it was immediate.
Though he had come home for the weekend as a “foster”, thirty minutes after meeting Edison, my husband was Googling famous deaf male scientists and academics– we had theme for our dogs’ names going and, by God, we gays love a theme.
After Adopting a Deaf Dog
Those first days and weeks were terrifying, punctuated by moments of excitement, exhilaration and awe. A deaf puppy?! What were we thinking? Neither of us could remember ever meeting a deaf dog, and certainly had never considered living with one. And training? Gulp!
For context, you should know that my husband didn’t have his first dog until he was in his forties so his knowledge of dog training is not very broad. He’s a quick study and has the basics down, but a deaf dog presents a whole different set of challenges.
As a veterinary technician working in shelter medicine, I’m sure that I must have encountered deaf dogs without realizing it. Common sense and quickly running the intake and adoption numbers at my shelter over the years that I worked there tell me that, certainly, I must have interacted with at least one or two deaf dogs.
However, neither my work experience nor my education provided me with any foundation to build on or adapt to deaf dogs and I had some serious doubts about my ability to do so. How are we going to tell him, “No”?
We spent the first few weeks living in our search engines, combing the internet for information about deaf dogs.
We were hungry for training tips, videos, stories from other people who had lived successfully with deaf dogs. Any information we could find tasted like manna to us and sated, even momentarily, our need for as much information as we could store.
Sure, we wanted to equip ourselves with what we needed to know, but we also wanted encouragement.
We didn’t want things white-washed but we did want to know, to feel, that we could do this. We needed to know that it was possible to retrain our brains to communicate only with our hands and bodies and not rely on our voice- you know, learn to communicate like a dog.
What I Know About Deaf Dogs Now
Five years after adopting Edison, I now know to tell people that training a deaf dog is easier in many ways.
By talking with our hands, we are using our bodies communicate and, in turn, are closer to speaking to our dogs in a language that makes much more sense to them. Once you realize that the vast majority of canine communication is non-verbal, the idea of primarily using your body to express yourself doesn’t seem so daunting.
Sure, dogs do vocalize. They huff, they growl and they bark- but only after a whole series of non-verbal communication has taken place. Once you connect these dots, the whole process is no longer terrifying, it is exciting.
On a side note, people who share their lives with deaf dogs frequently say that there is a deeper, almost psychic connection between themselves and their dogs. I wonder if this has to do with the fact that both human and dog are listening to each other more, speaking something closer to a common language
I know that for me personally, I now pay much more attention to all four of my dog’s body language than I ever did before Edison. I am beginning to speak their language, or at least I am now listening more closely to what they are telling me.
When we are using a common, unspoken language, of course the relationship seems more intuitive.
Resources to Help After Adopting a Deaf Dog
One of the resources that my husband and I most consistently came back to in those first few weeks is Deaf Dogs Rock. It is, hands-down, the most comprehensive source of practical yet palatable information on almost every aspect of living with a deaf dog that I have found.
The training tips are great, but the training videos are indispensable. The list of other resources is the most complete I’ve come across.
The community of people living the same unique experience is reassuring. and the tireless networking of homeless deaf dogs in need by the DDR community, is just plain awe-inspiring.
If you have just discovered your dog is deaf, if you have recently adopted a deaf dog or if you are considering taking home that gorgeous hunk of beefcake dog that happens to be deaf but are unsure if you are up to the challenge, I assure you that you are!
If you take this challenge to heart, if you read the experiences and reflections of others who are doing this, if you open your mind, take a breath and learn to be patient not only with your dog but also yourself, you will fly high.
Thousands upon thousands of people already know what you are about to learn: deaf dogs listen with their eyes and they hear with their hearts- and so can you.
What tips & advice woulds helpful to you as you begin your deaf dog adventure?
Drop a comment and I will write about it!
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