Note from Bernard: My friend and fellow blogger Maggie Marton, with Oh My Dog!, has a senior dog named Emmett who has recently begun to lose his hearing due to advanced age. I am thrilled that Maggie agreed to share a bit of Emmett’s journey and her personal experiences adapting to the needs of a beloved dog who’s hearing just ain’t what it used to be. Welcome, Maggie!
I’m touched that Bernard asked me to tell Emmett’s story because, as he’s lost his hearing, Bernard’s blog has been my go-to resource. It’s an honor to share our experience.
In July of this year, Emmett turned 13. We didn’t find him at an animal shelter in Virginia until he was already about 3, and sometimes I feel like we were robbed of those early years… But, in truth, there is nothing in the world better than an old dog. Of course, there are a number of challenges, too, including age-related hearing loss.
So, last year, when we discovered that he was losing his hearing, I dove into learning as much as I could to help him navigate his new reality. Here’s what I learned and what I wish I knew before he lost his hearing.
- Dogs compensate really well. In fact, Emmett’s hearing loss probably started long before we noticed something was amiss. He’s already a Velcro dog, but it became more pronounced, something our vet said was typical of aging pups. Remarkably, we noticed Emmett following our younger dog, Cooper, around the house and yard. Now that was unusual, a total role-reversal, but it just showed how Emmett had already innovated his own solution to his problem.
- Different behaviors aren’t bad; they’re just different. Emmett has never been a barker. At all. It took me five years–not kidding–to teach him to bark on cue. As he’s lost his hearing, he startles more than he ever has, and sometimes he lets out a WOOF! His relationship with Cooper has changed dramatically. Emmett was always the leader; now, he’s the follower. At first I worried about these changes, but I’ve come to realize that, as he adapts to his hearing loss, he’s adapting his behavior accordingly.
- Hand signals help. Thankfully, Emmett was trained with hand signals. For many years, he worked as a therapy dog with children who were residents of a mental health hospital. The kids loved to “train” Emmett, and I didn’t want them to fail… So, I trained the behaviors with hand signals, and I could stand behind the kids who were “training” with the word cues, and I could give the hand signals. Unfortunately, most of what he learned is silly. I wish I had taught him more and more useful hand signals prior to his hearing loss. It’s a conscious effort with Cooper now, just in case we find ourselves here with him down the line.
- But hand signals aren’t everything. As his hearing loss has progressed, the things we could do at first (like… Shout…) aren’t helpful anymore. That’s OK with most things, but it turned into a challenge with letting him out to go to the bathroom before bed. He could no longer hear us calling him in. So, John came up with the idea of flicking the light on our back deck to “call” Emmett. At first he was more startled, but his startle response has always been to run to us, so… victory! Now, every night before bed, the boys go outside. We brush our teeth, then one of us goes and flicks the lights. Both boys come running.
- Gradual hearing loss is kind of funny. Not gonna lie: When we first realized that Emmett was going deaf, it wasn’t funny. In fact, we felt guilty. How long had it been going on unnoticed? What kind of guardians are we that we didn’t even realize our dog was going deaf? (In hindsight, see point #1. He was fine.) Now, though? There’s a lot that’s funny about this situation. For one thing, we have an automatic treat dispenser that makes a noise when it dispenses treats. Emmett spends half the day checking to see if it’s dispensed any treats because he has no idea what makes it tick. He often sleeps through people coming and going–he is turning 13, after all–and there’s this moment when he wakes up and sees people in the room. It’s priceless: His ears perk up. His eyes light up. He jumps up and dashes over like, “HEY! Where’d you guys come from?” He’s also more clingy than before, which I didn’t think was possible, but we now spend all day tripping over one another.
Honestly, before Emmett started to lose his hearing, I wish I knew that it would be fine. That he would be fine. He’s the same happy, goofy, monkey, just with less hearing. I felt sad for him, and I felt guilty for not realizing it sooner, but all that was a waste of time. He’s just fine.
We also can’t gauge how much hearing he has left. Bernard asked if he was fully deaf. I don’t think so because he still reacts to loud sounds and shouting, especially if he’s looking at us, but it’s probably not too far off. And, again, that’s OK.
It’s another story for another time, but Emmett changed the path of my life. He is my light, and there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for him. As we navigate these new waters, we’ll do it together… But, really, he’s steering this ship! If you find yourself in this same situation facing age-related hearing loss, I hope it helps to know: Your dog is doing just fine.
To learn more about Emmett or his hearing ear dog Cooper, check out Oh My Dog!